Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rooting for Paraguay now?

The quarterfinals for the World Cup are now set and the games will be played this Friday and Saturday. Some people expected we might see a few African squads do well, but the only representation they have among the eight teams still competing is Ghana. The big surprise is how well the South Americans are doing. Besides the usual suspects Brazil and Argentina, both Uruguay and Paraguay are still in the tournament. Due to the luck of the draw, we could have an all South American semi-final in the somewhat unlikely event that all four of the teams win their games this week.

Argentina's head coach Diego Maradona has vowed to run through the streets naked if Argentina wins the whole thing. Not to be outdone, Paraguayan lingerie model Larissa Riquelme has made a similar offer should Paraguay be the 2010 champion.

One of these vows is a promise, while the other is more like a threat. I'll let you figure out which one.

A few comments.

1. Am I rooting for Paraguay now? Mmmm, not so much. As cute as Ms. Riquelme is (very, very cute), Paraguay is the worst offensive team still in the tournament, only scoring three goals in regulation time in their first four games, two against the porous Slovakian defense.

2. It's not like finding nekkid and near nekkid pictures of Larissa Riquelme is a very difficult quest on the Internets of 2010.

Hypothetical Question Asker also has a few things he'd like to say.

Storing a cell phone in one's cleavage?
Is this what the young people are doing these days?
Will Ms. Riquelme single-handedly or double-boobedly start a new trend?
Can the camera option be set off accidentally?
Or maybe by remote control by wishing really, really hard?

I'm sorry, Hypothetical, I do not have the answers for any of your questions. I can say that given Ms. Riquelme's bodacious tatas, she could carry even a more antique model of a cell phone in her cleavage just as easily.

Just sayin'.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A very chalky round of 16.

In the round of 16, known as los octavos in Spanish, the first place finisher in one group plays the second place finisher from a different group. Odds should favor the team that finished first, and that's how it's played out in five out of six of the matches so far.

When did it not work out? Here's a hint. The United States won their group.


There are only two more matches tomorrow, and while it makes sense to favor the first place teams, one never knows. Paraguay won their group because Italy sucked so bad, but they are playing the upstart Japanese, who were expected to finish last in their group, but instead surprised both Denmark and Cameroon, and only lost to the Netherlands 1-0. In the other game, Spain plays Portugal. The Spanish should be favored, but they are a team that often shines but fails to win the whole enchilada, and some people are impressed with how dominant Portugal was against North Korea.

I'm going to go out on a limb. The Portuguese are good at beating up on cripples, but that doesn't mean the Spanish. Spain by at least two goals in regulation.

I'll go out on another limb. I'll vote against the chalk and send Japan into the quarterfinals, based on the fact that Japan had two wins and one loss, while Paraguay played it safe, winning once and drawing twice. Japan wins in regulation.

You heard it hear first. Go put all your money on it, unless you have already read the posts with the label Matty Boy - Investment Advisor to the Stars*.

In which case, save your money. You betta off.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Half right in public.

I thought the Yanks could beat Ghana, but the United States had other ideas. Once again, they gave up a ridiculously easy early goal and had to fight back, just like they did against England and Slovenia. Just like in those games, the Americans fought back and tied the game, but now we are in the knockout rounds. Ghana scored in extra time and the U.S. team is flying back home. If they aren't disappointed deep down, they should be.

I should give props to Ghana. I wrote a post last Sunday entitled Not This Time For Africa, but an African squad is in the quarterfinals, and they have a fighting chance to beat Uruguay. Good work for Ghana.

The English fancied their chances in this World Cup. Ladbrokes gave them a better chance to win the whole thing than they gave Germany, Brazil or Argentina.

What this really says is the English gambling public are mad.

Germany was supposed to be too inexperienced. Tell that to Thomas Müller, the 20 year old striker who plays his club football for Bayern Munich. In this picture, he wears the number 25 and appears to be 25 feet tall. In reality, he wears 13 for Germany and is only 13 feet tall. (Note: One of those statements is factually inaccurate.) While Germany can still get goals from old hands like Miroslav Klose, it was Müller who scored twice as Germany dominated a disorganized English squad, winning 4-1.

The English can complain about a goal stolen from them by a sleeping assistant referee, but guess what? All that would do is change the score to 4-2. This was the ass kicking most sane people thought it would be.

England lost and they deserved to lose. The Germans now face the winner of Argentina-Mexico that starts a few hours from now. It's an uphill battle for the Mexicans, but they can show the spark they had against France, this game could go either way. I will be at La Estrellita, my vuvuzela at the ready, rooting for good football and hoping against hope El Tri can surprise the very scary Argentines.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Take a hint, Dick.

Dick Cheney is evil. I don't say this about everyone I disagree with politically, but in his case, the description is accurate.

Let me be clear. I am not comparing Cheney to Adolf Hitler. That would break Godwin's Law, a rule I believe in deeply. Nor I am not comparing him to Stalin or Charles Manson.

Those people are losers and clowns. They are the Chicago Cubs of evil.

Dick Cheney is a member of the New York Yankees of evil. The truly successful villains are the ones who die quietly in their sleep surrounded by family and loved ones. Dick Cheney is like the guy who invented the concept of the pre-existing condition. Dick Cheney is the spiritual brother of the writer of the memo at Ford that said it was cheaper to pay the benefits to the families of people who would die in defective Pintos than it was to fix the defects in Pintos.

Dick Cheney is the textbook example of how evil wins.

Though I am in general a non-believer in most things supernatural, I do believe people have souls. I consider the heart to be a physical thing unconnected to the soul, so in my world view, it is just coincidence that Dick Cheney has a rotten soul and a worse heart.

Dick Cheney's heart has been trying to kill him for about 32 years now. He has had six official heart attacks and has been hospitalized several other times for chest pains, including this week. He also an Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator or ICD, a little electronic device in his chest that makes it nearly impossible for his defective heart to kill him, no matter how many times it tries or how badly he abuses his cardiovascular system.

Not every thing modern medicine can do is a blessing. I don't know how devout Mr. Cheney is. I expect not very. With every painful tightening of his badly designed chest, he must know a judgment is waiting, and that his best hope is for meaningless oblivion.

Take a hint, Dick. Jud Crandall in Pet Sematary said it best.

Sometimes, dead is better.

Why first is better than second.

There are no promises or sure things in the World Cup, but looking at the matches in the knockout rounds, some teams have a much harder road to the final than others. The miracle goal by Landon Donovan gave the United States first place in Group C, so their first match in the round of 16 is against Ghana, second place finisher in Group D. The Americans are slight favorites at most of the gambling establishments and should they prevail, they meet the winner of Uruguay and South Korea. These are not names to strike fear in the hearts of opposing football teams. Uruguay was good back before I was born, but I am very old, and South Korea finishing second in their group is one of the big positive surprises of the tournament so far. The Yanks playing a semi-final match is a real possibility.

Then there is England. They finished second to the United States in Group C, so they face Germany in their first round. The Germans have made it to the semi-finals in eight of the last eleven World Cups. Very tough game for the Limeys in such an early round.

Should England pull off the win, they face the winner of Argentina-Mexico. Win that game, and they are likely to face the current European champs Spain. Who would they meet in the finals? Probably Brazil, but it could be the Dutch. Heck, if everything bounces the right way, it could be the United States.

Predictions in this World Cup have been pretty useless so far, but I have to say I don't like the Limeys chance to go deep in this tournament. If they do prevail, they will have earned one of the toughest victories in 80 year history of the World Cup, the most prestigious championship for national teams on the world stage today in any single sport.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Random 10, 6/25/10

Who Was That Man? Nick Lowe
Adagio: Concierto De Aranjuez (Rodrigo) Zoltan Tokos and the Budapest Strings
Temptation Elvis Costello & the Attractions
Shamed Into Love Elvis Costello & Bill Frisell
Baltimore Randy Newman
Twisting They Might Be Giants
Keep On Walking Spanic Boys
Shock The Monkey Peter Gabriel
Come Dancing The Kinks
Go Now The Moody Blues

Does this Random 10 come from the computer of an old person? Why yes it does, thanks for asking. It's all 20th Century and only six of four can be found on the You Tubes, which makes it feel like 2007 or something.

I put up the Union Jack because six of ten songs are from British artists. The weirdest coincidence on the list is that I was singing the Spanic Boys tune to myself just this afternoon, though I haven't heard it in many a moon. Even weirder, it's one of the songs found on The You Tubes, while better known artists like Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello get shut out.

Whatchoo listenin' to?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The groups of deadly cake

The preliminary round of the World Cup splits the teams into groups of four. Two of the four will advance, and the worst case scenario for the teams is to be in a Group of Death, where at least three quality teams vie for the two top spots. The opposite situation is where there is a prohibitive favorite that should finish first and might finish second if everything goes wrong, and the other teams are hoping to sneak a few crumbs off the table. I call this a Group of Cake.

What could go wrong in a Group of Cake? Well, ask the French. Here were the odds from the British bookies at Ladbrokes of the teams in France's group to win the whole thing when the match-ups were announced.

Uruguay 66/1
Mexico 80/1
South Africa 80/1
France 16/1

Why did I list the French last? Because that's where they finished in their group. After a dull 0-0 draw against Uruguay, Les Bleus proceeded to lose to both Mexico and South Africa and finish at the bottom of the table. This wasn't good, but for many knowledgeable fans, it wasn't a huge surprise. Their coach was widely reviled and after the loss to Mexico, the bad blood on the team was easy to see. But still, the favorite finishing dead last? That has to happen once a blue moon.

Apparently, blue moons happen much more often in the Southern Hemisphere. Here are the odds for winning the whole shebang for the squads in Group F.

Paraguay 40/1
Slovakia 150/1
New Zealand 1000/1
Italy 10/1

Again, Italy is list at the bottom because that's where they finished. Unlike the French, the Italians were playing strategically, getting a tie from the next best team Paraguay in the first match, but then letting New Zealand off the hook, a team who were supposed to be complete door mats. (The two other teams at 1000/1 are North Korea and Honduras, who have lost all the games they have played so far. The Kiwis pulled off three draws, a stunningly good result for them.)

The Italians still had their destiny in front of them. Beating Slovakia in the final group match could still give them a ticket to the elimination rounds, where all the uninspired play in the first three games can be forgiven with a few brilliant goals and some solid defense.

Instead, Slovakia scored in the 25th minute to take a 1-0 lead into the intermission, then put in what looked like the winner in the 71st. Italy scored to make it 2-1, then Slovakia again in the 89th for 3-1 and Italy in the 90th for 3-2. But that's where it would end, ending the hopes of the World Champions to repeat.

Along with the Americans' stoppage time heroics yesterday, this is some very crazy stuff, and we haven't even played a game that might be decided on penalty kicks yet.

Stay tuned, but if you have a weak heart, consult your physician first.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This working for a living... not as much fun as they let on.

Let me make a criticism of soccer as a soccer fan. 0-0 draws are almost always miserable to watch. You might come away with a "we wuz robbed" moment or be on the opposite end of that feeling, realizing your team escaped from a stinging defeat. More than likely, 0-0 draws mean really sad offense on both sides. The U.S. and Algeria played this morning and the game was 0-0 into the 91st minute. England was finally winning a game, so it looked like the Yanks were about to be yanked from the competition.

And then Landon Donovan hits a calm, cool and collected rebound shot and the U.S. wins the game and finishes first in their group.

I heard about all of this and the heartbreaking almost goals and all the action in the game after the fact because I had to prepare for class. Grrrr!

What does finishing first mean? The next game for the Yanks is Ghana. The next game for the second place Limeys is Germany.

One of these games is easier than the other. I'll let you guess which one.

Work is going to keep me away from half of the round of 16 matches and all the semifinals, but I should have time to watch all the quarterfinals and OBVIOUSLY the Grand Final.

I do love this tournament. I loved the first one I kept track of way back in 1966 and I loved all the ones in between. Football is a lovely game at this level.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Al Williamson, 1931-2010

Al Williamson, the comic book artist that worked for nearly every publisher but is best known for his work on Flash Gordon and the Star Wars comic strips, died in upstate New York more than a week ago. The New York Times knew he was worth an obituary. So far, the Associated Press hasn't mentioned his passing. The Times got it right and AP got it wrong.

You can click on the picture above to make it bigger. There are actual artists who read this blog, so I'll let them comment more knowledgeably on Mr. Williamson's work, but I love what the black and white illustrators could do to turn a few lines of cross hatching into shadows and highlights. Just like Flash appears to be, I am transfixed looking at her navel, or more literally, the dozen accurate pen strokes that create the illusion of that sexy little indent.

Best wishes to Al Williamson's friends and family, from a fan.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Suffering under cruel regimes. Not just for foreigners anymore.

At nearly every World Cup, there is at least one match that is a flat out embarrassment, and since the field has been increased to 32 teams, the probability of an awful mismatch has risen to a near certainty.

There are still more matches to play in the round robin tourneys, but the game that looks like it will take this year's Bambi Meets Godzilla award is North Korea getting shellacked 7-0 by Portugal, a squad that played the Ivory Coast to a terrible 0-0 draw in their first match. Way back in 1966, Portugal and North Korea played an exciting 5-3 match in the knockout round, with Portugal finishing on top on goals by the first African football superstar Eusebio, who was born in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique.

Being from Northern California, I can empathize with the poor North Korean fans, as East Bay football fans are tormented by the uglier and older brother of Kim Jong Il, the senile and vicious tyrant Kim Jong Al. Everyone realizes that neither of these despots will ever give up power voluntarily, and those who thirst for freedom and a better life must wait like vultures for the Grim Reaper to sweep these human plagues away.

Sadly, even the escape provided by their inevitable deaths is thwarted, as both seem prepared to have their respective idiot sons take the reigns of power from their cold dead hands.

Oh, bitter fate!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Not this time for Africa.

Brazil is playing Ronaldo free in South Africa. No Ronaldo, no Ronaldinho. In fact, the guy wearing #9 this time around is Luis Fabiano.

A Brazilian striker with a two name nickname. It's a disgrace. How did this impostor do?

Two goals. Both of them astounding. Brazil beats Ivory Coast 3-1.

The only thing is... the second beautiful goal? He touched the ball with his arm. Twice. The ref and assistant ref missed both of them.

Brazil is too good to be given goals for free. But to make up for it, the referee threw out the Brazilian striker Kaká when the game was already decided. He misses the next game as well.

So now, every African team has played twice. Only Ghana has won a game outright, and if they don't get a result against Germany in their third and final game, they could be going home.

This is the first time the huge world contest has been played on the African continent and hopes were high for the African squads to do well, but in general, they have played miserable and uninspired football. Cameroon is already eliminated and Nigeria might as well be. Every game in Group C has been a draw except for the loss Slovenia handed to Algeria.

And to top it off, all the bad play from African squads pales in comparison to the awful officiating from the ref from Mali who took a win away from the United States.

The title of this post is stolen from the title of the official song of these games, Waka Waka (This Time For Africa). Because I am in a pandering mood today, I present the English version of the Shakira video for this song. If there was a Premiere League for booty shaking, and that is not a bad description of pop music today, Shakira would have won at least two Player of the Year awards this decade, and likely a few Golden Butt and Silver Butt trophies as well.

'Cos she's reeeeeeal purdy.

Pandering to an earlier version of myself.

I believe in pandering. Any longtime reader will know this is true. This blog and pandering go together like red beans and rice.

Need proof? My very first post back on April Fools' Day 2007 was a few short sentences accompanying a picture of Indira Varma.

Earlier this week over at the Other Blog, there was a Brave Last Days alert for Anne Francis, star of Forbidden Planet and the portrayer of the title role on the 1960s TV series Honey West. By all rights, I should have had a massive crush on Anne Francis, because she certainly was a honey.

But in those days just before puberty kicked me around like an empty soda can, I already had a massive crush on Diana Rigg. What Indira Varma is to the Matty Boy on the cusp of grumpy old manhood, Diana Rigg was to the Matty Boy on the cusp of regular old manhood. There was not room in my pre-teen brain for another all-encompassing female obsession.

She had such a lovely face, and that little trademark smirk made me crazy. Then there's the British accent. I think Ms. Varma's accent nudges a little trigger that is still left over from my feelings about Diana Rigg back in the day.

And, oh yeah. She had gams. Mighty, mighty fine gams.

I know I wasn't alone. In the 1970s, I read an interview with Miss Rigg saying she considered finding the addresses of the mothers of all her underage fans sending a form letter to the effect of "Do you know what a little pervert your son is?" But we weren't perverts. (Or at least I wasn't. I didn't read the other letters.) We were young men in desperate love. Whether that is better or worse than being a pervert, I will leave it to greater minds than mine to decide.

Anyone else of about my age who also wants to admit his or her uncontrollable obsession with Diana Rigg is welcome to do so in the comments, because as I wrote already, I know I wasn't alone.

Friday, June 18, 2010

It sucks to be the favorite.

A couple of unexpected results have thrown the first round of the 2010 World Cup into a tizzy. The lowly Swiss upset the reigning European champs Spain, 1-0, and the Germans lost to the Serbs by the same score, only after one of their all-time best scorers Miroslav Klose was given a red card for an exceedingly timid foul. To make it even worse and much, much stranger, the Germans missed a penalty kick to tie. Germans miss penalty kicks about as often as the French army wins decisive victories in battle.

The Greeks were expected to be doormats in their group, but they knocked off perennial African qualifiers Nigeria, 2-1. The French getting flat out embarrassed by the Mexicans is not exactly an upset given the current squad, but historically it is a remarkable win.

And then came today's later matches. Slovenia, the smallest country to send a team to South Africa, completely outplayed the United States in the first half of their game, leading 2-0 at the intermission. The U.S. played with urgency in the second half, and after a Landon Donovan laser shot from a very tough angle narrowed the margin to 2-1, Michael Bradley, the coach's son, showed that his selection was not just nepotism as he scored the equalizer in the 81st minute. Slovenia never gave up, and the action was exciting on both ends of the pitch. But then Landon Donovan set up for a free kick outside penalty area. This picture is a shot of the action in the penalty area.

It's not a soccer match. It's a slow dance at a beach party. People aren't grabbing an opponent's jersey in a sly attempt not to be noticed. They are hugging. There's an American foul on the left of the picture. There's a much more blatant Slovenian foul in the middle of the picture, No. 4 in blue being detained by No. 18 in white. See No. 19 in blue, the guy nobody wants to hug? He caught up to the ball from an onside position and put it in the back of the net. The referee called a foul on the Americans. It should have been the game winner, but instead the game ended in a 2-2 tie.

The referee was from Mali. The kindest words I have seen written about him are "idiot" and "incompetent".

Both the U.S. and Slovenia came to play, which is much more than can be said for the listless English, who never really threatened to score in a dull 0-0 draw against the massive underdogs Algeria. This gives Slovenia the best chance to win the group, but nothing is set in stone yet.

Tomorrow, you would think the Dutch would be favored against the Japanese, and given the bad play by most African squads, The Danes should beat the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, but there is so much bad juju running around South Africa this week, it's close to crazy to put a dollar on the result of a match until further notice.

The motto for the TV spots is "One game changes everything".

One game ruins everything is more like it.

Random 10, 6/18/10

Night Rally Elvis Costello & the Attractions
Dinah Fats Waller
River Deep, Mountain High Anne Lennox
The Homeland Song The Mysterious Voices of Bulgaria
Christmas Must Be Tonight The Band
Living Hell Spanic Boys
You Belong to Me Vonda Shepard
A Town Called Malice The Jam
I Have Not Been To Oxford Town David Bowie
It's My Fault, Darling Professor Longhair

Everything here is from last century, but I will still defend it. Some mighty fine tunes here. Okay, the Vonda Shepard is a little corny and a cover version, but Anne Lennox also does a cover version, and it takes some fortitude to cover Tina Turner, but she does a bang up job. I was close to invoking the Padre Mickey rule when The Jam show up with one of their tip-top A-#1 tunes, but I'm also fond of the songs by Bowie and Fess that complete the ten.

Whatchoo listening to?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Quesadillas y cervezas y fútbol... y las chicas!

Last week, the question was who would be the first North American squad to win a game at World Cup 2010. Today at lunchtime on the West Coast, we got the answer. México whipped the very sad French squad 2-0 on a breakaway goal by Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez that barely missed being called offside by the assistant referee and then a well-deserved penalty that was easily put away by the indescribably old Cuauhtémoc Blanco. Technically, he is 37, which I suppose counts as a description if you want to get all mathematical about it, but you know what I mean. A very good player for a very long time, Blanco has played the lion's share of his career in México, and this makes him even more beloved in his homeland than his considerable talents merit.

So I got to see a great Mexican effort at La Estrellita, a terrific Mexican restaurant and bar. How does life get better? Las chicas, naturalmente! Three young ladies working for Budweiser came into the bar in the second half and started giving away free stuff to anyone who bought an Anheuser Busch beverage. (Not the three pictured above, but you get the idea.) I had been drinking Sam Adams for much of the game, but when there's free stuff to be had, it's remarkable how flexible my beer snobbery can be. I got a hat and some beads and a vuvuzela, one of those noisemaker horns. I gave the hat to the busboy, since he didn't get to drink and was missing out on the fun, having to work during the game.

Knowledgeable fans might gasp that I accepted the vuvuzela, a noisemaker horn being compared by some to a Satanic device. Let me set your mind at ease. One vuvuzela is like a cute little cricket. Many, many vuvzelas is like a swarm of locusts. I promise to use my new toy only for good and not for evil.

¡Viva México! Tomorrow, I root at breakfast time for my home country as well as my home continent, hoping the United States can find a way past Slovenia even with a battered Tim Howard (multiple broken ribs) minding the net.

Is math education important?

You know my answer. Yes.

Or Hellz Yeah, as we say in Oakland.

News stories often complain about how badly our students are doing in math. Screw that. Give math tests to news reporters. Let's see if they can find their asses with both hands.

The story of how much oil is leaking per day has "evolved" from 200 barrels a day when the oil rig crashed into the sea, about as much oil as is in a tanker truck you might see on the freeway, to over 60,000 barrels, three hundred times more than the first estimate. You can see on this chart that the next day, they multiplied the original estimate by five and four days later, another fivefold increase.

The math of the situation isn't that hard. How big is the hole and how high is the pressure? Under the first estimate, this would be about 12.4 ounces (368 mL) leaking every second. That's a tiny trickle. My kitchen sink faucet takes less than two seconds to fill a twelve ounce glass, my bathtub faucet can easily fill it in one second. Even at the beginning, they had to assume the hole was bigger and the pressure much higher.

It took me a few minutes to find the necessary numbers online and to do the experiments of filling the glass from my various household spigots.

The problem is that no reporter thought to do this experiment and no editor forced the writers to do a better job.

It's common to complain about the job the schools are doing, but lifelong learning is the job of every citizen of a democracy. We have a society where it is a horrible sin to be fat, but completely acceptable to be mentally flabby, and this mental flabbiness lets people like the BP spokesmen tell ridiculous and easily refuted lies unchallenged.

Let me end on a positive note. I nicked the chart from Talking Points Memo, and they did a good job creating it. The small black circle in the middle of the target has about 1/300 the area of the largest diameter circle, so if you compare areas of the different size circles, you get an idea of the differences in scale.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The definition of "we", as in "We are the problem."

I speak a few languages poorly, Italian, French and Spanish, but as far as I know, there is no language in the world that addresses the problem of the definition of first person plural. There are three simple cases of the idea, and then some sub-cases known as "the royal we" and "the editorial we". Here are the main cases.

First person plural inclusive: Here, "we" means the speaker and everyone listening to the speaker. If the speaker tells the assembled loved ones "We are going to Italy on vacation", this means everyone listening is going to Italy. Yay, Italy!

First person plural exclusive: If the speaker is at work and says "We are going to Italy on vacation", someone might be able to understand from prior context it is the speaker and some other people, none of whom are the listeners, that are going to Italy.

First person plural mixed: If the speaker and the speaker's partner are with friends and one of them says the sentence "We are going to Italy on vacation", now the audience for this sentence includes people that are part of the "we" and people who are not.

It would be nice if their were separate pronouns for each of these cases. For the rest of this post, I will use the word "we" with the assumption that it means "Everyone reading this and I".

We are the problem. There are many serious problems in the world today and we all bear some responsibility for them.

We always think someone else is a bigger part of the problem. This is probably true, but it doesn't change the fact that we are the problem as well. So many times when someone does a bad thing, people who feel they have a partisan stake in someone else's personal screw-up will say, "Well, what about xxx? Didn't he (or she) behave just as badly? I see no need for my partisan to make amends until xxx has done the same!"

This is the way seven year olds act, and not the nice ones. We all need to grow up.

We are addicted to negativity. Last year, I wrote a post entitled And this is how we died. After that post, I stopped writing for a while, largely out of a feeling of hopelessness, but also out of wounded vanity at the worry that the blog wasn't getting any increase in readership. I came back to blogging when I realized that my mom missed it. She was living about a hundred miles away and neither of us had transportation to get together often, so this was her way of keeping in touch. I was selfish and feeling sorry for myself, and it meant that for about a week and a half of the last three months of her life, she didn't know how her baby boy was doing.

I try to keep negative posts to a minimum, but I find myself still writing them and reading them when others write them. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo is weaning himself from Sarah Palin hatred, but when he posts something, I always read it. Tengrain over at Mock, Paper, Scissors has an army of writers he mocks regularly (Meghan McCain, Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, etc.) and I read his posts. Likewise Karen Zipdrive and DistributorCap. Even my personal blog hero Peteykins over at Princess Sparkle Pony takes the Big Ugly Stick out on Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen on a semi-regular basis, though he trimmed back on these posts a lot this year compared to last.

I listened to Obama's speech last night. It wasn't a barn-burner, but I didn't come away enraged. Obviously, reading left-wing blogs, I just don't have enough rage in me. A passel of people on the left are pissed as hell that the laws of physics can't be repealed. But reading their outrage, you would have thought he introduced Kang and Kodos as our new alien overlords.

Reading this post, you may feel that you are not addicted to negativity. You may be correct and blessings upon you if you are. I'm trying to cut back, but I know the rage or the resignation from feeling the futility of the rage are never far away.

We are addicted to cheap energy. You are reading this on a computer somewhere. This is definitely a first person plural inclusive statement.

Three Mile Island effectively killed the nuclear industry in the United States. It was scary, but it was not a long term environmental disaster. Chernobyl was a long-term nightmare, but if I may be allowed a little American exceptionalism, on average we aren't as incompetent as a bunch of sullen, drunken Soviet assholes. The BP oil gusher is a long term ecological nightmare, and I will be very surprised if the American public will be able to add two and two to figure out that if we didn't guzzle gas so much, companies wouldn't take such horrible risks to get it to us.

We need energy to run the world we live in. I'm willing to make cutbacks in my lifestyle, but I'm not going back to the 19th Century, thanks very much. Electric cars would take a huge chunk out of the stranglehold the petroleum industry now has on our economy, but it means we need more electric plants. Thorium based reactors could be a clean and safe part of the mix, if people can get over the fear of the word "nuclear".

We are addicted to distraction. I know I am. I run that silly other blog, for pity's sake. But whether it's gossip or sports or TV or movies or political sideshows like Sarah Palin, we are not staying focused on the real problems that face us, and we mistake big dramatic events for real problems.

I know some people will take exception, but 9/11 was a distraction. We don't want a repeat of 9/11 obviously, but do we have to put ourselves in the poorhouse to defend ourselves from this band of clowns who can't shoot straight? We lost 3,000 people in a single day in a truly made for television event, but it just was one bad day, and we treat it like it's World War II or the worldwide flu epidemic of 1918. Heart disease and cancer combined kill 3,000 Americans every day like clockwork. 28,000 babies less than one year old die in the United States every year, and if we cared to compete with countries like Japan or Singapore for the quality of care we give newborns, we could cut that in half or even better.

We need to make changes. We need to work on convincing people that they need to change, too. It's hard when there are people who think any change means labor camps and rounding up white people, but things do change in this country. Look back at things that people thought were here to stay, and see how they went away eventually.

We can do this. It won't be easy and it will require serious intent. But it is a matter of life or death, so we don't have any real option.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

We live for moments of Brazilliance.

After a very timid 0-0 draw between Portugal and Ivory Coast followed by a scoreless first half between Brazil and North Korea, I was starting to think the soccer haters had a point. But the scoring drought was ended by the wonderful Brazilian playmaker Maicon, and Brazil went on to win 2-1 in a very hard fought battle. Here's the goal.

Some English commentators thought he really didn't even try to do that, acting like the goal was a lucky fluke. If an Englishman hit it, it would be a fluke. But Maicon is Brazilian, he did exactly what he meant to do. When you watch Brazil play, there is a very good chance you will see something you have never seen in your life, but that wasn't the case today. Check out the third goal featuring Bebeto and Romario back in World Cup 1994. I was in the crowd in Palo Alto for this one. Pretty much the same angle, just no goalkeeper to beat.

I saw my friend sfmike when I went over to watch England-U.S.A. this weekend, and when I said I was rooting for Brazil, he said it was like rooting for the Yankees. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rooting for Brazil is like rooting for Maria Callas or Sviatoslav Richter. Rooting for Brazil is like rooting for hummingbirds. It's the amazing moments of beauty that make the victories so sweet and the losses so bittersweet.

As for Ivory Coast and Portugal, they better not sleep walk like they did today when they face the North Koreans. These guys are serious.

If you are a football fan, this one month every four years is such a great time.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Be sure to fill in the pool results.

Who did you put down as the first European team to win a game in this World Cup? The correct answer is Slovenia.
Did you put down France or England or Greece?
Tee hee. You don't know much about football, do you?

How about the first Asian team to win a game?
Did you write down that no Asian team would win a game in this World Cup?
Oh, ye of little faith.
The correct answer is South Korea.

First African squad to win a game?
The correct answer is Ghana.
With ten men on the field.
On a penalty kick given away because of a ridiculously bad hand ball by Serbia.
(Extra points if you got all the details.)

First South American team to win a game?
The correct answer is Argentina.
Frankly, this one wasn't all that tough, unless you thought Uruguay would beat France or the Nigerians would hold the Argentines to a draw.

First North American squad to notch three points?
We are still waiting for that. Mexico had their chance, as did the United States. Next in line is Honduras against Chile in the wee small hours on Wednesday. Personally, I like Mexico's chances against France on Thursday.

The tournament is not yet three days old, and the wacky is already happening.

Happy Birthday to my big brother.

Happy birthday to my older brother Michael. I'm going up to the party at his place in the wine country. It's really hot today for Northern California (about 90 degrees F. in Oakland), so I hope there's a nice place to sit in the shade. I'm bringing the cool non-alcoholic drinks, which are a very good idea when trying to keep hydrated. I only hope I've brought enough.

Love ya, bro, and many happy returns.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Chorizo y huevos y fútbol - UPDATE

The Oakland Tribune published a list of places to watch World Cup games, and it looked like my best bet for watching the matches that will start at 7 a.m. Pacific time was going to be the Englander pub in San Leandro. I went to the Englander to see matches during the last World Cup, when they opened at any hour to air matches, a practice they will continue for this World Cup. They will show the games that start at 4:30 a.m. local time. Unfortunately for me, BART doesn't run at that time, so it would be a very long bicycle ride in the dark to get there. My best option is to watch the 4:30 games on my computer, but the video quality online through ESPN 3 has been really awful so far.

On Thursday night, I went to La Estrellita, a bar and Mexican restaurant three blocks from my house, to watch the NBA Finals. I found out then that the restaurant would be open for breakfast and of course they would have all their TVs tuned to the game for the 7 a.m. matches, so this is much more convenient. During the South Africa-Mexico tilt, I met a nice Frenchman who teaches chemistry at a local high school and we had a great chat, mostly about football, science education and the awful French Canadian accent.

So early this morning, I'll be enjoying a breakfast of chorizo y huevos y fútbol, watching the amazingly talented Argentinian squad play the Nigerians, known historically as a tough defensive squad, though they have fallen on hard times this go-round. Argentina has three major goal scoring threats with their new star Lionel Messi joining Tevez and Higuain on the front line.

UPDATE - La Estrellita isn't open for breakfasts on the weekends, so I'm watching at home on the computer. A little scratchy, but somewhat watchable.

In the preliminary rounds of the World Cup, the thirty two squads are split into eight separate four team groups that will play a round robin tournament with two teams advancing. If there are three really strong squads out of the four, this is known as a Group of Death. If only one team is strong and the other three will fight for the second position, I took to calling this a Group of Cake, a riff on Eddie Izzard's immortal question "Cake or Death?" Argentina looks like they will be getting cake. If you have ever seen their coach Diego Maradona, you know he should be very happy getting cake.

My prediction: big win for Argentina, with more goals in this game than in the first three games combined. (Not that hard, since the first three games were 1-1, 0-0 and 0-0.)

UPDATE: The Koreans beat the Greeks 2-0. I took my friend Art's prediction for the actual score. Argentina leads 1-0 at half. They might get more goals, but the Nigerian goalkeeper is doing a bang-up job so far.

If you are in the neighborhood on a weekday monring, stop by La Estrellita and watch a game with other fans. They make a nice breakfast. Who knows, you might even get to meet a blogger! (I know. You are quivering with excitement, aren't you?)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dead wrong in public once again, but at least I admit it.

The Mexicans had the best chances, but South Africa capitalized on their counter attacks. Siphiwe Tshabalala hit a beautiful goal into the far upper corner after a long run and the Mexican goalie had zero chance to stop it. The Mexicans came back to tie, but once it was 1-1, it looked like the South Africans were the team trying to win and the Mexicans the team trying to hold on. A great result for the allegedly over-matched hosts.

The last game of today is France vs. Uruguay. The French have a lot of great players and a truly despised coach. Uruguay is a complete question mark. I have no prediction. I looked bad enough on the first game, I'll wait until tomorrow to pontificate nonsensically on the U.S.A. vs. England match.

Random 1, 6/11/20 (Padre Mickey rule invoked)

Get Up (Sex Machine) James Brown

Padre Mickey came up with the rule that if it wasn't going to get any better, you just hit it and quit.

Can I hit it and quit? (YEAH!)
Can I hit it and quit? (YEAH!)
Can I hit it and quit? (YEAH!) Can I hit it and quit? (YEAH!)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

An illness that usually lasts a month.

I've started to notice the symptoms.

I have difficulties concentrating, and occasionally I will have Tourette's-like outbursts of "Drogba!" or "Damn that Rooney!"

I have trouble sleeping regular hours, and wake fitfully from dreams, trying to dance the Samba.

My self diagnosis is that I have a low grade infection of World Cup Fever. Luckily, as a gringo, I have a natural national inoculation to the worst strains of the disease, which in other countries have been known to be fatal.

It starts tomorrow at 7 am Pacific time, when host South Africa meets Mexico. Nelson Mandela will be in attendance, and magical things happen sometimes when he is around, but it will take some mighty, mighty magic to stop El Tri (translation: The Three Colors) from kicking the hometown behinds of Bufana Bufana (translation: The Boys).

This, of course, is just my opinion. Let me give the last word to the great philosopher/policeman who ends the opening scene from Run, Lola, Run.

The ball is round.
The game lasts 90 minutes.
These are facts.
All the rest is just theory.

That speedy trial thing... more of a guideline than a rule.

It's been more than eighteen months since Johannes Mehserle shot Oscar Grant in the back when the young man was lying face down on the Fruitvale BART platform. The murder trial has finally begun, being held in Los Angeles county due to the high level of publicity here in the Bay Area.

The relative racial peace of the area where I live is in the hands of twelve Angelinos, none of whom are black. The prosecutors say it was murder with malice. The defense says it was just an accident. All I know is that if Mehserle doesn't spent a decade or two in jail for what he did, the place where I live is going to get a lot worse for a lot of people, myself included, and fast.

All this in the hands of a Southern California jury, much of it dependent on the competence of Southern California prosecutors. I have hopes, but I don't have high hopes.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

But I never did like it all that much and one day, the axe just fell.

I got let go from the census today. I got the call this morning after my graveyard shift was over. I had hoped to last another week to try to overcome my general broke-assedness, but that was not to be.

My friend Mina Millett used to say she could stand anything for eight weeks. I lasted nine. My friend Mike Strickland warned me that I wouldn't enjoy it and he was right. Even so, I think I got in more hours this way than I would have as an enumerator.

For a lot of people in the office, $16.50 an hour (or $18.15 if working hours between 6 pm and 6 am) was a nice boost in pay. For me, it was about a quarter of what I make a teacher per hour and the work was deeply dull, while teaching is almost always an interesting challenge. Of course, the hourly rate for teaching doesn't factor in preparation, but still, I have no plans to leave academia for a career in office work.

To the nice folks I met, I wish you all the best. To my supervisors at the office, which has a small intersection with the nice folks, you'll be happy not to see me and I'll be happy not to see you.

And back to the broke-assedness, with the benefit of not working graveyard shift and riding my bike in the dark.

When was the last time you went three for three on election day, Matty Boy?

Let's see, hypothetical question asker. How about never? How about this is the first time.


Suck on it, PG&E. Your two thirds majority election idea went down in flames.

Don't try to raise our rates to make up for the money you shelled out to lose, bitches!

Oh, and next time Willie Brown tries to pretend he's a liberal, remember that PG&E bought his candy ass support for this failed piece of crap.

All y'all lose.


Suck on it, Mercury Insurance. You are cited for customer complaints more than any other insurance company in the state, and trying to buy a new law didn't work.

Thanks, about 52% of the California voters, for seeing through both these attempts at theft. Who knows, this democracy thing just might work after all.


(photo by Mike Strickland of the Civic Center blog)

And last but not least, excellent mystery writer Michael Nava was the top vote getter in the race for Superior Court judge in San Francisco. He got 45.5% of the vote while the incumbent Richard Ulmer, appointed by Schwarzenegger, got 41.9% of the vote. As far as I can tell, this means a run-off in November!

Go, Michael Nava! We need folks like you as judges!

Also, if you are a fan of mystery novels, give him a shot. He can make a chapter about a procedural hearing suspenseful. Seriously.

And to sum up.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Election day in California

I should have posted this earlier, but working the graveyard shift still has my internal clock seriously messed up.

The primary election is today. I can't even vote for the only candidate I met this year, Michael Nava, the lawyer/novelist running for Superior Court judge in San Francisco. I met Mr. Nava through my blog buddy sfmike of Civic Center and I see that he has picked up a string of endorsements running against a sitting judge. I wish him all the best.

The two choices on the ballot I feel strongly about are Proposition 16 and Proposition 17, both of which I am against.

Proposition 16 is a power grab funded by PG&E. They want a two thirds majority vote before any public money is spent anywhere to get into the electricity business. If the vote was a simple majority, I could see arguments in favor of this. At two-thirds majority, this is just PG&E making sure they screw us in perpetuity. Please vote no.

Proposition 17 would allow insurance companies to lower or raise your insurance rates when you get a new policy depending on whether you currently are insured or not. The state made it illegal to change rates based on this and Mercury Insurance wants to make it legal again. They say they want to offer drivers in such circumstances discounts, but you will notice the language of the proposition allows them to screw drivers in that situation. Please vote no.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Lazy blogging after the graveyard shift.

How much brain do I have left after an eight hour shift of clerk work?

Not much.

This is why the baby Jesus invented lolz cats, to save the diligent (read: obsessive) blogger from the dreaded day of blank space.

And I chose this one because I believe with my whole heart that I will never tire of the joke construction:

I iz [in some particular location]
[dependent clause with gerund].

'Cause it's comedy gold.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Prisoner (2009)

A few years back, AMC announced they would be filming a remake of The Prisoner, the single season cult classic 1960s British import starring Patrick McGoohan as a spy who resigns and is taken against his will to a mysterious but charming resort called The Village where everyone seems to be content but him. He wants his freedom. They want his information. Every show ends in stalemate.

The announcement said the new version would be a six episode mini-series. The hero Number Six would be played by Jim Caviezel and his nemesis Number Two would be portrayed by Sir Ian McKellen.

Well, I thought, that's half a piece of good news, which has to be better than none.

It turned out to be no good news at all.

The modern version of The Prisoner is a re-imagining, not a remake. Like the most recent versions of Battlestar Galactica, Alice in Wonderland and Star Trek, the latest version of The Prisoner bears little resemblance to the original. If you actually liked the original, you have a natural resentment to the new version built in from the beginning.

The original TV series was a remarkable breath of fresh air. James Bond had single-handedly created a new genre of spy movies and TV shows, much in the same way The Maltese Falcon had created the hard-boiled detective genre some twenty years earlier. There were rip-offs of Bond, there were spoofs of Bond, and it even opened the door for John LeCarré and others to create spy entertainment that wasn't just hot chicks, beautiful locales and suave villains. The Prisoner turned the genre on its head, portraying a man in an oddly cheerful dystopia, questioning what it means to be free and why a free society needs to keep secrets.

The modern version of The Prisoner has no such claim to originality. In the late sixties, paranoia as popular entertainment felt new. Now, it feels very close to being played out. Besides ripping off small details from the original show, The Prisoner also feels like a re-hash of Lost, Dollhouse, Fringe, The X Files and a lot of other TV shows and movies that are frankly better written.

As always, the writing is where it starts, and this show felt stale very early on. It started slow, but by the third episode I had hopes it would get better. The fourth episode dashed those hopes but I plowed ahead anyway. The end of the show was somewhat clever, but how it got there was remarkably unsatisfying.

Then there's The Village. In the original show, The Village was like an extra character, an interesting place that the viewer might well like to visit. It may not have been quite as remarkable to British viewers, since it was in Wales, but to Americans it was definitely exotic and charming. The new version of The Village looks like a tract home hell hole stuck in the middle of the desert. You very soon get the idea that Number Six is not the only discontent in this place and there is no charm in this dystopia.

Speaking of no charm brings us naturally to Jim Caviezel. I have never connected with a character played by Jim Caviezel. He has all the dumb earnestness of Kevin Costner without any of the likability or ease with an occasional smart ass quip. In The Prisoner, he's supposed to be the Smartest Guy In The Room. If he's that, it's a pretty dumb room.

And at last, we come to Sir Ian McKellan, not the worst part of the show but easily the biggest disappointment. He's usually as good or better than the material, but in this role, being Sir Ian McKellan got in the way. His version of Number Two has a family, a wife in a coma that he is prolonging with drugs he feeds her and a very pretty young son who turns out to be gay. As the audience, we fully expect that nothing is what it seems in The Village, so it is a distinct possibility that neither the wife or son are actually related to him. Given that the character of the son is gay and the actor Sir Ian is openly gay, anyone paying attention has to consider the possibility that Number Two is keeping the young man around for other reasons. That story line does NOT come to pass, and as creepy as it is, there are other story lines nearly as creepy that do come true. If the actor playing Number Two was not openly gay, like Patrick Stewart or Kenneth Brannagh, that unneeded distraction wouldn't be there.

The final scene of the new version of The Prisoner leaves open the possibility of continuing the story, and I hope that no one succumbs to the temptation. Six episodes was quite enough, thanks, and the writers and actors are just not up to the task.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

John Wooden: 1910-2010

John Wooden, best known as the coach of the incredibly successful UCLA program back in the 1960s and 1970s, died yesterday at the age of 99. You can search far and wide to find someone who will say a word against him and you will come up empty-handed. I am not a Christian, so let me say without any "hometown bias" that John Wooden was a fine example of a good Christian gentleman who lived his faith. He completed his Pyramid of Success (click on the picture for a larger version) back in the late 1940s and instilled these values in the young men under his guidance.

I grew up in the Bay Area, so I could have decided to hate UCLA on general Northern California principles, but I watched from a distance in amazement at the stunning successes the Bruins compiled, most notably when a young man from New York City named Lew Alcindor decided to go to school 3,000 miles away from home. Alcindor was tall and slender, 7'2" with a wingspan like an albatross, and so dominant that the dunk was banned in college basketball in 1967 and not allowed back until 1976. To overcome this, Alcindor under Wooden's tutelage worked hard on a shot called the sky hook, still one of the prettiest and hardest to defend shots in basketball history. UCLA went 88-2 while the young man played center for the team and won the national championship three years running. After he left, Wooden coached UCLA to another four consecutive national titles. From 1963 to his retirement in 1975, UCLA were the national champions ten times.

For the young people who might not remember, Alcindor converted to Islam and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which back in the day was a very controversial act. Like all Wooden's former players, he speaks only in reverent tones about his teacher.

Best wishes to the friends and family of John Wooden, from a fan.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Final score for Random 10, 6/4/10: Tom Waits 3, Elvis Costello 2

Way Down In The Hole Blind Boys Of Alabama
Here's To The Ladies Who Lunch Barbara Walsh
Rocking Horse Road Elvis Costello
Take It With Me Anne Sofie Von Otter
Is It A Crime? Sade
So It Goes Nick Lowe
Bad Connection Yaz
Georgia Lee Tom Waits
I Got The Feelin' James Brown
Whole Wide World Wreckless Eric

Usually, I consider the Random 10 an exhibition and not a competition (please, no wagering). At most, I have small competitions between the decades or the centuries (there are four recordings here from the 21st Century, by the way), but this week we have three songs written by Tom Waits (#1, #4 and #8, naturally), while Elvis writes and sings #3 and produces #4.

There are other ways some of the other artists might proclaim the "win" this week.

Nick Lowe: "Does anyone else wear a shiny green Riddler jacket?" No, Nick, you have a point.
James Brown: "Does anyone else got the feelin' like Mr. James Brown?" No, Mr. Brown, nobody else.
Wreckless Eric: "Would anyone else go the whole wide world just to find her?" Another excellent argument.

But since it's my blog, I'm going to hand a surprise victory to Sade for the lyric for My People And Our Agenda,

My love is taller, taller than the Empire State,
My love is wider, wider than Victoria Lake...

Sometimes, it's good to be the umpire.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wednesday Math, Vol. 120: The re-arrangements

I have used the phrase "factorial" in a few of my other math posts. Today, I use it to talk about ways of rearranging a list of objects.

The illustration on the left shows the definition of factorial for any positive integer n, but it is also decided that 0! = 1 for reasons we will go into later in the post.

Here is the list of the first 10 factorials from 1 to 10.

1! = 1
2! = 1*2 = 2
3! = 1*2*3 = 6
4! = 1*2*3*4 = 24
5! = 1*2*3*4*5 = 120
6! = 1*2*3*4*5*6 = 720
7! = 1*2*3*4*5*6*7 = 5,040
8! = 1*2*3*4*5*6*7*8 = 40,320
9! = 1*2*3*4*5*6*7*8*9 = 362,880
10! = 1*2*3*4*5*6*7*8*9*10 = 3,628,800

As you can see, factorial grows very fast, even faster than exponential functions. You will also notice that 5! = 120, and this is my 120th Wednesday Math post.

Let's say I have a five letter word, such as PARSE. How many different ways are there to rearrange the letters, like they do in the Jumble puzzles in the newspaper? The idea is that five different letters could be in the first position, and then four different letters could be in the second position, then three, then two then one, so the number of scrambles of PARSE is 5! or 120.

(Note: PARSE would never be used in the Jumble puzzle, because those five letters spell multiple English words, including SPARE, PEARS, PARES, RAPES, REAPS, etc.)

What if there is a repeated letter, like in the word ARENA? If I switched the first A and the second A, the word would look the same. What we do is count the number of times each letter shows up.

A shows up 2 times.
R, E, N, show up 1 time each.

The total number of re-arrangements is 5!/(2!*1!*1!*1!) = 60.

What about the six letter word BANANA? Again, we need to count the appearances in the word of each letter.

B shows up 1 time.
A shows up 3 times
N shows up 2 times.

The total number of re-arrangements is 6!/(1!*3!*2!) = 720/12 = 60.

This may seem like a weird question, but how many times does Q show up in the word BANANA? Obviously, the answer is 0 times, but if we were to include this in the equation, that would mean dividing by 0!. If 0! = 0, our formula would fall apart, but if 0! = 1, the formula works even if we count how many times every letter in the alphabet appears in a word.

In books that introduce this idea, it is very common to ask the question how many different ways are there to rearrange the letters in MISSISSIPPI. You can try this one on your own, if you like. The answer is in the comments.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Is there a more obvious answer?

According to news reports, a sinkhole in Guatemala swallowed up a three story building.

Sure, that's ONE explanation, but take a good look at that hole. Could it have been a core sample done by the Borg?

Given the constant drone of bad news lately, being assimilated by the Borg sounds like it could be a nice break from the day-to-day shit.

Or as the folks in Guatemala are saying today, "La resistencia es inútil."