Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Virtual prostate?

Hello India, I Need Help With My Math - The Internet has enabled the globalization (usually outsourcing from a US perspective) of a variety of service jobs and the Times notes the trend is continuing into personal services like tutoring, legal advice, personal assistance with scheduling and shopping, etc. Amazingly, India has perfected the online doctor's office. No, they aren't doing e-surgery - we're talking general practice here, but the experience is incredibly realistic. Before you can even enter your password a receptionist avatar dressed in a nurse-like outfit brusquely instructs you to fill out the same insurance form you have completed on each of your last eleven visits. Once you submit the completed insurance information you are offered access to an extensive menu of zines, blogs, and electronic editions of print media. Astonishingly, the program suppresses any information that is less than four months old, except for Scholastic Weekly Reader, which is always up to date. There's a delay of over ten minutes, as the screen skips away from your chosen reading material occasionally to flash on patient avatars arriving or getting up to move into the doctor's office. Some cough deeply, others look dangerously ill and you wonder if they are contagious. A new avatar, this time it's a nurse dressed like a lab technician, appears and escorts you down a long hall - with 1st person shooter style graphics - to a small room, instructs you to undress and leaves. She comes back after five minutes and tells you, no I mean it - you really have to undress - how did she know, the camera wasn't even on yet? You shrug, strip to your shorts and shiver. Just as you are about to leave the computer and turn up the heat an avatar doctor appears, Richard Kiley, MD with some wrinkles removed and slightly homogenized features. With a real time, two way voice connection, a video feed from your pc mounted camera and a mouse that takes pulse and temperature you get a mini physical and a chance to describe what ails you to a diagnostic program with artificial intelligence and the voice of Marcus Welby. When you are finished a virus like program takes total control of your screen as you are escorted to billing. After you make your co payment the friendly doctor reappears with orders for tests at a local lab and a prescription. Is there any service you can't get over the Internet?

Training Law Students for Real Life Careers - Fry cook? Law schools now offer training in interpreting statutes and regulations instead of just cases, clinical programs in which the student actually practices law under supervision; and interdisciplinary training. The emphasis may be changing, but there's not much news here. All of these were available at Columbia Law School thirty-five years ago, and Columbia's curriculum was by no means revolutionary. Columbia is cited as modernizing its curriculum beginning in 2003. Not clear what is really changing, although it may be a matter of emphasis. Harvard, Stanford and other name schools can fill job openings at firms like Cravath, Swaine & Moore (which just announced a bonus bonus for associates this year), but for many law school graduates the job search will be running head on into some major trends.

On the supply side, there are a lot of lawyers from the baby boom years already practicing. There are a lot of law schools turning out a lot of grads - a network of schools built to serve both that baby boom population and the passing heyday of the legal system. The supply also seems to reflect some favorable, but unrealistic, PR from a never ending stream of TV lawyers. Thanks in part to the Internet, "local" lawyers face national, even international competition (see above). Licensing laws (which provide necessary standards and client protections, but are also sometimes extended to the point of naked economic protectionism) form a crumbling barrier. Law firms and corporations can shop internationally for legal research (India is familiar with the common law system) and the lead firm on a multi-national deal can come from almost anywhere, even if a local counsel is needed in specific countries on specific issues.

On the demand side, there is general recognition of the fact that the US legal system is a remarkably expensive way to resolve nearly any dispute. Client self-help and the substitution of non-lawyers and/or non-legal processes for lawyers and courts (think Internet form vendors, divorce counsellors, insurance panels that function as auto accident "courts") will result in some continuing reduction in demand. Tort reform may extend the use of non-legal processes or make litigation less remunerative for lawyers in areas like medical malpractice or product liability.

So, law schools, let's emphasize those interdisciplinary skills, especially the ones that come in handy when you are looking for work outside the law. Students, thinking like a lawyer comes in handy sometimes, but it may not be worth three years of your life and $150,000. Unless you are going to a name school or you already have a job lined up, you might want to figure out if, and how, law school will help you build a better career in a field you have already entered.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Amexicano: If Only I Had Gone Out For Popcorn

Amexicano - Bruno, a lonely, unemployed Italian-American schlub from Queens played engagingly by Carmine Famiglietti, takes a construction job to stave off eviction. Step one is a street corner stop to hire a day laborer from a group of waiting Mexicans. After a false start with the aggressive and angry Diego (Manny Perez), Bruno finds the hard-working Ignacio (Raul Castillo). A sweet, deceptively simple buddy comedy ensues, as Bruno and Ignacio form a genuine friendship despite the language barrier and Bruno's cultural preconceptions. The plot thickens when Ignacio's attractive wife Gabriela (Jennifer Pena) applies some heat and then swirls in two new directions, each fundamentally consistent with the characters and story set in motion by screenwriter Famiglietti and Director Matthew Bonifacio - until the final moments of the picture. The ending clashed jarringly with my expectations and changed my view of the film radically. As an actor, Famiglietti shines in an odd couple comedy, as a writer he avoids stereotypes throughout the story but works too hard to do so in the ending, converting a film with a genuine feel into a somewhat awkward political statement. Despite this, the film is worth seeing - I cared enough so I was angry about the ending. Cast and crew were remarkably productive with a very limited budget and you will be seeing them again

Monday, October 29, 2007

OK to Less Stress - But the Best Defense is Still A Good Offense

Less Homework, More Yoga, From a Principal Who Hates Stress - Needham, MA high school principal Paul Richards is taking steps to reduce the stress experienced by his students. He's also taking flak from Rush Limbaugh and cheap shots from Jay Leno. Without knowing anything whatsoever about this situation, As Good As News, while always reserving the right to take cheap shots of its own, will now leap to Richard's defense -when Limbaugh and Leno jump on the same bandwagon they are inevitably dead wrong, and that poor wagon is way over the maximum weight limit (more cheap shots to follow).

Jay, high school is a little different today. Your 1960's experience - a dyslexic kid from Andover who spent most of his time playing with motorcycles, learned to live with the mediocre grades his dyslexia was producing, stumbled into Emerson College and ultimately found himself in stand up comedy - would come out a little differently today. Your dyslexia is diagnosed - you spend hours in therapy and get extra time on all your tests, which marks you as different from all your classmates. Your family, alarmed by ever tougher college admission stats - harasses you constantly into building a decent resume so you will have some options when it's time to pick a college - you play football, join the drama club, struggle to keep a B average, take an SAT prep course three times and work in a soup kitchen. You enjoy the drama club, but you tell no one. You take copious mental notes at the soup kitchen, developing "homeless guy" guy routines for your pals in the football locker room (Jay - the fact that you're an overactive stressed out modern high school kid doesn't mean you can't still be a cheapshotting bully). You actually earn admission to - Emerson College (in 2007 this is an achievement, not a last resort). Your drama club experience haunts you and you question your sexual identity. After a brief struggle with some ill conceived sexual experimentation you find yourself as a stand up comic.

Rush, even though you are from the sticks, you came from a successful, well-to-do family, the leading lights of Cape Girardeaux. With that kind of background you felt a lot of pressure to succeed in high school. No doubt that's why you went on to graduate cum laude from Harvard - oops, sorry, I meant drop out of Southeast Missouri State, then wander through drug addiction and three divorces, all probably because your wives were jealous of your one true love -food.

Here are two guys who succeeded big time in life, albeit as cheapshotting bullies who scan the news at the shallowest level looking for opportunities to pander to their audience without getting bogged down in any real facts. Did they succeed because they excelled in high school in response to extraordinary pressure? No, they spent high school preparing to be mediocre students at best, but survived to succeed much later because in the 1960's, when these guys went to high school, failure was an option. Principal Richards is motivated by his desire to respond to a culture that helped to produce four suicides in the Needham school system. Maybe he has a point.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Paul J. Hassett, Jr.

My father died last week. He was an extraordinary man and I'm very proud to share these memories:

Obituary appearing in Columbus, Pittsburgh and Syracuse:

Paul J. Hassett, Jr. 83, of Columbus, Ohio died October 18 at his home, surrounded by family. Born July 22, 1924 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, he attended Cornell University, served in the Army from 1943 to 1946, including service in Germany, prior to his honorable discharge as Staff Sergeant, then returned to college, completing a BS in Accounting at Syracuse University in 1948, and an LLB at Cleveland-Marshall Law School in 1953. He was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1953 and earned an MS in Education at Duquesne University in 1975. He joined the American Steel and Wire Division of US Steel in 1948 and worked in several accounting and tax positions until retiring from US Steel as a tax attorney in 1984. He later served as a tax auditor for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He was a devout Roman Catholic and an active member of every community in which he lived serving as President of the Religious Education Program at St. Josephs, Auburn, MA., cofounder of a tutoring program operating from the Frederic Ozanam Center in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, cofounder of BRIC, a not-for-profit corporation established to rehabilitate low income housing in Pittsburgh, and President of the St. Vincent De Paul Society of St. Thomas More Parish in Bethel Park, PA where he was a communicant for many years. He lettered in football at Cornell and was an accomplished golfer and all-around athlete who coached youth sports in many communities. He was a devoted and loving husband and father who will live on in the loving memory of his family. He is survived by Ann Taber Hassett, his wife of 55 years, his children, Michael Hassett and Ilene Karpf of Scotch Plains, NJ, Mary Ellen Hassett-Elam and Mark Elam of Whitehall, OH, Paul J. Hassett, III of Whitehall, OH and Corrine Anne Hassett and Christian Reitmeyer of East Lyme, CT, his sister Mary Katherine Hassett and his four grandchildren Matthew, Shannon, John and Joseph. A memorial service will be held at 10:30 AM, Monday, October 22 at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, 4383 E. Broad St., Columbus. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions to the Family Life and Education Building Fund, St. Thomas More Parish, 126 Fort Couch Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15241 or the Alzheimer’s Association National Office, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl. 17, Chicago, IL 60601.

Eulogy from his younger daughter, Corey:

My father wore many hats during his life – husband, brother, uncle, friend, co-worker, volunteer. But, only four of us had the privilege to call him “dad”.

As I became an adult and now progress into the early stages of parenting myself, I begin to realize what a privilege that was. I begin to understand the sacrifices our parents made for us, the things that they gave up to give us opportunities and how lucky we are to have had their guidance. If there is one trait that sets my dad and mom apart, it is their ability to lead by example. Dad never lectured on what was important in life or how we should set about doing a task. He simply did what he thought was right and expected the same of us.

He didn’t tell us it was important to go to church – he went to church unfailingly and volunteered his precious free time whenever possible.

He never spoke about the value of a strong work ethic. Instead, he unceremoniously went to work everyday and provided amply for his family.

He didn’t address the need for family time. He simply spent time with us, ever present in our lives, never missing a game, dance recital or ceremony we were in.

Dad didn’t pontificate about the importance of education. He educated himself, encouraged us to become educated and provided the means for us to do so.

He didn’t talk about giving back to the community; he just gave back himself, volunteering with the elderly and underprivileged. He made sure we went along and learned to appreciate what we had and be sensitive to those not as fortunate as ourselves.

His expectations of us were high and he wasn’t perfect, but in his understated manner, he & Mom provided us with the tools we needed to live full, productive lives. They showed us to always move forward, accept the disappointment and failure that will inevitably occur in life, but more importantly to appreciate the good in ourselves, in our family, in faith and in the world.

When I reflect on his life, I am filled with pride, respect and love for the father that he was and the way in which he chose to live his life. There was much to learn from him and we are thankful for the time we had with him.

Not surprisingly, Dad didn’t talk much about his Irish heritage, except to enjoy a beer and a good joke. But, we are Irish and I would like to leave him with this:
May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again, Dad
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Eulogy from his older son, Michael:

Thank you for coming today to honor and remember my father Paul J. Hassett, Jr.

Dad was many things, athlete, soldier, scholar, accountant and lawyer but close to his heart was the role of teacher. Not just teaching in the classroom, although Dad earned a Masters in Education and taught in community college, but teaching informally, whenever the moment was right.
- A quiet man, Dad really enjoyed talking when he could explain something to an interested listener.
- A patient man, Dad could watch as a child learned by trial and error.
- A dignified, self-possessed man, Dad could remain silent as those who knew less spoke more.

In fact, Dad was such a great teacher that even a know it all couldn't help learning a few things.. ...despite my best efforts.

Let's start with this picture.
I'm the little guy. I was nervous about that big fish, but not afraid, because I knew exactly where to hide. Right behind Dad. That was Dad 1.01 – provide safety, food, clothing, shelter, education and and do it so consistently, so automatically, that they are taken completely for granted. Thanks Dad.

Dad 2.01 was the vacation. We learned thrift... or maybe Dad just really loved that 25 year old tent. We learned iron self control.... because there was no such thing as a rest stop until the gas gage was on empty. We learned to stay close to our family, even when we lived hundreds of miles away.

Dad 3.01 came on the golf course. I was 9 or 10 and I thought Dad really wanted a caddy every week. Now I realize he was losing a stroke or two every round to the distractions I created, just so I could spend time with him. I also learned that some golfers actually curse a little bit.... but not Dad. I'm not sure if this was because of his good taste or good morals....or maybe it was just because Dad almost never hit a bad shot.

In high school I got the advanced course in Dad. It was the late 1960's, when you couldn't trust anyone over 30. Other kids were rebelling against their parents, I was working for my Dad; working as a tutor in Pittsburgh's Hill District in a program Dad helped to create; working stripping wallpaper in houses his not for profit company was rehabilitating to provide low income housing. Dad lived his beliefs to an extraordinary degree, there was just no trace of hypocrisy to rebel against. All you could do with Dad was hope to come close to the standard he set someday.

Dad was a wonderful, loving and unique brother, husband, father and friend. He will live on in our the lessons we will never forget.

Intentions from his funeral service, prepared by his wife, Ann:

Lord, we thank you for the quiet, productive life of your servant, Paul. We pray to the Lord.

We thank you for your help and guidance through Paul’s long illness. We pray to the Lord.

Lord, Thank you for the Sisters, Clergy, nurses, doctors and health care workers who have helped and guided us. We ask your continued blessing on their work. We pray to the Lord.

Lord, bless Paul & Ann’s children, their spouses, family members and dear friends who have laughed with Ann, cried with Ann and always prayed for us. We pray to the Lord.

Lord, we ask your help for Paul’s family, that they may remember the good times and be consoled by your grace. We pray to the Lord.

Lord, as we remember those who have gone before: Paul’s parents - Paul & Anne, his brother Robert, his sister Anne and her husband Joseph and nieces Margaret & Janie, we ask the eternal joy of Heaven for Paul and for them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in Peace. We pray to the Lord.

Sudan, now and again

Comedy today - Caroline's on Broadway - 4:30 PM.

Sudan Declares Cease-Fire at Darfur Peace Talks - OK, but wouldn't it work a little better if more than one side declared a cease fire? And why do we need a cease fire at the peace talks anyway, did a firefight break out over the conference table when one of the negotiators forgot to say "Gesundheit"?

Sudan will get at least one mention in today's 4:30 show at Caroline's.

Moving Ahead on Mortgages - Fix unaffordable floating rates at 7% to avoid a foreclosure crisis? A decent idea, the one area where government action may actually be warranted in the subprime mess. Not news to As Good As News -See post of October 26.

Board Rejects Sponsorships for Golden Gate - Questionable, since the proposed sponsorships were extraordinarily unobtrusive, but understandable. What happened to the As Good As News plan to collect royalties from commercial interests already capitalizing on the bridge - Rice-a-Roni, Cisco, etc.? Even if you don't like commerce, San Franciscans, why not try to collect revenue for something that is already happening anyway?

What Did You Call It - Vajayjay? You must be kidding Oprahrah. Feminist authors who penpen clitlit will come down hard on you for this baby talk.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Firestorm, Brainstorm, Shitstorm

Fake News Briefing by FEMA Draws Official Rebuke - For Vice Admiral Harvey Johnson and some of his staff Washington is hotter than Southern California at the moment. FEMA's Deputy Administrator and Chief Operating Officer is is taking serious heat from the White House and his own boss for calling a press conference on fifteen minutes notice, then taking advantage of the absence of any real reporters to field softball questions from his own staff, all the while creating the impression, for Fox TV (the camera crew was there and the "press" conference was broadcast live) and telephone listeners, that he was handling questions from real media representatives. Like many horrible decisions it seemed like a good idea at the time:

Pam (FEMA communications) - These California wild fires are fantastic Admiral, the wind died down, the fires aren't spreading, W would be in disaster heaven if he didn't have to share coverage with that camera hogging Terminator, and best of all, FEMA hasn't screwed anything up yet.

The Admiral - I know, it feels like the first good day since I walked into this mess. We should celebrate.

John (FEMA Public Relations)- We should let the whole world know, we've taken enough lumps, can't we share some good news.

The Admiral - Nice idea John, but Paulison or even Chertoff would probably want to run it, we'd need to clear it with the White House, and they're already whining about sharing the glory with Arnold - it's just not going to happen.

Pam - C'mon big guy seize the moment - you're the COO, just do it. The morale around this place needs a kick in the ass.

The Admiral - Maybe we could put something small together on our own, but we all know the first twenty questions - how do you compare the situation in California with Katrina, what did you learn from Katrina, what do you say to criticism that you were ready to save White people's mansions in California while you sat on your can as Black neighborhoods drowned during Katrina, Katrina, Katrina, Katrina - we'll never get away from it - and I wasn't even here then.

John - Maybe we could get away from it just this once - it's a fast breaking story. Let's make it a quickie, short notice fast briefing, if we're lucky no one will even get here to ask a question. We'll let Fox know a little before everyone else, the Fox camera crews will arrive and set up, we can finish the whole press conference before a reporter even gets here. Worst case, the rest of the Fox team arrives before we start, and they won't mention Katrina anyway.

Pam - Duhhhh! A press conference with no one to ask questions, won't that be, like, weird?

John - Not a problem, we'll start with a briefing, you and I and Stacie can each ask a general follow up question so it won't look fishy and we'll be done before anyone knows what hit em. It would be a guaranteed hit.

The Admiral - I'm not sure about this.

John and Pam - Please, Admiral, we really need a boost.

The Admiral - Well alright, but let's be careful with the tone in that briefing, don't forget to bow and scrape to W and Michael and Paulison. Oh Yeah, remember, somber tone, it's a great day for FEMA but we can't sound like we're celebrating some one else's disaster.

John and Pam - We're on it.

Late that night -

The Admiral - John, Pam, I have some bad news. The media is hopping mad about our briefing. I guess you guys looked like fake reporters. W is ranting that FEMA really is a disaster agency. Chertoff just called, he said something about a gang
of idiots that could overcome any obstacle to spin gold into lead - I don't think we're going to survive this one.

John - Chief, how could anyone have thought we were pretending to be reporters, all we did was toss out a couple of softballs so you could flesh out the briefing - no real reporter would have asked those questions.

The Admiral - They thought you were from Fox.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Subprime Editorials

Two NY Times items today deal with subprime lending. Both miss the mark in some important respects.

A Catastrophe Foretold, an Op-Ed column by Paul Krugman, bemoans the lack of regulation, despite government foreknowledge, as subprime loans were offered to the poor, who could not evaluate them, and disproportionately offered to minorities who would have qualified in many cases for cheaper conventional loans. With the wisdom of hindsight, the fact that some lenders were overzealous in promoting subprime loans to borrowers who could not really afford them is pretty well established. The fact that the poor and minorities cannot be effective consumers seems considerably less well established to As Good As News. The fact that some government officials understood the problem years ago is interesting, but doesn't really make the case for greater regulation.

Not so long ago the NY Times, and many others, decried redlining - a practice banks used to limit the mortgage financing available to residents of minority neighborhoods who, but for their address, were creditworthy borrowers. Before jumping on the regulation bandwagon, it would be interesting to understand what happened to reverse this situation. Why would any lender push to market adjustable rate loans to bad credits when the loan would turn into a big loss as soon as interest rates rose, home prices fell and the borrower defaulted? Wouldn't it be nice to understand why the market failed and consider how the market might work before deciding we must regulate more.

Banished by the Big Banks, Risk Finds its Way Back Home tells us that the answer to why the markets failed is complicated. Kudos to Floyd Norris for even trying to cover this and providing a reasonably clear explanation of one example. Unfortunately, Mr. Norris got caught up in the holy grail of all NY Times reporters and columnists, the quest for irony, and missed the real point. His glee that some of the same banks who packaged and sold mortgage loans with one hand bought back the credit risk with the other hand (their derivative trading desks) is an interesting, even pleasant distraction, but the legal claim Mr. Norris covers almost as an aside goes to the heart of the matter.

First, some background to the example presented by Mr. Norris. Recall that the people originating subprime mortgage loans were getting high fees when the loans were made. They had credit evaluation procedures and standards to follow, but there was lots of pressure to approve credit, collect the high fees and book the profits today. Default was next year's problem. Second, the loans were bundled together in packages and sold. A mortgage originator like American Home Mortgage Holdings (the Norris example) would sell bundles of mortgage loans to special purpose entities (SPEs) it created. The SPEs would borrow money in the commercial paper market to finance the cost of buying these loans. The SPEs had limited net worth, borrowing almost all the money they needed to buy mortgage loans. The value of these bundles of mortgage loans would fall if the anticipated default rate went up, so the highly leveraged SPE's looked like a questionable credit risk, and normally only the most creditworthy of borrowers can tap the commercial paper markets. The SPE's dealt with this problem by entering into risk shifting contracts (derivatives) with Big Banks. The contracts basically specified: if the SPE can't continue to borrow money in the commercial paper market and is forced to sell its bundles of mortgage loans to cover costs then Big Bank will pay to SPE the difference between the face value of the bundled mortgage loans and the market value of the bundled mortgages at the time of sale. With these risk shifting contracts in place the SPE was now creditworthy, and thus able to borrow at low interest rates in the commercial paper market and use that money to buy high interest paying bundles of mortgage loans from American Home Mortgage Holdings.

When the shit hit the fan this Spring, the SPE's did have to sell mortgage loans at less than face value and they did turn to Big Bank to collect on the risk shifting contracts. One Big Bank, Bank of America, has refused to pay a claim by American Home Mortgage and its SPEs, and refused to comment. All Mr. Norris tells us about the pleadings in the resulting law suit is that Bank of America alleges some of the loans should not have been made. American Home Mortgage responds that this is irrelevant, noting other Big Banks have paid on the same type of risk shifting contract. What are the terms of the risk shifting contract - is "market value" based on the actual sales price of the bundled mortgages sold by the American Home Mortgage SPEs or by an index price reflecting the general market price for that type of mortgage bundle? Use of an index price is more typical in a derivative contract generally and more likely here given the fact that other Big Banks paid American Home without squawking. If the index price is effected by the fact that many mortgage lenders did a lousy job evaluating the borrower's credit can Bank of America assert that the contract is unenforceable just because American Home Mortgage may have been one of several sloppy lenders?

This is an interesting claim. If I wasn't so busy with important things like writing comedy, rowing, tennis and golf I would find the pleadings and the confirmation on the derivative and really look into it. Instead I will assert the blogger's privilege of assuming my own provisional analysis of the facts is accurate. If the market price used in computing the payment required under the derivative is in fact an index price then the simplest, and probably best, analysis is that Bank of America should pay. The possibility that American Home Mortgage might have engaged in some sloppy loan practices really is irrelevant. Derivative contracts look to indexes of all kinds. One point of using an index is that it allows the party accepting a transferred risk to do so without controlling, or even investigating, the operations of the party shedding the risk. Bank of America may be able to kick up some dust before a judge or jury that does not understand derivatives - sloppy lending practices effected the index of mortgage prices, American Home Mortgage was one of the sloppy lenders, it shouldn't benefit from its own fraud, negligence, etc. , neither party understood or contemplated the unforseeable circumstance that mortgage index prices could be effected by sloppy lending practices, blah, blah blah. Sounds almost like a real argument, and it might persuade a judge, but anyone in the business would tell you that none of it is relevant if the contract refers to an index price.

Mr. Norris includes none of this, even though a copy of a typical derivative contract is probably available in the pleadings. It would tell us quite a bit about how the Big Banks writing these derivative contracts may have ended up swallowing a risk they did not understand completely. Aside from the wrinkle that agressive lending practices may have "unforseeably" effected an index price, the problem is all about credit risk. Banks and other financial institutions know how to deal with credit risk. If they are forced to take their losses they will learn any necessary lessons and self correct, including better identifcation of where the risks are in securitized lending and related derivatives, which will back up into more careful credit evaluation on loan origination. If "bailout" regulation is needed to avert a foreclosure crisis it should be consumer oriented and assist only those subprime borrowers who can actually make the mortgage payments with a shift to a fixed rate, very slightly above the fixed rate that a prime borrower would pay.

Whatever mistakes mortgage lenders, mortgage buyers and derivatives (risk shifting contracts in the example) writers were making, they can now fix with two simple steps. Allocate the risk clearly in the relevant contract, evaluate the credit on a mass default scenario basis once you know where the risk lies. Mortgage lenders and Big Banks (writers and repurchasers of this type of risk shifting or derivative contract actually include investment banks and hedge funds, not just commercial banks, as Mr. Norris notes) can all take care of themselves, and they will do so without any help from the government. Cases like American Home Mortgage v. Bank of America will resolve any problems in the old contracts in time and the parties have probably been addressing this with extraordinary clarity in any contracts written lately.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Fruit of Treason

-Bronx Jeers for Giuliani, Now Rooting for the Red Sox - In an extraordinarily prescient post, As Good As News covered this story from today's paper yesterday, and we devote today's post to foul up and foul out - sorry, but we are going downhill from there.

-Their Looks For Fall 2008 - The Times reports Barack Obama and Rudy lead the youth movement in campaign apparel, as Rudy has seized on both sports and Italian - American design themes. Rudy is reportedly adjusting his "R" themed campaign gear to a Red Sox logo "R" and substituting blue for green to dump the Italian color scheme and capture the New England vote.

-Mob Discussed Giuliani Hit - A family of violent Yankee fans operating operating from a Fish and Game club on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx was caught by electronic surveillance planning a response to Rudy's flip flop.

Voice 1 -First Torre's out, now Rudy turns on the Yankees- this pro abortion, pro gay two faced punk who was never a real Catholic, a real Italian or a real Yankee fan is selling us out and switching his Italian gear to Red Sox crap - I'm taking this out before he destroys the little good that's left in this country.

Voice 2 -Calm down Lamb Chop, New Hampshire's not our territory.

Voice 1 - I don't give a f... . I'll hit that F... er in Red Sox territory where he deserves to die.

-Mideast Hawks Help to Develop Giuliani Policy - Apprised of the threat by the FBI, Giuliani turned to Neocon strategists Darth Cheney and Donald Rumsfield to plan adjustments to his security policy. A preemptive nuclear strike on the Bronx had nearly reached the implementation stage when one of Giuliani's campaign aids noted that the collateral damage might include radioactive fallout in states that Rudy hoped to carry in November. As the neocon strategists returned to the drawing board, a force of 200 camouflage clad Blackwater guards surrounded Rudy as an interim measure. Erring on the side of caution, the guards have been ordered to shoot anyone who looks Italian on sight. Giuliani donned his Red Sox cap to announce that he is prepared to deal with any threat and is looking forward to campaign stops tomorrow in Boston's North End and Providence, Rhode Island.

-Giuliani Questioned on Torture - Presidential Candidate Rudy Giuliani was taken into custody and questioned overnight by police in Laconia, New Hampshire after Giuliani's security staff pulled a Yankee capped listener from the crowd at a campaign event and subjected him to severe interrogation. The victim, Luigi "Lamb Chop" Canoli was being held under the surface of a tank of freezing water by Blackwater security personnel when Laconia police came to his aid. Canoli, who sputtered only "I got nothing to say" when rescued, was held as a material witness after a computer check revealed an extensive record of arrests in New York and New Jersey.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Benedict Giuliani?

-Is this man a traitor? In many parts of the country baseball fans root for the home team, not against other teams. For example, now that the Tribe is out of the playoffs even the most rabid Cleveland fan may choose to root for the Red Sox - because they are from the American League, because it makes the Tribe look better if they lost to the team that went on to capture the world series, because they play in that cute ball park with the big wall and you once went to visit your cousin while he was at college in Boston etc. The disappointed Indian's fans may also root for the Rockies, because they are an exciting young team on what may be the most incredible roll in sport's history, because they like purple, because they are still mad at the Red Sox, etc. You don't have to hate the Red Sox, the Reds or anyone else just because you are a Tribe fan.

Among older Clevelanders there is a reservoir of Yankee hatred, bred by decades of watching the Yankees win penant after penant. A bitterness honed by the fact that the Yankees accomplished this with players captured from other teams. This was before free agency - cash poor Kansas City was a virtual Yankee farm club and other teams, including the Tribe, were not above shipping a star or a future star to the Yankees in deals that put cash in their pockets and cut their payroll. From Babe Ruth to Roger Maris the Bronx bullies bought the best with their big bankroll. The Yankee's dry spells from 1965 to 1975 and again from 1979 to 1995, along with divisional divorce and the Tribe's own success may have dampened this hatred to the point where it is socially acceptable to root for the Yankees if the Tribe is eliminated. Even in the Tribe's years in the desert of early elimination, Cleveland housed a small but noticeable minority of front runners who rooted openly for the Yankees, accepting occasional scorn, but not threats of imminent death.

Chicago's cross town rivalry shows signs of real passion, including the all important element of class warfare, but when the combined efforts of the rivals win one World Series every fifty years it's just too hard to care. One well promoted mutual support group and the Cub's and White Sox fans would fall into each other's arms in tears.

In California, the Dodgers and Giants have a bitter edge to their rivalry. The true Giant fan will root against the Dodgers in the post season, regardless of opponent, and the Dodger fans feel the same way, but this is a prehensile trait, inherited from the teams origins in New York, one home of the true, hate driven rivalry.

Yankee fans must detest the Red Sox or be shunned by their brethren. Hatred of the Mets is optional, but highly encouraged. Mets fans savor no victory like a win over their spotlight hogging big brothers from the Bronx. Boston is, amazingly, even more negative than New York, recent poll results indicate that 73.2% of all Red Sox fans are happier about a Yankee loss than a Red Sox win, and the punishment for any kind word about a Yankee is swift and severe.

So, is Rudy a traitor? At the very least, he is a phony, desperately seeking a friendlier image and New Hampshire votes. This guy could barely force a strained smile when the Mets were in the playoffs and he was the Mayor of NY. He is a true Yankee fan, trained to hatred of the Red Sox through years of conditioning and he is inwardly grimacing as that Red Sox cap burns painfully into his scalp. If Rudy had been Mayor of Cleveland , Los Angeles, Chicago or any other city, he would get a pass on the Red Sox cap, but in assessing a New Yorker who is a self declared and genuine Yankee fan As Good As News must join its tabloid brethren in declaring Rudy a traitor to the New York Yankees.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Starting Out In The Evening: Write Your Next Thesis on Dracula

Starting Out In The Evening - Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella), a seventy year old out of print novelist, is seduced by the energy and ambition of Heather (Lauren Ambrose), a graduate student, into cooperating with her masters thesis. Heather wants the world to rediscover Leonard's work and she plans to make her own reputation in the process. The two form an odd, sometimes interesting relationship, as Leonard, normally driven by his work, can't seem to say no to Heather's sometimes intrusive quest. Leonard's daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor) wants a child as she nears 40, but ends up rekindling a relationship with Casey (Adrian Lester), a relationship she had ended because Casey was uncompromising in his wish to avoid fatherhood.

Heather's research veers quickly into an uncomfortable examination of Leonard's personal life, adding tension as the relationship edges into a strange romance. Leonard is struggling to finish his last novel. He has followed his characters for ten years, waiting for them to do something interesting, and they have failed him. The film follows the same course, tracking Leonard closely for weeks as little happens, a parallel that may work in the original novel, but does not translate well to the screen. Although both Leonard and Ariel eventually find paths that preserve the meaning of their lives, the story moves at a glacial pace, as if the director and coscreenwriter Andrew Wagner fears that a stronger story line will distract from the delicate character study. A subtle and persuasive performance by Langella sells the relationship with Heather as believable, even somewhat interesting, but it isn't quite enough to sell the film.

Lost Plan Dynosaur Rant

Privacy Lost: These Phones Can Find You - If you pay the monthly fee and push the right button you can activate your cell phone as part of a social positioning network. You will see the locations of participating friends as dots on a map. An example from Kyna Fong, who subscribes to Loopt, the spn service offered by Sprint/Nextel, tells the story of this exciting technology:

One night last summer she [Ms Fong] noticed on Loopt that friends she was meeting for dinner were 40 miles away, and would be late. Instead of waiting, Ms. Fong arranged her schedule to arrive when they did. “People don’t have to ask ‘Where are you?’” she said.
The rest of this post is a geezer's rant about one social side effect of the cell phone, it's impact on a quaint tradition called the appointment. Stop now if you can't handle the truth. In olden times, before cell phones roamed the earth, people would speak briefly, make plans and show up on time.

The cell phone somehow made it OK to be late, provided you called at least 5 minutes before your scheduled arrival to announce your anticipated tardiness. The fact that your delay left others waiting with nothing to do, the fact that your late arrival would screw up their schedules for the rest of the day - no matter - your failure to plan, your massive and controlling ego and general me first attitude must all be forgiven, because you had called to announce that you would be late after it was too late for anyone else to do anything about it. True, there were limits, if you were going to be late by more than half an hour you might have to call twice, but the clever cell phone apologist could now feel good about delays of any length, it was just a matter of making the right calls at the right times. A true master could even orchestrate a string of calls, each announcing a new reason for a small delay, that ended in a surprising outright cancellation.

The fundamentally moronic notion that a last minute cell phone announcement of impending tardiness entitles the caller to plenary absolution has contributed to a related side effect - the scheduling minuet. No decision can be made simply, firmly and in advance. Every step in an evening must be choreographed gradually with a series of telephone, e-mail and text exchanges. One exchange covers the agenda, with banter back and forth moving glacially from what meal to what neighborhood to what restaurant, a second, sometimes parallel sometimes overlapping discussion, addresses the delicate question of date and time. leading from a reserved date, to a rough time to a more precise time (subject always to the possibility of late arrival preceded by cell phone explanation).

What does all this have to do with the social positioning network? First, forget the NY Times headline, privacy is a non-issue here. You can pick who is in your network and stop transmitting your own location whenever you want.

No, the problem is captured in Ms Fong's quote. The spn is a new step in the evolution of a problem that has crept along in the cell phone's wake - the use of constant electronic communication as an incredibly time consuming substitute for making a simple commitment and honoring it. You can no longer trust your friends to be on time, you can no longer trust them even to make the incredibly irritating last minute cell phoned tardiness announcement - now you simply plot their course, compute their ETA (generally this involves nothing more challenging than solving a third order linear differential equation taking into account location, traffic, mode of transport and possible digressions) and then reroute your own schedule and course to produce a matching ETA for yourself. What a wonderful technology. This is so much simpler and easier than making friends you can rely on, deciding together, in one simple, single communication involving real time interaction (hint-this used to be called a phone call) that you will meet at the diner at 8PM, then showing up on time.

Thankfully I am old enough so that nearly all my friends developed ingrained habits before the cell phone existed. With luck I may die before I have to substitute gps positional analysis for the quaint custom of making an appointment.

A comedy tonight

This week's movie review will appear late tonight or tomorrow. My recent schedule has been effected by emergency travel, but As Good As News will return to regular posts, starting this afternoon.

I will be appearing at Caroline's on Broadway, Sunday, October 28 at 4:30PM. $5 Cover and two drink minimum. This is a new talent show, but the emcee and at least one other comic (sometimes 3 or 4) will be seasoned pros. The new talent is usually very funny, you might even catch a future star. Hope you can make it. Call 212 757 4100 to reserve, mention you are coming to see Mike Hassett, and get to the show at least fifteen minutes early if possible.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Who will the GOP nominate, a "winner" with money and national name recognition who can take on Hillary (the approach that got us George W. Bush in 2000) or a beloved social conservative who might make Goldwater's 1964 loss look like a cliffhanger?
-Mitt - Mormonism could not possibly be a problem as the moral majority Republican base is known for tolerance, but flip flopping on social issues is making everyone nervous and he's not catching on fast enough to convince anyone that he can beat Hillary.
-Rudy - failure to flip flop on social issues gets mixed results but the twin demons that once made Rudy's hold on NY popularity shaky are emerging again, it's not easy to run for President when you are a very angry man with a goofy streak (staged cell phone calls would work better in a stand up comedy routine Rudy).
-McCain - on a budget and stayin alive, but the base never liked him and he's not looking like a Hillary beater. At least Rudy's goofy phone calls are making the world forget Barbara Ann.
-Thompson - failed to learn his lines in time for his own campaign premier, the only time we will see this guy as President is in next season's "24".
-Huckabee - Former Baptist minister who's been consistently for making abortion a crime and against gay marriage. Also has a sense of humor, plays in a rock band, seems to approach others with tolerance and search for common ground. In other words, he just isn't angry enough to catch on with his natural constituency, the moral majority.
The Winner - Huckabee will gain as other candidates fade and drop like Brownback, but Mitt will prevail. Mitt will deliver a moving and dramatic statement dealing with his Mormon background and personal faith on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, come up better than expected in NH and use that, plus his personal fortune, to capture that "winner" glow the GOP seeks.

-Torre - Hank Steinbrenner crafts an ugly, PR oriented end to the Torre years. Hank, please, it may not be too late. Talk to Joe, tell him you are going to make a change but you still respect him and need his advice and kick him upstairs to an advisory job where he doesn't have to travel. Joe understands managers get fired. He might even like a chance to stay at home.
-LaRussa - Joe with a law degree and an ego - even Hank knows better.
-Mattingly - popular, but inexperienced. Does Hank want to win or just not get booed?
-Girardi - Has a history with the Yankees as player and coach. Yankees need someone to manage a transition to a staff led by Chamberlain, Hughes, Kennedy (plus Wang of course), someone to get consistency from Melky and Cano - Girardi made a green Marlins team a pennant contender, would be the logical choice for a Yankee team that should get younger fast.
The Winner - Mattingly - Hank, you will get booed anyway, not now, not in April, but next September.

Big East - tiebreaker is now a computer algorithm, the BCS disease is spreading. Rutgers, please win it on the field.

Pakistan -
- Musharraf - He's too pro-American, he's not Muslim enough, he's not doing enough to suppress fundamentalist rebels, the economy isn't booming like India, whine whine, whine, but the real issue remains, can this general figure out some way to get votes without the uniform?
-Bhutto - history of allowing family and friends to loot the treasury apparently does not bother faithful voters, but can she figure out how to campaign without leaving her bunker?
- Sharif - triumphal return ended with a surprise, as he was deported before he had time to go to the men's room while the supporters who met him at the airport were arrested. Musharrif getting advice form Karl Rove? Can Sharif run a campaign in abstentia that will get enough votes to threaten the legitimacy of the race crafted by Musharraf and Bhutto's deal? Hint - if you want to get popular without actually politicking - write a book on global warming and find a really good director to shoot the movie.
The Winner - Musharraf - Will find a nice tunic with a lot of buttons for the campaign trail, and if that doesn't work he'll just deport Bhutto, or any other candidate who's looking good in the polls.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

So Orient Me Already

Surface Navigation Helps Subway Riders - I too emerge from the subway with no idea which way is which, spot one street sign then take that half block walk (more like three quarters as my eyes age) to read that second street sign and get my bearings. The compass decal placed at the subway exit is that rarest of commodities, a solution to a problem we did not really know we had.

First, let's be honest. It's not the half block walk that bothers the exiting subway rider, it's admitting to yourself that you don't know where you are in Manhattan, a humbling experience for a former New Yorker from New Jersey and serious humiliation for current residents. The compass decals are a small price to pay for an ego boost.

Second, the small price will end up as a negative number. Picture a tasteful Bloomingdales's logo at the tip of the East arrow when you emerge from the subway at 59th and 5th, a Caroline's on Broadway argyle marking the North Pole when you hop off at Times Square, you get the idea. The decals are revenue waiting to happen. Why stop at the subway exits? As Good As News would like to see one of these in the middle of every block in Greenwich Village. Just stick to the simple dark brown and gold color scheme and keep the ads tasteful, Mayor Bloomberg, you've got a winner on your hands.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Love In The Time of Cholera -...

Love In The Time Of Cholera -As a young man Florentino (Javier Bardem) falls deeply in love with Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) based on little more than a glance and an exchange of messages. Florentio's devotion endures unrequited through over 53 years and a series of discouraging events: a separation enforced by Fermina's father (John Leguizamo); a sudden, nearly brutal rejection by Fermina herself, who sees her youthful love as infatuation; Fermina's sometimes stormy marriage to a handsome and successful doctor (Benjamin Bratt); and Florentino's own diarized succession of over 600 carnal partners, only one of whom (Laura Harring) seems to threaten Florentino's devotion to Fermina. We will partially spoil the ending here by noting that Florentino, a man who has duly recorded his own affairs with over 600 women in an eccentric "dual love" quest to survive the pain of living without the object of his devotion, somehow seems to be telling the truth, or at least a truth, when he comically claims to be a virgin who has waited fifty-three years for his true love in a climactic scene with Fermina.

Florentino is so odd at the film's outset that he pushes the boundary where suspension of disbelief fails, but this character, a product of a Pulitzer prize winning novelist, an Oscar winning screenwriter and a brilliant actor, all of whom had something they wanted very much to say about love, never crosses that boundary and the film succeeds on his back. It's no accident that letters and written messages seem to be the media of romantic love in scene after scene. Many of the film's characters are finely drawn, wisely cast and well acted but Florentino's odd combination of Don Quixote and Don Juan, with a dash of Sancho Panza, is one for the ages.

I confess, I am the only person on the planet who has not read Love In The Time Of Cholera. Gabriel Garcia Marquez provided notes as the film was written and apparently appreciated the final product. Much of the film was shot on location in Cartagena, Columbia, the novel's unidentified setting, where the light, the mountains and the river all contribute a flavor of magic while interior scenes are shot in buildings that actually date back to the novel's setting at the turn of the twentieth century. The cast includes several North American stars, but the Europeans and South Americans more than hold their own, even though the picture is filmed in English. The sound track, including three original compositions written and performed by Shakira, adds to the Columbian texture.

Advertiser Assailed

Unilever Shuns Stereotypes of Women (Unless Talking to Men) -The Campaign for A Commercial-Free Childhood, a consumer group, urges girls to reject the underfed, oversexed images of woman that dominate advertising and singles out Unilever for its hypocrisy. Unilever wins awards for its Real Beauty series of Dove ads, featuring woman of all shapes and sizes. At the same time Unilever's Axe cologne adds feature lingerie clad girl bands and armies of models who are drawn zombie like by the irresistible scent of Axe.

Unilever's ad agency explains the unifying principal. The goal is to make a buck and different ad campaigns target different customers. Women buy Dove and an image campaign works. Young men are persuaded to buy Axe by the prospect of a mob of beautiful woman ripping off their clothes. Not really a new idea. The Campaign's goal is to counter the negative messages about their own bodies that advertisements like Axe send to preteen and teen age girls when seen on outlets like MTV.

Criticizing Unilever as hypocritical may be accurate, but it won't bother the company or its ad agency. Try claiming age and gender orientation discrimination if you want some action, Campaign for A Commercial-Free Childhood. Where's the Axe ad in which the twenty something male applying the product liberally on a deserted beach is suddenly swarmed by a mob of grandmothers or a fleet of Coast Guard vessels? In fact, why stop at the ads, let's take a look at the product. Why no Axe for women who want to meet women, men who want to meet men, senior citizens who just want the extra strength version? Some of these are already covered on YouTube and Axe itself has an entertaining spoof featuring a mysterious aluminum fetish.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Terror's Advocate - Revisited

Building A Case Against The Worldly Lawyer to the Notorious - The Times gives this documentary far more credit than As Good As News did. Kudos to A.O. Scott, his extensive review ably summarizes much of the film's content. As Good As News recommends that you read it carefully, then watch the Time's "movie minute" (available at the same link as the review) of the smug, unctuous avocat, Jaques Verges. You will then have received 95% of the benefit from this film while avoiding the unpleasant experience of actually sitting through it.

Please, Just Tell Me What I Did

C.I.A. Watchdog Becomes Subject of C.I.A. Inquiry - On order of Director Michael V. Hayden the CIA is investigating its own inspector general, the agency's internal watchdog. The inspector general, led by John Helgerson, has stirred resentment among CIA operatives with its aggressive investigation of CIA detention and interrogation programs. Operatives kicked off the investigation with a brief interrogation of Mr. Helgerson. Helgerson had nothing to say during the first week of the inquiry, when he stood at attention for the entire seven days without sleep or food. He really began to open up in week two, when the interrogators dropped his cell temperature to 33 degrees and confined him in a coffin size box, from which he was periodically removed for a succession of recreational underwater swims. Each swim lasted just long enough to let Mr. Helgerson enjoy the sensation of drowning before he returned to his freezing coffin. By the end of the second week Helgerson had confessed to peddling pornographic pictures of his granddaughter over the Internet, kicking a neighbor's dog when he was ten years old, and robbing a string of banks in the Upper Midwest during the 1970's as part of the infamous Port Huron Provos. The disoriented Helgerson was attempting to cooperate, but he just couldn't seem to get with the program. In week three the investigators brought the inquiry to a successful conclusion with a surprise tactic. By raising Helgerson's cell temperature to 40 degrees they created a climate of trust and openness, or at least a climate in which Helgerson's brain could function well enough to figure out what they wanted to hear. Within hours, Helgerson had signed a statement confessing to treason - more specifically espionage by virtue of leaking classified information concerning legal advice provided by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Helgerson also confessed to the attempted murder of the Agency's legal experts on torture, John Yoo and Steven Bradbury. Details of a third confession in which Helgerson claimed sole responsibility for the disappearance of Amelia Earhart were not released, however Helgerson did confirm that he had consented to severe interrogation and that at no time had the operatives crossed the line into torture.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I Just Found Out.......

Mike's brother-in-law checking in.
I have to tell everyone about my recent startling discovery. My wife is black. We've been married for almost 13 years and I've known her for over 20, but I didn't learn the truth until yesterday. I'm completely down with this, just very surprised. How did I make this discovery? Well, I remembered something very important from Isiah Thomas's recent sexual harassment lawsuit testimony. He said it was ok for a black man to call a black woman a bitch but not acceptable for a white man to call a black woman a bitch. Well let's just say the "b" word slipped out at my house the other day. Let me tell you, my wife found that to be completely unacceptable. Now I know I am a white man. For this to be so upsetting to her the only conclusion I could come up with is that my wife must be black. Because of Isiah, I now know my wife is black. Thanks Isiah!

History's Judges

Vote by House Panel Raises Furor on Armenian Genocide - The House Foreign Relations Committee voted to condemn mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during World War I as genocide. The Committee shrugged off a vigorous campaign against the non-binding resolution by the Turkish government and the Bush administration, who warned that it would effect logistical support from Turkey relied upon by American troops in Iraq. "Modern day foreign relations problems like Korea, Iran and Russia are so messy and confusing", said Brad Sherman, California Democrat and a sponsor of the resolution, "it's much easier to make our constituents happy with non-binding resolutions that tackle historical evils head on." The Committee's agenda for the rest of the session is fully committed to an in-depth condemnation of British colonialism, with subcommittees toiling on native North Americans, Australian Maoris and the real vote getter, a decade by decade review of the British Raj in India. Committee leaders hope to squeeze in a special session for CSPAN - The Dutch in Africa - Forgotten Legacy of Terror.

Marines Press To Remove Their Forces From Iraq - Now even the Marine Corps commandant wants out of Iraq, although the Marines aren't running for home, just looking for work in Afghanistan. If approved the shuffle would leave the Marines as the dominant force in Afghanistan (25,000 marines are now in Iraq, 26,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan). The stated goal is to simplify the chain of command and use a fully integrated air/land force for operations in Afghanistan. There is absolutely no chance the commandant is thinking about getting the Marines out of what looks like a messy end in Iraq and into a war in Afghanistan that still has popular support and defined goals that US forces can achieve.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Low Points

Judge Halts Plan To Transfer Guantanamo Detainee - Federal Judge Gladys Kessler tells the Bush administration they can not send Mohammed Rahman home to Tunisia from his cell in Guantanamo until his habeus corpus petition is resolved. Rahman has been convicted of terrorism in abstentia in Tunisia and his lawyers say he will be killed or tortured once he gets there. This is probably not a low point for Judge Kessler. She may be wrong on the facts (what would happen to Rahman in Tunisia) or even the law (does a delay for a decision on a habeus writ take precedence over an otherwise valid extradition). She may be ruling in favor of a murderous thug and throwing another roadblock in the path of shutting down the US prison at Guantanamo. Despite all these problems, Judge Kessler gets at least one kudo, she isn't kowtowing to the administration every time they say the magic words - "state secrets".

The low point award goes to Mohammed Rahman, a man who is actually struggling to stay in Guantanamo - can Hank Williams sing in Arabic?

Justices Turn Aside Case of Man Accusing C.I.A. on Torture - The Supreme Court will not hear an appeal by Khaled el-Masri, a German who says he was abducted and tortured by the C.I.A. in a case of mistaken identity. This leaves standing a lower court decision in which the administration did win by saying the magic words, "state secrets". el-Masri seems to be a regular citizen caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare. The Supreme Court decision won't stop a German investigation into the same case that is heading towards a diplomatic crises with its warrants for C.I.A. officials. The Supreme Court has passed up an opportunity to visit the entire C.I.A. torture program, including the legal justifications offered by John Yoo and Steven Bradbury, a program that seems to produce questionable information, expose America's own soldiers to increased risk of torture, inflame international relations and create working level snafus with foreign law enforcement agencies who can't cooperate with the US lest they expose prisoners to torture.

The low point here goes to Justice Roberts, who just watched from the batter's box as strike two went across the middle of the plate. C.I.A. torture goes to the heart of the constitutional separation of powers. The administration goes opinion shopping, finds Yoo and Bradbury, comes up with a justification for terror so secret that it can't be revealed and uses it to break more laws than we could list in a lifetime. If Bush arrests Obama for loitering and ships him to Guantanamo can the administration avoid any judicial constraint just by uttering those magic words, "state secret". It's time to start drawing some lines, torture and warrantless surveillance are a good place to start.

Paul & Sammy - Part 2

Thank you for the reference and link, Boylston Chess Club Weblog. Readers, if you are here for more on the seamy side of chess politics, As Good As News says welcome, we need your help. My last chess experience was many years ago when I lost to a fraternity brother who was playing four games simultaneously, while blindfolded. My many visits to the Boston Chess Club during my college years were all for bridge tournaments. One point we did not note in our original post, Caroline, Sammy, Paul and Ubaldo - We're Watching, Paul Truong's original reaction includes an odd note -“The charges are absolutely outrageous, and it is based on information that was obtained 100 percent illegally from the U.S.C.F.” Perhaps, Paul, but if the information did not implicate you, why is your first reaction anger at the IT consultants who betrayed you by giving data to Sammy's team instead of anger at the unknown impostor that you claim used your IP address to frame you for the fake posts? Other sites have noted that it would be technically difficult to use a fake IP Address for thousands of different posts. Comments from readers with more information, especially first hand background information on Paul and Sammy, are welcome.

Terror's Advocate - It might have been a great novel

First, apologies for the delay in posting this week's review. I did my stand up act at Caroline's on Monday night and didn't see this weeks preview until Tuesday night.

Terror's Advocate is a documentary built around an extended interview with Jaques Verges, a French (half Thai by birth) lawyer who has represented defendants in many high profile political cases. After WWII service in the French resistance, Verges starts his legal career as an anti-colonialist, representing Algerian bombers. He thumbs his nose at the French court and the legitimacy of French rule in Algeria, a blue print for many political trials. By the time this movie is shot, Verges is taking on ruthless, genocidal dictators as clients, and has an ego that keeps him talking, smugly and endlessly, to the camera. Terror's Advocate covers a lot of ground, including some strong indications that Verges was aiding, perhaps even managing, terrorist actions at some points in his unusual career. And then there was his mysterious 7 year disappearance, unexplained to this day. There is material here for a fascinating narrative film with at least two sequels, or an investigative journalism series that runs every week for a year. Director Barbet Schroeder finds great subjects, does some fascinating interviews and strikes glancing blows at a dozen issues that could be headline stories, if only he nailed something down once in a while. As Good As News can appreciate the issues this film raises, but cannot send its readers to sit through over two hours of talking heads and subtitles that seem determined to avoid going anywhere.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

NY Back Pages

No fun on A-1 today, but look to The Arts.

Gallery Vandals Destroy Photos - In Lund Sweden four ax wielding vandals entered an art gallery during business hours, pushed the patrons and employees aside and smashed a photography exhibition, Andres Serrano's The History of Sex. The gang actually brought its own videographer and posted the incident on YouTube, adding the question "This is Art?" between stills of the smashed photos as an introduction.

As Good As News did not realize Sweden even had a moral majority, much less one that was taking social conservatism to a new level of performance art. Instead of just mugging for the cameras as they pander to intolerance (the performance technique long favored by America's social conservatives) these guys are actually mugging the cameras. Prudish thugs doing some well promoted vigilante censorship in licentious Sweden, a xenophobic nationalist political party campaigning successfully on a pledge to save Heidi from Turks and other dark skinned miscreants in tolerant and happy Switzerland, Bulgaria declining to legalize prostitution and most shocking, France moving away from long vacations. Europe's feeble defenses seem to be falling to the cultural hegemony of Texas. Are these places getting inundated with "Dallas" reruns?

A Program Full of Rage, Some of It In the Script - Youssef Sjoerd Idilibi (hereinafter Joe) had had enough. Joe was giving a strong performance as one very angry Arab, ordered to kill his own wife and daughter to preserve family honor in Is.Man at St. Ann's warehouse in Brooklyn when he walked off the stage in the middle of the performance, apparently done in by two straight nights of sound system technical problems. Joe later said he had a stomach ache. Joe has already called in sick for the next performance. Joe, the writer, director and the entire cast were counting on you to be a pro, even in difficult circumstances, not throw a tantrum and concoct a serious case of public relations flu. Better hope the producers aren't Theater Fundamentalists, Joe, they might issue a fatwa ordering your death - you have dishonored Theater's most sacred commandment - the show shalt go on.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Caroline, Sammy, Paul and Ubaldo - We're Watching

Immigration, Black Sheep and Swiss Rage -Switzerland, a seething cauldron of pent up rage, just waiting to erupt. You can read about it in the Times today or click on the MySpace link in the right hand column and play the comedy clip Failed States - we have been on top of this story for months.

Better yet - visit Caroline's on Broadway at 7PM tonight where I will perform an improved version of Failed States, and the rest of my stand up act, live.

The linked Time's story covers the Swiss People's Party of Christopher Blocher, a xenophobic right wing party that may capture a plurality in the next Swiss election. The campaign theme seems to be "immigrants are criminals, keep Switzerland safe for the Germans." A campaign poster featuring a black sheep has drawn criticism as racist. Wait until they unveil the video clip of Blocher coming to Heidi's rescue as she fends off a multicultural motorcycle gang with a Swiss Army knife.

Chess Group Officials Accused of Faking Web Posts to Hurt Rivals -Sammy Sloan, a very sore loser in the election held last July to pick the Board of the US Chess Federation is suing Susan Polgar (a former women's world chess champ and the Federation's chairwoman) and Paul Truong (Polgar's husband and a Federation board member). Using information supplied by an IT consultant to the Federation, Sloan claims that Polgar and Truong faked 2,400 web posts, including obscene material and tamer items, like "buy my wife's x-rated DVD, now on sale for $27.95, signed Samuel Sloan" to smear Sloan during the election.

The story features a cast of interesting characters. Sammy had a run in with the SEC and beat them in the Supreme Court, defending himself. He didn't do so well when he tried to kidnap his daughter, serving 18 months in prison. The IT consultants, Messrs. Mottershead and Bogner, were criticized by Polgar and Truong for the quality of their consulting work. The Times notes that Truong and Polgar might have been framed by a third party even if the fake posts apparently came from their IP address.

Chess politics getting very nasty - and Sammy Sloan and Paul Truong both seem like the kind of guys who will turn out to be more and more interesting the better we get to know them. Mr. Truong was born in South Vietnam and made a harrowing escape as a teen boat person.

The Rockies' Unlikely Juggernaut Keeps on Rolling - The Times has never given the Rockies' remarkable regular season finish the ink it deserved - 14 wins in the last 15 games, and every win was needed to avoid elimination. The first round playoff sweep got a story, but New York needs to hear more about Ubaldo Jiminez, a rookie pitcher who started and starred in the game three playoff clinching win. What kind of razzing did the young Ubaldo have to endure because of his name, what do his teammates call him, is it too late to sponsor a contest to give Ubaldo a nickname? Comments and nominations welcome