Weird Tennis Weekend

It is a bizarre time for tennis.

A few weeks ago, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced a new strategy to reduce the total number of professional tour players. I’m not sure if any sport is as Byzantine as tennis, but essentially there are the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) which runs the elite men’s tour, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) which runs the elite women’s tour and the ITF, which runs a lot of things, like the Davis Cup, Federation Cup, Hopman Cup, Olympic tennis and circuits of smaller professional, junior, senior, wheelchair and even beach tennis tournaments. The ITF “partners” with the ATP and WTA, and “sanctions” each of the four majors – which are otherwise run independently – and manages the ranking system.

The ITF now plans to reduce the number of professional players from around 14,000 to 1,500 – 750 men and 750 women. Their research indicates that half of the current players don’t actually earn any prize money on the tour, and that many more don’t actually earn a living, relying on parental or sponsor support. They also claim that all these journeymen players make it difficult for talented juniors to advance to the elite tours.

I watched one set of the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Monte Carlo last weekend. I usually prefer WTA matches, but TennisTV can’t broadcast those anymore. The semifinal match between Rafael Nadal and David Goffin seemed promising. Goffin was having the best week of his career, bumping off Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. But Nadal is a god on clay, and had already won Monte Carlo nine times. They had never played each other before.

Goffin broke early. He was playing well and was holding serve fairly easily until he served at 3-2. Nadal finally seemed to put some return pressure on Goffin, and in a long game, earned but lost a break point. Then it appeared that Nadal had hit wide on a Goffin game point. Nadal began walking to the service line, but the chair umpire climbed down, circled a mark in the clay and signaled that the point should be replayed. Looking at a replay, the announcers were certain the ball was out by, “a mile.” Goffin held his head in disbelief, but to no avail. The game went back and forth for fifteen minutes with each player holding and losing game points until Goffin hit a ball into the net. 3-All.

Nadal held easily for 4-3, then Goffin rather meekly lost serve again, and with Nadal leading 5-3 I decided to watch something else. I read that Nadal won 6-3, 6-1. Nadal could certainly have come back to win without that bad call, but the match had changed from compelling to a cakewalk.

In Federation Cup action, Great Britain was visiting Romania, whose captain is the talented but tasteless Ilie Nastase:

At a news conference on Saturday to preview the matches in Constanta, Romania’s captain was heard to say of [Serena] Williams’ baby, due in the fall: “Let’s see what color it has. Chocolate with milk?”

On the first day, a win by Simona Halep had Romania 1-0 against Great Britain. In the second match, Brit Johanna Konta, who has been hot lately, was leading Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 1-2. But when captain Anne Keothavong complained about Nastase’s audible comments, he began verbally abusing the chair umpire, Keothavong and Konta from the sideline. Nastase was escorted out, but Konta was rattled and lost the next game. She asked for a time out, then ran out the next five games to tie the rubber at 1-1.

ESPN reported that Nastase had been creepy before the matches:

The 70-year-old, who had a reputation as a playboy during and after his playing career, had previously made Keothavong feel uncomfortable with a number of inappropriate remarks earlier in the week.

Having asked for her room number during the event’s official dinner on Thursday, Nastase then repeated the request when the captains posed together for photographs following Friday’s draw, and he put his arm tightly around Keothavong’s shoulder. When both teams were called back together, Nastase said to Keothavong, who is married and 18 weeks pregnant with her second child: “We keep being attracted.”

Romania went on to win both subsequent singles matches, but Nastase is now suspended by the ITF. Cirstea called Konta weak for needing the time out, and Halep claimed that Nastase is always joking, but a Romanian official took the cake by noting that Nastase wasn’t a racist because he is friends with Yannick Noah.

Overbooking 101

I’ve read a few outraged articles about United Airlines vs Dr Dao. As he often does, James Pilant questions the business ethics involved. I consider air travel an environmental tragedy, and agree that people wearing police uniforms are entirely too ready to dish out force and violence, but I have been generally aware (one of my brothers has been bumped) that overbooking was a common practice driven by A – people missing or not showing up for flights, or taking earlier flights and B – the airlines wanting to maximize profit by having a passenger in every seat.

I read somewhere that without overbooking the average flight might be only about 83% full, but I have seen many more empty seats on Greyhound. I’ve taken the bus from Altoona to Harrisburg to Baltimore dozens of times, and unless it is a holiday weekend, I see anywhere from 50 to 90% of seats going empty. Airlines, though, were hit hard by the price-gouging competition that came with the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act, and more recently by unpredictable fuel costs. So they overbook. As I am in the middle of reading James Kwak’s Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality, I was trying to figure out why, in a deregulated and free market, overbooking isn’t perfectly balanced by some other market factor like voucher payments.

On April 11th, Cadie Thompson at Business Insider explained, The frustrating reason airlines overbook flights, but quoted Vinay Bhaskara, “Usually, they won’t overbook first class because that could tend to make your most lucrative passengers very angry.”

Four days later Thompson amplified the justifications, Here’s why overbooking flights is actually a good thing:

“By overbooking it actually does help keep the fares down because the airlines are able to maximize the amount of revenue they are able to collect and generate as much profit as they can,” said Henry Harteveldt, president and travel industry analyst for Atmosphere Research Group, told Business Insider.

“But if they didn’t overbook it’s possible they may have to charge more,” he said.

Overbooking is also beneficial to consumers because it allows the more flexibility in their travel plans, Vinay Bhaskara, Airways senior business analyst, told to Business Insider.

“Frequently, the people who benefit the most from overbooking are the last few people to buy, The ones who are not able to make plans in advance,” Bhaskara said. “Often times those seats are available at the last minute are only available because that flight can be overbooked. The airline knows some people are going to be missing the flight.”

Ultimately, though, overbooking is done because airlines want to ensure that they are making the most money on every seat. So they use historical data to help them predict how many people will likely miss a flight on a certain route. And most of the time it works.

Bureau of Transportation Statistics indicate that in 2015 about one-tenth of a percent of passengers were denied boarding (bumped), and that roughly 90% of those were voluntary, meaning that they took the vouchers offered. Journalist Bob Sullivan notes that while the voluntary numbers are declining, the involuntary bumps remain fairly constant. He blames the vouchers:

Again, that means one thing: the voucher offers aren’t nearly good enough.

Let’s speculate about why that is.  I’ve heard from many readers today about the vouchers they get from airlines in this situation, and here’s the truth: Experienced fliers are wise to the game. They are saying no more often.  Vouchers aren’t all they are cracked up to be, and they certainly aren’t the same as cash.  They expire.  Sometimes their remaining value is surrendered (a $400 voucher gets a $300 flight and $100 disappears).  Most of all, the vouchers must be used on the airline that just did the bumping. Who wants to fly an airline that just kicked them off a plane!

And, like rebates, some of them are never used, giving the airlines a secret source of revenue.

Kwak’s central theme is that the free market only operates perfectly inside your Economics 101 class:

“… Because nobody is ever forced to make a trade (in theory, at least), a transaction only occurs if it makes both parties better off. … prices naturally adjust until supply equals demand. …”

Kwak notes that in the real world, there is, “a fundamental tension between efficiency and fairness,” which sometimes leads to price gouging, and now has led to a bloodied man being dragged off a passenger jetliner, and being vilified in the press for not going quietly.

Update 20170420, a popular article at The American Conservative quotes Fox, The Daily Mail and the Independent to paint Dao as a sharpie who instigated the whole mess, hoping for a lawsuit.

Don’t Be Evil

I recently posted about watching several youtube videos featuring Robert Palmer. The truth is, I’ve been watching a lot of online video in the last few months. After watching Democracy Now!, and The Young Turks, I usually find some youtube video. Last week I watched some old BBC documentaries like The Edwardians in Color, Mods and Rockers, and a university lecture 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed. There were a few ads throughout, but it wasn’t so bad.

Sometimes in the evening I pull up a karaoke to sing to my wife over skype. Then the ads get a lot longer, sometimes 90 to 150 seconds. During the ads, she tells me about essential oils, and stuff.

There are however youtube videos with no advertising. Really. I was watching Jimmy Dore, and he was complaining about being de-monetized for speaking truth to power, or something, and I thought, “Does he mean demonized?” but no. Many, many political youtube sites have been de-monetized – meaning that youtube – Google, really – has taken away their income by blocking advertising:

The cover story is that advertisers complained when they saw their ads on videos espousing ISIS or something. Business Insider’s Lara O’Reilly explains in, The real motivations behind the growing YouTube advertiser boycott:

By the second day of the London-based trade show, The Times reported that more than 250 brands — from L’Oreal, to McDonald’s, Audi, and HSBC — had suspended their campaigns from YouTube (and in some cases, Google’s display ad platform that serves ads to third-party websites) until Google could give them assurances that their ads would not appear next to videos containing hate speech, promoting terror organizations, or other obviously unsafe content for their brands to be associated with.

That’s the cover story, but it is interesting that Jimmy Dore, Secular Talk, and David Pakman, and presumably conservative youtubers suddenly have no advertisers and are unable to earn more than a few pennies a day. They do not espouse hate or terror, but do, however, offer an alternative to the prevailing mainstream narrative offered by corporately-owned media outlets. In fact some of their followers have tried to advertise specifically on their channels and have been refused.

So from now on, I’m skipping all the documentaries, music, karaoke, and other sponsored channels and going straight to the political channels – with no commercials. If they don’t want us to see it this badly, there must be something to it.

Classical Gas Attack

I wrote about the possibility of a false flag operation during the Ukraine situation, but had been holding off on the recent Syria gas attack.

A few sites, Yournewswire, Antimedia, ShadowProof and the like, went false flag immediately, as did The Sane Progressive. They also noted that two previous Sarin attacks attributed to Assad had been later shown to have been carried out by rebels. Senator Rand Paul pointed out on camera that we didn’t know who was behind the Syria attack, and was roundly criticized in the mainstream media. Many liberal bloggers, like Juan Cole, pointed out that the US had just killed innocent civilians in a drone strike, and had used tear gas on its own citizens at the DAPL protest, but these bloggers seemed to go along with the assumption that Assad was probably culpable.

A few outlets urged us to be cautious in assigning the blame to Assad. On The Young Turks, Cenk Uygur felt that the timing seemed suspicious, with Assad mostly having what he wanted and peace talks looming.

But from his office away from the office at Mar-a-Lago yesterday, President Trump ordered that the military fire over 50 (to confuse Russian defense systems) Tomahawk cruise missiles at the suspected Syrian airbase in retaliation. After the attack, Common Dreams put out, Without Proof or Cause or Consent, ‘Impetuous’ Trump Bombs Syria:

Though Trump claims there is “no dispute” that Assad was responsible for the horrific deaths earlier this week in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, he is widely regarded as a serial liar and someone whose own FBI and top intelligence officials have had to discredit recent public accusations he has made.

Common Dreams quoted Sam Sacks on Twitter:

Guest after guest is gushing. From MSNBC to CNN, Trump is receiving his best night of press so far. And all he had to do was start a war.

Many pundits observed that George W Bush rescued his deeply unpopular presidency by attacking Iraq after 9/11 (based on false data about weapons of mass destruction), and worried that the even more unpopular Trump might resort to the same tactic. Assuming that the Deep State wanted Hillary Clinton to initiate a proxy war in Syria, I would say that National Security Adviser McMaster’s edging out of Steve Bannon and our subsequent attack on Syria represent a clear victory for the neoconservative/neoliberal Deep State over the anti-interventionism expressed by Trump during his presidential campaign.

Updates, from the Jimmy Dore Show, on Youtube:

Evidence Suggests S-Y-R-I-A G-A-S ATTACK Is False Flag

Proof Gov & Media Lied About S-A-R-I-N G-A-S Attack

Nuclear Plant Builder in Chapter 11

As we debate climate change, someone always steps forward to claim that only some form of nuclear fission or fusion can keep the lights on. Nuclear power, they say, is safer and cleaner than burning fossil fuels.

But first, nuclear wastes have half-lives in the thousands of years. Second, nuclear power plants are so *not* profitable that only governments or utilities using public money can be induced to finance them.

Westinghouse Nuclear, owned by Toshiba, had tried to guarantee a fixed cost for four new projects, and is now going bankrupt as a result:

Westinghouse Electric Company, LLC, a U.S. company, and certain of its subsidiaries and affiliates, today filed voluntary petitions under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The Company is seeking to undertake a strategic restructuring as a result of certain financial and construction challenges in its U.S. AP1000® power plant projects.

… The DIP financing will fund Westinghouse’s core businesses of supporting operating plants, nuclear fuel and components manufacturing and engineering as well as decommissioning, decontamination, remediation and waste management as the company works to reorganize around these strong business units.

From the New York Times, Westinghouse Files for Bankruptcy, in Blow to Nuclear Power:

The filing comes as the company’s corporate parent, Toshiba of Japan, scrambles to stanch huge losses stemming from Westinghouse’s troubled nuclear construction projects in the American South. Now, the future of those projects, which once seemed to be on the leading edge of a renaissance for nuclear energy, is in doubt.

… The power companies — Scana Energy in South Carolina and a consortium in Georgia led by Georgia Power, a unit of Southern Company — would face the possibility of new contract terms, long lawsuits and absorbing losses that Toshiba and Westinghouse could not cover, analysts say. The cost estimates are already running $1 billion to $1.3 billion higher than originally expected, according to a recent report from Morgan Stanley, and could eventually exceed $8 billion over all.

… Using simplified structures and safety equipment, [AP1000] was intended to be easier and less expensive to install, operate and maintain. Its design also improves the ability to withstand earthquakes and plane crashes and is less vulnerable to a cutoff of electricity, which is what set off the triple meltdown at Fukushima.

Addicted

The world is crashing around us, and all I want to do is watch that old music video, I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On. Not for the pouty models that pretend to play instruments. I love Robert Palmer’s take on (what is almost a Prince) song, and I like the four dancers working it. Nothing about that video seems to relate to the song, but at least he isn’t being chased by a man in a gorilla suit, like Cherrelle.

OK, Congress seems to have an awful choice between leaving the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as it is, or passing the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The ACA has slammed many enrollees with much higher premiums, but all indications are that the AHCA would be much, much worse for everyone except the very wealthy. So far it doesn’t seem that the bill’s supporters have the votes. Of course, having health care isn’t the same thing as having good health care, but the AHCA would cut many preventative care measures, and weaken Medicaid.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans voted to allow internet providers to monitor and sell their users’ browsing histories. The House has not yet voted on the measure. To some extent the internet already knows my browsing history. If I browse a particular tee shirt, or bike part, or book, I will see ads for exactly those items in popup or sidebar adverts for weeks. I presume that is the result of cookies rather than someone data mining at my browsing history.

We went to a local department store a few weeks ago to find out why they aren’t sending a statement, and found out they no longer have a service office. Brick and mortar retailers like JC Penney, Macy’s and Sears are slowly going under, but online retailers still think we have money to spend. They think if only they can look at our browsing histories that we will buy more of their stuff. They’re wrong. Employers are paying us less and less, and our credit cards are all maxed out. We browse stuff, and think that would be nice, but then we look at our bills and decide to do without. The big treat for us these days is Chipotle; Panera costs too much.

Establishment Democrats feel that the fact that from 2005 to 2009 Paul Manafort secretly lobbied for a Russian oligarch with ties to Putin proves their Russia allegations. But after giving him tens of millions of dollars Oleg Deripaska soon accused Manafort of fraud. There are no signs they were on any sort of terms when Manafort briefly managed President Trump’s campaign from March to August of 2016. But I’m With Her Dems still hope that the Deep State will use Russia to take down Trump.

Way too many of us are addicted to opioids. I was in the ER last year, and got intravenous morphine for a UTI from a big kidney stone. The effect was like a comforting wave of warmth starting in my chest and rolling over my face and arms. For the first time in days I felt good. But in the morning a middle-aged woman was prowling the corridor yelling, “Where is my medicine? You’re supposed to give me my medicine! You’re not doing your jobs!” The nurse told her she wasn’t due for forty-five more minutes, but she couldn’t wait, and just yelled some more. Whenever I looked at my bottle of pills, her voice came back to me.

But we’re addicted to more than opioids. When I ride the light rail I see smartphone addiction. Hell, I see pedestrians walking, and bicyclists riding and motorists driving while looking at their smartphones. I think we’re addicted to easy.

Back to my addiction. Photographer Terence Donovan made Robert Palmer and those five models famous in the music video for Addicted to Love. He dressed up Julie Pankhurst, Patty Kelly, Mak Gilchrist, Julia Bolino and Kathy Davies to look like Patrick Nagel girls, and had them pretend to play guitars and keyboards and drums behind the dapper Mr Palmer. His sex object look was controversial, but the video was an unexpected and iconic hit. Donovan used at least one of the models, Patty Kelly, again in I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On, and added those four dancers wearing what look like bridesmaid dresses.

Donovan went to the well again for Simply Irresistible, with more models, more dancers, water pouring over models in swimsuits, but all kind of a muddle. I’ve read that Palmer began to feel that his singing was being overshadowed by the models, though at a reunion the Addicted girls all said he was very professional during the shoot. I had forgotten that Palmer sang Every Kinda People, one of those songs that doesn’t need a fancy video, and is worth hearing again every so often.

No Absolute Privacy

FBI Director James Comey spoke today at the Clements Center for National Security at UT Austin. PBS News Hour live-streamed it over Youtube, and I caught it 30 minutes in, then watched again from the beginning.

Comey began by stating that the FBI’s primary counter-terrorism concern is Islamic terrorism. Initially, he said, Islamic terrorists had some success attracting people to the caliphate, but those numbers have been dropping, and it seems to be failing. Social Media efforts peaked in Spring 2015.

But, recruiters like Anwar al-Awlaki have tried and are still inspiring people, “who are seeking meaning,” to use violence. How do you spot them? Will people close to them report to the authorities?

Comey says intelligence predicts that after the caliphate is crushed there will be a terrorist diaspora into Western Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa, and that they will be bent on continuing global jihad.

In response, the FBI has knitted together agents and analysts. They now assign tasks in a less geographic way, based more on talent. They have “Fly teams” prepared to go anywhere. They’ve established “Cyber task offices” and recruit for Integrity, Physicality, Intelligence, Technical Expertise. They want to shrink the world for the good people and embed analysts around the world.

If this sounds like a millennial TV show, well, Comey is looking to recruit from this student body, and he has to offer something that competes with private sector salaries.

The FBI intends to impose costs on foreign hackers.They urge cyber and media companies to establish relationships with the local FBI office so they can be rescued the way that Sony was rescued from the North Korea hack. He describes a relationship where the FBI would know a companies cyber-footprint the way that a fire marshal would know a building’s exit plan.

Comey assured the audience that he loved encryption, and that he even had a private Instagram account for family only. But now he feels there is a creeping darkness caused by effective encryption as the default. He worried that there are too many messages that the government simply can’t read. The deal, he says, was that there was “no such thing as absolute privacy.” In the past, he said, you had privacy, but your house, accounts, spouse and even your thoughts could always be investigated – with official authorization. He believes that manufacturers should be held responsible for the information on their devices being available for judicial review.

The moderator asked, given that there were hardly any cases right after 9/11, what are the causes and indicators of home-grown domestic radicalization? Comey responded that, “the internet has transformed the way we live.” He said there was no hotspot, but that all around the nation troubled people, who may be drug users, child pornographers, disaffected teens, people with troubled relationships were seeking meaning or a different world without ever leaving their computers. He used that, “seeking meaning,” phrase a lot. He also felt that usually somebody saw something and didn’t speak up.

My first thought was of the local terrorism cases that seemed to clearly be instigated by an FBI plant. My second thought was that like Neil Gorsuch, Comey is a very personable fellow with a scary agenda. He closed with an inspiring talk about the request to wiretap ML King requested by Hoover and approved by Robert F Kennedy. He says he doesn’t want the FBI to make that mistake again, but I didn’t feel reassured by the tenor of the sales pitch.