Saturday, October 31, 2009

Last Night, I Had The Strangest Dream

So last night, given my son's sudden interest in the Halloween Dance at his school, I found myself with a couple of hours to kill. So my dear blog amigo Katie ( was having a fundraiser for Run2Inspire(@run2inspire), which is the charity she is involved with. The fundraiser was at Buckhead Saloon in Northern Liberties, which is a place I've never been to in a city (Philadelphia) I'm not deeply familiar with.

Yet I went, which is uncharacteristic of me, found the place, which seemed unlikely, and got back home again, which seemed impossible. I couldn't stay, of course, given that the dance was ending. But I went, and I met Katie in the flesh. Her costume was clever, (Mario, the video game character) and she is as pretty and charming as you probably think she is.

The overwhelming feeling I got from the evening is, if that's how you young folks socialize, you're welcome to it. I was pretty certain of this before, but last night cemented in my mind the fact that I'm never, ever getting divorced-because I can't imagine using the bar scene to meet folks. The words "This is not your scene" should have been written above the doorway for people like me.

So, even though I had to bail before Katie rode the mechanical bull, I managed to support Katie (@katieblogs), demonstrate my opposition to cancer (just like my hero @matthewberrytmr), and got a glimpse of how the other half live (ie normal people with social lives).

So there's that.

OK, just one more self important quote....

"I heard this just in passing this week, but 
unemployment in Flint, Michigan has edged over 30 percent, and Detroit 
seems to be coming up hard on the rail. If you drive around this country, 
or if you travel it by rail, a lot of the most poignant places through
 which you will pass are the small- and medium-sized cities of the Midwest, 
with the empty, blank-staring factories. (A closed steel-mill is a ruin
 almost incomprehensibly vast.) Close your eyes, and you can hear the
 machines grinding, and the workers yapping about the Tigers or the Indians, 
or the Bears or the Packers. You can see the plant gates open, and the lunch pails swinging from dangling fingertips, and maybe the kids running 
excitedly up the sidewalk, anxious to carry the steel helmet or put on the 
tool-belt. A middle-class came out of those gates, every day, for 30 years, 
and a stronger country came out of that middle-class, and out of the GI
 Bill. Rolling by those places today is to wander through the lost archaeology of your own country, in real time.

Thirty percent unemployment is not a sustainable society. Deeper in
 those numbers you will find dramatic increases in domestic violence, in 
alcoholism and drug addiction, and an accelerated breeder reactor of 
failure and apathy, feeding on itself, the self-sustaining manufacture of a
 century of despair. People who cannot work cannot eat. People who cannot 
eat will not vote. Why? What is possibly in it for them? What in the name
 of god is their place in the glittering kabuki of what has become of our 
politics? They're not buying tables at the Correspondents Dinner. They're
 not buying anything advertised on the cable shows. They're not sending big 
checks to President Change-I-Am. They don't count, those 30 percent, not 
any more, and the empty mills rust, flake, and blow away in fragments in 
the winds that are turning colder.

We are on the precipice of something very dangerous right now.
 Thirty percent is not the stuff of a sustainable, credible political 
democracy, which I suppose is OK, since we don't have one any more, and
show no signs of being particularly upset about that self-evident fact. We 
saw that this week. The United States of America, which once fed its people 
and armed the world in order that it could save itself, is unequal in its 
self-government to the simple task of keeping its citizens healthy and
 alive. In the task of self-government, the unemployment rate is nearing 100

-The indomitable Charles P. Pierce

What I'm Thinking About When I'm Not Thinking About Halloween

¶ "Blessed are the poor in spirit:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
¶ Blessed are they that mourn:
for they shall be comforted. Is. 61.2 
¶ Blessed are the meek:
for they shall inherit the earth. Ps. 37.11 
¶ Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst
after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Is. 55.1,2 
¶ Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
¶ Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Ps. 24.45 
¶ Blessed are the peacemakers:
for they shall be called the children of God.
¶ Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake:
1 Pet. 3.14 for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
¶ Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you,
and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 1 Pet. 4.14 
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven:
for so persecuted they the prophets 2 Chr. 36.16 · Acts 7.52 
which were before you."

From the Book of Matthew, Chapter 5

From the movie, "Shawshank Redemption", based on a Steven King novella


The crucified planet Earth,
should it find a voice 
and a sense of irony,
might now well say
of our abuse of it,
"Forgive them, Father,
They know not what they do."

The irony would be 
that we know what 
we are doing.

When the last living thing 
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be 
if Earth could say, 
in a voice floating up
from the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
"It is done."
People did not like it here."

-Kurt Vonnegut Jr. 
from the book "Man Without a Country" (Seven Stories, 2005)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Suck It Up

The Phil Nugent Experience: Suck It Up

Phil Nugent on Hoover, Bush, Obama, Roosevelt, Clinton, and how far we allow our fellow citizens to fall.

"There was a time when the kind of government initiative that Roosevelt embodied, and that Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama have tried to extend to basic medical coverage, was considered strange and new, and it was allowed to become an accepted part of the national landscape because for a couple of generations most people, including those American politicians (Ronald Reagan very much not excluded), still had vivid memories of how much worse things could be without it. George Bush, Jr.'s effort to privatize Social Security was an important moment in the contemporary American history, because it served notice that power had finally passed into the hands of a generation of thoughtless spoiled 'tards who lacked both historical memory and any feeling for anyone who couldn't have their personal assistant hire a private jet if that was what it took to get them the hell out of the way of a hurricane. It's not yet clear how much the current population will remember the crash of '08 and its own lessons; it would be sweet to think that people will take the hint and stone the next person they see preaching the importance of markets unfettered by regulation, but the last several years would have been a lot different if they'd taken that same lesson from the S & L scandals that, along with the end of the Cold War, provided an appropriate capper to the Reagan era. Instead, that turned out to be one of the most mysteriously quickly forgotten instructional lessons of our time, brushed aside in what Greenspan himself called the "irrational exuberance" of the '90s bubble economy. One hates to suggest that an even worse crash might have been healthier for the long-term sanity of the nation, but it would be interesting to know how many of the people whining about the dangers of socialism at those town hall meetings would have eagerly mailed their Social Security funds off to Bernie Madoff, if only our former MBA President had had his way."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bill Walton and the Secret To Life

"Can you make the choice that your happiness can come from someone else's success?"

-Bill Walton

I just finished Bill Simmons' "The Book of Basketball". 2 1/2 days (I got it Tuesday morning), and almost 700 pages of basketball talk. I'm a basketball fan-have been for years, so I naturally enjoyed it. It's really good, and I have that feeling I get after finishing a really good read-though I'm tired and glad to move on (next up is either the new Vonnegut collection or Janna Levin's "How The Universe Got Its Spots" or "The League That Lasted" about the 1876 National League), I am kind of sad that it's over. That, in a friend's memorable phrase, I can never read it for the first time again.

It is a long (obviously), detailed essay, treatise, and analysis of basketball history, with analysis and ranking of players and teams. He frames the book by talking about something he calls "The Secret".

Not that Secret.

Basketball, like all team sports, is an activity where people have to work together to achieve a common goal. Every year, one champion is crowned, and all the other teams go home unhappy. There are plenty of teams with just as much talent, and sometimes with a lot more, than the champions. These other teams are going home without rings while one group dances around celebrating with the trophy. Simmons' entire book is an effort to uncover The Secret-what is the secret to winning basketball? Writ large, what is the key to success?

He begins with a conversation he had with Isaiah Thomas, a Hall of Fame basketball player who became a comically bad coach and GM in later years, in which Thomas cryptically says, "the secret of basketball is that it's not about basketball". Simmons then spends 650 plus pages talking about players, teams, and games, and ends with a discussion with Hall of Famer Bill Walton about the same thing, where Walton offers the above quote.

The point they are trying to make is the great teams and players-the successful ones-the ones that stand out from the other teams that have good players too-are the ones who most effectively grasp The Secret-the idea that, as Walton says, you need to choose to enjoy the success of others. You need to put the goals of the group ahead of your own goals.

To expand just a tad, isn't that true in life, too? In basketball, someone needs to take the shot, of course. You need some aggression, some confidence, some, I suppose, greed. But the greed has to be channeled. The aggression has to be towards the goal of group success-which is winning basketball games. You have to care about winning more than personal goals.

"Love", Robert A. Heinlein once wrote, "is the state where someone else's happiness is indispensable to one's own."

Isn't that exactly the point?

Isn't that "The Secret"?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Book Of Basketball

I haven't been blogging much lately, to your everlasting joy, I'm sure, mostly because I'm neck deep in Bill Simmons' "The Book Of Basketball", which is proving to be every bit the joyful read I expected.

All I have to contribute is the following Tweet, which I found a little too amusing:

RT @StephenAtHome "Turns out those Northwest pilots were just on their laptops, no doubt playing Microsoft Cubicle Simulator."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thirty Eight

ESPN's documentary series, "30 for 30", continued tonight with Albert Mayles' "Muhammad and Larry", about the 1980 fight between Larry Holmes and the fat, old, out of retirement Muhammad Ali. It is a tremendous film-Mayles made the film in 1980, but recut it with discussions from boxing experts and journalists that extended it to the hour that "30 for 30" entries are. Ali was 38 when he fought Holmes.

On Thursday, Pedro Martinez, who was the best pitcher in baseball from 1997 until 2000, is scheduled to pitch Game Two of the 2009 World Series in Yankee Stadium for the Philadelphia Phillies. Martinez has a long history with the Yankees and Yankee Stadium, mostly due to his penchant for hitting batters, most notably New York's Derek Jeter, and from his role in the 2004 ALCS. Pedro Martinez is 38 years old.

I am, to borrow a phrasing from Spider Robinson, in no particular order, a husband, father, son, brother, colleague, health professional, blogger, and in no particular order. I am 38 years old. However, I am capable of neither fighting Larry Holmes nor starting Game Two of the World Series.

Boxing has always fascinated me in the way that war does. I want to know about it- I think it is interesting-but I abhor its effects. Baseball has always fascinated me in general, even though it can be, frankly, a tremendous waste of time and money. I tie these two 38 year old men together, I suppose, because I can empathize with their struggles, in a sense.

I, too, no longer have the good fastball or the crisp jab any more. I feel like life is getting away from me, and I have to rely on guile, changeups and footwork and evasion, if I hope to continue. I understand the struggles of the older athlete, in some small way, because it reminds me of my mortality, which is something that is on everyone's mind at times.

Eventually guile won't do it any more, and no matter what you throw up there, they bang it off the wall. I can feel my skills fading, and the punches are getting through now.I'm still bobbing, and weaving, but I don't have the knockout punch any more, and eventually my guard is going to drop.

Decisions, decisions

Scott Adams, the creator of the cartoon Dilbert is smarter than me, almost certainly richer than me and definitely happier than me. Other than being a cartoonist, Adams is a relentlessly logical thinker and thought provoking author and analyst of business and life. In his blog, he posts a list of questions you should ask before you attempt to make a decision. They are:

  1. What do the experts say you should do?
  2. How much experience do the experts have with this question?
  3. Does the expert have a conflict of interest?
  4. What's the worst thing that could happen?
  5. How easy is it to switch course if you choose wrong?
  6. What information can you find on the Internet?
  7. Who has made this choice before? Were they satisfied?
  8. If I delay, will I learn something more that is useful?
  9. Is there a way to do a limited test?
  10. Does the decision make logical and mathematical sense?
  11. Do the experts make this choice with their own money?
  12. What do the well-informed people in my situation usually do?
  13. What does the competing vendor say about this vendor?
  14. Have I seen all of the alternatives?

This, as usual with Adams, is a fascinating idea. My mother always told me that, when faced with a difficult decision, you should make a list on a piece of paper of the pros and cons, and see how they stack up. At the time, I thought she was crazy-20 plus years later, I am stunned at how right she was. Adams' decision tree is not a guarantee of a good outcome, but it certainly replaces taking a shot in the dark.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I shouldn't read Chuck Klosterman and listen to Dan Carlin the same day

I finished the Klosterman book-greedily, almost thirstily polishing it off this morning. It was wonderful, of course-thought provoking and deep, without being complicated or wordy. Highly recommended.

Dan Carlin's most recent show concerned the battle between the President and Fox News. Carlin considered not the fairness of the acts, which so far have amounted to nothing more than name calling and childishness, but the monumental stupidity of them-Carlin, fairly, hopes that such stupidity is not manifest in the acts of government we don't hear so much about. Carlin sees the anti Fox move as bad politics-it both is a waste of time and serves to confirm all the worst thoughts your enemies have of you. (Don't forget that Nixon had journalists audited by the IRS and tried to get the Washington Post's licenses taken away. What Obama has done pales in comparison.) He then pivots to remind people that it is funny to hear conservatives ranting and raving about security and freedom now, when in 2003, these same people wanted us to march in lockstep and support our president. Carlin all along has been warning that these laws (notably the Patriot Act) were a bad idea no matter who is in power.

That's an idea I and everybody else needs to get behind-we need to evaluate things based on what they are, not based on what the last President did or what happened before. I'm guilty of that too-I angrily called out Tea Party demonstrators on this very space about whether or not they were against all excessive government spending, or whether they are against excessive government spending only when a black guy does it.

It shouldn't matter. Things should be evaluated on their merits.

I guess I'm not smart enough to form a consistent point of view on political things. Or maybe I'm just a coward.

CK on Sports

Klosterman also writes about sports a lot, which is one of the reason why Bill Simmons has him on the BS Report often.

CK, from his new book, on football:

"I don't know what I see when I watch football. It must be something insane, because I should not enjoy it as much as I do. I must be seeing something so personal and so universal that understanding this question would tell me everything I need to know about who I am, and maybe I don't want that to happen. But perhaps it's simply this: Football allows the intellectual part of my brain to evolve, but it allows the emotional part to remain unchanged. It has a liberal cerebellum and a reactionary heart. And this is all I want from everything, all the time, always."

CK on Time Travel

More Klostermanic goodness from Chuck Klosterman's new book, "Eating the Dinosaur":

"Here's a question I like to ask people when I'm 5/8 drunk. Let's say you had the ability to make a very brief phone call into your own past. You are (somehow) given the opportunity to phone yourself as a teenager; in short, you will be able to communicate with the fifteen year old version of you. However, you will only get to talk to yourself for fifteen seconds. As such, there's no way you will be able to explain who you are, where or when you're calling from, or what any of this lunacy is supposed to signify. You will only be able to give the younger version of yourself a fleeting, abstract message of unclear origin.

What would you say to yourself during these fifteen seconds?"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chuck Klosterman on, well, me.

Chuck Klosterman's new book is out, and I spent most of my birthday money on it today. (The rest of it is for Bill Simmons' "The Book of Basketball", which is supposed to come out Tuesday.)

He has a lot to say, as he always does, and this is the first section that has grabbed my attention:

"I fear that most contemporary people are answering questions not because they're flattered by the attention, they're answering questions because they feel as though they deserve to be asked. About everything. Their opinions are special, so they are entitled to a public forum. Their voice is supposed to be heard, lest their life become empty.

This, in one paragraph (minus technology), explains the rise of New Media."

Top 5 Celebrity Crushes

1. Erin Esurance, mascot for Esurance

2. Aditi Roy, NBC reporter in Philadelphia

3. Flo from Progressive

4. Education Connection commercial actress

5. Christine Woods (Janis Hawk) from ABC's "FlashForward"