Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Miscellaneous Opinions

You didn’t ask, but . . .

If you object to full-body scans at airport security because you think it is an invasion of privacy, here’s what to do: don’t fly. If I’m on your plane I don’t want my life endangered because you are unhappy that strangers may see a fuzzy image of your various bulges.

It would be best for Tiger and the rest of us if he and Elin split up. He would then be free to concentrate on golf and fucking around without unnecessary distractions. Prediction: Whatever happens at home he’ll be back competing by the Master’s or sooner.

The 27 minutes that Cesc Fabregas played in Arsenal’s win over Aston Villa last Sunday was an extraordinary example of the difference one person can make. Because of a hamstring injury he didn’t enter the game until the 57th minute. Within seconds he injected energy and mastery into a lackluster Arsenal performance that transformed everything. 8 minutes later he scored a goal, which broke a 0-0 deadlock. 16 minutes after that he scored a 2nd goal. In the process he reinjured himself and left the game. Watching him was an astounding experience.

In recent weeks I’ve watched or re-watched several Netflix instant movies on my computer that I’ve loved and recommend. They include:

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

A Woman in Berlin

Breaker Morant: Masterworks Edition

Au Revoir Les Enfants

Full Metal Jacket

Blade Runner: Director’s Cut

Unmistaken Child

Speaking of movies, I have a long-standing complaint about British movies I see on Masterpiece Theater. Two things: First, I often can’t understand what they’re saying and they don’t have subtitles. Second, the stories, especially the mysteries, are so dense and complicated I get lost in the maze. So, you ask, if you don’t like ‘em, why watch ‘em? Good question. I’ll think about that.

Finally, in case I don’t see or talk with you between now and the 1st, I wish you a wonderful 2010.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Big History

About a year ago I watched Charlie Rose interview Bill Gates. Charlie asked him how he spent his time now that he wasn’t running Microsoft day-to-day. Gates replied that one of the things he was doing was studying “Big History.”

I’d never heard of Big History, but figured if Bill Gates could make time for it maybe I should do the same. Turns out Big History is a course developed in the 1980’s by David Christian, an Australian who teaches at San Diego State. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, Big History examines history across long time frames – from the beginning of time to the present day.

I found that the Teaching Company offers Big History on DVD’s, with Christian delivering the course in 48 thirty-minute lectures. Sandra and I decided to make it one of our 2009 projects. We began in June and finished Lecture #48 this weekend. It was a great thing to do.

In Big History we looked at a series of thresholds, beginning with:

1. The creation of the universe

And moving on to:

2. The first stars

3. The formation of chemical elements

4. The birth of our earth

5. The appearance of living organisms

6. Mammals

7. Hominines, our ancestors

8. Our species, homo sapiens

9. Humans as nomadic foragers

10. The appearance of agriculture and agrarian civilizations

11. Modern human communities

It’s a fascinating story, with much still unknown and more thresholds to come.

Today we’ll begin our next course from the Teaching Company, this one having to do with Greek and Roman archaeology. It’s part of our preparation for a trip to Greece we have planned for later this year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Maybe it’s just this time of year. The holiday season, a new year, a time for reflection and looking ahead. For whatever reason, in late December I always think about tradition.

Last weekend we had my family for dinner. A yearly tradition.

On Jan. 2 we’ll have Sandra’s family for dinner. A yearly tradition.

Sandra is putting the finishing touches of what is always an extraordinary Xmas tree. Thousands of tiny lights and hundreds of fantastic ornaments. Actually, this year it’s two trees. She didn’t think the first one was big enough. A yearly tradition.

Between now and mid-January we’ll have special friends come by to ooh and ahhh at the trees and have Champagne. A yearly tradition.

Yesterday I had a great lunch with my friend Jerry. A yearly tradition.

The other day our friend Dave dropped by to deliver his delicious fruitcake. A yearly tradition.

On New Year’s Eve we’ll stay home alone and have a wonderful dinner along with special wine – and maybe make it to midnight. A yearly tradition.

Traditional events are not limited to the end of the year. We have them to celebrate our birthdays. We have a tradition to visit Yosemite in late May when the waterfalls are at their peak. Sandra’s family has a reunion every other year – an every other year tradition. Another every other year tradition is to visit my dear friends in Sicily, usually in September.

We are fortunate to be able to create and enjoy our many traditions. They are special to us because they are ours. They may not be the ones that you’d create or enjoy. No problem. Do what works for you. But I urge you to take advantage of the opportunity to join the tradition game. It is open to everyone. Why? Because tradition will enrich your life.

Monday, December 21, 2009


December 21st – Big Day.

Or more accurately, Little Day. The Winter Solstice. The first day of winter. The day with less daylight than any other.

Which means that every tomorrow for the next six months will have more daylight than yesterday.


Thursday, December 17, 2009


I notice that I hold the power of self-interest as a truth. Kind of like an ‘Of course, how could it be otherwise?’

So when I see people asking ‘What’s in it for me?’ I see it as a legitimate concern, a natural way of being. If you want someone to do something, it will serve your self-interest to take their ‘What’s in it for me?’ into consideration.

OK, so if I’m right how do I explain situations in which people or groups appear to act against their self-interest? For example:

1. The Israelis think it doesn’t matter that their actions further isolate them in a hostile neighborhood.

2. The Iranians think that they can thumb their nose at the world and it will further the Islamic Republic.

3. Senators and Congress people vote against the wishes and needs of the people who elected them.

4. The Government of Pakistan goes out of its way to make life difficult for Americans who are in their country to further the aims of the Government of Pakistan.

5. Those who want to throw out all undocumented immigrants pursue their passion even though doing so will come back to bite them in the ass.

6. And the reverse – making it difficult for new talent to come here even though allowing them in will contribute to our well being.

7. Protectors of copyrights, music, film, TV and the rest behave as if the Internet and the 21st Century hasn’t happened.

8. Unions want to protect jobs that ultimately cannot be protected.

I can go on, but you get the point. Here’s the answer:

They are following what they perceive to be their self-interest. In that sense they are validating my original assumption. What’s happening, though, is that they are stubborn, fixated on the pursuit of a narrow self-interest that prevents them from seeing the bigger picture. They are willfully blind to a larger context that would allow them to further their real self-interest.

They are righteous, sure that their way is the best way. They demonstrate the power of another truth: Being pigheaded trumps a clear vision.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If Teddy Were Still Here

As the health care reform process has gone on its unmerry way lo these many months I’ve wondered whether anything would have been different had Ted Kennedy been in the lead.

My conclusion? Yes.

I haven’t tried to follow the day-to-day arguments, changes, alliances, defections, and all the rest. At some point – maybe – there will be a final bill. When that happens I’ll focus on the details and try to figure out what has happened. Until then, the process is too confusing and infuriating to bother with.

Ted Kennedy’s presence wouldn’t have changed some of the dynamics. Obama would probably still have hung back and let Congress take the lead. Lobbyists would still have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to protect the interests of their clients, the public be damned. Elected officials with pet issues would still have threatened to withhold their votes if their special itch wasn’t scratched, the public be damned. Republicans would still have put obstructing Obama and the Democrats ahead of the national interest, the public be damned.

What would have been present in the person of Ted Kennedy was a burning passion, an honest and honorable passion forged over decades of hard work to make sure that in the matter of health care the people’s interest should be put first, not damned. Along with his passion he would have brought respectful relationships with his colleagues, including those who disagreed with him, which would have made a difference. Finally, in Kennedy we would have had a creative dealmaker who could work through thorny disagreements constructively in a way that didn’t require people to sacrifice their principles.

I don’t want to overstate my position. I recognize that Ted Kennedy was not a magician for whom anything was possible. There’s a chance that even with him we would have needed to slog our way through the muck that has dominated the debate. But what has been missing is real and effective leadership. Would he have given us that? Yes.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Joe Lieberman Makes Me Want to Vomit

Every time I see, hear or read about Joe Lieberman I am disgusted. Why do I feel this way?

My attitude toward Lieberman isn’t new. I couldn’t stand him when he ran for Vice President with Al Gore in 2000. A lot of Jews were excited because he was a first – a Jewish man on a major ticket for national office. Some Jews, but not this Jew. I thought he wore his Orthodox-ish-ness like a badge of honor instead of just practicing his religion and shutting up about it.

Physically unattractive. Smarmy. Insincere. Grasping for power. No integrity. Can’t be trusted. Nothing to like about the guy. A weak man strutting around as a hawk. Like I say – disgusting.

The Democrats in Connecticut made a good decision in the 2006 primary when they dumped him. Then the voters in Connecticut made a terrible decision when they reelected him, ostensibly as an Independent. His hunger for staying in power worked to his advantage, I’ll give him that.

Shame on the Democrats in the Senate for letting him continue as Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. I guess they bent over for this slimy guy on the assumption he’d back them when they needed it. Fat chance. He’s screwed them over at every opportunity. Hey boys – this is the guy who stood before the Republican Convention to endorse John McCain for President.

Now he’s trying to hold the party and the country hostage to his views about what health reform should be. What’s it going to take for the Democrats to call him out and unmask him once and for all? I won’t hold my breath, but I wish someone would have the guts to do it. This scumbag really does make me want to vomit.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bad News

I’m asking myself – how come I usually feel depressed after reading the newspapers in the morning?

And I’m answering myself – it’s gotta be the news.

So I did a survey. I went through the articles in today’s front section of the NY Times and assessed them – good, bad and neutral. There were 52 stories. I found 6 were good news, 18 were neither good nor bad, and 28 I’d classify as bad news.

There you go. Who wouldn’t be depressed after spending an hour or two ingesting and digesting wars, bombings, murders, hard times, terrorism, bad health, endless partisan wrangling, scoundrels and even early winter storms?

A fair question would be: “If you know what you’re doing is going to depress you, why do it?” I should know better. I point out in my book, “Look With The Heart,” that Rita Mae Brown tells us the definition of insanity is “Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.”

Trouble is, knowing better doesn’t change my behavior. I’m as news junkie. Have been as long as I can remember. I like to know what’s going on, whether I like what I’m hearing or not. I could argue that it’s the fault of the media. They should focus on good as well as bad news. But I know that won’t happen. Bad news gets people’s attention. Bad news sells.

That's it. I won’t change. They won’t change. It won’t change. We’re codependent addicts. End of story.

By the way, did you hear about what happened with . . .

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

It Won't Work

In theory what Obama has decided to do in Afghanistan and Pakistan is fine:

Provide more security

Work at the village level to win hearts and minds

Require good governance from Karzai and his people

Train the Afghan military and police

Support Pakistani military and development undertakings

Make it clear that our commitment is not open-ended but only until they can do the job themselves

The only problem with the theory is that while the elements are right, it won’t work. In the declared time frame – or any time frame for that matter – we will only be able to improve the situation marginally.

Do I have a better idea? Yes – but only if I begin with the assumption it is OK to wind down our commitment and leave Afghanistan to the Afghans. Will that guarantee the Taliban will take over the country again? Maybe. Maybe not. We and others can continue to support anti-Taliban forces, but not on the ground. If that doesn’t work and a strong central government can’t sustain itself there is a greater likelihood the country will again fall under the control of regional warlords and militias than there is the Taliban will win by default.

While all this is going on let’s not forget the main point here. We didn’t get into this to create a new kind of Afghanistan. Our goal from the beginning has been to thwart and eliminate Al Qaeda. Even if we’re totally successful in Afghanistan, accomplishing everything Obama has laid out, we won’t fundamentally have dealt with Al Qaeda. At best we’ll have eliminated one safe haven.

What about other havens? Will they be gone from Pakistan? Hardly likely. And from Somalia and Yemen? Don’t count on it. And from places that are not safe havens but provide opportunities for the discontented to gather? Like in Europe. And like here in the good old USofA. And from all the other places around the world that aren’t on our Al Qaeda radar screen today? Nope, sorry about that.

So is it hopeless? It is until a new context comes into existence on this planet – a context in which people find it is more in their interest to get along with each other than to kill each other. Has that context ever existed? Not that I know of. Not so long as hominids have been walking upright on two legs. Or even before.

That’s my rosy outlook for today.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tiger Ain't Talkin'

The world is talking about Tiger, but Tiger ain’t talkin’ to the world.

That he wants to totally control his personal world should come as no surprise. That’s his M.O.

My prediction? In the absence of some new, dramatic information about his car accident and what precipitated it, he’ll skate through this one. He’s said he made a mistake and has taken responsibility for it. Looking through Tiger’s prism, that’s all he has to say. End of story.

Sooner or later the rest of us will stop guessing and theorizing about what really happened. He’s going to move on. His sponsorship deals will not be affected. He’ll speak by playing great golf and he’ll continue to live his life in an opaque bubble of extreme privacy. And we’ll continue to tune in when there’s something to see.