Wednesday, December 10, 2008

2008 Nobel Prize in Physics Award Ceremony

I’m in here for the award of the 2008 Nobel Prize in physics to Dr. Yoichiro Nambu, now an emeritus professor after having come to the University of Chicago in 1952. He is being recognized for groundbreaking work in spontaneous symmetry breaking.

The ceremony is taking place in the Assembly Hall of the University’s International House (or “I-House”) , an imposing old art deco building that may be an old hotel . The Hall itself is a rather incongruous mix of old and new. From the black armchairs with school seals and gold trim, to the tall, narrow cathedral-like windows, to the collection of national flags mounted on the wooden walls, the place stinks of tradition and academic pomp. On the other hand, I’m sitting in the back row of the balcony section, where decade-old taupe paint is peeling off the ceiling above me and the headsetted producer of the event’s live simulcast is barking orders down to his cameramen from a thin-walled room located directly behind me. It is hard to hear what the speakers on stage are saying. The original, handworked metal light fixtures, adorned with shapes of vines and such, are strikingly beautiful, but one can’t help but notice that they descend from a drop ceiling that is also interspersed with cheap looking plastic fans.


President Robert Zimmer, in his welcome to the crowd, says that this Nobel Prize is further evidence of why the administration and faculty have gone to such great lengths to “preserve the University’s distinctive culture.” What he means by this, I’m not quite sure. Cue the live video feed from Stockholm. The Nobel speaker in Sweden expresses more concrete views about what a University should be. In particular it must be three things: the memory of society, the cutting edge of society and the critical mirror of society. It must stimulate, attract and refine researchers. Occassionally, they cut away from the video of his remarks in favor of who I assume must be the Princess of Sweden, who is wearing an elegant gown that puts her killer rack on full display. An ever smaller share of the world’s resources are being devoted to basic research. Our future progress as a species is in peril.

Dr. Nambu is speaking now. He uses a metaphor to dramatize his discoveries about the behavior of physical particles, something about group psychology among the constituents... He has a very thick Japanese accent, and one can’t tell whether his voice is shaking from age or from emotion. ZOOM ALL THE WAY IN! HOLD IT! It is hard to hear him. People are turning in around in their states to glare at the back room wall. That is a broken symmetry... The attire for the event is supposed to be business, but some people around me are certainly wearing jeans, and the scent of body odor is not unnoticeable. Down on the floor a cameraman in a denim shirt trips over a tripod and falls over into a pew. People pretend not to notice. Dr. Nambu is still talking. ...the *spontaneous* breaking of symmetry... The clicking and chirping of conventional and digital cameras is all around.

Dr. Nambu has finished. The hall stands to applaud. A medieval looking group in purple sashes forms at the front of the stage and starts playing a recessional on an undifferentiated quartet of long, valveless horns. Folding up our coats and putting away our notes, we are invited to an adjoining room for a reception, complete with finger desserts and a champagne toast.

Monday, February 05, 2007


"I do not know much about the tariff. But I know this much, when we buy manufactured goods abroad we get the goods and the foreigner gets the money. When we buy the manufacutred goods at home we get both the goods and the money."

-Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, December 09, 2006


So I’m sitting here on Saturday, noonish, drinking some coffee and eating cereal. I should be preparing to write my admissions essay for public policy school, but I get sidetracked by an interesting piece of reality programming on Univision. Basically it consists of two tasty bitches playing Jenga. The one who appears to be the fan favorite is dressed in tight fitting jeans with patterned stitching on the back, several bracelets on her right arm, long diamond-shaped dangly earrings and a silver necklace with a small bauble that hangs over a teal tube top. The other is the designated hoochie in this contest. Her outfit is sky blue from head to toe. She’s wearing fuck-me stilettoed heels with fishnet stockings and ass-hugging jean shorts that give her a cameltoe. She’s wearing one of those silly half-cocked club hats, this one denim with a a bow just above the brim, and a lacy, partially see-through bra type thing that dangles a jeweled skull and crossbones between her bombs. The camera begins every shot of the Jenga tower with an unsubtle tit shot. It’s compelling television. The girls are consulted with respect to which blocks to remove and how to remove them by various dudes, one of whom has a buckled white jacket with a snap collar that makes him look like he just stepped out of a late-80s foreign language textbook. The audience clearly loves this shit, which seems to be like the Hispanic, models-only version of a dice game. When the fan favorite topples the tower, a dude (not the jacket dude) with a ponytail and a green and orange T-shirt puts a fat stack of colorful, foreign-looking currency on top of the pile of blocks, the audience goes wild, and the hoochie starts dancing, hands raised. The end. Fascinating.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Cards Win!

Since the national media has decided to take a holiday from critical thinking during these 2006 MLB Playoffs, choosing instead to go with the inane partisan blather of Jeanne Zelasko and Kevin Kennedy, and the even more inane albeit nonpartisan blather of Tim McCarver and Eric Byrnes, I'm going to step in here and offer my two cents on the World Series from here on out. Disclaimer: I'm a Cards fan, a huge one, and although I will offer up actual arguments, supported in many cases by statistics, as opposed to mere "storylines" supported by greed masquerading as frontrunnery, I make no representation of impartiality. In fact, if the Cards start chugging cock between here and Game 7, you can count on these entries stopping, immediately, to the chagrin of just about no one.

Moving on.

In the pregame coverage for Game 1, FOX did its best with the shitty hand it was dealt. With the denizens of both coasts retreating en masse to the refuge of one-hitters and reruns of 24, FOX tried to spin the storyline of Detroit as the team of "Destiny" and the standard-bearer of a city undergoing a renaissance.

Sorry to rain on the parade, kids, but while it's not too late for the Tabbies to pull out a victory in this Series, they're going to return, either to celebrate or to recuperate, to a city in its death throes. In 2005, US automakers slashed 110,016 jobs. GM and Ford combined to announce 60,000 layoffs in November 2005 alone. Just last month, Ford announced another 10,000 layoffs, these to salaried workers. And early this month, just as the "Motor City" was gearing up for the Tigers' joyride through the American League playoffs, General Motors broke off talks for a partnership with Renault and Nissan. It's just a matter of time--likely months, not years--until Toyota surpasses GM as the world's largest automaker. A recent press release revealed that GM is planning the release of its first hybrid sedan in 2007--a mere six years after the worldwide release of the Prius, and a full decade after its release in Japan. And yet, the General Motors advertisement/conceptual art installation in Comerica Park's left field still boasts an extended-cab, four-door red pickup truck bookended by an equally huge blue SUV, the two framing a fountain that might as well be spewing pure gasoline into the chilly Detroit night whenever a player wearing the Olde English "D" goes yard.

And with most of America tuning in and tuning out to the latest envelope-pushing joint from Lil' Jon and/or Shakira, don't expect Aretha or anybody like her to put Motown back on the nationwide entertainment map any time soon, either.

In other words, the whole "Detroit Renaissance" storyline is cute, it really is: But it is completely unsupported by reality. So take that, Jeanne Zelasko, who began postgame coverage of the Cardinals' dramatic Game 7 NLCS victory over the Mets with a list of excuses for why the Amazin's choked against "The Worst Team Ever To Play in the World Series." And also, Jeanne, take my advice: no amount of time and money spent in the salon and in the plastic surgeon's chair is going to make you hot, so please stop trying. The shit is tragic.

Moving on.

Anthony Reyes beating the tar out of Justin Verlander was the big story of this game. Prior to the game, no less an expert than ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski predicted that Reyes "didn't have much of a chance against Detroit's 17-game winner and Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander." Wojo, you'll recall, is one of ESPN's vaunted panel of experts, none of whom predicted a Cardinals victory in the WS, and only one of whom even predicted that the Cardinals would be able to beat the San Diego Padres in the NLDS. Oops.

But was the notion that Reyes "didn't have much of a chance" defensible? Only if your understanding of the game is so basic that you can only conceive of a pitcher's talent in terms of Wins and Losses. Let's take a stroll down memory lane and have a quick look at the peripheral stats of Reyes and Verlander.


In 118.2 minor league innings spread between A+ and AA ball in 2005, Verlander had 10.36 K/9 and 1.98 BB/9, with an ERA of 1.29 and a WHIP of 0.91. I'll be the first to admit that those numbers are hot. But the sample is limited, and after three years of college at Old Dominion, you sort of expect a high draft pick to mow down hitters at the lower levels of the minors.

So what about in the bigs? Verlander tossed 186 innings during the 2006 regular season in addition to 11.1 at the end of last year. His rates over that span are 5.97 K/9, 2.96 BB/9, 2.01 K/BB, 1.35 WHIP, 1.02 HR/9, and a 3.83 ERA. Damn fine for a rookie, no doubt, particularly for a rookie in the AL, but his peripherals hardly scream "dominant."

And what about over the second half of his first full major league season? Was he still lights out, or did he tire? I'd say the latter. Emphatically. His ERA in the second half was 4.54; his WHIP was an atrocious 1.55; his opponents batted an even .300 against him and his K/BB was 2.03. He complained of shoulder fatigue down the stretch, which could have contributed to his poor late-season numbers, and which wasn't at all surprising considering his 186 regular season innings were more than 70 more than he had ever pitched in a season at any level. But all we heard about coming into the Series was how "well rested" he was. And of course those 17 Wins.


The Cardinals, owners of the majors' best starting ERA in 2005 with a rotation that lost only over-the-hill Matt Morris in the offseason, gave their organization's golden arm a little more time in the minors.

Reyes threw 239.2 innings over two seasons and three levels in 2004 and 2005. In these innings, his rates were as follows: 10.38 K/9, 2.03 BB/9, 0.79 HR/9, 1.10 WHIP, 3.57 ERA. Verlander's rates surpassed Reyes' in every category except K/9 and HR/9, but not by much. To the extent Reyes' rates sagged behind Verlander's, he could be excused for having to have pitched against AAA hitters, something Verlander has never done. Also, Reyes' 3.57 ERA was a little bit unlucky considering his sterling rates, and could easily be explained by the fact that the Cardinals' farm system, particularly at the upper levels, is virtually barren of talent, either defensive or offensive. In sum, though, Reyes was more dominant than Verlander over a much larger sample size; he gave up fewer homeruns than Verlander; and his control, while not as tight as Verlander's, was still very, very good.

And what about his rates in the majors? In his 98.0 regular season major league innings in 2005 and 2006, Reyes has averaged 7.53 K/9 and 3.49 BB/9, with a 1.26 WHIP. His K/BB is 2.16. ERA: 4.41. The one real fugly number is his 1.59 HR/9 (ouch). That being said, Reyes surpasses Verlander, handily, in some pretty primary pitching categories--Dominance (K/9), Command (K/BB), and WHIP.

Based on these numbers, an insightful analyst might have analyzed the matchup something like this...



Verlander's had tremendous success at a young age at the major league level, but he tired down the stretch of this season and complained of shoulder fatigue, which is the worst thing any pitcher, particularly a 23 year old pitcher, can complain of. He's thrown more innings this season than in any other season in his career, by a wide margin. In the second half he made every hitter who faced him a .300 hitter, and he's never demonstrated an above-average ability to strike out major league hitters.

Reyes has very limited experience at the major league level, but he's had flashes of brilliance. Nevertheless Reyes had tremendous success at every level in the minor leagues, and his ability to strike batters out has been superior to Verlander's in both the minors and the majors. Although Reyes demonstrated an uncanny ability to keep the ball in the yard in the minors, he's gotten taken deep well more than his fair share in his brief major league experience, which has contributed to him giving up far more earned runs in the bigs than his great skills would indicate he should.

The one area in which Verlander is hands-down better than Reyes is in control, where Verlander's (barely) sub-3.00 BB/9 could already be considered elite, while Reyes 3.49 indicates that his control is still a work in progress.

Both are extremely talented young pitchers, and they have similar skill sets. Verlander might seem to have the leg up, given his well-publicized success this year, but if Reyes can find a way to keep his ball in the strike zone and out of the bleachers, he stands just as good a chance to have success tonight against an impatient and largely punchless Detroit lineup.


Instead, we get nonsense from McCarver like "Arm goes up, ball goes down" (in this case for Jeff Weaver) and Reyes, an "unknown," doesn't stand much of a chance against Detroit's 23 year old ROY ace.

We all saw what happened. After Yadier Molina and Dave Duncan tipped off the not-too-bright Reyes that the Tigers were teeing off on his crappy changeup, he went to his smoking fastball and at one point mowed down 17 batters in a row. Reyes' superior ability to locate his fastball as compared with his changeup resulted in precisely what we said he needed to take his game to the next level: Control. Further, it was little surprise that the flat-hatted Reyes wasn't plagued by the home run ball while pitching against a team whose top slugger knocked just 28 bombs out of the yard during the regular season, and which plays in one of the most notorious pitcher's parks in the majors.

Of course that isn't what we got. What we got was more post-game befuddlement from the clueless FOX crew.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dewey Defeats Truman!

The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the New York Mets in the 2006 National League Championship Series by a tally of 4-3 in a decisive Game 7 in which St. Louis again received support from the unlikeliest sources. Yadier Molina, who hit .216 during the regular season but looked like Roy Campanella during a seventh inning mound conference with Jeff Suppan, went deep in the top of the ninth with one man on to put the Cardinals up 4-2.

The national media seemed unprepared to report the Cardinals' victory. Postgame reports on ESPN documented the Cardinals' recent history of postseason failures, as opposed to their businessslike domination of the National League since their loss to the Mets in the 2000 World Series.

It also didn't escape the attention of the discerning observer that the FOX production crew, from the studio to the pressbox, consistently, seemed "enamored with" the story of the ascendance of the 2006 Mets, particularly as their postseason success contrasted with the ineptitude of the cross-borough Yankees. If "D"etroit is the national media's darling of "D"estiny, the Mets, the dominant regular season Mets, were their Yankees Lite.

Instead of reporting the Cardinals' victory, and the plays that contributed to it--Yadier Molina's bomb in the top of the ninth inning; Adam Wainwright's curve to end it in the bottom--ESPN was talking about the plays that "were overshadowed in the loss." Endy Chavez' brilliant catch?

So how'd that work out, Endy? How'd that work out ESPN, headquartered in Bristol, Connectituct?

Let's take a look at postseason Web Gems--like Endy's--instead of the story of how the Cardinals beat the Mets.

All y'all haters can suck my motherfucking dick. We won, bitches. "Cardinals can choose to choke now or choke later." Choke later, funboys...

Adam Wainwight, a 25 year rookie closer who took the job in Septembrer when Jason Isringhuasen finally ended a subpar season with a trip to the DL, struck out Cardinals nemesis Carlos Beltran to end the sereis and clinch the Series berth. Beltran has owned the Cardinals during his postseason career. But on Thursday night, the handful of red-clad Cardinals fans who braved the misty Queens night against about 50,000 flag white-flag-waving Mets fans celebrated silently but animatedly in the aisles of Shea Stadium.

Outcasts in Queens, the Cardinals' clubhouse of bargains and retreads happily toasted with their countrymen back home in St. Louis and in their respective adopoted home cities in the national diaspora of ambitous Midwesterners. And in the process, they joined the Detroit Tigers in the 1956 World Series.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


I've been pretty disgusted by the content and sheer volume of the press exposure regarding Barry Bonds' steroid use and pursuit of Babe Ruth's home run record. So it's with some hesitation that I tackle the issue at all.

The hypocrisy demonstrated by virtually every sector of American society in response to this issue is sickening.

The fans knew he was doping--if they didn't, they were stupid, or just not paying attention--and they cheered for him and regularly tuned into Baseball Tonight to watch his dongs splash into McCovey Cove anyway. Now they're offended. Betrayed. Concerned for the sanctity of the game. Puhleeze.

The commissioner and owners were complicit in rampant steroid abuse, including Bonds'. The Steroid Era filled stadiums and enhanced the reputation of the Commish--shit, it damn near built it after the strike--and lined the pockets of the owners. Now they've got a serious interest in maintaining the game's integrity and sending a message to America's "youngsters". Uh huh.

The press has taken a wide assortment of negative stances towards Bonds, whether because they bear personal antipathy towards him or because they just sit down over their morning coffee and are too lazy to find anything else to write about. It's easy. Believe me; I know.

But the most ridiculous thing I read came recently, in a story on, about how Babe Ruth's descendants have declined the Giants' offer to participate in a congratulatory ceremony of some sort when Bonds hits 714. First of all, do we really give a shit what Babe Ruth's granddaugher thinks of Barry Bonds? I should think not. I should hope not. I find the whole inclusion of the families of former record holders to be a bogus PR stunt. It was bad enough when McGwire broke Maris' record.

But this businses about Linda Tossetti, Ruth's granddaughter, is rigoddamndiculous. Despite having never met the Babe, the Durham, Conn. resident told reporters "I've got a lot of my grandfather in me." Sure. "What she knows about the Babe she's had to learn from her older siblings." Uh huh.

But the biggest bullshit is Tossetti's bogus moral stance on the message doping sends to kids. OK, I buy that, but did you KNOW what Babe did behind closed doors? ESPN says it thusly:

It's the steroids allegations trailing Bonds that are disconcerting to Tosetti. She said drug use sends a disturbing message to youngsters. Her grandfather, she said, enjoyed being a role model for children, even though his hard-drinking, hard-living life is well-documented.

"Look, he did his carousing. But liquor didn't touch his lips when he was with children. That's how his image is for the youth," Tosetti said. "I would hate myself a million times if I shook Mr. Bonds' hand if he did do it. These guys are making adult decisions about their body. It's the kids who think they're bulletproof coming up in high school who don't have that luxury."

Tosetti insists she has no malice toward Bonds, whom she's never met.

"I can't point a finger at Mr. Bonds. That's for people at a higher power to do," she said. "I'm sure he's a nice young man."

Where do I begin?

OK, so liquor didn't touch Babe's lips when he was around kids. OK, great job. So he wasn't a complete sleazeball. But isn't it important to keep in mind that Bonds doesn't walk around the clubhouse with a syringe hanging out with his ass cheek? Or do PSAs about the benefits of human growth hormone? He avoids the issue at every opportunity. He's been intensely private about it. Untl this year's reality show, that is, at which point every sordid detail had been fleshed out by nosy reporters.

I'm not saying the press shouldn't pursue stories like this. But the fact remains that had everyone just shut up about it--or if they resolved to do so now--their WOULDN'T BE ANY BAD EXAMPLE for kids, because they woulnd't know about it. Conversely, had the assembled press been all up in Babe's business while he was passing out drunk in hookers' tits, etc., maybe Ms. Tossetti wouldn't feel so morally superior.

She makes one good point. He made an adult decision about his body. So leave the man alone. He wasn't sending any sort of example to kids. He was trying to make that money and break those records. But any effect his personal actions have on the actions of children is the media's fault--not his.

But you know the part that really gets me? The "I'm sure he's a nice young man line." Not only is it the most ingenuine, tossed-off, subtly shit-eating self-loving line I've heard in some time, it's ridiculous when you consider Tossetti's age relative to Bonds'.

Bonds is 42 years old. He's a grown ass man, with children of his own. He's not nice--she probably knows this--and he's certainly not a young man. And she's 51! Not nearly old enough to adopt the tone of sage wisdom born of old age, as she does here. Shit, she's probably fuckedguys that are Bonds' age.

She, and the rest of society, should cut the bullshit. Please.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Dream-The Author As Old Man.

Having fallen into disrepute at the end of his high school career and forced to withdraw his college admission at West Virginia after having been exposed (with a classmate) as a liar in the death—at soccer—of an opposing player some months before, exposed through the discovery of his passport being somehow held in hock at a new tournament in Australia, in which yet another opposing player, the goalie, had been killed, reduced to a bubbling yellow pool of guts and brains and jersey after attempting to stop a shot kicked much to hard at the small triangle of goal he defended, such exposure beginning prematurely an adult life that sent him on a trajectory of possible alcoholism and certain non-success, an old man, eyes runny with the dotage of many bitter decades, returns to his high school, its wood rotted and windows lined with runny liquid streaks, the light somewhat dimmer and the floorboards browner and more stained that he remembers them, to read for a small group of assembled students, most of whom have never heard his name, a passage from his book, not his first book, but now in the twilight of his life, his first book to meet with any small measure of critical approval, let alone acclaim, both of which he now received, if only from the most obscure and capable critics, themselves mostly old, none of whom with the audience necessary to vault this book, believed earnestly by these zealous few to truly be the mark of genius long concealed, to any sort of bestseller list. The school is physically much changed, to be sure, and the dust is gathered in the corners, but the same ivory bust of Alexander supervises this same darkish room located right off of the third floor library, where this group of very young students, sixth grade perhaps, now assemble, understanding none of what the school used to be when the author attended, indeed nothing of the author himself or the past, notably including no knowledge whatsoever of the author’s catastrophic pre-college Exposure to his shocked classmates, and they don’t see (as the author now does) that whatever spark of Good and Truth and Desire that existed in this man before his Exposure, still lives inside of him and is now being fanned and brought to flame in this man, for the first time in years, by the presence of these young children in this too-familiar place, much changed but not beyond recognition.

Two teachers are present. One is herself youngish, early thirties perhaps but heavy and slow and prematurely gray in streaks from the fatigue of supervising boisterous children without having any of her own, and in her too there’s a certain latent bitterness and resentment laps gently just inside the limits of her skin and finds occasional silent outlet in her overblue eyes. She regards The Author with suspicion, sees only his streaming, tearing eyes, and ascribes them not to the warm reemergence of memories and impulses long dormant, but to years of self-abuse through whiskey, and cigarettes, and God-knows-what-else, both of which are true, but only one of which is now active and alive and relevant. The other is much older, much older indeed, ancient even, coated with wrinkled skin that, collapsed in creases and flaps around her eyelids and sockets, obscures clear unwet white eyes that maintain and radiate harmonious equanimity even in the face of a tremendously bitter and increasingly cruel old age that has robbed her of most of her faculties. Into the cobwebbed room she walks lamely and half-stumbling with the help of a knobby walking stock, her weight shifting erratically between her out-jutted left knee (her good one) and right elbow (her good one, the one not linked to the hand that holds the stick), and she arrives, at the end of her journey, at an ancient chalkboard, yellowed with the fossilized chalk dust of many years and suspended by a hinge inside of a withered oaken frame that is fundamentally solid, but is decorated by shells on its corners and a coat of arms in its upper center. In the groove that runs along its bottom is a quarter-piece of nubby chalk, which she now retrieves and applies, with much effort, to the surface of the board, before writing in clear, precise, even strokes that betray no palsy, the Author’s name and the title of his recent novel. The Author, holding together above his head with the clasped thumb and forefinger of his left hand, as always, the four fern fronds of different lengths which when brought together and suspended as they are have become the signature headdress of one of literature’s most ancient, most obscure eccentrics, notices that a certain guileless infant smile is coming over his face as she finishes writing, and turns to him, and meets his watery eyes with her own clear eyes (which barely see and which have not been corrected by contacts or glasses), and meets his smile, too, and says: “The kids. They keep you young.”

And with that his smile finally births and bursts forth across his face, and his legs uncross at left-ankle-and-right-knee and recross gently at the ankles, and his right hand falls limply at his side, the fern fronds that they previously suspended dropping feathery and in lyrical slow motion at his front, back and sides, so that the four of them come to rest perpendicular to the Author as the cardinal points of a compass of which his being is the center. And suddenly the room is experienced again in full color, and full moisture, and without dust, and the life and the joy creeps back into the Author starting at the place above his head where the fronds used to be, enveloping his face, and chest, and hips, and thighs, and calves before it extends all the way down beyond his toes, and the camera finds his eyes, which seem to suck in the moisture they had previously leaked and hold it in, are reborn by it, and he notices too that the old teacher across from him is young again, too, her eyes also the same as they had been when they were young but unobscured by flappy ancient eyelids, and indeed her hair is curly, a luminous shade of brown, and her face is radiant and young and newly pubescent, and they are together, face to face, these two, surrounded by thirteen other young male students, in coats and ties, in this cleanly scrubbed white room, just as they had been, eighty years ago, on the day they first met.