This blog is still alive, just in semi-hibernation.
When I want to write something longer than a tweet about something other than math or sci-fi, here is where I'll write it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Random 10, 7/30/10


In Every Dream Home Joe Jackson
I Can't Turn You Loose Was (Not Was)
Low Symphony: Some Are (Glass/Bowie/Eno) Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra
I Hold You Hand In Mine Tom Lehrer
Breakaway Tracey Ullman
I Must Be I Love The Rutles
In The Backroom Brian Eno and John Cale
Picture This Blondie
Just a Girl No Doubt
Get The Party Started Pink

Interesting patterns in the randomness this week. We get three songs by funny people in the middle of the list with Tom Lehrer, Tracey Ullman and The Rutles, featuring Eric Idle and Neil Innes. At the end of the list, we get, listed in chronological order no less, three hot chicks who are supposed to be kinda tough chicks.

I think they are hotter than they are tough. Your mileage may vary. The inclusion of the song by Pink means we do have one tune from this century, but the bulk of this list is about twenty to thirty years old, which is par for the course when listening to iTunes on an old person's computer.

Whatcoo listenin' to?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gittin' Paid (a little) and Not Gittin' Paid (a lot)


My summer session is now over and my hefty paycheck that is supposed to last me three months will be in my hot little hands tomorrow. The district was paying for office hours during the Fall and Spring semesters, but it doesn't pay for them during the Summer session, so as usual, I was working several hours for free this term. Because of budget cuts, there's talk that part-timers will not be paid for office even during the regular terms this next academic year.

You might recall me whinin' during the recent Week O' Whinin about not gittin' paid the so-called parity pay. That is a completely separate act of theft by my major employer against some of its most vulnerable employees, while the upper management gets by on pay in the low six figures. That situation may get resolved in favor of all the part-timers some time in the hopefully not-t00-distant future, but lawyers are involved, so it's anybody's guess how it will be decided or when.

As of this writing, the Peralta Community College District has ripped me off in the past four weeks to an amount in the low four figures, with promise of more theft to come this Fall.

Not good.


So what is good? Gittin' paid for blogging!

Matty Boy FTW, as the young people say!

Over at The Other Blog back in late February, I reported on Us Weekly's story about reality TV star Kristin Cavallari possibly going to drug rehab. Just this week, someone saw this post and decided it would be a great place to put a link to the website of their very nice rehab center in Southern California. They thought it was such a good idea, they even agreed to pay me for the link! Yes, someone is giving Matty Boy a check in the high two figures for a link on his blog!

Things are looking up!

Of course, this means I may never get a chance to blog for my country in the Olympics now that I've turned pro, but
  1. I don't recall that anyone asked me and
  2. the rules for Olympic status have become more lax since Avery Brundage died, so even that minor downside may be avoided.
To re-iterate, if you have a drug dependency problem AND you are in the Palm Springs area AND you have several nickels to rub together, choosing this rehab center looks like a very good option. I don't know if this even remotely describes any of my readers, but if it does, go ahead and click though the link.

And I'm not just sayin' that 'cos I'm gittin' PAID.

That would be wrong.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Small time blogger and Twitter non-entity touts big time blogger and Twitter superstar.


Andy Borowitz writes for The New Yorker and has his own website called The Borowitz Report. You can also find his stuff on The Huffington Post, which is where I usually see it. He is an absolutely top notch comedy headline writer. His stuff shows up a few times a week over at the HuffPo and it always makes me smile at least, and often laugh out loud. Here's his headline for today, for example.

BP replaces Tony Hayward with startled deer

You might think you can write a better seven word joke given the situation. You might think that, but I'm thinkin'... prolly not.

I don't follow anyone on Twitter currently except one friend in New York who puts out about one tweet a month, but for Andy, I think I'm going to make an exception.

I believe the technical term for this is "mission creep".

Lazy blogging on a Tuesday.

Work during the summer session is a little hectic on Mondays through Thursdays, and my blogging output has been curtailed somewhat for the past six weeks. This is the last of the six weeks, so my free time opens up a LOT in a few days. I put forward this example of lazy blogging in the meantime.

Times Square Billboard by Space150 from Cliff Kuang on Vimeo.

A Vimeo user named Cliff Kuang posted this video of an ad for the Forever21 clothing line that runs on a billboard in Times Square. A smiling giantess towers over the crowd at her feet, takes a Polaroid from her bird's eye view and shows it to the camera, or she picks up someone from the crowd. There are several versions and they repeat on a loop. The special effects aren't the absolute state of the art, but you'll see that a lot of people stop to watch and record it on their cell phone cameras. It's a clever ad.

A nice little gift for My People, advancing Our Agenda.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Boycotting Israel. The idea is apparent, not abhorrent.


In this week's issue of Newsweek, Jacob Weisberg decides the best way to begin to advocate against the shunning of Israel by entertainers is to insult Meg Ryan. To show that he is fair and balanced, he then calls another performer who will not have concerts in Israel, Elvis Costello, a "thoughtful person". He ends the article by saying that both Ryan and Costello are hard to disassociate from Anti-Semitism.

Let's review. Mel Gibson equals Elvis Costello, much like David Duke equals Jimmy Carter. This is the position of "reasonable Jewish voices".

I don't like the "some of my best friends are _____" argument. It's been the last refuge of scoundrels since I was in knee pants. Yes, I have Jewish friends and cordial colleagues. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, for pity's sake. I have friends and cordial colleagues from Cameroon. Even a cyber-hermit like me gets out and about once in a while.

Weisberg's main argument is that Israel is a democracy and we shouldn't do this to democracies. I'm old enough to remember Orson Welles going on TV and saying similar things about South Africa back in the 1970s. As much as I like Orson Welles' work, this memory is not one that helps Weisberg's argument.

I also remember something my dear friend Mina Millett said. Mina was a good Catholic girl from Los Angeles who went to Boston to get her bachelor's degree at Brandeis. She made a lot of friends on campus. Making and keeping friends was Mina's strongest suit among a plethora of strong suits. She also saw Jewish culture up close and personal for the first time at Brandeis, and her lasting impression was that the religion and the culture it engendered was determined to keep all wounds and injustices of the past seven millenia daisy fresh.

Liberals aren't 100% behind Israel as they were in days gone by. The conservative movement has a few anti-Israeli discontents like Pat Buchanan, but there are many more evangelical Christians who are staunchly pro-Israel, and more precisely pro-Israeli expansionism. Many born-agains think these are the End Times, but their reading of the Bible says the borders of Israel must be defined far beyond the current borders so that Armageddon may commence.

Mr. Weisberg, you want to persuade non-Jews to follow your advice. Follow the advice of this non-Jew. Speak out against the Jews who take these idiots' money and smile. The Christian Right make no bones about the end of the story being Israel's destruction and the slaughter of all Jews who don't convert. Playing them for saps perpetrates the stereotype of Hebrew venality.

Back when Saturday Night Live was fresh and new, Al Franken and Tom Davis did a skit where Franken played a midwestern beauty pageant contestant and Davis the emcee. When the usually innocuous question came, Davis asked, "Do you think Jews control a disproportionate amount of this country's wealth?" Franken's beauty queen waited three beats and answered with a pasted on smile.

"Yes."

Guess what? I was a kid from California. The Jewish question was barely on my radar. There were Jews in my high school, but I really didn't think about it much. I thought, correctly, that Franken was making fun of the character he played, the knee jerk anti-Semite from the great unwashed middle of this country,

Guess what? I'm not a kid anymore. Jews control a disproportionate amount of this country's wealth, not to mention political power and control of influential industries. They are 2.4% of the U.S. population. There are more Jews here than in Israel, but are still dwarfed by the size of other ethnic minorities in our population. There are six times as many Latinos, five times as many blacks and twice as many Asians. Look at the representation in Congress, the lists of most influential publishers, the leaders in the movie and record industry and most of all, the financial services industry. I'm not saying Jews in America haven't worked hard to get where they are, but I'm also saying they benefited from a Semitic old boy network established to counteract an older established anti-Semitic old boy network.

In several important industries, the Jews won and won big. It's more than a little galling to hear Jews whine about how oppressed they are as a people, especially in the United States.

I will not compare Israel to Nazi Germany. The Nazis are unique and comparisons to them because of a few superficial similarities by any other government ever are dull and facile. I will compare the Israelis to the people who gave them the land, Great Britain. The Brits thought that land they stole was theirs fair and square, and were happy to punish entire populations of people for the actions of a few people among those populations, as they did in the American colonies, in Ireland and in India. It took centuries, but Great Britain no longer has political control in those places. That shit doesn't play anymore, and the sooner that "reasonable Jewish voices" like Mr. Weisberg realize that, the sooner there will be something like a real dialogue.

Mr. Weisberg, sneering at Meg Ryan, like the vilification of Jimmy Carter, does not score any points, except with people who give you money and want to see you either dead or wearing a cross.

Here endeth the lesson.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Random 10 and a tribute, 7/23/10

(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance Gene Pitney
Have You Ever Been To (Electric Ladyland) Jimi Hendrix
Here Comes The Flood Peter Gabriel
Two Sleepy People Fats Waller
What'll I Do? Nat "King" Cole
Shabby Doll Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Georgia On My Mind Ray Charles
Sunny Afternoon Ray Davies
And Your Bird Can Sing The Beatles


MacPherson's Lament Rafael Boguslav


An odd story. The shuffle played a lot of quiet tunes today. Only the Beatles song in the ninth spot has much of a beat to it.

The tenth song is from a folk album recorded when I was still a babe in arms. I loved it when I was a kid and was lucky to find a copy on eBay a few years back. I wrote to the artist and he wrote back. Very nice fellow who was glad to reminisce with an aging fanboy.

I was looking around for some way to get this recording to play through a link when I found this picture of the album. Sadly, on the site that had the picture, one of Mr. Boguslav's friends posted a note that he died earlier this week.

The song MacPherson's Lament is about death, of course, as are the Gene Pitney and Peter Gabriel selections. I put the Nat Cole version of What'll I Do? on my computer as a tribute to my mom who passed away about a year ago.

Let me close with the lyrics from the first verse of the tune Mr. Boguslav sang, the first song on the first album he ever recorded.

Farewell ye dungeons, dark and strong,
Farewell, farewell to thee.
MacPherson's time shall now belong
On yonder gallows tree.


Best wishes to the family and friends of Ray Boguslav, a talented and gracious man, from a fan.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wednesday Math (one day late), Vol. 122: How bookies make money

Bookies are sometimes called oddsmakers, but they don't really make probabilities, they make payoffs for events. If I am going to have a "friendly wager" with someone, the two of us will agree on some event we and decide how much money each of us is going to have to risk. Often, we both put in the same amount of money, which back in the days when horse racing was one of America's most popular sports would be called a 1-1 (or 1:1) wager. The first number is the profit and the second number is the amount risked. We could also have a wager where one of us puts in more money because we think the event the other person is betting on is unlikely. For example, if you win only if you roll a 6 on a six-sided die, I expect to win five times out of every six and you expect to win only one time in every six. To make this "fair", we should make this a game where I risk 5 units to win 1, and you risk 1 unit to win 5. From my point of view, this is a 1:5 wager, while from your point of view, it's a 5:1 wager.

Betting with a bookie is not a friendly wager. Bookies take action from either direction and instead of all the money in the till going to the winner, the bookie hopes to take a little slice regardless of the outcome. This can only happen if they have a certain percentage of money on each side so they can cover the winners' payoffs and still have a little extra to pay the rent.

Many wagers are no longer defined in the classic profit:risk still seen when looking at the Racing Form. Instead, a modern gambling instruction line will look like

SEATTLE -140______Chicago + 130

Translating into English. Seattle is at home (all caps) and they are the favorite to win. -140 means any bettor favoring Seattle has to risk $140 to profit $100. +130 means Chicago bettors will make a profit of $130 from a $100 bet. The pot is sweetened because Chicago is likely to lose this game, according to some popular opinion. If there is only one bettor of the same level on each side, here is the situation.

Amount in the pot: $140 + $100 = $240
If Seattle wins: Seattle bettor gets all $240
If Chicago wins: Chicago bettor gets $230, bookie pockets $10

So if the money stays at this level on both sides, it's like the bookie is hoping for Chicago to win. If it's ten bets on each side, the bookie can't lose money, but can only win $100 if the underdog Chicago team wins.

Here's a different situation. If it was 13 bettors on Seattle and 14 bettors on Chicago, the total pot would be 13*$140 + 14*$100 = $3,220. If Chicago wins, the 14 winners get $230 each, and that takes all the money out of the pot. If Seattle wins 13*$240 = $3,120, and the bookie pockets $100 in case of a Seattle win.

If we add these two situations together, 23 Seattle bettors and 24 Chicago bettors is the ideal situation, since no matter who wins, the bookie will get $100. This is the sweet spot for the oddsmaker, and the only "bad thing" that can happen is the game gets rained out, because then he has to give all the bets back.

Hey, who's feeling lucky?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Week O' Whinin' 2010 continues: What un-fresh hell is this?


Yesterday morning just before 10:00, I noticed a nasty smell as I opened the door to my classroom. I teach in room G-207 and in front of the door of G-209 was a fresh pile of human excrement, strategically placed so it would be smeared when the people inside the classroom opened the door to get out. Laney College is one block away from Lake Merritt BART and there is a large contingent of homeless people there, and I have had enough encounters with them to know that some of them have serious mental and emotional problems. I assume it was one of them that left the present for our students and my colleague teaching in the room about five paces from mine.

I went across the courtyard to the Math Lab, G-201, to ask the faculty on duty to call custodial services. He told me they had already been alerted, and within the hour they were on the scene, doing the unpleasant but necessary work of cleaning up after crazy people on this campus.


It was near the time of the break in my first class, and some of my students sitting near the right wall were milling about. In a completely separate incident, we had an ant infestation in my classroom. I am at least partially responsible for this, as I have not been enforcing the no food rule as stringently as I should, and several of the football players in my noon statistics class eat sunflower seeds and don't clean up after themselves.

I caught up with the custodial crew who had finished cleaning up the outside mess to tell them about the mess in my room. They weren't sure who on campus would be in charge of killing ants.

Budget cuts are hurting all the campuses, but none is worse than Laney. We can blame crazy people for the nastiest part of yesterday's news, but the graffiti and torn up bathroom closed for weeks at a time come from students who just don't care about others and a custodial and maintenance staff that is undermanned. Our last chancellor Elihu Harris is a former mayor of Oakland, now with the Obama administration. The supervisors of our district paid him $250,000 a year salary. Someone doing some snooping in the budget found that he was given bonuses that came to another $54,000 on top of that for meeting certain goals. In other words, he got a quarter of a million dollars just for showing up, and if you wanted him to actually work, that would cost extra.

The people who could make a material improvement here at Laney don't cost that much, teachers and janitors and the like. But they get laid off and forced into work furloughs and pay cuts while the upper management rolls along making six figures as though it's business as usual.

Here's my four word solution for the troubles in our college district: chop from the top.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Week O' Whinin' 2010: Second post on grand theft

I work several jobs during the usual year, but right now the only work I am doing for pay is for the Peralta Community College District, the umbrella organization which includes Laney College. As I mentioned before, being an adjunct means the district gives you nine checks a year. They might have some small interest in how the 600 adjuncts that work for them pay the rent in July, August and September, but they really don't want to pry. If you are lucky like me, there's work in your department in the Summer session and that means a good size check at the end of July that might see you through to that next paycheck at the beginning of October. Still, there's that problem of the rent in July.

A few years back, the union for the part timers negotiated parity pay. In the Peralta District, that's a line item of $400,000 to be distributed to about 600 people, which means an average check between $600 to $700 at the beginning of July. I get a fair amount of hours during most years, and my parity pay check has been slightly above that average at around $900. This year, the Board of Supervisors at Peralta found a lawyer that thought he found a way to steal that money from us. No parity pay was distributed, with the excuse that it only had to be paid if it was a specific line item in the state budget. The Supervisors used the money for other worthy goals, I'm sure.

One small problem. Parity for all the community colleges WAS a line item in the last state budget passed. So now lawyers are involved, and we know they will get paid. How soon the 600 people who got robbed by their employer will get paid is an entirely different question.

The name "parity pay" is another ridiculous slap in the face. We are in no way at parity with the full time staff, who get twelve checks a year and fully paid medical insurance. We clamor for those full time jobs, but they usually only come open when a full timer retires or dies, and then guess who decides who will get to fill that position? The full timers.

I'd call the situation a fucking joke, but I don't hear anyone laughing.

Tomorrow, more about the priorities in the Peralta district, which means more reasons for me to whine.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Taking a break from whining to do a little chiding.


Sarah Palin tried her hand at word coinage on Twitter this weekend, asking "peaceful Muslims" to 'refudiate' the mosque that is being planned to be built two blocks away from the ruins of the World Trade Center. She then compared herself and George W. Bush (coiner of 'misunderestimate') to Shakespeare, who coined many words in English, such as turning the noun assassin into the verb assassinate.

Ah, where to begin?

First: Two blocks from the WTC is too close? What, no mosques on the entire island? Give me a break.

Second: I know it's too much to expect Americans to think about other cultures and try to compare them to our own, but this would be similar to asking "peaceful Christians" never to build a church within walking distance of where the KKK burned a cross.

Third: Shakespeare you ain't, toots. There is a fine distinction between refute (to prove incorrect) and repudiate (to refuse to accept), and just because your clumsy thumbs and the clumsy brain to which they are attached think you did something clever doesn't make it so. Take the word of people who do not have your level of stupidity that if the word is used in the future, it will be used to remind people that you are a lunkhead.

For example, Dizzy Dean decided the past tense of slide should be "slud". No one uses the word in that way except as a reminder that Dean and English grammar were not the best of friends.


But I am not against coinages when they help the language. A golfing partner of mine, it could have been my dad or one of his buddies, I'm not sure, came up with the word scalvage, a cross between scavenge and salvage. In golf, if you hit three sub-standard shots and end up on the green of a par 4 hole some 40 feet from the pin, you are in trouble. If you then sink the 40 foot putt, which is not an easy job for all you non-golfers out there, you have salvaged par.

This weekend at the British Open, Colin Montgomerie sunk a difficult 25 foot putt to make a double bogey. In the vernacular of my old foursome, Monty scalvaged double bogey, saving something he would usually rather throw away.

It's been twenty years since I first heard the word "scalvage" and I still think it's the best neologism (new word coining) to which I have ever been witness.

Week O' Whinin' 2010: First post about theft


On Friday, I had both my bicycle wheels stolen in broad daylight in downtown Oakland. Of course, I was "asking for it" because I only chained the frame to the bike stand, not both wheels as well. The fact that I've been parking the bike like this in public for several years now is no excuse, according to the people who tell me I was asking for it.

So, I'm out about $200 today as I pick up my bike with two new wheels, tires, inner tubes and the gears for the rear tire. I'll also spring for an extra cable that will make it tougher for thieves to steal the tires.

I honestly don't feel I was asking for it. Bruce McCullough of Kids In The Hall very eloquently expresses how I feel about the situation.



Since the theft occurred in broad daylight on a busy street, Bruce also expresses my feelings about the people who might have seen the theft take place.



Tomorrow: I experience theft at a larger scale from people who allegedly know better.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Week O' Whinin': A biyearly tradition (sort of)

Image nicked from BobsOldPhones.net
Original owner: Brit Ericsson


Things have come to a pretty pass in many special ways, so I decided to devote a week to whining about them. There was a Week O' Whinin' back in the Spring of '08, but I have decided as Blogger in Chief that enough time has passed that I can have another one.

It's my blog and I'll whine if I want to.

The first whine is short but it involves customer service, so it just feels more special.

My internet service is working fine, but my phone over the VOIP was acting up. I was getting no dial tone when I picked up the phone, but it would ring, though I couldn't answer it. The answering machine could take a message. And then, even that wasn't working.

Very strange.

So I go online to Live Chat with a customer service rep for Earthlink, and I keep getting cut off. Six times I try, but soon enough I type stuff on my computer but it won't show up in the Live Chat window. Grr! The connection is still good, I can do other Internetty kinds of stuff, but not the Live Chat.

Finally, I get to the end of a conversation with someone who tells me the problem is my phone. I don't have another phone to check this premise, but I go to a neighbor and borrow their phone and plug it into my system and sure enough, Kenrick K. of Earthlink is right.

My current state of broke-assedness is bad but not awful (a whine later this week about that), but I am without my bicycle (a whine about that tomorrow). Luckily, there's a thrift store in walking distance, they had a phone for sale for $3.25, so I once again have the 21st Century convenience of the Internets and the 20th Century convenience of a land line.

Yay, convenience!

p.s. My old phone was not nearly as old as the old phone in the picture. But it also didn't look anywhere near as nice.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Where do the young people pick up bad habits?


From their irresponsible elders, of course! Readers of Padre Mickey's Dance Party will immediately recognize Miss Bebé, the World's Most Beautiful Granchile™. She is being given vuvuzela instructions by an unrelated irresponsible adult who looks like a fatter, pinker, far less talented version of Dizzy Gillespie.

Just how irresponsible is this individual? Glad you asked, hypothetical question asker.

He is so irresponsible that other roller derby fans noticed.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Random 10, 7/16/10

London Calling The Clash
That Thing (Doo Wop) Lauryn Hill
Lies Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
B-A-B-Y Rachel Sweet
I'm The Man Joe Jackson
Ain't Too Proud To Beg The Temptations
Maryland Vonda Shepard
Foolish Ways Madder Rose
Sound & Vision David Bowie
Something To Sing About Sarah Michelle Gellar and James Marsters

Not a bad Random 10. 9 of 10 from The You Tubes, pretty much par for the course in 2010. The band Madder Rose is represented, just not this particular song. Two songs from the 21st Century, one from a movie and the other from TV. Every decade from the Sixties to the Oughts gets at least one tune.

Whatchoo listenin' to?



Wednesday Math (two days late), Vol. 121: Divisibility by 11 revisited

Blogging is down to a minimum due to the summer session. It feels like I'm always writing assignments or grading them, especially Mondays through Thursdays. Only two weeks to go.

Since this in Volume 121 of the allegedly weekly math posts and 121 is 11 x 11, I'm going to write about the multiples of 11. This was discussed this before last October when I reviewed the 19th Century math text Robinson's New Higher Arithmetic.

It's easy to spot the multiples of 11 less than 100, 11, 22, 33, 44, etc., but not quite as obvious when the number has more than two digits. Let's take for example the number of feet in a mile, 5,280.

The trick to checking is known as an alternating sum, where we start with the digit in the ones place, subtract the digits in the tens place, add the digit in the hundreds place, subtract the digits in the thousands place, and continue this pattern of add and subtract for all the digits. For 5,280, the answer would be 0-8+2-5, which equals -11.

If the sum is a multiple of 11, the original number is a multiple of 11. We can state a rule that if the number is negative, add multiples of 11 until the result is zero or more, and if the total is more than 10, subtract 11 until the result is between 0 and 10 inclusive. Now we get an added bonus that the result is the remainder when you divide by 11.

Back a century ago, this trick was a popular way to check your work when doing any simple math. Let me do a sum and get it wrong to show how casting out elevens can show me that I made a mistake.

_3717 Casting out 11s: 7-1+7-3 = 6+4 = 10
+ 244 Casting out 11s: 4-4+2 = 2
_____
_3951 Casting out 11s: 1-5+9-3 = 2

10+2 = 12, so if we subtract 11 from 12 we get 1, which is what the remainder of the sum should be. Since we got a remainder of 2 instead, there must be a mistake. (I forgot to carry the 1 when I added 7+4 and the correct sum is 3,961.)

Besides mistakes that can be done with simple arithmetic errors, casting out 11s also catches simple transposition of digits mistakes. Let's say I write 3,691 instead of 3,961. Now we cast out elevens on both.

3,691 -> 1 - 9 + 6 - 3 = -5, so we add 11 and get 6
3,961 -> 1 - 6 + 9 - 3 = 1.

This is very handy, but not perfect. Most transposition errors humans will make are switching two digits that are adjacent, but if I wrote 3169 instead of 3961, both will give the answer 1 when casting out elevens.

This is known now as modular arithmetic, a topic I covered way back in Vol. 5 of Wednesday Math.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

R.I.P. Harvey Pekar, 1939-2010

I was never a huge fan of Harvey Pekar's work, but I respected the idea behind it. More than that, I love the dialog on this cover. I consider "Hey, man. Average is dumb!" up there with the best quotations from any comic book or strip ever, right alongside Walt Kelly's "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Best wishes to his family and friends.

Somebody else who made it big in Cleveland died today, but I'll be damned if I'm going to mention him.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dead wrong in public ONE LAST TIME.


My prediction was the Dutch would be a little rougher than the Germans and maybe a little more talented that the Krauts minus Thomas Müller and prevail against the highly favored Spanish, who have a history of choking in big games.

Oopsie.

While my former roommate and current blog buddy Abu Scooter has a Hispanic surname (Velasquez, not Scooter), he also has pointy headed intellectual tendencies, and he picked Spain to win with a late goal in regulation. Spain actually won with a goal in overtime before penalty kicks, so he was only off by a few minutes.

Now I explain why I am currently dining on Crow Carbonara. I thought the Dutch would be a little rougher than the Germans. They were a LOT rougher than the Germans, and even their strikers were getting yellow cards, every one of them deserved. Worse than that, the Dutch player Nigel de Jong kicked a Xavi Alonso IN THE CHEST and the referee gave him a yellow card. (The picture is nicked from the ABC website, via the Ghost Grey Cat.) If FIFA is serious, both de Jong and the ref are not allowed in international competitions for a very, very long time.

The Dutch had seven yellow cards before they collected their first red card late in overtime, again completely deserved. There were some real chances for both teams to score, but the Spanish scored because midfielder Andrés Iniesta made a perfect finish. The small midfielder was not the first choice to be the lone goal scorer in the Grand Final, but 24 minutes into extra time, he hit it perfectly at the end of a long run, the Dutch goalie Maarten Stekelenburg defended perfectly to get a boot on it, but Iniesta was just a little bit better.

The better and cleaner team won, and I'm glad I was wrong. In Europe, a pro-thuggery intellectual can be a Communist, but in the U.S., pro-thuggery intellectuals are pro-Pinkerton or pro-police brutality or maybe pro-Black Panther back in the day. That isn't me. I was hoping the Dutch would be a little rough in the defense and a little clever up front, but that wasn't the case. Congrats to the Spanish for breaking through and winning their first World Cup when they clearly had the team in the world that deserved it.

One last thanks to La Estrellita for being my neighborhood bar of choice for this entire wonderful month.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The straight dope on Proposition 19 polling.

Proposition 19 on the November ballot in California would put marijuana on a near equal footing with alcohol in the state of California. It would be legal for adults in California to buy, sell and cultivate it, but illegal to sell to minors, use in public or to operate heavy machinery while under the influence. The state would allow cities to decide to regulate the sale and tax it. The current political climate makes it uncomfortable to use the phrases "common sense" and "libertarian" in the same sentence, but supporting Prop. 19 is the common sense libertarian position.

The Field organization, a longtime polling company based in California, has released an early opinion poll about four of the ballot measures that will be decided in November, and Prop. 19 is among them. There is a further link to the poll in .pdf form. Let me do some quick back-of-the-spreadsheet calculations and number crunching on the results.

The early bad news. The early polling shows Prop. 19 failing, with 44% in favor and 48% opposed in a sample of 1,005 likely voters. Since 92% of respondents have an opinion, it's acceptable to use the Confidence of Victory method, or so says the method's designer. (That would be me. It's optimal to use when the amount of undecided is less than 5%, but still usable when the undecided is under 10%.) If the election were held today, these numbers would make us about 91% confident the proposition will not pass. Of course, the election is NOT being held today and public opinion can change dramatically in four months.

The early good news. The public is more aware of Prop. 19 than they are of any of the other major ballot measures the poll asked about. 77% of respondents had heard about the legalization effort before they were contact by the pollsters. Among people who are already heard of it, the measure is favored 48% to 44%. Among those asked their opinion mere moments after hearing the proposition existed, the measure is opposed 61% to 32%. It is possible that further education could sway the numbers in favor of the ballot.

Matty Boy, the nearly archetypical supporter, The Gosh Darned Pater Familias... not so much. Every time the vote is broken down demographically, I am in a group favoring passage. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm non-Hispanic white, I'm male, I'm 50-64 years of age, I'd heard of the proposition before yesterday and I'm a registered Democrat. In contrast, the Gosh Darned Pater Familias is in a bunch of demographic groups that typically do not favor passage. The major demographic differences between us are that he is over 65 and Republican. When we have discussed this in the past, he has been in favor of passage.

Like I said, the common sense libertarian viewpoint.

The current racial divide and the groups showing early support. Non Hispanic whites are the only ethnic group that support passage in this early poll, 48% to 43%. Hispanic voters are at 36% to 62%, African-Americans 40% to 52% and the traditionally conservative Asian community 33% to 62%. Two major political groups to come out early in favor of passage are the Democratic Party of California and the NAACP. Swaying the African-American vote alone will not ensure victory, since they comprise only 6% of the California electorate, but advances there and gaining strength in the Hispanic community could help make the difference.

A name that allegedly goes against the current grain. The official name of Proposition 19 is the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010. If we agree with the lame stream media who think the Tea Party are the wave of the future, the American people hate regulation, government control and taxes almost as much as they hate Satan and all his works. But in reality, and more importantly in California, these goofballs who think Thomas Paine was a supply-side economist are a minority of an already minority party.

There's a long time between now and the election and the forces opposing are already raising more cash than the backers have, but cash alone doesn't always work, as PG&E and Mercury Insurance found out last month. It makes for an interesting election cycle.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Who likes the Dutch? Pointy headed intellectuals.

I was looking for other so-called "experts" who favored the Dutch to win the 2010 World Cup final on Sunday. All I found was this piece by Max Bergmann on the Huffington Post. He points to the Dutch being both more talented and more thuggish than the Germans and he expects this to work to their advantage more, because taking the risk with hard tackles can give a team the counter-attack chances they need.

As for people who think Spain will win, they are much easier to find. Spain are the current European champs, and they were the pre-tournament favorite. Locally, folks I know who know their football are fond of the Spanish, including Jose, the owner of La Estrellita who was impressed with their play against Germany and the guy who owns the hot dog cart on the east side of Laney College, who likes their tight, low scoring style.


Moreover, the press has been fascinated with Paul the Octopus, who has been correct about every match the Germans have played so far. Two tasty mussels are placed inside separate plastic boxes adorned with the flags of the teams about to play and Paul, who lives in a German aquarium, correctly predicted all the wins and losses for the German team so far, which means the losses to Serbia and Spain and the wins against Australia, England and Argentina.

Given his first chance to pick a game where Germany isn't playing, Paul preferred the mussel in the Spanish plastic box to the one in the Dutch box, yet more evidence that I am whistling up the wrong tree.

Even with all this against me, I still expect the Dutch to win in an exciting replay of the Eighty Years War where they finally won their independence from Spain back in 1648.

See what I said earlier? Only pointy headed intellectuals like the Dutch.

Random 10, 7/9/10


What You Feel Hinton Battle and Michelle Tractenberg
Hang On St. Christopher Tom Waits
What'd I Say Ray Charles
Sugar Daddy Blues LaVern Baker
In Dreams Roy Orbison
Feelin' Good Nina Simone
Collins Cave Dave Alvin
When You Were Sweet Sixteen The Mills Brothers
Hide Away Folk Family They Might Be Giants
Amazing Grace The Blind Boys of Alabama

Not a bad list. Starts and ends with recordings from the 21st Century, but the middle of the list is definitely taken from an old person's computer. I debated calling it off after the Tom Waits song, which is my favorite video of the group, but I don't ever kick Ray Charles off the stage. Eight out of ten songs on the You Tubes, the LaVern Baker song and the Dave Alvin selection being a little obscure.

Whatchoo listenin' too?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

After the verdict, between the flashpoints.


Johannes Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the killing of unarmed Oscar Grant on New Year's morning 2009. Another cop had his knee on Grant's shoulder as Grant was face down on the BART platform after being arrested for being disorderly after New Year's Eve. Mehserle drew his gun and shot Grant in the back.

Mehserle said in the trial he thought Grant was armed. Grant wasn't.

He said he thought he had his taser in his hand. The weapons are on different holsters, have different weights and fire differently.

In the heat of passion, Mehserle murdered Grant. It wasn't pre-meditated, but a competent prosecution could have brought this one in, made twelve jurors understand this was a crime in the heat of passion, voluntary manslaughter. The state did not put forward a competent prosecution. I don't blame the jury.

A competent prosecution couldn't bring Oscar Grant back to life, but they could have saved some major property damage in Oakland this evening.

Because Mehserle was found guilty, because he could get fourteen years, I don't believe Oakland will be in flames tonight. That doesn't mean I don't think there will be fires.

One crowd is gathering in downtown Oakland, near 14th Street and Broadway. Some might think I risked life and limb because I went there to get the tabloid headlines just before the verdict was announced. Personally, I think I did some risk/reward calculations and got the numbers right.

Another crowd is gathering at the Fruitvale BART station where the murder took place a year and a half ago, about equidistant to the south of my neighborhood as City Hall is to the north of me. My expectation is the crowds will disperse and people who want to riot will move a few blocks away from where the cops are and do some property damage. This is the typical pattern.

I am sick in my heart the system worked this badly. I will wear black for a week to mourn not just the loss of Oscar Grant's life, but also because our chance to believe in anything approaching impartial justice is dead as well.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Third time lucky for the Dutch?


Things were so busy for me this morning I didn't have time to pontificate or bloviate about Netherlands-Uruguay before the game was played. Long time readers can imagine the pain this caused me.

The Dutch were favored and they didn't disappoint. While the quarterfinals looked good for South America, the final will be an all-European affair, either Netherlands-Germany or Netherlands-Spain.

Here are the positives and negatives for all three teams left in the hunt.

Dutch Positives: Here's an excellent one. They have won every game they have played in South Africa. No one else can say that. Six games, six wins, all in regulation. They haven't demolished anyone, the biggest win they have is 2-0 against Denmark. But when the 90 minute whistle blew, the score was always Netherlands Just Enough, Opponents Somewhat Less.

Dutch Negatives: They have never won a World Cup. In the 1970s after Pele left the stage for Brazil, experts agreed that the Dutch were the team to beat.

In 1974, the hosts of the World Cup West Germany beat them.

In 1978, the hosts of the World Cup Argentina beat them.

They are not a populous enough country to have a host of top quality players every four years when the World Cup happens, but the stars are certainly aligned now. And the host country South Africa? Nowhere to be seen.

Spanish Positives: David Villa, the top goal scorer in the tournament so far. And they have shut out three of their five opponents so far. That's nice math to have on your side.

Spanish Negatives: They have never played in a World Cup final. They are the famous chokers of Europe in this regard. For American sports fans, the Dutch are like the Minnesota Vikings, who have played in plenty of Super Bowls but never won once. The Spanish are like the Cleveland Browns, who have never played in a Super Bowl, always losing some time in the AFC Playoffs.

Also, the Spanish lost in the opening round to Switzerland, a team that didn't make the knockout rounds.

German Positives: The Germans have won World Cups in the past, the only team left in the mix that can say that. In five games so far, they have DEMOLISHED three, count them three opponents. Australia 4-0? Maybe not impressive. England 4-1? The English can say they were robbed, but the rest of the world isn't listening. Argentina 4-0? Okay, that was a serious ass-kicking. When this team is working, they look really good.

German Negatives: Like the Spanish, they lost in the round robin part of the tourney, falling 1-0 to the Serbs who didn't make the knockout round. More to the point tomorrow, they lost Thomas Müller, their 20 year old wunderkind to a yellow card last game and he won't suit up against Spain. He has four goals, one off the tournament lead, and three assists, the best in the tourney so far. That's a lot of firepower off the pitch, but the Germans lost team leader Michael Ballack to injury just before the tournament and many doubted they would compete without him. They have proved all the doubters wrong so far.

Matty Boy out on a limb: It's a very sturdy limb, though. I pick Germany over Spain in a nail biter and the Dutch over the Germans in the final. It's finally time for the Clockwork Orange.
(I'll also pick them over the Spanish if I'm wrong about tomorrow's game.)

I won't see tomorrow's game, what with all that pesky working for a living and all, but I will be in front of a TV, vuvuzela at the ready, for the Grand Final on Sunday.

Only one month every four years, but so much fun packed in!

Monday, July 5, 2010

A serious drama ruined by incessant math and logic.


I haven't been able to afford premium cable for quite a while, so I did not see the HBO mini-series John Adams when it first came out. I had borrowed the first few DVDs of the 1976 PBS series The Adams Chronicles from the library a while back and came to the conclusion that while interesting things happened to John Adams, he was not himself an interesting person. He was too stern and too much of a complainer without being a man of action. Still, the new HBO version starred Paul Giamatti as Adams, Laura Linney as his wife Abagail and Danny Huston as his cousin Sam, three actors I have liked in a lot of different roles, so I put the mini-series on my Netflix list.

The DVD series has an option of pop-up text that explains the historical stuff, similar to the All Roads Lead To Rome option in the HBO series Rome. I loved reading the little historical tidbits on that show, so I immediately turned on that option here.

That was my first mistake. The Adams mini-series is wildly inaccurate. Things happen out of historical sequence. Several events that happened after 1776 take place in the mini-series before Adams goes to the first Continental Congress in 1774. As he leaves for Philadelphia for the first time, the congregation in the church sings a popular anti-tyranny song written in 1778. The actors playing Adams' children Nabby and John Quincy in the early scenes are much too old to play a five year old girl or a seven year old boy respectively. The result of the trial after the Boston Massacre gives the wrong verdict, letting all the soldiers go free when in fact, two of the soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter. Even the pop-up text disagrees on the times of events compared to online sources.

The series Rome wasn't perfectly accurate, either. Some young characters barely aged between the deaths of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, a fourteen year span. But at least they kill off major historical characters in order, Caesar, then Pompey the Great, then Cicero and Antony last. Watching the first part of John Adams was worse historically and the side notes felt more like the revenge of the history nerds, getting in the last word that the writers and producers willfully ignored during the main production.

Long time readers will remember I had similar problems when watching Mamma Mia!, a very different type of entertainment. Sometimes, I would love to turn that part of my brain off when watching a drama, but even on the cusp of grumpy old manhood, I haven't figured out how to do it.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

If blogging existed four decades ago.

If we went back forty years, the younger version of Matty Boy would have been all over this story. As a nod that young man, I report on a new scientific discovery.

(Illustration by C. Letenneur, Nature)

A new fossil find has discovered an extinct species of whale that lived about 12 million years ago. The whale was the size of a modern day sperm whale, 50 to 60 feet long, but had a much bigger and more powerful jaw, which means it could easily have been a predator of whales. The illustrator gave it a shape roughly equivalent to a sperm whale and coloring like an orca. In contrast, the modern killer whale is in the range of 20 to 30 feet long.

Quibble: the whale being attacked is shaped like a blue whale, but it is much too tiny. Adult blues are in the 90 to 100 foot range, so this ancient predator would have had to hunt in packs to bring down the really big baleen whales.

Scientists have named the previously undiscovered species Leviathan melvillei in honor of the author of Moby Dick, of course.

I loved stories like this when I was a kid. Nowadays, it probably means Syfy will make a ridiculously cheap movie with bad special effects about one of these critters still being alive and attacking humans. These kind of scripts write themselves, so you have to have an Ahab like character. I expect F. Murray Abraham or Lance Hendricksen to get the role, maybe Larry Drake if they are really strapped for cash. There will also be a semi-famous babe in distress. Think Renee O'Connor or Kari Wuhrer. They might go younger, but I doubt they will be able to afford anyone with more gravitas than Heidi Montag.

I probably won't watch. Too painful to think about how much the younger version of me would have loved this.



Saturday, July 3, 2010

Una América más buena y más gentil.


If you have been reading during the last three weeks, you already know how much I love the World Cup and how loyal I am to my local neighborhood bar and restaurant, La Estrellita on East 12th Street and 5th Avenue in Oakland. Often, I am the only patron that will be there for kickoff of the games that start at 7:00 am, with stragglers coming in by halftime. On the other hand, there have been good crowds for the games that start at 11:30. The folks who come in for the breakfast games are fans who take the game very seriously and given the early hour, enjoy the game with a sober and monastic concentration.

The games that start at lunchtime... Oh hell, it's a party, so let's have a party. Next round's on me.

The game airs on ESPN and Univision, but the ESPN feed is slightly delayed from the Spanish TV, which is slightly delayed from the Spanish radio. I know this because everybody listening in kitchen has already heard about an exciting play and they come pouring out to watch it on the TV.

So we watch the games in Spanish. I speak and understand a little, and of course the owner Jose is completely fluent, so if there's anything important being said by the announcer or color commentator, I have some idea what it is.

But let me give mad props to the commercials in Spanish.

George Herbert Walker Bush asked for a kinder, gentler America after eight years of Reaganistic nastiness. He didn't get his wish. Regardless of which party has had residence in the White House, the tone of the country has gotten worse, and this isn't just a grumpy old man talking out of the rose colored glasses of nostalgia. On TV in Los Estados Unidos, things have taken a disgusting turn for the worse, and it can't all be put at the feet of Rupert Murdoch. The ads on TV are vicious. If I may quote myself from February 2009 talking about the Super Bowl ads, "...it's all about taking a shot to the testicles or a concussion or some other vicious violence so you can have a snack that costs less than two bucks and your friend can't."

But not the commercials in Spanish. The commercials in Spanish are about community, about helping people out.

There's a guy on the dance floor who can't dance. A chorus of famous and good looking people tell him what he's doing wrong and he takes the hint and at the end he is dancing with a super super fine chica. Brought to you by Corona.

An open house has Bud Light in the fridge. A guy who is visiting doesn't keep it all for himself, but instead tells everyone in the neighborhood.

The big game is on TV. Everybody in the neighborhood brings their TV down to the public open space and puts them in a rectangular pile, which magically becomes a big screen TV on which everyone can enjoy the game together, the way God intended. I think this one is from McDonald's.

A guy is playing videogames and drinking Coca-Cola Zero. His girlfriend wants to talk about their relationship. The perfect solution? No, she doesn't magically turn into a guy who also wants to play videogames, he is magically cloned into a guy who listens to her and another guy who serenades her on the guitar.

We all know how fat Americans are, myself included. Many people have noted the fat content of the general diet in France, Italy, China, Mexico, you name it, but not the same problem of obesity. Some people say it's wine or olive oil or whatever other dietary staple that makes the difference. Other people have said half jokingly the problem is speaking English.

Let's go with the theory that the problem is speaking English. Some stupid old white folks are terrified that the Spanish speakers are going to take over. Ask yourselves this. Can they really do worse than we have? From what I can see, Spanish speakers in America are generally hard working and devout people, and their religion has the crazy idea that God wants us to love our neighbor and treat him as we would want to be treated ourselves.

Them wacky Meskins! Go figure.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A great neighborhood bar and grill


Today and tomorrow, the quarterfinals of World Cup 2010 are being played. On the West Coast, this means a game for breakfast and a game for lunch. It's a great time for football fans, but for real fans, you don't want to watch the games alone. In my neighborhood, there is no better choice than La Estrellita bar and restaurant on the corner of East 12th Street and 5th Avenue. I haven't been a "regular" at a bar or restaurant in quite a while, and I have to give mad props to the folks at La Estrellita. They have made me feel more welcome as a patron than any place I have ever visited. The restaurant is open for breakfast and the owner Jose Macias is a fan, so the TV is always on when there's a game. Being Oakland, folks of every color and from every corner of the world come in the door of any place of business that puts out the welcome mat and really means it. I had breakfast this morning with the Gosh Darned Pater Familias and my sister Karlacita!, who was on her way from her home in Monterey to a visit to Ukiah to publicize her book. We watched the Dutch beat the Brazilians, and though it breaks my heart to say it, the better team won. I had my favorite, the chorizo con huevos, Dad had the pozole and Karla the hamon con papas y huevos. The food is good, the portions are generous and the atmosphere is sweet.

I came back for the lunchtime game, still full from breakfast but willing to have some liquid nourishment, just to keep body and soul together. A bigger crowd gathered at 11:30, including my tablemates Edwin and Juliet from Kenya, who for the day would claim to be from Ghana. Ghana came tantalizingly close to winning the game at the end of overtime when a well-deserved penalty kick slammed off the upper crossbar, only to lose on penalty kicks 4-2 after the 120 minutes ended. So now it's Uruguay vs. Netherlands in a semifinal on Tuesday, a game I will miss because of work.

If you are a soccer fan in Oakland, I heartily recommend La Estrellita for the World Cup games, and if you would just like some Mexican food or a drink during a sporting event, it's also an excellent choice. For generous portions, good food and good service, it's my favorite neighborhood bar and grill in Oakland.

Random 10, 7/2/10, Padre Mickey rule almost invoked

Indian Giver LOS RAMONES!!!!!!!!


Matty Boy? Are you gonna stop? It's not gonna get better, right?
Keep listening, Hypothetical.

Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadows? The Rolling Stones
Red Rain Peter Gabriel
Hateful The Clash
O-O-H Child The Five Stairsteps
The Weight The Band
Church Bells May Ring The Willows
Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy Glen Hansard
Stardust Hoagy Carmichael
Get Behind The Mule Tom Waits


And now we stop, because it's song #10 and because it won't get any better.

Big Jack Earle was eight foot one
And he stood in the road and he cried.
He couldn't make her love him, he couldn't make her stay,
But tell The Good Lord that he tried,
Tell The Good Lord that he tried.



Thursday, July 1, 2010

The day came, to my surprise.

When my mom died last year, I posted a few songs for her and one for my dear departed friend Mina Millett, who died years earlier much too young. The song for Mina was Put Your Records On by Corinne Bailey Rae. Mina never heard this song, since it was recorded after she was gone, but Ms. Rae looked so much like a young Mina and the song reminded me so much of good times with Mina on picnics and the like, the bright lively tune always made me cry to the point of sobbing uncontrollably.

Today, I listened again, singing along as I always do.

Today, I was able to sing the song all the way through.



So, Matty Boy, you didn't cry at all?

Read carefully, Hypothetical my friend. I didn't say that.