The Brooklynks blog
I often stop to chat with the Egyptian guy who runs the laundromat downstairs from our apartment in Greenpoint. Mustafa -- he prefers "Mac" -- never is in a sore mood, and is originally from Alexandria, where I've always wanted to visit. We always find something to talk about -- we're in much the same boat, middle-aged men scraping along to retain our dignity, respectful if not observant of our fathers' faiths, cynical about politics. Last week, we somehow got onto the subject of communism. "Tell me, Rafi, they don't have communism in this country? So when a business fails, everyone stand around, watch it die in this country, no yes? But give all that money to those banks, Rafi? What you call that, if it's not communism?"
We always seem to make one another laugh. This afternoon as we were standing talking outside the doorway to his store, a woman doing her wash called him in to help her with something. He came back out a few minutes later and we resumed talking about whatever -- if there is a Devil, how cheap and delicious fava bean sandwiches are in Alexandria, what a terrible place our end of Driggs Avenue is to run a business -- until a minute later, she called him back inside, and once more he left and returned. The third time she interrupted us, he cast me a pained look and said, "I gave her five dollars in change and she says I owe her a quarter. I counted again to show her." Then he glanced at her over his shoulder and said something in what sounded like Arabic -- startling me, because I was sure she was a Polish housewife.
Mac saw my confusion. "I have just said to her in Arabic, 'May God shorten your life.'" I buckled over laughing to think this tight-lipped middle-aged woman blithely ignorant of the deadly efficient coldness of his curse, the unkindest wish I have ever heard.
My enjoyment amused him. "Yes, it is a vicious expression. In Egypt you might say it as a joke, or you might say it seriously."
I wished I were a brilliant language philosopher like Wittgenstein or Chomsky, then I could make an argument that since the language can create such a role for an entity, the likelihood for the existence of that entity stands in direct proportion to the strength of flavor of statements it engenders. Such infinite hatred surely contains infinite life.
Boy, a year ago people were sure mad at Mark Shuttleworth about Unity.
Which can't be fun, if your business depends on volunteers -- I mean, damn, getting users to stick with your packaging of Red Hat or Debian must be hard, what with dozens of Linux flavors to choose from for free, and even casual technophiles capable of using practically any to set up a partition from scratch in less than twenty minutes. All it takes is a change in UI direction, a few unpopular bundled-app choices, or the perception of megalomaniacal leadership to send hundreds of thousands of brainiacs fleeing from you into the arms of another ISO torrent.
I, unlike a genuine hacker, am the type of Luser who hates change -- just give me something stable and secure, with solid, configurable DOS emulation so I can run XyWrite in why my dear wife Ruthie calls my "black box of bitterness," and I am happy. But the reception of Unity was discouraging, especially since some trouble I was having running a few multimedia applications under Lucid meant I was probably going to have to upgrade sooner. rather than wait until 10.4 ran out of support in a year. Was I gonna have to ditch Ubuntu?
Hard to imagine a less appeasable user base than Linuxers, who tend to be proud, informed, and impatient -- and the condemnation was just about universal. Never mind that Ubuntu's default UI, the much beloved Gnome 2, had reached its end of development -- Ubuntu users were mightily pissed, and vented against Shuttleworth for turning their computers into WinMac knockoffs and dumbed-down platforms for beta tablet development. Tech blogs and forums resounded with articulate, bilious rage, the sound of a million geeky Beethovens tearing the inscription to Napoleon from the score of the Eroica -- i.e., bolting to Mint.
I was so worried, in February I bought another disk drive to try out Precise -- since it was beta, I wanted to still use my rock-solid Lucid installation for daily work, plus in twenty-five years of ferking with 'putes I adhere to a "New software? New hardware!" axiom -- when I have to install a new operating system, I buy new metal for it.
The first attempt didn't go well -- in my attempts to modify the Launcher and some of the eye candy (Compiz), I managed to lose both -- a typical bork, I saw by the Ubuntu forums. As I restarted the installation, I decided not to fight Unity, but to humor it instead -- or at least to give it a chance before I went to Cinnamon or Gnome 3.
It was confounding. For a seasoned Gnome 2 user or Windows convert -- probably the most offputting thing about Unity is there is no right-mouse button click -- in the old Gnome 2, a rightclick was all you needed to create or modify a program object. Other than "castrated," there's no way to describe the feeling when nothing happens when you're looking for a menu -- and then the ultimate insult, just having to take the trouble of searching for how to do it definitely means it's a bad idea.
I had the same complaints as everyone -- the move of the close/minimize/maximize window control buttons to the top left, another new one on me. The launcher sunk six feet deep in concrete on the left-hand side of the screen. That a desktop UI for Linux, a system which more than anything is designed to permit a user to tweak each and every element to within an inch of its useful purpose, would carve the critical elements of its features in granite seemed not only illogical but heretical. But a few days of using it -- and doing some digging, because Unity requires a little bit of study -- made me realize that Unity represents not just a revolutionary interface, but a peculiarly excellent Linux-y one.
To begin with, it isn't really dumbed-down. I mean, it is -- for the most casual/uninformed/typical user, who can just click on stuff to get to the browser or the email client or the word processor -- as reviewers have pointed out, sometimes in quite disparaging terms, your mother-in-law will happily use Unity out of the box.
The genius part of it comes in is in the Dash, lenses, and the Heads-Up Display. The ability to find and launch programs, filter files, find commands for the program you're running without having to click through menus and submenus returns the specificity of the command-line to that mousey mess of your old-fashioned smartish opsys GUI. Unity is a topper, the one-up response to point and click: If a terminal window and XP had a baby it would be Unity. The fact that the trigger for the Dash and lenses is the Windows key is the coup de grace. Once I realized that, the conceit of Unity came into focus: imagine your XWindows desktop governed not by clicks, but by textual input. It makes complete sense for Unity to get you looking to the top left of the desktop -- that's just where the command line puts you. Three cheers for Precise Pangolin!
Talking to my gambler buddy Steve about legalized sports books making it out of Vegas. "It's just a matter of time," says Steve, with the cynicism of the not-quite defeated punter. "People want it too much."I can see his point, especially if the online poker sites start to edge their way onto the right side of the law. Still -- "Nah," I say. "It's not going to happen. The NFL has enough image problems as it is, and they have enough control over their product they can stop it if they want to, and at this point the gambling ban might be one of last bastions." Plus, as long as gambling is illegal, when you get a Ken Stabler or a Pete Rose associating with known criminals, you've got a line. As soon as NFL wagering becomes a franchise, he's talking to a gaming executive, or someone at Disney. Quasi-legal and underground is where the NFL wants it to be. (Though I have to admit, if there was a reality show about gamblers approaching NFL players past their prime I would watch it.)"Did you know about Delaware?" says Steve. "Google 'Delaware State parlay.'"Here's what came up. I couldn't believe it.Now, I don't gamble on football, mostly because I'm a pretty casual fan, but even if I watched more of it, I wouldn't bet a penny on it. Why? The points spread.Not the number itself. I kind of like that. To an ill-informed fan like me -- a guy who knows the Browns got rid of Eric Mangini but can't remember if it was before this season or last season -- a points spread actually says something crude and approximate about a matchup in a sort of USA Today way -- for an NFC East fan who hasn't seen SportsCenter in a month, "Kansas City +8" sums up a lot.I certainly understand the point spread's appeal for the gambler -- it adds to the excitement, which is after all what wagering is about, for degenerates and $10 office-parlayers alike. But as a wager, it's an abomination. To begin with, the teams are not playing to beat the spread, they are playing to win. The spread is essentially a number designed to make favorites seem less appealing -- a way to convert a long-shot proposition into an even-money exchange. Which is stupid. To take a somewhat painful recent example, the Giants were clobbered last Monday night, losing 49-24 in a game where they were 7.5-point underdogs. Typically football betters save their resentment of the spread for when their team wins but does not cover. Understandable as their indignation may be, that's actually not the scammiest thing about the points spread. The truth is that objectively, the Giants had at best a 3-5 shot to win, and that's the only bet in the world -- pony up $3 to win $5 -- worth making.The bookie -- that's another story. By setting the spread at 7 1/2 points he probably convinced some Giant advocates that they had a chance while discouraging weak-fleshed Saintly acolytes. Betting the Saints wouldn't beat the Jints by little more than a touchdown = hoping the Giants would have had the strength to stifle the Saints' offense and the will to refuse to be completely humiliated. Things exactly didn't turn out that way.On the other side, a thin spread is just as egregious in its way -- if a game is going to be close and everyone knows it, the spread just penalizes the marginal favorite. If you have a feeling the Bucs are going to win against the Panthers in a tight one, why in heaven's name would you accept an even-money bet that will penalize you if they only win by two points? Someone please explain to me how anyone stands to profit except the house? (I can actually see why the NFL would have less of a problem with points spreads than direct odds -- eliminating the big payoffs would seem to lower the temptation to fix games. )This is all gut feeling, you understand, since my mathematical skills are rudimentary at best. But I would like to see a study of a few seasons' worth of NFL games that shows how much the points spread hurts the favorites, and in particular what the correlation is between the size of the spread and the ability of the favorite to cover.Give me parimutuel betting any time! If I head to the track, I might not be completely confident that the 8-horse is out there to win, and hasn't been force-fed some steroids-and-PCP cocktail before being trotted out to perform his part by dutifully throwing up clods of dirt on a 7-furlong trot before going back to his stable for a nice oat sandwich -- but at least I know that the only thing that determines how much I make from my wager is my aptitude compared to everyone else at the track. The middleman gets his percentage, and the amount I stand to win or lose is solely based on how well I predicted the outcome versus how much the other morons were willing to bet against my idea. The spread on the other hand, is a number people have concocted to maximize their profit at the expense of winners and losers.But wait, there's more! My first reaction when we looked at this parlay sheet was, oh wait a second, I'll bet the payoffs are ridiculous when compared to real sports books or casual bets. Then I looked up the numbers and lo and behold, they pretty much match the standard parlay sheets. In fact, since they're half-points, they eliminate pushes.So, yeah, here's the news: the Delaware Sports Lottery 1/2 Point Parlay Card is a state-of-the-art wager on a par with what you'll get at a legal sports book in Las Vegas or Bodog. Which should translate: it's a sucker bet -- for the people who make it. For Delaware though, it's surely another triumphant chapter in the scheme to punish the most vulnerable Delawareans who can least afford to squander money on gambling, by enticing them with long-shot losing propositions. After all if your citizens are foolish and poor enough, they deserve the very worst you can give them.
Not many golfers have fascinated me, none like Ballesteros. One Thursday afternoon during a Buick Classic sometime in the late 80s, I was hanging in the card room of the Westchester Country Club trying to see if I could put together a story for Golf Illustrated when he walked in.At the time, he wasn't very popular on the PGA Tour -- I didn't see him talking to many American golfers -- though back then at least, tour golfers weren't very backslappy, period. Better yet, few American golf writers were interested in him, so I didn't have to fight a crowd as he stood in the lounge, talking to one of the old Times beat guys.His physical presence stopped you. He stood straight, a compact six foot, but with big shoulders and a chest that he seemed to have built up to hold up his dark, handsome visage. More from fear than discretion, I politely asked the question behind the little feature I was working on, and he warmed to it right away -- it felt like he was letting me bask in his magnificence. But he had a personable quality that diluted his vanity. He was a blazing egoist, but not blinded by his own glory. He was fully invested in the real world. If you could get past the barbed wire of arrogance on his face, underneath was a brilliant intelligence: Peter Jacobsen used to would make fun of that Montelbanian accent but it was startling how good his English was -- he was could drop some far-out idiom on you, something he must have seen on a late movie in a hotel room at 3 in the morning.I had asked him about emotions, a subject he warmed to immediately, and in three or four sentences gave me everything I needed, and so convincingly I was practically dizzy -- not to mention he'd made my day.After that, I doubt he recognized me but he always was pleasant every time I approached him. I remember watching him some years later at the practice range at Hartford with Mac O'Grady, looking frustrated while O'Grady tweaked his swing in front of fifty fascinated onlookers -- a truly odd couple, the zany malcontent with the misunderstood genius, a weird Rat Pack golf comedy team: "Ladies and Gentlemen, Beaman's Bums!" As usual he wore his heart not just on his sleeve, but, broken, on his face as well, as he made one three-wood swing after another. He looked unhappy and despairing as Mac, wearing orange-tinted aviators and circling him like a giant Zen fly, touched him lightly on the shoulder and elbow, buzzing in his ear to his pupil's patent annoyance.Surely one reason he's been thought of as the Arnold Palmer of European golf is the similar effect both had on the locals in Britain. An American had won eight of the nine previous British Opens before he grabbed his first in 1979: if a warlike character eventually came to the Ryder Cup, maybe it was the arrival on British shores of a savior for Continental golf that started it. Ballesteros could ride the love of a crowd like very few others, and every European golfer since then knows how much they owe him.Which leads to the conclusion that it should be as plain on the nose on your face -- though it hasn't been to many American Ryder Cup captains -- that at some point in his career, Seve recognized something in a European spirit that could unite and galvanize the continent. This, coupled with his understanding of our vulnerabilities, was his ace in the hole, and as his athletic prowess began to fade, he played it like a clever lawyer, beating up on the self-righteous D.A. time and again. It makes you wonder if we can blame Deane Beaman for pissing him off in the first place.He awakened the U.S. not just to European golf, but to Europe itself. Only now that he's passed do we realize what a glorious impact he had not just on golf, but in his phenomenal, larger-than-not-just-golf-but-life-itself way, on the world at large. The formation of the European Union might owe as much to him as to anyone else -- everything about the EU, for better or worse, suggests that the triumph of a bootstrap-pulling young Spaniard in a snooty British game helped inspire the business elite and bureaucratic higherups to pull together and beat the Yanks at their own numbers game. Unfortunately, at this point, maybe it's best for us to think of the dream of a united Europe it as a footnote to but a footnote to his brilliant career and life.We will miss you, Seve.
The most disappointing part of Tiger Woods' apology was when he insisted Ellin never whacked him with his golf club, as we all assumed -- thereby depriving posterity of an all-time comedic tableau. We skeptics may be forgiven our disbelief, however, particularly since under the circumstances -- an irate wife confronting her husband with evidence of unceasing adultery -- the only question his strange, self-righteous proclamation that "there has never been an episode of domestic violence in our marriage ever" seems designed to answer is, "When did your wife stop beating you?"Not many of our sportswriters are capable of much nuance beyond patriotic applause or censure, so they were more or less whining about how sad it is that spoiled, wealthy athletes behave so badly -- "sad" in its sense of "condescending to a celebrity." Of course the only person with reason to be unhappy has been Woods himself, a notorious skinflint, who has paid for his libertinage with a massive chunk of his 9-figure income. (To get an idea just how much, endorsements accounted for almost 90% of the $112,000,000 he made in 2007.)All sorts of moral arbiters compounded his shame, more on their own heads than his. Fox News correspondent Britt Hume couldn't pass up an opportunity to besmirch another man's faith, telegenically fashioning his reproach as an endorsement, as though religions were differing brands of household cleaning products. Five-time Open Championship Tom Watson, self-appointed conscience of golf, recommended Woods apologize and then for good measure got in a couple more kicks, suggesting he stop cursing and slamming clubs, for the good of the sport.By contrast Jack Nicklaus -- over the years no stranger to the attention of an army of starstruck wantons, certainly, and yet unlike Watson still married to the same woman he married after his junior year at Ohio State -- has remained silent, though he may be seen looking uncharacteristically humble on the cover of this month's Golf Digest, posed with eyes cast somberly downward, as though deferring to the plight of his only real equal in golf achievement.Strangely, the account of Woods's misdeeds reads like one more repercussion of the financial meltdown. After the Madoff scandal, the favorite quote from everyone's favorite financial sage, mediocre golfer (and stalwart Woods supporter) Warren Buffet, was "Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked." Except in this case Tiger Woods managed to turn around the simile, undressing for his daily skinny-dip without bothering to notice the beach had been closed. Banging Waffle House waitresses is just so 90s.It doesn't seem to make much sense to diagnose the libido of a world-beater, much less to call him a sex addict -- a phrase from which even the tabloid clinicians retreated, almost out of respect for a fallen hero. More accurate to describe him as a privacy junkie -- if he's never had much love for the snobbish golf world which worked to shut him out as a child, the public eye has forced him to find shelter in the very same sort of armed-guard seclusion that protects the wealthiest and most powerful of American country clubs -- and a gambler, chancing his prosperity, as though on a sure thing, that his bedmates' giddy shame would outweigh their eagerness to publicly link their names with his. Which is how it might have played out, except once the news broke and his appetite took on epidemic proportions, a score of his now-sanctified partners couldn't wait to cash in. In fairness there were probably even more, but apparently only the bloated, pasty, or surgically-enhanced ones chose to stand up and be counted.As one unseemly revelation after another spilled forth, the companies Woods represented were suddenly embarrassed by a reality belying an appearance -- that their golden child was in fact an opportunistic, voracious serial adulterer who seemingly allowed himself prey to every bimbo who crossed his path, and only escaped detection through luck and the unwitting foolishness of those who most trusted him -- and threatened to cast his sponsors in a most unwelcome light, notably a management consulting firm which specializes in maximizing shareholder value, no matter the consequences.Before his apology, the smart money was on a choreographed reconciliation, the waggish view being that while the likelihood of Woods keeping temperate is almost as remote as his wife trusting him to quit tomcatting, she might like him around as at least an nominal father, plus he couldn't really afford a divorce -- in cash or PR, and so for the greatest moneymaking individual in sports history, some sort of arrangement would be the shortest distance between two points.Nevertheless Woods may be sincere. Based on his address, he is determined to vindicate his cupidity on his own terms. The American will to ascend tends to be about braiding "spiritual" motives into your prosperity -- and whatever Woods has derived from the Buddhist beliefs he took from his mother, success is included.The comparatively mild sense of outrage from the pillars of the golf establishment isn't so much for his transgression -- philandery was not one of the sins which posed a barrier to membership in these exclusive, all- or largely-male clubs -- as the getting found out, and to a lesser degree his tacky choices. (Though for any real Don Juan, it's about quantity, not quality.) As for his colleagues on the PGA tour, only the most foolish wish him the worst, since his presence guarantees the viability of professional golf.Golf has been more a game of social than religious snobbery, but with Christian fundamentalism under siege, Woods presents a challenge to the golf establishment on the beliefs front. Little doubt remains that Woods is the greatest golfer the game has ever seen -- uniquely equipped to handle the forces competing within him, destructive and creative alike, he well understands his historical role as a nonwhite (as opposed to African-American) pioneer. Now, he as he struggles to complete his story with an uncomfortable redemptive coda, he made a surprising reference to Buddhism ("I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years") which showed him at his most vulnerable. In competitive golf, where winning seems to be about strength of motivation, the appearance of another creed which might prove more efficacious than the old is a distinct threat, which maybe helps explains why Britt Hume is nervous.In the opera, the seducer goes to hell. But in screen comedy, the nice thing about the wife-attacking-the-philandering-husband-with-a-nine-iron scenario at the beginning of the second reel is how easily the conventions of comedy lead to a chastened but happily reconciled, obedient husband in the end. We may have lost the negative, but Woods' fans have reason to believe the ending will be familiar.