Saturday, July 13, 2013


After a couple of trying and troubling years with flashes of brilliance, and at the team's nadir in starting pitching along with everything else, Tim Lincecum pitched a no-hitter for the San Francisco Giants on Saturday night in San Diego.

He threw 148 pitches over nine complete innings, striking out 13 (3 in a row and 6 of 7 batters.)  Several fielding gems helped out.  Lots of Giants fans travel down to San Diego and by the final innings in what was already a 9-0 blowout, they were most of the fans watching in the ballpark.

It's true that San Diego is just about the only team that's had a worse month than the Giants, and the Giants have broken their losing stream by taking three straight from them, including a 10-0 game Friday.  But the last time the Giants played in San Diego, they were swept (which is why this didn't look to turn things around for them.)

But now the Giants will go into the All-Star Game break with at least 3 out of their last 4 (pending the day game Sunday.)  Their hitting obviously got well on this trip, too.

You have to admire the perseverance that got Lincecum to this moment.  The two-time Cy Young Award winner who could do no wrong, and then a season and a half of baffling starts, brilliant innings followed by completely ineffective ones, etc.  This was the first time this season he's gotten an out as late as the eighth inning.  And this was his first no-hitter.

Meanwhile, the Pirates won their second close game over the Mets, the team that swept the Giants at home.

Addendum to the Lakers: In his first interview as a Houston Rocket, Dwight Howard confirmed that he had requested Phil Jackson for the Lakers coach, once Mike Brown was fired.  Pretty clearly D'Antoni didn't know how to use him (or anybody else.)  Nobody really knows whether Howard can physically attain his former level, but with Phil Jackson as coach, he could well have been a great player on a much better team--maybe even a championship team (especially after Westbrook went down for Oklahoma, negating their speed advantage.)  Now the Lakers aren't even in the conversation, and the LA team that's on the rise is the Clippers.

Friday, July 12, 2013

On the Other Hand, Maybe Trendy? ZERO TV

I cut the cord.  I mean the cable.

I didn't literally cut it.  It's still attached, as a matter of fact.  It's just turned off.  I called the cable TV company and said I wanted to "discontinue service."  This pleasant female voice asked me why.  I paused, wondering if I should go into my diatribe or opt for quick and simple.  Go on about all those channels of trash--just zapping through them felt like trying to find my way out of a psychopath's mind?  Or the fact that my bill has tripled in just the past several years, rising faster than even the healthcare index?  Or that I hate their insipid ads, and grind my teeth every time they send me oversized junkmail, which I was obviously paying for with my tripled fee?

She saved me by saying, "Not Using?  I have to check off something."  I went for that.  She was surprisingly nice. (I'm told you usually get a sales pitch.)  She said that on the date service was cancelled, "you won't have to be home, you have no equipment to return, and you will receive no more bills."  "That last bit," I said, "those are the magic words."

That was about a month ago.  Except for my college years when I didn't have a set where I lived, I have been connected to television since I was four years old.  We were early adopters, near Pittsburgh, which pioneered a lot of broadcasting history.  I remember seeing a tiny round TV screen built into a radio.  I remember waiting all day for the fifteen minutes of broadcast, which would be a program about ice trays in refrigerators.  One of my earliest memories is a Saturday morning watching Flash Gordon and Dick Tracy.  The bad guys took Dick Tracy's gun.  But he outsmarted them.  He had another gun.  I was impressed.

I could go on--snow and test patterns through the early days of cable, when ours played Stormy Weather four times a day. But it's all gone now.

And now I see that I've accidentally joined a trend!  It's called Zero TV, and it's growing.  I'm not that tech savvy though.  I can watch YouTube on my computer screen but I still want to look at the old TV from a TV  chair or couch, and hooking that up requires...well, it's complicated.

For now I'm happy with DVD rentals (we lost one prime rental store but there are still two more at walking distance) and Netflix, and especially my DVDs (and I can buy more with all the money I'm saving!), and something I suspect not many of the trendy Zero TV folks have: VHS tapes and a VCR to play them on.

For years I not only bought VHS (often used from video stores etc.) but taped off the TV madly: from PBS stuff to my favorite network shows, to sports events, Bill Moyers interviews, all kinds of docus and above all, movies. I even rigged up a way to bypass most blocks and tape from rental store tapes and DVDs. Now I might even watch them.

Sure, the movies don't look that great--but I have some that are hard or even impossible to find in other forms.  It's surprising how much of Book TV is archived online, but PBS is less reliable.  And I have the complete Ronald Harwood theatre series (All the World's A Stage) ---libraries don't even have that.

So since my TV became zero I started off by watching some $1 DVDs I bought years ago but never got around to watching, like three early episodes of the real Lone Ranger (one with DeForest Kelley as guest star) and the Danny Thomas sitcom Make Room for Daddy, the best part of which are the commercials--for Philip Morris cigarettes ("Outstanding--and they are mild") and the new 1955 Dodge. Which reminds me--NO MORE COMMERCIALS!!!

I started through a stash of Doctor Whos of the Tom Baker era, with maybe too many promos for WQEX (Sweet little 16) in Pittsburgh in the late 80s.  Wish I'd taped more from the other Doctors!  Unfortunately even these are incomplete--I recorded them with a timer that was apparently off.  So I was quite happy to get some Tom Baker Doctor Who DVDs for my birthday--the Key to Time series, with the beautiful Mary Tamm as the female Time Lord Romana.  And lots of extras, including commentaries by Tom and Mary---they have little to say about the shows but Tom Baker is such a strange man, and Mary Tamm has since passed on, so these are little privileged moments of just hearing them chat.

And I really don't miss the political shows.  In fact, I don't miss anything.  I suppose if the Giants were playing better I'd miss baseball, but I have become reacquainted with the way I first experienced major league baseball: the radio.

I expect that someday I'll want to watch Hulu or whatever on a big screen.  I suppose Blu-Ray isn't out of the question someday.  But for now, I'm trendy, even if I'm coming at it from the wrong end.

Not Trendy

I learned something just from the catalogue write-up for a forthcoming book from MIT Press, called The Ringtone Dialectic: Economy and Cultural Form by Sumanth Gopinath.  I learned just how out of it I really am.

The book description in the fall 2013 MIT Press catalogue begins: "A decade ago. the customizable ringtone was ubiquitous...Ringtones quickly became a multi-billion-dollar global industry, and almost as quickly, faded away."

A multi-billion-dollar industry?  What else did I miss by being kind of a late cell phone adopter (okay, very late)?

Apparently, enough for a whole book.  "Gopinath describes the technical and economic structure of the ringtone industry, considering the transformation of ringtones from monophonic, single-line synthesizer files to  ...etc.  But that's just the start.  He discusses sociological practices that seemed to wane as a result of these shifts...Gopinath examines 'declines,' 'reversals' and 'revivals' of cultural forms associated with the ringtone and its changes, including the Crazy Frog fad, the use of ringtones in political movements (as in the Phillipine 'Gloriagate' scandal..."  Also "the ringtone's relation to pop music (including possible race and class aspects of ringtone consumption).  Finally, Gopinath considers the attempt to rebrand ringtones as 'mobile music' and the emergence of cloud computing."

The Crazy Frog fad?  Gloriagate?

So there are two prominent possibilities here: (1) This is a work of subtle satire that will have geeky snorting laughter echoing through Silicon Valley (if they still call it that), or (2) All this happened during my long diplomatic mission to planet Vulcan.

On the bright side, the whole thing has "faded away."  So did I miss anything?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

They Once Were Giants

The San Francisco Giants are going through absolutely epic bad times.  A series of injuries to key players set off a losing streak that now seems to be feeding on itself.  If the injuries weren't enough, a decent substitute player was suddenly struck with appendicitis, and is out for several weeks.  Now news that a pitcher brought in to deal with a gap in the starting rotation--and who has been one of the few bright spots--was arrested months ago and is essentially out on bail pending trial.

The Giants are used to being in games that flirt with no-hitters; only the most recent one, they were the ones who didn't get a hit.  Their disastrous road trip--they haven't been a good road team all season--merged with a disastrous homestand.  They played a 16 inning game with the Mets.  They were the home team, so all they had to do was score one run and the game would be over.  They had men on base in at least four of those extra innings, and the bases were loaded--twice.  They lost the game.

A game which is so long to be almost two games and lost that way had to be devastating.  And it was.  Giants pitching gave up a total of 17 runs in the next two games with the Mets, both losses. Matt Cain didn't get out of the first inning for the first time in his career. Out of their last 16 games, they've won 3.  In one of those three wins, they lost a run because of a mistake on the official lineup card meant that a batter batted out of order.

Even in their recent championship years, the Giants were not particularly good in the first half of the season.  But I'll bet not many reigning champs have had an end to the first half like this.  Manager Bruce Bochy is managing this year's All Star Game in a few days.  That distraction hasn't helped, though it's difficult to see what else he could do, but it's not exactly the way you want to go into that game.  Plus the Giants have to get through 3 games in San Diego first.  

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

These Kochs Aren't For You

An interesting piece in the NY Times on the mysterious disease called Valley Fever the other day.  The news had to do with a court ordering thousands of inmates to be transferred from a couple of California prisons with epidemics of the disease.  The nasty, debilitating and sometimes fatal fungus disease, so far without a cure, is related to hot weather.

The Times story discusses the peculiar genetic factors, the medical mysteries, etc.  But two parts of the story stood out for me.  The first was this:  "Many scientists believe that the uptick in infections is related to changing climate patterns."  Other contributing causes being present, global heating is a factor.

The second has to do with impact. It destroys lives,” said Dr. Johnson, whose daughter contracted a mild form. “Divorces, lost jobs and bankruptcy are incredibly common, not to mention psychological dislocation.”  Lost jobs and divorces might well result from a debilitating disease that requires a lot of attention.  But bankruptcy--that alone also leads to divorces and psychological problems, and destroys lives.  In combination with debilitating illness, it's a frightening, ugly death spiral.

What do these two observations suggest?  The United States is still one of the few countries in the world that  refuses to face up to the realities of the climate crisis, especially in the political system, and most especially in the federal legislature.  And the United States is possibly the only modern industrial supposedly civilized country where people are forced into poverty and despair because of the cost of medical care.

Which brings us to the Brothers Koch, who more than symbolize the reasons.  In large part, they are the reasons.  The Koch brothers and how they spend their money.

The New Yorker reports that a  two-year study by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University concludes the Kochs have spent some $75 million "tied to climate inaction:"

In its multi-part report, “The Koch Club,” written by Lewis, Eric Holmberg, Alexia Campbell, and Lydia Beyoud, the Workshop found that between 2007 and 2011 the Kochs donated $41.2 million to ninety tax-exempt organizations promoting the ultra-libertarian policies that the brothers favor—policies that are often highly advantageous to their corporate interests. In addition, during this same period they gave $30.5 million to two hundred and twenty-one colleges and universities, often to fund academic programs advocating their worldview. Among the positions embraced by the Kochs are fewer government regulations on business, lower taxes, and skepticism about the causes and impact of climate change.

Climate-change policy directly affects Koch Industries’s bottom line. Koch Industries, according to Environmental Protection Agency statistics cited in the study, is a major source of carbon-dioxide emissions, the kind of pollution that most scientists believe causes global warming."

In the 2010 non-presidential elections alone:

 Koch Industries’s political action committee spent $1.3 million on congressional campaigns that year. When Republicans did take control of the House, a huge block of climate-change opponents was empowered. Fully one hundred and fifty-six members of the House of Representatives that year had signed the “No Climate Tax Pledge.” Of the eighty-five freshmen Republican congressmen elected to the House of Representatives in 2010, seventy-six had signed the No Climate Tax pledge. Fifty-seven of those received campaign contributions from Koch Industries’s political action committee. The study notes that more than half of the House members who signed the pledge in the 112th Congress made statements doubting climate-change science, despite the fact that there is overwhelming scientific consensus on the subject.

This is a heavily financed attempt to influence the political process for generations on the single most important issue to the future of human civilization.

But the Kochs don't stop there.  The United States has been debating ways to provide medical care coverage to its citizens for much of a century, and very specifically in the past decade.  But duly elected members of Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, and a duly elected President signed it, and a duly constituted Supreme Court said it is constitutional.

The Affordable Care Act, which goes some way towards the kind of medical care coverage that the governments of  most other industrial countries provide, so that fewer people will be ruined, impoverished and terrorized on top of serious illness or injury, is the law of the land.

Yet instead of allowing the implementation to proceed so the country can judge whether this is a better system or not, it seems to be the official position of one political party to subvert it.  This effort, which led to the unprecedented, mean-spirited and virtually treasonous threats by Republicans against major league sports who would dare to produce public service announcements explaining the new system, is being led by the Koch brothers, at least financially.

They are currently "pouring millions" into a disinformation campaign to subvert the ACA implementation.  Critics of the health law spent a whopping $400 million on television spots criticizing the law since 2010, over five times the $75 million that the law’s supporters have spent on ads promoting it. Analysts expect $1 billion in expenditures by 2015.


As predicted, the effects of global heating continue to ripple through many elements of human life, from weather to medicine to infrastructure.

The latest tree ring study suggests that global heating has been aggravating the El Nino phenomenon that drives major weather trends.  El Nino was more active in the 20th century than in the preceding 700 years.

Meanwhile, the rising temperatures in the West are taking their toll on already shaky infrastructure.

And another example of the intricate yet vital relationships of nature and its role as our basic infrastructure, there's the coral reefs.  There are lots of reasons why coral has been endangered for years, but now the absolute killer is global heating.  A very definite study yields the conclusion stated in this headline: If Carbon Emissions Aren’t Reduced Now, Coral Reefs Will Die.

So what?  There are lots of reasons coral is important to human life and civilization.  But here's an example of what we may be losing without even realizing it:  genes that defend us from disease originated in coral.  Immune system research is starting to show this, with the possibility of learning how coral can add to our resistance.

Monday, July 08, 2013

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Time, events, or the unaided individual action of the mind will sometimes undermine or destroy an opinion, without any outward sign of the change."
Alexis de Tocqueville

illustration: one in a series positing what planets would look like if they were the same distance from the Earth as the Moon is. (Although in fact it wouldn't--a planet that size would have devastating gravitational effects, so our planet wouldn't be what it is.) This is Neptune.