Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bruins back on track?

Of course I would have taken a blowout, but perhaps it was just as well to play a team that wouldn't go away and therefore forced UCLA to pay attention all the way to the end. So 72-61 was just fine. I was impressed by Josh Smith, the Freshman big man; he works hard and seems to be learning how to throw his weight around a bit. Nice to get a win before the league season starts. It will be even nicer to beat UC Davis on Monday.

Wait 'til next year already?

Here's Sports Illustrated:

"UCLA should be a preseason top five team next year. The Bruins, who nearly knocked off No. 4 Kansas last week behind 33 points from Tyler Honeycutt, don't have any seniors, and they have two talented transfers from North Carolina (twins David and Travis Wear) sitting out the season."

Pardon me if I sound like a true impatient UCLA basketball afficionado and hope that a little of next year comes to pass this year. I watched that Kansas game, and a win was certainly possible, which might have changed the character of the preseason -- so far the Bruins have lost the tough games where it seemed as if they had at least a chance to win. They play Cal Poly today (not sure which one) and I'll be hoping for a decisive win. At last.

Something noble at the Nobels

Given the ideological predilections of the Nobel committees, the Nobel prizes in other disciplines besides the strictly scientific are often less than inspiring. This year, however, a couple of the events were notable. First, that the Nobel committee, which despite persistent leftism has generally recognized communism as oppressive, gave the Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is in prison in China and naturally wasn't allowed to travel to Stockholm for the presentation. So the committee put an empty chair on the stage and had actress/director Liv Ullmann read Liu's statement upon being sent to prison, which is here. Inspiring.

Second, Mario Vargas Llosa, the great Peruvian novelist/playwright, who has deserved a Nobel (if any body does) in literature for about 20 years but has offensive and retrograde (i.e., verging on pure libertarian) politics. His Nobel lecture on the importance of literature as a civilizing tool is inspirational all the way through. Here's his banquet toast. A brief taste of the lecture:

"Without fictions we would be less aware of the importance of freedom for life to be livable, the hell it turns into when it is trampled underfoot by a tyrant, an ideology, or a religion. Let those who doubt that literature not only submerges us in the dream of beauty and happiness but alerts us to every kind of oppression, ask themselves why all regimes determined to control the behavior of citizens from cradle to grave fear it so much they establish systems of censorship to repress it and keep so wary an eye on independent writers."

Read them both and see if you don't come away with a tiny bit more optimism about the human race.

Monday, December 06, 2010

USC 28, UCLA 14. At least I'm not ashamed

Well, as I rather suspected would happen, USC beat UCLA last night, but it was a more competitive game than the final score indicated and I wasn't ashamed of the effort. Indeed, if Jonathan Franklin hadn't fumbled shortly after a 59-yard touchdown run, the momentum would definitely have been with UCLA, and UCLA was within a play of tying the game as late as the fourth quarter. Also, the team didn't give up, scoring a meaningless touchdown (as far as the determining the winner of the game) but not necessarily meaningless when it comes to self-respect.

I want to believe Rick Neuheisel can turn things around, but the program definitely took a step backward this year. Yes, there were injuries, notably to Kevin Prince, who showed a few signs of competence before going down. I think Neuheisel is a reasonably good coach -- he certainly had success at Colorado and Washington. But you kinda wonder. He was accused of at least mildly shady recruiting practices at both schools (though what he was fired for at Washington , betting on March madness, had nothing to do with football) but has cleaned things up while serving at his alma mater. Could it be that his success before had more to do with possibly shady activities than coaching skills and now that he's following the straight-and-narrow his coaching deficiencies are being exposed? I don't know enough to have a definitive opinion, but it strikes me as a possibility.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

WikiLeaks back up, Ron Paul defends them

The outcry from the government stooges who dominate most of the media against WikiLeaks and founder Julian Assange has been relentless. So it's nice to see that WikiLeaks, after several times being taken down, and some servers who decided not to host it, and service attacks, is back up again, here. I'm also pleased that my old acquaintance Ron Paul has defended WikiLeaks, quite eloquently. That "when truth becomes treason" line is priceless. How quickly people forget that the founders purposely made treason difficult to prove, desiring as they did to encourage independence and the possibility of dissent among the citizenry. I'm also pleased to see my former colleague Steve Greenhut defending WikiLeaks. I'm afraid that Ron has thereby lost his chance to become chairman of the banking subcommittee that oversees the Fed, so it was gutsiness with consequences (I'd love to be proven wrong here, but doubt that will happen).

Wesley Snipes railroaded into prison

You wouldn't know it from the mainstream media coverage, but it looks, as I had sort of intuited without knowing much, as if actor Wesley Snipes is getting a raw deal in his tax case against the IRS. I hadn't followed the case all that closely, but in fact he was acquitted on the serious charge of tax evasion and convicted only on misdemeanor failure to file in a timely fashion. Yet the judge is throwing him in the slammer for three years, much more than would normally be warranted for a misdemeanor. Apparently his real crime is contempt of government, and judges paid with tax money extracted by force from innocent victims like to remind us that from the perspective of the government's system, that is a crime far more serious than anything you might do to a mere fellow citizen. It's nice to see the the Libertarian Party is taking his side. He doesn't seem to have many friends in this matter. Given that Turbo Tim Geithner filed fraudulent returns, you can see just how selective the enforcement is.

This is hardly unprecedented. Years ago I got to know tax resister Irwin Schiff fairly well and listened to his theories. I became convinced that the income tax really is, according to statute, voluntary, and that Irwin, perhaps the closest student of the tax code of anyone I ever met, had broken no actual law by not sending in his pound of flesh. But he served several terms in prison. When it comes to taxes, the system loves to make examples so as to keep the sheeple in line.

The Bruins' bowl game

I suppose tonight's UCLA-USC game will be somewhat the equivalent of a bowl game for both teams -- USC because it's being disciplined by the NCAA over stuff from the Reggie Bush era and can't go to a bowl game this year, and UCLA because it doesn't have a good enough record to go to a bowl. Back in the day this game -- Beban, O.J., etc. -- was almost always unpredictable. Whatever the records, you knew it would be a hard-fought game and that the team with the poorer record always had a chance. In the current time frame UCLA has only beaten USC once in the last 12 years. so it would really be sweet to post a win this time.

This is a UCLA team that could go either way -- show up and battle hard, or lay down and die. The Register's Scott Reid gives the Bruins the edge in some categories -- linebacker, special teams, secondary, coaching, intangibles -- and predicts a 20-14 UCLA win. I hope he's right. I'll be wearing lots of blue and gold and watching closely in a few hours, atavistic partisan that I am.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A time before time?

Among the intriguing and attractive things about cosmology, the study of the origins of the universe, is that it is still speculative to a great degeree, since we don't have nearly enough evidence to be as certain as we might like to be, and (so far) it makes little difference to how we live our lives in real time on earth. (I know, some have purported to find a hand of God behind the Big Bang, but while it's not entirely iut of line as a hypothesis, it certainly hasn't been proven.)

That's why it's fun to consider an alternative to the Big Bang being promulgated by one Roger Penrose of Oxford. He is intrigued by the possibility that the Big Bang wasn't the beginning of everything but simply one in a series of repeating cycles of growth and decay in the universe, in which the universe seems to lose energy and is ready for another Big bang to get things going again. I don't pretend to understand the intricacies of the theory (as is often the case, The Economist offers perhaps the best lay explanation), which is one of the reasons it's fun to speculate.

Perhaps a moral victory?

I know, one is not supposed to be content with moral victories in spots, but I think I'll take a tiny piece of consolation from the Bruins' 77-76 loss to #4 Kansas tonight. UCLA tied it with a few seconds to go, but then a Kansas player was fouled with less than a second and made one of the shots. A lot closer than anybody expected, winnable -- UCLA seemed to have the momentum if it had gone to overtime -- and a far better performance than UCLA's two losses last week. It looks to me as if Ben Howland used the time simnce last week to prepare the Bruins better and teach them a few winning tricks -- and of course Tyler Honeycutt went ballistic with 33 points.

My hope, of course, is that these rough games before league play starts will toughen the Bruins for league play and (hopefully) beyond. I think Freshman Josh Smith will develop into a very good player. I may be a hopeless partisan, but I'm looking for the Bruins to be better -- maybe not past-glory Final Four better, but better -- very soon.