Monthly Archives: December 2009

Whence?

When it comes to Christianity, it’s fair to say that I’m a non-believer who has wanted for many years to be a believer (not even necessarily of Christianity, but of any spiritual tradition that presupposes an essence or spirit that exists apart from our physical immanence on this mortal coil). The closest I’ve come has been through my membership in the Friends Meeting of Austin.

Every December, I hold out hope that somehow, some way, I’ll be swept up in the spirit of the season and transformed into a person of faith. And it’s passages like the following from the Geneva Bible version of the Gospel of John (known by Quakers as “the Quaker Gospel”) that make me believe it just might be possible:

“He was not the light, but was sent to bear witness of the light. This was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” [John 1:8-9]

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw the glory thereof, as the glory of the only begotten Son of the Father) full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]

“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every man that is born of the Spirit.” [John 3:8]

The last verse may be the best description of the mystery of the human condition I’ve ever come across. And so this Christmas, as with those of the past, I ask myself, “Whence?” and “Whither?”

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Tiger Woods, Person of the Year

AS we say farewell to a dreadful year and decade, this much we can agree upon: The person of the year is not Ben Bernanke, no matter how insistently Time magazine tries to hype him into its pantheon. The Fed chairman was just as big a schnook as every other magical thinker in Washington and on Wall Street who believed that housing prices would go up in perpetuity to support an economy leveraged past the hilt. Unlike most of the others, it was Bernanke’s job to be ahead of the curve. Yet as recently as June of last year he could be found minimizing the possibility of a substantial economic downturn. And now we’re supposed to applaud him for putting his finger in the dike after disaster struck? This is defining American leadership down.

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If there’s been a consistent narrative to this year and every other in this decade, it’s that most of us, Bernanke included, have been so easily bamboozled. The men who played us for suckers, whether at Citigroup or Fannie Mae, at the White House or Ted Haggard’s megachurch, are the real movers and shakers of this century’s history so far. That’s why the obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy).

As of Friday, the Tiger saga had appeared on 20 consecutive New York Post covers. For The Post, his calamity has become as big a story as 9/11. And the paper may well have it right. We’ve rarely questioned our assumption that 9/11, “the day that changed everything,” was the decade’s defining event. But in retrospect it may not have been. A con like Tiger’s may be more typical of our time than a one-off domestic terrorist attack, however devastating.

Indeed, if we go back to late 2001, the most revealing news story may have been unfolding not in New York but Houston — the site of the Enron scandal. That energy company convinced financial titans, the press and countless investors that it was a business deity. It did so even though very few of its worshipers knew what its business was. Enron is the template for the decade of successful ruses that followed, Tiger’s included.

What makes the golfing superstar’s tale compelling, after all, is not that he’s another celebrity in trouble or another fallen athletic “role model” in a decade lousy with them. His scandal has nothing to tell us about race, and nothing new to say about hypocrisy. The conflict between Tiger’s picture-perfect family life and his marathon womanizing is the oldest of morality tales.

What’s striking instead is the exceptional, Enron-sized gap between this golfer’s public image as a paragon of businesslike discipline and focus and the maniacally reckless life we now know he led. What’s equally striking, if not shocking, is that the American establishment and news media — all of it, not just golf writers or celebrity tabloids — fell for the Woods myth as hard as any fan and actively helped sustain and enhance it.

People wanted to believe what they wanted to believe. Tiger’s off-the-links elusiveness was no more questioned than Enron’s impenetrable balance sheets, with their “special-purpose entities” named after “Star Wars” characters. Fortune magazine named Enron as America’s “most innovative company” six years in a row. In the January issue of Golf Digest, still on the stands, some of the best and most hardheaded writers in America offer “tips Obama can take from Tiger,” who is typically characterized as so without human frailties that he “never does anything that would make him look ridiculous.”

Perhaps the most conspicuous player in the Tiger hagiography business has been a company called Accenture, one of his lustrous stable of corporate sponsors. In a hilarious Times article, Brian Stelter described the extreme efforts this outfit is now making to erase its six-year association with its prized spokesman. Alas, the many billboards with slogans like “Go On. Be a Tiger” are not so easily dismantled, and collectors’ items like “Accenture Match Play Tiger Woods Caddy Bib” are a growth commodity on eBay.

From what I can tell, Accenture is a solid company. But the Daily News columnist Mike Lupica raised a good point when I spoke with him last week: “If Tiger Woods was so important to Accenture, how come I didn’t know what Accenture did when they fired him?” According to its Web site, Accenture is “a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company,” but who cared about any fine print? It was Tiger, and Tiger was it, and no one was to worry about the details behind the mutually advantageous image-mongering. One would like to assume that Accenture’s failure to see or heed any warning signs about a man appearing in 83 percent of its advertising is an anomalous lapse. One would like to believe that business and government clients didn’t hire Accenture just because it had Tiger’s imprimatur. But in a culture where so many smart people have been taken so often, we can’t assume anything.

As cons go, Woods’s fraudulent image as an immaculate exemplar of superhuman steeliness is benign. His fall will damage his family, closest friends, Accenture and the golf industry much more than the rest of us. But the syndrome it epitomizes is not harmless. We keep being fooled by leaders in all sectors of American life, over and over. A decade that began with the “reality” television craze exemplified by “American Idol” and “Survivor” — both blissfully devoid of any reality whatsoever — spiraled into a wholesale flight from truth.

Recommend Next Article in Opinion (1 of 32) » A version of this article appeared in print on December 20, 2009, on page WK7 of the New York edition.

As usual, Frank Rich nails it.

The origins of the football huddle

delanceyplace.com 12/17/09 – the huddle

In today’s encore excerpt – the
football huddle is invented at a college for
the deaf – Gallaudet University in
Washington, DC – as a means of hiding signals
from other deaf teams. It is
institutionalized at the University of
Chicago as a means of bringing control and
Christian fellowship to the game:

“When Gallaudet played nondeaf clubs or
schools, Hubbard merely used hand signals –
American Sign Language – to call a play at
the line of scrimmage, imitating what was
done in football from Harvard to Michigan.
Both teams approached the line of scrimmage.
The signal caller – whether it was the left
halfback or quarterback – barked out the
plays at the line of scrimmage. Nothing was
hidden from the defense. There was no
huddle.

“Hand signals against nondeaf schools gave
Gallaudet an advantage. But other deaf
schools could read [quarterback Paul]
Hubbard’s sign language. So, beginning in
1894, Hubbard came up with a plan. He decided
to conceal the signals by gathering his
offensive players in a huddle prior to the
snap of the ball. … Hubbard’s innovation in
1894 worked brilliantly. ‘From that point on,
the huddle became a habit during regular
season games,’ cites a school history of the
football program. …

“In 1896, the huddle started showing up on
other college campuses, particularly the
University of Georgia and the University of
Chicago. At Chicago, it was Amos Alonzo
Stagg, the man credited with nurturing
American football into the modern age and
barnstorming across the country to sell the
game, who popularized the use of the huddle
and made the best case for it. …

“At the time, coaches were not permitted to
send in plays from the sideline. So, while
Stagg clearly understood the benefit of
concealing the signals from the opposition,
he was more interested in the huddle as a way
of introducing far more reaching reforms to
the game. Before becoming a coach, Stagg
wanted to be a minister. At Yale, he was a
divinity student from 1885 to 1889.

“Thoughtful, pious, and righteous, Stagg
brought innovations football as an attempt to
bring a Christian fellowship to the game. He
wanted his players to play under control, to
control the pace, the course, and the conduct
of what had been a game of mass movement that
often broke out into fisticuffs. Stagg viewed
the huddle as a vital aspect of helping to
teach sportsmanship. He viewed the huddle as
a kind of religious congregation on the
field, a place where the players could, if
you will, minister to each other, make a
plan, and promise to keep faith in that plan
and one another.”

Sal Palantonio, How Football Explains
America, Triumph, Copyright 2008 by Sal
Palantonio, pp. 38-41.

posted by delanceyplace at 3:34 AM

Tinderbox Commentary

Tinderbox Commentary

The outpouring of Tinderbox comments at Cult Of Mac is extraordinary — not only for supportiveness, but also intelligence. Here’s Russ Lipton:

I have been using personal computer software since 1979; hypertext software nearly that long; Tinderbox since version 1.0.

It is the most interesting software product ever designed. It may be the only interesting software product ever designed. In a just world, Mark Bernstein would be on the cover of Wired magazine. Maybe even Rolling Stone.

Objectively, Tinderbox is probably worth $495. I wish Eastgate would sell it for $49.50 because I think it’s criminal that so few Mac users have given it a shot.

Alas, I think I could foresee the actual result.

Within a few months, 25,000 copies would be sold; more if Tinderbox were included in one of those bundling promotions. About 24,000 users would become so frustrated with Tinderbox’s originality that they would decide it was a terrible product and was CERTAINLY not worth spending fifty bucks on. The hit to Tinderbox’s reputation would be permanent.

Of the other 1,000, maybe 200 or 300 would stick with it long enough to be blown away.

Worse, it would be impossible for Eastgate ever to raise the price of Tinderbox again.

I’m kidding, but not by much.

And, no, I’m not implying for a second that Tinderbox users are especially bright (though it may fall out that this has been so) or that the ‘25,000′ would be flat-out wrong.

Rather, Tinderbox shatters the paradigm of software to-date, whether open source or proprietary. Vendors spoon-feed product to their ‘users’ (and here that word should be seen in all its ugliness) precisely so that the latter will not discover the unexpected, but only reinforce the automated execution of stuff they already understand.

Big surprise (not) that perfectly competent people in their fields view ‘computing’ as an exercise in being patronized and therefore judge anything that moves outside that metaphor to be ‘bad’ … and wisely in most cases.

When a product comes along that doesn’t patronize them, I hardly blame them for failing to recognize the possibility that Tinderbox might be the exception to the marketing lie about computers being our thinking tools.

So, I repeat: Tinderbox is the most interesting software product ever designed.

Tinderbox was great when it was version one, if pathetically immature relative to version 5.0. So how good is version 5.0?

Wicked good.

And yet …..

I’m going to be really irritated if Mark doesn’t continue evolving Tinderbox into his nineties. I hope to be marveling at version 15.0 in my nineties alongside him.

My maps will be very, very, very large visually then …. but I won’t care.

If you’ve never heard of Tinderbox, you owe it to yourself to read this. But don’t stop there…

Gallery – A final warning from the Arctic – New Scientist

A final warning from the Arctic

00:00 24 November 2009

The Greenland ice sheet is five kilometres thick and melting fast. The effect of adding all that water to the oceans may become terrifyingly apparent around the world in the coming decades, but the effects of climate warming are already clear in the Arctic itself. Here’s the evidence, in words and pictures by Alun Anderson, former editor-in-chief of New Scientist and author of After the Ice: Life, death and politics in the new Arctic (published this month by HarperCollins-Smithsonian in the US and Virgin Books in the UK).

Dismiss at all of our peril.

Mark Bernstein: Tinderbox 5

Tinderbox 5

Tinderbox 5

Tinderbox 5 is now available. It’s the biggest update we’ve ever done. Here is the overview. (And here is Mark Anderson’s invaluable aTbRef for Tinderbox 5.)

It’s a big step. Tinderbox 5 is fast. Maps, charts, and outlines all get a terrific boost. There are lots of developments: more than 150 release notes, and literally thousands of improvements you’ll enjoy but won’t see.

I’ll be talking a lot in the coming days about the many, many changes in Tinderbox 5. But, first, I really need some sleep.

Too many groundbreaking new features to mention. If you’ve been waiting to upgrade, wait no longer!

Boom! Hok! A Monkey Language Is Deciphered

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/08/science/08monkey.html?_r=1&ref=global-home