When I was a wee lad, I suddenly became interested in World War II. I dropped dinosaurs like a hot potato and spent much of my time reading gigantic World War II books from the library. Back then, I could tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the Battle of Midway. I could tell you the names of all the Japanese carriers that were sunk, how they were sunk, and in what order. I was floating in the water right there with Ensign George Gay (the sole surviving airman from a failed American torpedo bomber attack, who ended up floating in the middle of the Japanese fleet and watching the battle unfold over the next few hours).

A couple of days ago, NPR’s All Things Considered did a piece on the investigation of Pearl Harbor and the associated political fallout. Before Pearl Harbor, the U.S. military had cracked the Japanese diplomatic code, “Purple”. There were tantalizing hints that the Japanese were planning to attack on Dec. 7th… but no smoking gun.

Then as now, the codebreakers failed to “connect the dots”.
Then as now, the opposition party tried to make a political issue of this immediately.
Then as now, the president’s party squelched Congressional dissent, citing “National Security”. (In 1944, the Republicans threatened to launch a major investigation and make the Pearl Harbor intelligence failure an issue in the upcoming presidential campaign. But the government sent Republican presidential candidate Thomas Dewey a letter asking him not to do this, as it would reveal to the Japanese that “Purple” had been broken. Dewey agreed, lost the election, and the Republicans were furious when they found out after the war ended.)

When I heard this report on the radio, I was mortified. How could I have completely forgotten about all this? Oh, I hadn’t known all the details (I was more into dive bombers and tanks and carriers back then), but I had known that Pearl Harbor was a major political scandal. But somehow, I had forgotten about that and assumed that politics during World War II stopped cold — that back in the Good Old Days, when people Knew Their Duty to God and Country, the nation moved in harmonious lockstep to victory over the Axis powers. Well, not even remotely. Congress has always been Congress. And the opposition has always wrangled over domestic issues regardless of the wartime situation.

Anyway, this has clarified a lot of things for me.

In Other News: M’ris asks, “In all of this Pledge of Allegiance uproar, nobody seems to have come up with a good reason why God should be in there in the first place. Anybody? I’d like to know.” Well, naturally. the National Review has something to say on the matter. According to NR, the Republicans (but not those scurrilous unpatriotic Democrats) have whipped out their divining rods and determined that the act of adding “under God” to the pledge in 1954 was “clearly consistent with the text and intent of the Constitution.” Oh, you wanted a good reason? Well never mind then.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice

As it turns out, I was extremely foolish to taunt Germany about the 2002 World Cup Match in my last entry. (And I should know better than to taunt Germans, being of Polish extraction and all.) Oh well — we still did better than anyone could have expected. What hurts is that the German team has been so lackluster. With a little more luck, I think we could have beat them. Coulda woulda shoulda. Ah, well.

The really nice thing about following the World Cup in the European press is that we Americans are such underdogs, and as such we are not as resented as we usually are. I think that the BBC football pages are the only place you’ll find us referred to as “valiant”, “courageous”, and “glorious” instead of “fat”, “greasy”, “lazy”, “imperialistic”, and so on.

Just for chuckles, when I was poking around the BBC site, I found that they had helpfully offered a detailed definition of “soccer”, presumably as a gentle introduction for newbie USA football fans:

soccer n. colloq. (esp. US) A ball game involving two teams of 11 players – only two of whom can regularly handle the ball, while the remainder must use their feet, heads, knees or chests to advance play…

PROPERLY KNOWN AS: Association Football, since kicking the ball with the foot part of your leg is where the real trick of “soccer” lies.

NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH: American Football, a debased version of rugby popular in the United States (and Canada) involving pads, helmets and hulking players in spandex – but precious little kicking…

Thanks, BBC! By the way, be sure to check out their other definitions, including “ideas hamster“, “pashmina politics“, and “airy-fairy libertarians“:

…CITATION: “We could live in a world which is airy fairy, libertarian, where everybody does precisely what they like and we believe the best of everybody and then they destroy us.” Blunkett, Nov 2001.

EXPOUNDED: by Labour MP Kevin Hughes: “Don’t you find it bizarre, like I do, that the yoghurt-eating, muesli-eating, Guardian-reading fraternity are only too happy to want to protect the human rights of people who engage in terrorist acts?” …

Yeah! Take that you yoghurt-eaters! Hmmmm. One must admit that while the level of British debate is perhaps even more debased and farcical than ours, their command of the English language remains as strong as ever.

Well, speaking of libertarians (of the non-muesli-eating, Guardian-avoiding variety), I’ve been managing to amuse M’ris by forwarding her a few links from some message boards about the Wizards of the Coast campaign setting proposal search. I think that if I’m reduced to amusing my friends by sending them message board threads to pick on, this is a very bad sign. Picking on message board people is shooting fish in a barrel. It means I’m tapped out on the humor front. I got nothin’. I got no game. I might as well be riding my little bicycle in a circle while honking a horn and spraying the crowd with seltzer water.

But I can’t help it. I mean, if you encountered an unpublished writer who states quite seriously that “I know 95% of what there is to know about writing…” but just not the “5%” involved in publishing their work, well… wouldn’t you pass it on? Call me mean-spirited, call me condescending, but I couldn’t help sending it on to someone who would get a cheap laugh out of it. Can you blame me? No? Allrighty then.

Excellent Prospects

“So,” said Miles gently, “after we shot up the police station and set the habitat on fire, what did we do for an encore?” — Miles Vorkosigan, getting to the bottom of a sticky situation in Diplomatic Immunity

So I bought Diplomatic Immunity for my Dad for Father’s Day, only to find out that he had already checked it out from the library. He said I could take the book home and finish it, then hand it back to him. What bad luck for me, eh? Anyway, the book’s a winner, as far as I’m concerned. My one complaint is that Ekaterin didn’t have much to do in this book, especially compared to A Civil Campaign. In this one she just leans down and kisses Miles at various intervals — that’s about it.

I am also listening to the Moby album Play over and over. Weird. Am I becoming some sort of electronica fan? Hmmm… well, I am getting paler these days, but I’m certainly not getting thinner and mopier. So maybe it’s some kind of delusional behavior. I only buy about five CDs a year, so perhaps I need to fool myself into thinking that this was money well spent. Well, whatever. I’m digging it.

Page wanted me to make a correction to my previous account of our Burn Rate game from last week. Basically he felt that he and Justin got short shrift. Page, Page. Don’t you get it? This journal is about me, me, meeeee! Ahem. Anyway, this week everything was reversed. Jay and I cratered our startups very early. Justin and I tangled several times, to my eventual detriment. I finally managed to hire financial whiz kid Ben Zhao, but then courtesy of Justin he had a “difference of opinion” with my other, less competent VPs, and headed back to the labor pool. I couldn’t scrape together enough funding, and I went belly-up. Meanwhile, Page stuck to his tried-and-true “big government” strategy of building a giant organization with plenty of redundancy. Justin couldn’t really attack Page with any “Bad Idea” cards, because Page’s massive, idle engineering department had enough staff to handle pretty much anything out there. Eventually Justin slipped away, leaving Page as the victor. The take-home lesson: bloated, inefficient bureaucracy wins over all! Huzzah!

Finally, I’m trying to decide whether I like The American Prospect. Let me switch into Tevye-mode for a second:

  • On the one hand, I really like their blog, Tapped. Tapped happens to be a committee, but for some reason I’m really fond of their habit of referring to themselves in third person present tense, as in “Maybe we should be hardened to this by now, but Tapped is always stunned around this time of year when the financial disclosure information comes rolling out…”

  • On the other hand, they print hysterical drug articles such as this one that again repeats the tired old charge that the United States gave $40 million dollars to the Taliban for opium crop suppression. Hellooo? Did Brendan Nyhan of Spinsanity not thoroughly debunk this crap almost exactly a year ago?

  • But on the other hand… they also give us articles like this one by William F. Gates Sr., cogently arguing that yes, we do need the estate tax.

  • But on the other hand, we get this rather strange article by Garance Franke-Ruta about career women and fertility. Regardless of what one thinks of the article’s target, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the fact is that Hewlett does have a point — older women have a harder time conceiving children. Franke-Ruta’s solution for this problem is to have older women marry younger men, because the age of the man also affects the odds of conception:

    Though your average 36-year-old female executive might not find it socially acceptable to date a 29-year-old man (or vice versa), she could still very happily work things out with, say, some nice, stable 34 year old.

    What a quaint assertion. Practically-thirty males are not allowed to date mid-thirty females? Sez who? And jeez, if your goal is to have kids, what do you care what other people think? I mean really.

But I think the “kicker” is this article about the peculiar hatred of American conservatives for soccer, which somehow magically combines one of my loves (the latter) with one of my, well, dislikes (the former). Here Sasha Polakow-Suransky explains how the the likes of the National Review have managed to score an own goal on the soccer “issue”:

Perhaps the first evidence of conservatives’ aversion to soccer appeared during the last World Cup in 1998, when denunciations of bourgeois, liberal, Clinton-supporting soccer moms graced the pages of National Review. Tirades against the inevitable hooliganism of the game were entertained in the right-wing press as well. Taken together, these seemingly divergent criticisms from soccer-bashers gave rise to the peculiar and ironic phenomenon of assigning a political label to what is perhaps the only sport known to have united fascists and communists, bosses and workers, and millionaires and slum-dwellers behind their respective national teams.

Excellent stuff. So I guess I’ll have to keep TAP on my reading list. (And while I’m at it — GO USA! And be afraid, Germany. Be very afraid.)

Do Your Homework

Well, the Goer clan gathering last night went off without a hitch. Actually, that’s not quite true… we managed to break an heirloom crystal goblet, fumble the silverware, and spill wine on the off-white tablecloth. But at least it was a fun evening, in a Clouseauesque kind of way.

By the way, Mom informed me that the meeting was technically not a Goer clan gathering, as her brother had brought a sizable Harman contingent. Perhaps true… but if it came down to a loya jirga, I think the Goer clan would win any vote (unless the Harmans struck some sort of devious alliance with the Zelonys, in which case all hell would break loose). Besides, one should never underestimate a Goer. We might be small in size and numbers, but we’re surprisingly mean when provoked.

I suppose I might as well link to this NY Times article by A.O. Scott [registration required; my name/password is egoer1/simox]. I’m sure all the various warblogs, techblogs, and nerdblogs will link to it in short order, but why not hop on the bandwagon early, eh?

The appeal of fantasy has been especially powerful among those who find themselves marginalized by the brutal social universe of American secondary education ? geeks, losers, nerds. You remember them from high school ? or you remember being one of them ? the guys who filled their notebooks with meticulous line drawings of broadsword-wielding berserkers and their large-breasted consorts, who staffed the tech crew for the spring theatricals and dominated the computer club, who used words like “grok” in ordinary conversation. Their devotion to sci-fi and sword-and-sorcery arcana invited ridicule, but was also a defense against it. But such mockery is, by now, obsolete. The triumph of fantasy culture, like the transformation of the cult of the computer into mainstream religion, is their revenge. We are all nerds now. And we had better do our homework.

So we nerds have triumphed. Huzzah! Actually, I think the article is not that far off the mark, although there are a few unfortunate exceptions, such as this one: “The confusing issue of sex is kept at a safe distance; romantic considerations are ancillary to the fight against evil, and to the cameraderie of warriors.” Methinks Scott has, contrary to his/her own advice, not done his/her homework. Other than that, an interesting read.

The only sad thing is that the NY Times link will disappear in a few weeks. Clueless, utterly clueless. Recently the LA Times changed their website over to the NY Times model. Unbelievable. Did the LA Times think that the NY Times actually knew what they were doing with their website or something? It’s bad enough that the NY Times is lost in the dark, but now perfectly respectable papers are starting to copy them? I find myself linking to inferior papers for that very reason. I’ll make the occasional exception, sure… but I just know I’ll be looking through my archives a few months from now, notice the old, broken link to the NY Times, and slap myself in the forehead. “What were you thinking, linking to the Times?” I’ll tell myself. “Didn’t you vow never to do it again!” Sigh.

Posted in SF

Too Close for Comfort

For this week’s Poker Night, we decided to give poker a rest and try a different diversion: Burn Rate, the “Game of Dot-Com Failure”. The idea is to dump bad employees and bad ideas on your opponents while keeping your company’s burn rate as low as possible. The last person to run completely out of money wins.

The game started promising enough. Justin got saddled with a horrendous Bad Idea (instant product delivery by bicycle) that he just couldn’t manage to get rid of. He tried to mitigate the problem by building up his engineering department, but it was too little, too late. Page, true to form as an employee of the City of San Jose, built an enormous multi-layered organization and gave them very little to do. He also bled away fairly quickly.

That left me and Jason. I had a good start by poaching some top VPs early on, but my quick lead made me a target, and unfortunately I neglected my Sales department. That made me vulnerable to numerous Bad Ideas, and I was forced to hire numerous contractors, quickly depleting my cash reserves. Meanwhile, Jay was running a lean operation, and he slowly ate away at my talent. My Development VP got replaced by a complete incompetent, and I was unable to release any of my products.

For a while I stayed afloat with some amazing funding courtesy of my brilliant Finance VP, but eventually I lost him too. Things were looking grim, but I managed to fire my incompetent Development VP and beat up Jay with a few moves of my own. It was down to the wire. But lucky Jay — in a last-ditch effort, he managed to lay off all his non-essential personnel. I went out of business the next turn, and Jay survived with a mere $1 million in the bank.

So I guess I’m not the best dot-com CEO. That’s OK. I’m not the best member of the Planning Commission either, as our forays into Downtown have proven. Lord help me if Jan and Justin flesh out their idea for their even more true-to-life game: Staff Meeting: The Game of Meetings. Actually, Lord help us all.

Clan Gathering

Well, my sister and brother-in-law are back from Israel… for at least a year, possibly more. They’re staying in LA for now, poor dears, but it looks like it can’t be helped. However, Elana came up to visit us this weekend, and next weekend she and Adiv are both coming up here, along with my uncle, aunt, and one cousin. According to my mom’s email on the subject, it’s an official “clan gathering”. Aye, a clan gathering! We will feast and dance, sing songs of old Goers long dead, and tell tales of the days of yore!

As for Elana, she seems a bit disoriented being in the USA. She says she was at the grocery store the other day, and it was a very strange experience. The store was clean and well-lit. There was a huge selection. Nobody bumped her from behind with a cart to make her move faster. When she asked for help finding an item, the store clerk politely walked her to the correct aisle instead of ignoring her or saying something snarky. Freaky, no? Maybe a trip to New York City is in order to remind her that yes, we Americans can provide unpleasant, rude service just like anyone else. We’re number 1! USA! USA!

As for me, my MOTWM class is over for the year. We had a party at Simon’s house, which is a beautiful place in Scotts Valley overlooking… well, the valley. It was a nice party with lots of lovely people. However, I should point out that Simon’s teenage boys made themselves scarce as soon as the bulk of the guests arrived. A stark reminder that I have joined the ranks of the old fuddy-duddies.

At the party, I talked to Judith and her husband (who works on Gravity Probe B!) about languages. To my great shame, I only speak English and about forty words of French. Judith asked me which languages I would want to learn. I told her Spanish or Russian. Russian, because I really want to go to Russia some day, maybe travel there extensively. Spanish, because it is supposed to be fairly easy and there are many people all over the world that speak it. Also, the cute girl who sells the coffee and doughnuts at work is trying to teach me Spanish. She hasn’t gotten much further than teaching me how to order a doughnut politely, and I think she’s getting a bit frustrated with me:

Girl: Como esta?
Me: Ummm, bien. And how are you?
Girl: You haven’t bought a doughnut in a while.
Me: Well, uhhh… today is Wednesday — we have a staff meeting, and they have free doughnuts.
Girl: You’d rather get a free doughnut than buy my doughnuts?
Me: Jeez, you make me feel like I’ve been cheating on you.
Girl (giving me a long, deliberate look): You have been cheating on me.

On second thought, maybe I’ll pass on Spanish. Those hot-blooded Latins might be more trouble than it’s worth.

Packaged Discontent

Napster officially declared bankruptcy today. I’ll be weeping softly into my pillow tonight, to be sure.

Actually, I fully agree with David Coursey, who writes that the lingering, painful death of Napster provides “proof of a loving higher power that eventually smites evildoers“:

I was about to write something about feeling sorry for the people who worked at Napster and lost their livelihoods while the investors and executives doubtless looked after themselves quite nicely. But I won’t, because I wonder how a truly honest person could have gone to work there in the first place.

Of course, one could say the same about certain other companies. And look! One has. (Although Coursey is wrong about the smiting evildoers bit — otherwise Avanti would be out of business. But that’s another story.)

I suppose that Napster simply demonstrates how far people are willing to go to rationalize their bad behavior:

  • “But CDs are way too expensive.”
  • “But the record companies are really, really, bad.”
  • “But Napster actually increases sales to artists — it’s a form of marketing.”
  • “But in the future, we’ll have a glorious P2P distribution system where everyone will make money — you copyright-happy fuddy-duddies just wait!”
  • “But the record companies are trying to take away our fair use rights.”

All of which are true to one degree or another, and none of which has anything to do with Napster per se.

Honestly, what are we to think of a company that poses as a Champion of the People while building its business plan on the backs of others? How cynical do you have to be? The whole thing reminds me of Rage Against the Machine. In college I truly thought that Zack de la Rocha & co. were real, hardcore, angry revolutionaries. Fighting the System. Speaking Truth to Power. (Please stifle your snickers.) Not that I was really for fighting the system… but I could certainly respect fighting the system (and as a matter of fact, I still do).

Then one fine summer day, the most crassly commercial movie of 1998 rolled into theaters, and guess who wrote the title track? I learned a valuable lesson that day about who is into rebellion these days, and why. (Interesting aside: the imdb.com page on Godzilla says, “If you liked this movie, we also recommend Armageddon.” They could not have picked a better match.)

One final point: I find Rage Against the Machine’s pro-Napster histrionics particularly amusing. After all, their record label is a subsidiary of Sony, which is actively trying to destroy all semblance of fair-use rights. (Sony’s recent forays into copy-protected media have been less than successful, but they shouldn’t worry… someone has come up with a brand-new piracy-proof format already. Hooray!)

Super Ego

Paula Poundstone said about Dr. Laura, “How do you just decide to be her? When do you wander around the house and say to yourself, ‘I’m just so damn right about everything — I ought to have a show?'”

Are we “bloggers” all Dr. Laura’s children? Are weblogs and journals just a pointless exercise in narcissism? [cue the theme from ‘Sex and the City’]

To tell the truth, I’ve worried about this. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t enabled comments on my entries — why the heck would my random musings be worthy of Serious Discussion? (To be fair, Mark retorts that it’s the height of arrogance not to enable comments, because that means I have the first and last word on everything.)

Maybe I should stop worrying and love the narcissism. In fact, M’ris has even been kind enough to posit a universe where this narcissism would be justified:

“New headline [in the Mercury]: ‘Bush urges diplomacy in tense South Asia’ replaced by ‘Evan explains: no war for me, thanks.’ Musharraf will be quoted as saying, ‘We thought Evan would be all for nuclear holocaust on the Indian subcontinent. Now that we know he isn’t, we’ve both decided to leave the Kashmir region. We wanted him to stay on longer to tell us what to do domestically, but he had to fly to Israel to knock some heads together, and I think the sub-Saharan countries were next.'”

Let me be perfectly clear, for the sake of Musharraf, Vajpayee, and all other regular readers of this website: I am categorically against any and all nuclear weapons exchanges. Anyway, M’ris continues:

“For some reason, Evan as Benevolent ‘Suggestor’ amuses me. I’m imagining posters with your smiling face on them, with slogans like, “Evan says, ‘Stop shooting each other!'” and ‘Evan doesn’t like child prostitution!’ and ‘No Creed for Evan!'”

Hmmm… of those three Public Service Announcements, I’m honestly not sure which one is the most important.

Ok, ok, enough tomfoolery. Here’s the real reason to keep a personal website. Today I got an email from Jason. I haven’t seen Jason or his wife Megan for at least six or seven years. But Jason searched and found me on the web. I am totally stoked. Of course, he found me by searching for Eric and finding my name instead… but hey. I’ll absorb that blow to my ego and carry on somehow.


Last night Laura and I went to go see the play Art, which is running at the San Jose Rep through June 16. If you haven’t seen it: go. Go now. I’m talking to you in particular, M’ris. (By an unfortunate coincidence, M’ris and I are having an email discussion about the nature of art. Please believe me, M’ris, my exhortation to go see Art has absolutely nothing to do with our discussion. I just think you and Mark will really enjoy the play. No ulterior motives here whatsoever.)

This is the second play that I’ve seen first in London, then in the US. The last one was The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged, which was screamingly funny in England but only somewhat humorous in San Jose. I had been worried that Art would suffer the same fate, but fortunately, it was quite good. At least as good as the London production, maybe better.

Since we’re on the subject of art, the AVArtFest is running at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara this weekend. There are several dozen booths with local artists — mostly painters, although there are a few potters and sculptors. A lot of the paintings were quite good in my uneducated opinion, although they were mostly out of my price range. (As in, “Oh, that’s nice! Mmm, $1100.00.) Still, I ran into my ex-boss’s wife, and we had a nice conversation. I also talked with an artist who was almost exactly my age — we had an interesting discussion on how his paintings were like and not-like Giger. So I basically had a good time.