Saturday, September 17, 2005

Has anyone noticed ...

... that Paul Simon, at least in a baseball cap, has come to resemble Michael Bloomberg?

9/20 Addendum: For proof, go to, and scroll to the right of the row of photographs at the top of the page.

Sir Hermann Bondi, 1919-2005

I first read of Hermann Bondi when I was about twelve, probably in George Gamow's One, Two, Three ... Infinity, a book that helped to convince me I wanted to be an astrophysicist. (It took Jane Reed, my Calculus I instructor, to dissuade me from this ambition.) Bondi, I learned, was one of a triumvirate of cosmologists (the others were Thomas Gold and Fred Hoyle) who championed the "steady state" theory of the universe. I later wondered how it came to be that a beach in Australia was named for him.

"Steady state" was posited in 1948 as an explanation for the condition of the universe as it was known at that time. Some years earlier, Edwin Hubble had shown that the universe is expanding. One possible reason was that it had started out very small, and exploded outward. This became known as the "big bang" theory. It implied that there was a finite amount of matter in the universe, and that, if the universe continued expanding, eventually it would become mostly empty, and dead. Alternatively, if there was sufficient matter that gravity would eventually overcome the expansive force, the universe would ultimately collapse back to the point from which it originated. Bondi, Gold and Hoyle, however, argued that, while the universe was expanding from a single point, matter is continuously being created at that point and expanding outward to replenish the void left behind earlier matter that had gone before it. Always has been, and always will.

Given that comparison, it seems that steady state is a much more optimistic theory than big bang. It's interesting, however, to consider that, in a way, steady state, which, according to the New York Times' obituary of Bondi today, "still has its adherents" (although evidence of residual microwave radiation from the big bang led Bondi himself to renounce it) is much more of a challenge to Biblical literalism even than Darwin's theory of evolution. After all, it squarely contradicts the first three words of Genesis, "In the beginning", positing, instead, that there was no beginning.

Bondi, who was born an Austrian Jew and emigrated to Britain when the Nazis occupied his homeland, had in common with many great British scientists a commitment to practical affairs along with theoretical work. He was among those who designed the Thames Barrier, which is meant to protect London from a disaster like that of New Orleans.

Will the Vols give Meyer's tailor some business?

The NYT's Pete Thamel tells us, on page one of today's sports section, that Florida's new coach, Urban Meyer, loses ten pounds after every loss. So far this season, his girth has faced no challenge, as the Gators easily beat Wyoming and Louisiana Tech. Tonight they face their first serious challenge, Tennessee. These teams have a history. Back in the mid 1960's, Florida snatched Steve Spurrier, then the nation's top high school QB prospect, from Johnson City, barely a stone's throw from the UT campus. They later lured Tennessee coach Doug Dickey south, where he went from kudos in Knoxville to groans in Gainesville. In recent years, they've usually been the top contenders for the SEC East title.

It's hard to call this one. The Vols had trouble with Alabama-Birmingham, but Fullmer is the kind of coach who can build off of trouble. The Gators have a history of going belly-up in big games with lots of attention focused on them. But we haven't seen a Meyer-coached team in the Swamp in a big one yet. Meyer's tailor should be looking for his measuring tape, but not counting on the cash yet.


The Mets still have a pulse, and it's propelled by Pedro.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Postscript on culture war.

It's not the big one I promised earlier - I'll try to get that done this weekend - but Meghan O'Rourke thinks reading Faulkner can help.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

This blog needs more of these.

According to the plaque on the sidewalk, this is "Eyes", by Louise Bourgeois.

Oh, give me a break!

Braves Cited For Abuse Of Mets. Y'all just love kicking us when we're down, don'tcha?

"Mathematical elimination fever: Catch it!"

Someone suggested that as a slogan for the Atlanta Braves, back in the early 1990's, not too long before they were transformed into the beast of the N.L. East. So, with a bit of hopefulness, I offer it to my beloved Mets, described in a headline in today's New York Times as "flatlining".

A sharp-eyed colleague called my attention to an item in the fine print near the bottom of today's Times sports section, under the heading "this date in baseball":

1946 - The Brooklyn Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 2-0 in five innings when the game was called because of gnats.

Would that the Mets could catch such a break now and then.

Will Weiner's class act be nullified by bureaucracy?

Magnanimity and self-sacrifice aren't words usually associated with New York City politics, on either the Democratic or GOP side. So it comes as a pleasant surprise to see Representative Anthony Weiner conceding the Democratic mayoral primary to Fernando Ferrer, despite Ferrer's falling just short, before absentee ballots have been counted, of the required forty per cent of the vote needed to avoid a run-off. Weiner cited the need for party unity in the face of a re-election campaign by a fabulously wealthy incumbent. A cynic might argue that, since Weiner retains his seat in Congress, his "gracious" concession enhances his prospects for re-election (though I suspect that the odds of his being unseated, like those of most Congressional incumbents, are slim in any event), that it may help his chances of some day attaining higher office, and that it is therefore a worthwhile trade-off for an uncertain one-on-one shot at Ferrer. Nevertheless, one must recall that in the last mayoral election, Ferrer lost a Democratic primary run-off to Mark Green (who then went on to lose to Bloomberg in an election overshadowed by the attack on the World Trade Center).

Another nice thing about Wiener's concession is that it stands to eliminate the need for any city-wide run-off, as the only other candidate for city-wide office, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, cleared the forty per cent margin (as did Manhattan Borough President candidate Scott Stringer and the incumbent Manhattan and Brooklyn District Attorneys, the only borough-wide candidates facing primary challenges). This would, I heared on WQXR this morning, probably save the City something on the order of $10 million. Not a huge amount, as compared to the overall City budget, but not exactly chump change, either. But wait! According to New York 1,

Election officials say after all the absentee ballots are calculated, which could take until next week, there may still be a runoff by law if Ferrer does not get that 40 percent.

In other words, we must continue counting those absentee ballots and, should Ferrer not reach the magic number, blow a big wad of cash to learn the answer to the question, "What if they had an election and nobody came?" (The prospect of die-hard Weiner loyalists trooping to the polls despite his wishes seems slim, especially as the unions supporting him in the primary have endorsed his withdrawal and thrown their support to Ferrer).

I'm all for the rule of law, but, sometimes, adherence to rules becomes nonsensical. What dread precedent would be established by ignoring the forty per cent rule when the second place candidate willingly concedes?

9/21 addendum: The ballots have all been counted, and Ferrer has his 40%. Joel Kotkin has a piece on today's NYT op-ed page arguing that this is a Bad Thing, because it lets the Democrats escape a needed fight between what he sees as Ferrer's old school tax-and-spend, identity politics liberalism, and Weiner's more centrist approch that seeks to "cut taxes and streamline bureaucracy". Of course, if this is an accurate description of Weiner's policies, it's hard to see how he's much different from Bloomberg.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Can the culture war end in anything but scorched earth?

Digby has a scary take (these posts are from November, 2004, but are linked to a recent post of his; follow my link and scroll down to the posts headed "More Culture War" dated November 10 and "It Won't Work" dated November 9) on the origin and nature of the "culture war". It's not just a reaction to the sexual and pharmaceutical excesses of my generation in the 1960's. It's not, as one Ralph Keyes argued in his book, published in the 1970's, Is There Life After High School?, about whether we were "innies" or "outies" (in the social, not the navel, sense) in our teens. It's not even, as I've suspected, mostly about parents fearing baleful cultural influnces that will lead their children to grow up (in the words of the Austin Lounge Lizards) "stoned, left-leaning and gay."

No, according to Digby, its origins are pre-Revolutionary and rooted in slavery and race. It began with prickly defensiveness on the part of Southerners, that led to bellicose defiance and secession, and, following defeat on the battlefield, morphed into resentful vengefulness that "metastasized" throughout middle America. It can't be mollified, he argues, by any concessions on the issues of the day (abortion, school prayer, gay marriage and so on), because it can only be satisfied by a total victory that would entail trashing the Bill of Rights and instituting a theocracy.

But this won't happen, he argues, because the real (as opposed to the liberal, intellectual, academic and media) elite, which Digby identifies with "the church, the government and the corporations" will, much as Tom Frank contends, use these issues to manipulate the electorate for its own ends (presumably ever-lower taxes, leading to more money in collection plates, re-election for incumbents, and free rein for usurers, polluters and purveyors of unsafe products).

I think that, like many over-arching explanations, this has some truth to it, but fails to explain everything. I have my own overly-ambitious theory, which I'll set out in a later post. For now, as Samuel Pepys was wont to say, "and so to bed."

Monday, September 12, 2005

Targeted Katrina relief.

In a post below ("Sometimes, bureaucracy works"), I mentioned a friend who is working with the Louisiana Insurance Department and others to provide targeted, cost-effective relief to those displaced by Katrina. Her name is Mary Lanning, and she has been providing assistance to the homeless, the home-bound and the gravely ill for many years through a non-profit organization called YES! Solutions, Inc., which is qualified under I.R.C. Section 501(C)3.

At present, Mary has positioned YES! to link donors directly to those who are providing housing and board to people displaced by the hurricane. If you contact YES!, you will be provided with the name of a host, the address of the household, and a list of items needed by those being sheltered by the host. You may then send a box of needed items directly to the host. As an option, of course, you may choose simply to make a cash donation to YES!

If interested, please contact:

Mary Lanning
YES! Solutions, Inc.
549 West 123rd Street, Suite MF
New York, NY 10027

Phone: 212-866-5500

Alas, it's too late for Gate.

Following up on my post below about aid for musicians, I'm saddened to pass on this report of the death of Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown. He had been ill for some time, but if his death wasn't caused, it was at least hastened by the effects of Katrina.

I had the pleasure of hearing Gate perform, and of meeting him after the show, about ten years ago at Blues Harbor, in Atlanta. He was an artist blessed with the ability to meld many styles and produce something of surpassing impact.

"So Long For Now", Gate. You'll be missed.

Help for New Orleans and Gulf Coast musicians

Those of you, who, like me, are music buffs, and want to help the many musicians whose lives and art have been uprooted by Katrina should go to The Jazz Foundation of America - Helping Musicians In Need.

Shades of Grantland Rice.

Ray Glier of the New York Times uses "albeit" in his Sunday sports section story about Saturday's gridiron clash between Georgia and South Carolina, won narrowly by the Dawgs only after they "resorted to rock-'em, sock-'em football." No mention of Spurrier visor tosses.

The big story, of course, is Notre Dame's upset of Michigan. I used to dislike the Irish with almost the intensity with which I loathe the Yankees, and for pretty much the same reason: they were the "establishment" team, about whom the Beano Cooks of the world would blather like a minyan of Reb Tevyes, "Knut Rockne, tradition! Four Horsemen, tradition! The Gippah, tradition! Subway alumni, tradition!" Their recent travails made me re-evaluate my position. So long as they only upend other establishment teams, I'll root for them.

A view from afar.

Here's more from our man in Beijing . Well worth reading, it includes helpful links to another expat blog and, for hard-core Sinophiles (or -phobes), a site that gives translations of Chinese news articles.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Sometimes, bureaucracy works.

We've all read and heard much in the past week about the failures of bureaucracy in the face, and aftemath, of Katrina. So it's good to know about one agency, the Louisiana Insurance Department, that is performing admirably. A few days ago, the New York Times reported on Commissioner Robetrt Wooley's convocation of a meeting in Atlanta with representatives of insurance companies that covered properties affected by the storm. Now I've heard from a friend who has had extensive dealings with the Department over the years, and who is helping to coordinate a partnership with Department personnel to provide direct relief for displaced hurricane victims. Here's the story, in her own words:

We're launching a Katrina relief partnership with host families in Baton Rouge and outer-New Orleans and surrounding parishes who have taken-in displaced families ... working directly with 270 members of the Louisiana Insurance Department to provide customized parcels of needed personal hygiene items, towels, sheets, toilet paper to help host families stretch their household budgets for the duration. Our ... donors will send these goods at intervals directly to the homes of host families who sign up. Host families are not in line for any help at all from the major relief agencies, and the many truckloads of clothing and household furnishings that arrive daily exceed the capacity of local people to unload, warehouse, and redistribute. Basic comforts and necessities such as toilet paper and shampoo, however, are a manageable and appreciated support that self-depletes, so recurring gifts are appropriate, allowing supportive relationships to grow between donor and host that could extend to other exchanges of help. ... Meantime, Commissioner Robert Wooley has invited me to come to Baton Rouge to help his department coordinate their own internal relief efforts. Everyone wants to help; they just need someone to organize their effort. His staff already has identified 50+ of their colleagues who lost family, or property, or are housing displaced elders from nursing homes and hospices, or otherwise housing evacuees. One secretary has 32 people living in her 3-bedroom home!