Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Ten Favorite TV Shows

1. Seinfeld

2. Baseball Tonight

3. Law and Order

4. Homicide: Life on the Street

5. Jeopardy!

6. All in the Family

7. The Sopranos

8. Columbo

9. Bones

10. Who Wants to be a Millionaire

Friday, December 19, 2008

"I'm Just Asking"

A CNN anchor asked if the Republicans were going to continue to try to make an issue of Obama and his ties to the Illinois governor. The analyst she was talking to said "that would be speculation", to which she responded "I'm just asking".

This seems to me to be at best disingenuous, and at worst downright phony. Any journalist should know that the news people who get to ask the questions control the national political agenda. Further, the way the questions are asked usually contain innuendoes which make the questioner's point clear.

This idiot CNN anchor should have kept quiet and allowed the analyst to answer her "question". This is exactly what an MSNBC anchor did this morning when the analyst he was questioning responded "You make a good point". The questioner (Scarborough) said nothing, understanding much better than the idiot CNN anchor did that there are disguised statements in most questions. Perhaps this illustrates the difference in quality between CNN and MSNBC.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ten Things I Like about Wichita

1. Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. One of the most beautiful stadiums in the country, you look out over the Wichita skyline as you watch the game. After losing the AA Wranglers, the city did well to agree for an independent league team to become the new tenant. As I predicted, the independent league team, called the Wingnuts, did better than the Wranglers had done in drawing fans to the stadium.

2. Old Town. The former skid row and warehouse district has been rejevenated, with two beautiful plazas, two new hotels, and many upsacale bars and restaurants.

3. New arena. A new arena is nearing completion, located downtown where an arena should be.

4. Segwick County Zoo. A wonderful zoo, faturing animals in their natural habitats, and with major new exhibits opening every few years.

5. Exploration Place. Wonderful science center, located right on the river.

6. Keeper of the Plains. A statue by Native American artist Blackbear Bosin, which rises tall where the two branches of the river meet.

7. Sim Park. Along with many other parks which feature good bike paths and/or hiking trails.

8. Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church. Full of wonderful folks and with great pastoral leadership.

9. KMUW. The local public radio station; favorite shows are Morning Edition, Talk of the Nation, Fresh Air, evening jazz, Prairie Home Companion, and BBC World News Overnight. Also good is KHCC, the other public radio station located in Hutchinson. Only problem with it is I sometimes can't pick up the signal. Favorite shows there are the alternative music shows Hearts of Space and Night Crossings.

10. Good restaurants. My favorites include Hometwon Buffet, Furr's Cafeteria, Kobe's Steakhouse, The Great Wall, Don's, and the Riverside Cafe.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Whatever Became of Thrift?

January 30, 2006, should have been a day that was seered into our collective consciousness. What happened on that day, you ask? Well, on that day the Commerce Department announced that the savings rate in the U.S. was negative for the year 2005. This marked the first time since 1933 that we had a negative savings rate.

Did our President go on TV and urge the country to return to the fvalues of thrift which our forefathers practiced? Was there a national outcry in the media and in the churches? No, of course not, it passed almost unnoticed.

One of the reasons for this is the idea that spending is a good thing. Monthly figures are put out showing how much consumer spending rose from the previous month. It is always assumed that rising consumer spending is a good thing. Never is this assumption challenged by those who would question whether increased spending is really a positive.

It is important to note that the great majority of this spending consists of purchases on credit. Since the first major credit card was introduced in 1958, it has become a way of life to buy on credit in this country. All purchases are counted equally in the consumer spending figures, whether done with cash or on credit. Buying things becomes almost a patriotic duty.

Of course with the recent collapse of the financial industry, it seems appropriate to take a step back and look at how and why we use credit. The major item credit is used for by the average family is the purchase of a house. But does every family really need to own their own home? It is usually assumed they do, but I submit that the pros and cons are not well thought through by most folks before making this purchase. Owning a home ties you down to a particular location, thereby limiting your job possibilites, and often necessitating long commutes which waste time, use limited fossil fuels, and damage the environment.

There is a myth that home ownership is a good investment for the future. But, as we have seen, what goes up must come down. The housing boom of the '70's gave way to the savings and loan crisis of the '80's, and the boom of the '90's gave way to the current crisis. I recall a piece on "60 Minutes" years ago about the housing boom in California. They reported on how many speculators would buy a property with the idea of selling it in a year or two, and then taking the profit and buying another house, often not even living in the houses themselves. This was fine as long as housing values kept skyrocketing, but, as stated, what goes up must come down.

When I was doing foreclosure work in the '80's, I saw mortgages for as high as 16.5%, and I may even have seen some at 18%. Obviously it makes no sense to pay this kind of interest to buy a house, but this just illustrates how pervasive the notion is that one must own his/her residence.

While having lunch during the '70's with two former co-workers at the Wichita Community Action Program, they tried to tell me that the average length of time people own a house is 18 months! This is ludicrous on the face of it, but they insisted it was a good figure. The only way one could afford the costs of buying and selling this frequently would be if there was a huge increase in home values during that year and a half period. But why anyone would want to move that often is beyond me.

The economic/mathematical illiteracy of the public leads to a lack of awareness of all the costs associated with owning a home. You have interest, maintenance, taxes, insurance, utilities (which are much higher in a single-family residence compared to an apartment), etc. The phrase I have heard used is that if you are renting you "have nothing to show for your money". Well, neither do you have anything to show for all the expenses mentioned above when you own.

The next big item bought on credit would be the family car. Here again, some of the same analysis applies as mentioned with home ownership. There are many costs associated with owning a vehicle, and the car companies often sell you on the concept more than the usefulness of the car. That is, you need a car to attract the opposite sex, you need a car to show how important you are, you need a car to feel the power which you are controlling when you drive, etc.

One sobering statistic I heard in the car CEO's testimony thkis week is that the total number of workers, both direct and indirect from suppliers, is about 3/4 of a million, while the number of workers in car dealerships is about a million. This horribly upside-down situation just illustrates what a sleazy racket this car business is. There are more people trying to sell us a car than there are making them! Actually this might be a slight exaggeration, as some of that million doubtless includes mechanics. But the principle holds, we as a people just are too infatuated with having the biggest, the fastest, the best-looking car to assuage our fragile egos. This is why the car companies build too many big cars and not enough little cars. (In fact, I heard someone say that the Big Three sells more trucks each month than cars! The only months this was not the case were when gas was at $4/gallon.)

My son in Portland uses the "flex" rental system, where you rent a car as needed, even if it is only for an hour or so. Certainly Portland is light years ahead of the rest of the country with ideas like this. It has a great public transportation system, and is bicycle-friendly.

Another common big-ticket item is a boat. The same reasoning applies here. If the cost of owning and storing a boat are realistically considered, I maintain that no rational person would own one. Why not rent a boat for the relatively few times that you actually use it, instead of hauling it around at great expense?

I say there should be a mandatory high school class in personal fnance. How buying decisions are made could be discussed, the importance of having a budget could be studied, how to responsibly use a checking account and credit card could be studied, how interest accumulates when you don't pay the card off each month could be calculated, etc.

And now to the current crisis, caused by poor decisions by consumers coupled with irresponsible lending practices by lenders. I have heard a number of panels of experts testifying on Capitol Hill about various aspects of this crisis. The first which caught my attention was a collection of CEO's of credit rating agencies. I didn't even know what a credit rating agency was, but through listening it became obvious. These are folks who rate finanical entities, or financial packages, much like a real estate appraiser would appraise a house to determine its market value. The opinon of these credit rating agencies is sought by players in the secondary mortgage market.

But what happened was similar to what happened in the '70's with the real estate market, when appraisers would routinely give inflated appraisals because this is what everybody wanted. The buyers wante it so they could get their loan, and the lenders wanted it so they could make the loan. The lenders didn't care if it ever got paid back, because they turn around the next day and sell the loan off to some out-of-state entity, which then assumes the risk of default. As long as the paperwork looked to be in order, the loan orignator got paid and could go on to write another bad loan.

Similarly, what hapened was the credit rating agencies failed to appreciate the toxic" (seemingly the word of the day) nature of some of these securities, i.e., the securities were inadequately secured and thus not worth their face value. In short, the agencies were lazy, plus they were telling the people paying them what those people wanted to hear. Everybody turned a blind eye.

Well, not quite everybody. There was another panel consisting of hedge fund managers. In that testimony it was pointed out that not a penney of bailout money had gone to hedge funds. What is a hedge fund? This was a term I had heard but didn't know anything about. An internet search reveals it is a private investment fund open to a limited range of investors. When asked why they were so much more successful than other finanical entiteiss, the answer came back that they put considerable work into investigating a company before investing in it. Many months of study typically go into any major investment decision. Thus, they stay on top of things and are usually successful. One aspect is that the pay of the manager of the fund is largely performance-based, which avoids the ugly problem we are seeing of ridiculous amounts of money being paid to CEO's of failing companies.

Now this week we have seen the latest round of witnesses, as the CEO's of the 3 car companies came to testify. Along with them on the same panel was the head of the UAW, and an economist. Guess who made the most sense? The CEO's and the union guy all were begging for a $25 billion bailout. But there was no plan, no assurance that they wouldn't be back in 2 months with their hands out again. This is what Congress has asked them to do, go back home and come back in 2 weeks with a plan for how to spend the money.

The economist was very knowledgeable about this industry, and had obviously studied it intensely for a long time. This guy, Peter Morici, advocated letting the carmakers go into bankruptcy. He stressed that Congress was not expert in reorganizing companies; rather, that is the province of the bankruptcy court. That's what a Chapter 11 reorganization is all about, reorganizing to become leaner and more competitive.

The economist stressed that merely giving away 25 billion will solve nothing. There are systemic problems which need to be solved. He kept saying that until Detroit can be competitive with "Honda in Indiana", there is no hope for its revival. He kept mentioning that it costs the Big Three an average of $105,000 for each worker who retires--that is the cost of the severance package. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn was on C-SPAN the next morning, and he stressed another similar stat, that the hourly labor cost, considering everything, was $73 an hour for the Big Three, vs. $48 an hour for Toyota. Until the $73 is brought down to Toyota's level, there is no hope of them being competitive. Another thing Morici kept mentioning was "work rules"; apparently the big Three suffers from onerous work rules that Honda in Indiana does not have to deal with. I'm not sure exactly what these work rules are, but they seem to be quite important to the issue of competitiveness.

The union guy mentioned that they have made conscessions, like cutting by 50% the starting pay for new hirees. Big deal! When down-sizing and induced retirement are the norm, there can't be many new hirees in the picture.

One huge burden for the Big Three is the health care costs, which are estimated at $1,200-1,500 per car. If we had a national health care system, like all other devleoped coutnries do, then this would go a long way to making the Big Three competitive again. If Congress wants to provide real help, rather than a temporary band-aid, it should enact a national health care system!

I must say the Republicans are on the correct side of this auto industry bail-out issue. They generally oppose it, while the Democrats are pushing for it. In the long run, giving them money solves nothing. As the work force shrinks, the percentage of their income going to pay the early retirees will go up and up, and until they get out from under this burden, there will be no solution. The union will never agree unilaterally to this, so Chapter 11 seems the only hope.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Brent Castillo, Right-Wing Nut

I do not read this gentleman's columns, which apparently appear in the Wichita Eagle, but I do occasionally read the Letters to the Editor and several made reference recently to his columns.

One statement Castillo made was that Obama's tax proposal "reeks of socialism". This false allegation would not be surprising coming from a talk radio call-in nut, but it takes one aback to see it coming from a columnist in a respected newspaper. The fact is, as letter-writer Gaylord Dold pointed out, the poor do pay a very high percentage of their income in taxes, when you factor in payroll taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes. To call it "socialism" for wanting to repeal the Bush tax cut on the very wealthy is just plain wrong. All Obama's plan would do is to take us back to the tax structure under Clinton, which was a good era economically for this country.

Another Castillo column causing controversy was an attack on gay marriage. Several letter-writers complained about this homophobic column of Castillo's. The writers completely refuted Castillo's poorly-reasoned arguments for being against gay marriage. People, if you don't like gay marriage, don't enter into one! Same with abortion.

I am sick and tired of people trying to dictate to other people how they should live their lives. As the Bible says, "Judge not, that ye be not judged". Also, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone". The sign in front of Spirit One Christian Center about America electing a Muslim president contains a judgment against America, i.e., they are trying to play God. Kudos to Leeann Toews for a great letter in a recent issue of Mennonite Weekly Review, pointing out the problem with judging others, i.e., with playing God.

Does Missouri Still Merit Bellwether Status?

At this writing the Presidential result in Missouri has still not been called. Apparently McCain is clinging to a lead of about 5K votes, making it is likely he will win the State. If so, then my pre-election prediction is correct, based on that state being infested with rednecks.

This will mean it's the second election in the last 25 elections that Missouri has not voted for the winner, the first being in 1956 when it sent for Stevenson. Missouri has been known as the bellwether state for this record of picking winners.

Does it still deserve this status? A review of the past 25 elections suggests not. There is another state that has only missed once in the past 25 elections. And that state is.....ta da.....Nevada! So, Nevada becones the new bellwether state, having missed only when it went for Ford in 1976.

But beyond that, there are two other states which have only "missed" twice. One is New Mexico, which missed in 1976 and 2000, but the latter was a disputed election so it really shouldn't count against New Mexico. I would say New Mexico is also a better bellwether now than the redneck Missouri.

The other new bellwether is Ohio. Ohio has only missed in 1944 and 1960, out of the past 25 elections. Next, with 3 misses, comes Tennessee (1924, 1960, & 2008). With 4 misses we have Illinois, Kentucky, and Montana.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

On Bearing False Witness

One of the most despicable ads I've ever seen during a political campaign was put out by Elizabeth Dole last month. In it she accused her opponent, Kay Hagan, of accepting support from some secular group which apparently doesn't believe in God. The ad ended with a voice which we are to believe was Hagan's, saying "There is no God".

Fortunately, Hagan responded directly to this ad, with a response which one commentator called "the strongest political ad I've ever seen". In the ad Hagan talked about how her faith has always guided her life, how she has taught Sunday School, and how Dole should be ashamed of herself for "bearing false witness". Fortunately, Dole was sent back to private life where she can now languish in a richly-deserved obscurity.

Now we see that same phrase used in today's Wichita Eagle. A letter-writer named Mary Caruso complains about the Spirit One Christian Center sporting a sign saying "America, we have a Muslim President". Again, a despicable falsehood, and Spirit One should be ashamed of itself. But, as Colin Powell says, what if Obama were a Muslim? Hating Muslims seems to be the last form of discrimination which is still socially acceptable. We still have a long way to go to achieve religious tolerance in this country.

Evidence of that truth is contained in another letter in today's paper, from a worker at the Women's Health Clinic who for years has had to endure the anti-abortion protests outside her building. She writes that it is hard to keep in mind that they are not representative of most "pro-lifers".

I think she is being overly generous. In fact the so-called "pro-life" movement consists of a bunch of bullies, who seek to impose their religious views on the rest of us. We are supposed to have religious freedom in this country, with each of us being free to believe as our faith determines. Joe Biden had the most intelligent thing to say on this subject, when he said that he has always been a practicing Catholic and accepts his faith's teaching that life begins at conception, but he doesn't seek to impose his religous views on others. Would that everybody was this wise.

Friday, October 31, 2008

What about Ted Stevens?

Interesting debate snippet on C-SPAN this morning showing Senator Stevens saying in a debate lat night in Alaska that he was "not convicted". Obviously this is wrong, as Senator Stevens "has" been convicted and what he meant was "this is not over, I am appealing and expect to be vindicated". This of course is what he should have said, if he had any regard for the truth.

With regard to his appeal, a couple of things jump out at me. First, the prosecutorial misconduct was severe, as the Judge's repeated chastisement of the proseuction makes evident. Second, keeping the trial in Washginton D.C. just doesn't seem right. The basis for this venue is that the finanical filing was done there, but all the witnesses were in Alaska and it just seems somehow wrong to try the man in D.C., far away from his home. I think these two factors combined will give him good chances on appeal.

I can't help but think of a case from decades ago, the case of Jimmy Hoffa. I studied this case in law school, and my criminal law prof, who at the time of the decision had been on the D.C. Court of Appeals as a clerk, said there was no way the Justices were going to overturn that conviction, based on the strength of the political winds blowing against Hoffa. What the prosecution had done in that case was truly outrageous, as they had planted an undercover informant in the defense's camp before and during the trial, and if it had been anybody else but Hofffa, that would surely have caused the conviction to be reversed based on the extreme misconduct by the prosecution.

The Stevens case seems just the opposite to me. Here you have an 84-year-old man, with a lifetime of public service, and no prior criminal rcord. It seems that the Court of Appeals will bend over backwards in this case to find a way to overturn the conviction.

All that aside, I can see how the jury could have convicted Stevens. He testified in an arrogant and combative manner, and some of his claims seemed truly incredulous. Generally if the jury doesn't like you, you will get convicted, and this is what happened here.

The financial form Stevens and all Senators have to fill out is an important part of the post-Watergate ethics rules, and Stevens just didn't take it seriously. It would have been an easy matter for him to pick up the phone, call his friend, and say "Are you going to send me a bill for that work you did, or is it a gift?" Stevens testified he had repeatedly asked for a bill, which means he really convicted himself, because it showed he was fully aware that he had not paid for the work done on his home. When he went to fill out the disclosure form, he could and should have gotten it straight once and for all if this was a gift or not, and then he could have made the proper disclosure. The fact that he did not do this shows his arrogance and disregard for the rules we all have to live by.

On "Spreading the Wealth"

Obama has really gotten a bad rap on this one. Any tax system, especially any progressive tax system, "spreads the wealth", if it must be put in those terms. What people don't seem to understand, and what the McCain campaign surely does undersand but cynically ignores, is that all Obama seeks to do is to repeal the Bush tax cut on the very wealthy, that is, to return those tax rates to what they were under Clinton, which, by the way, was a period when the economy was very good, and in which we experienced the first budet surplus in a very long time.

But do we hear anybody speak the truth on this issue? Of course not, we hear terms like "socialism, "spread the wealth", "redistribute the wealth", etc. When I was growing up in the '50's the tax rate on the very wealthy was 91%! This was obviously an obscenely high rate and was ultimately pared down to something more reasonable. This was indeed "spreading the wealth". But now it is less than 40%, so any hint of confiscatory taxation is obviously out of line. Shame on the McCain campaign for suggesting otherwise.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

States to Watch Next Week

Here are the States I will be watching next week when the election returns come in: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Arizona. Obama wins without these states, but if he wins these 8 states, it will approach a landslide.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The 2008 World Series

At this writing the 5th game has been suspended, to be continued tonite or as soon thereafter as weather permits. I note that the last 4 Series have been no more than 5 games, and the question arises as to the longest such streak in World Series history.

A perusal of the history shows that only once before has there been a streak of 4 Series without a 6th game. This was in 1913-1916, during the decade in which the American League dominated the Series. There have been four streaks of 3: 27-29, 37-39, 41-43, and 88-90.

If the Phillies finish off the Rays tonite, the 5 straight short Series would be a new record.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

My Election Predictions

I start with the proposition that Obama is going to win the 252 electoral votes (EV's) which Kerry won 4 years ago. To that I add Colorado and New Mexico, which give him 14 additional votes to put him to 266, 4 short of the 270 needed to win. This seems a pretty safe bet so far.

To this I add Iowa and Ohio, which adds 27 more EV's and gets Obama's total to 293. This also seems a pretty sure bet.

Obama is leading also in some other states (he has 375 EV's right now). It is intriguing that North Carolina is currently about even. However, I note that NC has not voted for a Northern Democrat since JFK in 1960, so it is hard to predict it will do so now. Neither Virginia or Florida have voted for a Northern Democrat since Harry Truman in 1948, so the same comment holds for those states. And then we have the odd case of Indiana, where polls show Obama leading by 7 points. But Indiana hasn't voted for a Northern Democrat since the FDR landslide of 1936! So, I'm giving these 4 states to McCain.

It is harder to do the same with Missouri, since Missouri "always" votes for the winner. I hate to jinx Obama by not predicting he will win Missouri. In over a hundred years (since 1900), Missouri has only once not voted for the winner. This was when it went for Stevenson in 1956. However, I know the state well enough to know that it is infested with rednecks, and I predict it will narrowly go for McCain, breaking its record of 12 straight times voting for the winner, just as in 1956 it broke its streak of 13 straight times going for the winner (it went for Bryan in 1900).

So, will Obama get 375 EV's or the more modest 293? Stay tuned!

3/18/16 update.  I was right about Colorado, New Mexico, and Missouri, but wrong about the four swing states (Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Indiana), which all went for Obama, giving him a total of 365 EC votes. I was right about the Missouri margin being "narrow":  McCain won 49.4% to 49.3%!

In 2012 Obama dropped down to 332 EV's, as Indiana and North Carolina slipped back into the GOP column.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Today's News

Some items in today's Wichita Eagle caught my eye. My reactions follow.

1. The main headline involved a joint appearance yesterday of the two candidates for Sedgwick County District Attorney. They traded negative barbs with each other. On the editorial page is an endorsement for Nola Foulston, the longtime incumbent. This is unfortunate. Nola is a grandstander and has a huge ego problem. Although I supported her when she first ran, that has proven to be a mistake as she has shown distressing power-hungry attributes over the years.

2. There is also a front-page story about the Congressional race, pitting Betts against Tiahrt. Although I didn't see it in the article, Betts has stressed Tiahrt's reneging on the promise he made when he was first elected, defeating longtime incumbent Dan Glickman with the promise that if elected he would only serve 12 years. Betts is also stressing Tiahrt's vote for the 1999 Act deregulating the financial industry, which has led to our current crisis.

3. There is a really bizarre story on page 3. A woman in Japan was arrested and taken 620 miles from her home for detention. And her "crime"? She killed her fantasy ex-husband's avatar in an online virtual reality game!!

4. The Eagle prides itself on being "relentlessly state and local" in its emphasis, but on page 3 there is a small story indicating an awareness that a Presidential campaign is going on. There is no analysis of the campaign, just a rehash of statements made yesterday. However, from other sources I see today that Obama is now ahead in the electoral vote by 375-157. The biggest news today is that Indiana has finally gone blue, with Obama having a 50-43% lead there now.

5. On page 4 appears an article about Alan Greenspan being "called on the carpet" yesterday by a congressional committee. I saw some of this on C-SPAN yesterday. Greenspan, formerly viewed as almost a god for his economic widsom, was pilloried for his longtime advocacy of no regulation for finaincial markets. The article says Greenspan "seemed genuinely perplexed" by what has happened, showing what an inexact "science" economics is, if it is even a science at all. And if it is not, then why in the world is there a Nobel Prize for Economics??

6. A small item on page 4 reported that the New York City Council amended its term limits law by a 29-22 vote, to allow Mayor Bloomberg to run for a third term next year. While I respect the advocates of term limit laws, I disagree with the concept because you are throwing away expertise. In the context of Congress, what you are doing is giving the power to the staff and professional lobbyists, who remain in Washington year in and year out,l while members of Congress come and go.

7. There is a small item about a 16-year-old who walked into a Nebraska hospital in an attempt to take advantage of that state's "safe haven" law. I have heard that the intent of thsi new law was to provide for the abandoning of infants without fear of retribution, so that mothers will not throw their new-borns into trash cans as is sometimes done. However, it was written to allow abandonment of any child under 18. If this is true, it shows the folly of inexperienced legislators trying to write laws. We have seen this often in Kansas, where the "citizen-legislators", i.e., famers and insurance agents who have no idea how to write a decent law, get to make the laws. My friend Rob complained to me recently about twoo many lawyers in office. In fact the exact opposite is true. In Kansas there has been a steady decline in lawyers in the legislature, and the result has been a deterioration in the qualiy of our laws. If you want something done right, do you hire an expert or an amateur? Do you want our laws written by people who know what they are doing, or by people who do not?

8. Turning to the Local & State section (a redundancy in itself since the first section is mostly state and local in its own right) there is an article on 3 of the Judge's races. As my barber told me yesterday, it is hard for the average voter to know anything about the local candidates for Judge. In light of this, it is really silly to have them elected instead of appointed, but that is the system we have in this county. Anyway, an article spotlights 3 of the contested races. I would say at the outset that a good rule of thumb for a Sedgwick County voter is that if an incumbent Judge has opposition, it is a good idea to vote for the opponent. The reason is the *good* Judges never have any opposition. Anyway, 2 of the 3 Judges (Pilshaw and Wilbert) spotlighted have had public ethics problems, and have been disciplined by the state disciplinary people. The 3rd, Dan Brooks, has low marks from the bar and by all accounts should be voted out, as should the other 2 with public ethics issues.

9. In sports we see that the Tampa Bay Rays have tied the World Series at a game apiece. The odd thing about the Series so far is that the analysis before the first game was that game 1 was a must-win for the Phillies. This is because their star pitcher, Cole Hamels, was on the mound. If Hamels couldn't win, nobody can, because the Phillies were going to be underdogs when the teams' 2nd, 3rd, & 4th starters were facing each other. Yet, when the Phillies barely won 3-2 (thanks to a blown balk call by the umps), all of a sudden the oddsmakers were saying the Rays were no longer Series favorites. I immediately recognized this for the bs it was. All that had happened was that the Phillies had won a game, as they were supposed to. I understand that the team which wins game 1 wins the series some 60% or more of the time, but there is more to the analysis than the math and history of it. In this situaion, given the American League dominance in recent years, as reflected by the Red Sox' terrible thumping of the Rockies last year, my money would still be on the Rays even after the game 1 loss. And this proved right when the Rays came back last night with their 4-2 win. I say, Rays in 6, maybe even 5.

10. Finally, in the Entertainment Section we have the schedule for the annual Tallgrass Film Festival, which offers a variety of independend films from all over the world. This runs through Sunday night, and hopefully I will be able to get out to see at least one this year. I also note in this section that Clint Eastwood's new film, "The Changeling", does not open today n Wichita. It was reviewed on NPR this morning and sounds quite fascinating. It is based on a true story which happened in 1920's-era Los Angeles. A boy went missing and the police returned the wrong boy to the mother. When she insisted it was the wrong boy, she was incarcerated as insane. Angelina Jolie plays the mother, and John Cusack also is in it, I believe playing a minister who publicizes the police incompetence/corruption.

11. And finally, an unusual source of interest and comment is a review of a film newly out on DVD, though it is 26 years old. It is "Missing", and the DVD contains extra information describing how declassified documents since the film came out confirm the involvement of the US military and CIA in the overthrow of Allende in Chile, and describe also how the filmmakers successfully defended themselves against a libel suit filed by 3 of the US embassy officials depicted in the film, giving further credence to the film's truthfulness. An interesting sidelight to this is a story which came out yesterday, that in 1985 McCain traveled to Chile to meet with the dictator Pinochet, the same guy who was the villain in the coup which overthrew the democratically-elected Allende. This despite McCain's blasting Obama over and over about his willingness to meet with bad guys from other countries. Incidentally, this was something Colin Powell mentioned in his recent endorsement of Obama, that meeting with other leaders is something the new president *should* do.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Powell Endorsement

Colin Powell's endorsement on "Meet the Press" Sunday of Obama is quite noteworthy. Powell, in his usual thoughtful way, made a number of points leading up to his announcement, and gave a numbers of reasons afterwards. Here are some that struck me.

1. He stressed that he has been a life-long Republican, and has known and admired McCain for 25 years. He mentioned the "narrowing" of the Republican base, and this reminded me so much of the famous comment by Jim Jeffords when he switched parties. Jeffords said, "I didn't leave the party; the party left me." Though he didn't use these words, Powell referred to the capture of the party by the extreme right-wing reactionaries, and how McCain was allowing that capture to take place instead of putting his own imprint on the party.

2. He expressed concern about Sarah Palin, and was clear that he felt she was *not* competent to become President if something should happen to McCain.

3. He said how impressed he was at the way Obama was reaching out to all kinds of people, crossing ethnic, gender, and other lines that often divide us. He said Obama had the potential to be a "transformative" figure, transforming U.S. politics and restoring our image in the world abroad.

4. He referred to Obama's intellect, and how he was able to understand complex issues.

5. He expressed his disappointment at the negative tone of McCain's campaign in recent months, and specifcally mentioned Bill Ayers and said the connection between Ayers and Obama was very tenuous, and that McCain was wrong for making this an issue.

6. Along those same lines, he expressed disdain for the false information circulating that Obama is a Muslim. He said the right answer to that is that Obama has always been a Christian. However, he said the "real answer" is, "so what?". He said we have always been a pluralistic society, and he told of seeing a Muslim mother grieving over the loss of her son who had served in Iraq and died there. Being a Muslim should not disqualify anybody from office, or from being considered a fully patriotic American.

Powell said he has served in various capacities for over 40 years, and does not desire another position in the new government, regardless of who is elected in 2 weeks. If he holds to this, the country will be the poorer for it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Signs of Personal Progress

1. Saturday I had the longest jog in my life--40 minutes. Plus, I took a new route, starting at the foot bridge near Central & McLean, crossing to the West side of the river and going North on the bike Path to 13th Street, then crossing the river again and back South through Sim Park.

2. Sunday morning I finished going through the accummulated newspapers, which I will recycle this afternoon. A couple of weeks earlier I finished all the magazines.

3. Sunday afternoon I played in a chess tournament, in support of Anthony Winn's chess club which has a new home on 21st St. It formerly was supported by William Sanders, Barry Sanders' father, who visited during the tournament to lend moral support to the club.

4. Yesterday I took yet another new jogging route, in Central Riverside Park.

5. Today I packed up books to be stacked up in the place where the newspapers formerly were.

Friday, October 17, 2008

What about Third Parties?

Does our electoral college system make adequate allowance for third parties. Should third parties be allowed to participate in Presidential debates? I will attempt to speak to these and related issues.

Our founding fathers did not envision the advent of political parties. This is why the Constitution had to be amended after Jefferson tied with his running mate in the 1800 election.

The electoral college system obviously discriminates against third parties. Just look at Ross Perot's 19% vote in the 1992 election. How many electoral votes did all those votes get him? Exactly zero, zilch, nada. In fact, he only finished second in 2 states--Utah and Maine.

This shows how the deck is stacked against 3rd party candidates. Since you have to win a state to get any electoral votes (except in Maine and Nebraska where you "only" have to win a Congressional District), you have to pretty much be a major party to get on the board in the electoral college.

The commission in charge of debates says no 3rd party candidate will be included unless they have 15% in the polls. An organization whose head was on C-SPAN recently (I think "open-debates" was its name), espoused its theory that any candidate who was on enough state ballots to be eligible to get the 270 electoral votes needed to be elected should be included. This would have allowed Ralph Nader to be included in this year's debates, and certainly we would have had a chance to have real debates if this had happened, instead of the meaningless joint press conferences that we got instead.

I believe we need to unstack the deck to give 3rd parties a chance. Just look at how John McCain picked his running mate. He wanted Joe Lieberman, but was assured by party leaders that if he did this, a floor fight would ensue at the convention. Consequently, he got stuck with Sarah Palin, the last in a long line of bimbos McCain has surrounded himself with.

It is apparent from this fiasco that the Republican party really consists of 3 different parties. You have the libertarians, who really should be part of the Libertarian Party. Then you have the so-called social conservatives, who are decidedly anti-libertarian in their belief that the government should regulate our personal lives, prohibiting abortion, prohibiting gay marriage, prohibiting drug use, and advocating all kinds of other regulations designed to foist their religious views on the rest of us. Lastly, you have the Rockefeller Republicans, the folks running Wall Street, the so-called Eastern Establishment that Barry Goldwater ran against in 1964.

These are really 3 different parties, not part of one party, and they should be allowed to go their separate ways and advocate their respective views to their heart's content. Somehow a way needs to be found so that people can advocate their positions in an authentic way, instead of being forced to be part of a big party which only in part shares their views. Or, alternatively, being forced to be part of a small party which has no chance of ever having a true voice in national affairs.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Beanball War

The latest version of this recurring baseball phenomenon occurred during the NLCS between the Phillies and the Dodgers. In game 2 the Dodgers' Manny Ramirez got thrown at, and the Dodgers' pitcher that game failed to retaliate, to the dismay of many of the Dodger hitters. Then in game 3 the Dodgers' catcher, Russell Martin, got hit and then thrown at again the next at bat. The Dodgers' pitcher "retaliated" by throwing a pitch a foot above Victorino's head, and somehow the Dodgers felt like this made things even.

What gripes me about this whole thing is the way MLB administered punishment for the whole mess. They fined 7 players or coaches, hitting both sides as if it was a mutual thing. This is akin to a political commentator giving equal time to both sides, even though one side's position cannot stand up to any objective analysis. Or, punishing both sides in a fight equally, without considering which side started the fight. Or, blaming the victim, which is more and more prevalent in our amoral society.

In this case, the Phillies clearly instigated the hostilities, by throwing multiple times at Dodger hitters. The Dodgers one attempt at retaliation was really quite pathetic, and yet the Dodgers hurler, the Japanese import Kuroda, is hailed as a hero for dong something about it when Billingsley would not. The real culprits here, the ones who started the benches-clearing incident, are the Phillies first-base coach, Davey Lopes, who yelled at Kuroda as the inning ended, and the Phillies' centerfielder, Victorino, who repeatedly pointed at his head and his ribs as a way of saying, "throw at my ribs, not my head". Then after the at bat Victorino also engaged in the yelling along with Lopes.

I think in an effort to appear impartial, we too often forget what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false. The only people to be fined in this situation were Lopes and Victorino, who started the benches-clearing incident. MLB should have reprimanded those two, and left the others alone.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Troopergate

The special report on Troopergate was issued last Friday. I attempted to read it with an eye towards summarizing it here, but it is just too long and depressing. Suffice it to say that Mr. Monegan was summoned to a meeting on January 4, 2007, with Todd Palin, Sarah's husband, and at that meeting Monegan explained that the allegations had been dealt with and Mr. Wooten had been disciplined. In other words, it was a closed book at that point.

Despite that, Palin and many on her staff continued to make complaints and attempt to rehash the past concerning Trooper Wooten. It is really a despicable, sordid mess, and one wonders how thorough McCain's staff was in investigating Sarah Palin before picking her as a running mate.

This whole mess illustrates the problem when extended family gets involved in a divorce case. From my own experience in private practice I can attest that it is never useful for extended family to involve themselves as the Palin's did in the divorce case of Sarah's sister.

McCain's Naval Record

Because the Democrats have eschewed the type of negative campaigning that is commonplace among Republicans, John McCain's abysmal naval record is little known. I think it is relevant to know that he finished 894th in a class of 899 at the Naval Academy, and he crashed several jet fighters during his flying career. Anyone else would have lost his wings, but because of McCain's family connections, he repeatedly was given special treatment. Further, McCain's womanizing and temper tantrums are legendary among those who knew him in his early days.

This helps explain why McCain has run such a pathetic ampaign--he just doesn't have the smarts and doesn't have the judgment.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Final Results for 2008 MLB Predictions

The 2008 regular season is over and here are the final results, starting with the NL in the East and going West, then same for the AL.

Me -- 4+1+1+0+2=8; 4+1+2+0+3=10; 0+2+0+2=4; AL total = 22.
1+3+2+0+2=8; 0+2+1+1+2+0=4; 0+0+0+1+1=2; NL total = 14; overall total = 36.

Bob Lutz -- 1+1+1+3+0=6; 4+1+2+0+3=10; 3+1+1+1=6; AL total = 22.
0+2+1+1+2=6; 0+0+2+0+2+0=4; 2+1+1+1+1=6; NL total = 16; overall = 38.

Baseball Digest -- 1+1+1+3+0=6; 2+3+2+2+1=10; 0+2+0+2=4; AL total = 20.
0+1+2+2+1=6; 0+0+0+0+0+0=0; 2+0+2+1+1=6; NL total=12; overall 32.

Sports Illustrated -- 2+0+1+3+0=6; 4+1+2+0+3=10; 0+2+0+2=4; AL total = 20.
1+1+1+1+2=6; 0+1+1+1+3+0=6; 2+0+2+1+1=6. NL total=18. overall 38

I lost my season-long lead at the end when the Phillies nosed out the Mets in the NL East. This was a 4-place swing vs. those who picked the Phillies to win it. Also hurting near the end was the Astros nosing out the Cardinals for 3rd place in the NL Central, although by only half a game.

My best division was the NL West, where I missed only by flip-flopping the Giants and the Padres. Baseball Digest nailed the NL Central perfectly, accounting for its win.

My worst picks were the Rays and the Tigers, each off by 4. Off by 3 were the Nationals and the Twins. My worst division was the AL Central, where the Twins and the Tigers really threw off the results with their surprising seasons.

While nobody picked the Rays (who have just won the Division Series as I write this) to finish higher than 4th, it is noteworthy that SI wrote about how improved they were and picked them to win 80 games.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

On Negative Campaigning

The McCain campaign has fallen so far behind, and is in such desperate straits as a result, that it is reported that the campaign will unleash a barrage of negative campaigning against Obama during this upcoming last month of the campaign. It was said on "Meet the Press" this morning that the Democrats shouldn't just respond aggressively, but they should attack aggressively. An Obama ad was shown criticizing McCain on his economic policies.

It seems to me that the phrase "negative campaigning" is too broad to really get a handle on what is going on here. There are at least two kinds of negative campaigns: attacking your opponent's policies, and attacking your opponent's character. Obama 's new ad does the former, and there is nothing wrong with that. McCain's expected ads attack Obama for his supposed association with a guy who was part of the radical Weather Underground movement in the '70's, and this does the latter.

Are the American people so gullible so as to fall for this sort of nonsense? Certainly they fell for it hook, line, and sinker in 1988 when they elected Bush Sr., following his despicable negative campaign against Dukakis. Past voting habits give one no cause for optimism, but I would like to think the undecided voters in the middle have more sense than to fall for the negativity we are about to see from McCain. Even arch-conservative Peggy Noonan decried the upcoming negativity from McCain, and pleaded for a politics that is more civil in nature.

On the Kansas level, a candidate some years back for Attorney General, named Richard Schodorf, unleashed a negative campaign against his opponent when he started accusing her of "hugging a drug dealer" after a Court hearing. His excuse for this despicable line of campaigning was that "I thought my opponent was going to go negative". He was trying to beat her to the punch, based on a mistaken assumption about her intentions. It failed, and a candidate with long prosecutorial experience lost to an unqualified newcomer who had virtually no experience as a result. Shame on you, Richard Schodorf.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Wisdom of David Brooks

One of the things I like so much about the PBS political commentators, David Brooks and Mark Shields, is that although they are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, when they come on PBS they are both willing to take off their partisan hats and offer honest, objective analysis. This is in striking contrast to many shows today, which those of you unfortunate enough to have cable TV probably have seen ad nauseum, with guests yelling at each other and talking at the same time.

Anyway, Brooks, the conservative, offered some good observations tonight. He said the Republicans cannot succeed with their current strategy of running against the coasts, Washington D.C., and the big cities, and appealing only to rural America.

Another awfully astute observation he made is that McCain likes the Goldwater libertarianism and also the Teddy Roosevelt progressivism, and he cannot decide which kind of Republican he wants to be. So, he plants himself in the middle, in a sort of Republican identity crisis.

All I can say is, kudos to Brooks and kudos to PBS.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Losing Letterman

During the Vietnam War era LBJ famously said, 'If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost the country".

After seeing how McCain disgraced himself by snubbing Letterman, I can see McCain similarly lamenting, "If I've lost Letterman, I've lost the election."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Financial Crisis

Our chickens are coming home to roost. A central part of the Reagan Revolution in the 1980's was less government regulation. Greed again became fashionable, unchecked as it was by any external controls or oversight. In this decade we have seen the result of this trend towards deregulation and government lack of oversight of the financial market. The litany is long and depressing--Enron, Worldcom, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and now the investment houses which the Treasury wants us taxpayers to shell out $700 billion (that's billion with a B) to bail out. The bailout plan would cost $2 thousand per person in the U.S.!

John McCain all of a sudden says he is in favor of more regulation, after having been against it up until now. He even says the wrongdoers should be behind bars. This is a rather far-fetched statement for him to make, as there would have to be a criminal statute in place that was violated by the exeuctives of these companies. Certainly McCain's party is the party that has been steadfastly against any such regulatons, and I challenge McCain to point to any statute which could be the basis to put an executive behind bars for his bad decisions. If there is any such statute, I would bet the farm that it is one passed by the Democrats and opposed by the Republicans.

It is easy to say the Titanic should have had more lifeboats, after it has struck an iceberg and sank. It is easy to say one was wrong about the Titanic being unsinkable, after it has sunk. I am waiting now for the Republicans to admit they were wrong about deregulation, wrong about how unchecked greed is good for the economy, and apologize to the American people. Somehow I think it will be a long wait.

Just as the Titanic needed sufficient lifeboats, so our economy needs the regulation and oversight which the Democrats have consistently advocated over the years, and the Republicans consistently opposed. Think of any advances which have come about over the past 100 years, whether it be social security, Medicare, mimimum wage laws, worker safety laws, food safety laws, child labor laws, and on and on, they have all been passed by Democrats over Republican objections. And we now take all of them for granted, but we should not forget that they all run counter to the basic Republican philosophy of government staying out of the lives of its citizens.

Those are my comments on the "supply side" of the issue. But I think there is a basic cultural reality, one I have not seen discussed, which has to with the "demand side" of the problem. Ever since the end of World War 2, it seems that the "American dream" has been for a family to own its own house, complete with yard and white picket fence in front. Along with that, it is also part of this ideal for every family to own its own vehicle, a vehicle which gets progressively bigger, more expensive, and more of a gas-guzzler each time it is upgraded or replaced.

This is really the source of our problems. It gets drilled into our heads that a "normal American" will have the house and car as a starting point on the road of adult life. And over the years, this has been expanded to include a car for every driver in the household, perhaps a boat, and perhaps a second house as a vacation getaway. (And we have to live in the suburbs, meaning a long commute to work.) To do all this we of course need credit, and that is where the problem comes in. Credit companies have been allowed to make progressively more and more dubious loans to finance these purchases which people really cannot afford.

I have seen some examples of this in my law practice, of clients who get in way over their heads just because they think they have to have a house which is "theirs". In the most recent example, the borrowers enterd into a contract to pay more than $800.00 a month, when the wife was disabled and the husband made only $11.00 an hour. After they defaulted, a forebearance agreement was entered into calling for $1,000 a month payments until they got caught up, and of course this fell apart. After the inevitable foreclosure, they found a place renting from a relative at only $425.00 a month. In another instance, a client facing foreclosure refinanced by paying a mortgage broker $8,000 to find him another creditor who would pay off the existing balance to save his house. So, he ends up with a loan much larger than the original one (the 8K plus all the costs of originating a new loan with a new lender).

We seem to have lost the abilty to distinguish between our needs and our wants. Or, as Lynn Miller puts it in "The Power of Enough", "contentment is found in knowing what things mean has nothing to do with who you are". Things actually get in the way of our relationship with God and our ability to get in touch with our spiritual selves. We become anxious about security to protect all of our "stuff". We rent storage facilities to store all the "stuff". And on and on.

After my wife and I separated 10 years ago, I moved into an apartment and discovered some things about what a person really needs. Suddenly my utility bills were only a small fraction of what they had been with a house. Rent was substantially lower than a house payment. I was on a bus line so a car was not essential, as it had been. And with limited space in a one-bedroom apartment, I had to be careful about not accumulating too much "stuff".

An analogy to the so-called "war on drugs" might be apt here. Our "war on drugs" consists of trying to eradicate the supply, but we seem unable to recognize that the demand side is also an equally critical part of the problem. Without the demand, there would be no drug problem! Why do we not focus on eliminating the demand from our citizens, instead of trying to dictate to other countries how they should run their business, which is what happens with the supply-side approach? This is the sort of approach with gives the U.S. a bad name around the world--our dictating to others and our interference in their affairs, like a big bully on the playground.

Just as with the war on drugs, an improved attitude about our need for "things", especially the high-dollar items like houses and cars, would reduce the demand for the risky loans which have led to the current crisis. Mandatory high school classes on personal finance issues would help educate people to understand the importance of not gettin over-extended. And better religous training would similarly educate people on the folly of viewing their own self-worth in terms of their possessions.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

911 Calls

20-20 last night had yet another depressing story of a 911 caller not doing her job properly. In this case, a woman was being chased by a man with a gun trying to kill her, and the 911 operator refused to be of help. The operator kept saying things like "I can't help you if you won't give me your location", and "I can't help you if you don't stop shouting". Well, if someone was trying to kill me, I think I'd shout too.

I have seen this syndrome enough to know it happens a lot. The 911 operators simply don't have the attitude of trying to be helpful, caring, or empathetic. In the case broadcast last night, the caller was trying to find out the location of the police department so she could drive there. In a call lasting over 3 minutes, the operator never did give her the location!

Somehow she found her way to the station anyway, but the gate was locked and she was shot to death right outside the police station. The police chief defended the actions of the operator, saying she had a difficult job to do under the circumstances. What baloney! I have seen news accounts in the past where 911 operators let someone die without sending help because they don't like the way the caller is talking. They need to be trained that people in emergency situations can be excited and fast-talking, and they should learn to deal with this and try to be helpful anyway.

I personally have vowed never to call 911 again, because of the shoddy way I've been talked to when I have in the past. To give an example of a call I witnessed, my colleague at the office called 911 one day to report a man laying in the street outside our office building. The operator asked a neverending series of questions, like what color clothes he had one, what color cap, what race was he, etc. Each time, my colleague patiently said he didn't know and that if she wished, he would set the phone down (it was a land line, not a mobile) and go outside and see and then come back in and let her know. If someone is unconscious in the middle of a busy street, why don't you just send help, and what difference does his race make?

Some months ago there were two incidents in Wichita which shed light on the problem with calling 911. One was an incident in which a woman got killed in a convenience store. The media was full of comments castigating the customers for stepping over her body and going about their business, without calling 911 or otherwise trying to help the victim.

But another incident at about the same time shed light on why folks do *not* call 911. A woman in a Wal-Mart saw what she thought was a young girl being abused, and called 911. And she got roundly castigated for that! The girl's mother was later interviewed and explained that the girl was getting her ears pierced, something she had wanted to do, and that what the caller heard were the girls' screams saying "stop, you're hurting me", but it was a legitimate ear-piercing going on.

We live in a society where solitude and isolation are the norm, and community is the exception. Consequently, there are no clear societal norms on when it is proper to get involved in other people's business, and we often err on the side of caution. Am I my brother's keeper? The Bible says so, but in this country we don't follow Biblical precepts.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Time to Break up the United States

I have had it. The U.S. has become a hopelessly fractured, divided country. The average person feels little ability to influence the policies of the national government. We send representatives to Washington, and instead of being our voice in Washington, they end up becoming part of the Washington power elite. We had a Congressman some years back, Dan Glickman, who did not even reside in his District during the last part of his Congressional tenure. He just melded into the Washington scene, never to be heard from again as far as his District is concerned. Not exactly what our founding fathers had in mind.

In looking at the electoral map provided at http://www.electoral-vote.com/ it is obvious that the U.S. needs to be broken up into smaller countries that are more cohesive than the mess we've got now. Those areas that like being ruled by the Republicans, that like the uncontrolled deficit spending, the disastrous foreign policies that have made us the laughingstock of the world, and the head-in-the-sand refusal to address the health care criss, those areas can go their merry way and continue to elect Republicans. Those areas of the country which would like to move into the 21st century with alternative energy and humane foreign and domestic policies can do so free of Republican domination.

I propose that the 3 Pacific Ocean states be one country. Perhaps the capitol could be in Portland, the largest city in the middle of the 3 states.

Next we would have the huge mass of Western states over to the Eastern borders of North & South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Next we would have the Southeastern states, basically the states of the old Confederacy except for Texas.

The 4th country would be the upper Midwest, basically the "Rust Belt" states. These would include Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and perhaps Missouri.

Next we would have the New England states, plus New York, Pennsylvania, and the little states down to the Northern border of Virginia & West Virginia. One important caveat here, though. Vermont has its own secessionist movement which has been gaining traction in recent years. Support among Vermonters is now at 13%, up from 8% the year before. For an article explaining Vermont's rationale for secession, see http://www.vermontrepublic.org/in_defense_of_vermonts_secession_from_the_union_2 For a concise statement of the 8 principles of the Second Vermont Republic movement, see http://www.vermontrepublic.org/about

In recognition of its progress towards independence, I would give Vermonters the option of being its own country (as it was from 1775 to 1791). Similarly, Maine could choose to become part of Canada if it wished. That leaves us with the problem states of Missouri and West Virginia. Both of these states voted twice for Clinton, then twice for Bush. They would have to choose where to go, with Missouri choosing between the Confederacy and the Midwest Republic and the West, while West Virginia would have to choose between the Confederacy and the New England Republic and the Midwest.

Think of the benefits! Each of the new countries would be free to pursue it own vision and ideas of how to make the best future for its people. As one of the Vermont principles says, "We believe life should be lived on a human scale. Small is still beautiful."

Putting Missouri with the Midwest, West Virginia with the South, and Nevada with the West, the current 538 electoral votes would break down as follows: Pacific--73, West--102, South--132, Midwest--107, New England--117, Hawaii--4, and Alaska-3.

When Obama says "We are not a collection of red states and blue states, we are the *United* States of America, I think he is engaging in wishful thinking. The fact is that not only are we a collection of red and blue states, but we are a collection of red and blue *regions*. The only states out of step with the rest of their region in the above breakdown are Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri. Colorado and New Mexico have longstanding traditions of supporting environmental concerns and opposing unchecked growth. (Years ago I recall seeing a sign in New Mexico saying "Don't Californicate New Mexico".) Missouri is really a Southern state, and the southern portions of Indiana and Ohio are really southern also at heart, possibly explaining why those stateas are out of step with the rest of the Midwest.

The electoral vote distribution between Obama and McCain based on region is 301-237 for Obama. Adjusting for the discrepancy posed by the 5 states just mentioned add 28 to McCain's total, arriving at the current (as of 9/22) electoral vote count of 273-265.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Jim Wallis and the Legacy of Political Correctness

In a recent blog post Jim Wallis decried what he perceived as reporters claiming that Sarah Palin could not be a mother and run for Vice-President. He claimed this was a "blatant double standard that would not be applied to a male candidate".

If this was in fact happening, then he is right that it is a double standard and would be completely out of bounds. The problem with Wallis' statement is that there is no evidence that reporters are in fact doing this! I listen/watch the news all the time, and I have never seen or heard a reporter claim Sarah Palin cold not be a mother and a politician both. In fact, I maintain that in this era of political correctness, any reporter who did this would be out of a job within days.

This got me to thinking about other situations in which reporters have lost their jobs because of politically incorrect statements. The situation which comes immediately to mind is the famous faux pas Rush Limbaugh made when he was a commentator on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown for the 2003 season. On the 4th show he claimed that the media bent over backwards to build up Black quarterbacks. He had absolutely no evidence for this and was just making it up, just as Wallis was making up his so-called "observation" about the media and Palin. In talking about Donovan McNabb, Limbaugh's exact comments, according to Wikipedia, were:

"Sorry to say this, I don't think he's been that good from the get-go. I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."

There was a firestorm of protest to this, and Limbaugh resigned only 3 days later.

Now, media people make silly and unsubstantiated comments every day, and these comments normally go virtually unnoticed and un-commented upon. However, when the comments are considered politically incorrect, i.e., they involve race, gender, ethnic group, or religion, then the thought police are out in full force and the politically correct folks jump on it with all guns blazing. Another example is Jimmy the Greek. He was a commentator for CBS on its NFL Today program for 12 years, and survived many controversies, including an incident in which he punched fellow CBS commentator Brent Musberger in a restaurant. However, on 1/16/88 he got fired after making this comment:

"The black is a better athlete to begin with because he's been bred to be that way — because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back, and they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs. This goes back all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trading, the owner — the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid."

Again, certainly a totally silly and unsubstantiated comment, but because it involves race, the thought police jump on it and he has to be fired because of it, even though he wasn't fired for physically attacking his colleague Musberger, nor for many other silly comments Jimmy the Greek made over the years.

A particularly pathetic example is that of John Rocker. Poor John Rocker was a 25-year-old pitcher for the Atlanta Braves when he had the unfortunate experience of running his mouth to a Sports Illustrated reporter who was riding with him to a speaking engagement in January of 2000. Rocker, a Georgia native, allegedly said, speaking of New York City:

"It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark, looking like you're riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing."

Lest you are under the illusion that this is still America and free speech sitll exists, let the record show that Rocker was suspended without pay for Spring Training and the first 28 games of the season.

I still recall the hurt in Ken Caminiti's voice while being interviewed by Dan Patrick on ESPN radio, after the SI article quoting him as saying half the players in the majors are on steroids. This article caused a huge uproar, and Caminiti was in the eye of quite a storm. (He soon died of a drug overdose at the age of only 41.) Caminiti explained that an SI reporter called and said he wanted to talk with Caminiti about life after baseball. The reporter flew down to visit Caminiti and they chatted over a long period of time. In a weak moment, Caminiti made the offhand remark which caused all the fuss. Steroid use was *not* the subject of the interview, and Caminiti never intended to make a controversial statement, unlike Jose Canseco who wrote a book accusing players of rampant steroid use.

And finally we come to Andy Rooney. Andy has been the resident curmudgeon on "60 Minutes for many years. His incisive observations on American life, and life in general, have made him a viewer favorite. Here is how Wikipedia described his 1990 suspension:

"In 1990 Rooney was suspended without pay for three months. This punishment was for saying that "too much alcohol, too much food, drugs, homosexual unions, cigarettes [are] all known to lead ... to premature death." Also, he wrote an explanatory letter to a gay organization after being ordered not to do so. This may have contributed to the severity of the action. After only four weeks without Andy Rooney 60 Minutes lost 20 percent of its audience. CBS management then decided that it was in the best interest of the network to have Rooney return immediately."

I think I have demonstrated what happens to reporters (and others) who comment on taboo subjects. Sarah Palin has been roundly criticized for her Neanderthal views, and rightly so, but nobody suggests she can't be a mother and a candidate both. Wallis is all wet when he says otherwise.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

More Republican Lies

Yesterday Sarah Palin repeated her assertion made in her acceptance speech, that she said "Thanks but no thanks for that Bridge to Nowhere up in Alaska", even though it has been clearly established that she was originally for it, and, according to a network interview with an Alaskan journalist, she only "put the nail in the coffin" of the project after it had become politically unfeasible to continue.

But the real lie, one on a substantive issue and one which people believe in amazingly high numbers, is McCain's almost daily assertion that Obama would raise everyone's taxes". This is clearly a despicable lie, as his plan would raise taxes only on those earning more than $250,000. How can McCain get away with this? An article in the Washington Post today explores this business of lying. It quotes Republican strategist John Feehery as saying that the important thing at this stage of the campaign is establishing dominant themes, and that "these little facts don't really matter". What a shame. It is said that in war "truth is the first casualty", and I guess you can add in politics also.

The daily news summary at electoral-vote.com observes that the problem is that the news media feels obligated to report equally on both sides of an issue. It is as if Obama would assert that "McCain will bring back the draft and everyone under 21 will be sent to Iraq." The press would then dutifully report this along with McCain's outraged denial. Totally unethical for Obama to do this, of course, but comparable to what McCain is dong with the taxes issue.

Actually I did see on the NBC Nightly News last night that they were doing some fact-checking on various assertions that have been made in the campaigns so far. There needs to be more of this, in order to hold politicians to account when they make false or exaggerated claims. Personally, I like to think that the truth still counts for something.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Digital Roots and Powers

When I wake up in the middle of the night, as I often do, I try to put myself back to sleep by doing some sort of mental exercise. Last night I got to playing with digital roots and powers. The digital roots of the squares of numbers with digital roots from 1 to 9, replacing each 3rd number with dashes, since those will all be 9's, are:

1, 4 -- 7, 7 -- 4, 1 a pleasing palindromic result.

Expanding this out a bit, we can construct a table of powers up to 6, as follows (2nd line for square, 3rd line for cube, etc.).

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1 4 9 7 7 9 4 1 9
1 8 9 1 8 9 1 8 9
1 7 9 4 4 9 7 1 9
1 5 9 7 2 9 4 8 9
1 1 9 1 1 9 1 1 9

We can see that the 6th power of all non-multiples of 3 have digital root of 1, so the cycle starts all over. We can see also that the powers of both 2 and 5 contain the digits for the famous cyclical number 142857, though the digits are not in the right order. 4 and 7 have a cycle of 3 before repeating, while 8 is a rather boring cycle of 2.

A similar table for the last digit of powers would look like this:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1 4 9 6 5 6 9 4 1
1 8 7 4 5 6 3 2 9
1 6 1 6 5 6 1 6 1
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

We can see that any number to the 5th power will end in the same digit which the original number ended in, so we only have to go up to 4 powers to have a complete table ad infinitum, unlike with digital roots where we needed to go to the 6th power.

We have seen that the digital root of a power of 2 is always 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, or 8. It so happens that these are also the digital roots of all the prime numbers (except for 3). (This is per Wikipedia, I don't pretend to understand why this is so.) More Wikipedia goodies: digital root of a perfect number will always be 1; digital root of a triangular number will always be 1, 3, 6, or 9.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Boeing Union Shoots Itself in the Foot Once Again

Once again, the Boeing union myopically complains about having to pay a larger amount each month for their health insurance premiums. The good news is that they only rejected the contract, and postponed a strike vote by 48 hours to allow a federal mediator to take a stab at settlement.

This issue came up full force some years back. I remember hearing a Boeing worker describe it as a "giveback". This has rankled me ever since, as to how the union could be so just plain ignorant. When the total premium cost goes up by, say, $100.00 a month, and the company asks the workers to pay a small part of that increase, say $25.00, then this is *not* a giveback!! The company is paying more than it used to, and is simply asking the worker to share a small part of the burden. But all the shortsighted union people can see is that a bit more will be coming out of their paychecks, so they stupidly see it as a giveback.

What happened in that strike years ago was quite illuminating. The workers stayed out for about a month, and then at that point they were going to have to pay their entire insurance premium for the next month, or lose their insurance. They were shocked, and were quoted time and again in the media as saying "I can't afford $400 a month". They immediately went back to work with their tails between their legs.

I am reminded of my old tax law prof, Martin Dickinson, who said that the federal government should *not* withhold the total amount of income tax to be paid from worker paychecks. He said they should only withhold 90% or so, and then when the workers had to dig into their own pockets on April 15th and cough up the remaining 10%, this was the only way momentum for tax reform would develop.

The same thing is true with health insurance. Boeing workers are used to the paternalism of the company paying the entire amount of the premium. With the skyrocketing health care costs, the company understandably is trying to share the load a bit. What progressive companies do is have the employee pick from a menu of options, and then pay for only what is needed for that particular family. This puts more of the responsibility on the user of the health care benefits, so has to be considered preferable.

I have heard of a number of situations where both husband and wife have full family coverage. This means one of the employers is paying premiums each month that are entirely unnecessary and unusable. It makes no sense, and at some point the unions need to understand this and become part of the solution, instead of part of the problem.

We have a national health care crisis in this country. We pay twice as much of our gross national product on health care as other developed countries do, with results that are pathetic in terms of any accepted measure. We all need to work together to change this.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What Every Voter Should Know about Sarah Palin

1. She does not believe in man-made global warming. This is like being a member of the Flat Earth Society.

2. She does not believe in abortion rights, even for victims of rape and incest. This is more of the "blame the victim" mentality which we see all too often.

3. When she was first introduced by John McCain, Palin made a big point of claiming that she had told Congress "thanks, but no thanks" to that infamous "bridge to nowhere". However, the actual facts are that she had earlier supported it, and only turned against it when circumstances forced her to because the project was no longer viable. Also, as mayor she hired a lobbyist to seek federal funds for her town. Full story is at http://www.cqpolitics.com/wmspage.cfm?docID=news-000002943925

4. She has to this day not explained why she fired Walt Monegan, the Alaska public safety commissioner. Palin continues to insist it was *not* because Monegan refused to fire state trooper Mike Wooten, with whom the Palin family has been feuding for years. Yet, she has refused to say why she *did* fire Monegan, other than to make a vague reference to "policy differences". The evidence is that Palin contacted Monegan complaining about Wooten on multiple occasions, and no less that 14 members of her administration also contacted Monegan as well. One story on this is at http://www.godlikeproductions.com/forum1/message598915/pg1

5. She accepted the VP nomination knowing it would thrust her 17-year-old pregnant daughter into the national spotlight. What kind of parent does this to a child? She should have said "thanks, but no thanks", just like she claims she did to that bridge to nowhere.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

So Why Did Palin Really Fire Monegan?

If Sarah Palin expects to salvage her nomination, and not become another Eagleton, then needs to come forth with a complete and believable explanation of why she fired Walt Monegan, her public safety commissioner. If it was not in retaliation for his refusal to fire her ex brother-in-law, Mike Wooten, then why *did* she fire him? She needs to speak clearly and forthrightly to this issue, otherwise it will hopelessly poison the GOP ticket.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Obama vs. McCain

The electoral map at this site http://www.electoral-vote.com/ shows the latest polling numbers from each state, and the electoral vote breakdown based on those numbers. Current standing is 270-243 for Obama, with 13 not included based on Virginia being currently a tie.

I have only a slight quarrel with the breakdown. New York is said to be "weak Democratic" based on a lead of "only" 8 percentage points for Obama. To me this is a sizable lead and the dividing point between "weak" and "strong" should be somewhat lower than 10%. Similarly, a 4% lead is classified as "barely", when "weak" would be more appropriate.

Of the close states, these are 1% for McCain--Ohio, Florida, Montana; 3% for McCain--North Dakota, North Carlina; 4% for McCain--South Dakota. 1% for Obama--New Hampshire; 2% for Obama--Colorado; and 3% for Obama--Nevada. 6 close states for McCain and only 3 for Obama, so big edge to Obama here. Put another way, 71 of McCain's 243 electoral votes are in jeopardy, while only 18 of Obama's 270 votes are in jeopardy based on today's numbers.

Sarah Palin after the First Weekend

My initial impression of Palin was of a stunningly attractive woman, who seemed a lookalike of my favorite show business personality, Tina Fey.

After a weekend the picture doesn't look so bright. Here are a few things learned:

1. It was revealed on "Meet the Press" Sunday that McCain wanted to pick Lieberman, but was told by a state chairman that if he did that there would be a floor fight. He backed down and went with the "safe" choice.

2. Palin is against all abortion rights, including for incest and rape victims.

3. Palin denies the reality of man-made global warming.

In a C-SPAN panel discussion yesterday, a group of Republicans discussed these issues. Arianna Huffington really beat up on Tucker Carlson, likening Tucker's insistence that all sides get an equal hearing on these issues to saying the Flat Earth Society deserves an equal hearing with other views. Are we to simply ignore what science has learned? Of course not. Global warming is a reality, whether people like Sarah Palin choose to accept it or not. Her view does *not* deserve an equal hearing with the truth.

I hadn't realized how low Tucker Carlson had fallen. After the discussion the camera showed him putting his arm around Arianna, as if they were all on the same page after all. This was patently artificial and downright embarrassing. I can't imagine George Will, who, unlike Tucker, is a conservative worthy of respect, doing this.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

How Mathematical Illiteracy Leads to Bad Decisions

Back-to-back contestants on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" have just demonstrated the truth of the above premise. The first was a woman who said up-front that she and her husband had a slogan, "If it's not 100%, you gotta pay the rent", meaning they had decided she shouldn't guess if she wasn't 100% sure. I have demonstrated in a previous post here that this is a completely wrong approach. The right approach balances the potential risk vs. the potential reward, and if the reward is greater, then you go for it. The rubber hit the road with this contestant when she was going for $100K, had it down to 2 choices, and still walked instead of guessing. She would have been risking $25K to win $50K, an obvious spot to guess, but contestants just can't seem to understand this risk vs. reward concept.

To make me even more discouraged about the innumeracy of the populace, the very next contestant came in with a saying written on his hand; it was "don't guess". He showed he was following this ridiculous slogan by asking the audience on a $2K question, where the answer was obvious, and then on the $4K question, which gave a name (which I didn't right down), and said this name "which reads the same forwards and backwards, is a fear of what"? It obviously was palindrome, yet he called a friend, who put the word into his computer and still had no answer, then he used his 50-50, and then he walked!! Perhaps he didn't know what a palindrome was, but that seems rather far-fetched. I think he was just stupidly following his silly slogan.

Just consider, how many great achievements in history would never have happened if the people had the attitude of not trying unless 100% sure of success? Life is uncertain, it is a matter of taking risks, and if you are never willing to take a risk, you will never accomplish anything worthwhile.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What Are the Dodgers Thinking?

Have the Dodgers completely lost their way, or what? Let's "review the bidding" for the past two years.

After the 2006 season, the Dodgers signed free agent Juan Pierre, for a 5-year contract worth $44 million. I like Pierre a lot. My favorite Pierre story is how he went out into Yankee Stadium many hours before the first game of the 2003 World Series, before anybody else was in the stadium, and started rolling balls down the third base line. Satisfied that the Yankee groundskeepers had not "stacked the deck" against him (i.e., bunts down the line would have a chance of staying fair), Pierre proceeded to bunt for a base hit on the very first pitch of the World Series! The Marlins never looked back after that, beating the Yankees in 6 games.

The down side to Pierre is that he is not the prototypical centerfielder, in that he does not hit home runs. His forte is speed, bunt hits, stealing bases, running down balls in the outfield, etc. Also, he is not the prototypical leadoff hitter in that he doesn't walk much.

Pierre responded by having a very typical year in 2007. He played in all 162 games (for the 5th straight year), hit no home runs, walked only 33 times, struck out only 37 times, hit .293, slugged .353, and had an on-base percentage of .331. The latter 3 figures were slightly below his career averages, but essentially, the Dodgers got what they had expected from Pierre.

So what did the Dodgers do in the offseason? They went and signed Andruw Jones for $36 million for 2 years! This was wrong on 2 counts: first, they already had a good centerfielder; and second, Jones had just had a horrible year in 2007, and anybody who watched him could see his skills and motivation had declined considerably. He hit only .222, a horrendous figure for someone playing a position where hitting is important (i.e., not a middle infielder), and worse yet, he slugged only .413, which was down .118 from the year before.

Jones got off to a horrendous start with the Dodgers, hitting under .200, and then getting hurt. Torre put him hitting 8th in the lineup, and on July 28th Torre benched him and said he would only be a spot starter for the rest of the season.

So, one would think, this puts Pierre back in center, right? No, not quite. The Dodgers have some yo-yo named Matt Kemp playing center instead. All you need to know about this bum is this story from an LA paper yesterday:

"Playing in a ballpark the Dodgers visit only once a year and at a strange, shadowy time of day mandated by the Fox network, Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp responded to a fifth-inning fly ball hit in his general direction on Saturday by throwing up his hands, the universal sign for a ballplayer who has lost a ball in the sky. "I think we all thought he was trying to deke the baserunners when he did it," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "But obviously, when it fell behind him, that wasn't the case."

The ball landed approximately 30 feet behind Kemp, allowing Philadelphia left fielder Pat Burrell to pull into second with a gift double, Jimmy Rollins to score and Ryan Howard to drive in two runs with his subsequent single, putting the Dodgers in a 6-2 hole in a game they eventually would lose 9-2.

After the game, Kemp dutifully fielded questions from reporters about the gaffe. But to say he answered them would be a bit of a stretch. Did you lose it in the sun? "I guess," he said. How long did you see it before losing it? "That's a great question," he said, sarcastically. "I would have caught it if I saw it.""
When he's played at all, Pierre has been playing in left. So, what did the Dodges do recently? They traded for Manny Ramirez, who has a huge contract and obviously has to be played, and his position is left.

The Dodgers' loss yesterday to the Phillies is typical of their whole season. In the first inning Andre Ethier drew a 5-ball walk when the umpire lost track of the count! The thing about this is, that nobody on the Dodger team noticed this at the time, or if they did, nobody said anything at the time to the umpire. In the 9th inning, the Dodger closer could not protect the lead, and the game goes into extra innings. Then in the top of the 10th, the Dodgers load the bases but cannot score the go-ahead run, and they end up losing in the 11th. Pierre's only appearance was to pinch-hit for the pitcher in the 7th. Jones is in the minors on a rehab assignment.

Some of that money the Dodgers have spent on all those outfielders could have been spent on getting a reliable closer, and a better hitting coach. Even a better pitching coach would seem appropriate, since the closer says he knows what he's doing wrong ("flying open"), but can't seem to correct it. Any good pitching coach should be able to correct a mechanical flaw like that.

In the weakest division in baseball, the Dodgers stand at only .500, 3 games back. This is pathetic and unacceptable.

3/18/16 update.  Pierre played three seasons for the Dodgers and then was traded to the White Sox. Andruw Jones was released after hitting .158 for the Dodgers in 2008, which meant the Dodgers had to eat the second year of his absurd $36M contract. Jones played four more years, never hitting higher than .247.

The Dodgers stuck with Matt Kemp, even signing him to an 8-year, $160M contract extension after the 2011 season. They finally got fed up with his lackluster play and his negative clubhouse influence, and traded him to the Padres after the 2014 season, sending $32M to the Padres to soften the financial hit for the Padres in assuming such a bloated contract.

Manny Ramirez stuck with the Dodgers till August of 2010, when he was claimed on waivers by the White Sox, He retired 5 games into the 2011 season, facing a 100-game suspension for a second failed drug test.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Synchronized Swimming

I must confess I am a big skeptic when it comes to some of these new so-called "sports", like synchronized swimming, rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized diving, and others, because they seem more like show business than real sports. Besides that, the scoring is so subjective.

However, I have to say that anyone who was not totally enchanted upon seeing the Russian team's perfect -10, gold medal performance at the Beijing Olympics in synchronized swimming better go see a cardiologist, because your heart is no longer beating. It was awesome!

I'm sure the Russian team's rhythmic gymnastics performance was equally awesome. I didn't happen to see it, but I saw 3 other performances, and if Russia's was better than these, as it must have been since it won the gold, then it must have been fantastic.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Three Cheers for the Dutch

The Dutch women's water polo team defeated the heavily-favored USA team 9-8, with a goal in the last minute breaking the 8-8 tie. Since the USA was ranked #1 and was the defending world champion, and the Dutch ranked only #9, this was a huge upset.

Stories like this are what make the Olympics so great. You just never know what's going to happen. As Yogi said, "It's never over till it's over".

Friday, August 15, 2008

The NBC Wraps Up

The NBC championship game was tonight at 6:00, the early start time due to the possibility that 2 games might be needed. I went out to watch the undefeated Santa Barbara Foresters beat the once-beaten Seattle Studs 2-0 in a fast game, taking less than 2 hours. Both sides featured effective pitching, and all pitchers used mostly slow curves all night.

Veteran umpire Bob Homolka was behind the plate. He is the most respected umpire around, but his strike zone was ridiculous all night, as he would call inside and outside pitches strikes. It seemed to be the same for both sides, but still, it seems a shame that every time the Studs threatened to score the rally would get snuffed out by Homolka's generous strike zone. Probably time for him to retire.

Baseball is said to be the only game you can go to and have a reasonable expectation of seeing something you've never seen before. Tonight, it was 4 pitchers warming up at the same time in the Foresters bullpen.

I stayed for the awards ceremony this time. The highlight was the MVP going to Foresters DH Kevin Keyes, a University of Texas Sophomore. Keyes had a monster tournament, batting over .500, an amazing accomplishment considering the wooden bats being used now. I expect to see him in the Majors in the future.

I see from the roster that all the Foresters players are college players, the oldest being only 23. The Studs, by contrast, have 6 players older than 23, their ages being 30, 27, 26, 25, 24, and 24.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Celebrating the Bulwer-Lytton Contest

The Bulwer-Lytton Contest has been taking place annually since 1982, and honors the worst first line of a novel. The line the award is named after is:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

Recent winners are:

"Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped 'Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J.'" (2008 winner)

"Gerald began -- but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them "permanently" meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash -- to pee." (2007 winner)

"Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you've had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean." (2006 winner)

"As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual." (2005 winner)

She resolved to end the love affair with Ramon tonight . . . summarily, like Martha Stewart ripping the sand vein out of a shrimp's tail . . . though the term "love affair" now struck her as a ridiculous euphemism . . . not unlike "sand vein," which is after all an intestine, not a vein . . . and that tarry substance inside certainly isn't sand . . . and that brought her back to Ramon. (2004 winner)

They had but one last remaining night together, so they embraced each other as tightly as that two-flavor entwined string cheese that is orange and yellowish-white, the orange probably being a bland Cheddar and the white . . . Mozzarella, although it could possibly be Provolone or just plain American, as it really doesn't taste distinctly dissimilar from the orange, yet they would have you believe it does by coloring it differently. (2003 winner)

On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained. (2002 winner)

The 2003 winner is Mariann Sims, who writes the "Blogged Down at the Moment" blog.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday Afternoon at the NBC

This afternoon I watched one of the most entertaining games I've ever seen at the NBC tournament. The Liberal BeeJays played the Crestwood Panthers in an elimination game. Crestwood scored 3 in the top of the first, but Liberal hung tough after that and took a 4-3 lead after 6. Crestwood got a 2-out rally going in the top of the 7th, and their manager showed a bit of nervousness as he pinch-hit for one of his regulars. It paid off with the tieing run scoring, but then when the next batter also singled the runner fell down rounding third base, and got caught in a rundown for the third out.

It stayed tied through the bottom of the 7th, and then a really strange play happened in the top of the 8th. A Panther runner was on 1st, and the next batter mistakenly thought he had walked and went to 1st, with the runner on 1st going to 2nd. The Liberal catcher went out onto the field and told his infielders to tag the lead runner, but by this time he had reached 2nd so it went as a stolen base! In reality there were only 3 balls on the batter, and he eventually made the 3rd to to keep the score tied.

But then the roof fell in for Crestwood in the bottom of the 8th. Liberal scored 4 runs, breaking the game open to 8-4. I have to wonder if it was wise for Crestwood to remove its regular catcher and put in a substitute at that point. To the extent the maneuvers constituted a "chess game", Liberal manager Mike Hargrove clearly won the battle. Hargrove is an interesting story in and of himself. He was a successful Major Leaguer for many years, and became known as "the human rain delay" for his delaying tactics at bat. He later became a successful Major League manager, then quit suddenly in the middle of last season, saying the passion was no longer there. He is thought to be the first manager ever to quit with his team sporting a 7-game winning streak. So it wasn't that his team was doing poorly, it's just he didn't have the passion. But then he agreed to manage the Liberal BeeJays this year, a team he had played for in 1972.

It looked to be an easy road to victory for the BeeJays as the 9th started. However, Crestwood managed an incredibly gutsy 2-out rally, and got to 8-6 with the bases loaded. A single to short center scored the guy on 3rd, but the slow-footed runner on 2nd got thrown out at home, the ball and the runner arriving pretty much simultaneously, which usually results in an out being called if the catcher holds onto the ball. So, the BeeJays remain in the tourney with the 8-7 win, and Crestwood goes home. Crestwood used 7 pitchers in a desperate attempt to avoid elimination, while Liberal ended up using 4.

At this point teams still alive include Havasu, last year's champion, the '06 champ Santa Barbara Foresters, the Anchorage Glacial Pilots, 5-time champ but none since '01, the Kenai Peninsula Oilers, 3-time champs but none since '94, and of course the BeeJays, 4-time champs but none since '00.