Archive for February, 2011

A Match Play Puzzle

February 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Luke Donald, on the 9th hole today

[Andy Lyons/Getty Images]

The annual World Golf Championships match play tournament concluded this afternoon in Tucson, with Englishman Luke Donald defeating German Martin Kaymer in the final. There was an inch of snow overnight (in Tucson!), but it had melted by the time play began. The purpose of this post is to pose a question about the nature of golf that has long puzzled me, but first I will give some background.

Almost all golf tournaments are medal play, or stroke play, which means the winner is the player who takes the least strokes to get around the course. A professional men’s tournament almost always has four rounds, 18 holes each, played on successive days. In most tournaments, the field consists of 156 players, with about half of them cut at the end of the second day. (Only those who make the cut earn money.) Before the cut, they play in threesomes, the same threesome playing together on both the first and second days. After the cut, unless there are bad weather conditions or other reasons to shorten the playing time and play in threesomes, they play in pairs, with the leading pair going off last, the third and fourth best scorers, going off next to last, and so on.

To win, you must beat all 156 players. Obviously. The point of this observation, though, is that it leads to the golf truism that it’s hard to win tournaments — you have to beat not just the top 10 or 20 players in the field, but also the lesser-known player near the bottom who has a crazy good week. And that’s why the greatest players in the world generally don’t win that often. There are countless famous examples of this, perhaps none more famous than Jack Fleck‘s victory over Ben Hogan in the 1955 US Open. At the end of four rounds, Hogan had beaten everyone else. But he managed only to tie Fleck, who would beat him the next day by three strokes in an 18-hole playoff.

The alternative to medal play is match play. In match play, you are trying to beat the player paired with you, over 18 or sometimes 36 holes. You don’t count strokes. You count holes won. Thus, each hole that the two players play in the same number of strokes is considered “halved”, while each hole that one player in fewer strokes than the other is won by the first player. If you and I are playing and after 15 holes of 18, I have won 2 more holes than you, I’m “up 2”. Let’s say I win the next hole. I’m now up 3 holes, with 2 to go. Not much point playing the last two, and in fact they aren’t played. The match is over, with me winning by 3 holes with 2 to go, or “3 and 2”. Should we be “all square” after 18, we keep playing until one of us wins a hole and the match.

In a match play tournament, a single elimination draw is set up just like in tennis. Let’s say there are 64 competitors. Then they are seeded, or at least the top ones are, so that the top ones won’t play each other in the early rounds. In the first round of play, 32 match play matches are played, with 32 winners and 32 losers. Then the 32 winners play in 16 pairs, producing 16 winners, followed by the 16 winners playing in 8 pairs to produce 8 winners, and so on. Just like in tennis.

The PGA championship, one of golf’s four annual major tournaments, was run as match play through 1957, then converted to medal play, a great loss to golf tradition. For years, there was no match play tournament of consequence. But with the advent of the World Golf Championships, a match play tournament with a large purse and an international field of stature returned to the tour in 1999. This is the tournament that was played this week.

The oft-cited problem with match play tournaments is that the very best players may lose on day one, or day two, and then not be around on the weekend. This has two disadvantages: (1) top players may be less motivated to take the trip to the tournament, only to be bounced after one round; and (2) networks may not want to pay for the broadcast rights, only to be saddled on the weekend with just 8 players, few of whom may be widely known to the viewing public. By Sunday, they are down to showing two players, and let’s hope one of them is Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson.

Speaking of Woods, he was runner up in 2000, and winner in 2003, 2004, and 2008. He’s done his share. But this year, not entirely surprisingly, he lost in round one. Mickelson lost in round two. Many famous players lost early. There is a certain inevitability to this. In medal play, a golfer can have a bad day and come back. In match play, after that bad day, you’re gone. And even if you have a good day, it only takes one golfer having a better day — your opponent — and you’re gone.

You may be aware that European golfers have moved well up in the world rankings lately. Entering the tournament, Europeans were ranked 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, and 9 (Lee Westwood of England, Martin Kaymer of Germany, Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, Paul Casey of England, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, and Luke Donald of England). Interspersed among them were three Americans: Tiger at 3, Mickelson at 5, and Stricker at 8. It is therefore no great surprise that the two finalists — Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald — were among these top Europeans. And, in fact, in the aftermath of the event, Kaymer will take over the #1 spot, with Donald jumping to #3.

So, what is it that puzzles me? Yes, two of the top players in the world made the finals, but if one examines who made the round of 16, or the quarterfinals, few of the top seeds survived this far. Everyone in the late rounds was among the better players in the world, recognizable to anyone who follows golf at all closely. Yet, the tournament, like the other match play championships over the past 13 years, didn’t have the same feel that a major tennis tournament does. You don’t find high seeds filling the bulk of the late round slots. You don’t expect to see the golf equivalents of Federer and Nadal surviving to the end. When they lose, it doesn’t really feel like a major upset. If #45 in the world beats #3, ho hum. In tennis, that’s almost unimaginable.

My question is, what is it about golf that makes it different from tennis? Match play tournaments are rare, but when they come around, no one who follows golf finds the early round losses by the stars to be genuine upsets. That’s golf. It happens. No one plays at the top of his game every day. And when you don’t, you are likely to lose. No big deal. In tennis, on the other hand, the top 5 or 6 players should always beat the players ranked below 20, and usually do, even on off days.

One possible answer is that there isn’t the same depth in tennis. There’s a big dropoff in quality after the top few, whereas the top 100 players in golf are much closer in quality. Maybe, but if so, what would be the reason? And how would we know? How could we measure it?

My guess is that this isn’t what’s going on. I think the explanation lies in some fundamental difference between the two sports, a difference that might make consistent excellence in golf harder to achieve than in tennis, or might make an only slightly better player beat a slightly weaker player a much higher percentage of the time in a tennis match than in a round of match play golf.

One difference is that the stakes are lower each time a tennis player hits a ball during a match than they are each time a golfer hits a ball. One bad golf shot and you’ve lost a couple of strokes, or a hole. One bad tennis shot and maybe you have a fault on a serve, with a second serve still to come. Put another way, a golfer is likely to hit the ball only 70 times or so in a match; a tennis player will have hundreds of shots.

I can think of other differences between the sports, such as the fact that tennis is played on a court of fixed dimensions whereas golf is played on a continuously varying course, but I don’t know how that would help to answer my question. It might be part of an argument one would make in support of the statement that excellence is harder to achieve in golf than in tennis — excellence in the sense of approaching an ideal of the perfect player. One might then argue that tennis players who are near the ideal, such as Federer and Nadal in recent years, are therefore more likely to dominate matches against other players.

Woods, of course, achieved the same level of success for much of the last decade. Would he have if more tournaments were run as match play rather than medal play? Probably not. He wouldn’t have the cushion of that one so-so round.

Well, I don’t have the answers. I’m just using this post to raise the question.

Categories: Golf, Tennis

Sentence of the Week

February 27, 2011 Leave a comment

I realize it’s a bit lame to choose my sentence of the week from the NYT’s weekly Vows column from the Sunday Weddings/Celebrations section. I mean, the column has a top ten or top five candidate every week. Easy pickings. But still, how could I resist when I read this gem from today’s Vows?

The life Ms. Klein was leading, teaching English at a Jewish school by day and dating and taking in the city’s cultural wealth by night, was a mix of artistic and traditional.

I shouldn’t comment, should I? It speaks for itself. But I’m so tempted.

The piece is longer than the usual Vows column. And it does tell a good story, of the romance between Ms. Klein and a Jewish artist from Strasbourg, which leads to another wonderful passage:

Until then, the blond, buoyant Ms. Klein was primarily dating bankers and lawyers. But she had come to recognize, she said, that “my heart is always with the artist.”

Indeed. Mine too.

Categories: Language, Life

Husky Fan?

February 27, 2011 Leave a comment

In my last post, I wrote about my iMac woes, which culminated in the trip Gail and I took to the Apple Store yesterday for the final resolution of my problems. We had a 10:00 AM appointment at the Genius Bar, 10:00 being the bar’s opening time, and we arrived a few minutes early, allowing us to watch the geniuses come out one by one from the back and take their seats at the bar. Then fellow supplicants began to take their seats across the bar from the geniuses, and soon it we were called to face Nate.

I already explained that Nate got started on restoring data to my once-ailing iMac, at which point he suggested we take off for half an hour while the files were transferred from Joel’s hard drive back to the iMac. On our return, Nate was busy with others, giving us what turned out to be about a 6 or 7 minute wait. Which brings me to the point.

Two genius locations down from Nate, a woman was on her genius bar stool being helped. Behind her, sitting up and looking for attention, was a hairy white dog, on the large side, though not super large or anything. He was on a leash, which was tied to the stool. I was standing about 5 feet away, and he seemed to have taken an interest in me. I didn’t want to get him worked up, but Gail assured me that I should go over and return his interest.

So I did. I put my hand out to his nose, then petted him. His tail was wagging furiously. I was a little puzzled about what breed he was, and was thinking of asking the woman, who at this point turned around to look at me. I said something, like maybe that the dog was a lovely one. Gail, still a few feet away, said something too. Then the woman asked, “Are you a husky fan?”

Now, I have to tell you, this was no husky. I don’t know much about dogs. I’m learning. Watching the Westminster Dog Show every year for the last decade has helped a lot. But I don’t need a dog show or a book to know what a husky looks like. I know huskies. Dog sleds, Alaska. Yup, I know huskies. And, of course, I’ve been associated to the University of Washington for three decades now. No one can be a part of UDub and be ignorant of our husky mascot.

So, why the heck was she asking me if I’m a husky fan? And here I was going to ask her what kind of dog it was. If I were a husky fan, I sure had chosen the wrong dog to pet. I was mystified. Then again, we were just across the street from the UW campus, so maybe the question had something to do with UW sports. Am I a UW sports fan? Well, sometimes. A little. Not entirely, because being one would mean I support the corrupt industry of big time NCAA sports. Still, this was no husky, and was she really asking me out of the blue if I root for UW?

I finally responded. “Not entirely.” That seemed about right, whatever she was asking.

And then she elaborated. Well, you see, she had taught the dog to respond to the UW fight song, Bow Down to Washington, by getting down flat on the floor. She could say “bow down” and the dog would obey. Or, I gather, she could play the song and he would do the same. She added that her boyfriend was a UW football player, and he loved this trick.

Okay, so that explained the question, and assured us that she didn’t think the dog was a husky. Gail finally asked just what the dog was. A labradoodle. And what a lovely labradoodle he was. Gail thinks we should get one. I’m thinking we should look at poodradors instead.

Categories: Computing, Dogs, Sports

iMac Woes

February 27, 2011 Leave a comment

I seem to be in business again, at last. As I noted in passing a week ago, one reason I’ve posted so little this month is that I have been having troubles with my iMac, the one I ordered the day after Thanksgiving and have had for almost three months now.

The problems started in early January. I would go to my mail app and each of my four inboxes would have a little spinning sign, showing the app wasn’t connecting with the mail servers. This would happen on occasion after an hour or two of activity on the computer and consistently after I woke the computer up from sleep. Sometimes the computer would, apparently, awaken overnight and presumably go through this state, then crash (a kernel panic), requiring that I hold the power button down for a few seconds to get the computer to shut off before I could restart.

If I was working with some other apps and the mail app went into this state, I could continue to work for a while, but soon my RSS feed would lose its connection to the server, then Safari would crash, then I’d have to restart, but I wouldn’t be able to restart. It would begin the shut down process and then stall, requiring the multi-second push of the power button.

This wasn’t conducive to working. At the beginning of this month, I brought the computer to the Apple Store Genius Bar for diagnosis. My genius soon found that the hard drive was failing. They ordered a new one, I got the call that it was in, but I deferred bringing in the computer for two weeks because I was extremely busy, I had learned to suck it up and shut the computer down multiple times a day, and I wanted to do a full backup before turning the computer in. Joel got tired of my passivity and finally did the backup himself.

So two Wednesdays ago I dropped off the iMac for its new hard drive. The store called Friday to say the work was done. I picked up the iMac on Saturday, eight days ago, and reinstalled all the data. Over the next eight hours, the computer proceeded to have four mail failures or kernel panics, one in the middle of my writing a blog post. Overnight it had a fifth. Gail made a new appointment with the Genius Bar and I brought it back in first thing Monday morning.

This was my chance to get tough. I explained that these trips and the crashes, and the backups and re-installs, were a waste of my time. I suggested I just be given a new machine so I could get on with my life. The kind genius pointed out that this sounded good, assuming the problem was one of hardware, but if it was software? Specifically, she explained that there could be a problem with my data, so I could reinstall it on yet another machine and find the same problem. Hmm. I realized she had a point. So much for playing tough guy. She ran some diagnostic tests, then proposed that they keep the computer, let it run for a while in the back, and see what they could learn. I meekly agreed.

Tuesday afternoon, Apple left a message that they were convinced the hardware was fine. It must be the software, and specifically something embedded in my mail settings. They proposed that they rebuild the operating system, then have me come in with my back up hard drive and have the data put back on the computer carefully. I called back Thursday morning, said sure, and Friday they said the work was done. So I made yet another Genius Bar appointment, 10 AM yesterday.

Back I went, with Gail at my side, to help me stay calm. Genius Nate helped us this time. Good guy. Rather than install everything from the backup, we first brought over all my files — music, photos, documents. This would take about a half hour, during which Gail and I went off for breakfast (Gail) and a snack (me). Back to the store, a 5-minute wait for Nate to be free, then we started from scratch to re-build my mailboxes, and to verify that the music, photos, and documents were all there.

We were home by noon, at which point the real work began. I downloaded apps, set up all my system preferences, set up preferences in all the apps, and on and on. Over two hours of work. Fortunately, I’m getting used to the routine, having done it last month with my new MacBook Air and in September with my iMac in my office, after it had to have a new logic board put in. In fact, I now have written down a check list of everything I do to set up and customize a Mac.

The good news: it seems to be working. And now I can go back to blogging. Sorry for the spotty posting of late.

Categories: Computing

Sentence of the Week

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

[Laura Morton for The New York Times]

I’m still catching up from a large backlog, so this is really last week’s sentence of the week. I reserve the right to write about the sentence of this week. And the winning sentence is actually a perfectly fine sentence. Its failing is a matter of context.

On to the winner. NYT sportswriter Pete Thamel had a piece in the Sunday sports section a week ago about Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck, as you may know, was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in the fall. It was widely expected that if Luck chose to leave Stanford early, he would be the #1 pick in the NFL draft, well ahead of the Heisman winner, Cam Newton. But Luck chose to stay at Stanford for another year, both to play one more year of college ball and to continue enjoying student life at Stanford.

Thamel’s article is a good one. In a short amount of space, he lays out the issues well and you leave liking Luck. (A little alliteration there!) But there’s this puzzling passage, maybe the result of some combination of re-writing and careless editing:

Although Luck’s mind was essentially made up [regarding staying in school], he turned to someone outside the family. With his feet shaking nervously, he called Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who stayed at Tennessee for his senior year instead of entering the 1997 N.F.L. draft.

Luck recalled that Manning told him, “If you’re not ready to move on with life, it’s the best choice.”

Manning advised him to never second-guess his decision or worry about injuries. He added that his senior year had helped him be better prepared to turn the corner in his second N.F.L. season, when Indianapolis improved to 13 victories from 3 the previous season.

Luck also received texts of support from a former N.F.L. teammate of his father’s, Archie Manning, whose sons Peyton and Eli faced the same decision.

That last sentence is the winner. Um, given the three paragraphs that preceded it, don’t we know already that Archie’s son faced the same decision? Or did we need a reminder?

Well, as I say, maybe it’s just a slip in the editing process. But it made me stop and re-read the passage to make sure I was following the logic of the article.

Alas, further down the article, there’s what now seems to be the obligatory mention of that notorious war criminal, Condoleezza Rice. Is it no longer possible to write a piece about Stanford without mentioning her, or to televise a Stanford sporting event without panning over to her in the stands? Had anyone ever heard of Stanford before she left to join the Bush administration? It would seem not.

Categories: Journalism, Language

Sidewalk Rage

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Yup, it's the United terminals B/C underground walkway at O'Hare

Another day, another WSJ article. This one, in last Tuesday’s paper, was about sidewalk rage.

Signs of a sidewalk rager include muttering or bumping into others; uncaringly hogging a walking lane; and acting in a hostile manner by staring, giving a “mean face” or approaching others too closely, says Leon James, a psychology professor at the University of Hawaii who studies pedestrian and driver aggression.

For the cool-headed, sidewalk rage may seem incomprehensible. After all, it seems simple enough to just go around the slow individual. Why then are some people, even those who greet other obstacles with equanimity, so infuriated by unhurried fellow pedestrians?

Kind of nuts, huh? I sure didn’t recognize myself in any of this. Until I got to the next paragraph:

How one interprets the situation is key, researchers say. Ragers tend to have a strong sense of how other people should behave. Their code: Slower people keep to the right. Step aside to take a picture. And the left side of an escalator should be, of course, kept free for anyone wanting to walk up.

Yes, well, that’s different. What’s the deal, anyway, with those morons at the airport who get on a moving sidewalk and stop, suitcase at their sides, completely blocking passage? I mean, are you serious? You’re going to stand for 100 yards while it moves at 1/2 mile per hour? Are you trying to imagine life as a snail? Stand on the right, move your damn bag in front of or behind you, and get out of the way! Let the rest of us use the moving sidewalk to walk. The idea is to get there faster, not slower.


The article continues:

“A lot of us have ‘shoulds’ in our head,” says Dr. Deffenbacher. Ragers tend to think people should do things their way, and get angry because the slow walkers are breaking the rules of civility. It’s unclear exactly why some people harbor such beliefs, Dr. Deffenbacher says.

Hey, Deffenbacher, I’m talking about standers, not slow walkers, and they are breaking the rules of civility. You got that right, pal. There’s nothing unclear at all.

I’m glad we got that settled.

Categories: Life

A Man and His Goose

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

[Gary Leonard, WSJ]

I’m a little late getting to this article, as explained in part in my post last night about my gap in writing. But better late than never, so let me direct you to the front page feature article in the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago, with the clever title Maria, Maria, I’ve Just Met a Goose Named Maria.

It’s a simple enough story, about a man, a goose, and a park.

Their relationship started last spring when Mr. Ehrler discovered that the goose—whom locals call Maria—liked to accompany him on his daily walks around a lake in Echo Park, a neighborhood about two miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

He’d show up, Maria would find him and the two would walk. A city worker joked to Mr. Ehrler that he was being stalked.

Now each morning, the couple walks the loop of Echo Park Lake together. Maria waddles a few paces ahead with her head stuck up straight and her belly full of tortillas Mr. Ehrler feeds her.

When they’re done, Maria walks, then runs, then flies alongside as Mr. Ehrler, 65 years old, speeds away on his red scooter. She returns to the same spot to greet him the next day.

The problem, alas, is that the lake is polluted and the city has plans to close it city plans to drain it, put a fence around it, and fix it over a two-year period. The environmental-impact report failed to take Maria into account.

What to do? Well, you can read more in the article, about the plans and about Maria herself. She’s really quite wonderful. Click on the slideshow as well and see her flying side-by-side with Mr. Ehrler as he speeds away on his scooter after their walk.

At times, Maria won’t return to the lake, so Mr. Ehrler guides her back to the park, where onlookers lock her behind a fence until he’s gone. Once she was spotted blocks away waddling down busy Sunset Boulevard. A firehouse crew escorted her to the park in an ambulance.

The couple’s fame grows. A waitress at a nearby pizzeria is working on a documentary about them. On Saturday, a group of 100 people plan to sing a send-up of “Maria” from “West Side Story” while marching around the lake with Mr. Ehrler and the goose.

Categories: Birds, Life

Catching Up Again

February 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Hickory, Scottish deerhound

This has been a bad month for blogging. And the longer I go without writing new posts, the more post ideas accumulate, making the prospect of catching up sufficiently daunting that I keep putting it off. But mostly what has kept me quiet has been the confluence of two events: a busy period with regard to various work duties and the poor health of my still new iMac. I was without the iMac for a few days, and now that it’s back from the Apple Store, the problem that sent it there is as bad as ever. I’m using it tonight, but it will return to the store tomorrow morning.*

So much for using it tonight. It lost its internet connection partway through this post. This has been the problem. First the mail app stops working, but the browser is fine. Then the browser goes, which is what happened. And then the computer crashes if I wait long enough. I have switched to my MacBook Air and will finish this post, but that may do it for today.

Anyway, let’s see. I’ll list a few of the items I had intended to write about, though some are getting dated and I can barely remember the details of others:

1. Technology update: the woes of my iMac, the beauty of my new Kindle, some thoughts on my new 11″ MacBook Air.

2. Westminster dog show. It took place last Monday and Tuesday. How can I not comment on it? Love those dogs.

3. Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory. This was the subject of my last post, written when I was part way through the book. I’ve finished it now.

4. The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam. This is the book I’m now reading. About one third of the way through.

5. A WSJ article last week about walker rage.

6. A WSJ article last week about the friendship between a man and a goose in LA.

7. A NYT article with an incredibly poorly written sentence.

8. The Wayne Rooney goal. You’ve probably seen it by now, but if not, I was going to link to it.

9. Dinner last weekend at La Spiga.

It’s tempting to say something about the events in Wisconsin this past week, with further thoughts about state employees and unions in general, but what do I know? I mean, I know a little, what with being a state employee and all. But I’m not exactly an expert on politics or unions or disingenuous right-wing governors. I did try to think yesterday morning of what experts on Wisconsin I could think of, first among friends of mine in academia, then among bloggers I read. And then it occurred to me that a blogger I eschew reading because her views are too far to the right for me is in fact a law professor at Wisconsin, so surely her thoughts would be of interest. Off I went to Althouse, the Ann Althouse blog, and sure enough, it was of great interest.

It’s tempting also to comment on Albert Pujols and his failed contract negotiations with the Cardinals, but this is yet another area on which I’m hardly an expert.

I’ll get back to some of these issues tomorrow, I hope. But unless Apple does the right thing and hands me a new iMac tomorrow to replace the one I bought in November, I’ll have to do my blogging on my little MacBook. It’s quite frustrating, what with Gail’s iMac failing from day one and mine failing a month later.

More tomorrow.

Categories: Life

Country Driving

February 8, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been meaning for a few days now to write about Peter Hessler’s Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory. Looking for links to it, I just discovered that it has come out this very day in paperback, so this is a good day to write about it.

As I mentioned a week ago when I wrote about Ted Conover’s The Routes of Man, I learned about both books a year ago. They were published a week apart and got good reviews in the NYT (here and here for Hessler; here for Conover). Repeating myself again from a week ago:

Last February, I read reviews a week apart of two new travel books and thought both would be good reading on a trip to the east coast I would be taking during the first week of March: Ted Conover’s The Routes of Man: Travels in the Paved World and Peter Hessler’s Country Driving: A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory. But which to bring?

As I explained in a post last April, I bought, and brought, both. That’s one of the benefits of the Kindle. Weight and space aren’t issues. . . . Once I boarded the plane for my trip, I immediately began to read Conover’s book.

Why Conover over Hessler? I think I was afraid that since some of Hessler’s book had appeared in the New Yorker, I might find it familiar, so I wanted to read the fresher book first. But I only got part way through Conover’s book. I started Hessler’s book during the trip too, reading just a few pages (or their electronic equivalent).

More recently, in the wake of reading Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia in December, I was inspired to return to Conover’s and Hessler’s books. I finished The Routes of Man two Fridays ago, writing about it last week, and now I’m about two-fifths of the way through Country Driving.

I had an odd experience when I initially started in again on Country Driving last week. Conover’s book describes six driving trips, each having an underlying theme. The fifth of the sixth trips was in China, the theme being the rise of a new class of people who can afford to buy cars and take self-driving trips. With that trip fresh in my mind, I switched to Hessler’s book and found myself again on the road in China, following Hessler on a trip along the Great Wall. What was odd was how their two voices ran together in my head. Not that they are similar; not that their journeys are similar. But I had to convince myself nonetheless that I was reading a different book by a different author with a different vision.

For that matter, it didn’t help, with Frazier’s Travels in Siberia still in my head as well, that I was now heading west along the northern edge of China, whereas just a few weeks back I was heading east on the other side of the border. The books were all becoming one. Heck, even Paul Clemens’ Punching Out, which I read last month, entered the mix. He didn’t travel anywhere exactly, staying put in a single closed auto plant in Detroit, but like Frazier and Conover and Hessler, he spends much of his book narrating conversations with people who have a variety of jobs and (although all in Detroit at the time) come from different regions of a big country, immersing himself in their worlds and reporting on them.

The confusion has lifted as I have gotten farther into Hessler’s book, which is quite good. I will have more to say about it after I finish it. Now that it’s out in paperback, you may wish to pick it up. At $9.08 from Amazon, it’s cheaper in paperback than on the Kindle ($9.99).

Categories: Books

Change We Can Believe In, XI

February 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: de facto life sentences at Guantánamo

It’s been so long since I’ve had an entry in my Change We Can Believe In series that I’ve lost count of where I am. I think this is right. Anyway, in the news last week, if you’ve looked hard enough, was the death at Guantánamo of Awal Gul.

The Defense Department announced on Thursday that Awal Gul, 48, an Afghan who had been held at the military prison in Cuba since October 2002, collapsed late Tuesday after exercising on an elliptical machine.

The statement described Mr. Gul as “an admitted Taliban recruiter and commander of a military base in Jalalabad” who operated a guesthouse for Al Qaeda. It said he also admitted meeting with Osama bin Laden “and providing him with operational assistance on several occasions.”

But W. Matthew Dodge, a lawyer who represented Mr. Gul in a habeas corpus lawsuit, called those claims “outrageous” and “slander.” He said that his client had resigned from the Taliban, and that in three years of litigation, the government never claimed or pointed to any evidence that his client had run any Qaeda house or admitted providing support to Mr. bin Laden.

Mr. Gul was the seventh detainee to die at the prison since it opened in January 2002.

As long as we get to hold people in indefinite detention without due process, many more will find themselves serving unintended life sentences. What’s that? President Obama said he’s closing Guantánamo? Yes, he did say that once, didn’t he? It seems he wasn’t serious.

For more details, see Glenn Greenwald’s report last Friday. I’ll quote one paragraph:

This episode also demonstrates the absurdity of those who claim that President Obama has been oh-so-eagerly trying to close Guantanamo only to be thwarted by a recalcitrant Congress. The Obama administration has sought to “close” the camp only in the most meaningless sense of that word: by moving its defining injustice — indefinite, due-process-free detention — a few thousand miles north onto U.S. soil. But the crux of the Guantanamo travesty — indefinite detention — is something the Obama administration has long planned to preserve, and that has nothing to do with what Congress has or has not done. Indeed, Gul was one of the 50 detainees designated by Obama for that repressive measure. Thus, had Gul survived, the Obama administration would have sought to keep him imprisoned indefinitely without any pretense of charging him with a crime — neither in a military commission nor a real court. Instead, they would have simply continued the Bush/Cheney policy of imprisoning him indefinitely without any charges.

If Obama doesn’t watch out, he may find himself in the same boat as Bush, unable to travel to Switzerland after his presidency. President Obama, you better get over there now. Do some sightseeing. Have some schnitzel mit spaetzle. Chocolate too.

Categories: Law, Torture