Wednesday, December 31, 2003

I'm Living on A Jet Plane

I'm pretty sure the Darwin Awards people will take occasional note of the dead guy found in the wheel well of a jet story that pops up now and again...but the bizarre part of the current spate of these incidents is that it's treated as if the breach of airport security were the big deal, not the bizarre circumstances that would convince somebody that trying to hitch a ride at 35,000 feet amidst crushing hydraulics. I suppose it's disturbing to think somebody would get access to the vitals of a plane undetected, but the fate of the poor schmuck is more disturbing to me by far.

Top Ten of Two Thousand Three

Boy. What a sobering thought it is that when once I published a list of the top 100 albums of the year, I have a hard time now getting a top one album. This, I think, is where the "things aren't as good as they used to be" feeling comes to every generation. They can't think of good stuff they've experienced, because they've become far less acquisitive of aesthetics. In my case, you can tell the year I started up my start-up company by the marked decrease in CDs released in a given year in my collection. (Yes, it's true, I recently re-organized my pop music CD collection by date of earliest release of song on album. Still working on the LPs. What you get is a History of Rock from 1977-1995.)

Here's the album count by year - bear in mind that this is by release date of the music, not either the release of the CD or the year I actually acquired it.

  • dawn of time to 1959: 16
  • 1960-1963: 25
  • 1964-1969: 36
  • 1970-1976: 25
  • 1977-1979: 25
  • 1980-1983: 26
  • 1984-1986: 12
  • 1987: 9
  • 1988: 9
  • 1989: 30
  • 1990: 29
  • 1991: 35
  • 1992: 25
  • 1993: 45
  • 1994: 50
  • 1995: 35
  • 1996: 16
  • 1997: 6
  • 1998-2003: 14 (all years combined)
Now, I'm skipping my monthly CMJ CD, because that's evenly distributed and my only real connection to the world of hipitude musika (I am not a downloader, by ethical choice, confirmed by lack of time and interest.) And to be sure, this is also a reasonable chart from 1989 on of my disposable income, which seems to have accompanied by disposable time as well.

The first CD I bought was Spike by Elvis Costello; we bought a Sony Walkman CD because we were starting to find classical records we couldn't get on vinyl and in the particular case of EC, whom I was collecting religiously at the time, Spike had cuts on the CD not available on vinyl.

Of course, I continued as a college DJ for something close to 15 years, finally giving it up at the end of 1996 because of the demands of the start-up.

But, economic and time considerations aside -- everybody gets them -- it's an arc of my attention to hipsterism and the world of paying attention to my own aesthetic, at least as far as pop culture goes.

I haven't done a similar thing for movies, but I suspect the bell curve would be similar.

If you counted in albums, there'd be considerable backfill for titles, of course, going back to mid-century, but my vinyl-purchasing period lasted from 1975 to 1990 (with the addition of about one a year these days, backfill I find at stores, usually replacing something I had on tape, which is another story altogether, speaking of downloading and ripping.)

So, in any event, this is all an elaborate explanation for why this year's Top Ten list is just in fact ten top one lists. I don't get out that much anymore.

  1. Best movie of the year: Master and Commander. Narrowly beat out Pirates of the Carribean. Do we detect a theme?

  2. Best non-fiction book of the year: Salt, by Mark Kurlansky (published in 2002). A sort of cultural and economic history of salt, very episodic but with all sorts of neat bits.

  3. Best TV show: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Bravo. OK, OK, it's really hip and trendy. And honestly, we don't get that much TV in. But the show is positive, it's funny, and even if I'm still wearing a plaid shirt with holes in it, inspiring in its way. After all, the foundation of modern psychology is the tenet that one can change, and if you can't change yourself in the most superficial way, how could other, more serious matters be accommodated?

  4. Best LP: Dub Side of the Moon, by the Easy Dub All-Stars. A track for track cover of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, an album I never owned nor particularly enjoyed before it was made into an all-star reggae cover album. OK, so the only competion was another concept album, Tusk, a cover of the Fleetwood Mac album by Camper van Beethoven recorded in the 1980s and finally released this year. Frankly, when my non-classical purchases top out at 4 for the year, the competition is going to be stiff. Speaking of which...

  5. Best Rock/Pop Concert of the Year: Camper van Beethoven at the Catalyst, Santa Cruz. Man, I missed their act when they were together, despite my best efforts. But this was more than a reunion concert: they've never been better musicians, and they played pretty much their entire back catalog plus a few neat items. I especially liked the tribute to Mr. Rogers (the band wore red cardigans, then threw them to the audience), and the Joe Strummer tribute ("White Riot" embedded in the middle of their jam-monster version of "Tusk"), and of course Victor's T-Shirt, so relevant just before we hit the ground in Iraq: a picture of two gentlemen engaging in the unspeakable vice of the Greeks, the pitcher turning out to be a caricature of our President and the catcher the real Sadaamite, with the admonishment written, "Bush: Pull Out!" Or the fact that I was the only maniac in the over-35 crowd who actually pogoed the whole time. It was fun, invigorating, and gave some wind to the onset of middle age.

  6. Best Classical Concert of the Year: Kronos Quartet, Cal State-Monterey Bay. This was really revelatory. We'd seen the KQ back in the 80s in Cambridge, and this was a different group. Still progressive with an impressively wide repertoire of interesting new music, but adding in a multi-media element, bizarre invented instruments, and a head-tripping visual show. This seemed both new and reminiscent of something, and I finally put my finger on it: this was the real Exploding Plastic Inevitable, what Warhol would've pulled off had the 1960s had the same advanced aesthetics and the Velvet Underground had the same musicianship as the Kronos Quartet. Really one of the best theatrical and/or "advanced" musical experiences of my life.

  7. Best Visual Artwork: DB Smith, Sloop at Anchor, 1883. I found it in a local shop for $15. It's a pencil drawing on paper that was probably originally in a sketchbook.

  8. Best Fiction Book: my unpublished novel. It's really quite good. Looking for a publisher right now.

  9. Best Critical/Cultural web site: The Bellona Times, a blog by my old bud Ray. I'm frequently confused but always challenged and frequently amused and occasionaly my poor dull bulb is lit up a bit.

  10. Best Technical web site: The Chesapeake Light Craft Builder's Forum. Great advice and my boat's almost done.

That, dear readers, with a few notable exceptions, was my pink-tickle list of the year.

Illiberal Liberties, Medially

It's just after 11 am here, and NPR is reporting huge explosions in Baghdad, which the NPR reporters called "a new level". You'd think with nice huge fireballs, the cable networks would be all over it. But all the cable networks are showing a press conference from the Santa Barbara Sheriff's department about how Michael Jackson was or was not treated during his arrest.

While CNN, MSNBC, etc. are all doing the same thing, my favorite is Fox News, which has a talking head talking about Jackson on one side of s split screen, an endless loop of ten seconds of Michael Jackson standing around by a police car in an airport hangar, and to the left of the screen is emblazoned: TERROR ALERT: H I G H.

Good thing the liberal news media is all over this one. In this episode of Rome II, the circuses continue even as the bread gets sucked out.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Good Riddance, Twerp

I don't know whether it's a relief or not that Ralph Nader has ruled out running on the Green ticket for President the next year, since it will hardly eliminate the problem of the fractious left trying to out- smarty-pants itself.

But let's just remember, one more time: had you boneheads not voted for Nader last time, we wouldn't've had the historic rollbacks on product safety, environmental protection, and basic health; we wouldn't've had record deficits and probably wouldn't've had the recession to the depth and extent we had; we wouldn't've had the war in Iraq and it's now looking like it's possible we might not have even had 9/11, because we would've had President Gore.

Remember when you guys, and your boy Ralph, said the two parties and candidates were indistinguishable? Tweedledum and Tweedledumber? That electing Gore or Bush would make "no difference" and that only by energizing a third party could the course of the country be changed?

I'm not going to blame this wretched mess we're in on Republicans, either committed or ideological, because they're at least being true to their school. I won't put it on the great middle 33%, either, because they're subject to the same manipulations they always have been and likely will continue to be subject to as long as the political system remains a system of spoils.

No, I will still blame 2000 as much on the unmitigated boneheads who gave their votes, time, and support to Nader, because YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER.

Let's repeat the lesson we learned, boys and girls, in 2000: elections have consequences; it matters that your candidate can't get elected; it's better to be "mostly right" and in office than "entirely right" and out of office -- and have utterly no chance of doing anything other than electing and re-electing somebody who's mostly completely wrong by harping on minor quibbles with the Democrat.

So I hope you people will trade in the birkenstocks and dashikis for some of Ralph's sensible black shoes and $39 JC Penny suits and go door to door for whoever the Democratic Party nominee is, and STOP bitching about how they're not up to your personal ideological test, unless you want to cough your lungs up in the middle of the chemical zone that used to be a national park while panhandling its CEO so you can send a care package to your little brother serving guard duty in Tikrit.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

When does it get linked into the IMDB?

I'm just ripping off the Bellona Times in posting this here, but finally a good use for PROLOG has been found. LOVE ME TENDER

a romantic comedy screenplay by





MEG RYAN is lovelorn and sad. She is complaining to her best friend MATTWALL.BLOGSPOT.COM about the lovelorn and sad state of her life.


Oh, MATTWALL.BLOGSPOT.COM, do you think that I will ever find my true love? I am so lovelorn and sad. Surely, you, as my best friend, have some wisdom to offer


So, it's definitely one of those touchdown moments to have captured Saddam Hussein.

MEG RYAN laughs


Hahahahahaha. How delightfully witty you are, MATTWALL.BLOGSPOT.COM

Suddenly, KEVIN KLINE wanders into the cafe. He accidentally spills a drink on MEG RYAN.


I'm so sorry.


You clumsy jerk, KEVIN KLINE! Why don't you look where you're going?

KEVIN KLINE apologises again and leaves


(staring after him)

What a creep.


This actually wasn't too hard when I went through the steps of analysis.


Boy you said it, MATTWALL.BLOGSPOT.COM. (sighs) I certainly hope I never see him again.




MEG RYAN and MATTWALL.BLOGSPOT.COM are shopping for new crockery. A message comes over the loudspeakers.


What did that just say?


Mussina, and you'd have to normally like the Yanks' chances here.


Really? This large department store's management decisions are questionable at best.

She looks up to see KEVIN KLINE standing there. He is the manager of the department store.


Hello, MEG RYAN. Perhaps you could offer me advice on how to run my store.


I don't think so, KEVIN KLINE. I took an instant dislike to you when we first met.


Weaver and/or Hammond have been no shows, obviously relegated to mop-up contingencies.


Yes, MATTWALL.BLOGSPOT.COM, good point. So you see, KEVIN KLINE, we can never fall in love.

KEVIN KLINE grins rogueishly.



Oh, KEVIN KLINE. I've changed my mind. I do love you.



MEG RYAN and MATTWALL.BLOGSPOT.COM are receiving massages and talking.


KEVIN KLINE and I stayed up all night last night just talking. It turns out that we're both enormous fans of Jon Bon Jovi. I feel like I'm in that beautiful Shakespearean love sonnet. You know the one, MATTWALL.BLOGSPOT.COM


Gabe White and Osuna have been used strictly situationally, as has Heredia.


No, not that one. The other one. Oh, MATTWALL.BLOGSPOT.COM, KEVIN KLINE makes my heart swoon so.

The masseurs start pounding their backs.


Oh. That feels good. (pauses) Gee, MATTWALL.BLOGSPOT.COM, I have never felt this way about a man before. Do you have any advice for me?


Getting is generally considered the visionary behind GPS, and Parkinson the architect who helped implement the system.


I hope you're right, MATTWALL.BLOGSPOT.COM I'll keep that in mind.



MEG RYAN is crying. MATTWALL.BLOGSPOT.COM is consoling her.


I can't believe we accidentally saw KEVIN KLINE out with another woman! I thought he loved me. You were closest to the two of them, what was he saying to her?


I mean, really actually mentally unbalanced, not just disconnected with reality.

MEG RYAN bursts into renewed tears. KEVIN KLINE comes running up to them.


I don't want to talk to you, KEVIN KLINE. I heard what you were saying to that horrible other woman.


But MEG RYAN, this is all a ghastly misunderstanding of some kind.


Leave me alone. I have a broken heart.


I guess I will take that job in that other country then.



The level of paranoia demonstrated in this interview is intensely high.


Thank you, MATTWALL.BLOGSPOT.COM. That's just what I needed to hear now that I have a broken heart. No wonder you are my best friend.



MEG RYAN and MATTWALL.BLOGSPOT.COM are driving as fast as they can in MEG RYAN's car.


Oh, why won't this car go any faster? We have to get to the next train station in time to intercept KEVIN KLINE before he leaves forever.

She accelerates.


If only I'd got his letter that explained how our breaking up was all just a ghastly misunderstanding sooner. Read me the PS again, MATTWALL.BLOGSPOT.COM



It's really difficult to imagine the circumstances that brought people out.


I still don't understand what he meant by that.

They drive faater and faster and eventually make it to the train station in time. They rush onto the train and find KEVIN KLINE.


Oh, KEVIN KLINE please don't go away forever. I got your letter which eplained the ghastly misunderstanding. I now understand why you did what you did. And... I love you.


And I love you, MEG RYAN

They kiss. They are in love.


They described the roof as 'slimy,' and found evidence that some mold was growing and multiplying.


You said it, MATTWALL.BLOGSPOT.COM. You said it.


Be Careful not to Muff this One, Matt

I've got very little in the way of what I'd call regular television viewing habits, at least outside of baseball season, but in the past few months I've become a regular watcher of A Baby Story on TLC. It's a sort of cross between a medical drama, a hallmark hall of fame shlock story, and reality TV. The format is pretty simple: they follow around a woman about to give birth, through her labor, and into the early stages of recovery. Sometimes there are complications, of course. Some of them are cute (big babies, twins, etc.), and some of them are gruesome (a baby born with all his intestines on the outside of his body, 24-week preemies, etc.)

While they all come out fine in the end -- no stories ending in infant death make it to air -- the variety of gruesome grimaces of women in labor, grey and bloody babies, surgical incisions for C-sections, puffy relatives screaming, dazed dads trying to film the whole process, and other completely awful and disgusting moments is seemingly inexhaustible. That's why I watch it so much -- I'm preparing.

But get this -- while they'll show, obviously with the families' consent, all the gruesome blood and effluvia of birth, anytime just a hint of vagina comes into the frame, POOF! the frame is fuzzed out. For privacy? You can hardly get less private than sharing the labor and birth process with a cable audience. To avoid prurient appeal? Give me a break -- you couldn't get less appealing. To avoid grossing out the odd person who has turned into this show who has never seen a vagina? Right, and the baby with his intestines on the outside of his body wasn't gross.

Yes, the only explanation I can come up with is the obvious one. The bizarre American double-standard about showing certain parts of the human body having to do with reproduction -- taken to its most ludicrous extreme in a show entirely about reproduction.

As an aside, you can really glom onto the demographic this show appeals to by looking at the other shows that surround it. There's "A Dating Story", with, you guessed it, real-life ride-alongs on dates and courtships leading up to engagement; and 'A Wedding Story', all about each couple's storybook wedding, leading up to the birth of a cute baby (although the latter are frequently without a father present, and inevitably focus on the mother, not the baby of the title, in the way the stories are presented as a POV.)

This leads me, as an expectant parent, to search the listings for what would presumably be useful programs like 'A Diaper Story', 'A Colic Story', 'A Stubborn Rash Story', 'A Screaming Tantrum Story', etc. but they are not to be found. The whole Dating-Wedding-Baby story ('First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes XXX in a baby carriage', etc.) isn't educational TV: it's a romance cycle, like romance novels. Part of the romance of the 'Baby Story' that involves the blood and suffering is included, but god forbid the genitals enter the framework, much like much thrusting and heaving is suggested in a Harlequin but no descriptions of the organs doing the thrusting and heaving and secreting and oozing.

But, I still watch the 'Baby Story' shows as long as I'm getting ready. I figure a gauzy version is better preparation than nothing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Twin Killing

I'm not sure any death penalty advocate could get their brain around the philosophical conundrums posed by Chained for Life (1951), but it's for sure the Farrelly brothers have considered this dilemma.

Three Baseball Haikus

From the archives, since I'm about to lose the sheet of paper they were written on.
    Weekday Afternoon [May 2, 1996] - by M. Carter Wall

    Game at Three Rivers
    A hot dog, a beer, good seats
    Zip! El Tornado

When the Pirates were building PNC Park (with taxpayer dollars) they had a promotion wherein you could buy a brick in front of the park and inscribe it with a few lines. A contribution was required, which was to go to the Clemente foundation. We submitted these two haikus (sans titles, to make it into the character limitation) with our check for the proper amount. The check was returned uncashed, the haikus rejected for reasons that were never explained to us.

    Forbes Field 1999

    Plexiglass home plate
    Homer over sidewalk brick
    Wall, across the street.

    Old Exposition Park 1903

    Pilgrims in Pittsburgh
    Water and mud in left field.
    Series victory.

We never did get around to writing a PNC Park Haiku.

Monday, December 15, 2003

What did Dad Know and When Did He Know it?

There was a curious moment at the end of the President's press conference this morning. The last question of the day was a two-parter: had Bush known in 2000 everything that would transpire during the first three years of office, would he still have sought the office (a softball like most questions today), and had the President spoken with his father (Bush I) since the capture of Hussein?

The President was quite voluble today, to the point of ebullience, providing a lot of detail in his answers, and in this case he indicated he'd been awakened at 5:15 a.m. by Condoleeza Rice via the phone, who told him they were prepared to say they were sure they'd captured Hussein. The President then said he immediately started calling people, and during that time he received a call from his father congratulating him on the capture.

I don't have a transcript at hand since one isn't available yet, so I'll have to go back and check this later today.

No doubt this is just the President convoluting his timelines, as ever, but it seemed curious to imply that Bush I knew about the capture of Saddam before W. -- and placed a call to the current President Bush.

I'm not a Bush conspiracy theorist -- I believe incompetence in management, leadership, and organization best explains how 9/11 happened on his watch, not some elaborate foreknowledge -- but it's moments like this that make you wonder who's calling the shots.

Update - 16 Dec 2004

Here's the transcript as the White House published it:
    "I talked to my Dad. He called me Sunday morning. I got the call from Donald Rumsfeld Saturday afternoon and made the decision there until I was more certain about the facts that I would talk to very few people. I talked to Condi and asked her to call Andy. And I talked to Vice President Cheney. Because what I didn't want to have happen is that there would be this rush of enthusiasm and hope and then all of a sudden it turned out not to be the person that we would hope it would be. So I didn't talk to my family. I told Laura, of course, and pretty much went to bed early Saturday night. And Condi woke me at 5:15 in the morning, which was okay this time. (Laughter.) Just don't do it again. (Laughter.)

    But she said that the Jerry Bremer had just called her and there was -- they were prepared to say this was Saddam Hussein, in which case we got dressed and hustled over to the Oval Office to start making calls.

    One of the calls I did receive was from my dad. And it was a very brief conversation. He just said, congratulations, it's a great day for the country. And I said, it's a greater day for the Iraqi people. And that's what I believe. I believe that yesterday was a day -- or Saturday, when we captured Saddam, it was a day where America is more secure as a result of his capture. But, more importantly, Saturday was a great day for the people who have suffered under this tyrant. "

Ignoring the fact the transcript cleans up what was actually said -- pauses, ums, mis-pronounciations, etc. -- this sure does seem like another example of the President merely not getting the details out in the right order. It's unclear when Bush I found out. On the other hand, look at it: it's clear that Bush I at least got the news before the American public, and he called W., not the other way around.

I wonder when Uncle Dick found out?

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Meanwhile, back on the fifth estate, Ted Koppel is still mowing the lawn

The broadcast news media's credibility to cover anything this side of J Lo and Ben's nuptials is called into serious question frequently these days, no more so than today, when just about every cable news outlet decided to politicize the capture of Hussein by asking for comment from the Democratic presidential contenders. Howard Dean, acting paradoxically presidential about it, refused comment beyond saying it was a great day for President Bush and the American and Iraqi nations. Just about every other cannibalistic idiot running for the nomination took the bait of dead flesh from the media in reacting to it, notably Joe Lieberman (below) and Wes Clark.

I've got two points to make here.

1. It's not really a political issue. This one is about Our Team scoring one that we all agree we had to.

2. If the democratic nominees want to get Bush re-elected they (other than Dean) are going about it the right way -- to play into the cheap notion that this has domestic political importance. If that's the case, as I'm sure Karl Rove would like it to be, it can only play into the Bush camp's game plan to talk about everything except the dumb war plan, the dumb war, the dumb pretexts, etc.

OK, one more point:

3. In light of 2, does the media asking irrelevant questions about Hussein of the dem nominees actually change anything about the core issue of the war and its aftermath? Does capturing Hussein change anything at all other than, we hope to god, making the process of mopping up the anarchy a little easier? No and no.

This is why we don't invite you to parties anymore, Joe

This was kind of a shocking thing to see on CNN today: Joe Lieberman sounding like a stood-up prom date: "Lieberman, whose candidacy suffered enormously for his consistent defense of the war, said: 'If Howard Dean had his way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today, not in prison, and the world would be a more dangerous place.' "

My god, Joe, you can't possibly actually believe that....that Dean would want Hussein in power? He sounds like a bitter person and increasingly a kind of crazy one. We argue over the means but not the ends when it comes to the toppling of tyrants.

I started out the end of the 2000 campaign with a tremendous respect for Lieberman, but Joe has managed to single-handedly whittle it down to a tiny stub the size of a used bar of hotel soap.

A shonda on you, Joe Lieberman.

Gotcha, now where to put you...?

So, it's definitely one of those touchdown moments to have captured Saddam Hussein. You just feel like spiking the ball and doing a little victory dance.

We were amused by this note, however, that appeared on a crawl on CNN: "Saddam Hussein being held at an undiclosed location." One has to wonder -- is this the same undisclosed location that Dick Cheney hangs out at? If so, Hussein may have disappeared for good once again...

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Does it take a Village?

Or possibly a Toyota Villager?

Expecting a child shortly, my mind has been inevitably distracted by the execrable state of education in general, and in California in particular. The bifurcated system of property taxation has lead to a two-class system -- pre-Prop 13 grandfathered property owners and others -- and in turn has ruined not just the funding mechanism for education, but brought on a strangely centralized control as a result of the state taking the dominant role in funding local schools. Nationally, of course, we see a mania for "testing" "standards" and "outcomes" as a seemingly comforting way of setting our goal posts, and students are all now student-athletes in a vast competition where they're measured not against themselves and their potential but against others and mythical medians and minima. The schools still suck and aren't getting any better if you talk, one on one, with their inmates.

At the root of the problem, I think, though is the idea that measurable outcomes arise objectively, when in fact quality lives and whole human beings are the essence of subjective assessment.

Mika, my elf partner and mother of the child, is taking a graduate-level course in language teaching and works in "evaluation" for a living, and constantly lives this language every day. We have interesting conversations on the subject of the future education of our own offspring. It's true that "objective" assessment itself in context can be properly used if only as a part of a larger, deeply contextual set of ways of marking progress. But I fear that school itself has been reduced to one form of testing after another, briefly punctuated by periods of preparing for the test. "Objectivity" means, of course, treating children like objects whose complete dimensions can somehow be measured and fully-described by the time they reach the workforce, so they can be plugged into their pre-fabricated slot without any pounding or lubrication required.

Apropos of that, I was entranced by this nice essay in the Bellona Times.

I had a conversation recently with a local friend who'd just finished packing his last kid off to the higher education phase of the indoctrination-for-work period of a person's life (K-PhD) via the public school system. He seemed to think poorly of the idea of home schooling, mindful of major mistakes that had been brought to his attention. At the same time, his tale of years of PTA meetings, serving on school boards, and spending much time chasing after teachers to find out what had been going on in the vast majority of his kids' days spoke eloquently that it would be quite difficult for an involved parent to do worse. If what it takes, as he put it, to make a quality education for your kid is to "make their teachers cry on the phone and run away from you on teacher-parent conference nights", then it may save a lot of time and effort to cut out the middleman.

Stripping the public schools of further money and motivation via vouchers seems to be not a solution, but more of a final death sentence for the hope of school as a means to an education. But that's not what I'm really focussed on right now. I'm deeply concentrating on the essential, central question of child-rearing, which is what can I do that would best make my own child a happy, complete, and functional person?

I'm still very concerned about the limitations of a parent to provide a complete education to a child at a home school (particularly in an era where mere economic survival argues for two earners per household, at a minimum, and may yet make this an impossible option for us.) When the home school option requires paying taxes for the school, somebody's voucher-funded private education, on top of our own expenses for the home schooling efforts, it makes the whole package seem trebly expensive, not even with the looming nature of post-secondary education. The difficulties of navigating the authoritarian guardians of the school system in a home-schooled environment loom as well, and augur that the total time savings (which would be translated into one-on-one education time) may yet be negligible.

But it finally occurs to me that this may also be the best use of my own hard-won, expensive education. My parents moved to a town they couldn't quite afford for better junior and senior high school education for my sister and myself, perhaps in part after seeing how my eldest sister struggled in a much worse school system. I spent quite a bit of blood and sweat (literally on both counts) on paying for my own expensive undergraduate education, and still it took nearly three years before I finally realized why I was there at all. The chances that it would become a colossal mistake were quite high until I was about 25. My somewhat more vocationally-oriented graduate schooling was undertaken after a decade in the workplace, and was a wonderfully focussing and polishing effort, only I'm about to abandon the field for which I trained for a slew of reasons ranging from economic conditions to the competency of my soul to continue in it.

My mistake, of course, was in coming to believe the now not subtle school of philosophy running our schools now, which is that schooling is a preparation for work, not something more general and related to the act and art of living a life. Part of living that life is ushering others through its early stages -- popularly known as child-rearing -- and that, as a full-time job, has great nobility of purpose and utility. Although, of course, it must be done with professional dedication, proper preparation, and appreciation for one's own limitations in doing so. This is where the "It Takes a Village" idea is so redolent, and where, as a person who believes in communitarianism as being central to the basic values of the American Republic (especially in the face of the selfish libertarianism of this period), the idea of a public school -- the idea -- is deeply-rooted inside me, and runs through the generations of teachers in my family. But the reality of it today scares the dewey hell out of me.

Teaching, like child-rearing in general, is a matter of providing concentrated time to another human being. I think about what it is I'd like to give to the world, what kind of equity of education that has been gradually built up by previous generations and passed down, and how to apply that bank of grey matter in a way which could best benefit my own child.

If I worked in the conventional sense, the best I could probably do is provide a greater degree of economic security -- for whatever that's worth in these property-conscious, consumerish era -- and perhaps more easily pay for other stewards of my own offspring (e.g. set up a college fund and spend the next 18 years worrying about it). Is this the best use of my own education to the matter of the fate of the human being we're bringing into existence, consciousness, and society?

It may be that on the matter of the latter third of childhood I will change my mind eventually. But I am convinced that one of the problems for many people, and perhaps for society as a whole, is the unnecessary complexity in transferring our labors -- mental, economic, or otherwise -- to succeeding generations. In short, keeping to the Keep It Simple Stupid principle, it seems more efficient to me to give 95% of the time and effort of at least one adult to one child than to have him cast adrift in the system that delegates responsibility a hundredfold and therefore lacks true accountability -- will 95 other people give him 1% of themselves?

In fact the educational system has resorted to testing, I believe, because there's no way of "evaluating" the end product, a human being at a certain age and with certain reasoning abilities, moral and ethical senses, interests, aesthetics, understanding, knowledge, and wisdom, by 95 people.

The system, as I articulated earlier, in an attempt to provide objective assessment, has become a machinistic golem that treats a person as an object to be measured, not a person to be nurtured. I don't want my kid to be a pile of test scores with no soul. To quote the great American poet Paul Westerberg, who always got right to the point, Fuck School. It's not about being a student, it's about becoming educated. I may send my child to school if it turns out it's the right thing at the right time for him, but it's not going to be the default option.

If it Takes a Village to Raise a Child -- and I dearly, ardently still believe that it does -- it's my appreciation at this point the school building has been put conveniently away from the village and the villagers. It may be a paradox, but keeping a child at home for school -- which is to say, not constrained within the walls of a school building, but free to roam the whole world without -- may be the only way to bring the village back into the affair. Instead of Home Schooling, perhaps we should call it Global Village schooling, or parent-based education, or something more marketable.

I recently and fairly accidentally came across this little verse from John Dryden (from The Hind and the Panther, 1687) in a book (paper thing with words printed on it in ink, for those of you who went to California schools):

    By education most have been misled;
    So they believe, because they so were bred.
    The priest continues what the nurse began,
    And thus the child imposes on the man.
I willfully ignore the context of the poem -- Dryden was essentially making an argument in favor of Roman Catholicism during the reactionary period of English history -- and the apparent fact (thanks, Google) the first line is widely quoted completely out of even the limited context of the verse. But one aspect of being an educated person is knowing the plan, seeing the potential consequences, divining the future and understanding cause and effect. Careful selection of priests and nurses is required. It may require buying a form of Toyota Villager to hold them, but I'm driving the damn thing.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

It's Old, but At Least it's Stinky

Seniors: It's time to dump AARP and find an organization that might actually reflect your interests. AARP's income from the insurance industry, which stands to rise if this dubious medicare package is passed, has clearly compromised its leadership.

Vote with your feet.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Hale to Thee, My Alma Mater

Sometimes, my alma mater drives me nuts, but sometimes my alma mater makes me extra proud of that old degree.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Sorry You're Still Sore

Another entry for the completely insincere fake apology that makes nothing better at all award: : IRA Apologizes for Unmarked Grave Sites: "The Irish Republican Army apologized Friday for burying nine victims in secret graves long ago, but relatives of the dead rejected the IRA's words as cynical and overdue. "

Why they apologized for not revealing the grave locations, but don't feel obliged to apologize for the murders, is very strange.

But stranger still, I think NPR should apologize to all of us.

I heard an abominable book interview with Gerry Adams on NPR's The Connection this morning. You'd think Sinn Fein and the IRA had committed no terrorist acts the way they babied him. And to hear Adams talk, you'd think he was closer to Martin Luther King than Osama bin Laden.

It's outrageous the IRA isn't treated like the terrorist organization it is, and this re-writing of history with the aid of NPR is unforgiveable. I don't take "sides" on the Northern Ireland question: without a doubt, the British and Unionists committed atrocities and human rights violations aplenty, and without a doubt both Unionist groups and the IRA were terrorists. Those that are still armed are still terrorists, since they're using the threat of arms to get their way. The peace accords are good. Re-writing history is bad.

You have two religious groups fighting one another with a foreign occupier taking one side and acting as a proxy for what is essentially an internal civil war over the nature of the society, one that need not have happened. Iraq? Ireland? Sunni and Shiite, Catholic and Protestant?

So much of that conflict was enabled by financial and technical contributions from Americans, yet as with the Iran-Contra debacle, or for that matter our original arming of Sadaam, nothing is ever said about the culpability of the U.S. in directly or indirectly allowing terrorists to operate. Until we come clean on these fronts, I doubt the rest of the world, most particularly the Arab world, will take our 'war' seriously.

But the bottom line is NPR gave Adams a free ride on the very, very relevant question of when terrorist acts are justified and when and how acts to suppress terrorism is justified. A shonda on you, NPR.

Fighting Foxy Falderal

Wow, talk about big-time! I finished in third place in King Kaufman's Write Like Jeanne Zelasko Contest

Only the second part was included in his column, so for the archives, here's my complete entry:

[The setting: the first Tuesday in November, 2004. Roll Credits: Election 2004: You Decide: with your host Jeanne Zelasko. With analysis by Ted Kennedy and Trot Nixon. Sponsored by Viagra.]

It's the showdown of the century, the punch-card punch-out, with the defending champ Bush trying for a two-term triumph. But entering his hat in the ring is the Doctor from Vermont who wants to heal the nation and sings that the incumbent is one for The Birds. Even Alfred Hitchcock would be scared to be graded as President by the Dean of this electoral college, as soon the American People will fill out their report punch-cards to determine whether it's a Republican Double-Doublya or just a plain W for the Dems.

Will Bush turn from President to ex-Resident of the White House, or will the Governor from Vermont head home to the Green Mountains? Will the red states sing the blues for the challenger or will the winds of change blow white-hot for a new tune? One thing that won't flag, and that's Fox's star coverage of Election Night '04.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Rats Doing Laps on a Sunken Ship

It's sad that Elliott Smith killed himself.

This is even sadder (from the AP story reporting his death):

    Smith's body was found by his live-in girlfriend Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner records supervisor Marsha Grigsby.

    He sustained a single stab wound to the chest that appeared to be self-inflicted, she said.

    Smith's New York-based publicist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also confirmed his death.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Giving my Two Senses worth

Last week I had an eye appointment for a regular exam, and I'd forgotten that they dilate one's eyes periodically at these things. So I was somewhat unexpectedly left without the ability to focus on anything, stumbling around wearing dark glasses, during an afternoon I'd allocated for a variety of work tasks.

I was left with a new appreciation for the problems of those with sight problems -- not just for those completely without sight, but those with cataracts and other conditions that similarly prevent clear focus. It's no new observation, I'm sure, that it's difficult to get anything done without eyesight or that so much of our inputs are visual -- reading, computer screens, TV. And I even felt at the time that it must be comical to see my trying to pick out a CD and put it in the correct way (unsuccessfully) or trying to do housework and not being able to quite see what was dusty and what wasn't, and finally just slumping back to listen to the radio on the couch in my dark glasses, simply because I knew it would 'wear off' in a couple of hours.

What I felt anew during this oddly-forced interregnum of visual deprivation was how much multitasking is built into my routine. I'm sure I'm not alone here; it has to be one of the hallmarks of the social evolution in the last thirty years that it's rare to have just one thing going on at a time, just one thing you're concentrating on, with no inputs or mental threads coasting to other problems. Working on my kayak and listening to NPR; typing my blog on one screen and having the world series playing on another; reading a novel while having an intermittent conversation with my frau and rubbing the dog's belly at the same time.

Rather than bemoan my own lack of ability to "concentrate" on one thing, in reflecting on this while I lay semi-blinded for a few hours, it seemed all the more remarkable to me how well adapted we are to get more than one thing done at once. But like most adaptations to a particular diet, removing one item makes one feel starved - at least for a bit - even if there's plenty else to eat.

It sends a few chills down my spine thinking of the infirmities of old age -- declined eyesight, hearing, physical dexterity -- interfering with the life of the mind, simply because it's hard for me to imagine toning down the multithreading and telling my poor brain to just do the one thing at a time it's capable of doing. The senses and threads within the inputs of those senses reinforce one another. I'm happy to be able to simultaneously think a little bit about what groceries I need to get, what Kate Chopin's life must've been like, whether my dog needs to go out, while listening to Market Place and reading a newspaper.

At times one needs great concentration on the task at hand. At other times, it seems like a waste of valuable neuron time not to let the gray goo wander all over the place. But I am reminded that much of that ability is tied to the peripherals -- the eyes in particular, the ears as well, and one's ability to manipulate the immediate environment. Keeping these in good repair is ever more vital. Understanding how infirmities affect others, equally so.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

I'm So Sorry I Got Caught

I'll Happily Apologize when Ordered by God to Do So

General Apologizes for Talk of God, War ( An Army general who has stirred a storm of criticism by framing U.S. battles against Islamic militants in religious terms said yesterday that he was "not anti-Islam or any other religion" and apologized to "those who have been offended by my statements."


"In one videotape he was shown saying, 'The enemy that has come against our nation is a spiritual enemy' named Satan. In another, he said President Bush 'is in the White House because God put him there.' And discussing a 1993 battle with a Muslim militia leader in Somalia, he said: 'I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol.' "

I'm So Sorry I Told the Truth

And I Regret the Damage It Might Have Done to My Book Deal

Young apologizes for 'poor choice of words': "Former prisoner of war Ron Young apologized Saturday for his 'poor choice of words' in criticizing in a newspaper interview the mission that ended with his capture in Iraq. "

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Rotation Update

Well, well, McKeon is full of surprises. Willis is being used out of the pen as a situational but multi-inning lefty. Game two is Redman vs. Pettite, Game 3 will be the battle of the aces, Beckett vs. Mussina, Game 4 will be Clemens vs. TBD (possibly Pavano), Game 5 the Wells-Penny rematch, Game 6 Redman and Pettite again, Game 7 Beckett and Mussina.

With the Marlins winning game 1, I'm taking the Marlins in Game 2 now by a nose hair, Marlins in Game 3, Yanks in Games 4 and 5, shoot out in games 6 and 7.

Phish Phood Phor Phall Klassic

As a Red Sox fan, making an analysis of Phish vs. Yanks feels like Dennis Kucinich predicting whether Clark or Dean will win the nomination, but at least I've got objectivity on my side.

Phish in Six.

This actually wasn't too hard when I went through the steps of analysis. The hard part was actually trying to figure out the number of games -- five is a real possibility, randomness could extend it to seven.

The Mighty Untouchable

Instead of starting with the head to head matchups, I'll start with the 'intangibles'.

The Marlins have reset their rotation. The Yankees are going with their #4 starter in Game 1, emblematic of how much effort they had to expend on the way there. Rest and a chance to line them up counts for a lot at this time of year.

The Marlins have shown no sign of being intimidated by Pac Bell and Wrigley. They've been stellar on the road. They were the best team in baseball the second half. They're loose and there's very little pressure. As with last year's Angels, that will count for a lot.

The Yankees do have fan support, and the Marlins, I don't believe, have more than three truly committed fans. That said, a large home crowd might even work against the Marlins -- how many Yankees fans are living in South Florida? But I doubt it. These guys have played to empty houses all year, they're going to interpret the big crowd in Miami as on their side.

I don't ever put much emphasis on the "post season experience" falderal. That's another way of saying a team is old. It's the same game between the lines before and after October 1st, and the real question is how tough a team plays close and late and down. The Yankees played great in such situations in parts of the season, but in others -- including in a couple of post-season games -- sloughed a bit. The Marlins, in the nothing-to-prove category, have been playing extremely tough in pressure games and situations all year. So I'd call this level of intangible pretty much even up.

Finally on the somewhat more intangible, coaching and management. Torre's been great, although not brilliant, in the course of his Yankees career, and I think he doesn't- give-a-damn what Steinbrenner thinks at this point. He's got nothing to prove to me or anybody else.

McKeon, similarly, isn't exactly on the hot seat, having already shocked everybody by taking this team from ten games back to the World Series. Honestly, this team was a much better story than the Cubs, but the only problem is nobody at home cares, so it's hard to get that sense of national following. But looking from the manager inward at his 25 men, instead of outward at the franchise and fan base and world, it's hard to find a better match between leadership and the ranks.

I would like to note on the subject of Yankee coaching and management: I haven't seen better fielder positioning all year. They've got a class scouting organization and Torre follows through. It's worth a couple of extra outs a game.

The Yanks have played as a unit, but are still full of just-barely-buried tensions ( Jeter vs. Steinbrenner, Zimmer vs. Steinbrenner, Wells vs. the entire team, etc.) I'm not sure that counts for a lot, though.

These are very, very subjective evaluations but if intangibles count for anything in performance, there are a few negative signs for the Yanks and not really any for the Phish.

Gentlemen, Engine your Starters

OK, now the match-ups:

Starters: advantage Phish. Bigger time than you'd expect.

Mussina has been really, really off, his big-time performance in Game 7 notwithstanding, and he's now off his spot in the rotation. Clemens was awful in Game 7. Wells has been good, but always benefits from extra rest, which he won't have for Game 1 or a Game 5. Pettite got rocked by the Sox the last outing. The five-man rotation (counting Contreras as the 5th starter turned long man) boasts three 40 year olds -- no world series team has even had two. It's a long season.

Does this sound like a strong rotation? Literally or figuratively?

The Phish kids do have the problem of throwing a lot of innings. In particular, I think Willis is suffering from overwork on the young arm. He does have that great motion which will be death on the Yankees the first two times through the lineup -- IF the kid hits his spots. He's matched up against Mussina in Game 2, and I'd buy Overs in that one.

Penny, on the other hand, has been throwing extremely well down the stretch, and was used out of the pen by McKeon in key situations, including of course Game 7 of the NLCS. I suspect he'll be a match for the Yankees, not dominating, but enough to keep the game low-scoring; I'd go with the Under on Game 1.

Game 1 should go to the Phish, Game 2 I'll give to the Yanks on a shoot-out.

Game 3 matches up Pettite and Beckett. Beckett couldn't be pitching any better right now. The only wildcard is whether the extra rest might throw him off his game a little. Watch him carefully the first two innings or so. I think Pettite will have problems with the righties in the Phish lineup, especially on the road. He had a great first start in the post-season but seems to have a lot of problems making adjustments of late, so it will take a grade-A effort for him to be dominating.

Game 4 has Clemens vs. Redman. This one's tougher to call. The poor performance in Game 7 notwithstanding, Clemens is the ultimate gamer and now knows that this will be his last game ever, for sure. However, Clemens has played just a bit tight in these situations this year -- look at his first few stabs at win #300 and Game 7 of the ALCS. Redman is a poor man's Greg Maddux, and will be assisted by the pen. This one is a pick 'em but on a close game I go with the bullpen and home field advantage and give it to the Phish.

Game 5 would take the rotation back to Penny and Wells, although I wouldn't put it past Torre to start Contreras if Wells gets roughed up in Game 1. On the road, with little ball working for the Phish, this will be a pick'em-plus, go with the Marlines. That said, the Yanks down to the wall will play all their cards out, and I expect them to pull out one of my predicted Phish wins -- probably Game 1 or Game 5 -- to send it to the Bronx in six.

There the Yankees would face Willis again (or Pavano) vs. Mussina, and you'd have to normally like the Yanks' chances here. That's why I was vacillating between a 5-game and a 7-game series. But McKeon will have Beckett waiting in the wings for Game 7, and Willis will get yanked early no matter what the game situation, and this is where the full force of the superior Florida pen will be felt. Moose, god bless him, is tired, clearly, and was tired down the stretch (or would've made a better Cy Young case against the weak September Yankee opponents) and this is where youth and depth may well make a difference.

If it goes to a game 7, it would be Beckett vs. Pettite. Anything can happen when it gets down to one, but again I look at similar situations, and McKeon and the Phish have had many more weapons this year than Torre has at this point in the season. The bench depth and bullpen and the starting matchup favors the Marlins again here.

There's No Defense Like Homeland Defense

OK, off of starting pitching and the matchups. On to defense.

The Marlins have a GREAT outfield defense. Its name is Juan Pierre. For centerfielders, it's all about range, and poor Bernie is down to about 80% of the outfielder he was in his prime. Cabrera is a potential liability in right, being very new to the position ( which is very weird for a starter in the world series, but just goes to show you what kind of team effort McKeon's been pulling all year) but has a cannon, so is at least even up with Garcia/Rivera. I love the way Matsui plays left, but the smaller porches will lessen the marginal difference in range with Jeff Conine, who I think has better hands even if Matsui is more of a player. So, even up on the sides, big advantage up the middle, where it counts.

At the corners, Johnson has acquitted himself extremely well, but D Lee is the star here. He's one of the best defensive first basemen I've seen play since Keith Hernandez. He's worth three or four outs a game over a replacement first sacker.

Third base advantage goes to the Yanks. Lowell can be a terrific third sacker, but his footwork has always been a little suspect; Boone would normally be considered a much better third-sacker (GREAT feet) but has played really tight in the post-season. I suspect hitting the game winner will help loosen him back up.

Infield defense. Jeter has an advantage at SS; he's very polished overall, and while I think he's been overrated much of his career, he's got great instincts. Alex S. Gonzalez isn't quite as accomplished in positioning and anticipation but I think has better hands, and in particular is quicker with his double-play partner, Luis Castillo. The two of them combine for great range. Soriano is so ham-fisted it's ridiculous he's still in the IF. Only his great speed and reflexes keep him from being a total embarrassment.

In terms of double-play combos, major advantage to the Phish. Castillo has the range to be a shortstop and he and AS have been very fluid all year.

Now on to catcher. Everybody's been creaming over Pudge, so I don't need to recap that bit. His handling of the pitchers has not been that great, but the games are called from the bench now, and his ability to stop the ball and throw out runners is all the confidence pitchers need from their catcher. Posada is a real weakness here: he often gets emotional on the field and apparently gets into tiffs with his pitchers, and with an ego-driven bunch that can be a problem. He'll have problems stopping the Marlins running game, while Pudge may be a nuclear deterrant against that aspect of Torre's game (in a way Varitek was not, an edge that probably was one of many reasons the Red Sox couldn't pull it off in close/late games when their bomber squadron failed to show up in post-season.)

Hitting on All Cylinders -- Adjust your Timing Belt for Maximum Power

Now on to hitting.

We'll start off with DH because that's the easiest. There's a major, major advantage to the Yankees with Giambi. My only diss on Jason right now is he's been having problems mastering the pitchers when he's behind in the count, and has all year, and that's kind of a problem when seeing a staff for the first time. But he's seeing the ball better and is obviously a more potent weapon than Juan Encarnacion.

Not to skip ahead too much, but one should note, though, that Giambi is adequate as a first baseman while Encarnacion would actually be an improvement over Cabrera and will probably start a few games. So in terms of the flexibility a DH might offer in a late game, there's something to be said for having Encarnacion there.

As for offense in general. First off, ignore season stats: an AL lineup like the Yankees compared to a triples-offense like the Marlins, with the pitchers hitting, is apples and oranges on the stat line. One needs to look at how the lineup works and how the pistons are firing in sequence to see how much fuel power is going to be sent out.

It's not like the Marlins are a small-ball team. The speed goes throughout the lineup, with the exception of Lowell and maybe the rightfielder du jour. But pretty much everybody past Castillo and Pierre have pop in their bats. The Yanks are, in general, older and slower and have slower bat speeds.

It's also obvious to me that the Yankees are an extremely smart-hitting team, they've got plate discipline and a better idea of what to do at the plate than a youthful team such as the Marlins will have. That's going to be a contrast of the Yankees pitchers vs. the Marlins batters and vice versa, of course, not the Yankees batters vs. the Marlins batters.

In terms of how I see the matchups, I don't think that difference in hitting IQ is going to be that significant. A speedy team can undo the Yanks; craft by the Yankees pitchers could be the undoing of the Marlins, but I don't think they're actually that impetuous as a group.

In an odd way, the NL pitchers having some clue with the bat may be a key difference here. In the critical games 3,4, and 5, you have to figure maybe about +4 to 5 bases to the Marlins because of their better ability to sacrifice and put runners ahead, etc. Giambi vs. Encarnacion is probably the same advantage in a seven-game series, but that's not where this series will be decided.

Bottom line here: craft and experience on the Yankees' side for both hitting and pitching, but speed and better reflexes are ultimately much more important to winning a longer series, and I think the Phish have that advantage.

Off the Pine and Into the Fray

I've left the bench and the bullpen for last for a reason: it's because I think that this is really the critical difference in close games, and this is where the Marlins have their biggest advantages. Obviously if a couple of Marlins starting pitchers suck it bigtime, all the comments I made previously will be chaff. Ditto the Yankees. But you have to assume in championship baseball close-and-late is going to be critical.

Let's start with the bench. Bearing in mind Giambi may or may not be on the bench for the Florida games, either he or Johnson would be a formidable weapon off the bench as a pinch-hitter.

After that, here's your comparison: Banks, Fox, Mordecai, Harris, Hollandsworth, Redmond; Almonte, Wilson, Rivera, Dellucci, Sierra, Flaherty.

Notice anything about this list?

Hardly any of the Yankees listed have played in the post-season. ALL of the Marlins have, some providing key hits. With the exceptions of Harris on the Marlins and Dellucci on the Yanks, the Phish bench are better defenders. They had more ABs in the season and are more accustomed to playing like a team. I give an edge of Sierra over Harris and Giambi/Johnson over Encarnacion for "first pinch hitter", but after that, it's all Phish.

Now we're down to the bullpens.

The Phish have C. Fox. Helling, looper, Urbina, Pavano, and Tejera. The Yanks have Contreras, Nelson, Hammond or Weaver, Heredia, White, Osuna, and Mariano Rivera.

We'll start with the obvious. Rivera is a fantastic pitcher, and if the Gossages and Sutters and Lee Smiths get admitted to the hall of fame, then I'm beginning to believe Rivera may end up on this list of HoF candidates as well.

And he's tired. And has been vulnerable this year. So while there's a definite advantage here, it's not as tremendous as you might think.

Urbina has had his problems, particularly with big innings, and the Yanks have all seen him before when he was with Texas. He's also pitched extremely well down the stretch, and McKeon isn't going to lean on him as heavily as Torre has been on Rivera.

Looper is a perfectly acceptable alternate closer and a much better 8th-inning man than anything the Yanks have put up. Torre clearly has zero confidence in his pen in anybody other than Rivera right now, and this gives McKeon the ability to deal his hand while Torre will have to keep drawing until he gets to his Ace in the pen.

Also notable here is the matchups of long men. Contreras has been dicey in the post- season but has that amazing slider. Weaver and/or Hammond have been no shows, obviously relegated to mop-up contingencies. McKeon has Pavano and Tejera, both of who started effectively (especially Pavano) and who appeared regularly in the post-season. That essentially doubles McKeon's options. Throw in the fact Rick Helling, another starter, has been throwing well down the stretch and has a great fastball strikeout pitch, he's essentially got three long-men who can also be thrown in to right-handed pitching situations.

Chad Fox is obviously out-classing Jeff Nelson right now. Gabe White and Osuna have been used strictly situationally, as has Heredia.

The Phish weakness is those lefties against the lefties and switch-hitters in the Yankee lineup; but neither is that a strength for the Yankee matchups, given that it requires tight choreography.

What this comes down to is the Marlins have bullpen advantages in the first through eighth innings, and while outclassed in the eighth and ninth, can probably at least out -work Rivera and will have enough flexibility to work out most save situations.

Manhattan Chowder will be Phish Phood

OK, so here's the bottom line.

As they say, anything can happen in a short series. And my previous comments aside, you do have to give history, experience, and a potentially intimidating Bronx crowd as an advantage to the Yankees. But in pure baseball terms, the Phish have everything going for them except a sense of urgency. If they can't handle the Yankees, if they don't show up to play as they have been, if they're not the best team in baseball as they've been since July first, the blame will only fall on lack of desire, not ability.

Phish in Six says my head, my gut tells me seven.

You think You're Sorry

Now you can make the all-American fashion statement.

Henceforth, I am going to try to keep track of the fake "apologies" issued by people. The recent non-apologies by Schwarzenegger, Limbaugh, Rumsfled, et alia have convinced me that "I'm sorry" has entered the meaningless area of language inhabited by "ironic", "compassionate" and "conservative", "mega", etc.

America has turned into a nation of five year olds where saying "I'm sorry" is supposed to fix things. But like most five year olds forced to apologize for their behavior, these cads don't really mean it.

It's time to say: apologies are not enough. Some behavior can and should disqualify you from grace, favor, and power.

The apology: America's Ritalin.

Finding Those Swords Turned into Plowshares

Without GPS, there would be no geocaching.
    AP Wire | 10/18/2003 | Cold War scientist Ivan A. Getting, father of GPS, dies at 91

    Cold War scientist Ivan A. Getting, father of GPS, dies at 91
    Associated Press

    LOS ANGELES - Although Ivan A. Getting developed the global positioning satellite system to keep track of enemy troop movements, the complicated linkage of global transmitters and clocks has come to be embraced by everyone from farmers to fishermen.

    Indeed, the system had become so commonplace by the time of Getting's death earlier this month that the scientist himself had a GPS antenna installed on the roof of his home as a hobby.

    "It was originally developed for military use, but it's extraordinary how its application has spread all over," Getting told The San Diego Union-Tribune in February after he and Bradford Parkinson of Stanford University received the National Academy of Engineering's Draper Prize for their work on the system. The award is engineering's equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

    "It's a passing of an era," Parkinson said Friday. "He spanned quite a bit of the technical continuity of the country."

    Getting died Oct. 11 of undisclosed causes at his Coronado home. He was 91.

    Throughout his career, Getting focused on the science and technology of war. He worked on the anti-aircraft radar used in World War II to down German V-1 cruise bombs lobbed at England and, later, on various ballistic missile systems.

    He also contributed to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Gemini and Mercury space programs, as well as the development of high-power chemical lasers.

    In 1960 he co-founded the Aerospace Corp., the El Segundo-based military research and development company, and ran it until his retirement in 1977.

    "He was a true patriot and he viewed the contribution that science and technology could make to national defense as something that he could help with and work on," said George Paulikas, Aerospace's retired executive vice president.

    Getting is best known, however, for envisioning the GPS, a system that would use multiple satellite transmitters, coupled with extremely precise clocks, to pinpoint with unparalleled accuracy locations anywhere on Earth. The satellites that make up its backbone were launched in 1978.

    Over the last 10 years, the system has been used by everyone from fisherman to search crews working to recover fragments of the space shuttle Columbia. It has steered smart bombs and hikers alike to their respective destinations and helped farmers estimate crop yields.

    Getting is generally considered the visionary behind GPS, and Parkinson the architect who helped implement the system.

    Born Jan. 18, 1912, in New York City and raised in Pittsburgh, Getting was an Edison scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, where he earned a doctorate in astrophysics in 1935.

    He worked at MIT on the microwave radar systems used to down 95 percent of the V-1 bombers flown against England during World War II, then turned to teaching after the war. He left MIT to join Raytheon, where he oversaw development of the Sparrow III and Hawk missile systems.

    In the 1950s, he was a part of a Navy-sponsored panel that recommended development of the submarine-based ballistic missile now known as the Polaris.

    He is survived by his wife, Helen, two sons and a daughter.

    A memorial service is planned Sunday in Coronado.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Slated to Appear on a Blog Near You

I feel obliged to note my Schwartzman Juggernaut note was picked up by Mickey Kaus at Slate, but there's something so cannibalistic about bloggers blogging bloggers that it makes me want to buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo a few times.

Update 10/15

My follow-up comments sent via email to Rick Kasen, who blogs election law, are here. Gosh, now I don't even have to blog my own blog 8-).

Monday, October 13, 2003

Redsoxasia Has Always Been the Enemy

I was going to write today about how Mayor Bloomberg of New York ought to be concerned about more pressing things on his crime blotter than an alleged assault by Pedro Martinez of Don Zimmer in another city (Boston). For those of you on Mars during this last weekend, there was a brouhaha at Fenway that featured the 72-year old Zimmer seeking out Martinez and taking a swing at him. Video clearly shows Pedro sidestepping him like a toreador would a slightly demented bull, and Zim's momentum -- aided by Pedro's hands around his head -- carrying him to the ground.

It was a bizarre form of instant interpretation that Pedro had somehow assaulted Zimmer, instead of the other way around. I expect that sort of thing from partisan fans, although I probably wouldn't want them on my jury interpreting video surveillance during my capital murder trial. But the Mayor of New York, calling for the arrest of Martinez, using words like "disgraceful" and actually threatening to arrest Pedro once he set foot in New York? "Intimidation" is one word that comes to mind, "lunatic" another. You'd think in a city where the cops shoot a guy down for going for his wallet and there's still a couple of murders a day the mayor would have more to worry about.

And no doubt some of Bloomberg's political advisors have told him he's made his point in pandering to Yankee fans, so he better reign in those horses of rhetorical excess which border on criminal threats of intimidation (yes, it's a crime to threaten to arrest somebody when you have no jurisdiction or authority to do so -- most especially for a misdemeanor that did not actually occur).

But that's not the point. Today when I went to dredge up the AP wire stories on Bloomberg's threat...I couldn't find them. They weren't in the AP article database. They weren't on the ESPN wire mirror of AP stories, although all the other stories from that day are there. GoogleNews comes up blank. You can find references to the Bloomberg threat, but the original AP article has mysteriously disappeared.

Now the fact that Mayor Bloomberg owns a news service may just be a coincidence. But I remain perplexed as to how a widely-disseminated AP article can disappear so completely.

Any ideas?

Thursday, October 09, 2003

But wouldn't the homunculi get through, too?

The Vatican claims condoms don't stop AIDS. It's very gratifying to see the Vatican has experts in materials science and virology serving as Cardinals.

I honestly don't know what to say about this that wouldn't be offensive to someone. But whatever it would be, it couldn't possibly be as offensive as the statement from the Vatican above. Sometimes, the sticks-and-stones adage notwithstanding, words can kill.

Don't Come to a Battle of Wits Unarmed
(Especially when it's a game of solitaire)

Bill O'Reilly stars in the remake of The Mental Disorderly

Terry Gross of NPR, being an incredibly fair, experienced, and dare I say it, balanced interviewer, made the mistake of inviting Bill O'Reilly for an interview. You can listen to the interview here.

I've never watched O'Reilly's show for more than two minutes at a time, because it seems to always end up with him yelling at somebody. I doubt seriously anybody other than he has completed an entire sentence on the show. But really, he was in the not-on-my-radar-screen status until the recent flap in which Fox News sued Al Franken for allegedly violating the trademarked statement 'Fair and Balanced'. I listened to the Fresh Air interview largely because I couldn't quite believe Al Franken had it entirely correct, and I figured a Terry Gross interview would be the place where I could learn something closer to the center of what happened. As it turned out, Al Franken probably was being kind and gentle to O'Reilly, who turns out to be a fruitcake loonier than the Vince Foster murder conspiracists and the JFK assassination buffs combined. I mean, really actually mentally unbalanced, not just disconnected with reality.

I shan't comment in depth on the substance of the bizarre dispute with Terry Gross, since I believe if you listen to the complete interview, it speaks for itself. The dime version is O'Reilly taped the interview, acted incredibly paranoid at anything that wasn't a fawning question, went mental-postal on the mild-mannered Gross, and cut the interview off. He then proceeded to use a very tiny snippet of it on his show, very much out of context, to ridicule NPR, Terry Gross, and again put forward the view that everybody's out to get him.

One of the heights of hypocrisy in this exchange is where O'Reilly claimed Al Franken's book, even though it quoted him directly, was an unfair personal attack because it took only a small snippet of a transcript. He claimed one had to hear the whole interview, segment, etc. to understand what was really going on. And of course, Fox aired a snippet of the Fresh Air interview, while NPR aired the whole thing.

One of O'Reilly's repeated claims was that he'd been libeled/slandered by Franken, et alia, because they attacked him 'personally'; listen to the key phrase in the interview "review the book, not the person". He apparently doesn't hold this standard to himself.

Among the many reprehensible things spouted by O'Reilly in this interview were what can only be characterized charitably as underinformed attacks on Terry Gross - personally - one of the least pre-possessing journalists and interviewers working today. Gross. much to her credit, did not fight back, but kept her journalistic distance.

I, however, am under no such restraints, so I'm going to state the obvious from the interview: Bill O'Reilly is mentally ill. The level of paranoia demonstrated in this interview is intensely high. He needs therapy, possibly medication (maybe he could ask Rush Limbaugh for some help there). Seriously, I'd be really worried to meet a guy like this on the streets.

This guy Bill O'Reilly has gone from an insignificant speck on my personal radar screen to a dangerous incoming missile with a defective firing mechanism. Oh, strike that, on third thought I don't think there's any payload on board, so I guess he's an insignificant speck after all.

Don't pick on Terry Gross. It isn't nice, and certainly not the behavior of a gentleman.

Closer by Committee -- or the Murderer's Row of Relief?

The supposed Closer-by-Committee approach by the Red Sox this year, suggested by the great Bill James' paid observation to Red Sox GM Theo Epstein that the solo-Cowboy-Closer was an overrated and overpaid position, has been much-maligned this year. I suggest this is not because of the concept, which after all is how the game was played for eighty years until the early 1980s, nor especially the committee in question -- more about this below -- but in retraining the field manager in the art of situational pitching management. Closer by committee is simply putting the best pitcher for a situation in the game; it results in saves being distributed across a larger number of individuals.

One of the most inaccurate readings of the effect of James, et alia, on baseball is the belief that meaningless statistics now rule the sport. On the contrary, meaningless statistics like the Win, RBI, AVG, etc. ruled the sport for decades; the most meaningless of them all, the Save, has threatened to ruin it for the past thirty; only now that James' influence is being felt in the front office are the meaningful stats being watched and the meaningless ones gradually discarded. And a great example is the alleged Closer by Committee.

"Committee" is the wrong word for this year's Red Sox pen. A committee brings to mind images of bureaucracy twiddling its thumbs and impeding progress. This no-designated-closer approach is the greatest form of Team relief pitching, and this year's Red Sox have been, first and foremost, and in marked contrast to Sox teams past, a true team effort.

Yesterday we were treated to the ludicrous observation by Tim McCarver during the Fox broadcast, when Scott Williamson entered the game in the 9th, that "you can't make a closer in October". McCarver has been slipping seriously in recent years, and in this case he clearly hadn't checked nor remembered that Scott Williamson has been a closer, for the Cincinnati Reds.

In fact, let's take a look at the arms the Red Sox have available:

Guys on the LCS roster:
Pitcher      Saves   Closing Experience          
Todd Jones   184     1995-96 part time, Houston; 1997-2001 Detroit; part-time Minnesota 2001; All-Star
Mike Timlin  116     Toronto 1996-97; Seattle part-time 1998; Baltimore 1999-2000
Derek Lowe    85     1999, 2001 part-time; 2000 full-time, 45-save season, lead league in saves Y2K
S. Williamson 54     1999, 2003 Cincinnati; spot duty 2000-2002
Tim Wakefield 22     1999 half year, occasional spot closer 2001-2003
Alan Embree    7     Spot-saves as lefty specialist, seven teams, 1993-2003
S. Sauerbeck   5     Spot-save as set-up man for Pirates, 1999-2003

Guys not on the LCS roster:
B. Kim        86     2000-2002 part to full-time, Arizona, 2003 part-time Boston; All-Star
Brandon Lyon   9     Brief stint in 2003 as Boston closer
Robert Person  9     Brief stint with Toronto, 1998

Holy cow! The active Red Sox playoff staff have more combined saves than any single "closer" in history except Lee Arthur Smith! They have one, two, three, four, five guys who have been full-time closers for at least two years. They have guys who've saved games for 16 different clubs!

You can quibble with how this pen was put together and how it performed off and on during the year, but arguably the major problems were when the Sox were violating the 'committee' concept and trying to nominate one particular guy as the 'Closer' (Kim, Lyon, et alia). And their success in September and thus far in October has been because Grady Little went with the guy for the situation - Timlin, Williamson, Lowe, without worrying about whether he was a 'starter', 'closer', or whatever. Hell, even Pedro warmed up in the pen in game 3 of the LDS.

This isn't closer by committee -- it's the Murderer's Row of Relief, the greatest assemblage of arms -- and minds -- that have successfully finished games for their teams in victory.

There have been three prevailing trends in pitching in the last 25 years.

First has been the switch from a four-man rotation to a five-man rotation. Not having learned the lesson of Dazzy Vance, major league managers spent most of the century squeezing just a bit more out of starters' arms than they ought, resulting in early ends to careers and considerably fewer pitchers in overall numbers who lasted more than a half dozen years as effective major leaguers. Moving to the five-man rotation upped the ante, even if it did technically weaken the quality one day in five.

Second has been the emergence of the "closer". Dominant relief pitchers were around in abundance from the 1920s, and particularly since WWII, but they would pitch multiple innings, switch between starting and relief, and generally filled a utility role. The number of games they pitched in was higher than that of "closers" today, and they were generally put into the most critical game situation, not the "save" situation. But in 1969, when the Save stat was invented to try to give relief pitchers some extra credit, the situations dictated by this ridiculous rule started to dictate the use of a single pitcher to always finish games. The reductio ad absurdum treatment of this concept has been that the 'dominant' closer MUST be brought in but ONLY in situations where the rule qualifies it as a save. So the 50+ save season came about.

Finally has been what I'll call, for lack of better education on my part, "LaRussaism". LaRussaism of course is the use of specialty pitchers in specific game situations, even to the point of using three pitchers in one inning to get three outs. The late 80s A's were the team infamous for this approach, one in which a "committee" was used in a game -- but in a tightly-choreographed approach of having the most favorable match-ups, often with very specific roles assigned to each pitcher, such as 7th inning righty, 8th-inning lefty, and closer, etc. etc.

LaRussaism was both forward-looking and retro at the time. It was based on the concept of the best pitcher for the situation, but it articulated very minutely what the situations were and dictated training pitchers ONLY for those specific roles. So it paradoxically emphasized the dominant closer theory, to the point that you have the 1992 Dennis Eckersley as the apex of the species.

But I daresay LaRussaism has been the downfall of many teams, including the LaRussa-lead Cards. For this approach to work, you have to have the right pitchers up and down the lineup for all those situations, you can't have injuries that force drafting of new pitchers for roles they're unaccustomed to, and it requires a stability of playing conditions and opposing lineup configurations that is frankly highly unrealistic. Stuff happens and one has to adapt.

That's where the genius of this year's Sox bullpen arrives. I believe the genius of the Bill James-Theo Epstein bullpen approach is inherently conservative, retro, and downright humanistic. Rather than viewing pitchers as tools -- 7th inning, get out socket wrench lefty, eighth-inning, get out spanner set-up man, ninth-inning get out screwdriver closer, complete assembly of victory -- they are instead used as if colors on a palette. The pitchers were acquired because they've been effective in a variety of roles. The starters are willing to pitch in relief, the relievers are willing to convert to starters. Instead of playing to the players' stat sheets, the team is played to Sox victory.

This approach requires artistry, and like most arts, practice. Situational pitching isn't necessarily all intuition, nor is it all checking the stats sheet for match-ups. The experienced painter knows from thousands of hours of practice what color will be called for in a particular painting, but may have to experiment with mixing a bit in order to understand exactly how to apply it. Grady Little and Dave Wallace, not having been given a palette at any of their managerial stops before and coming into the season with the Toolkit mentality, had to get experience in understanding -- rediscovering -- the painter's art.

And that's the point I think the 2003 Sox are at; this not being rocket science, Little has arrived at how to use the rich palette in front of him. The danger, I think, at this point is if he reverts to the conventional wisdom and tries to go with the "hot hand" as the "closer" -- in this case, right now, Scott Williamson -- in all situations. He might get lucky and get away with it, but it doesn't reflect the true strength of this 2003 Red Sox bullpen -- which is that it's not even just a bullpen, it's a pitching staff, and it's very much a team concept, and not a collection of individual specialists.

The Save rule may be the worst thing that's happened to competitive baseball in the past three decades. Ignoring it may be the best.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

If You Love Something, Let it Go, then Re-Capture it

Jim Caple notes on ESPN:
    Challenger, the eagle that is described each game as "the Yankees' living symbol of freedom,'' became confused on his traditional flight during the national anthem and overshot his keeper. He flew beyond the pitchers mound, circled home plate and hovered above the players who were lined up along each basepath. Challenger was heading back toward the mound when two F-14s flew over the park (and that's a nice use of tax money, isn't it?), frightening the bird so much that it swooped so low over Derek Jeter that the shortstop dropped to the ground to evade its talons.
Does anybody else think it's a sucky way to honor Liberty to force a captive eagle - Challenger - to fly in from centerfield during the national anthem as a symbol of freedom? How is it emblematic of freedom to have a wild animal enslaved so that the likes of George Steinbrenner are amused?

Recalling the Details: Some Notes on the Morning After

Chads are Hanging on Bated Breath

Who is George B. Schwartzman? Who is the man who finished just behind Gary Coleman but just ahead of Mary Carey in the recall election?

Here's what George says on his website about his high vote total (a whopping 10,880):

    The 9th place success realized by my candidacy demonstrates that a little known, but determined issue based candidate, can be successful when you are innovative, common sense oriented, hardworking, and well organized.
Um, I hate to break it to George's dozens of actual supporters, but he appeared on the ballot right between Mike Schmier and one Arnold Schwarzenneger (blissfully two spots away from Richard Simmons -- no, not that Richard Simmons -- and three away from ultracon and defeated official Republican nominee in 2002, Bill Simon). So even with the celebrated "scrambled" ballots set by using a randomized alphabet drawing, everywhere Arnold was, George Schwartzman was just one chad above him.

Having helped a few voters who were confused about the specific line on which to vote, I'm completely positive the difference between George and, say, Mike Schmier and Richard Simmons' vote totals is purely voting error.

So before California pats itself on the back for avoiding the Palm Beach - Florida meltdown, take a look at the vote totals and the margins. If the recall election hung on the 0.1% margin the 2000 Florida vote did, we'd be in the same fix.

Yes, the voting system has systematic error built into it.

He Had Only Been Married for Three Years and Was a Youthful 41 at the Time

More in the serial-monogamy/youthful indiscretion department, yesterday I heard second-hand about one of the accusers of Arnold. Well, not technically an accuser, because this person had not gone to the media. The lady I talked with volunteered that her daughter had been a bit player in a promotional piece for the Arnold film Twins and had been accidentally kicked in the head by the Incumbinator during a stunt. After checking to see she was OK (a decent thing to do, albeit one virtually anyone ought to do), there was a pause while her wardrobe was fixed; and thereupon Arnold proceeded to make comments on her chest and then 'worked the room' hitting on every lady present in the more figurative sense. In some quarters this might pass as movie star charm, of course.

At Least He and Uncle Teddie Have Common Interests

I'm left groping for the right image of the Governor of California calling the most hated man on the left this side of Hilary Clinton -- er, sorry, Hilary, I didn't mean that the way it sounded -- "Uncle Ted" at family reunions.

Don't Worry about Maria

If she ever decides to divorce the cad, she's got her important work as a journalist and author to fall back on. Lord knows the media was critical in educating the population during the recall election.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Recall, Recall, Let's Have a Ball

Gigantic...Gigantic...Gigantic...Our Big, Big Love

Today I served as Judge on the election board at a precinct in California. A "Judge" is one of four officials overseeing the voting process. We're the people who hand you out a ballot, check your name on the registration list, explain how to vote for one of 135 candidates, avoid hanging chads, etc. I got up at 5 a.m. and was at work at 6 a.m.; my work day was over at 9:45 p.m. when along with the Inspector at our polling place, I dropped off and got a signed receipt for our ballots and other voting material. My pay for the day, by the way, was $90 -- $5.71 an hour if you're keeping score at home.

The people serving on election boards are just citizen-voters. Generally they're retired people from the neighborhood; few are election wonk-slackers such as myself who can take a Tuesday off. But they are the salt of the earth and the foundation of our democracy in more ways than one. I've been doing this in one form or another in many of the places I've lived, the last two election cycles in my little coastal town in a punch-card county.

I live, coincidentally enough, within a short walk of the place where the California Constitution was drafted, and normally work out of the election polling place at the Legion Hall, seeing my own neighbors vote. This time, however, I somehow got assigned to a weird and fairly well-to-do wooded neighborhood of Carmel. We had an odd mixture of locals who'd inherited their property, retired Hollywood people, retired aerospace defense engineers, and Hollywood people married to retired aerospace contractors. I bet, for instance, not too many election boards had the problem of trying to figure out whether an a ctor had registered under his given name or his stage name. And to give you perspective, in a precinct of 305 registered voters, the only minority to vote today was the Mexican caretaker of the church where the voting took place. (The second one who tried to vote but couldn't I'll talk about below.) It was strangely representative of California in a way -- more liberal than you'd expect, but maybe not as much as you'd think.

The turnout was huge. Nearly half the precinct had requested absentee ballots; with the 123 people who voted at the precinct, figure maybe 75% of the absentee ballots were returned, that's about 75% turnout overall. I've NEVER worked an election anywhere in the five states where I've lived and worked on elections in various forms where turnout was above 60%. It's really difficult to imagine the circumstances that brought people out.

When you work an election board, you're not even supposed to mention the names of candidates, much less discuss politics directly. But in the course of the day, voters make comments, you get an idea of who's voting for what from their requests for help here and there, occasionally you see a demonstration of some sort (although this is also the first election I can recall where I didn't see a SINGLE voter come in with a political button of any sort). And I heard a very distinct split in the electorate: the people who were voting for Arnold on the basis of his name and a general sense of dissatisfaction with the direction of the country and the specifics of life in the state without any real logical connection between the one and the other, and the people who couldn't believe the rest of the people in the state were that stupid. Bearing in mind a solid minority of the latter people also voted for Arnold because they hate Democrats, period, that's where the surprising total came from.

I will say one of the oddest things about working the precincts as an election worker is you have no idea how the election is going until well after everybody else. The only news we got during the day -- were allowed to get -- came form the county election supervisors who told us virtually every precinct in the county was running over with people. Some had 20-person lines all day. Of course, our county couldn't afford this election so had to double up many of its precincts, and we were actually one of the smallest polling places left in the county. (As an aside, all joking about our punch card ballots aside, our County Election office and the staff did a phenomenal job getting this election together in short order. Unless you've worked on an election, you just can't appreciate the amount of work that goes into putting one on. To do it in less than sixty days with lawsuits flying over your head at every turn is pretty remarkable. The idea we could bring Democracy to Iraq in a couple of years when it takes a minimum of two months to run an election here under the best of circumstances should tell you how long the former will take.)

So it wasn't until we'd dropped off the ballots that I turned on the radio and heard the results that Davis got creamed and Arnold might've actually gotten a record plurality or even a majority. Well, the people have spoken. I think it's a stupid decision, but that's not the point. It's a thrilling thing to be one of the custodians of democracy. Our election panel, all retired folks except myself, worked a 16-hour day -- in the case of the Inspector, a day that started yesterday, and that's not counting the unpaid training sessions elections board officials attend -- essentially to take in 123 or so votes (absentee ballots are returned to the county directly, mostly). And we had not one armed person policing our election, we had no bomb threats, no fights at the ballot box, no disputes, no screaming, and only the most minor of bureaucratic problems here and there. My board was extremely diligent in both ensuring the security and integrity of the ballots and voting, but also in making every effort to make sure every vote counted.

There are a couple of examples that stand out from the day. There were quite a number of voters who had let their registrations lapse, some of whom hadn't voted since the 1996 Presidential Election. But thanks to the National Voting Rights Act and the Motor-Vote bills, plus the progressive approach California has made to ballot inclusiveness, we were able to document the right of all but one or two voters to cast ballots. In California, some of these are marked "Provisional" and are counted or not counted by the County Election Board, but by uniform standards which bend over backwards to make votes count.

One woman arrived with two absentee ballots for herself and her husband. I checked them before accepting them, and it turns out she had signed her husband's ballot, and her husband had signed her ballot. We called the County office, and they conferred and we spent five minutes finding out the best way to get both votes to count. We finally accepted the woman's ballot by having her cross out her husband's signature and sign it properly, and working it out so she could take the other ballot to her husband and get him to sign it in the right place. I felt really good about that one, because she was about two seconds from having both of the votes invalidated on a technicality, but an important one, but as an election board we caught the mistake and saved their votes.

The one voter I felt really, really bad about had voted in this precinct many years ago but since moved to a town about 30 miles away and failed to re-register. He was the second minority I alluded to above, and it seems he lived in the neighborhood as a handyman or caretaker on one of the larger properties and had since struck out on his own. He wanted to vote today, but was confused by where he should vote, especially since he was about to move to a third town. He'd made the effort to come out and vote. In this circumstance, we give him a provisional ballot, and the voter has to declare an affirmation of his eligibility to vote. We're supposed to get proper ID from the person in this circumstance. There's a list of acceptable IDs, the simplest of which is a driver's license with the current (correct) address on it. Even if normally the voter would be sent to another precinct, if the voter wants to vote in that spot, we're supposed to try to make that happen. But this voter's address didn't match up, we didn't have a record of his registration, and he wasn't voting in a precinct he'd lived in for at least six years. Yet we were trying to get him to sign the paperwork to at least allow him to cast a provisional vote. It's not complicated, but there's a registration form plus the ballot declaration, and something spooked this guy. Whether it was the observation of his ID not matching his declared address, or the complexity of the form, or maybe his English wasn't so good, I don't know. We offered several times to help him fill out the forms, but he refused -- too proud, perhaps. All of a sudden he stopped in the middle of this, said his hand hurt, and he would vote the next election instead and walked out of the polling place. I had a lump in my throat, feeling like we'd let the guy down somehow -- but what can you do? The paperwork and procedures are there to help people who would've been told in another era to screw off, and sure it's a problem, but you have to have some standards to establish the identity and ability of a voter to vote in a place. I'm pretty sure the guy was on the up and up and just got frustrated with the system, after having made a 40-minute drive to come vote. It felt like a small failure, even on a day when we had more voters come out than in any election in a long, long time.

I cannot help but note the differences in class and race between my success in helping keep two voters' votes counts, and the guy I -- we -- failed. I'm sure this isn't anything profound or statistically representative, and I have no idea what if anything this has to do with this election or any other. But it makes me think hard about the nature of our democracy and why and when people vote. Just showing up and being able to vote may not harbor any true convictions; not voting may not show any lack of same nor heartfelt desire to do so.