Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Analyzing the Main Line of the Dragon

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 Nf6 4. Nc3 cxd4 5. Nxd4 g6 6. Be3 Bg7 7. f3 O-O 8. Bc4 Nc6 9. Qd2 Bd7 10. O-O-O Qa5 11. h4

11 Kb1 is probably the most often-played move, but it is not the most challenging or interesting move. With 11 h4 White announces that he is going to attack at every opportunity, and challenge Black to repel the attack with accurate play.

Rfc8 12. Bb3 Ne5 13. h5

Proceeding in standard fashion, White sacrifices his h-Pawn to open up the h-file for attack against the Black King.

Nxh5 14. g4 Nf6 15. Bh6 Bxh6

White was threatening 16 BxB KxB 17 Qh6ch followed by 18 Nd5, forcing the removal of Black's King Knight which is guarding h7. Theory recommends the immediate 16...Rxc3, eliminating the White Queen Knight which was the threat against the Black Knight on f6, but I prefer the Bishop trade first. This induces the Black Queen to go to h6, whereas after 16...Rxc3 17 bxc3 Bxh6, theory holds that White should recapture on h6 with the rook, as Black gets the better game with White's Queen on h6. Therefore, why not induce the Queen to h6 a move earlier, while White has the hope that perhaps Black will ignore the threat and fail to take on c3, giving White a winning attack due to his h-file pressure. In chess, as in life, conventional wisdom is sometimes wrong!

16 Qxh6 Rxc3 17 bxc3 Qxc3

Sometimes Black will delay this capture, but I see no point to this. Black now has a Knight and 2 Pawns for his Rook, which is plenty of compensation in this position. In fact, the endgame, if Black should get to it, greatly favors Black as White's Rook has no open files to operate on.

18 Kb1

Black was threatening the check on a1 followed by taking the Knight on d4 with check. Other White tries here have involved moving the Knight, either to e2 or f5, but these tries have turned out badly for White. His best move is clearly the Kb1 try.


Out of 10 games in the database, 18...Nc4 was played an equal number of times to this. But I see no reason to play ...Nc4 now, as White has no threat yet which requires this. At such time as the Bishop on b3 presents a credible threat to Black's Pawn on f7, certainly Black should then play ...Nc4 to block off the Bishop. By bringing the rook into play, Black opens up the option of taking with the rook on c4 when White plays BxN.

Also, by delaying ...Nc4 and playing ...Qxc3 immediately, Black opens up a threat against White's Pawn on f3, which gives White an additional worry to ponder. The Pawn on f3 is the only thing holding White's fragile King-side Pawn structure together, and when it falls, White's position is in serious danger of structural collapse.

Sometimes Black has also played 18...b5 here, which seems like a pointless waste of time to me.

After 18...Rc8, Black has placed White at a crossroads. White has entered into this position in attacking mode, but now there is no good way to continue his attack. f4 and Nf5 are the only attacking moves available, but these have proved futile. In fact, of 6 games in the database, the only move which produced a White win was Qd2, a defensive move which most White's would be loathe to play. (And that win only came as a result of a tactical trick at the end.) Attempts by White to guard the Pawn on f3 by Rhf1 or Rh3 also were not effective.

So, the conclusion is that Black has more than equalized, and the Dragon has served Black well. If it gets to an ending, Black's Knight and 2 Pawns will have a clear advantage over White's Rook which has nowhere to go. There is also the basic question of whether White is up to the challenge of losing his Pawn on f3, which Qd2 does.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Health Care and the Constitution

Libertariians are falling all over themselves with glee at the ruling by the Virginia federal judge who ruled the mandate in the health care bill unconstitutional. There were no less than four columns about this in the paper this week.

Two of the columns mentioned the question asked of Elena Kagan during her confirmation hearings, about whether it would be constitutional to require people to eat fruits and vegetables. Apparently she responded it would be a "dumb law", but she stopped short of saying it would be unconstitutional.

The whole issue is whether the federal government can mandate that you "do something" under the commerce clause. Previously the court OK'd a penalty against a farmer who grew wheat in excess of the quota, even though the wheat was for his own consumption. But the distinction all the libertarians are making is that never has the court ruled that *inaction* can constitutionally be found to be a violation of federal law under the commerce clause.

The only commentator who has commented in detail on how the Supreme Court might rule opined that it will come down to Justice Kennedy, and he pointed out that Kennedy's biography, entitled "The Tie Goes To Freedom", suggests that he will rule "on the side of liberty".

I suspect this is true, that the court will rule against the mandate. Perhaps then the federal government will do what is right and adopt real reform including a public option like the other developed countries have, at half the cost of health care in the U.S.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

On Prisons

Two related items in this week's news. The first describes the Stanford Law School's "Three Strikes Project", which has overturned 14 life prison terms handed out under
California's ridiculous 3-strikes law, which provides for life imprisonment for a third felony, even when all offenses were non-violent.

The current case they are working on is interesting because both the judge and the prosecutor have joined the Project in urging a modification of the harsh penalty imposed on a poor bastard who got life in prison for 2 burglaries committed at age 19, plus a conviction for possessing $10 worth of drugs. Details are at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/11/AR2010121101556_2.html

The second item describes how the number of inmates 55 and older in U.S. prisons are 71% higher than in 1999. The cost for housing older inmates is $70,000 a year. The cost for younger inmates is said to be less than half of that, although I have seen a figure that the average cost in California is $50,000 per year.

All during the recent campaign Republicans who whined about the deficit were asked what they would cut, and not one would give a straight answer. Here is how you can tell a real conservative: he or she will answer that they will close half the prisons and free the non-violent offenders, and close down all of our military bases on foreign soil. All the other mumb0-jumbo is just that.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Obama and Passion (Or Lack Thereof)

Shortly after Obama took office, a friend of mine asked if I had watched his speech the night before. I had to admit I had not, and felt like there must be something wrong with me that I wasn't that interested in listening to him.

But now I have come to understand what the problem is. Obama talks to us like he is talking to a college class, or perhaps to a grouop of fellow academics. There is no passion in his voice, nothing that is compelling enough to make us want to listen to him.

Related to this is an interview I read recently with historian Forrest McDonald, whose thesis is that there are two important functions of the President. One is the head of state, the other the CEO of the country. Were Obama only a CEO, he would perhaps be considered extremely competent. But the job entails more than that, you are also the leader of the people.

But McDonald goes further and says that the ceremonial function is often more important than the CEO part. As an example he says that "Jimmy Carter came across as a wimp, and the country was ashamed of itself. We felt weak. Ronald Reagan came in and made the country feel good about itself. We were no longer ashamed of ourselves, no longer afraid to take chances."

McDonald goes on to explain the importance of having a good ceremonial leader, saying "It's a basic, deep-seated, genetically rooted human craving to have a leader with whom one can identify and for whom one is willing to fight and die, to have a leader who symbolizes and personifies the aspirations, hopes, and values of the country."

Many inexplicable results throughout U.S. electoral history can be explained by taking this basic concept into account.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Some Good News

It is hard not to become hopelessly depressed when one follows national and international news. Hence a few positive items from today's paper give one reason for hope. All are environmental:

1) The bald eagle is rebounding from near-extinction. A Pa. sanctuary recorded 407 this year, smashing the old record of 245.

2) Two studies were released yesterday showing that the polar bear may not be facing extinction as previously feared.

3) A Japanese salmon thought to be extinct for 70 years was found alive and well in a lake near Mt. Fuji.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Letter to Mitch Albom

Dear Mr. Albom:

I usually enjoy your columns, which is why yesterday's column entitled "tax cut debate missing the point" was such a disappointment to me.

Your example of a couple making $250,000 talked about their tax burden being 40% under the Democratic proposal. This is blatantly false, and such falsehoods are hard to fathom coming from a person of your stature. Do you not have any editors?

The fact is that, under the Democratic proposal, taxes would only go up to the 40% vicinity on income *above* $250,000. The cuts would remain in place for all income under that amount. (And under an alternative proposal, the increase would only apply to income over a million. Do you oppose this too?)

I worked through the tax laws based on the 2009 rules. Your hypothetical family with 4 kids and $250,000 income would pay a total of $50,054 in income taxes. This is within the 25% which you say is reasonable. (And it assumes no itemization of deductions; i.e., the standard deduction was used.)

You are certainly entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Letter on Ron Santo

Dear Mr. Usher:

I appreciated your recent column on Ron Santo, and also the one a month ago on Sparky Anderson. I think it is helpful to be reminded every so often that not all athletes are prima donnas.

I do have to take issue with your statement that as a player, Santo was a "border-line Hall of Famer". I think a fair examination of his record reveals he is absolutely a Hall-of-Famer, despite the failure of the writers ot vote him in.

"Total Baseball" gives him the NL's highest player rating for the years '64, '66, and '67. Had he been voted these 3 MVP's like he should have been, his HOF induction would be a no-brainer. And considering he was 2nd in TPR in 1965, he surely had one of the best 4-year runs in MLB history.

I agree with you that a person's total contribution to the game should be considered, and were that possible Santo would surely be in the HOF, considering his broadcasting career in combination with his playing career. But unfortunately, the HOF rules require that one must be inducted in a particular category, and total contributions are therefore not considered.

The same writers who snubbed Santo by voting him 8th, 18th(!), 12th, and 4th, respectively, for the MVP in the years 1964 through 1967, continued to snub him after his retirement by denying him his rightful place in the Hall of Fame. What a shame.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On Political Rhetoric

Thomas Sewell had a column yesterday entitled "Rhetoric rides over reason in tax debate". His purpose is to show how deceptive rhetoric is being used in the tax debate. He states that "political rhetoric is largely the art of misstating issues".

Interesting, then, to see how Mr. Sewell himself used the very type of rhetoric he so strongly denounces. He says it is wrong to talk about a tax cut, because nobody's taxes are going to be "cut". But if existing law says they will go up on January 1st, then it *is* a cut to knock them back down from what they would have been absent Congressional action.

Then he says that a second reason it is wrong to talk about "tax cuts for the rich" is that the "rich" aren't really rich. He gives the example of a family making $250,000 a year and paying $30,000 for tuition for one year. I say that anybody who can afford to pay that kind of tuition is, in fact, rich. There are billions of people on this planet who would consider themselves rich if they had a small fraction of the $250,00 a year which Sewell says is not rich. This is just American arrogance at work here.

He objects to using "giving", as in "giving the rich a tax cut", saying that the government letting people keep more of their money is not "giving" them anything. But if you accept that taxes are necessary in a society then why not use that word. It is not like the government is stealing from people, which is how Sewell paints it.

But then he goes on to say that "giving" is appropriate to use in connection with unemployment benefits. This ignores that these benefits are not welfare, but are *insurance*, i.e., employers have paid into a fund to create a safety net for the involuntarily unemployed should employees get laid off. Sewell says studies show that people stay unemployed longer when benefits are extended. Yes, there likely is some correlation there, but studies would also show that the overwhelming majority of the unemployed would rather be working.

An item Sewell does not even mention is that one of the votes would have axed the tax cut for those making over a million a year. If $250,000 is not rich, would Sewell consider a million a year rich? The Republicans voted even against this, and they should be held accountable for their pandering to the rich in this shameless manner.

Sewell again missteps when he says that it is "liberals" who want to raise taxes on the rich. I say that any true conservative would agree that cutting taxes on the rich is not adviseable when the deficit is so huge. Nobody is more conservative than David Stockman, who served in the Reagan administration. And Stockman recently spoke out and said it is totally irresponsible to talk about cutting taxes when the deficit is out of control like it is. We are, in fact, careening toward bankruptcy, and our once-great country is on the ropes.

It is interesting to go back and read the writings and speeches by the founders and the early presidents. What you find is that they used the word "posterity" over and over. These people cared about the future, and took pains to leave their children a better country than they themselves had experienced. Now anybody who cares about posterity is a voice crying in the wilderness, with nobody listening. Instant gratification right now, and to hell with the consequences. That attitude is leading us right into the toilet.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

On Deficit Reduction

The bipartisan commission is meeting and news reports today reported dissension among commission members. The two co-chairs released some preliminary ideas a few weeks ago, but the problem is that among the members themselves there are active politicians, and politicians these days lack the political courage to do anything meaningful about runaway spending. Just think back to the recent campaign; every time a journalist asked a Republican what he proposed to cut, the politician would never give a straight answer. Now that is true cowardice.

The rules are that any proposal needs 14 votes (out of 18 total) to be issued. This will never happen, but it's irrelevant anyway since Congress never will find the will to enact legislation involving tough choices.

The good news is that the ideas from the co-chairs made it clear that the "sacred cows" previously deemed untouchable are on the table for discussion. (I swear, I am going to puke if I ever again hear the words "non-defense discretionary spending" as the only things on the table. Everyone knows true savings cannot be achieved if the cuts are limited to that relatively small category of spending.) The four sacred cows are social security, Medicare, defense, and the interest deduction for mortgages. I don't know much about Medicare, but I will deal with the others.

First defense. Having our military personnel stationed in over 100 countries around the world is just ludicrous. It engenders much resentment toward the U.S., and on balance probably makes us less safe rather than more. We should close all our bases on foreign soil and bring the troops home to the U.S. If the military wants bases on U.S. soil, like Guam and American Samoa, this is acceptable, but we should not have bases on foreign soil, any more than we would allow foreign countries to have bases on our soil. (For an example of the resentment caused by our presence, look at the Japanese Prime Minister having to resign because he couldn't get rid of our base on Okinawa as he had promised.)

Certainly our navy should retain the right to operate in international waters, and by so doing the U.S. could retain a significant presence around the world, without violating other countries' sovereign space.

We should also call a halt to the runaway spending on new weapons systems, which are being bought as if there still was a cold war going on. We have plenty of weapons already.

Next social security. Obviously changes must be made to keep it viable. Politicians get asked "would you cut social security?", and are afraid to even bring up raising the retirement age because they are afraid that journalists will paint this as a "cut", even though it really is not. Ideally the retirement age shoud be pegged to life expectancy, just like the monthly checks are now pegged to the cost of living. As life expectancy goes up, obviously the retirement age should go up as well. This seems so obvious that it is inexplicable why the resistance to this is so high.

Next the interest deduction. This is bad public policy in the first place. It is based on the myth that every family should live in a single-famly house with the yard and picket fence, etc. Because of the interest deduction, people spend more for houses than they are worth, artifically propping up the housing market from where it should be based on normal economic realitites. The housing market should be allowed to function free of this artificial stimulus, and then maybe homes would become affordable for first-time buyers with young families. But also, people would be more encouraged to live in alternative settings, like apartments where utilities are lower and energy usage is conserved. Perhaps people would realize they don't need to live miles and miles away from where they work, thereby wasting hours a day in commutes, and polluting the atmosphere with their vehicles. Perhaps liveable communities would arise.

Tax cuts on the rich need to be allowed to lapse as scheduled. Much savings can be had here.

It's not that any of this is rocket science, it's just that we don't have Congressmen with guts and vision like we used to have. Initially Congress was supposed to be the main branch of goverment, and in the 1800's it contained great men like Clay, Webster, and Calhoun, who were better known and more respected than many Presidents. But now, a Congressman is little more than an errand boy for his constituents, doing them favors and doing his best to "bring home the bacon" for his district. This is one instance where the "good old days" really were the good old days.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Letter on Smoking Ban

To the editor:
I appreciate Ron Lederman's consistent advocacy for libertarian principles. However, his column on the public smoking law is, I believe, misguided.
It is indeed ironic that Mr. Lederman's argument against the public smoking ban comes only days after a study was released showing that second-hand smoke accounts for over 600,000 deaths a year, amounting to 1% of the world's deaths. Certainly property rights are important, but so is the right to life, and that right should have priority over property rights.
No right is absolute, a principle Mr. Lederman seems not to understand. In fact, we have many restrictions on property rights in this country. Zoning laws, for example. These laws dictate what you can and cannot do with your property. They have been around for almost a century, and there is a good reason for them.
Another example of restrictions on property rights would be the laws which require us to keep our properties free of trash and debris, so as to keep our neighborhoods liveable. I could cite many other examples, but I believe the point has been made.

What the TSA Needs is a Good Mathematician

There are two extremes to airport security. One is the full body cavity search of every single flier, an extreme which is so unpopular as to be unsustainable. The other is to search only those fliers who meet a particular profile, e.g., Middle Eastern man, age range 18-30, paying cash and purchasing only a one-way ticket. If this latter is used, the terorists will simply send someone who does not fit the profile.

The obvious conclusion is that an intermediate policy is needed. This is where the mathematician comes in. The mathematician can devise a middle ground between the two extermes, by devising a formula for random searches which nobody can predict. Parameters can be given to a computer, which will print out daily schedules for searches. The formula itself can be changed periodically, since apparently our government is no longer able to keep any secrets.

I say that anybody meeting the above profile should be searched 100% of the time. Little old ladies and young kids should be searched only a small fraction of the time. Those in between would be searched a certain percentage of the time based on the formula. The completeness of the search would also be randomized.

Monday, November 22, 2010

On full-body Frisks

Much controversy these days over the new rules on full-body scans or full-body frisks, take your pick as a traveler. Apparently this all stems from one unsuccessful attempt by a traveler to conceal explosives in his underwear.

I've been pondering the obvious innumeracy of all of this nonsense. What would our lives look like if there were such draconian rules governing our daily lives in an attempt to make them totally risk-free? One commentator suggested there would be a rule banning left turns. But on analysis this is way mild, as the risk from left turns is higher by several orders of magnitude than the underwear-on-the-airlines risk. Certainly there would be no two-lane highways. Many other products which we use safely every day would be banned.

Perhaps readers can come up with some other examples?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to be Disappointed in Obama

1. Failure to end "don't ask, don't tell".

2. Failure to close Guantanamo.

3. Failure to end the Bush tax cuts for the very rich.

4. Failure to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

5. Failure to bring home U.S. troops from all around the world.

6. Failure to end the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba (and actually extending the embargo to Sept. of next year).

7. Failure to enact meaningful health care reform (the weak bill enacted leaves power in the hands of the private insurance industry).

8. Failure to enact immigration reform.

9. Failure to reform our drug laws.

10. Failure to effectively use his office as a "bully pulpit" by taking his case on the above items directly to the American people.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Keith Olbermann Gets Suspended

First Juan Williams, and now Keith Olbermann. What in the world is going on here?

MSNBC pays Olbermann big money to be an overtly partisan political commentator, and then they suspend him without pay for contributing to several campaigns. WTF?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

More Innumeracy in the Popular Culture

Just heard CNN twice say that I-Phone users will have to manually reset their times because otherwise they would be an hour *late* to work tomorrow! Uh, CNN, don't you know it's "fall back", meaning you would actually be an hour early, not an hour late??

Review of Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War

I have wanted this book ever since I first heard about it, and recently was able to purchase it from Amazon. Pat Buchanan does an amazing job of researching how the two world wars came about, and based on that he explores how they could have been avoided. The research is meticulous and exhausting--his bibliography runs to 13 pages, and there are a whopping total of 1,319 footnotes.

Buchanan starts with the run-up to WW1, and it is obvious that he sees the two world wars as basically one 30-year long war. And he also sees it as a civil war among members of the Western world, the Western world trying to commit suicide in a sense.

I will try to summarize and discuss the book in parts, as there would be no way to do justice to the material otherwise. So the first query is, how did WW1 come about?

The roots of WW1 lie in the decision of Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm to build a world-class navy. He, like other leaders of that time, was greatly influenced by the 1890 book "The Influence of Sea Power upon History", written by U.S. naval captain A.T. Mahan. This offended Britain, which for generations had had an iron-clad rule that the British navy had to be 10% stronger than the combined fleets of the next two strongest sea powers.

The British navy at this time was headed by Winston Churchill, who as we will see was primarily responsible for WW1. When asked why he was so anti-German, Churchill responded:

"British policy for 400 years has been to oppose the strongest power in Europe by weaving together a combination of other countries strong enough to face the bully. Sometimes it is Spain, sometimes the French monarchy, sometimes the French Empire, sometimes Germany. I have no doubt about who it is now. But if France set up to claim the over-lordship of Europe, I would equally endeavor to oppose them. It is thus through the centuries we have kept our liberties and maintained our life and power."

It is this policy and this attitude that got Britain into both world wars against Germany.

When the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914 and things threatened to boil over, the British cabinet met in an all-day session and only Churchill was enthusiastic about going to war. In fact, Churchill's enthusiasm reminds me very much of Patton's attitude in the movie "Patton". The movie has him looking at the movement of his troops and saying, "God, I love it so."

Churchill wrote to his wife while the deliberations were proceeding in the cabinet, saying, "Everything tends toward catastrophe and collapse. I am interested, geared up and happy. Is it not horrible to be built like that?"

But what could be the justification for Britain's going to war against Germany? Had not Germany accepted an arrangement called the 60% plan, wherein it agreed to maintain a navy only 60% as strong as Britain's? The justification lay in the Schlieffen Plan, which was a longstanding plan in German circles that if war broke out Germany would invade France by way of Belgium. This gave Churchill the leverage to demand that Britain go to war, for Britain had signed an 1839 pact guaranteeing Belgium's neutrality. But interestingly, the pact gave Britain the *right* to go to war if Belgium's neutrality were violated, but not the *duty* to do so. In the 1870 Franco-Prussian War Germany had been careful not to bother Belgium, and Britain had stayed out of that war (as it should have done when history repeated itself in 1914).

After another all-day Cabinet session on August 2nd, PM Asquith's daughter wrote that when they broke for lunch "All those I saw looked racked with anxiety and some stricken with grief. Winston alone was buoyant." Churchill simply pressed and pressed, based on the violation of Belgium's neutrality, which all knew was coming, and eventually won over Lloyd George, who as the heir apparent to Liberal party leadership didn't want to jeopardize his political future by appearing weak.

As to who wanted war, Buchanan quotes from a wire the Kaiser sent to the Russian czar and the British King, both of whom were his cousins, all 3 being grandsons of that great British monarch, Queen Victoria. The Kaiser wrote:

"It is not I who bears responsibility for the disaster which now threatens the entire civilized world. Even at this moment the decision to stave it off lies with you. No one threatens the honour and power of Russia,. The friendship for you and your empire which I have borne from the deathbed of my grandfather has always been totally sacred to me...The peace of Europe can still be maintained by you, if Russia decides to halt the military measures which threaten Germany and Austro-Hungary."

The contrast between this and Churchill's constant demands that Britain go to war is striking. As further evidence of who the war-mongers really were, Buchanan lists the number of wars each country was involved in during the prior 100-year period: Britain--10, Russia--7, France--5, Austria--3, Germany--3.

Because Britain entered the war, it turned into a horrible catastrophe as we all know only too well. And what if Britain had declared neutrality and stayed out? Buchanan asserts the result would likely be similar to what happened in 1871. Germany would have triumphed in France, and then gone home. Germany would have become the dominant power in Europe, with Britain still dominant on the oceans. Lenin would have likely died unmourned in Geneva; but had the Bolsheviks come to power, Germany would have "marched in and made short work of them". There would have been no Hitler and no Stalin.

The Versailles Peace Conference was a complete disaster. For a nice account of the conference, I recommend "The End of Order: Versailles 1919", by Charles L. Mee, Jr. Mee gives a great day-to-day account of the conference, which gives the reader a good understanding of how the final product was arrived at. He says the mid-level professionals who accompanied the various leaders of the allied states had assumed that at some point the Germans would be brought into the negotiations. As month after month went on and no Germans, they realized to their horror and chagrin that the leaders had no intention of letting the Germans negotiate. The allies simply put together a proposed treaty, and then called the Germans in and demanded that they sign it.

The Germans looked at it and in the limited time available, they were able to go through and show that almost every provision violated President Wilson's Fourteen Points, which was the basis for their agreeing to the armistice of 11/11/18. Of course in hindsight it is easy to see what a disaster this treaty was. But many spoke out at the time, including John Maynard Keynes, one of Britain's mid-level professionals at the conference. Keynes went home in disgust and wrote a whole book about it, called "The Economic Consequences of the Peace". He demonstrated in great detail how the allied policies were sure to lead to disaster. Another leader stated that this was no peace, but merely "a 20-year armistice". How prescient!

So what did the treaty do? It stripped Germany of all of her overseas colonies. Here is the list:

--Cameroon and Togoland, mandate divided between Britain and France
--German South-West Africa, South African mandate
--German East Africa--British mandate
--Marianas, Carolines and Marshall Islands, Japanese mandate
--German Samoa, New Zealand mandate
--Nauru, British mandate
--German New Guinea and Bismarck Archipelago, Australian mandate

Not only were all of these colonies seized, but also the private property in them was seized and confiscated by the allies and divided among them as the spoils of war.

As for Germany itself, much of it was cut off and given to other countries. Here is that list:

--Northern Schliswig, to Denmark
--Eupen and Malmedy--to Belgium
--Saar--under League of Nations control until 1935
--Alsace-Lorraine, returned to France after 47 years of German rule
--Rhineland, administered by Germany, but demilitarized until 1936
--Danzig, made a free city under League of Nations control
--Polish Corridor & Poznania, transferred to Poland
--Memel, seized by Lithuania

The Austro-Hungarian empire was similarly carved up and distributed among neighboring countries.

One of the most despicable things the allies did was the "starvation blockade" of Germany. This was responsible for about 800,000 civilian deaths in Germany between 1915 and 1918. But even worse, Churchill insisted that the blockade continue even after the armistice, and he bragged in March of 1918, four months after the armistice, that "We are enforcing the blockade with rigour, and Germany is near starvation."

Buchanan details a series of blunders which Britain made in the inter-war period, leading up to the final colossal blunder. The first such blunder was Britain's failure to renew its Anglo-Japanese treaty in 1921. This was done under pressure from the U.S., which demanded that the treaty be scrapped. The U.S. won the argument, but Buchanan writes that the US diplomatic victory "would prove a disaster for the British Empire. With the termination of the Japanese alliance, Australia and New Zealand ceased to be strategic assets and became liabilities, as Britain now lacked the naval power to defend two Pacific Dominions."

Historian Arthur Herman called Britain's decision "an act of breathtaking stupidity." Now, Japan no longer had an incentive for good behavior. Treated as a pariah, Japan began to play the part.

The US also took the lead in the next blunder, which was its plan to slash the size of all the great navies of the world. This affected Britain first and foremost, since sea power was the key to Britain's survival.

I will skip over many other blunders and jump ahead to 1936, when the Germans sent troops into the Rhineland. This was a small contingent of troops and Buchanan documents that Hitler left instructions to retreat back across the border if they met any resistance. Buchanan says Hitler could have been crushed right then and there, but France did not lift a finger.

The final and fatal blunder took place on March 31, 1939, when PM Chamberlain rose in the British House of Commons and declared that Britain had committed to coming to Poland's defense if that country were to be attacked. It is easy to see the folly of this in hindsight, but many protested mightily at the time. One MP said that "This is the maddest single action this country has ever taken." Lloyd George said that if the British army general staff approved this, they "ought to be confined to a lunatic asylum."

Liddell Hart called the guarantee "foolish, futile and provocative...an ill-considered gesture that placed Britain's destiny in the hands of Polish rulers, men of very dubious and unstable judgment." Hart was so disgusted with this folly that he resigned as military correspondent for the "Times".

Duff Cooper wrote in his diary that "Never before in our history have we left in the hands of one of the smaller powers the decision whether or not Britain goes to war."

With this guarantee in hand, the Poles refused to negotiate with Germany over the return of Danzig, a German city, despite reasonable proposals put forth by the Germans which would have preserved Polish influence in the region. The world war ensued.

In his last chapter Buchanan reveals why he wrote this book. He writes of how the U.S. came out of the second world war as the greatest power in the world, and through intelligent foreign policy contained the Soviet Union without going to war with the Soviets.

However, that policy was thrown overboard with George W. Bush, who Buchanan calls "a president disinterested and untutored in foreign policy". As a result, the U.S. is now repeating all the same mistakes made by Britain in losing its empire. He says that now "the world of 1989 has disappeared and America has begun to resemble the Britain of Salisbury and Balfour, a superpower past her prime, with enemies rising everywhere."

Buchanan writes: "Rather than follow the wisdom of conservative men like Kennan, Eisenhower, and Reagan, we began to emulate every folly of imperial Britain in her plunge from power." He says "we exhibited an imperial hubris the whole world came to detest".

The parallels are numerous and very depressing to anybody who cares about this country. Just as Grey and Churchill used the German violation of Belgium neutrality as an excuse to go to war, so the Bush crowd used 9/11 as an excuse to go to war in Iraq. Just as Chamberlain gave a war guarantee to Poland he could not honor, so has the U.S. handed out NATO war guarantees to six Warsaw Pact nations and the three Baltic republics.

Just as Britain had a "balance-of-power" policy not to permit any nation to become dominant in Europe, so has the U.S. adopted a policy of trying to become the dominant power on every continent. Buchanan writes that "Ours is a peculiarly American blindness. Under the Monroe Doctrine, foreign powers are to stay out of our hemisphere. Yet no other great power is permitted to have its own sphere of influence. We bellow self-righteously when foreigners funnel cash into our elections, yet intrude massively with tax dollars in the elections of other nations."

I have no doubt Buchanan is 100% correct, and in fact I have written in the past about the decline of the American empire which is going on now right before our eyes. This book was written just before the financial collapse, so Buchanan does not mention the financial hardship of all of our commitments, but it is obvious that fighting two wars, having bases all over the world, and making commitments to everybody and his uncle all over the world, will contribute heavily to the coming bankruptcy of this country.

The website http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=5564 discusses a study showing the U.S. has military personnel in 156 countries. We have bases in 63 countries. Do we really need 40,000 troops in South Korea, six decades after the armistice? Do we really need 40,000 troops in Japan, 65 years after WW2 ended? We should follow Buchanan's advice and bring all of these troops home.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Election

The results Tuesday were better than one feared, and about what one could expect. The worst of the "Tea Party" candidates" lost. O'Donnell in Delaware, Angle in Nevada, and Buck in Colorado all lost; the victory of any one of them would have given one cause to sink into complete depair about the future of this country.

At this writing two interesting races continue. Patty Murray in Washington is clinging to a slim lead as write-in ballots are counted. The most interesting race is in Alaska. There Lisa Murkowski appears to have won, but at this time the "winner" is simply designated as "write-in ballots". Until these write-in ballots are opened and counted, we will not know if she was able to overcome the horrible candidate Joe Miller who ousted her in the Republican primary.

An interesting sidelight of this race is the court ruling that election poll workers were ordered to do their job and assist voters in making write-in votes; in other words, a voter who wanted help writing in "Murkowski" was entitled to help doing that. As a respoonse to this, a right-wing radio talk-show host encouraged his listeners to present themselves as write-in candidates, so that their names would have to go on the list of write-in candidates which the court ordered to be made available to voters. As a result, this list was in the hundreds, and according to one commentator I heard actually in the thousands.

So, the results of the vote of write-in candidates is up in the air. One thinks of the Florida race in 2000 when the Republicans poked so much fun at the election workers holding the balltos up to the light to determine the intent of the voter. But this is precisely what election workers are supposed to do--determine the intent of the voter. So, we will likely see a big to-do about whether ballots mispelling "Murkowski" are to be counted or not. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Juan Williams Firing

I think NPR really blundered by firing Juan Williams for an offhand comment made on FOX News. First, there is the way he was fired--by phone rather than in person. This is incredibly shabby treatment of a valued employee who has enhanced the reputation of NPR with his insightful commentary over the years.

Juan has said that NPR has wanted to get rid of him for a long time because they didn't like his being on FOX news. If that is the case, why not call him in and say, "Look, we have a problem with your being on both networks. We need you to choose where your loyalties lie." Juan could then have chosen, and the problem could have been worked out on a cooperative basis, which is the proper way to handle employee problems.

The comment that he gets nervous when Muslims are on his plane should not have been a problem for anybody. It simply states what the vast majority of Americans no doubt feel. We seem to be unable in this country to even mention race without being accused of having nasty prejudices. Juan went on to state that stereotyping is wrong, so his comment could not have been fairly misinterpreted as carrying any kind of bigotry with it.

Shame on you, NPR. You are better than that!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The World Series in Context

There are two things which can make a World Series memorable or noteworthy. One is an exciting 7-game Series, and the other is the appearance of teams which have never been to the Series, or have not been there for a very long time.

In terms of the first category, the decade of the 2000's has not been very memorable. While we did see exciting 7-game series in both 2001 and 2002, there have been none in the seven Series since than, and only two that have even gone 6 games.

However, in terms of the second category the past decade has been quite memorable indeed. 2001 saw the first appearance by the Diamondbacks, followed by the first appearance by the Angels in 2002. Then in 2004 the Red Sox broke their drought and won their first series since 1918. The following year the White Sox did the same, wining their first Series since 1917. Then in 2007 the Rockies made their first-ever WS appearance.

Now we come to 2010, featuring the Giants, who have not won since defeating my beloved Indians in 1954, and the Rangers, who have never been to the Series but finally made it in the 50th year of the franchise. Whoever wins, the result will be monumental for the franchise and city involved. Now if we can just get the Cubs vs. the Indians for nest year's Series!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Top Five GOP Wacko Candidates

1. Christine O'Donnell. Candidate for Senate from Delaware. Has stated she used to "dabble in witchcraft". Has been accused by her former campaign manager of paying her rent with campaign donations. Has made anti-masturbation comments in the past.

2. John Raese. Candidate for governor of West Virginia. Wants to abolish minimum wage.

3. Ken Buck. Candidate for Senate in Colorado. Opposes abortion rights even in the cases of rape and incest. Infamously refused to prosecute a rape case, claiming it was a case of "buyer's remorse".

4. Sharron Angle. Opposes Harry Reid in Nevade Senate race. Opposes abortion rights even in cases of rape and incest.

5. Carl Paladino. New York governor candidate. Caught on camera threatening to "take out" a reporter who was asking an embarrassing question of him. Had to be separateed from the reporter by his handlers/bodyguards. Has made anti-homosexual comments.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thinking Through a Bridge Bidding Decision

The last hand at men's bridge club Tuesday night was interesting. I picked up a hand with 22 high card points, and since I had balanced distribution I bid 2 no trump. My partner, a solid player named Rich Geiger, thought a bit and then bid 3 no trump. When he laid down his hand he laid down an Ace, and I said, "that's enough for your bid right there." Then I was surprised to see him lay down 5 more points!

I have been wondering whether he should have bid 5 no trump, the idea being that if I have 24 points (the range for my bid is 22-24), then we have the 33 points needed to bid a small slam. Faced with a 5 no trump response by my partner, I would bid 6 with 24 points, pass with 22, and with 23 evaluate it based on 9's and 10's, and on whether I had a solid 5-card suit which I could expect to run.

On the surface, it would seem that Rich's failure to bid 5 NT would cause us to miss a small slam a third of the time. But upon further analysis his bid makes sense.

First, having the 33 points does not guarantee the slam will be made. Tired players, who aren't that good to begin with, could easily mess up a slam, especially at the end of the session when fatigue is strongest. So, let's say it gets botched half the time, dropping the instances of losing out down from 1/3 to 1/6.

The adage of a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush applies. A vulnerable game gets you 500 points, which would be assured if you bid only 3 NT with 31+ points. The bonus for making a vulnerable small slam is 750 points. So, you are risking 500 sure points in an attempt to garner an extra 750 points. The math on this is that you would have to make the small slam 40% of the time to break even on taking the risk. (40% of 1,250 is 500.)

But here is the real kicker. Pondering this it occurred to me that a 22-point hand seems much more likely to get than a 24-point hand. If so, then it is not 1/3 each, but some other number. After some initial brick walls, I was able to find some odds on the internet. It turns out that there are 1334 million hands with 22 points, to 711M with 23, and only 355M with 24. So, given that a hand contains 22-24 points, it will have 22 points 55.6% of the time, 23 points 29.6% of the time, and 24 points only 14.8% of the time.

This lends further support for Rich's decision, as the odds of me having 24 points were not a third, but only about 15%. This is further lowered if you assume, as in our situation, that you have 9 points in your hand. In other words, given that A has a 9-point hand, the odds that his partner B would have 24 when he opens 2NT go down.

The conclusion: Rich probably should have bid 5NT, but it wasn't a blatant error.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Letter on Tax Policy

Recently the Lima News has published a series of editorials complaining about a "soak the rich" attitude which the paper perceives is now prevalent in the U.S. The News has even gone so far as to rail against a "confiscate the wealth" attitude toward the rich.

In reality there is no such movement afoot, and the News is simply way off-base in thinking otherwise. Rather than proposing any "confiscation of wealth", the current issue is simply whether to return to the top tax rate of 39.6% which was in effect during the 1990's, which by the way happened to be an era of unprecedented prosperity in this country.

I submit that a top tax rate of 39.6% is good tax policy and does not indicate any "hate the rich" attitude as the News has repeatedly suggested. Some of us are old enough to remember the 1950's, when the top tax rate was a whopping 91%. Now that *was* a soak the rich tax structure. Fortunately we have gotten away from that misguided policy and we now have a sensible tax structure, or at least we did have one until the disastrous economic policies of Reagan and George W. Bush wrecked the economy.

Teddy Roosevelt once said that "The man of great wealth owes a peculiar obligation to the state because he derives special advantages from the mere existence of government." I agree with TR, and I urge everyone to keep this thought in mind the next time you here somebody rant about our taxes being too high.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

To All You Israel-Bashers

I noticed this item on Jonathan Turley's website:

"In Ramallah, West Bank, Palestinian police say that a family hanged a 15-year-old boy because they believed that he might be a collaborator with Israel. The police doubt that he was a collaborator due to his young age.

Police report that the boy was hanged by his own father, uncle, and cousin. One account says that the boy was tortured before being hanged."

This is in line with other incidents I have heard about where Palestinian authorities charged people with treason and then executed them for "collaboration" with Israel.

I am reminded of an article I read recently, about a journalist who spent months living in an Arab town, getting to know the people, and writing about their life there. She wrote of one family with ten kids, in which the mother was chagrined that none of her children had become a "martyr". The mother lamented, "We need a martyr to uphold the family honor". (Yes, I know this is incredible, but this is how these people think.) Then one of her sons went to Iraq to fight in the "insurgency", and was killed. The mother mourned for an hour, then changed into white and started celebrating.

I suggest that any of you bleeding hearts mourning about "the plight of the Palestinians" keep in mind that this is a group which has waged war on Israel since the day the partition was decreed in 1948. Israel accepted the partition, but Palestine did not, and vowed to drive the Jews into the sea and destroy Israel. They have been waging war on Israel every day since, up to and including today, and their methods involve killing as many innocent Israeli people as they can, however they can.

And I don't want to hear any bullshit about "collective responsibility". The suicide bombers are revered as heroes in their hometowns, their pictures get put up in the town square, and their families get taken care of for life. If this isn't sufficient to assign "collective responsibility", I don't know what is.

On Instant Gratification

A conservative friend of mine, never known for his reticence, recently asked me "how's that hope and change working out for you"? My response is that it will take *way* more than two years to undo all the damage done by the Bush administration in 8 years of blundering and mismanagement.

Upon pondering why anybody in their right mind would think otherwise, I got to thinking about how the need for instant gratification permeates our politics as well as everything else. It seems voters have no ability to think in terms of what is best for our long-term interest. They focus on short-term only, and worse than that, it's not even the short-term interest of the country, but of their own personal lives. Reagan got elected by asking "are you better off now that you were four years ago", and that has set the stage for the degeneration of our politics where voters vote their narrow self-interest, as they (usually mistakenly) perceive it, rather than who would be the best person for the job.

The childhood obesity epidemic in this country certainly reflects the need for instant gratification, to the exclusion of any thought of longer-term self-interest.

I think an interesting study would be to look at lottery winners. I've heard enough to know that a fair number of them go through their winnings rapidly and end up back in poverty. People used to spending everything they have, don't lose that habit simply because they win the lottery.

On the other hand, people like Ken Jennings, the big Jeopardy winner, are used to thinking long-term, and I seriously doubt that Ken has spent a penny of his winnings. It is being saved for his kids' college educations. Ken's Morman background has prepared him to think long-term, and eschew the temptation to gratify today. Would that there were more like him.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

On Throwing Stones

There is a poker saying that it takes a better hand to call a bet than it does to make a bet. This is similar to politics where the apostles of negativism constantly criticize but offer no solutions. In other words, it is a lot easier to sit back and throw stones than it is to try to actually solve problems.

In this regard, it was heartwarming to see Obama yesterday delivering a greats stump speech on Labor Day in Wisconsin. He departed from his prepared text to deliver the line that "They treat me like a dog". If he will do this between now and election day, a la Truman in 1948, the Democrats might have a chance to hold onto the Congress.

The lesson learned in the 1988 debacle, when George H.W. Bush ran his despicable campaign against Michael Dukakis, and Dukakis declined to respond forthrightly and promptly to the allegations, was that allegations need to be met head-on. Clinton took this lesson to heart and in the 1992 campaign his staff had responses ready even before the allegations were made, understanding the Hitler maxim that a lie repeated often enough will be accepted by people as the truth.

These thoughts came to mind yesterday as I was working on organizing my chess materials from past decades. I came across a newsletter sent me by Don Schultz in 1988 about his dispute with the right-wing, represented by GM Larry Evans.

To set the stage, the 1980's were a horrible time in U.S. chess politics. In fact, "chess politician" became a disparaging way of referring to those who had decision-making power in U.S. chess. I argued that "chess volunteer" was a better term, as we were talking here about those who donated their time and energies to chess, not paid staff people.

Don Schultz was one of these people, a distinguished gentleman who I encountered at the 1984 U.S. Open in Ft. Worth. He served for over 30 years as a chess volunteer, and for much of that time served as a USCF delegate to the world chess federation (FIDE). Larry Evans was an American GM who had a Q&A column in "Chess Life" for many years, but who never held any office. His thing was to sit back and criticize the powers that be, and he sure did plenty of that.

The ugly politicization of American chess had been going on for many hears, probably dating back to an Interzonal in the '60's when Bobby Fisher played and accused the Sovets participants of throwing games to each other to ensure that Americans would be excluded from the list of qualifiers for the next stage of the world championship cycle.

To set the stage, I quote from a mailing I received from Evans, dated 2/13/87: "It is no secret that FIDE president Campomanes has exerted intense pressure on American officials to fire the current editor. He has been trying to get the job done for 2 years. But we all believe American chess policy should be made in America--not in the murky intrigues of faraway places like Dubai, where Campomanes virtually bought an election with Arab money behind him, This was revealed in Chess Life, March 1987, page 23. Don't be fooled. If Larry Parr goes, we won't be getting this kind of honest chess journalism anymore in Chess Life."

The actual facts are these: Campomanes worked night and day to make chess a truly worldwide sport, and he did everything he could to reach out to Third World counties in this regard. The fact that he didn't cater to American wishes is taken by people like Evans to be a sign of weakness, when in actuality it was an asset.

The Chess Life editor in question, Larry Parr, was blatantly political in his reporting and editing, and in the worst way, in that everything was tainted with a right-wing bias. For example, he published an article alleging that Karpov was a member of the KGB. This was blatantly false, and is a pretty good example of how low USCF sunk during those dark days. Karpov's "crime" was that he was declared world champion when Bobby Fischer refused to take part in the 1975 world championship match, for reasons to be discussed shortly. His further crime was that he was a Soviet citizen, anathema to folks like Parr and Evans. Evans writes that "Larry Parr is the best editor Chess Life has had since I started writing for it six editors ago". This is totally ludicrous; Parr created more enemies for US chess and published more false and libelous articles than the others put together.

Another issue complained of by Evans is the FIDE decision to raise all women's ratings by 100 points. He writes: "The USSR was embarrassed to discover that their women's world champ Maya Chiburdanidze was rated behind Hungarian prodigy Susan Polgar. How to solve the problem? Simple. Vote to raise all women's ratings by 100 points--all except Polgar, who was frozen at 2495 while the Soviet star surged past her." He then compared this to the action stripping Bobby Fischer of his crown in 1975.

The "Great Debate", as it was called, took place in early 1988 over the Leisure LINC, apparently an electronic town meeting type of thing which pre-dated the Internet as we know it today. In his opening statement, Evans repeats the same garbage he had been spouting for years, stating, "I'm concerned about America's lax moral leadership and puppet role in FIDE....I submit that our editor was fired for reporting facts instead of suppressing them. His ouster is another victory for Campomanes, another ignoble surrender to he Soviet-dominated world body that stripped away Fischer's title." Rather than reporting further, suffice it to say the dialogue is a really dreary give-and-take with previous false assertions being made again by Evans, and Don trying manfully to set the facts straight. But like the Tea Party folks today, these people really do not care about getting the facts right, it is a certain emotional state which drives them.

When Eisenhower was asked why he did not respond to McCarthy's allegtaions, he responded, "I refuse to get into the gutter with that guy." So which is best, responding, which Ike certianly could have effectively done and ended McCarthy's reign of terror much sooner, or ignoring? I doubt there are any easy answers here.

There have been long, mathematical analyses published of the title match issues surrounding Fischer's abandonment of his title. I'll try to give a thumbnail sketch. Until 1963, a world champion who lost his title had the right to a rematch the following year. In addition, he kept his title in the event of a drawn match. This meant the challenger had to win two matches to wrest the title away, a huge advantage for the champion. (One of my favorite chess trivia questions is, "of the five title matches which Botvinnik played while world champion, how many did he win?" The surprisng answer is none of them. He drew two matches, keeping his title, lost two and then regained it each time in the rematch, and then finally lost to Petrosian after the rematch provision was eliminated.)

When Fischer won the title from Spassky in 1972, the match consisted of 24 games. Fischer insisted that a better system was to play untl one player won a certain number of games; he preferred 10, though precedent was for 6. FIDE went along with this and voted in the 10-win condition Fischer wanted, but what they didn't go along with was Fischer's proposal that the champion would keep his title in the case of a 9-9 tie. This meant that the challenger had to actually win by 2 games, 10-8, and seemed too much of an advantage. Fischer abdicated his crown over this issue.

For 1978 the 6 win provision was enacted, but the rematch clause was reinstated, allegedly giving Karpov "a bigger edge than anything Fischer had sought", according to Evans. This system blew up in FIDE's face when in 1984 neither Karpov nor Kasparov could win 6 games, and Campomanes stoped the match after 48 games, as the match had turned into a bad joke. FIDE then went back to the 24-game match system, which provided good drama in succeeding matches.

A "review of the bidding", as we say in bridge, shows that FIDE made many concessions to Fischer to accommodate him. He did not even qualify for the 1972 world championship cycle, as he had not participated in his Zonal, which was the U.S. Championship. FIDE ruled he could still play in the Interzonal if one of the three American qualifiers would give up his spot, which Pal Benko magnanimously did. Then when the match with Spassky came about, Fischer made numerous demands which were accommodated. The most noteworthy is that after Fischer forfeited the second game becuase he felt the cameras were making noise, FIDE could have declared the match forfeited then and there; noise meters were put in the playing room and registerd zero--there was no noise whatsoever from the cameras. Yet, the cameras were removed and the match was able to be continued. These are examples of many concessions made to Fischer, both before and after he became world champion.

Despite all this, the American mindset is to blame the Soviets and worship Fischer as a hero. He is anything but a hero, though certainly was a great player, and neither the Soviets nor FIDE is to blame for Fischer's peccadilloes. It is time the US stops playing "the ugly American" role and starts respecting other points of view. This is what our FIDe representatives tried to do, at that time Don Schultz and the highy respected Arnold Denker, and what did they get for it? Nothing but stones thrown at them. For shame.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Best football game I've ever seen

Awesome Bluffton High game last night. Playing Carey, a team which went to the playoffs last year while BHS struggled through a losing season, both sides had trouble running into the line. First two touchdowns for b oth teams were on long pass plays. Carey missed the 2nd extra point, after the first just barely squibbed through the goalposts, so on their third touchdon they went for 2 and made it, to go up 21-14.

BHS then scored but the extra point was blocked to make it 21-20. Then Carey went up 28-20, and it looked bleak for the Pirates. But the Bluffton quarterback put up a long pass, which I just knew was going to be dropped by the receiver, but the receiver made a great catch, and faked first one way and then the other, and then went down the sidelines for the score. A beautiful 2-point conversion tied it. The offense faked going left, then the q-back rolled out right and all of a sudden there was a receiver open to the right and he shoveled it in for the tieing score.

On another Pirate pass play the ball was off, and this time two defenders were covering the reciever, J.D. Stratton, but Stratton alertly banged into the receivers just as they were about to catch the ball and it fell incomplete. Stratton was shaken up on the play but I think is OK.

The Pirates had the ball with 4 minutes left and if they had any kind of ground game, they had a chance to grind it out and score with too little time left for Carey to retaliate. But with no ground game they gave up the ball and Carey got it but went 4 and out and the Pirates had it with less than a minute to go. They ran it into field goal position and alertly lined up and spiked the ball, showing good coaching IMO. With 6.5 seconds left, they tried the field goal and missed woefully short, but the Carey end crossed the line of scrimmage early trying to block the kick, and the offsides penalty gave the Pirates another chance 5 yards closer. This time the kicker nailed it with a beautiful kick, and the Pirate bench swarmed onto the field and created a dog pile congratulating the kicker. However, there was still 1.4 seconds left, and, sitting near the press box, I could hear the Pirate assistant in the press box screaming into his headphones saying "Get them off the field, get them off the field. We haven't won anything yet!"

Fortunately the refs called no penalty on the Pirates, choosing to motion them off the field instead, and on the ensuing kickoff the kicker aptly kicked a line drive kick, instead of a long kick which would have risked a return, and the Carey player who fielded it was tackled immediately and the celebration now could take place unimpeded.

Worth mentioning is the Pirtae punter, who kicked high, booming kicks ever chance he got, the best high school punter I've ever seen by far. All in all, a memorable game.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Analyzing the duc-chessart Endgame

Now I'm ready to go on this, from the position: White: K on b1, R on f7, P's on a2 and c2; Black: K on g4, R on a8.

1...Rb8ch 2 Kc1 Ra8?

The principle both sides need to keep in mind here is that White should seek to jettison his a-Pawn in exchange for obtaining a winning position with his remaining c-Pawn. The reason for this is that the ending of Rook and Rook's Pawn vs. Rook is notoriously drawn. (For White to win the Black Rook needs to be cut off half a board or more away from the Queening square. Here, I will surely be able to get my King closer than this before White is ready to Queen his a-Pawn.) Therefore, I should play 2...Rc8 rather than Ra8, as I should seek to limit the advance of his c-Pawn, and not worry so much about the a-Pawn.

3 Kb2?

Following the principle just articulated, White should play 3 c3! Note that 3 c4 doesn't work because I then simply win the c-Pawn with 3...Rc8. However, after 3 c3 he has a Pawn on the 3rd and my King cut off by 3 files, which the book says is a win. White's most straightforward win would now be 3...Rc8 4 Kd2 Rd8ch 5 Ke3 Re8ch 6 Kd4 Rd8ch 7 Ke4! Rc8 (If 7...Re8ch 8 Kd5 Rd8ch 9 Kc6 Rc8ch 10 Rc7 1-0) 8 Rg7ch! (Forcing Black's King another file away. Strictly speaking this may not be necessary, but this gives White a margin of error, so that he can now win even if he doesn't know the intricacies involved in the "3 files away" win.) K-h file 9 Kd3 Rd8ch 10 Kc2 Rc8 11 Rg1! K moves 12 Kb3 Rb8ch 13 Ka4 Ra8ch 14 Kb5 Rb8ch 15 Ka6 Rc8 16 Rc1! Rc4 17 Kb5 and the Pawn will advance. Or, 13...Rc8 14 Rc1 K-g file 15 c4 Kf6 16 Kb5 Rb8ch 17 Kc6 Ke7 18 Re1ch Kd8 19 Rd1ch Ke7 (19...Kc8 20 Rh1 1-0) 20 c5 and White has the Lucena Position.

Rb8ch 4 Kc3 Ra8 5 Kb3 Rb8ch 6 Ka4 Rc8 7 Rf2 Ra8ch 8 Kb3 Rb8ch 9 Kc3 Rc8ch 10 Kd2 Ra8 11 Rg2ch??

White completely loses his way here. There is no reason in the world for this move, other than that White simply is at a loss for a productive plan on how to proceed. This move lets my King out of his prison, for no good reason. It accomplishes nothing positive for White.

Kf3 12 Rg1

This is where his Rook should have gone in the first place, preparing to move behind his c-Pawn at the proper time.


My King will now get in front of his c-Pawn, and my drawing chances just shot up immensely. I do not take the a-Pawn, feeling it is more important to get my King into play.

13 Ra1 Kd4 14 a4 Kc4 15 a5 Kb5 16 c3?

This is wrong on principle. White should keep his Pawn back so that he will have a tempo move with the Pawn if he needs it to achieve the opposition.

Rxa5 17 Rxa5ch Kxa5 18 Kd3 Kb5 19 Kd4 Kc6 20 Kc4 Kb6 21 Kd5 Kb7 22 c4?

Another ill-considered Pawn push. Simply 22 Kc5 keeps the opposition for White. However, White still has the win.

Kc7 23 Kc5 Kb7 24 Kd6 Kc8 25 Kc6 Kb8 26 c5??

The final blunder for White. Now I have an easy draw. He should have played 26 Kd7 and his King escorts his Pawn to the Queening square. Perhaps White had the old adage "passed pawns should be pushed" drilled into his head at some point in his chess career. But, like any rule of thumb, it has exceptions!

Kc8 27 Kb6 Kb8 28 Kc6 Kc8 29 Kd6 Kd8 30 c6 Kc8 31 Ke5 Kc7 32 Kd5 Kc8

Not 32...Kd8?? 33 Kd6 Kc8 34 c7 1-0. You always go straight back in these situations.

33 Kd6 Kd8 34 Kd5 Kc7 35 Kc5 Kc8

Again, straight back.

36 Kb6 Kb8 37 Kc5 Kc7 38 Kd5 Kc8 39 Ke6 Kc7 40 Kd5

This repeats the same position for the third time, with the same player to move. Thus, I could have claimed the draw. When I started playing on the Internet I assumed the system would automatically declare a draw when a three-time repetition came up. In time I learned that you have to claim the draw, the idea being that in an over-the-board tournament you have to claim the draw, so the same should hold true in Internet play. I recommend clicking on the "draw" button as often as possible in these situations. You may not always have time to do it after every move, but the more often you can do it the more chance to end the game.

Why is White playing on here? One reason might be frustration at not being able to convert his position to a win. It is hard psychologically to admit you have blown a won game. The other reason might be more insidious. In a sudden death time control, as this was, White literally has nothing to lose playing on and hoping to run Black out of time. If he himself runs out, he still has the draw as Black does not have mating material; whereas, if Black runs out White has mating material with the Pawn and can get the win.

This illustrates the folly of the sudden death time controls which have proliferated in American chess in the last 20 years. It is really a sad trend in my opinion, because it converts what should be a beautiful game of mental acuity into a game of physical dexterity, as time scrambles are inevitable in which each player seeks to move and punch his clock as fast as possible. Also, it opens the door to all kinds of disputes--illegal moves and what should be done about them, punching the clock with one hand and moving the piece with the other, et al.

I don't know what the time was in my game, as my game score does not have the times recorded, but it is possible that I was down to a few seconds and he was trying to run me out of time. Fortunately, the draw was so easy at this point that I didn't need much time to make the moves.

Kc8 41 Kd6 Kd8 42 c7ch Kc8 43 Kc6 Stalemate

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Ending of Rook, Rook's Pawn, and Bishop's Pawn vs. Rook

Over the weekend I was going over some of my Internet Dragon games and I came to a five-minute game played on 3-2-08 vs. "duc". After 39 Rf7, we got to the following position: White: K on b1, R on f7, P's on a2 and c2; Black: K on g4, R on a8. Being two Pawns up, one would think White would win handily, but the game continued 1...Rb8ch 2 Kc1 Ra8 3 Kb2 Rb8ch 4 Kc3 Ra8 5 Kb3 Rb8ch 6 Ka4 Rc8 7 Rf2 Ra8ch 8 Kb3 Rb8ch 9 Kc3 Rc8ch 10 Kd2 Ra8 11 Rg2ch Kf3 12 Rg1 Ke4 13 Ra1 Kd4 14 a4 Kc4 15 a5 Kb5 16 c3 Rxa5 17 Rxa5ch Kxa5 18 Kd3 Kb5 and drawn in 25 more moves as he played it out to the bitter end.

When I first annotated this I made the comment that "White should have an easy win". After playing around with the position awhile, I crossed out the "n" and the "easy", and said simply that "White should win".

Then I decided to check my ending books, and found that all three said this ending was a book draw, although one commentator stressed that in practice White often wins because of imprecise play by Black. It bothered me, though, that all of the positions given had Black's King near the Pawns, and in none was the Black King cut off as in my game.

After stewing about this all Saturday night (literally, as I tend to wake up during the night and study chess positions in my head), I woke up yesterday morning and got the idea of ignoring the a-Pawn and treating it as Rook plus c-Pawn vs. Rook. The book learning on this is that it is a draw when the Black King can reach the Queening square, and a loss if it cannot. When the Black King is in front of the Pawn, it is called Philidor's Position, and when the Black King is cut off by a file from the Pawn, it is called the Lucena Position.

In the latter position, the White Rook does duty cutting off the Black King, while the White King attempts to escort the Pawn to the promised land. When the Pawn is on the 5th rank, this is easy. But when the Pawn is not yet on the 5th rank, it becomes quite tricky. If you play with the position you will see that the Black Rook stays in front of the Pawn, on its back rank if possible, i.e., he sets up camp on White's Queening square. Just as in my game, he then checks the White King whenever the King attempts to slide up the board beside the Pawn, hoping to support its advance.

It is therefore apparent that to achieve the Pawn's advance from the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th rank, the assistance of the Rook will be necessary. The Rook can assist either from the rank or from the file, behind the Pawn. When the Rook does this the Black King will then have time to come closer to the action, hence it must initially be cut off by *more* than the single file required when the Pawn is on the 5th rank. Fine, in "Basic Chess Endings", gives the rule as follows: "If the P is on the 3rd or 4th rank and its K is near it, White can always force a win if and only if the Black King is cut off at a distance of 3 files from the Pawn (NP), or 2 files from the Pawn (BP or center P). If the P is on the 2nd rank, and Black's K is on the 4th or 5th, White wins if and only if the K is cut off at a distance of 5 files from the Pawn."

It is obvious that with the c-Pawn it is impossible for the Black King to be cut off by 5 files. It is possible with the b-Pawn, and Fine gives this example, position 317: White: K on b1, R on f1, P on b2; Black K on h4 and R on b8. This illustrates the principle well, because (according to Fine) White to play wins, while Black to play draws; i.e., White to play can play 1 Rg1, cutting off the Black King by the required 5 files, while if it's Black's turn he plays 1...Kg4, getting one file closer to the action. The winning method with White to play runs 1 Rg1 Kh5 2 Kc2 Rc8ch 3 Kd3 Rb8 4 Kc3 Rc8ch 5 Kd4 Rb8 6 Rb1 (the Rook slides over behind the Pawn) Kg6 7 b4 (White gets the Pawn pushed finally) Kf7 (Black gets another file closer) 8 Kc5! Ke7 (8...Rb8 does not help, as 9 Kd6 Rb8 10 Kc7 Rb5 11 Kc6 allows the Pawn to advance next move, where it will be on the 5th with an easy win) 9 Kc6! winning. If 9 b5? Kd7 and the Black King will get to the Queening square and draw. But after 9 Kc6!, White keeps the King out with a little trick: 9...Kd8 10 b5 Kf8? 11 Rh1! and Black either gets mated or loses his Rook.

Euwe and Hooper, in "A Guide to Chess Endings", give the exact same position as the Fine position just discussed, but they give it a little different treatment. Their winning line with White to move is 1 Kc2 Rc8ch 2 Kd3 Rb8 3 Kc3 Rc8ch 4 Kd4 Rd8ch 5 Kc5 Rc8ch 6 Kd6 Rb8 7 Rb1 (The White Rook slides over behind his Pawn) Rb3 8 Kc5 Kg5 9 Kc4 Rb8 10 b4 winning.

Euwe and Hooper point out that in the initial position White's simplest win is to cut off Black's King on the rank with 1 Rf5 Kg4 2 Rc5 Kf4 3 Kc2 Ke4 4 Kc3 winning as b4 follows.

Euwe and Hooper's discovered that Fine was wrong in saying Black draws if he moves first in the initial position. They give 1...Kg5 (Not 1...Kg3 2 Rf5, and not 1...Kg4 2 Rf6 Rh8 3 Ra6 ) 2 Rf2 Kg4 3 Kc1!! This discovery they atribute to Kopaiev, the idea being it puts Black into zugzwang. Both Black's King and Rook are on their best squares, and Black loses because he must move one of them!! Now if 3...Rc8ch 4 Rc2 Rh8 5 Rc5 Rh2 and White wins by moving his K to a3 and then advancing the Pawn to b4. After 3 Kc1!! Euwe and Hooper's main line goes 3...Rh8 4 b3 Kg3 5 Rf6 Rh2 6 b4 Kg4 7 b5 Kg5 8 Rf8 Rh7 9 Rb8 Kf6 10 b6 Ke6 11 b7 and they say wins though I don't understand why Black's King can't simply move in for the draw.

But now Euwe and Hooper give an example with the c-Pawn. Position is White: K on c1 R on g1, and Pawn on c2; Black: K on h5 and R on c8. Very similar to the last position but on the c-file rather than the b-file. They say White wins, contradicting Fine on the number of files the Black King needs to be cut off (only 4 here). Here the White King moves up on the short side, which wasn't there for the b-Pawn as there was only one file on the "short side" there. The main line runs 1 Kb2 Rb8ch 2 Ka3 Rc8 3 Kb3 Rb8ch 4 Ka4 Rc8 5 Rc1 (the usual "sliding over" of the White rook to support his Pawn's advance) Kg6 6 c4 Kf6 7 Kb5 Rb8ch 8 Kc6 Ke7 9 Re1ch Kd8 10 Rd1ch Ke7 (10...Kc8? 11 Rh1 threatening Rh8) 11 c5.

In my game,. however, the King is cut off by "only" 3 files, so White cannot win using this method. However, there has to be a way to win using fact that he has the extra pawn on the a-file. This requires further study.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The So-Called "Housing Crisis"

An NPR story today states that: "Many people can't afford to sell their homes; as many as one-third of homeowners owe more than their home is now worth, and there are few buyers. Americans who once expected mobility now find themselves grounded, with their careers and lives fixed in place. They can't move to better job markets without taking a huge financial hit."

This dorp in home prices has been painted by many as a "crisis", when in reality it is simply a normal and expected adjustment to abnormally high rises in prices during the past decade. The proof of this lies in an amazing chart contained in the following website: http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2010/08/24/129397321/in-the-long-view-home-prices-are-still-high

This site has a chart which shows that the rise in prices since 1890 closely parallels the inflation rate: i.e., there has been little or no rise in the real price of a home. Instead, the rise has been due to inflation, and people have conned themselves into believing that their homes have actually risen in price, due to a lack of understanding of inflation. The chart in question shows that the real value of homes has been in the neighborhood of 100 ever since 1890, until about 2005, when there is a *huge* spike in prices raising them to about 200!!

The drop-off since then has brought prices down to about 125, which is still a bit higher than at any time in the period of 1890-2000. The conclusion is that prices are still high and will fall further to get into line with historic trends.

Monday, August 23, 2010

On Tax Policy

Letter to The Lima News:

Your editorial "Reagan's Wisdom on Cutting Taxes" really missed the boat. You failed to mention that Reagan's tax cuts, combined with his military spending, resulted in massive budget deficits which tripled our national debt.

Alan Greenspan recently spoke to this issue, saying "I don't agree with paying for tax cuts with borrowed money". Greenspan concluded that "At the end of the day, that proves disastrous."

I agree with Greenspan.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Clemens Indictment

A number of observations come to mind concerning the indictment of pitching great Roger Clemens for lying to Congress about using steroids.

First, the news accounts say he was indicted for "allegedly lying to Congress". No, he was indicted for "lying to Congress", not for "allegedly lying to Congress". When someone is indicted for murder we don't say he was indicted for "allegedly committing murder", we say he was "indicted for murder". Just another example of the media being afraid to speak plainly.

Second, Clemens has been known to be an arrogant jerk for many years, going back to when he was thrown out of a playoff game in the late '80's and denied cursing the umpire. It was only many years later that the umpire spoke up and said that yes, Clemens had indeed cursed him. And then there was the beaning of Piazza and throwing the broken bat at Piazza, in two separate incidents.

Third, I have seen in the practice of law for three decades that people can be mistaken about something, without necessarily being guilty of "lying". People seem able to actually convince themselves something did or did not happen, even though all evidence is to the contrary. Here, Clemens just cannot accept that he used steroids, so he denies it to himself and to others.

Fourth, it should be remembered that Clemens did not have to testify to Congress. He insisted on testifying after his name came up prominently in the Mitchell report on steroid use in baseball. He insisted on the opportunity to clear his name; instead, he only dug himself a deep hole.

Fifth, Clemens was offered a plea deal and turned it down, so nobody should feel sorry for him when he gets convicted and goes to prison. He still insists he never took steroids and arrogantly thinks he can prove it in court, even though any rational person can see that he will lose. His arrogance simply knows no bounds. Perhaps a year in prison will give him the personal character which he now lacks.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Erik Kratz

One of the baseball stories I love so much is the player who knocks around in the minor leagues for many years and finally, at age 30 or more, gets his shot at the majors. Now comes the story of Erik Kratz, who has special interest as he is a graduate of EMU and a member of the Souderton, Pennsylvania, Mennonite Church. After 8+ years in the minors, he got called up in July by the Pirates. Apparently he got sent back down after 21 days (just like Crash in "Bull Durham"), but at least he got a taste of it. His loyal wife and their two young sons were also spotlighted in the story in a recent "Mennonite Weekly Review".

Bethel Gets a New President

News is that Bethel College has named Perry D. White as its new president. What is surprising and perhaps alarming is that he has no background in the Anabaptist tradition or the peace tradition. His credentials seem to be that he has attracted increased donations in his past positions.

So convoluted was the attempt to create Mennonite roots by the writer of the article in "The Mennonite" that she sees fit to remark that White's wife has a degree from the University of Kansas. This pathetic attempt to demonstrate some rationale for the appointment just illustrates that Bethel has sold out to the larger culture and has really fallen on hard times. Unfortunately.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Kagan's Confirmation

The vote was 63-37 to confirm Kagan. One Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, voted against Kagan. Nelson is a complete joke. His stated reason, that his constituents oppose her, is totally lame. We elect leaders to lead, not to follow. Surely he does not really believe that his constituents have an informed opinion on what kind of justice Kagan will make. Think for yourself, Nelson!

The five Republicans who voted for her deserve credit, these being the two Maine senators, SC's Lindsay Graham, NH's Judd Gregg, and IN's Richard Lugar. MA's Scott Brown came down against her just before the vote.

To put this into proper context, here are the votes against confirmation for recent Republican nominees to the Court: Kennedy (0), Scalia (0), Alito (42), Roberts (22), and Thomas (48). Votes against for Democratic nominees are Breyer (9), Ginsburg (3), and Sotomayor (31).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Shirley Sherrod Mess

There are many lessons to be learned from the Shirley Sherrod mess. Among these might be that we are indeed a "nation of cowards" when it comes to talking about race, as Attorney General Holder has said; that the right-wing bloggers have become even more hateful and despicable than ever, in posting an edited video which purports to show just the opposite of what Ms. Sherrod was actually saying; that FOX news is even more despicable than we thought, in disseminating the false video and calling for Ms. Sherrod's resignation or firing; that this then piggbybacks to the Obama administration and the NAACP in jumping on this phony bandwagon and castigating her, when the facts were easily ascertainable and showed just the opposite--that she was describing how it is poor people who need help, not just Blacks.

But, having just watched the Secretary of Agriculture two hours ago giving an abject apology for firing her without learning all the facts, I have to comment on this aspect of it, since I have special expertise here by virtue of doing literally hundreds of unemployment compensation hearings in my law practice. The issue in these hearings was always why the "separation from employment" occurred. That is, if it was a discharge, why was the emploiee discharged; if it was a quit, why did the employee quit. In the instance of a discharge, as we have here (quitting under threat of being fired is the same legally as a discharge), the issue was always, why was the employee fired? If because of misconduct connected with the work, then the employee does not get the benefits, and the employers account does not get charged.

I have seen many instances of employers messing up in the way a discharge is handled, as the Ag Sec did here. The one which sticks in my mind is that a nursing supervisor in a care home heard that a nurse's aide had slammed the door to a resident's room and left in anger, which is considered resident abuse and clearly misconduct. What the suprevisor did is call the aide into her office, and as she entered simply said, "You're outta here."

Well, at the hearing the aide denied slamming the door and presented a completely different picture of things. The employer witness who was there did not even back up the version which had reached the supervisor. The coup de grace for the employer's case was that the door had the standard gadget on it preventing it from being slammed, so it was not even possible it happened as reported.

The lessen here is that an employer should never act precipitously, as the Ag sec did. It costs nothing to first get the facts, deliberate on them, and then act. In my case, the supervisor should have asked the aide what happend and gotten her version of events. If the two versions differed, then other witnesses could be talked to and a proper investigation undertaken before any firing decision was made.

The larger lessen here is the proper relationship between an employer and employee. There has been, since the '60's, a lot of management training info about communication being a two-way street, about open-door policies by employers, about "theory X vs. theory Y", and so on. A lot of this has been talk and not much else. When I started at a law firm my boss said if I ever had a problem just come talk to him, his door was always open and he would help. When I did seek his help some months into my tenure, he said he didn't have time to deal with it and I should carry on the best I could. So much for the "open door policy". I think in many cases the open door policy is not a reality.

But I think the best approach goes further than just an open-door policy. The best employer develops a solid relationship with employees, in other words, is proactive in taking steps to develop a rapport. I think of Attorsney-General Robert F. Kennedy, who would pop into offices in the Justice Department and ask the person what he/she was working on. This sort of taking an interest in your people can't help but lead to an important rapport. And if you have this sort of rapport, how would you ever fire them based on some hearsay account of something they supposedly did? It would be inconceivable. Of course you would immediately get with your person and discuss it, ask for their version. The Ag Sec did not do this, to his eternal discredit, but he has acknowledged his mistake and I think he will be allowed to move on with the important business of his department.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kagan Surmounts First Hurdle, or, A Tale of Two Lindsa(e)ys

I just found out from scotusblog.com that Elena Kagan's confirmation vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee was 13-6 to confirm. All Democrats voted for her, and all Republicans against except for Lindsey Graham, who gave a passionate speech outlining reasons to vote yea and nay and concluded that she was qualified and that Obama has the right as the election winner to have his own nominee confirmed.

I was following this at the library on scotusblog this morning as they had a running account. I then went back to my apartment to watch the hearing live on TV. Much to my chagrin it was not on C-SPAN (apparently it was on C-SPAN2 which I don't get). So I turned to the other cable news channels, feeling certain one would have the hearings. You'll never guess what they had rather than the hearings. Give up? It was Lindsay Lohan being taken into custody to do her 90-day sentence for violating her probation! Nothing about the Judiciary Committee hearings, not even on NPR. So, I'm back at the library, even more depressed than ever at the quality of American "journalism".

The Kansas Senate Race

National attention has been focused recently on the race for the Republican nomination for the Kansas Senate seat being vacated by Sam Brownback. C-SPAN carried a debate between the contestants, Representatives Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran, and CNN also has spotlighted the race.

This race illustrates just how low politics in this coutnry can sink. Each of the two candidates is doing nothing but trying to argue he is more conservative than his rival. And it is not true conservatism they are speaking of, but the anti-tax, anti-immigrant garbage which passes for conservatism these days. Tiahrt's latest attack ad accuses Moran of voting "to provide taxpayer-funded health care coverage for illegal immigrants", because he supported a children's health bill! This is the sort of nonsense Kansas votes have had to listen to. The story is at http://www.kansascity.com/2010/07/19/2093797/new-tiahrt-ad-in-us-senate-race.html

This business of taking a few votes and damning your opponent for it is what ousted Senator Bob Bennett from the primary for his Utah Senate seat. He was damned for reaching across the aisle and working with a Democratic Senator on a piece of legislation. This should be what we want our elected officials to do, but in the eyes of the ultra right-wing tea party folks this is a no-no. As a result, the Republicans have lost a long-time Senator who was one of the good guys.

The irony of the Kansas race is that both candidates are conservatives, and this splitting of hairs is just ludicrous. In the debate all either one did was make accusations that his opponent wasn't conservative enough, and each talked about specific votes--who voted to raise taxes most often, etc. Neither presented any sort of vision of where he wanted his country or his party to go in the future.

Baseball Is Baseball Again

A recent item in the paper about the Cincinnati Reds caught my eye. The story said the Reds led the league in going first to third, referring to a runner on first getting to third on a single to the outfield, rather than stopping at second. This is something the Reds pride themselves on doing, and it illustrates just how far baseball has come in getting past the steroids era.

In the steroids era baseball became too much like a slow pitch softball game, with runners waiting on bases for a batter to hit a home run, and everybody trying to hit a home run every time at bat. It was very dull and uninteresting, and so much of the beauty of the game was lost in the process.

Sunday there were two inside-the-park home runs, and listening to the excitement of the announcers it was obvious this was much more exciting than a blast over the fence. Another recent morsel was David Ortiz getting thrown out in the 9th inning of the All-Star game, thereby virtually ruining the AL's chance to come back agint the NL. A single to the right fielder was fielded and Ortiz was forced at second by the right fielder! Ortiz had to wait to see if the ball would be caught, and he just didn't have the speed to get to the base after that. The AL manager would, of course, have liked to have pinch run for him, but the only position player left on the bench had to be kept back in case he was needed in the field. (The All-Star game does count these days, as we are continually reminded, but the managers still manage too much like they are trying to get everybody into the game instead of to win.) Again, this example shows the importance of speed.

The stats are quite clear on home runs. The last two years in the American League the home run leader has had less than 40. The last time this happened in the AL was 1982-83. In the interim period Babe Ruth's long-standing standard of 60 was exceeded six times--three times by Sosa, twice by McGwire, and once by Bonds. To put it another way, prior to 1995 a player had hit 50 homers in a season only 16 times. From 1995 on, this has happened 25 times. Thankfully, we seem to be getting back to baseball as it's meant to be played and enjoyed.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Finally A Real Conservative

The 4th of July holiday was hot, but the morning paper contained a breath of fresh air. A column on our eroding freedoms was actually written by a real conservative! What a welcome development to find one, after these past decades of listening to the right-wing crap that passes for conservatism these days.

His name is Thomas J. Lucente, Jr., and here are some of his observations: 1) We are waging illegal wars around the globe and here at home; 2) The greatest threat to our national security today is not terrorism, Islamic extremism or some other nation. The greatest security threat is our national debt; 3) The Congress, in cahoots with the Supreme Court, have destroyed the idea of federalism and states' rights by reinterpreting the Constitution in such a fashion that gives the federal government unlimited power; 4) Perhaps more than any other sign of the decay of American liberty is the fact that the United States imprisons a larger percentage of its population than any other country in the world. Nearly 1 percent of the American population is in a prison or jail; 5) Beyond that, the government has imprisoned hundreds, possibly thousands, of people here and abroad without criminal charges being filed. You can find these prisoners in immigration jails and our concentration camp in Cuba.

Kudos to Mr. Lucente!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Diversity on the Supreme Court

Much cosmetic diversity on the Supreme Court has been created starting in the '60's with the first Black being appointed by LBJ, and then continuing with the women starting in the '80's. But where has this left us? If Kagan is confirmed, the Court will have 3 Jews and 6 Catholics, surely the most non-diverse Court in history! Also, they will all be heterosexual, another slap in the face at true diversity.

The real issue is whether any of this really matters. If you endorse the idea that the Supreme Court should make social policy, then of course it does matter. But if you believe that the Court should be interpreting the law and not making policy, then it doesn't matter.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Constitution Triumphs Again

Faithful readers will know of my view that the U.S. is disintegrating much faster than most people realize. However, this reality in no way diminishes my deep respect for the Constitution, which seems to always come out the winner every time there is a crisis.

It triumphed again this week when President Obama did the only thing he could, and relieved General McChrystal of command in Afghanistan. This is a tribute to the wisdom of the Founders who provided for civilian control of the military. One need only look around the world at all the countries in which civilian control is not able to be exercised, and see the problems. How many of the 195 countries in this world have experienced military coups? My guess is a lot, but a survey of this magnitude is beyond my energy level at this time.

Anyway, here's to our Founders, whose wisdom has again been demonstrated.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Hardball Challenge

The House member's idiotic statement that BP was shaken down is a subject other Republican politicians have been asked about. Even though the Republican leadership has disavowed itself of the idiocies of this particular Representative, Rush Limbaugh has endorsed it so no Republican wants to say Rush is wrong.

Christ Matthews of "Hardball" is so amazed by this reticence that he has offered a standing invitation to any Republican who is willing to come forward and say Rush is wrong, not just about this, but about anything!! It is just incredible to watch all the Republicans twist and squirm to avoid saying simply that Rush is wrong, about anything!

Whatever happened to the once-great movement of conservatism? Time was when there were princpled conservatives, people like Barry Goldwater, whose shining moments included speaking out for abortion rights, and speaking out for Nixon's resignation in light of the rampant corruption in his administration. These were the actions of a real conseravtive, not the lamebrain crap that passes for conservatism today. They were the actions of a movement fashioned after the great Edmund Burke, who spoke out against the war against the American colonies, and pursued the impeachment of Warren Hastings on principle.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On Limiting Miranda

I see some liberals bemoaning the Supreme Court's decision in Berghius v. Thompkins, in that it cuts back on a suspect's Miranda protections. I think this concern is misplaced.

First, as a longtime liberal I have generally supported the trend started in the '60's. However, after a careful review of the major decisions this year, I now understand what conservatives are referring to when they complain about the Court making social policy, "legislating from the bench" as its often called. It is clear to me that this is what the Court often does, at least used to often do.

Take the Court's recent decision in the Florida case involving a life without parole sentence for a juvenile. The dissent by Thomas clearly identifies that the Court is here making social policy, not rendering a legal decision. After all, when 31 jurisdictions have such a law, it can hardly be said to be "unusual". And how can life without parole be considered "cruel", when we routinely do it for adults. If it is indeed cruel, then it should not be done for either adults or children. Consequently, simple logic dictates that one cnanot with integrity conclude it is "cruel and unusual" as a matter of law. Thonas wins this arugment hands down.

Turning then to Miranda, it is clear the Court was making social policy here also. In his book "Guilty: The Collapse of Criminal Justice", Judge Harold J. Rothwax examines the cases involving police coercion of confessions which led up to the Miranda decision. Clearly we don't want confessions being forced, but Rothwax says that this decision throws the baby out with the bath water. He argues that Miranda was wrongly decided and should be overruled.

Given the shaky background of the decision itself, it is hardly surprisingly that any subsequent decisions would limit it rather than expand it. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how it could ever be expanded. The burden it placed on the police to affirmatively show a waiver of rights by the defendant was a huge one, and what the Thompkins decision does is merely to cut back on that unhealthy burden.

The genera rule is that rights must be affirmatively asserted to be invoked, they are not invoked automatically. The Thompkins decision merely restores this principle to the category of admissions. If being advised of one's rights is so damned important, why are the police not required to do so in the case of searches? The vast majority of police searches are conducted under the guise of "consent". But people do not have to be advised that they have the right not to consent, and many surely feel they have no choice when the cops show up and ask if they can search the place, or simply *say* they are going to search the place.

The other side of this issue is the "right to a lawyer". Here, too, Rothwax feels the law has gone way overobard. He points out that the Sixth Amendment gives the right to a lawyer "in all criminal prosecutions". Thus, the right kicks in once a case is filed against the defendant. Until then, the case is in the investigative phase and is in the hands of the police. When it is turned over to the DA, then the legal process starts.

This, too, maks eminently good sense. What role is there for a lawyer before there is any prosecution? All he can do is tell the defendant not to talk to the police. In a small number of cases it might be possible to arrange to avoid prosecution, if the client wants to go to work for the police as a snitch.

It is in this general area that the show "Law and Order" screws things up so badly, giving people wrong ideas of the lawyer's role. The show routinely has the prosecutors getting involved in the investigation, going out and interviewing witnesses and rounding up evidence, not as preparation for trial, but as part of the investigation. Similalry, defense attonreys constantly are magically appearing in an interview room while police investigative work is going on. The idea that defense attorneys have the run of a police station like this is something happening only on TV shows.

Conversely, once the case is filed the worst procedural errors occur, these being the meetings which always take place between the prosecutors and the defendant on "Law and Order". Yes, the defendant's attorney is present, but in real life this sort of meeting would never happen. If the prosecutors had in inquiry to make of the defendant in real life, they would go through the defense attorney, who would consult with the client and come back with an answer for the DA. But on the show, prosecutors are allowed to badger and berate the defendants, and even surprise them with witnesses or family members at these meetings, anything designed to bludgeon the defendant into confessing. No defense attorney would ever allow this sort of thing to go on.

I say let's go back to where everybody has a particular job to do, and the rest of us stay out of their way and let them do it. Let's let the police do their investigative job, and everybody else stay out of their way. Let's let defense attorneys do their job, once a case is filed, and everybody stay out of their way. Let's let Judges go back to their job of deciding if a confession is voluntarily made, based on the totality of the circumstances in a given case. Let's let the Supreme Court go back to making legal decisions, not making policy. And let's let legislators go back to writing laws, which after all is what we elect them to do.