Sunday, April 8, 2018

Margaret and Mary

Do you girls know how blessed you are?

Do you know how hard it is for me to even breathe without you?

I think about you only as often as I can because the pain of not being with you is just too great for me to stand.

I see the two of you standing in the sun with the light glistening through your hair, both of you with huge smiles so full of love and life and hope.

Intelligence and Settling Legal Cases

Humans show extreme intelligence in the manner in which they are able to look back to past events, reconstruct and re-construe them and then give these interpretations "value" in the present.

Let's imagine a scenario where X and Y are involved in a legal dispute. The relative values of the claims don't matter as long as they are worth disputing. Now X remembers another event or events involving Y in some manner in which Y was deficient legally to X. If X believes that he can prove this, he can use this new conjectured fact pattern from the past in order to gain a legal advantage in a current legal dispute. That is a type of far ranging intelligence that is indeed worthy of awe. This is something far beyond merely reactive intelligence. This involves levels of being able to engage in fantasy renditions of different possible realities and distend them into the most logical extension apt to provide present utility.

Put more simply, this is merely what we call "settling of accounts," and it seems to be one of the most deeply embedded human functions.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Friday, March 23, 2018


Unlike many, I have been fortunate enough to not to have had to encounter grief in a serious way, either as an adolescent or as I progressed into adulthood. As things have come up in life, I have had to try to deal with and understand this emotion that in so many ways seems illogical to me.

The Book of Job in the Bible is instructive.

Job, a seemingly sinless man of success and renown of old from somewhere in the ancient Near East is suddenly struck in every way that a person can be struck, short of divorce.

It is not because the Book of Job resolves anything about grief and misfortune that it draws the reader in, but rather it is in the poetic and epic way in which the question is addressed. It also does perhaps present an ideal, if not easy rendition in which we should all attempt to deal with life. In essence, it comes down to the words of the so-called Serenity Prayer, plus "never give up on life."

The joker in me would also say that if you choose to curse God, then choose your words carefully. Job may not have cursed God and died but many might argue that he did indeed curse God and live. I leave that to the discerning reader.

Let's not overpraise the Book of Job, however.

At the end, we find that Job has been "restored."

Here this means that Job got lots of replacement children and goats, oops, sheep, camel, asses and oxen. No goats apparently.

Well, according to the text, Job after going through an agony in which he prayed and prayed for death, then received double the number of sheep, camels, asses and oxen, and exactly the same number of new children, seven for his suffering.  Job only received the same exact number of male and female children as he had previously, in a ratio of seven to three, while his livestock doubled. We are told at the end of the text of the Book of Job that Job's new daughters are very beautiful, so maybe that is supposed to tilt us in favor of perceiving God's restored favor upon Job, not to mention all that additional livestock.

That fatuousness of the the idea that more children, even beautiful daughters, make up for lost ones, is subsumed in the fact that Yahweh apparently "restored" Job just because He liked him again. Whatever Job had passed through seems to have had little to do with Yahweh's plans, which here, basically amounted to letting the Angel of the Morning perform an all but soul-shattering free-will test on an unsuspecting creation guilty of nothing more than having a wonderful life.

Job is much deeper than the snap  patience renditions which we have heard our entire lives in both Jewish and Christian circles, although it is my impression that Jews struggle with the message of Job much more than do Christians. Many apologists backtrack through the book and attempt to then tell us why Job is later "restored."

A simple web search shows entry after entry like this: "12 Reason Why Job Was Restored."

The fact is that the Book of Job never states that Job is restored for anything that he did during his time of suffering. It is rather the fact that Job prayed for his misguided friends at the end of the text under direction of Yahweh and that it is for this that Job is "restored." Putting the word "restored" between quotes cannot be overemphasized in that Job was never and in no way, "restored."

It is clear that Yahweh refuses to debate Job on the merits about why just humans suffer. Job's response to Yahweh's recitation about "Where were you?" probably amounted to the following that didn't make it into the Hebrew text:  "Yes, I understand that you are reputed to have fought Leviathan although some say that it actually was El-Shaddai, but getting back to the suffering of the Just, there were just a couple of more points that I would like to make...."

I have felt exactly the same in front of judges in court.

One thing that I note at the end of the text is that it seems more probable that Yahweh blesses Job, i.e., "restores" him, not because Job refused to curse Him but rather because Job's logical analysis of the entire situation was far closer to the reality than that of the so-called friends offering advice. In that reading then, Yahweh basically says, "I do what I do," and Job says, "Gotcha. I had a feeling all along. More sheep please".

It helps to actually read the Book of Job, especially in the Revised Standard or King James Version, for English speakers as the poetic nature of the text is inspiring. I have actually read the Book of Job a few times. I can't recommend it too much.

Let me say that one of the truly beautiful sections of the Book of Job has to do with the following with respect to the action of Job's counselors after tragedy had befallen upon Job:

"So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great." Job 2-13.

In spite of the bad advice to follow, Job's friends sat with him and said nothing for an entire week. The humane understanding that words are simply insufficient during times of great trouble or sorrow is overwhelming here and shows, that whatever the cause of human suffering, we all have a capacity to try to quench it and when we can't, we tend to understand the depth of the sorrow. This is this essence of what makes us human. 

Nevertheless, I digress.

We have to accept that situations in life may not change as quickly as we hope. We have to work to make grief make us better, more understanding people and never let it change us for the worse.

At times, unlike the entirely upright Job, it becomes apparent that we have had a part in our own misfortune, perhaps. This then this goes beyond the Job analysis. We have a duty to improve and move forward. Forgiveness for Christians and Buddhists is not a choice; it is a process.

At times people come in and out of our lives and we may not have been ready for them to leave but we have to simply celebrate the good experiences, while we wish the others whom we move away from all that they seek for their futures.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Divorce and the Law

I have most of my experience in the law dealing with criminal law. It tends to be gritty, but surprisingly, not necessarily hard fought. Prosecutors tend to have the bargaining power and most cases plead out with all the parties coming away unsurprised as to the outcome and rarely do there seem to be hard feelings.

Compare that with family law and some of the contested divorces that I have seen. There are cases where one parent will appear willing to do anything, and I am not kidding, anything, to not only win custody, but to attempt to essentially humiliate and strike back at her former partner. I lack the requisite psychological training to venture more than guesses at what drives such sordid, scorched earth litigation, but once unleashed, especially in the hands of a litigious lawyer paid by the hour to wreak whatever havoc she can conceive of, calamity can strike an entire family of children as they are used as a wedge to hurt her former partner.

I have seen cases where one former spouse maliciously and falsely accuses her former husband of having mental illness. Space does not permit a full exposition as to how said wife essentially organized a cabal urging her husband to seek completely unneeded mental health treatment for medical marijuana, "to save the marriage". Once the husband agreed, the wife absconded with their four children and took them across state lines. When the husband returned from the forced unnecessary treatment for marijuana, the wife had obtained a court order requiring the father to stay away from his children for an entire year and he scarcely saw them for the next 30 months.

So far was this scorned wife willing to go, that she told the pastor and deacons at the family church, again falsely and maliciously, that her ex was dangerous and when he discreetly showed up to watch his children's Christmas pageant, she had him barred from the church, humiliating him in front of the entire congregation.

Caught in the crossfire are the precious children who had never been away from their father, essentially, ever, as this particular case involved a stay at home father. Think that it is a simple case of just getting the order reversed? Think again. Family courts have a policy of essentially refusing to upset custody determinations once they are made. While there is technically a process for seeking a modification of custody, courts are loathe to ever grant them. It is very, very difficult to get a family law court in the state of Maryland to even consider hearing a motion for modification.

So the children suffer, sometimes for years.

It is not just small children either. There are children between the ages of 12-18 stuck in family court supervision for years and years. It is extremely costly and unhealthy for the children. Family courts lack effective means of alternate dispute resolution especially in such runaway cases as I reference herein.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Reasonable People

We keep hearing from defenders of the CIA that reasonable people can disagree about whether or not the EIT's constitute torture.  That is a croc.  Reasonable people cannot disagree.  If someone wants to defend the actions of the CIA then do so, but stop saying that reasonable people can disagree.  They can't.  It was either wrong or it was not wrong, and if someone thinks that it was fine, then have the courage of your convictions and state that those who opposed EIT's were (and are), in fact, unreasonable.  Here's a letter that I wrote to a local columnist who tried to play the defend the CIA game while claiming that reasonable people can disagree.  Why do they couch it this way?  They are actually trying to defend themselves and their own beliefs more so than the CIA.  If reasonable people can disagree, then their own condoning of torture becomes reasonable, which makes them not a bad person but just someone on the other side of a policy dispute where "reasonable" minds can differ.

Reasonable minds don't differ.  Torture is wrong.  What the CIA did is torture.  It was wrong.  People who supported the policy and who defend it now are evil.  Here is the letter where I play the role of someone criticizing from the right:

You must not have listened to Dick Cheney.  He vehemently disputes your point that reasonable people can argue whether or not EIT's constitute torture.  He in fact said that it was not torture.  Your claiming that reasonable people can argue about whether it was torture or not is no better than what the Democrats are arguing.  It is easy for you to sit there and claim that the CIA might have tortured. 

Both the CIA and Dick Cheney emphatically state that no reasonable person could think it was torture because it was not torture.  Torture only involves permanent damage like cutting off appendages or killing people on purpose.  We did not cut any appendages off so how do you get off saying that we may have committed torture with no evidence of it at all?  Show me one single example of even possible torture in the report.  You can't because there aren't any.

Your article is giving comfort and aid to our enemies.  How dare you question the policies of our government during a time of war and come out and say the opposite of what Dick Cheney has already revealed.  Cheney stated that the CIA stayed well away from the line that constitutes torture.  Did you even bother to listen to what he said?  Did you even bother to note that the U.S. Department of Justice said that we did not torture and they pre-screened all of the interrogations.  Did you bother to read that all of these techniques are used on Navy Seals to prepare them for battle?  How are they torture if we do them to our own solders to prepare them for battle?

There was no torture and anyone who argues that there might have been torture is not reasonable, they are un-American.  You should be arguing instead, that such policies are essential to keeping America safe and should be used always against terrorists. 

It is people like you who are the true torturers and who hurt our country because you don't have the courage of your convictions and you enable terrorists.  Cheney has stated that EIT's saved America from the terrorists and they will continue to save America if people like you will stop undermining the CIA and claiming that EIT's are harsh and unsettling, an allegation for which you provide no evidence.  Maybe they seem harsh and unsettling to people like you, but certainly not to the men and women of the CIA.  They don't need your half-hearted defense which really is no defense at all.  Reasonable people want our country to be safe.  Quite calling Democrats and leftwingers reasonable. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


I am deeply ashamed of the United States and I vehemently oppose its oppression of human rights all over the globe.  Some people and things are so evil that they simply have to be characterized that way.  There is no agreement to disagree here.  There is one moral position and one moral position only.  Torture is wrong.  I shall not countenance evil by debating its merits.  This is exactly what the torturers want, a place at the table.  Instead, they must be shunned, shamed and ostracized.  There can be no forgiveness until there is recognition of wrongdoing.

The United States--I condemn you.  You tortured and you continue to seek to justify torture.  You promote war and aggression all over the world.  You harass and imprison minorities within your borders.  You have over 25% of the world's prison population and yet, only 5 percent of the world's overall population.  You are evil.

George W. Bush--I condemn you.  You authorized torture and you believe that torture can be justified.  This makes you unredeemable as a human being.  You are evil.  You went so far as to say that the torturers deserved medals.

Dick Cheney--I condemn you.  You authorized torture and you believe that torture is justified.  This makes you unredeemable as a human being.  You are evil.  I sincerely look forward to your death by natural causes and shall plan a party in your death's honor.  You are perhaps the most vile and despicable person in the entire United States.  Congratulations.

Michael Gerson--I condemn you.  In many ways, your evil is exceptional.  You pretend to be some sort of liberal Christian who opposes fundamentalism while you lay the groundwork for torture with your writings.  I would compare you to Herman Goerring, but at least he was a war hero.  You are a little, little man.  You justify torture and you believe that torture can be justified.  You oppose disclosure of grave misdoings.  All of these things make you unredeemable as a human being.  You are evil.

General Michael V. Hayden--I condemn you.  You tortured and you continue to believe that torture is valid.  This makes you unredeemable as a human being.  You are evil.

John McLaughlin--I condemn you.  You tortured and you continue to believe that torture is valid.  This makes you unredeemable as a human being.  You are evil.

George Tenet--I condemn you.  You tortured and you continue to believe that torture is valid.   This makes you unredeemable as a human being.  You are evil.

Porter Goss-- I condemn you.  You tortured and you continue to believe that torture is valid.   This makes you unredeemable as a human being.  You are evil.

Jose Rodriguez--I condemn you.  You tortured and you continue to believe that torture is valid.  This makes you unredeemable as a human being.  You are evil.

Alberto Gonzales--I condemn you.  You authorized torture and you believe that torture can be justified.  This makes you unredeemable as a human being.  You are evil.

Jay Bybee-- I condemn you.  You authorized torture and you believe that torture can be justified.  This makes you unredeemable as a human being.  You are evil.  Your status as a Mormon missionary makes you a stain on an entire faith.  Your presence as a federal judge is an embarrassment to yourself and to the entire country.  You need to resign immediately.  Your son recently committed suicide.  One can only wonder if it was due to extreme shame from being your offspring.

John Yoo--I condemn you.  You wrote patently false legal opinions that authorized torture and you continue to justify torture.  I especially condemn you as a foreigner who came to the United States and engaged in these actions.  There should be a special place in hell for you, you whiny little piece of shit.

The United States Supreme Court and the Federal Judiciary--I condemn you.  You authorized and enabled torture.  The Federal Courts are full of cowardly bureaucrats.  The effects of your actions are evil.

 Congress--I condemn each and every one of you who continue to argue in favor of torture.

Saxby Chambless and John Boehner--I condemn you.  You authorized torture and you believe that torture can be justified.  This makes you unredeemable as a human being.  You are evil.

John Brennan-- -I condemn you.  You authorize torture and you believe that torture can be justified.  This makes you unredeemable as a human being.  You are evil.

The countries of Poland, Romania and Lithuania--I condemn you.  You allowed your countries to be utilized for the purposes of torture a scant decade after emerging from communist oppression.  In many ways, I condemn you most of all.  Next time that Russia comes knocking on your doors, don't expect any sympathy from me.

Christian Fundamentalists--I condemn you.  You promote torture and defend it to this day.  This makes you unredeemable as a human being.  You are evil.

Jewish Neocons--I condemn you.  You laid the groundwork for torture and you continue to advocate for torture.  You have defiled the name of good Jews the world over.  You are unredeemable as human beings.  You are evil.

The American People--Poll after poll shows that the American people support and continue to support and defend torture.  They authorize it and enable it and refuse to punish those who tortured.  You have defiled the name of the United States as a country that believes in and promotes torture.  You are no shining beacon on a hill.  The vast majority of you are unredeemable as human beings.  You are evil and I renounce you.

Anyone who voted Republican since 2002--I condemn you.  You voted for the administration that implemented torture and continued to vote Republican even after you learned about the torture.  You continue to defend torture to this very day.  You are evil.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Whither Star Wars

With the news of the forthcoming Star Wars movie by Disney and a couple of recent cartoon versions, I thought that I would put forth some of my thoughts regarding the franchise, as someone who was almost a teen when A New Hope came out--a fan of Star I am, but not a fanboy.

I was 12 when the original Star Wars movie came out.  I thought it was okay, but not great.  I thought that The Empire Strikes Back was much better, but despised the Ewoks with a passion.  They flat out ruined Return of the Jedi.  I find the prequels, with the exception of Jar Jar, and the necessary adding of useless characters like the female Yoda, to be far superior.  Jar Jar disappears as the prequels go on which shows that the creative talents could spot a loser when they wrote one.  They also ignored the execrable Ewoks and featured more of R2D2, rather than C3PO.  The creative talent explored more about the Sith and their origins, and also introduced Darth Maul, a truly great character, but unfortunately we see too little of him.  Christopher Lee's character (except for his silly name) was a far more interesting character than Yoda, who is stolen from Zen Buddhism and whose silliness becomes off-putting at times.  Mr. Miyagi was a far better and far more interesting version of this Buddhist archetype than Yoda ever was, although the differences between the characters are not great.

The prequels are darker, much more well written and far more complex.  The prequels make clear that it is Obi-won, and no one else that the six movies are ultimately about. 

What?  Obi-won is barely in episodes five and six, but like Moses, who never made it to the promised land, Obi-won remains the focus rather than Josuha, who finally led the Children from the wilderness. 

The unacknowledged secret (to many) about the Star Wars Universe is that it is the Dark Horse Comics which reign supreme.  The Dark Horse stories (and their accompanying old time radio versions)  are far more interesting, far more nuanced and far more creative than the simplistic dualistic universe of the movies.

Nevertheless, Revenge of the Sith was a singular achievement in terms of complexity.  Even though Obi-won is the hero at first glance, a closer look shows that there is a quite convincing argument that Anakin was right and the Jedi were wrong in the film, at least in terms of Republican political theory.  This makes Anakin a tragic character, rather than just a humongous jerk.

The Jedi appear to lack all legal authority for their actions at the end of Revenge of the Sith and attempt what can only be called an illegal coup.  Palpatine's actions, although evil, appear to be entirely constitutional, while those of Yoda and Mace Windu appear well-meaning but violently illegal.    This is what makes a story interesting, not Ewoks and mindless witty reparte.

Find me any scene from any action film ever that compares with the final battle between Anakin and his mentor, who loves him dearly,  in terms of excitement and pathos, not to mention that the dialogue during the battle is incisive and full of double entendres.

Going forward, however, I am not sure what the future holds.  Why Lucas and Disney ignore the far superior Dark Horse version of the Star Was Universe is unclear.  I have seen two recent cartoons dealing with the Star Wars Universe.  One was a Lego version which had a verve and humor much like Star Wars 4 at its best.  The second is called Star Wars Rebels and is simply not good at all.  I have four children who love all 6 Star Wars movies and who sort of enjoyed the Clone Wars who have told me to cancel the season's pass for Star Wars Rebels.  The animation is terrible.  The characters are hackneyed and appear to be drawn to resemble other Disney characters with a bit of anime thrown in.

Anyone interested more in what is possible going forward, should check out the audio versions of the Dark Horse Comics which deal with the return of the Emperor, Luke's loss of innocence and origin of the Sith Order.  These stories are far better than anything that I have seen in the 7 movies which have come out so far.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sony ICF-SW23 ICF-2010 ICF-7600G

This started off as a short review of the Sony ICF-SW23, which is an excellent analog world band radio and happily, still in production.  As I worked through this and had a friend ask me some questions about the unit, I began working through some of its commonalities with other receivers in the Sony line.  This may result in this article having a somewhat disjointed aspect, but there are some interesting points that I believe will be of interest to shortwave aficionados that I have not seen treated elsewhere.

In the history of shortwave, and perhaps AM radio in general, there have been two main companies that have set the standards for excellence for general listening radios, as opposed to tabletop and professional models.  Zenith came first, and then had a period of overlap with Sony and was eventually eclipsed by the Japanese company.

Both Zenith and Sony had two attributes that made them great.  They produced technologically excellent products and then housed them in cutting edge designs.  I might be tempted to put Grundig or Panasonic in that grouping but Panasonic's excellence was brilliant and short-lived, lasting only from about 1975 to 1990, while Grundig's excellence was hampered by fits and stops in the North American market, and the fact that by the mid-90's Grundig was more of a marketing front than a real company producing radios.  In my experience, the designs by Sony and Zenith have held up far better than the Grundig designs, which were often quite unorthodox, making them difficult to service and keep in working order.  Zenith tube designs from the 40's and 50's are easily serviced and continue to provide a high level of performance.  Many ICF-2010s bought in the mid-80's continue functioning perfectly.  Finally, both Zenith and Sony, in spite of becoming conglomerates, had famous CEO's who were lovers of radio and made sure their companies were always on the leading edge of the field.  It was personal with them.  Zenith and Sony radios were expected to be the best.

In the same way that Sony became famous for its Walkman, Sony also began trying to see just how small they could make their radios while still providing excellent performance.  Sony was essentially alone in this endeavor, producing several dual conversion designs that were smaller than anything else in the industry, among them the ICF-4900 series, the ICF-SW12, the ICF-SW20, the ICF-SW1, the ICF-SW07 and the ICF-SW100.

I remember encountering my college roommate's ICF-4920 and being essentially blown away by its performance.  I had used a Panasonic RF-2200 for years, something which spoiled me and made evaluating new models difficult.  With the exception of  receivers with functioning sync detection, like all of the Sony's with the feature, and the Grundig 800 and Eton E1, nothing I would ever use in the realm of shortwave receivers would be measurably better overall  in terms of reception than that Panasonic bought on clearance for a hundred dollars or so from Service Merchandise.  It was far from small, however, and to see that the Sony ICF-4920 could provide comparable levels of performance in something slightly larger than a pack of cigarettes completely surprised me.

This was par for the course for Sony in those days.

During a period where essentially no other company was even providing portable shortwaves with sync detection, and when roughly half of the tabletops that had the feature could not make it work properly, Sony shoehorned it into the SW07 and the SW100 miniatures.  Most of these miniature Sony receivers were digital, but the 4900 series and the similar but smaller still SW20 series were analog radios, something that I still find to have major performance advantages over digital radios.  For example, try finding stations in a strange area in a rental car with a digital radio.  Particularly, if one is outside an urban area, it is extremely frustrating.  You can try scanning if that feature is available, but usually the receiver simply scans and scans and never lands on anything, particularly on AM.  Or, one encounters the opposite problem.  The radio scans and lands on every single frequency whether there is anything on it or not.  You can't manually scan for stations because the digital car radios usually mute.  Thus one ends up having to tediously tune one step at a time.

Unfortunately, many digital shortwave receivers have the same issue.  This makes the continuing production of the ICF-SW20 series a most welcome thing.

 The current incarnation of the SW20 series, is the ICF-SW23.  In short, this is a great little radio.  With all the information available on the internet, I am often surprised when it is difficult to find as much information as I would like about certain products that I consider truly exceptional.  The Sony ICF-SW23 and its predecessors are radios that I would deem to be in this category.  One can only hope that Sony continues its production of this design which goes back to the mid-80's. 

Let me start by stressing one point.  In a radio this small, Sony had to make some design decisions in terms of what bands to cover, and this differs depending on the version.  In the United States, on the East coast, anyway, the 41 meter band has taken on greater importance than in the past. There are not that many international broadcasters around anymore and I find myself using the 41 meter band more and more, both for SSB, which this radio lacks, and for broadcasting. This radio, as generally sold direct from Japan has instead the lower 75 meter band, which is apparently more important for Japan.

If a prospective purchaser wants the 41 meter band, then he or she is unlikely to be as happy with this new incarnation of the Sony design, as he or she would be with the Sony ICF-SW20 (or an export version of the ICF-SW22, which seems to be rare). One can do a google image search to compare the ICF-SW20 and ICF-SW23.  I may put up pictures of my own at a future date. Both the ICF-SW20 and ICF-SW23 are attractive radios in my estimation, and both have the same specs, size and  lay-out, but have different speaker components and buttons for operation.

Another choice is the original of this design, which is the Sony ICF-4920. In the U.S., these have the same coverage as the ICF-SW20, These are the same size vertically as the ICF-SW23, but are about three centimeters longer horizontally with the same specs.
The 20, 23 and 4920 all are double conversion.  They also all have effective tone controls.

I own all of these various models and performance seems to be about the same among all of them. They are all very attractive small radios that are perfect for putting in your breast pocket and heading to the game or fishing or wherever. All are a true pleasure to use, with their smooth analog tuning. If I had to pick, I would probably chose the ICF-4920 for tuning, because it just feels right in your hands and it is so easy to tune and change the volume.

On the other hand, the SW20 and SW23 are significantly more compact, and come with nifty carrying cases, which was something Sony failed to include with the ICF-4920, which may explain why they are often a bit rough when found on the used market.

I love this radio and anyone who loves taking a really good radio in his shirt pocket to the baseball game will be thrilled with it, both on AM and on shortwave. One caveat, all these radios need a mono to headphone adapter if you want to use headphones to listen as opposed to ear plugs. Otherwise, sound will only come through one channel.

As an aside, shortwave is far from dead. It is essentially, the only medium where you can get constant news without anyone knowing what you are listening to, be it Cuba, China, Iran, or Russia. Hmm, maybe that is why all of those countries are still broadcasting in English to the U.S. With a run of a mill shortwave radio, one can still easily listen to Cuba or China at virtually any time of day. Radio Romania has broadcast after broadcast in the evenings. I still find Radio Taiwan and Radio Japan in English and both have enjoyable programming.  ABC of Australia comes booming in each morning and the BBC is easily heard each afternoon on 9915 kHz. Yes, there are too many religious shows for my taste, but if the pastors and end of the world ilk can all afford to pay the freight, shortwave must not be all that expensive after all.

Finally, the above radios come with an aerial, ferrite, and clip-on antenna, but are not designed for use with outdoor antennas.  However using one with a slightly bigger unit, like an Eton E1 or Sony 2010,  it is possible to receive broadcasts from Africa fairly easily, in English, French and Portuguese. Radio is still a big deal in Africa and unlike the internet, you don't have to own a computer, or know how to read to use it and it is far more difficult for governments to shut down.  Shortwave is not going away.

What I have done with the SW23 is take it to a place that is far from electrical noise, say a large backyard or soccer field and then it will really perform on shortwave. The Voice of America transmitting to Africa came in loud and clear once I left the house and went out to the children's backyard swingset.

If you love Sony, shortwave and well designed miniatures, buy one of these. I have bought two ICF-SW23's through Amazon and I can vouch for their character.  The question does arise as to whether these radios are good value compared to some of the other digital options out there.

I generally wouldn't compare this radio to digital receivers.  To me it is in a different category, but if I had to, I would compare it to the  Sony ICF-SW1, which I also have.  From what I can piece together, it is more or less an analog version of the SW1 with less complete shortwave coverage, but which seems to have avoided the capacitor issues that the SW1 has.  The speaker on my SW1 hasn't worked in quite some time, a common, if not universal problem for these units as they age, but to the extent that I can remember, I think the SW23 sounds better through its speaker.  The Passport to World Band Radio Guide noted that adjacent channel rejection was similar among the two models.

The Chinese-made Degen 1103 was the last digital portable that I bought, to a large extent on the recommendation of Jay Allen, who formerly wrote for the now defunct RadioIntel site, and I don't think that it has been exceeded as an all-rounder in terms of overall performance and the joy of use. 

My only complaint is that the light won't stay on more than 15 seconds when using batteries.  I like to scan in the dark or semi-dark, quite often and the Degen 1103 is about as good as it gets for doing that with a handheld portable.  Nevertheless, I find myself using either my SW23 or 4920 much more often, because they are considerably smaller and lighter than the 1103, which itself is considerably smaller than my ICF-SW7600G.

They are also a cinch to use in the dark.  The controls are intuitive and these radios would be excellent I think for people lacking eyesight.  Compare this to the ICF-SW7600G, which is a great daytime radio, especially when one knows the frequency one wishes to hear, but is a miserable radio to use in low light conditions.  I absolutely despise digital radios that mute when scanning and the ICF-7600G sort of mutes when you scan slowly and always mutes when you scan quickly.  (As an aside, a vendor on eBay claims to have unmuted the Satellit 700's scanning, which is primarily why I never bought one.)

The 7600G also lacks a tuning knob.  It is very difficult to find stations in the dark when a unit is not backlit, has no tuning knob, mutes, and has important controls on the side of the radio, like the sync detector.  Performance wise, the 7600G is great on known frequencies during the day and has been a real bargain the last 15 years or so.

To me the Degen 1103 and the 7600G have been the best overall handheld portables.  I have been following the newer Degen and Tecsun models, but they always seem to have some enervating defect, from the sloppy quality control on the G3 and G5 models from Grundig/Eton, and reviewers never seemed completely won over by the nice looking Degen 1106, which doesn't seem to be sold on eBay anymore.  I know that a couple of the Tecsuns that have recently come out have some impressive attributes but they always seem to have some glaring omission or weak spot.

In terms of price, the ICF-SW23 can be found for approximately $130 including shipping from Japan, and used versions of the ICF-4920 and ICF-SW20, can be purchased on eBay in good shape for approximately half of this amount.  This means a new one will cost more than a Degen 1103, while a used one in good condition should cost less.  The market for used Chinese portables is not vigorous.  These radios are constructed more in the cellphone manner of being throwaways not expect to survive drops and are essentially never serviced.  The Sony, if treated normally, can be expected to last years, if not decades.  I have tried several of these analog Sonys from the 80's from eBay which were sold as being in working condition, and all seem to work perfectly.  The one main issue involves the contacts for the power button and band selectors, but is easily dealt with.

The SW20 and 4900 series do not have separate bandwidths or SSB or sync detection, but the bandwidth is well chosen, and usually I don't miss sync on analog radios.  On digital radios, it seems more important to me, although the 1103 doesn't seem to miss it much.

The tone controls are quite effective.  And here I end with my segue into a general point about the audio of Sony shortwaves that I feel needs to be made.

Sony has been criticized greatly for having lackluster audio in its shortwave offerings, at least compared to the overall level of performance which they offer otherwise.  I have seen this criticism online, in places like eham, and Passport hammered Sony year after year for this supposed failing.  We all have different audio preferences, but I find a lot of the criticism to be misdirected, and due to the somewhat misleading way that Sony marks the tone controls throughout its range of shortwave receivers.  Because the two-position controls are always marked Music/News, I believe that most people listen to Sony shortwave receivers with the tone control set to News.  To me, this is incorrect.  The default tone position should be Music, as virtually any program in the clear sounds better when this setting is used.  News should only be chosen when there is hiss or interference. 

Some reviewers have complained about the audio of the ICF-2010 and 7600G for years, but I have always found both radios to sound fine.  Especially with the ICF-2010, I find criticism of the Wide/Narrow filters to be completely off-base when using it for shortwave listening, as opposed to SSB or CW.

Here is what I find maximizes the medium wave and shortwave audio of any Sony shortwave receiver, but especially that of the legendary Sony ICF-2010, which is perhaps the greatest receiver ever made.

The listener should start off with the tone controls set to Music and the filter choice set to Wide.  If there is interference, engage the sync control and choose the sideband that sounds better.  Make sure that the tuning steps are set to Slow.  This is key.  Sync detection will not work properly unless the tuning steps are set to Slow.  There was a period where I stopped using my 2010 very much because I thought there was an issue with the Sync.  It was simply that I had the tuning steps set to Fast.

Once the better sounding sideband is selected, if there is still some hiss or interference, don't make the mistake of immediately switching filters from Wide to Narrow.  This will indeed make the sound muffled and one-dimensional.  Start by keeping the Wide filter engaged, but switch the tone control on the side to News.  This will usually provide an audible improvement over using the Narrow filter with the Music tone control. 

If this isn't satisfactory and there is still hiss or interference, then it may be necessary to finally switch to the dreaded Narrow filter.  Here is the trick, however.  Switch the tone control on the side, back to Music.  This will slightly open up the sound, making it brighter and less muffled.  If there is still interference or hiss, then one has finally arrived to the dreaded Narrow/News dual setting.  This will sound muffled, but will also remove much of the interference if possible. There are aftermarket companies that will swap out the stock filters and this may be of use to some people, especially if they are using the 2010 more in the way people generally use tabletop models, but I like Sony's broad filter for general listening.  Eton did something similar with its equally great E1, and provided a broad wide filter, also receiving criticism, although Passport deemed the E1's separate bass and treble tone control scheme to be superior to that of the 2010.  Frankly, I disagree with that assessment.  Using the Sony filter and tone controls as delineated above provides clear changes in audio that can immediately be assessed as either improving or worsening the audio.  One can fiddle continuously with the E1's bass and treble controls and it never seems to change the sound all that much, plus doing so is tedious.

Sony must have known what they were doing when they designed the filter and tone control scheme  given the incredible success of this model.

Try the above tip before swapping your filters.

The ICF-SW7600G has a sync detector and tone controls that work similarly, but lacks dual bandwidths.  Use Music as your default tone control and only switch to News if there is hiss or interference.  Sony's adjacent signal rejection is quite good on their handheld portables, and  its sync detectors work so well that a second bandwidth rarely seems necessary on their handhelds.  In fact, Sony came out with 2 expensive models that appeared to be shoehorned versions of the SW7600G, the SW07 and the SW100, and neither one had dual bandwidths.  Another recent model with sync detection, the AM-FM ICF-EX5MK2 has also recently been evaluated as providing excellent selectivity with only one bandwidth.  See

Friday, October 12, 2012


Ultimately, all fear comes from the fear of existence and its duality, non-existence.  But beneath that lies the most basic element of humanity, the refusal to deal with the meaningless of life.

Humans are terrified of acknowledging this point.  Virtually no religion will even dip its toe therein.  Buddhism, and to some extent Quakerism and some Shamanistic religions come closest and that is probably why many who find themselves confronted with this may be drawn towards these schools of thought.  If one does a search on virtually anything on the internet, millions of hits come up.  A search of what people think about the inherit meaningless of life takes you to the wikipedia entry and very few other entries that provide much of any insight.

There is a famous story by Hans Christian Andersen called The Emperor's New Clothes, which is often received as a sort of fun story about monarchs and nudity.  But I believe that what it really is about is that very thing that we all refuse to talk about.

None of this makes any sense.  Why won't anyone acknowledge this?  Why is it so painful?

Wouldn't life be better for us all if at least we made reference to the elephant in the room?

I often wonder if the individuals who commit suicide who seem eminently lucid, actually do it because they are eminently lucid.  None of this makes any sense.  Shouldn't that be the first thing we think about when we wake up in the morning?  Shouldn't that be the last thing we acknowledge when we go to bed at night?

None of this makes any sense.  It doesn't, and acknowledging that may be the first step towards.... acknowledging that none of this makes any sense.

None of us asked for this.  Existence was imposed upon us.  I never wanted this.  I never asked for this.  It was imposed upon me.  And yet, it can be pretty damn good.  I like it.  Perhaps I will become bored with it at some point, but so far, I like it.

And so, short as this post is, it devolves to something unoriginal.


Why Not?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tomorrow Never Knows -- Mad Men

Anyone who saw the May 6th 2011, episode of Mad Men, well, it was worth the 18-month wait between seasons.  It is hard to top an episode that features Cool Whip, Sylvia Plath and the Beatles, as major elements of the episode's meaning.

At the same time that the 60's were giving us, perhaps, the worst food product of all time, soon to be followed by Tang--do they even sell Tang anymore?-- the Ad Agency on Mad Men is looking for Beatle-y sounding songs to use for product placement.  Although, it is a bit unfair, given what the Beatles had done with Norwegian Wood and Nowhere Man on Rubber Soul, it is somewhat understandable.  Don was looking for a song like I'm into Something Good, by Herman's Hermits.

The end of the episode shows Don turning on his huge wooden console record player and putting on the Beatles' latest, Revolver,  and placing the stylus on its final track, Tomorrow Never Knows.  Apparently, the producers of the show dropped $250,000 just to excerpt a portion of the song, but to what amazing effect.

If it wasn't already clear by the episode's open references to homosexuality and marijuana use, it is crystal clear that the Fifties were finally over and the Sixties were beginning, at the end of 1966, when Don drops the needle. 

Revolver was clearly something else.  The first half of the album starts not with an ode to love, but rather with a song bashing excessive taxation, followed by a dirge about the church and social isolation and then followed by a true Indian dirge, ending with the utterly brilliant and bizarre, She Said, She Said, whose refrain echoed over and over,  "She Said, She Said, I know what it's like to be dead."

This is pop music?  I wonder how much Cool Whip that lyric would have sold?

The Beatles were just getting started.  Mingled with a couple of songs more in their traditional sound, Side Two had songs about pill-pushing doctors for hire, a song about McCartney's initial fear and ultimate adoration of marijuana and ended with Tomorrow Never Knows, which may have been John Lennon's (and producer George Martin's) greatest triumph. 

Combined with backward tape loops and thunderous drums that represent the purported underlying meaning of the song, Tomorrow Never Knows is both somehow scary and unsettling, and soothing all at once.  Like its close sibling Rain,  recorded during the same sessions, it is seldom, if ever, played on the radio. Lennon's voice has an unworldly timbre to it, surrounded by a brilliant  kaleidoscopic assault of sound.

 The lyrics, influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, seem to be deliberately ambiguous as sung in several places, which only adds to their power.  Is Lennon saying, "It is not leaving," or rather is he telling us, "It is not living"--or is it both?

 "And ignorance and hate mourn the dead" seems to vary between an expression of ignorance and hate as entities and as something inside everyone.

In the final line, "So (all) play the game of existence to the end," is he exhorting us to actually play said game of existence to the end, or is he merely being descriptive of the fact that we shall do so regardless?

Except for Herman Hess's Siddartha, there isn't much in popular literature or music that I have yet encountered to compare to the impact of Tomorrow Never Knows in terms of a succinct expression of a philosophy of living:

Tomorrow Never Knows
Lennon and McCartney

Turn off your mind, relax, and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void
It is shining, it is shining
Yet you may see the meaning of within
It is being, it is being
Love is all and love is everything
It is knowing, it is knowing
And ignorance and hate mourn the dead
It is believing, it is believing
But listen to the color of your dreams
It is not leaving, it is not leaving
So play the game “Existence” to the end
Of the beginning, of the beginning

A pop album that begins with a song about taxes, that has no obvious hits, and that ends both Side One and Side Two with songs about death.  That doesn't sound like a best seller to me, but I am no mad man.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Homebrewing Review and Info

This review is from: Thomas Coopers Premium Selection Sparkling Ale Hopped Malt Concentrate, 3.75-Pound Can (Grocery)
I have been a homebrewer for many years, but have taken a hiatus until recently. As I got back into this traditional American hobby, I was drawn to try the Coopers kits (apparently, Coopers is used as an adjective in Australia, without an apostrophe, so I will try to follow their usage, even though it feels like it a possessive to this Yank). There were two main things that drew me to the Coopers Kits, initially. One was the fact that I liked their beers, which are among very few non-Belgian bottle-conditioned beers found in the United States. Second, had to do with the Super Saver option on Amazon, which I find very convenient if I don't want to make the large individual purchase needed to qualify for $8 shipping from some of the large online home brew shops.

The Coopers individual cans are very aggressively priced when you consider that they are eligible for Super Saver Shipping on Amazon. Their kits are perhaps slightly less aggressively priced than are the individual cans, but are also available for Super Saver Shipping with no further purchases. A couple of clicks and they can be on their way.

The purchaser should also be aware that Coopers Cans and Kits make 6 gallons of beer, while the norm for American kits is only 5 gallons. (And as a dig at all my fellow backward Americans, let me say that these kits actually make 23 liters of beer. Americans were supposed to be adopting the metric system back in the mid-1970's, but I guess Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama missed the memo, so we, along with our close allies, Liberia and Burma, remain using our quasi-British system apart from everyone else in the world.)

These kits also contain high quality ale or lager yeast, while many other kit purveyors include no yeast at all, which is not a problem for many brewers who have yeast stocks or who brew on top of previous batches, but many folks like the convenience of a good yeast which is made to be sprinkled and forgotten about. The 7 grams included by Coopers seems to be plenty, with no need for a starter or extra nutrients.

By further way of comparison of the economics of homebrewing, in my area, a 30-pack case of Old Milwaukee goes for $15.99, which is essentially the same cost per beer as one of the Coopers kits, which produce close to ten six packs for approximately $32.00.

So, while it is necessary to equate between the different volumes that American kits make versus Coopers kits, and the yeast included, it must be noted that there are kits from excellent home brewing supply houses that are perhaps cheaper, excluding the flat $8 for shipping that such purveyors now seem to be charging for large orders, and that often, such kits are arguably of better or comparable quality to the Coopers kits, but these types of kits also entail much more time and work (or fun, depending on your perspective).

Do you like straining hops? I don't, particularly, because they are messy, but some people don't mind. Do you like boiling wort for an hour and then trying to cool it? None of this is necessary with the Coopers Kits, which are pre-boiled and hopped. How about yeast starters? Do you like steeping grains for thirty minutes? Some people do like doing these things, but for many of us, it is more work, and time, and the results tend to be more variable, even if such techniques do at times produce a superior beer.

Coopers individual cans, combined with extra malt, sugar or maltodextrin, depending on the recipe are an excellent way to get very good, almost foolproof beer at essentially the price of the cheapest beer in the liquor store.

I have made several Coopers kits, including the Sparkling Ale, Aussie Pale Ale, Bitter, Euro-Lager and Pilsner, and have been happy with all of them.

Especially commendable are the Sparkling and Aussie Pale Ales, which are intended to be very close to Coopers excellent (but expensive, given the value of the Australian dollar) brewery versions, which can be found in the U.S. for up to $12 a six pack.

The Sparkling and Aussie Pale Ale kits ferment quickly and can be ready to drink in three weeks or so, and may be the easiest and most fool-proof kits that I have ever used. If the user has any further questions, Coopers has a wonderful web site that will even walk you through the steps of using their commercial brewery yeast with the kits to get even closer to their classic commercial versions, which were so highly touted by Michael Jackson.

There is no hiding the ball on the Coopers web site. If their kits, which include non-traditional carbonation drops and additional fermentables are not for you, they provide equivalent do it yourself recipes, as well as alternate ones if you just want to go with the single can instead of the kit.

I have also made two of the Coopers lagers. Because newbies are often more likely to want to make lagers, it should be stressed that making lagers at home is much more difficult, than making ales or stouts. This has nothing to do with Coopers. This is simply a truth of brewing.

Lagers tend to be more one dimensional in taste, so there is very little to hide any flaws. Lagers require brewing temperatures that are much more difficult to achieve for homebrewers without fancy equipment, especially between the months of May and October.

Lagers also require a different type of yeast--and yes, Coopers kits ship with real lager yeast, apparently a type that will ferment at a higher temperature than most lager yeasts. Coopers recommends between 21 and 27 degrees Celsius. Perhaps this is because Australia shares the climatic feature of being sizzling hot in the summer time with most of the U.S.

We recently caught a good patch of May weather in the Mid-Atlantic where the temperatures basically stayed in the high 50's to low 60's Fahrenheit for a couple of weeks, and I was able to make a final Pilsner, but I wouldn't try again until fall. Ales in the basement will still be fine, though.

Finally, lagers need much more time to develop and mature. If you don't already have beer on hand, you are likely to find it very difficult to wait the 90 days or so that Coopers recommends that you wait before drinking its lagers. This is a period about three times as long as it takes for an ale to be ready.

A couple of reviewers have mentioned that people should change up the Coopers included recipes, by swapping in additional malt for those recipes that call for dextrose or sucrose.

This is highly debatable. First of all, if you want the beer you make to look like the one pictured on the front of the can, then this is bad advice. Follow the included recipe.

Second, the prohibition on sugar is one of those hoary myths that refuses to go away. Yes, if you make your beer with half sugar in terms of fermentables, then it may have a rum or cidery note. The general rule is to avoid over 20 percent of fermentables as sugar. Sugar is used in all sorts of well known British and Belgium ales to good effect. Substituting Coopers light dry malt (or anyone's) will make good beer, too, and possibly better, albeit it will change the color and possibly the hop balance, so you never know.

What you do know is that such a substitution will deviate from the look and recommended recipe and will cost MORE.

Coopers is a great brewing institution. Unless you know what you are doing, follow the recipe, and if you don't, well, don't worry. I have never had an undrinkable batch no matter what.

All that being said, if you want to spend a slight bit more and you don't need the convenience of a ready made kit with the carbonation drops (two sucrose sugar cubes which are cheaper, work almost as well, in spite of their tighter fit into bottles), then you might try the corresponding Coopers Can in place of the kit and substitute a second can of their $10.99 Light Malt Extract. This will increase the fermentables, giving you a higher ABV, but it will slightly lighten the color of the beer, and will cost a few dollars more. They make three versions so you can try to match the color as best you can.

Generally, using more malt versus using more sugar, does result in a "better" beer. This is generally recognized by almost anyone who brews, but this in no way means that doing so will always result in a tastier beer. Coopers formulated these kits (and recipes) to work with sucrose (or dextrose, either is fine) with the goal of achieving a specific taste, body and mouth-feel. Part of this has to do with Coopers use of maltodextrin, which is an adjunct that is not discussed very much in the U.S., but from my experience, almost always improves a beer when used in small amounts, by improving the beer's body and head and slightly increasing the beer's gravity.

The fact that sugar and maltodextrin are much cheaper than dry malt is an additional benefit. Sugar obviously can be bought anywhere, but for those looking for maltodextrin at a decent price, you might try Carbo-Gain, which is sold as a body-building supplement, but is pure maltodextrin.

One last bit of misinformation often heard about these kits is that people should ignore the instructions and boil them anyway. Many homebrewing books seem to advise this as well. Coopers staunchly reject this line of thinking, as does Brewferm and I believe Munton's does as well. Modern homebrewers seem to be coming around. I notice that some of the online homebrew merchants now advise strongly against boiling these kits, as do many of the online brewing sites.

I think that much of the problem has to do with the division in the hobby between extract brewers and all-grain brewers. Certain techniques may be necessary for all-grain brewers that are actually superfluous or counter-productive for extract brewers.

The Cooper cans have already been boiled and are sterile. If you boil them again, you will carmelize the wort and the resulting beer will not be as clear as most people would like. It will likely have that cloudy look that homebrew and brewpub beer often has. It will still taste good, but why spend the time and go to the trouble of boiling the wort when it is actually counter-productive? I can't think of any reason.

I have seen some claim that boiling is necessary for a good "cold break", which is a technical term referring to how proteins in beer come out of solution. But the Cooper's kits have already been boiled and thus have their "cold break". Furthermore, if you boil the kits, you may boil away the included hop extracts, which is probably why many homebrewing books advise people to add hops even when using hopped extract, since these books tend to advise boiling all extract kits.

If you use outside (i.e., non-kit) ingredients, here is what works well. Heat a couple of liters of water to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix in your sucrose, dry malt or maltodextrin, depending on the recipe, and hold it at 160 degrees for fifteen minutes or so to sterilize it. This is necessary, particularly if you are using sugar, maltodextrin, or extract that has already been opened. If you don't have a thermometer, you can boil these small liquid amounts which will probably be about a quarter of your fermentables or so, but it may increase your cooling time a bit.

At this point, turn off the heat, and either put the mixture in the fermenter, followed by the contents of the Coopers can, or pour the Coopers can in with the solution of your outside ingredients. The first way is closer to what Coopers recommends, but I find it difficult to stir the sticky malt in the fermenter this way, so I personally put the can in at flame-out, and since the wort and can are already sterile, there should be no problems with sanitation this way, but it does require a bit more cooling which may be difficult for some people.

Either way, because the wort has not been boiled, or only briefly boiled, and the Coopers malt extract has only been briefly and slightly heated at flame-out, the beer turns out lighter and crystal clear. Hop presence is maximized.

In the past, when I bought at bricks and mortar shops, I mostly used Munton's and Brewferm kits, which are also generally excellent, but these firms are not very active on Amazon, and their customer outreach really doesn't compare to Coopers. I also use specialty kits that call for all the extras, but they are time consuming, and in my opinion, apart from the excitement of creating esoteric clones, the beer actually is not any better than that from the simple extracts kits.

People brew for different reasons. Some people want to mash the whole thing themselves from grain; some want to try exotic or esoteric or extreme recipes, which call for extra hops, special yeasts and the steeping of grains vegetables or fruit, and some people want to drink inexpensive classic beer styles that are easy to brew and ready to drink quickly. Coopers kits are for this third group of people. Delicious and highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Health Care and the Mandate

This is an interesting article by a professor at George Mason School of Law with respect to the litigation regarding health care and the individual mandate.

Nevertheless, I think the thrust of it is incorrect. The author does not mention that only the individual mandate is at stake. Wasn't there a heck of a lot more in the "health care bill" besides the individual mandate? If the mandate gets struck, then they will have to find some other way to ensure compliance, but that doesn't seem to impact the scores of other things in the bill.

This reminds me of conservative attacks on Roe v. Wade, where basically conservatives have believed for 40 years that overturning Roe would end abortion in the U.S., rather than simply restore the status quo in each state. The great unwashed get all hyped up about a court battle that is going to save their way of life, and of course, it never happens.

Also, interestingly, Virginia has had a long history of ordering its citizens to engage in commerce. Going back to Jamestown, Virginians have had mandates to grow various products, among them wine, tobacco and hemp. I suppose it can be argued that that was before the Constitution, or that states have such powers but not the federal government, but I doubt that would satisfy many conservatives if Virginia began its own mandate.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

More Rock Lists

I have written a lot about the Beatles, whom I consider the greatest rock band ever. This is hardly a controversial statement, just a knowing one.

Nevertheless, there were two other tuneful British groups during the 1960's and 1970's who arguably gave the Beatles a run for their money (sorry Zep, I like you but you were hardly "tuneful").

Both The Who and The Rolling Stones had remarkable runs from about 1966 through 1972, periods during which their work arguably exceeded that of the Beatles. The argument in terms of all time greatness goes no further, however, because the Beatles had already had three full years of amazing output by that point, not to mention two highly successful movies. Furthermore, the Beatles had generally brilliant lyrics, not to mention much more hummable songs, which may be the true marker of a great group. All four of the Beatles would go on to have successful solo careers; none of the members of the Rolling Stones or The Who had much, if any success as solo performers.

Top Five Rolling Stones Albums of All time

1. Sticky Fingers -- Desperately overlooked. I have no idea why. Perhaps it is because it was composed of many leftover songs from previous albums. People talk about Exile On Main Street, which has been recently re-issued with new versions and outtakes, but Sticky Fingers is better in every way except for being shorter. One of the marks of great groups and albums is to look and see what songs never made it to singles. Sticky Fingers contains all time great Stones classics that never were released as singles and which were often overlooked by "Classic Rock FM".

Everyone has heard Brown Sugar and Wild Horses, which were the singles from this album, but several other cuts eclipse them. Sway is a psychedelic classic with unforgettable riffs. Can't You Hear Me Knocking is Santana-esque but better. Bitch has an unnerving decadent beat. Moonlight Mile is simply great. One reason why this album was so good was new guitarist Mick Taylor, who replaced the deceased Brian Jones and showed a whole new level of virtuosity on lead guitar.

The album's cover was designed by Andy Warhol with a fully functioning zipper. It is certainly one of the most famous album covers of all time. This is a great party album. The music thumps all the way through.

If you haven't heard this album, buy it now.

2. Beggars Banquet. This album was hampered by a changing cover and the controversy of some of its lyrics, not to mention its issuance at about the same time as The White Album and Yellow Submarine. It has Sympathy for the Devil which is about as good as it ever got in Rock and Roll, ever. But once again, it is the songs people don't know that carry this album. Jigsaw Puzzle is simply gorgeous, and what a great lyrical concept. Street Fighting Man perfectly captures the eclipse of the 60's ideal, while Stray Cat Blues probably made a few fathers lock up their daughters.

3. Let It Bleed. Is the title corny or brilliant? I am not sure, but it was a humorous take on the Beatles' Let It Be. The highs may be higher here than the first two LP's but Let It Bleed is a bit more uneven. Gimme Shelter is a great, great song, maybe the scariest song in the history of rock. You Can't Always Get What You Want is gorgeous. Monkey Man has some great riffs, while the rest of the album is bluesy. Mick Taylor appeared on the album but was not featured on most tracks, nor was Brian Jones, as this was his swansong, with him only appearing on a pair of tracks.

4 and 5. Aftermath/Between the Buttons. This two albums are of comparable feel and quality. Because of the American practice of including fewer tracks and more singles on American LP's, these two albums ended up having different tracks in the U.K. than they ended up having in the U.S., something that Beatles fans are familiar with as well. The interesting thing about these albums is that they are more lyrically oriented with a psychedelic feel, without going over the top, as the Stones would later to on Their Satanic Majesties Request.

Many people put Exile on Main Street at the top of the Stones' catalog. While certainly worthy, I found a lot of the material on Exile to be of filler quality that is lower than the albums mentioned her.

Exile also lacks any great Stones songs. Perhaps the best is Rocks Off, but in general, I believe the hype over Exile on Main Street has to do with it being the last great album by the group and with how it was made, essentially, home-made in a drunken and drugged stupor at Keith Richards' French home while the Stones sought a tax holiday from Britain. It was not seen by critics as any sort of monumental achievement back in 1972 when the album was originally issued.

Exile has a sound and feel that is comparable to Sticky Fingers but without the same hooks. It is similar to the White Album by the Beatles in that it contained four (although much shorter than the White Album) sides on vinyl, but fit on one CD during the digital age. Like the White Album, Exile feels less polished than other efforts in the group's catalog, and, in a sense, highlights the virtuosity of the group by running through a range of styles, some more successfully than others.

I would probably put Exile at number six on this list, but I am not altogether certain that it is better than Satanic Majesties, or the Stones' last minor classic, Some Girls. The Stones themselves have always seemed a bit mystified as to why some tout this work as their greatest album, especially given the mixed reviews given at the time of the album's release.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why the War on Drugs will never be won

I am not a chemist, but it seems fairly certain that the possible permutations of substances that can be created to mimic banned chemicals is extraordinarily high. The U.S., for once, to its credit, is slower to ban these new marijuana-type substances, but it appears to be time to take some new approaches.

If "Tea Partiers" truly believe in their rhetoric, than the time has come to reel in the law enforcement agencies and to adopt an approach that saves money and minimizes possible harm from individuals ingesting dangerous substances. I am not convinced that the Tea Partiers in general actually believe their own rhetoric but there may be hope for the younger generation.

One of the classic unintended circumstances that came from banning alcohol for people between 19 and 21 in the U.S., was to make marijuana relatively more attractive to people who would have opted for alcohol had it not been illegal. I am not sure of the actual numbers, but by putting alcohol on equal footing with marijuana for people college age and under, the psychological effect is one of making marijuana use less of a fringe tendency, and we are seeing the results nationwide.

As the the self-absorbed baby boomers move on towards death, or at least Arizona, and away from their reign of terror of pursuing a 25 year "war on drugs" against their own fellow citizens, I am hopeful that things will continue to get better in the coming era.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

NHL Hockey -- Just As Crummy as Ever

Yawn. Our local team, the Washington Caps has had one of the best years in their history, so I tuned in to watch them take on what is supposedly the worst team in the playoffs from their division, the New York Rangers. Of course, the Caps lost, even though they were the top seed and playing at home. They usually do go down versus the more hockey-crazed towns of New York, Philly, Pittsburgh and Detroit. Their Russians and their Quebecois somehow always get the measure of ours.

More than that though, I was hoping to be impressed with the sport. I wasn't. HD TV was supposed to be hockey's salvation, but it is only marginally more interesting on television now that it was back on standard definition tubes. I watched the last Winter Olympics and thoroughly enjoyed the hockey play. Olympic hockey is fast paced and free flowing. The NHL has supposedly tried to become more like Olympic hockey. It has largely failed.

The Caps have far superior talent to New York, hockey experts assure us. Then why might they lose? Because since 1988, tired of the continual domination of hockey in serial fashion by four franchises, the Montreal Canadiens, the Philadelphia Flyers, the New York Islanders and the Edmonton Oilers, hockey engaged in what Glen Sather, coach of the Oilers called "hockey socialism."

They took deliberate and intentional aim at handicapping the Edmonton Oilers and their star, Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky would never win another title. The Oilers and Canadiens would win one more each, but neither has won in close to twenty years.

The NHL removed their product from ESPN, at the same time, opting for something called the Sports Channel, surely one of the stupidest business decisions in the history of major league sports.

Hockey's popularity, already marginal in the United States, began to plummet.

The NHL had ended the reign of the dynasties which had propelled the sport for fifty years. The New York Rangers, the Chicago Cubs of the NHL, even succeeded in winning a title, even as the sport became dreadfully boring, with rules and tactics that deliberately punished high scoring teams and rewarded teams that played a hockey version of Italian soccer, where 1-0 is considered a resounding victory.

One of the hardest things to achieve in any sport is the balance between skill and random events. Sports become boring if one player or team wins all the time and they can become equally boring when anyone can win at any time. As long as they are not overwhelming, dynasties promote sports, as do rivalries promote sports. ESPN knows this. The NFL knows this. MLB knows this. Why doesn't the NHL?

Duke and North Carolina are currently in symbiosis in basketball, as are the Yankees and Red Sox in baseball. College basketball began to prosper when teams besides UCLA were finally able to win a championship and yet, at the same time, college basketball still has its royalty of schools that are always near the top. The NBA went twenty years without a repeat champion and many years in the 1970's without good rivalries. But it was only when the Lakers and Pistons and Bulls became dynasties and repeat titlists, that the NBA peaked.

Basically, the NHL now has Detroit and everybody else. One year, Detroit will win, probably this year, or was it last year, and the next year, some team you have never heard of before, like the Florida Hurricanes, oops, Carolina Hurricanes or the Tampa Bay Lightning get the prize.(Apparently, it helps to invoke the weather to garner an upset title). Then, that upset-winning champion will fail to even make the playoffs the next season.

The Rangers, Washington's opponent, are one of those throwback teams still stuck in the first Clinton term, where clutch and grab hockey was all the rage. I still can't root for teams like the Rangers because they are anti-hockey. They are the same types of players and coaches who began killing the sport back in 1988. If NHL Hockey is about anything, it is about making sure that the guys with the least talent have a great chance to win, and that every single team in the league has a winning record. Only hockey has found a mathematical way to do this. Don't ask me how.

Perhaps the most maddening part of NHL Hockey is what I will call the "mad sandtrap dance."

During fifty percent of every game, there are three or four guys from both teams hacking at the puck behind the nets like a high handicap golfer in a sandtrap. They all swing from the hip, all hoping that the puck might pop just in front of the net, in the same way that a week-end hacker hopes his wild sand shot will hit the pin. They almost never do, in either case.

After failing to pop the puck out from behind the net, the players from both teams, then attempt to trap it with their foot against the boards. This is extremely exciting, watching a guy on skates hold a tiny puck against white boards with his skates, until a big guy from the other team smashes into him and then finally, maybe the puck goes down to the other end of the rink and the same dance continues down there for a while.

Olympic hockey is a beautiful sport and really shows the possibilities. In Olympic hockey, the larger size of the rink and rules of play might it possible for talented players to actually pass the puck between themselves with some regularity. NHL Hockey is more like pinball action, or if you have ever watched one, a soccer game between five and six year olds. Yes, goals are scored, but you never know where the puck is going and a series of completed passes is largely wishful thinking.

The NHL seemed to be making steps in that direction but basically, hockey has lost its momentum again. They need to adopt the Olympic rules and then maybe it will be watchable.

Oh, and by the way, last night was the first hockey game I have watched all year and that was only during the third period, which either makes this article even more right about the current state of NHL Hockey, or completely off-base. I'll let the reader choose.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Recount -- The Movie

I have recently been viewing the HBO movie, "Recount", a docudrama about the 2000 election recount between Bush and Gore. Although I desperately was hoping for a Bush victory, due to the presence of Joseph Lieberman on the Gore ticket, in retrospect, Gore might not have been too bad. Maybe he could have ditched Lieberman for 2004.

Anyway, watching the Democrats bumble away their chances made me think of what it takes to get the best of the Republicans, calling to mind a famous movie line, with which I have taken a couple of artistic liberties:

"You wanna know how to beat the Republicans? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. They sends one of yous to the hospital, you send one of deres to the morgue. That's the Chicago way! And that's how you beat the Republicans. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that?"

The Democrats weren't ready to do that in 2000.

By 2008, they no longer needed to do that to win.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Roy Williams, College Basketball and Coaches Salaries

There is a lot of buzz going on now about the injudicious manner in which John Calhoun, coach of the UConn Huskies and two time winner of the National Championship, answered a question about his salary level at that public university.

In order to perform due diligence, reporters across the country are questioning the coaches in their respective states, probably hoping for a meltdown similar to Calhoun's.

Here's the full text of the question and response by Roy Williams coach of the UNC Tar Heels, followed by some of my thoughts.

Would you be willing to take a paycut providing that it would help the University system? I am aware of the fact that your salary doesn't come through the same revenue of other state employees, but even just as a gesture…would you be willing to do that?

"Well, I think first of all, there's no way to answer that question. You say 'Yeah,' but then somebody's going to call today and say, 'give it all to me back.' And if you say no, you come across as being insensitive. Right now, I'm the most sensitive person in this room to the state of our nation's economy.

"My son called yesterday, and it was a great day, because they just told him he was finished. He’s a bond trader for Wachovia Securities, and it was bought by Wells Fargo, and Wells Fargo doesn't do what Wachovia Securities did. So I'm more sensitive than anybody in here; I've got a son that's part of the nation's unemployed. Now he's a cocky little rascal that think he's going to have a job by tonight. I said, 'Son, people aren't hiring, they're letting people go.' ….

"It's a tough time. I'm also sensitive in that I do give a great deal of money to the university every year. I am sensitive to the fact that the initial contract I signed in the spring of 2003, that it was in the contract that we would revisit and renegotiate my contract after the second year. Second year was a pretty good year, we won the national championship.

"I never asked to have it renegotiated. In fact, I forgot about it. The athletic director came to me six months after we were supposed to revisit, and I said, don't worry about it. The next year, 2006, I had maybe the most satisfying year I've ever had as a coach. I was National Coach of the Year, and he asked me whether I wanted to renegotiate again. And I said I was fine, I was satisfied with it. And we did something the year after that.

"I don't think I'm in the business to make money. If you convince me that me giving something up would help somebody, then we would really have a great discussion. Because I'm willing to do a lot of things; I'm not willing to stand up here and say 'Yes,' and I'm not willing to stand up here and say 'no' because I think it's a question that there's no good answer. I just know from my buddy Jimmy Calhoun that I'm not going to tell you to shut up.

"These are tough times, these are times that nobody knows. I can look around the room and know that it's affected the people in the room right here. But it is a fact … I am not paid by state funds, and we've had some success, and we've made a lot of money in men's basketball. And if we start losing games and losing money, they're not going to ask me to give any of the money back, they're going to fire me. And that's something else I understand.

"But again … I don't believe there is anybody who is more sensitive to it than I am. I do believe I give a great deal of money, whether it's Carolina Covenant or other programs here in our department or to build other buildings over there, or to help build baseball stadiums. So I'm very proud of what my wife and our family have done there, and I'm going to continue doing it.

"We have video equipment in our office that's used by … six other teams here, that I bought. If they fire me tomorrow, I don't think I'm going to give a darn about that video system. It was a system that was good for other people, and there wasn't necessarily a place in the budget for it, so I bought it. And I could care less – if they fire me, I have 13 free weeks at the Maui Marriott. And I am not going to give a darn about that video equipment at that time, so they can keep the sucker."

Fairly well answered and handled, I would say, except that, like Calhoun, he tells us what a beneficent giver he is. Please. What does it say in the Sermon on the Mount about revealing acts of charity?

While I certainly qualify as a free marketeer, I admit that I find some of the arguments tiresome on both sides of the political spectrum. Those who argue for a flat tax, most of who are Republicans, virtually never own up to the payroll tax and the fact that it disproportionately socks the young and the poor. They also never own up to the fact that Ronald Reagan greatly increased payroll taxes. He increased Fica, while cutting marginal tax rates on the rich, which were, indeed, at the time, far too high, something some liberals are now willing to admit, even if they were not at the time.

Many of Calhoun's defenders, on the merits, are attempting to defend his salary as an example of the free market. That is partially true, but overly simplistic. In terms of the “market” setting prices and salaries, well that is chapter one of the free market reader and most free-market oriented people stop reading here.

When you get to chapter two, you find out about something called public choice theory, which essentially undercuts much of the thrust of the market being efficient to begin with.

What does it all mean? It means that Roy’s salary is partially set by free market forces and partially set by non-free market forces, such as the Carolina Basketball Lobby, which we all love and hold near and dear to our hearts.

Nevertheless, I am sure that Roy could earn more coaching in the NBA if he wanted to.

“People who make the sort of money he makes are already contributing a grossly disproportionate amount to the public good, while getting little or nothing from public services in return.”

The statement directly above is typical of much of the defense of Calhoun in the blogosphere.

I used to think this statement was absolutely true, but such a statement is probably not something that can be verified scientifically.

To a large extent, it is true that the Carnegies and the Mellons created lots of jobs and built schools and hospitals. Nevertheless, it is also the Bill Gates of society and the rich in general who benefit disproportionately from the existing social structure.

People who have more assets and property, arguably place much more of a burden on the public provision of police protection and other services.

It is an utter fallacy to simply cite who pays what and what percent, as somehow proving the “proper” rate of taxation based on some abstract notion of fairness. It may convince many people as a political proposition, but as economics, it is not scientific.

Taxes pay for schools and roads and libraries and police protection. Obviously huge amounts go to pay for weapons and the soldiers that fight all over the world beneath the American flag. I am not sure how someone can say that he or she is getting little or nothing from military protection.

Taxes pay for the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agencies, who police our borders and check and manage our phone and internet transmissions to make sure that no further terrorist attacks take place. In fact, many would argue that it is the rich who benefit the most from the protection from such attacks, since they are the ones who have the most to lose should there be great destruction.

To me, the strangest thing about this argument is that essentially, it seems to be arguing that the University of North Carolina is a waste of taxpayer money. I certainly do not believe that.

In fact, I think there are probably a lot of lawyers who were educated at UNC Law, who are thrilled to pay taxes in North Carolina to support the school and the law school. I know that UNC is not quite the bargain it was when I went there, but it is still a pretty amazing deal for people in state. I could have attended Davidson or Wake, but honestly, I thought my friends from the state of North Carolina who went to those schools were suckers.

The difference in tuition between Davidson and UNC back in the early 1980’s was probably $10,000, which means Davidson cost close to $10,000 and UNC essentially cost zero, i.e., under $1,000 a year for tuition. There were a lot of low-wage mill workers who never attended college, who paid taxes to subsidize my education at UNC and I would like to thank them for allowing me to benefit disproportionately from such an amazing public service, which is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

So obviously, people have tons of different opinions on these controversial topics. If I had been Roy, I would just have politely pointed the reporters to the FOIA provisions covering his employment and left it at that.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Samuel L. Jackson and Star Wars

Samuel L. Jackson is a great actor.

His performance in Star Wars was eagerly anticipated by many, but ultimately both his character, Mace Windu and his performance, turned out to be hollow and dissatisfying.

Maybe it would have been over the top, but wouldn't it have been great, if Windu/Jackson, upon confronting Palpatine and Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith, had said the following:

“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.

And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know the true meaning of the Force when I lay my fury upon you."

Tiger Woods is Back

With Tiger Woods coming back from injury, and the Master's just around the corner, it brings to mind to me, some comparisons between golf and basketball, which is really in full swing.

While statistical analysis of baseball and basketball, is all the rage in sports now, golf seems to me, in many ways, almost impenetrable to comprehension.

Even Tiger a few years ago seemed to have lost his swing. Overnight, seemingly, Tom Watson lost his putting stroke, only to re-gain it years later as a Senior.

The other thing that I wonder about is the equipment. I don’t understand why golf and tennis did not mandate stasis in their hitting instruments. Would basketball allow flubber shoes?

In terms of mathematical analysis, one thing that I find very interesting is a comparison of the careers of two of the greats of golf and basketball, respectively, Greg Norman and Jerry West.

These guys were very similar in many ways. Both served as the masculine image of rugged good looks for his sport for years. Both were generally recognized to be among the top three or four talents in their sports. Both of them seemed to be virtually always in competition at the very end, which for Norman, was on Sunday, and for West, was in the Final Four and NBA Finals.

And both of them usually lost. West lost in the Final Four with West Virginia and then lost in the NBA Finals.

Seven straight times, West lost in the NBA Finals to Boston, and then the N.Y. Knicks, as a member of the L.A. Lakers. In 1972, West would finally win a title with the Lakers, besting the Knicks, but then the Lakers would go on to lose one more time in the Finals against the Knicks in 1973.

All told, West played in 9 Finals and his team lost 8 of them.

I won’t do a detailed sketch of the Aussie Norman, except to note that his career resembles West’s in a lot of ways.

My question about Norman is, was the man really a choker, or was he simply on the bad end of some of the worst luck, some of the most unfortunate random events in golf history?

Like John Thompson of Georgetown, who with a gentle nudge of help from the Furies, would have won three college basketball titles in four years and been acclaimed as an all time great coach, was Greg Norman really an all-time great golfer whom fate simply disdained?

Jerry West ended his career as successful general manager, became the insignia for the NBA logo, and was acclaimed by all as an all-time great, and recognized by all by his nickname, Mr. Clutch, in spite of his team's failures so many times on the big stage.

Greg Norman at the height of his career was to play in a pro-am with President Clinton, in the mid-1990s. In preparation, Norman invited Clinton to his home to talk golf and prepare for the match together, and the president ended up falling down his backstairs, which required surgery and a cancellation of the match.

That kind of luck pretty much epitomized Norman's career. And no, Greg Norman's nickname is not Mr. Clutch.