Cricket Twenty20 : Afghanistan versus United States in 2010 WCQ

Cricket Team USA on front of WCQ Brochure

Cricket Team USA on front of WCQ Brochure

Cricket: Afghanistan versus United States in 2010” Who would have ever thought that these words could be strung together? I was alerted to this potentially potent sporting event coming up next week via an article in the London Times, entitled, “Afghanistan get ready to take on US and insist that it’s ‘just another match’ (from the TIMES on Friday February 5 2010).

Over time, many people have written about the diplomatic, assuaging qualities of a dignified cricket match between rival nations. All you need to do is google “cricket diplomacy” and you will 26K+ hits.

So, in the fine heritage of cricket diplomacy, Afghanistan will confront the US cricket team in the 2010 World Twenty20 qualifying tournament in Dubai on Thursday, Feburary 11.

Nowroz Mangal, the Afghani captain said about the game with the US that “this is just another game.” But, I would think this might be a good game to consider as encompassing a bigger cause. “Every sport should be about peace” said Kabir Khan, Afghanistan’s head coach and a Pakistani born former Test cricketer. For Afghanistan, it is an opportunity for the country to get back some national pride on a playing field. It should be noted that all sports had been banned in Afghanistan by the Taliban up until 2000 when cricket was allowed “because it had intervals for prayer breaks,” Kabir said.

Obama's drive a little hesitant!

Obama's drive a little hesitant!

There are 8 teams in all in the WCQ 2010 tournament. Two teams will graduate from this qualifier to the bigger World Cup tournament. Afghanistan (#6), USA (#8), Ireland (#1) and Scotland (#3) are pooled together in Group A. Here is the official USA cricket team site, announcing their arrival in the UAE.

The US team, which lies third in World Cricket League Division 5 (down in the basement basically speaking) is managed by Imran Khan, not to be mistaken as the mega cricket personality; it is Saratoga resident, Imran Khan Suddahazai. After having gone through many rough patches, the US currently has 2 million registered cricket players, a national stadium in Florida and developing structure. You can find out something about the history of cricket in the US here on their own site or on wikipedia, where you can see how important Philadelphia has been for sustaining cricket in the States.

Predictions for the outcome of the tournament? Predictions for the match between Afghanistan and USA? I’d rather not see a draw, but who knows, that might also be the closest equivalent to a peaceful resolution!

V for Victory or V for V Painful? Obama and Michelle see things differently….

Obama and Michelle watching Judo at White House 2009

This photograph from the UK’s Guardian newspaper (17 Sept 2009) caught my attention initially for the curious position, in the foreground, of the unfortunate person on the receiving end of a flip in a judo exhibition. Then I zeroed in on President Obama and Michelle Obama’s expressions, framed between the outstretched legs.

The photo is a jewel for those of us observing the difference between the archetypal feminine and masculine reaction to an event. You have Obama’s smile juxtaposed against his wife’s aghast expression. On the one hand, you have a man appreciating the athletic effort of the ‘victor,’ while, on the other, the woman is feeling the effects of the loser landing on his head. Is it V for Victory or V for Very Painful? In either case, watching sports brings out our emotions and, per this photo at least, the experience is very different according to your point of view (and I’m not just talking the team you support).

Do you have another view on this photo? And how different is the experience for men and women (or the masculine and feminine viewpoint) when observing the same sporting event?

Lech Walesa at the MEDEF Universite d’Ete 2009

Lech Walesa, ex-President of Poland and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, gave a resounding speech at the MEDEF Universite d’Ete 2009. Walesa retraced the history behind the Solidarnosc movement he led in Poland and then presented his case for progressing the European cause. Here are a few sound bytes (translated from the Polish into French and again into English by me).

Lech Walesa, ex-President of Poland, 2009

Walesa spoke about the extraordinarily peaceful times we live in, saying that “no generation has ever had as great a period of peace and we have a great chance to make a unified Europe, without the use of force.”
–Commentary: Of course, the ‘peaceful era’ doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case for the Americans.

He continued by asking whether today’s generation will be capable of taking advantage of this worldwide truce? Walesa called for more action to create a unified Europe. “I believe that this generation, via democratic debate, will understand what is missing… what is needed…”

“If the individual’s wishes continue to be privileged, we cannot do much … we will continue to have the crises…. such as the economic crisis we are experiencing today” — meaning that there needs to be more solidarity…

“I am just a revolutionary, and I don’t have all the answers…” including to the question “what economy, what economic system is needed for a unified Europe?” A second question: “Which Democracy, which liberty [for Europe]?”

“If I could tell my [dead] father that there are no frontiers in Europe and that there are no soldiers between Germany & Poland, he’d have a heart attack.”

I’d like to be the world’s last revolutionary. I would like to have lots of monuments, but with due reason because I would have succeeded and you would have succeeded…” i.e. that there would be no more need to revolt.

I enjoyed his speech and his passion. I also believe that the questions he raised for Europe and the clear risks that are poised in not unifying Europe are indeed critical for today’s generation. Of course, on a few other points, I considered his thoughts unlikely to gain traction (especially that the way to avoid all crises lies in finding solutions to create general solidarity…). Nonetheless, if he’s not the most appreciated person in Poland, he certainly gathered a few [more] fans in France with this speech.

Here’s the video of his speech on MEDEF TV (translated into French only) and featuring Laurence Parisot’s introduction and a question from the floor.

Cherie Blair delivers opening speech at MEDEF Universite d’Ete 2009

Cherie Blair at MEDEF UE 2009If the plight of children and the role of women is the key issue for the  MEDEF Summer University [Universite d’Ete] 2009, Ms. Cherie Blair was a wonderful choice to open the conference. If her speech felt a little long, there were many interesting points raised in her 30 minute speech.  I captured below a few sound bytes that resonated for me:

The men among the 3000 people in attendance in the room (and in positions of power in general) will need to be, not only interested in, but, to play a critical role in solving the challenges of the 21st century facing our children.  As Ms. Blair suggested, most of the women in the room are probably already attuned to the issues… However, it is only when men and women work together as equals that “we can make a difference.”

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, a universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations, is signed by all countries of the United Nations but two: Somalia and the United States.  Maybe President Obama will sign up the US?

There are 1 billion children in the world lacking proper sanitation.

All the research and studies show that an investment in educating a girl [in third world countries] is a better investment than investing in a boy.  Educated women have healthier, fewer and more educated children.  And, educated women are likely to have a stronger voice in their family and their economy….

“Educate a man, you educate an individual.
Educate a woman and you educate a family and a nation.”

Tony Blair was told by a patriarch of the backbench, back when he was serving as an opposition MP, that if he kept leaving the House of Commons promptly after the 7pm o’clock session (to take care of his children) without spending some time fraternising with “the boys” that he would never get anywhere in politics….

Ms. Blair described being a working mother as being an experiment in organized chaos… There is so much to do in managing and finding work-life balance.  In order for the concept of “flexible work” to get to the next level it will take concrete actions — not words — led by the top [and visible] executives.  On this point, I fully subscribe to the need to have role models, role models who can succeed to find that equilibrium all the while replying adequately to the pressures and needs of the company’s stakeholders.

France has a system that suits a society where fewer women work… i.e. Ms. Blair suggested that serious change needs to come to France.  She did not elaborate on this point, but one must assume she is referring, among other things, to the midweek break at schools in particular.  On the other side, France has an amazing crèche system that starts at the age of 3 years old…

As opposed to believing that the youth of today are aimless, shallow and uncultivated, Ms Blair insisted that today’s young people have incredible compassion, energy and depth.  Plus, they have a connectivity across the world…  It would seem that we, the parents, should be learning from our kids.

To a question from the floor about a good model to follow (outside of France) in terms of treating women and children, per Cherie Blair, there is no one best solution, but there is a range of models.  If she did not specify which countries were in that range, Ms Blair referred to the World Economic Forum which scales the countries of the world in terms of the gender gap across a number of criteria.  It’s true that the Nordic countries dominate the top 5, she said and that Europe has the best record among the regions.   However, “the Scandinavian model is too prescriptive in terms of childcare,” meaning that women may not even have the choice to stay at home with their children.  [I have written about the WEF Study previously on my blog .]

A woman who has taken a gap out of her career to have a child and take care of that child should be able to return to work under truly normal conditions.  Ms Blair said, “[T]here is too much subtle culture in business that says ‘we know we have to [give a woman maternity leave, etc]’… but, if you are going to do that, we know you are not really serious about your career…”  This is a problem for women, and an even bigger problem for men who are interested in parental leave and a share on the home front because of the persistent prejudice on the career.

Overall, a well presented case… Hopefully, it did not fall on deaf — largely male — ears.

Mixing it up in the French Government – Model of diversity?

In a democratic sense, the Government is the representation of the people.  As such, you might expect the notion of “fair” representation to be more heralded by the latest Sarkozy government, ushered in the last week of June 2009.  The new cabinet, under the loyal PM François Fillon, announced on June 25, covering the 38 ministries, contains 8 new people and the mélange is rather interesting.  If it is still not fully representative from a socio-demographic standpoint, the latest Sarkozy cabinet covers a wide spectrum of races, age, sex and ideology.

Fillon IV, New Sarkozy Government at Elysees Palace
Sarkozy’s Shuffle:  Fillon IV – The new government

25 men and 13 women (of which just 4 are full portfolio ministers, down from 7 full ministers in the prior cabinet, while 9 are junior ministers).  13/38 = 32%

In terms of age distribution, 5 ministers are under 40 years old, 12 are over 60.

There are a handful of “French liberals” aka capitalists or just “conservatives” (P Lellouche, H de Raincourt, H Novelli, D Bussereau, H Falco), another handful of centrists (H Morin, M Mercier, V Létard, C Blanc & AM Idrac) and yet another handful that could be said to sway more toward the “left” (Hirsch, Kouchner, Eric Besson, Frédéric Mitterrand et JM Bockel).

There are 4 ministers that represent “diversity” and all four are women.  Insofar as France, following in Norway’s footsteps, has imposed a quota of 40% of women on executive and advisory boards (of state and publicly traded companies) by 2015 (20% by 2011), this Sarkozy government is well on track, if perhaps a little light among the full portfolio ministers.

I was particularly interested by the preliminary words used by President Sarkozy to his assembled team (I transliterate): “ Don’t speak too quickly to the journalists, until you have a good grasp of your subject.  Show solidarity with your fellow cabinet ministers, don’t transgress on each other’s territory (aka don’t step on each other’s toes), and don’t forget that you are NOT in your position just to recycle dossiers that have been prepared for you by your administration.”  (note the double negative).

In these lines, one can read many things.  Communication is absolutely key to success.   Be master of your destiny by gaining knowledge (and I might have added more field work).  And, providing Sarkozy defines carefully enough the said territories, then it will be possible not to interfere with one another’s work.  That said, with such a diverse population in his cabinet, one could also expect to have diverse interpretations.  And that is the benefit and the difficulty of diversity.  Let us see how Sarkozy and PM François Fillon manage. 

More Spam Scams on Facebook – goldbase.be

Aside from Iran’s attempts to block Facebook in the run-up to the election (they just lifted the ban, according to this LA Times piece), I have also noticed that there is an increasing number of spam scams on Facebook. In the most recent hack attack, you receive a mail from a friend or even some stranger (as is the case below) inviting you to “Look at this goldbase.net” or goldbase.be some other .be addresses which are obviously bogus. Don’t do it! Delete immediately, without passing go.

Goldbase Scam

And here is another one that is circulating “growerd.ru” from our friends in Russia:

Growerd.ru Scam

If you receive this type of FB mail, it is only your “friend” that is infected, not you. If you find, however, that mail is being sent from your account (someone needs to alert you!), here is the advice from Mashable:

1. As a precaution, go to your browser settings and clear your cookies.
2. Change your Facebook password
3. Make sure your antivirus software is up to date and run a full system

The Guns Crisis Continues – How can it be reversed?‏

Gun sales in the US have gone [blasted a hole] through the roof since the end of last year.

Time Magazine: The Gun in America
In November 2008, after the election win of Obama, requests for gun licenses in the U.S. spiked +42% to 1.5 million. The following months have seen year over year increases of between 23% and 29% (through March 2009).

Numerous theories abound for this gigantic leap, centering on Obama’s anti-gun past and a fear of a clampdown. Obama suggested a 500% tax hike on gun sales in 2000. With the continuing headlines of daylight massacres (57 people killed YTD in the US), you wonder how the gun lobbyists and fervent 2nd Amendment defenders resist. Yet, they maintain a lethal stranglehold on Washington, pushing back enough to have dropped the latest proposed ban on assault weapons.

Meanwhile, underneath the increase in gun purchases — hardly your regular anti-crisis remedy or an expected recession-resistant category — some speculate on a fear of increased violence and social instability generated by the crisis. Is it possible that the violence of gangs — that so desperately turn the impoverished (or immigrant’s) dream into a nightmare — will bleed into normal society? Is the US social fabric that weak? While racism and social tension admittedly abounds in many cities, one has to hope that very presence of Obama and his campaigns will bring the US through to the other side; at the very least, so that there is no massive breakdown in social order. I have to believe that we are observing, in this hike in gun sales, more exaggerated and outrageous fear-mongering.

What can be done to reverse this trend or, more importantly, undo the US proclivity to buy and use guns? On this the tenth anniversary of Columbine (April 20 1999), maybe it could be via the viral internet that a mass anti-gun movement could be started to aide the White House and the DC crowd to see straight. I remain deeply saddened by the American violence that is so hardly reconcilable with the world’s leading democracy.

Any such action should also be accompanied, in my opinion, by an element of greater controls on the video gaming worlds (PG, G, R, X-ratings?) that have clearly contributed to the wild dreams of the gun frenzied youth. At the same time, parental leadership and guidance must also play a major role in instructing their children, providing them love and solid (non-aggressive) values. The blame for the gun craze and the rampages is spread around: parents, schools and society at large. We must all take responsibility. Spread the word to un-gun the American Dream!

Obama to bring bullet trains (TGV Shinkansen style) to USA

SNCF TGV Train a Grande Vitesse Bullet Train

There are plenty of surprising deficiencies in the US, it being the number 1 world power (still).  I have  written previously about the poor state of education (at the high school level) in the US and the insufficient medical coverage (despite the disproportionately high percentage of GDP spent on health care).  There is, of course, also the fact that the US energy policy is overly reliant on oil and carbon (for its electricity).  But, it is also true that, while the US road infrastructure is quite exceptional according to world standards, the US train infrastructure is quite the embarrassment, trailing way behind that of countries such as Japan (Shinkansen, pictured below left), France (TGV, pictured right above), Germany (ICE), Spain (AVE), and even South Korea and China.   US trains, many of which travel over long distances, basically trundle along today at speeds of 125 kmh (78 mph).  Only five trains in the States average more than 127 kmh (79 mph).  Even the fastest trains in the US only reach 132 kmh.  Fairly desperate, even if speed limits on the road are also remarkably low, too.

What I like about this initiative laid out by Obama this week is that it contains both economic and social sense.  Investing some paltry $8 billion of the $787 billion bailout, the notion of improving the US rail system to have trains hurtling down parallel lines at average speeds of well over 300 kilometres an hour (186 mph) is good (nay fantastic) for improved efficiency and reduced carbon emissions.  At the same time it is a good way to occupy (hire & train) American workers.  Unplugging traffic jams is just one part of the story.  Faster travel (from point A to point B) and, more importantly, an ability to work constructively while riding on the train must be no small addition to increased productivity.  And, as if I needed another argument, the bullet trains are certainly a lot more interesting to look at from a design angle.   These high-speed trains are just a lot sexier looking than the clunky, stub-nosed Amtrak or even Metroliner trains.   Here is the story as covered by USA Today (April 16).

Shinkansen Japan Bullet TrainThere are many hurdles to making the fast train project succeed: the continuing affection for cars, the poor service record of train service (Amtrak, for example, is quite poorly regarded), the fact that all the tracks would need not only to be widened but also straightened…  All the same, the project is the right one, for all the right reasons.  As long as the unions do not get a stranglehold on the jobs (and becoming a train driver does not mean being able to retire at the age of 52 as is in the case currently in France).  That means, also, that the system will need to figure out how to run on time, without exhorbitant cost.  The team evaluating the train system of the future for the US would be well advised to learn from the SNCF (http://www.voyages-sncf.com/) on how to run a CRM and fidelity program, too.  The last componenet of success (and lesson learned from the Japanese) will be the courtesy of passengers not to use their cell phones indiscrimately (and rudely) in the face of the surrounding passengers.

My only concern will be to see how effectively Government manages its funds.   Otherwise, I enthusiastically press on the “green” button.

All those in favour, say “ay”!  If not, give me your counter arguments.

The Dead played at the Obama Inauguration

Grateful Dead President Obama Symbol

It took a little bit of exploration on dead.net and Rolling Stone to find out — substantially after the fact — that the [revised Grateful] Dead played for Obama in the Mid-Atlantic inaugural ball (20 Jan 2009). No one I know was in attendance or perhaps they might have told me. In any event, I saw a bit of the footage and it looked quite goofy. The Dead were accompanied by Warren Haynes (of the Allman Brothers / Gov’t Mule) and Jeff Chimenti (on keyboards). The Dead were square pegged into a rather unorthodox one-hour gig, replete with security checks (that must have been a gas). On TheOtherOnes.net (and Dead.net) you can find this rather fun, behind the scenes video of the Dead preparing and play at this Inaugural Ball (the embedded script did not work for me, otherwise, you would be able to click on here!).

For your viewing pleasure, here is a YouTube amateur shot of the tail end of The Wheel into Touch of Grey (4 minutes) at that Inaugural Ball:

And here is a close up of Bobby Weir strutting his stuff.

Bob Weir Grateful Dead at Obama Inauguration

Updated March 21st.
The unofficial set list of the show (courtesy of rundangerously) went as follows:

Dancin’ in the Streets
Uncle John’s Band
Sugar Magnolias
Eyes of the World

Break (with words from VP Joe Biden)

The Wheel
Touch of Grey
Box of Rain

Curvature of Constitutional Space – Spacious if not Specious

Curvature of Spacetime

Here’s a juicy title for a thesis: “Curvature of Constitutional Space.” Is this thesis for a student of the law? Or Is it for a student of astrophysics? As I happen to be an amateur of astrophysics, the title certainly caught my attention.

The full title of the 39-page article, authored by Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard, Laurence Tribe, was “Curvature of Constitutional Space. What lawyers can learn from modern physics.” With credits given to five people including Professor Gerard Holton of Harvard and four Research Assistants, the paper was published in Harvard Law Review 1 Volume #130 (1989). Obama was the editor-in-chief of the HLR and became president for volume #131. Obama was, of course, also one of the four RAs.

The fundamental premise of Tribe’s paper is apparently that the Constitution is impacted by the legal and social context in the same way that space and time is impacted and curved by objects. Having been able to find and read only the article’s first page on the net, it seems that the premise is reversible to the extent that decisions in the court house certainly have an impact on society and law…and that seems rather obvious. For starters, the law is to help bind and protect society. It all seems to be much ado about nothing as far I can understand. Much as I enjoy reading about quantum physics and do my best to keep up with the changes in law (as best a layman can), I do not see much relevancy in this paper. Personally, the idea that the Constitution should be a curving set of principles does not sit very well. Meanwhile, articles have been written attempting to understand better Obama’s sentiment about the Constitution and, based on this 1989 piece, are looking for insights as to how Obama might choose the next Supreme Court justice.
The impact of this 1989 paper, well prior (i.e. as of March 2007) to Obama’s Presidency, is cited in The Sun:

“Nearly 200 law review and periodicals have cited the article since its publication, including ones with titles such as “The Algebra of Pluralism: Subjective Experience as a Constitutional Variable” and another involving Asian American legal scholarship and “narrative space.” Four courts have cited the piece. The U.S. Appeals District court’s second circuit, in One was in a patent dispute over telemarketing equipment, where it was cited in discussing the uncertainty that results regarding how attorneys can influence expert opinions by deciding what to disclose to them about the case. The judge in Perkins v. Londonderry Basketball Club, a court of appeals case in the 1st Circuit, likewise cited the article. That case involved the question of whether the 14th Amendment was violated by barring a girl player from a basketball tournament.”

Here are some of the sources I read: Gary Shapiro of the NY Sun wrote this article (which I quoted above) in March 2007, “Obama’s view of the Constitution…” You can read some surrounding colour on the NY Sun story with PowerLineBlog (Mar 2007) and again the Faculty Lounge (Oct 2008). At the end of last year, a Tulane professor, Frank Tipler, wrote a counter paper, dismissing Tribe’s paper as “crackpot physics.” Also, a Frank Warner blog post (Sep 2008) that comments quite animatedly the debate.

Personally, I am glad that no one has dug up my university thesis (on the relative impact of time, religion and death as they relate to the success of revolutionary protagonists) to gauge how I will better sell a shampoo.