Archive for December, 2009

They’re Watching Us!

December 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Six years ago next month, we began the process of buying a new car for Gail. We soon settled on a particular model, and then had to decide on features and color, given those the dealer could get in. We were somewhat flexible on color. Our principal criterion was that we didn’t want the navigation package. We wanted the other standard multi-feature package, the one that gives you heated front seats and leather interior and a few other “luxury” items. But we didn’t want the navigation package for three reasons: we didn’t think we needed it — we sort of know our way around; why pay for something you don’t need?; but most important, Gail didn’t want the car to be equipped with GPS. I kept tellling her this could be useful, but she was adamant that she didn’t want them watching her. Paranoia or reality? Who knows? Remember the Mel Gibson character in Conspiracy Theory? He turned out to be right. Why bet against him?

Since most of the cars the dealer brought in had the navigation feature, we would have to wait. No problem. Our salesman identified a particular vehicle on its way from Japan and earmarked it for us. Or so he said.

Weeks went by. Eventually he said something had gone wrong and the car wasn’t coming to the dealer. Or maybe it was going to another customer. Whatever. We found whatever he said a little hard to take seriously. Whatever the issue, he was back to telling us that a car with everything we wanted was now available, and as a bonus, it had navigation too! He seemed to have forgotten the whole point, that we were waiting a month so we could do without navigation. We decided to take a look. And then, great car bargainer that I am, I managed to get them to agree to a big discount on the navigation. Gail, in turn, sucked it up and decided she could live with GPS.

Five years and 9+ months later, she couldn’t be happier. She has struck up a friendship with the disembodied woman who tells her how to get places. She finds the navigation more useful than she ever imagined. But best of all, with navigation and the accompanying screen in the dash, you get a rear camera that shows what’s behind you when the car is in reverse. The car I bought three years ago has this too. One quickly comes to appreciate it.

Are they watching? We moved beyond that.

Silly us. As you may have read last week, thanks to the work of Indiana University graduate student Christopher Soghoian,

Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies with its customers’ (GPS) location information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009. This massive disclosure of sensitive customer information was made possible due to the roll-out by Sprint of a new, special web portal for law enforcement officers.

Read more in his post on the subject. See also emptywheel’s post two days ago, in which she points out that Sprint may have made a significant amount of money from this service. She concludes, “You see, these companies only look like telecom companies. Really, they’re telecom and surveillance companies. The question is, how much telecom is it, and how much surveillance?” And see Scott Horton’s post yesterday at Harper’s. I’ll conclude with one passage from Horton.

In 1999, Congress passed a law requiring annual reporting of “pen registers and tap and trace devices” so that Congress could monitor the use of new technologies for electronic surveillance. This reporting requirement is imposed on the Department of Justice. However, Soghoian notes (I believe correctly) that the Justice Department has simply ignored the law and the obligations it imposes. This is one area in which the Justice Department apparently feels free to do what it wishes, including violating criminal statutes, whenever it feels national security is challenged. It is also free to rope telecommunications service providers into collaboration, assuring them that it will use its law enforcement monopoly to insure that criminal statutes they are jointly violating will not be enforced. This was the criminal enterprise engineered by the Bush Justice Department to subvert FISA. But so far there is little evidence of the Obama Administration charting a different course, or insisting on accountability for their predecessors.

Categories: Government, Law, Movies, Security

A Perfect Meal

December 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Our friends Gerry and Margie are in town from Boston, visiting Gerry’s brother, and they came over to the house last night, giving us the excuse to have a fabulous dinner. Not that I had much to do with it. Gail did all the cooking. But before I forget, I want to record what we had. Too bad I didn’t photograph everything. (I took the photos shown here just now, a day later, with the plating done by me from cold leftovers, so I’m not showing how it looked freshly cooked or with Gail as the plater.)

The first course was a bean soup, made from cannellini beans that Gail made into a puree of sorts. For a garnish, Gail made a red pepper and garlic liquid that she squirted on top and spread out with a knife edge. This made for an attractive presentation, but even better was eating it.

The centerpiece of the meal was baked, prosciutto-wrapped halibut plated atop a root vegetable array. Gail chopped fingerling potato, sweet potato, carrot, and parsnip into roughly half-inch cubes and roasted them, creating a great mix of color, flavor, and texture. On the side was green salad with chopped walnuts, cranberries, and bacon, tossed with a citrus dressing.

For dessert, poached pear in a red wine reduction. This turns out to be tricky to eat, as the pear wants to revolve around its central axis when you try to cut into it. Maybe eating by hand would be better, but bibs would be needed. In any case, the effort was rewarded by a delightfully sweet and tasty concoction.

We still have a few bottles of the various wines that we shipped up when we were in Healdsburg two Octobers ago. We selected one we’ve been saving for a special occasion, our bottle of 2003 Stryker Cabernet Sauvignon ‘3’ from Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley. It was good, but what do I know about wine? Here’s what Stryker says: “True to our style, this wine is muscular yet elegant. Richly textured, plush and loaded with rich, ripe fruit. Aromas of blackberries and cherries, with a core of currants and a hint of minty spice and vanillin. Velvety and thick on the finish, it is framed by a sturdy influence of toasted oak.” I can’t say I tasted all that. Still, I was happy. Given the food, how could I not be?

Sometimes the best food can be found at home. Especially when you have the good fortune to live with a gifted cook.

Categories: Food

Yellow Bar

December 7, 2009 1 comment

Yellow Bar, Florence

I had intended to write about a modest restaurant where we had two of our three Florence dinners last month, but perhaps the moment has come and gone. Let me give it a shot. I’ll take the opportunity, while at it, to comment more generally on our Florence stay.
Read more…

Categories: Food, Restaurants, Travel

Hall of Fame Roundup

December 7, 2009 1 comment

[AP photograph, from Sports Illustrated]

A few brief comments on various topics related to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

1. Marvin Miller. The results of the voting by the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee for Managers and Umpires were announced today. Former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog and former umpire Doug Harvey were elected. The results of the voting by the Veterans Committee for Executives and Pioneers were also announced. The committee had 12 members and approval by 9 was required for election to the Hall. No one received that many. Former Tigers owner John Fetzer fell one vote short, while Marvin Miller and long-ago Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert fell two short.

Can you imagine? Once again, Marvin Miller falls short. Who has had more impact on the game in the last half century? Can you name anyone? How does he keep falling short? For the record, the committee members were “Hall of Famers Robin Roberts and Tom Seaver; former executive John Harrington (Red Sox); current executives Jerry Bell (Twins), Bill DeWitt (Cardinals), Bill Giles (Phillies), David Glass (Royals), Andy MacPhail (Orioles) and John Schuerholz (Braves); and veteran media members Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), Hal McCoy (Dayton Daily News) and Phil Pepe (New York Daily News). Maybe this suggests the answer. Are executives unwilling to give proper credit to a labor leader? Can they be so parochial?

For background on Miller, you can look at the page about him at the website of the Major League Baseball Players Association, of which he was Executive Director from 1966 to 1983. Here’s part of the mini-biography at their site:

Club owners had ruled baseball with an iron fist for nearly a century prior to Marvin Miller’s appointment as the MLBPA’s executive director. Players had no ability to choose their employer as they were tied to their original club by a “reserve clause” in every player contract that provided for automatic renewal. Salaries and benefits were low, working conditions abysmal.

A gifted economist for first the U.S. government then the United Steelworkers of America, Miller brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the players’ cause. With a combination of charisma and clarity of vision, Miller convinced the initially skeptical players of the strength they could wield through solidarity and collective bargaining.

In 1968, Miller led a committee of players that negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement in the history of professional sports. The agreement raised the minimum salary in baseball from $6,000 – the level at which it had been stuck for two decades – to $10,000 and set the tone for future advances.

In 1970, Miller helped players negotiate the right to arbitration to resolve grievances – an achievement Miller considers the most significant of the union’s early years. The impartial dispute resolution process paved the way for nearly all of the gains the players would achieve in ensuing years.

2. Edgar Martinez. Still to come, next month, are the results of the balloting for player membership. Let me take the opportunity to remind you that this is Mariner great Edgar Martinez’s first year on the ballot. No one expects him to be elected this year. He will need to be one of those players for whom momentum and growing support develops over the years that he remains on the ballot, as people come to a better understanding of his career. Of course, this may not happen. Last year’s election of Jim Rice, in his 15th and last year of eligibility, is an example for which such a process did happen. Two months ago, I wrote about the 300/400/500 club — those players who over the course of their careers
hit .300, had an on-base percentage of .400, and slugged .500. There was nothing original about my comments on this. I simply referred to some research of Joe Posnanski that he had included in an article at the SI website. There were two points to this: that Chipper Jones has had an extraordinary career, and that Edgar Martinez did too. They are on the short list of club members who have played 2000 games, along with Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Tris Speaker, Mel Ott, Harry Heilmann, Frank Thomas, and Manny Ramirez.

A month ago, Posnanski wrote a post in which he discussed Martinez’s HoF case at greater length. I would have quoted it at the time, but we were in Florence and I was off blogging duty. With the HoF vote approaching, Pos asked, “Who is the best eligible hitter who is not in the Hall of Fame?” After running through some candidates, Pos writes:

But I tell you what, I think there’s actually a better answer than any of those for the greatest eligible hitter who is not in the Hall of Fame. I’m cheating a little bit because this player is not quite eligible … he will be on the ballot this year for the very first time. But he will not get voted in, and I suspect he will not come close to getting voted in. And I think he might be the best hitter (non-steroid/gambling division) to not make the Hall of Fame.

That hitter, of course, is Edgar Martinez.


– Edgar Martinez’s career average is .312 — since the end of World War II (not including active players) only seven men with 7,500 or-more at bats have a better batting average (Gwynn, Boggs, Carew, Musial, Puckett, Clemente, Larry Walker).

– Edgar Martinez’s career on-base percentage is .418 — FOUR ONE EIGHT. Only Bonds, Mantle and Frank Thomas have a better on-base percentage using the same criteria (since 1945, 7,500 at-bats, non-active).

– Edgar Martinez slugged .515 — the same as Willie McCovey. Admittedly, it was a different era (and Edgar only once hit more than 30 home runs), but the point here is that Martinez was not a slappy hitter.

– Edgar led the league in hitting twice, in on-base percentage three times, in runs once, in RBIs once and in doubles twice. I’ve often said that one of the great MVP rip-offs in baseball history was when Mo Vaughn won in 1995 over Albert Belle — who hit 50 homers and 50 doubles in a strike-shortened season, one of the great hitting years in baseball history. Edgar, you could argue, had an even BETTER YEAR than Belle (.356/.479/.628 with 121 runs, 116 walks, 113 RBIs, a 185 OPS+).

Best I can guess, Martinez will not get a lot of Hall of Fame support despite being one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, … .

Pos has more to say. See his post.

3. Juan Marichal. Today’s NYT sports section had a great piece on Juan Marichal and John Roseboro, the Giant pitcher and Dodger catcher who had a famous and horrific encounter during a game in 1965, with Marichal at the plate turning on Roseboro and using his bat to hit Roseboro on the head. A familiar photo of the incident is at the top of this post. (Name the third player in the photo!) I can only guess what the response to the incident would be now, with repeated replays and discussion on ESPN and worldwide availability on youtube. But it was bad enough then. As the article explains (and see also a NYT blog post from last week), Roger Guenveur Smith has written a one-man play now appearing at The Public Theater in which he portrays both Marichal and Roseboro. And on Saturday night, Marichal and his family attended a special performance, as did Roseboro’s daughter. There too was the president of the Dominican Republic, Marichal’s home country. Marichal and Roseboro had long since reconciled. Indeed, Marichal spoke at Roseboro’s funeral.

What this has to do with the HoF theme is that Marichal’s arrival at the Hall was delayed because of the incident, which has long marred his reputation. In case you need reminding of how great Marichal was, you might have a look, here, at his stats. I can’t imagine a single league had a more dominating trio of pitchers at any one time than the National League in the 1960s with Koufax, Gibson, and Marichal. More recently, one might mention any three of Pedro Martinez, Maddux, Clemens, and Johnson, two of whom are still pitching and all four of whom pitched at least parts of their careers in the NL. I wouldn’t want to choose between the two groups. Giants all. Well, actually, onlly Marichal was a Giant, until last year, when Johnson became one, but, you know. And Clemens is a complete jerk, even if he never did hit anyone over the head with a bat. He did throw a bat. But I’m getting away from the point, which is that the article in today’s NYT is worth a look.

Categories: Baseball

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

December 7, 2009 Leave a comment

Did you see the lead front page article in yesterday’s (Sunday’s) NYT on the Obama administration’s process for developing an Afghanistan war plan? If so, you might not have read far enough to catch a passage worthy of note, given how long the article was and how late the passage appears. I should add immediately that it’s worthy for what it says about language usage and the NYT, not the administration’s planning. And I thank Mark Liberman at Language Log for bringing it to my attention.

The leak of Ambassador Eikenberry’s Nov. 6 cable stirred another storm within the administration because the cable had been requested by the White House. The National Security Council had told the ambassador to put his views in writing. But someone else then passed word of the cable to reporters in what some in the process took to be a calculated attempt to head off a big troop buildup.

The cable stunned some in the military. The reaction at the Pentagon, said one official, was “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” — military slang for an expression of shock. Among the officers caught off guard were General McChrystal and his staff, for whom the cable was “a complete surprise,” said another official, even though the commander and the ambassador meet three times a week.

Military slang? And Bravo Tango Whiskey is military slang also? Or Bravo Yankee Oscar Bravo? WTF?

Categories: Language, Newspapers

Warming Up

December 7, 2009 Leave a comment

Yet another long break between posts. Sorry about that. I had some business I was taking care of in the last week that distracted me from the blog. Plus, the longer I don’t write anything, the more topics accumulate, and I get intimidated by all the items I want to write about. Plus plus, I still haven’t written all I intended to about our time in Italy. Or Paris. I’m so far behind. I should be writing about:

Paris again
Books I’m reading or not reading
Baseball Hall of Fame voting
Palin (or maybe not)
World Cup soccer draw

Just for starters. In my recurring theme of national chain restaurants, I could write about two that we found ourselves at last week: Macaroni Grill and Bahama Breeze. And there’s always the football news.

Where to begin? We’ll see. For this post, I’ll just add a photo to the top from Florence. Gail took it at the indoor central food market — San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale. We bought our lunch at the food stall that the photo shows in part, four weeks ago today. Simple, but superb, salami and cheese sandwiches along with small cups of whatever local red wine they were pouring. It was 2:15 that afternoon, we had been walking for hours, and we really needed something. We couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Categories: Food, Travel, Writing