Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Russian Spies Drink Bud Light, Coors Light

The New York Daily News has published a collection of 10 family photos of two of the Russian spies arrested over the weekend who lived under the aliases "Richard and Cynthia Murphy." That's them at a suburban BBQ, enjoying hamburgers and canned beer.  They had two daughters while living here in the United States, allegedly on the instructions of their spymasters in  Moscow. You can view a photo of them with their daughters HERE.  

While the damage they have done to our national security will be analyzed in detail in subsequent months, what will likely receive less attention is the collateral damage this pair have done to their own family, which may well exceed the damage their spying has done to us.  Their daughters reportedly were unaware of their spying.  One daughter returned home from a party over the weekend to find FBI agents storming their family home and leading their parents out in handcuffs. The girls are currently being cared for by family friends.  Having been born in the United States, they are American citizens.  What will happen to them while their parents are in jail here and then when they are ultimately released and returned to Moscow? 

A Photo of Al Gore's Masseuse

When a 54-year old Oregon masseuse first accused Al Gore in print last week of having attacked her in 2006, her face was pixilated in all the published photos to protect her identity.  Well, she has now apparently consented to have her face shown.  Would you be interested in seeing a photo of her holding her "stained" pants?  If you, you can see it at The National Enquirer website HERE.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

They Couldn't Have Been Spies

An article in the New York Post this morning about the roll-up of this Russian spy network reports that the neighbors of one such couple, who were living quietly in suburban New Jersey under the aliases 'Richard and Cynthia Murphy,' were astonished that the pair were actually Russian agents.

“They couldn’t have been spies,” said one neighbor. “Look what she did with the hydrangeas.”

The Russian Spies Met At Starbucks

Does she look like a Russian spy to you? Despite the Cold War having ended two decades ago, a ring of ten Russian 'illegal' spies, some of whom had lived in the United States for up to 20 years, was rolled up over the weekend by the FBI. They were all Russians but lived under fake identities with Irish and Latino surnames like 'Cynthia Murphy.' In espionage jargon an "illegal" is a spy who operates in a foreign country under deep cover, using an assumed identity and fake background. The woman pictured at left was living as "Anna Chapman," a 28-year old divorcee. This photo is from her Facebook page.

These spies led outwardly unremarkable, suburban lives in places like Montclair, New Jersey; Arlington, Virginia; and Yonkers, New York. They were instructed by their Russian masters to marry upon arrival in the United States and to blend into the fabric of American life. Apparently several of them have children who were totally unaware that they were actually Russian agents. Surprisingly, the group would meet periodically at a particular Starbucks in New York City to send coded messages back to Moscow over the internet.

I've watched several news stories about these arrests. I thought this 3 minute piece by Brian Ross which aired on ABC's
Good Morning America this morning was the best. It names several of the spies and makes some mention of the tradecraft they used and how the FBI surveilled the ring for years. It also includes video of "Anna Chapman." But if you don't have 3 minutes, Brian Ross also did an excellent, initial report that's half as long last night on ABC World News Tonight that you can watch HERE.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Rod Serling Died On This Date

Rod Serling, who was perhaps most famous for creating and hosting The Twilight Zone TV show from 1959-1965, died on this date in 1975, after suffering three heart attacks in a matter of weeks.  He was a mere 50 years old.  That's him at left, coffee and cigarette in hand. Serling wrote the scripts to 92 of the 156 Twilight Zone episodes himself. It's less well known that he also co-wrote the script to the original 1968 Planet of the Apes film starring Charlton Heston.  It will come as little surprise that the "twist" ending with the Statue of Liberty was his idea. 

You can watch the 30 second intro to The Twilight Zone, narrated by Serling himself,  HERE. I liked The Twilight Zone a lot as a kid in the 1980s, when it aired perpetually as afternoon re-runs on local TV stations. But I always wished it had been filmed in color rather than in black & white. I didn't learn until years later that Rod Serling had actually hosted a sort of successor TV show in color called The Night Gallery, which ran on CBS from 1969 to 1973.  You can watch the 1 minute into HERE.  As you can see, the color actually diminishes greatly the other-worldly, even creepy atmosphere intended for the show, which had been so effectively created in black & white 10 years earlier.

Vince Neil Arrested For DUI (Again)

Vince Neil, the 49 year old lead singer of Motley Crue, was arrested in Las Vegas overnight on suspicion of drunk driving.  This is an even bigger issue than it might be for other celebrities because in 1986 Neil was convicted of vehicular manslaughter as a result of getting into a serious car accident in Redondo Beach that killed his friend and fellow musician, Nicholas "Razzle" Dingley.  

The two had been partying with friends at Neil's house nearby and had jumped in Neil's luxury sports car, wasted, to drive to a liquor store to buy more booze. Neil, whose blood alcohol level was later measured at 0.17, lost control of his car and hit an oncoming one, serious injuring the occupants of the other car and killing his passenger, Razzle. 

In July 1986 Neil was sentenced to 30 days in jail after agreeing to pay $2.5 million in  restitution to the victims and their families.  He was released after serving only 15 days for good behavior.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Taiwanese Animation Of Al Gore And Masseuse

Remember those computer animated videos from Taiwan envisioning what various episodes in the Tiger Woods scandal may have looked like?  Well, they've now done one about the Al Gore-Masseuse 'event.'  It's one and a half minutes long and here it is:

Ghana, The "White Man's Grave"

The United States plays Ghana today in the World Cup. Ghana was a British colony until 1957, called the Gold Coast. Known for its gold mines and for its historical role in the slave trade, in colonial times it was referred to as the "white man's grave" because so many Europeans who visited there died of malaria. 

I actually went to Ghana for a week on business in 2003. We flew into the capital, Accra, and went straight to our hotel on the coast, the Labadi Beach Hotel.  I was told by my colleagues who had been there before that it was "the best hotel in Accra." As we walked in for the first time, it looked to my eyes like a 3- or 4-star hotel in Hawaii or Mexico, with its thatched, peaked roofs and wicker furniture in the tiled lobby.  We checked in and walked straight to our rooms.  Just as I opened the door to my room for the first time, the phone by the bedside began ringing.  That seemed strange to me, since we'd checked in less than two minutes earlier.  But I answered it anyway.  A deep man's voice on the other end informed me in hushed tones that he was an African prince who needed my help because his multi-million dollar fortune was tied up by the government.  If I would just give him $500 to pay off the right officials, his money would be released and he would gratefully split it with me...

Notwithstanding that beginning, I really liked Ghana a lot in the end. Both the place and the people. On the last afternoon of my stay we went out for an authentic Ghanaian meal. The open-air restaurant was chosen in part, I assume, because of it's proximity to the US embassy right across the street, which my hosts noted repeatedly. The only local dish they suggested I not order was the 'banku and okra soup.' It tended to make non-Ghanaians really sick, they said.  Not to worry, I assured them as I ordered a bowl of the spicy red soup anyway, I have a cast iron stomach. I finished the whole bowl, eating it with my hands using the accompanying dough balls called banku as suggested.  (You Tube has a 30 second video of a tourist eating a bowl of okra soup in Ghana that you can watch HERE, if you want to see what this looks like.)  But sure enough, as we left the restaurant I was already beginning to feel sick to my stomach.  Soon I was almost doubled over.  And when we boarded our flight back to London a few hours later, I was too ill to be excited about being upgraded to first class. Before take off, the British Airways stewardess asked us solicitously if we'd like some champagne.  I requested a blanket instead, which I pulled over my head and went to sleep. The next thing I knew, we were landing back at Heathrow. The score? Ghanaian okra soup 1, Me 0.  I'll be looking for the US soccer team to avenge me today in the World Cup. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Al Gore Demanded She Go Lower

The Oregonian newspaper has now published a much more detailed account of what happened between Al Gore and a massage therapist in his upscale Portland hotel room in 2006. You can read it HERE.  According to her statement in the police report, Gore lunged for her (my euphemism) as soon as she entered his hotel suite. 

Then, "Gore changed into a bathrobe, spoke of his grueling travel schedule and need to relax and told her to call him 'Al.'... While giving Gore an abdominal massage, she said he demanded that she go lower and soon grabbed her right hand and shoved it under the sheet... She went into the bathroom to wash up and came out to pack up. That's when, she says, Gore wrapped her in an 'inescapable embrace' and fondled her... She... tried to distract him, pointing out a box of Moonstruck chocolates on a nearby table. He went for the chocolates and then offered her some, cornering her, fondling her and shoving his tongue in her mouth to french kiss as he pressed against her."

She also characterizes Gore as "rotund" and as a "lummox." This Oregonian story also relates the 54 year-old masseuse's explanation for why she only went to police last year, over two years after the event.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

She Saved Her Pants As Evidence

There's more salacious news involving Al Gore today. According to The National Enquirer HERE, the 62 year old Gore was accused of sexually attacking a masseuse in an upscale Portland, Oregon hotel room back in 2006. He is named specifically in the police report about the incident reportedly, which apparently contains allegations of "unwanted sexual contact" by the former Vice President on the 54 year-old masseuse.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Adidas TV Ad With Snoop Dogg In "Star Wars"

Have you seen this new 2 minute TV commercial for Adidas? It's been running during the World Cup and features Snoop Dogg and David Beckham (among others), spliced into the cantina scene from the original 1977 Star Wars film.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

June 17th, 1994

"We are witnessing a modern tragedy and drama of Shakespearean proportions being played out live on television," intones Tom Brokaw at the start of this 3 minute clip below. NBC broke into coverage of Game 5 of the NBA finals on June 17, 1994, to cover the surreal, low-speed car chase unfolding along the freeways of Los Angeles.  Football legend OJ Simpson was in the back of a white Ford Bronco holding a gun to his head, having been formally charged earlier that day with the murder of his ex-wife Nicole.

Because OJ is almost universally reviled today, it can be hard to remember how shocking this was at the time, and how legions of spectators gathered spontaneously along the route to cheer him on.  This clip contains audio of  OJ's conversation with an LAPD detective via cel phone during the drive.  The detective tries continuously to talk OJ out of killing himself.   ("I'm just gonna leave. I'm just gonna be with Nicole.") I'd never heard this before.

Earlier that day his long-time friend Robert Kardashian, who is better known posthumously today as Kim Kardashian's father, read a suicide note that OJ had left behind.  I've always remembered the penultimate line, "Don't feel sorry for me. I've had a great life, great friends. Please think of the real O.J. and not this lost person."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wernher Von Braun Died On This Date

Wehrner von Braun, the German-American rocket scientist who became the preeminent rocket engineer of the 20th century, died from pancreatic cancer on this date in 1977, at the surprisingly young age of 65. A lifelong advocate of manned space exploration, von Braun is best remembered in the United States for his critical role in the development of the Saturn V rockets that propelled the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon in 1969.  Somewhat less well known is that as a young man in Hitler's Germany he joined the Nazi party in 1937.  Von Braun never denied this, but explained that at the time he was the technical director of an Army Rocket Center at Peenemunde (despite being just 25 years old), and felt he would lose his position and have to abandon his childhood dream of building rockets if he failed to join. At the time, that rocket center was relatively inconsequential.  But by the end of World War II Hitler looked to Peenemunde to develop miracle weapons, like the V-1 and V-2 rockets that terrorized Britain, in a futile attempt to turn the tide of the war. 

At the end of the War von Braun and many of his team were spirited away to the United States to build America's fledging rocket program, which at the time was years behind that of the Germans.  These German scientists ultimately formed the core of the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, their Nazi pasts conveniently whitewashed.  After the Moon landing in 1969, von Braun, now a national hero, was moved to Washington, D.C. to become NASA's Deputy Associate Administrator For Planning. But he quit after just two years, frustrated by budget cuts. He died five years later.

In 1955, long before the Apollo program was envisioned, von Braun collaborated with Walt Disney to produce a series of films on space exploration.  Below is a fascinating 6 minute clip from one of these films in which von Braun, then just 43 years old and in the United States for less than a decade, presents at length his conceptual plans for a manned spaceship.  As you watch it, you'll be startled by how closely it presages not the Apollo lunar lander, but the Space Shuttle. 

Awkward Family Pet Photos

Ten days ago or so I wrote about a website featuring Awkward Family Photos.  They have now created a spin-off site called Awkward Family Pet Photos. Check out this Nativity Scene, or this one of A Girl and Her Horse, or the World's Best Dad, or this one of the Pater Familias.

The "Saudi Arabia of Lithium"

The US military is now touting the abundant mineral resources worth up to $1 trillion that have been found beneath Afghanistan's rocky, inhospitable terrain.  These valuable deposits of iron, copper, gold and lithium may help Afghanistan emerge from decades of war, lawlessness and poverty, US officials hope.  On The Daily Show last night, Jon Stewart analyzed this news over a pretty funny 4 minutes.  You can watch it HERE.  ("There's gold under Afghanistan's rough exterior. It's like Afghanistan is a war-torn Susan Boyle.")

Lego Re-enactment Of US World Cup Match

Would you want to watch a very cleverly done 1 minute re-enactment of last Saturday's 1-1 draw at the World Cup between England and the United States, animated using Lego men?  Then you're in luck.

Famous Fainters

In the wake of General Petraeus' brief fainting spell yesterday during Congressional hearings, CNN's Jeanne Moos has assembled this funny 2 minute recollection of  famous (and infamous) public fainters.

Who Is Construction Worker Hunting Bin Laden?

Did you see the news the other day about the construction worker from California, Gary Falkner, who was picked up by Pakistani authorities as he tried to enter Afghanistan on a one-man hunt for Osama bin Laden? He was armed with only a pistol and a sword, each of which he bought in Pakistan. It turns out that he was perhaps better prepared in some ways, and less well in  others, than we all might have suspected initially.  This was his seventh trip to the region since September 11, 2001, and he had even learned the local language reportedly. From a family of life-long hunters in Colorado, he had well-honed outdoor survival skills.

But according to CBS News HERE, Faulkner is 50 years old and suffers from kidney disease requiring dialysis. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he reportedly believes that he is on a mission from God to kill Bin Laden.  Besides the sword and pistol, he carried with him only a Bible and some plastic handcuffs.  But he wasn't always the devout Christian that he his today. He apparently spent the better part of the decade between 1981 and 1993 in state prison in Colorado on charges varying from burglary to larceny to domestic violence.  

His family insists he's not crazy. They knew full well of his trips to the region. His brother even drove him to the airport at the start of this most recent trip. This is an excellent one-and-a-half minute summary from Good Morning America this morning:

Al Gore's Own "Inconvenient Truth"

Had you, too, noticed the conspicuous silence of Al Gore amid the month-long mounting public outrage over the BP oil spill?  I chalked it up to the recently-announced separation from his wife of 40 years, Tipper.  In their joint press release two weeeks ago the couple called the decision, "a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together."  But according to the Star Magazine HERE, Al Gore has actually kept a low profile throughout this oil spill debacle because he's been having a two year affair with Laurie David, the former wife of Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David.

Laurie David has already denied the affair unequivocally, as have friends of Al Gore. The New York Daily News HERE quotes The National Enquirer attributing the split to Tipper's jealousy. "'Al finally told her their relationship was over because he couldn't stand her jealous rages anymore.' The tabloid weekly said there was no proof the former veep and green idol ever cheated on Tipper, but she suspected him constantly.'I think she's always believed there was something going on between Al and many of the women in his life,' the unnamed insider is quoted as saying."

This article ends by noting that another tabloid, The Globe, reported last week that the Gores' break-up was due to the fact that Al Gore was having a "gay affair."

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Teenage Sailor Safe; Send Bill To Dad

There's welcome news overnight that a French fishing vessel has now rescued a 16-year old California girl who was stranded in a  remote part of the Indian Ocean after her bid to circumnavigate the globe solo in her yacht ended in failure. 

I'm very happy that she's safe.  But like a lot of people I question her parents' decision to allow a 16 year-old girl to try something like this in the first place.  I was even more put off by her father's public defense of that decision even after this near-disaster. Laurence Sunderland said of his daughter, "In regards to a 16-year-old going on this trip, if you take the age factor out of it, you're either good enough to go on that trip or you're not," he said. "Abigail's proved herself and her ability over and beyond most people that are out there on the ocean doing similar things."

Ok.  But how's this for a retort. If parents were legally required to bear the full cost of these rescue operations, I strongly suspect we'd see far fewer teenagers circumnavigating the globe solo and trying to summit Everest at 13, regardless of whether they're "good enough."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Johannesburg Hosts World Cup; Scared Me In 2002

You may have seen news coverage of the opening today of the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa.  I went to "Jo'burg" on business in 2002. As a result, I was astounded when I first heard a few years back that it would be the host city of the 2010 World Cup.  While it was an unbelievably beautiful place (like Denver or Madrid, it's high up in the mountains and so the skies above were this unbelievably vivid blue), it was also plagued by violent crime, which the undermanned police seemed powerless to stop because it was everywhere simultaneously. All of the housing developments I saw in the nicer areas of town were ringed with high fences topped with barbed wire. And when we drove anywhere, the cars never stopped until our final destination.  Not even at stop signs or traffic lights, for fear that stopping would provoke car-jacking at gunpoint we were told. When executives left the office at night, I watched as they phoned each other every five minutes or so to be sure they were getting home safely.

One night we were taken to a group business dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant in downtown Jo'burg.  Despite being beautifully appointed inside, the front of the place had been barricaded like a speakeasy. When we pulled up to the front, we were told initially to stay in the van (engine running) while the driver went up to the solid metal front door and knocked hard on it repeatedly.  After a few moments, a slit in the door opened (just like a speakeasy), some words were exchanged, and the driver beckoned us all in as the door was thrust open part way.  We were asked to step quickly from the van into the restaurant, which we did. As soon as we were all inside, the door was slammed shut behind us. At the end of our fantastic three hour meal we were asked to gather at the door again until the van pulled right up to the front; at which point the maitre'd thrust open the front door again and hustled us quickly back into the van like it was pouring down rain or something.  As soon as the last person in our group crossed the threshold outside, the door was pulled shut again with a decisive "slam." 

Three years or so later our host that night was gunned down, gangland style, and killed.

Welcome to the World Cup!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Alien Technology From Roswell Crash

Almost everyone has heard at one time or another, I think, the claim by 'conspiracy theorists' that for decades the US government has secretly reverse-engineered futuristic technology from crashed alien spaceships to develop a wide array of modern weapons and aircraft. These claims may have reached their peak of popular familiarity in the 1990s when the X-Files was a top rated network TV show, coinciding in 1997 with the 50th anniversary of the 1947 'Roswell Incident.' Even though I'm tempted to label these theories "crackpot," I've nonetheless always been intrigued by the whole concept, however baseless and counter-factual.  ("I want to believe," I suppose. But don't.) 

I've noticed over time that these claims are rarely ever specific. No one ever seems to point to a specific human scientist by name who developed any specific fighter plane or weapon using reverse-engineered alien technology.  These claims rarely seem to get more specific than dark references to Area 51 made over video footage of "No Trespassing" signs in the Nevada desert. As a result, I was impressed by an episode of the TV show UFO Files that I saw for the first time the other day (despite first airing on the History Channel in 2005, apparently).  This was the first TV show I ever saw that made very specific claims about who did the alleged reverse engineering, and what specific innovations were developed therefrom. 

This episode examined claims made by a long-retired Lt. Colonel in the Army named Philip Corso in his 1997 book The Day After Roswell. (That's him above.) In his book Corso asserts that in 1961 he was personally put in charge of a project to reverse-engineer technology from the alien spacecraft that (purportedly) crashed on a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. (Notice the coincidental date of publication of his book? Nonetheless you can buy it on Amazon HERE.)  In the book Corso claims that his team of scientists developed lasers, fiber optics, integrated circuits and night vision goggles from this alien debris.  Very specific indeed.  

Even more impressively, I thought, this 1 hour episode then interviewed an assortment of nobel laureates and other eminent scientists who actually developed these technologies in reality (some, as a matter of record, years before Corso claims to have reverse-engineered them),  who go on to explain how no one could never have developed them otherwise (with alien technology or without) because of the critical need of other converging technologies or scientific instruments, like scanning electron microscopes. It was great to see a show on this topic that didn't end with a vaguely skeptical question mark. You can watch the entire 1 hour episode on You Tube.  Part 1 is HERE

As an interesting epilogue, Corso retired from the Army in 1963, and became a key aide to Senator Strom Thurmond.  Corso died in 1998, just a year after his book was published.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Helen Thomas Has Resigned. Whose Fault?

In the wake of the uproar over her recent inflammatory comments about Israel ("Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.... They should go home [to] Poland, Germany... and America.  And everywhere else..."), Helen Thomas, the 89 year old dean of White House reporters, has resigned today effective immediately. You can read the CNN article about her resignation HERE, or watch the 1 minute clip of her original comments on Israel HERE.

Helen Thomas was a fixture for decades in the front row at the White House briefing room, having covered every president since the Kennedy administration. But she has been periodically making outrageous statements for years now. In January 2003, she called then President Bush "the worst President ever;"  an amazing statement for the "dean of White House reporters" to make about a sitting President, and one only two years into his first term at the time. While President Bush then broke the decades-long tradition of letting her ask the first question at Presidential press conferences, I was surprised that this (and other of her statements) never seemed to provoke more reaction in the press, if not on political grounds then on journalistic ones.

In July 2006, she appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and said, in response to a question, that her favorite US President was John F. Kennedy.  You can watch the 7 minute clip HERE. When asked why, she notes among other things that he founded the Peace Corps.  And that's true, JFK did sign the executive order establishing the Peace Corps in 1961. But the first initiative to establish the Peace Corps was introduced in 1957 by Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota. She also mentions that JFK signed the first nuclear test ban treaty. But that was in August 1963, less than a year after taking the world to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. On that topic she asserts that, "he stepped back from the brink during the Cuban Missile Crisis." Any high school history student could have corrected her by explaining that the resolution began with a message sent by Krushchev personally, outlining a compromise. She goes on to criticize then President Bush. "You don't spread democracy with the barrel of a gun," she says disapprovingly; an interesting critique given that JFK got the country into Vietnam originally and also presided over the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

Uncharacteristically, Jon Stewart challenges none of this. He just fawns over her and tosses her softball questions.  You have to suspect that it was precisely all this sort of well-intentioned deference from fellow journalists over the years that led to her recent propensity to make some pretty outlandish statements, including these remarks about Israel that have now ended her career.

Jean Arp Died On This Date in 1966

Who is Jean Arp (at left) you might well ask? He was a French artist who co-founded (with several others) the art movement known as "Dadaism" during World War I.  To its adherents, Dada-ist works were not art, but rather "anti-art," a rejection of what they saw as the "bourgeois" cultural and aesthetic values that had led the world to war. Among the most famous such works are Marcel Duchamp's "ready mades": ordinary, everyday things displayed, unaltered, as works of art.  You can watch a 2 minute interview of Duchamp from 1966 HERE, wherein he discusses at some length his most infamous ready made, "Fountain."   What  it is may surprise you. 

While I knew his name, I was less familiar with Jean Arp's work. It's more traditional than Duchamp's "ready mades," and in a more recognizably surrealist style. You can watch a 4 minute slideshow of Jean Arp's artwork set to dance music by clicking HERE.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Awkward Family Photos

Have you ever seen the website, "Awkward Family Photos"?  The title is pretty self-explanatory.  The Los Angeles Times has an article today that you can read HERE which has a selection of 13 pretty funny examples.  This one at left is more tame than some of the others featured in this article, including the naked couple holding their cats, and the smiling little girl proudly holding a 'surprising' book. 

John Wooden Has Died

Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden, who won ten NCCAA basketball championships at UCLA in a 12 year stretch from 1964 to 1975, has died. He was 99. You can read his New York Times obituary HERE. When I first arrived at UCLA in the late 1980s, he was still an actively revered figure on campus, and a regular presence.  You would never have guessed that he had retired more than a decade earlier, after the 1975 season. 

He was famous for all those championships, of course, and for having won a record 88 consecutive games at one point from 1971 to 1974.  But as he got further away from the game and as his former players aged into adulthood, another aspect of his legacy became much more prominent: the broader life lessons that he imbued in his players along the way.  Here are a few of his more famous sayings:
  • Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. 
  • Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.
  • Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.
  • If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over.
  • Never mistake activity for achievement. 
  • Be quick, but don't hurry.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Spy Jonathan Pollard Pled Guilty On This Date

Navy intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard pled guilty to charges of spying for Israel on this date back in 1986.  He remains in federal prison to this day. If you don't remember his sensational case, you may remember hearing his name come up every time a US President leaves office and the topic of who will be granted a presidential pardon arises. You can watch an excellent 3 minute summary of his case HERE. It includes hidden camera footage of Pollard in his office pocketing secret documents that was just released by the FBI for the first time earlier this year.

Pollard, who is Jewish, claimed that he passed classified information to Israel because he was angry that the United States was not sharing all that it knew with its smaller, vulnerable ally. But Pollard was also paid handsomely by the Israelis for his efforts, both tens of thousands of dollars in cash as well as jewels. And later he also began stealing documents related to China and passing them to his wife, to advance her personal business interests. 

Pollard's espionage was discovered first by a co-worker in 1985.  Sensing he was about to be arrested, Pollard and his wife Anne fled in his car to the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., and asked franticly for asylum. The FBI was right on his tail, literally, as he pulled up to the compound.  To his horror and utter amazement, Pollard was turned away at the gate.  The Israelis claimed at the time that they had never heard of him. (They only officially admitted that he had indeed been a spy in 1998.) Pollard was arrested on the spot and later accepted a plea deal in exchange for leniency for he and his wife.

After giving an ill-advised, self-serving jailhouse interview to 60 Minutes before his sentencing, Pollard was bitterly surprised by the life sentence he received in March 1987.  His wife was given 5 years, but was paroled after three and a half.  They divorced soon after her release. CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, of all people, wrote an excellent, contemporary account of this case back in 1989 called Territory of Lies. At the time Blitzer was the Washington bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post newspaper, a position he had held since 1973.

Would You Pay Joran $15K For Murder Details?

You've probably now seen the news that Joran van der Sloot's arrest in Chile yesterday in connection with the murder of a young Peruvian woman in his Lima, Peru hotel room, five years to the day after the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba.

I've also now started to see it broadly reported that Joran has also now just been charged criminally in Alabama for trying to extort $250,000 from Natalee Holloway's mother, Beth, in exchange for telling her the details of Natalee's murder.  But I haven't heard any news agency, other than Greta Van Susteren on Fox News last night, report the added detail that Beth had actually paid Joran a $15,000 'down payment' in exchange for those details. Here's the transcript of these critical few sentences at the end of her report last night:

"And now the bombshell breaking news, a disturbing twist in this case right here in the United States. Van der Sloot allegedly paid for his trip to South America by extorting money from Natalee Holloway's mother. The U.S. attorney in Alabama says van der Sloot promised to tell Beth Holloway what really happened to her daughter in Aruba in exchange for a big cash payout. Van der Sloot tried to get $250,000 but ended up taking $15,000 as a down payment before fleeing to South America. Van der Sloot today has been charged with extortion.

"And the story does get worse. As early as May 10th, the FBI knew they had a case against van der Sloot, but the FBI failed to arrest him or act until today. In other words, had they arrested van der Sloot on May 10th when they had the case against him, he would not have been able to travel to South America and there would be no murder."

If Natalee were your daughter, would you have paid her (assumed) killer $15,000 for the details of her death if he offered to tell them for a price?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Groin Punch Game" Harming More Boys

"Though most won’t admit it unless they have to, more teen boys are being treated after cringe-worthy attacks in which they’re slapped or punched in the groin, sometimes causing serious harm requiring surgery, doctors say." So begins an article today on that you can read HERE.

This article attributes the increasing incidents to a 1998 episode of the cartoon South Park which featured the behavior apparently, as well  as the proliferation of 'viral videos' on You Tube in recent years showing these attacks. 

I'm a little skeptical about multiple aspects of this assertion, however. This was already huge when I was in elementary school in the 1970s. When I was in 4th grade, almost every guy in my class had to walk around the playground during recess in a perpetual protective crouch, ever vigilant against attack.  Woe betide any kid who momentarily let up his guard.  He would be on the ground in a fetal position within seconds.  And just as suddenly everyone would then be standing over him laughing, Lord of the Flies-style. Mercifully for all, this had all ebbed by 5th grade, when girls became more interesting than punching other guys in the shorts.  Though I must admit that, in spite of myself, the modern nicknames for this behavior that are cited in this article did make me smile. 

Inventor of "Trivial Pursuit" Has Died

Charis Haney, a Canadian who co-invented the board game Trivial Pursuit, has died at the age of 59. He came up with the game one night in 1979 over beers in his living room with fellow journalist Scott Abbott. He was 29 years old. The game, introduced to the public in 1981, became a full fledged national phenomenon in America by 1984. Twenty million units were sold in that year alone.  It was even out-selling Monopoly, apparently. 

On hindsight, the game's popularity peaked that year. Though a TV game show based on the game, hosted by Chuck Woolery, was aired in the mid-1990s. (You can watch a clip HERE, but it's pretty bland.) The game has gone on to sell a total of 100 million units worldwide since it's introduction. The rights were sold outright to Hasbro in 2008 for $80 million. Not bad for a couple of guys who were dismissed initially at the Montreal Toy Fair as a couple of "con artists" according to Chris Haney's New York Times obit HERE. "But they needed more investors and turned to friends in their newsrooms. One problem, according to The Globe and Mail of Canada, was that people had heard they were 'con artists.' As an example, the newspaper pointed to a chain letter the men had started that proved profitable for the originators but not to those down the line. They nonetheless succeeded in raising $40,000 from 32 investors. Mr. Haney’s mother was not among them, however: he had talked her out of investing for fear she would lose her money."

The "Better Marriage Blanket"

In this 3 minute clip, MSNBC's Willie Geist highlights a new product being sold via TV informercial. The "Better Marriage Blanket" is designed, apparently, to combat bedtime flatulence.

Interview With "Flo" From Progressive TV Ads

Do you, too, feel bombarded by those seemingly omnipresent TV advertisements for Progressive Auto Insurance featuring a perky pitch-woman named "Flo"?  Doe they annoy you, too, every time they come on now because you've seen them all dozens of times?

Despite that, would you be interested to read a short interview with the actress who plays her, which focusses on the surprising public enthusiasm for the character?  If so, you can read it HERE.  I thought the only interesting part of the interview, though, was this:

"Courtney said her favorite Flo spot is the one with the 'guy with the man bag.' As for the one that elicits the craziest response, that would be the ad in which a husband lines up to buy a boat, motorcycle and RV insurance, and when his wife says, 'But we don’t have any of those things,' the husband looks at Flo, who exclaims: 'Surprise!'

“People were writing in: ‘Is Flo having an affair?’” Courtney said. 'I was so floored!'"

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Candidate Tom Campbell Pulls TV Ads In California

The Los Angeles Times leads with a story this morning about how Tom Campbell, a republican candidate for US Senate in California, has been forced to pull his TV ads because his campaign is running out of money. You can read the entire article HERE.  High profile political races in big states like California seem to be increasingly dominated by candidates with immense personal wealth who can 'lend' their campaigns large amounts of their own money. That's precisely what Campbell's opponent, Carly Fiorina, has done.  "Though Campbell raised more money than Fiorina in the period between April 1 and May 19, Fiorina has loaned her campaign an additional $3 million in the last few weeks — bringing her personal contributions to at least $5.5 million," this Los Angeles Times article reads in part. "In reports filed last week, Fiorina had $2.1 million on hand, while Campbell had roughly $400,000. A statewide television buy costs upward of $2 million."

I've met Tom Campbell. He was a professor at Stanford Law School when I was a student there 15 years ago.  While surprisingly soft-spoken for a lecturer and politician, he was clearly a brilliant and thoughtful man. So I went to his office one day and volunteered to work on his next campaign. He very politely turned me down, however, explaining that he had agreed with the school not to recruit students. But even after that, he continued our conversation very cordially for a good long time, almost preventing me from leaving disappointed.  I was very impressed by that.

Tom Campbell has already lost two prior senate bids, and looks headed for defeat again in this one.  In the past his 'professorial' demeanor has been blamed for his perceived inability to connect with voters.  And maybe that's his problem.  Or maybe it's his political positions.  But it sure seems like this time he's simply losing a battle of personal checkbooks.  This trend can't be good for our democracy.