Not much love

The local independent bookstore in Ann Arbor - Shaman Drum is closing down and is selling everything at a 35% discount (really 35%, not just 'up to 35%'!). I went there last week and it was a like a a garden that was picked clean of the most beautiful flowers. I know of people who have been camping out there for days.

However, after some searching I did get a few books that I have always wanted at a nice knocked-down price and I wondered how they ever escaped the notice of the thousands of other book lovers in the City of Ann Arbor.

Shaman Drum has(d) the best and most knowledgeable staff and a great selection of books. It was a bookstore's bookstore. It's always great to have people around who can not just show you around, but also make great suggestions and tell you that your choice is excellent. Of course, good service is appreciated, but not everybody would like to pay extra for it. For a college town, it did not have such great discounts compared to Borders across the street. Perhaps, there is something fundamentally wrong in having a book-lover or music lover run a bookstore. I have yet to see them make money on a consistent basis. Either you are a lover or a seller.

When I checked out the lady at the counter packed my books in a Shaman Drum paper bag that read: "Shaman Drum Bookshop (" on side, and "Love your Local" on the other. Apparently, not much love for the local and independent. Like the paperbag this local, independent bookstore is going to get recycled too.

Please PISS Off!

Rafa has pulled out of Wimbledon citing tendinitis and there won't be any epic final. This is a huge disappointment to everybody. I was reading some articles on The Championship and it was pointed out that since Federer got married he has not lost a single game and is 12-0 at this point. A perfect example of idiotic sports statistic. Nothing really wrong with the observation. It's fact. The annoying aspect is the sneakiness of the implied inference. To imply that Federer has become sort of super-human after his marriage, is what I call a pathetic inference from sports stat(PISS). The writer went on to suggest that Nadal should get married to his long-time girlfriend to improve his record.

It's almost impossible to watch any kind of sport w/o some appearance of these aberrant phenomena. With all kinds of data available and human tendency to find some sort of pattern in any collection of junk, our screen gets filled with these PISS facts over the course of the match. It's great to get a breakdown of the spots where the service lands, or errors on the forehand over the course of the game. These are concrete things that matter in the context of the current game, more so because they are temporally quite close to the matter at hand.

Most sports, and tennis in particular, is decided when one ball lands wide, or when one party makes a crucial error, or takes a single risky shot. He gets broken and the set is finished. At such moments, players aren't really getting any better or worse cause their former girlfriend is now his wife.

In reality, the players play and the counters count. As watchers, let us watch and spare us the PISS.

Federer and Nadal: Memento Mori

For quite a while Federer the Master lived atop a high, inaccessible peak. A life of ease. He lived even above Superlatives, above everyone who stepped on a tennis court, bathed in glorious Apollonian light. He was the supreme artist. Opponents did not quake in fear when they faced him, they just stood and let the Master do his thing. The guy was Perfection personified.

Then like in a Greek myth came along Rafa, the lion tamer from a magical island in Spain. This was a hulk whose topspin was like human dynamite. Only he dared to scale those Olympian heights. He showed that at least on the red clay he was the master of the Master. Finally, at Wimbledon in the Master's own backyard green he shattered the myth of invincibility. Youth triumphed over experience, muscle over elegance, and will over tradition. It was an old prophecy that since Federer was right-handed and dextrous, his vanquisher would be left-handed and sinister. Rafa, showed that Federer was no God, a King nevertheless, but still a mortal. The mountain was illusory; it was just a high pedestal. Rafa proved that again in the far-away Land of Oz.

Then they said that Rafa was the new King. He was born of a human mother but fathered by a God. Since then there have been two kingdoms - Federerland and Rafaistan ruled by two mighty warriors, both demi-gods. No one dared disturb the two Titans when they clashed on red, blue or green.

Since Wimbledon 2004, if you are not named 'Federer' or 'Nadal', you are not going to win any major tennis championship (They won 18 out of the last 20 Slams). With the odd exceptions during the Australian Open in 2005(Safin) and 2008(Djokovic), the Big Two have strangled everyone else.

For the last four years the French Open has been open to all players, but not for winning. You are welcome only if you are content to get the participation certificate. Of course a certain Swiss wasn't too happy to sit back and get the runner's up medal year after year. So this year, with the exit of Nadal the French Open became very interesting. Gone was the aura of Nadal's invincibility on clay. The crown rests rather lightly.

On one hand we had the rising stars and then old King, so to speak. Federer has still been a dominant force despite his losses to Nadal. But, this is a different Fed. There have been fewer and fewer easy matches, as opponents have dared to take a slug at the Master. King Federer is not that poetic master any more. His mental makeup seems more fragile (human, did anyone say)

The Murrays, Djokovics and Del Potros have been genuine contenders, Princes-in-Waiting for the final act of regicide. Then suddenly out of nowhere comes Robin Soderling, who in comparison to the new princes is like the street urchin who crashes the party and finds himself at the banquet table. I have great respect for his game and current form. This Swedish gunslinger simply unloaded on biggest baddie ever to step on the clay court. So earth-shaking was this event that the other princes in waiting got killed in their own gunfight. He later showed that this was no mere flash in the pan.

So what should King Fed do? Reward him for his giant-killing skills? or slaughter him as a proxy for his nemesis? As King Federer has looked less and less regal in recent tournaments, even Robin Soderling can fancy his chances. From the Soderling-Gonzalez game yesterday, Federer cannot be tentative. He has to step on the court like a champion. Soderling is no long distance runner. He managed to get it done, but blew a 2-0 lead and was 4-1 down in the final set in the semi. Federer is perhaps the best closer the game has seen. The only way to get Fed these days is to win the first set and then try to stay ahead. Monfils almost succeeded in his QF by keeping it tight, but then he lost it mentally and let go of the rest of the match. Soderling seems have veins that have ice in them.

The key to the game tomorrow is going to be the first set. If Federer wins the first set then I guess Soderling can bank on a also-ran, 'I did my best' refrain. However, if the Robin of Spring does win the first set, we are in for a thriller.

On a side note: When we talk of legends, we also have the soothsayers--That silvered-haired Bjorn Borg does have a black tongue. Last time he predicted quite confidently that Nadal would win both the French and the Wimbledon. This time he predicts that compatriot Soderling will go all the way. The commentators said that he sent Nadal a thank-you note to ensure that his 5-straight record was kept intact. I guess this time, Robin got a thank-you note for keeping is his 4-straight record at Rolland Garros intact.

Dark Ages in the shadow of the Renaissance

The Renaissance Center is one of the singularly most impressive buildings in Downtown Detroit. The magnificent set of towers rise at the edge of the waterfront that connects Lake Erie to Lake St. Clair. If you swam across the river for a few minutes you would be in Canada. The Renaissance Center has the offices of the Canadian consulate in one of the smaller towers. The main tower is the home of General Motors which declared bankruptcy yesterday. The GM CEO used to be one of the highest paid CEOs and now the company has no money to pay him.

I feel really bad for Detroit. The glory days of Detroit are long gone, but many people have tried valiantly to clean up the image of the poster-child for urban wasteland. There have been so many creative attempts to revive the city. For example, the lovely Riverwalk Project (a promenade along the Detroit river)was mostly sponsored by GM. Now work seems to have slowed down for sections that are yet under construction. What's worse than having no beautiful projects? Beautiful but incomplete projects. With the car companies going under there are few companies willing to pay for stuff, and the way the state seems to going, there might not be anybody in the mood for scenic river walks either. The only alternative seems to be Keynesian intervention, but will the tax-payers agree?

Lots of buildings at the U of M were also paid for by Chrysler and GM. The University has either been rather canny or reflective of the times, as most recent buildings and donations have come from real-estate moguls or financial whizzes. I am wondering with the collapse of auto, real-estate and finance who is going to even have a pocket to pay for future endowed chairs and buildings at the University. There are going to be more students. As the economy tanks, people more people go back to school because they lose jobs or feel they need to be more qualified to more competitive in the marketplace.

When I entered the impressive main foyer of the central tower to make my way to the Canadian consulate, I saw a huge GM 100th anniversary banner from last year that read: "It's been 100 years, and we have only got started". In less that five days after seeing that banner, I saw GM no longer listed on the Dow Jones index and filing for bankruptcy. Motown is going to be Notown if there ain't gonna be any Motors left.