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A Rally to Restore Anti-Climax November 2, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in politics, society, sports.
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Dedicated readers of Philly Bluejay—hi Mom—may have noticed that posts during this election season have been surprisingly sparse and that the occasional post has been either rambling or milquetoast—by the way, I love the word milquetoast, it just sounds so delicious. But back to my main point, how could a flaming liberal like myself sit on the sideline while the Boys and Girls in Blue are taking one revisionist insult after another and party stalwarts like Harry Reid and Russ Feingold are getting ridden out of town by clueless lunatics. Well, obviously that was not my the intent. The plan was to have a very digitally active election season, but somehow life, work, travel, and the constant stream of media blather got in the way. Every time I saw some outrageous piece and started to either fan or flame the author, a more outrageous piece came out which immediately caused me to suspend my previous piece and shift gears. As a result, my dashboard shows nine half-finished posts with titles like “Smokin’ TEA,” “The Sharron Angle,” and “Do Any Republicans Actually Know Why Deficits Are Bad?” Well, we’re down to the 11th hour of what must be the nuttiest midterm season since 1994. By the end of today, we’ll have the House we deserve, hopefully not the Senate we deserve, and zero shot of getting a serious energy bill passed in the next two years. On the bright side, the Dallas Cowboys are 1-6 and Donovan McNabb just got benched! A few personal notes from this election season:

Mrs. Bluejay and I attended The Rally to Restore Sanity on Saturday. Or maybe it was The March to Keep Fear Alive. Or Scared-Dem-a-palooza. Actually, attended poorly describes what we actually did. First, we waited for 50 minutes on the platform at Van Ness while eight red line trains, each more packed than the previous, rolled by. On the ninth train, I power-rushed off left guard, pushed the pile forward, and then pulled Mrs. Bluejay behind me just before the doors decapitated her. On the train, the Mrs. and I figured out why so many people on the platform we actually taking the train in the other direction—they were hoping to catch the train further out in hopes of catching it while it wasn’t full. The ride was pleasant enough. I spent it chest-to-chest with a woman in a San Francisco Giants jersey—not my wife, she’s a Royals/Phillies girl—while getting a sensual massage from a sixty year old man on the other side. All is forgiven. Getting off at Metro Center, we attempted to swim our way to the mall. We got as far as 7th and Independence, largely because we slipped in behind a pulling block from an ambulance, and ended up not far away from this dude. From the angle, it looks like we were standing next to the person taking the video. The woman on the other side of us held a sign that said “Don’t tread on me, I just got a pedicure!” After about an hour of not being able to hear or see anything, but enjoying the second-hand high—the highlight of the hour was a woman heading to the meetup point because she got separated from her six-year old daughter—we decided to make our way back home. The highlight of the event was definitely the handmade signs. In addition to “DTOM,” other winners were “Is this the line for Georgetown Cookies?”, “Am I late for the Glenn Beck rally?,” “Actually, I’m pretty content!,” and “When I think about Christine O’Donnell, I touch myself!” In the end, it was pretty … milquetoast—there goes that word again. Just a little pre-Halloween party, notable mostly for the exaggerated ratio of hype to happening. Controlled experiments are obviously impossible, but it’s doubtful whether this particular Comedy Central special increases Democrat voter turnout much less turns any race blue. Someday, will I tell my kids I went to this rally? I didn’t even tell them where I went when I got home.

Speaking of insanity and anti-climax. Mrs. Bluejay and I missed the deadline to register for absentee voting in Pennsylvania’s 7th district by a scant three hours. And so for the last week, I have been monitoring theRCP poll aggregator—the new official website of Philly Bluejay—to see whether Sestak v. Toomey was close enough to prompt me to drive 360 miles round-trip from Bethesda, MD to Havertown, PA so I could vote. Early last week, Sestak was trailing by a point—well within the polling error margin—and six hours in the car was looking likely. Towards the end of the week and through the weekend, though, the margin grew to 4.5 points leaving me with the choice of violating my political principles or my environmental ones. In the end, environmentalism won—I am keeping my vote in my pocket and 190 pounds of CO2 in my gas tank. Mr. Sestak—I will see you in 2012. Mr. Lentz—keep Mr. Sestak’s seat warm for him, will ya? Mr. Easterbrook—I know you disapprove, and I will avert my eyes in shame the next—first—time I see you at Georgetown Bagelry or Moo Cow. But I will continue to bitch, moan, and parody. Because, as my daughter says, “I just like to.”

Finally, everyone has an explanation for the anti-Democrat backlash, but here’s one that caught me off-guard. And I don’t really mean the article. I mean the comment by Jennifer from Texas. Women are turning away from the Democratic party because they are still angry about Barack over Hillary in the 2010 primary? Because they are turned off by Democrats portraying Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell as clueless bimbos? Because they want to identify with a party that promotes strong women rather than discarding them? Wow. I always thought that calling Palin and O’Donnell clueless bimbos was an insult. But I thought it was an insult to clueless bimbos.

Anyways, post mortem tomorrow. Or Thursday. Or next week.

P.S. Here’s a top-15 list of “best blogging practices.” Philly Bluejay is a pathetic 5 for 15. You choose which 5.

P.P.S. Congratulations to Buster Posey, Pat Burrell, Brian Wilson, Tim Lincecum, Drew, Barb, Charlie and Ty Kunz—that’s right kids, Ty Kunz—and Martha and Bill Brook on the Giants winning the World Series. You want to win the World Series? Get as many ex-Marlins on the team as possible.

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The Expert Problem October 30, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in books, politics, society.
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My current DC Metro book is “Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb—a full report is coming when I finish. The Black Swan theory says that history is largely a product of low-probability, high-impact, unpredictable events—think fall of the Soviet Union, 9/11, Facebook—and that bell-curve events are low-impact essentially by virtue of their predictability. There are several interesting and counter-intuitive conclusions that fall out of the BS theory. One is that “book” smarts are often useless—even dangerous—in the real world because the artificially simplified world of the academy often prejudices one to believe that he understands the world more than he does, to underestimate the unknown and its effects, and to willfully ignore risk. Another is that fields that are fundamentally dynamic and prone to exogenous influences also fundamentally resist expertise—only static, self-contained fields can have true experts. Physics lends itself to expertise—it’s a closed system and the rules don’t change over time. So does brain surgery. And plumbing. But economics doesn’t have experts—economists are only slightly and insignificantly better than non-economists at predicting future economic events. Neither does politics. Nor business. Nor, fundamentally, can any discipline that deals with human subjects. The famous adage that “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it” is trivially both true and false. It’s trivially false because history never exactly repeats itself, even in microcosm. The same social and techonolgical context never comes up twice, nor does the exact sequence of external events. It’s trivially true because in a rough sense even those who do know history are doomed to repeat it, insofar as history repeats” itself. Knowledge of historical events does not help much in predicting the future. And you laugh dismissively when I tell you that I could run the Eagles or be a decent Senator! Well, I don’t know about the Eagles, but I would certainly be a better Senator than some of the yahoos who will appear on actual ballots this coming Tuesday. You don’t need to know much about the theory and history of politics and economics to be an effective legislator. Theory—which doesn’t capture large unpredictable events—and history—which never repeats—exactly are largely irrelevant in determining whether a given piece of legislation will achieve its desired effect.

The political “expert problem” is interesting in light of the alarming number of (Republican) candidates for national political office who are ignorant and seemingly proud of it. I parenthesized Republican because all the ignorant candidates I can think of are Republican. Christine “I didn’t go to Yale! I’m YOU!” O’Donnell. Ron “This election is not about ‘details’” Johnson. Sharron “I can’t spell Sharon” Angle. If BS is right and deep knowledge may be as much a hindrance to legislative and governance success as a pre-requisite, then maybe TEApublicans are on to something. Maybe Samantha would make a kick-ass Senator.

Nah! Taleb downplays domain-specific knowledge in some domains but not the process of acquiring knowledge or the tools used in acquiring it—intelligence, curiosity, and skepticism. Deep reserves of knowledge are rarely helpful in dealing with a given economical-political situation, what is helpful is the ability to gather information specific to the situation at hand, to weed out low-order details, and to weigh outcomes of different strategies.
While Team Christine certainly lacks domain specific knowledge—at least in constitutional law although perhaps not in other domains—she also lacks the tools to deal with real-world situations. All she has is doe eyes, white teeth, and Sunday-school dogma.

The ironic thing about the “I didn’t go to Yale! I’m YOU!” campaign is that it actually proves Christine’s point. What Christine is hopefully trying to say is that she didn’t have the opportunity to go to Yale because she isn’t an old-boy/old-money elitist like her opponent Chris Coons. But whereas old-boy/old-money may describe Yale of the 1950s, Yale of the 1990s has need-blind admission policies and enrolls more women than men. Christine didn’t go to Yale because she wouldn’t have gotten close to getting in if she tried. By saying “I didn’t go to Yale” Christine may as well be saying “I’m not intelligent!” and by saying it with the tone that suggests “I wouldn’t want to go to Yale even if I could!” she is effectively saying “I don’t want to be a Senator!”

Christine, what do you think the Senate is if not Yale 2.0? The point of Yale is not to learn more than you would learn at Fairleigh Dickinson or the Claremont Institute or Wilfred Beauty Academy or wherever it is you went, it’s to get to hang out with other people smart enough to get into Yale! Christine, you are obviously ignorant. But that’s not your biggest problem. The biggest problem is that you lack the mental tools and desire to overcome your ignorance to suit the situation. What is the last book you read? Facebook? Could you give a specific action item for any one of your issues? A cap-and-trade system is a “market-based” approach to the energy problem—do you favor that? How many points behind Coons are you polling? What’s four plus two? By the way, the answer to the last question is 6. And to the one before that is 18. Which thankfully means that after Tuesday, we will never hear from you again.

Unfortunately, we might still hear from Mr. Johnson—leading stalwart Russ Feingold by an incomprehensible six points—and Ms. Angle—ahead of majority leader by four points, albeit in a beaten-down state like Nevada. I understand the anti-incumbent backlash. I don’t agree with it but I understand where it comes from. But anti-incumbent does not equal pro-idiot! How did we as a society get to a place where a large swath of us values ignorance over erudition? Blind faith over intellectual curiosity? Claremont Institute—which by the way is a conservative think tank, not a college—over Yale Law? If you had to have brain surgery—or even a root canal—would you like to be treated by Christine O’Donnell or Chris Coons? If you were on trial and facing the death penalty—or even six months in Martha Stewart-ville—would you want to be defended by Sharron Angle or Harry Reid? How did we get to a place where we value intelligence and competence in most places except for politics? How did we get to a place where we simultaneously scream about the incompetence of government but fawn over clearly clueless politicians? People, we have huge problems. Now is not the time to be putting crackpots and morons in Congress! An ignorant doctor can kill a few people. An ignorant politician, properly placed, can actually do a lot more damage than that.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to go restore sanity! Woot!

P.S. This post was partially inspired by Anne Applebaum’s “Rise of the ‘Ordinary’ Elite.” The piece describes a new kind of populism which is not “anti-elite”, but “anti-elite-education.” Its targets are not the old-money, old-boy elite but the new, upwardly mobile, self-made elite. Working-class to White House elites like the Obamas. The piece is interesting precisely because of the angle it avoids—racism! Applebaum may not want to touch this subject because she likes her job at the Washington Post, but I have no such problems and I will touch most things. Merit-based elite education is the great equalizer. It’s the “in” to the circle of national politics and power. What could be worse if you are an ignorant white person than to see a black family use that vehicle to get into the passing lane and blow by you. While elite education was the privilege of privilege, you could always pretend that “you could have been a contender” if only you were born to the right parents. That elite status was not fairly earned and—by juxtaposition your non-elite status—was not your fault. But now that elite education is open to all and you still can’t get a sniff, you have no one to blame but your ignorant self and perhaps your ignorant parents. And given this what could be a more transparent self-preservation strategy than to pretend that elite education doesn’t matter anyways? And that you wouldn’t avail yourself of it if you tried? Who do you think you’re fooling other than ignorant people like yourself? Pfffft.

An Open Letter to Rick Sanchez October 6, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in media, society, sports, television.
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Rick,

Can I call you Rick? You don’t know me from Adam and I don’t know you from Jonathan Leibowitz. I’ve never watched Rick’s List and I guess I never will now. Actually, I don’t watch any CNN. Not even 360 despite the fact that Anderson Cooper is a fellow Bull. I don’t even know where CNN is down here in the 20816. Not that I watch Comedy Central either. I get my television news from MSNBC, Joe in the morn—sadly I have to leave before Chuck and Savannah come on—Ed or Rachel or Matthews or O’Donnell in the eve. You see, I like my news with a heavy liberal slant but only 40% sarcasm, not 98%.

Rick, you got on my radar last week when CNN fired you for calling Jonathan Leibovitz a bigot and claiming that Jews are not a true minority a la Hispanics. You weren’t even on CNN at the time, you were a guest on a radio show. A sattelite radio show fagadsakes! The same radio service that broadcasts Howard Stern! No matter. You were out on the street the next day. That was wrong, Rick. Not what you said. Although that was also wrong. And ignorant. But firing you for it was wrong too. And vindictive. And petty. A reprimand, a public apology, and a week off the air would have sufficed. You are not the first member of the national media to make an inappropriate remark and you won’t be the last. CNN was wrong to make an example of you. It was a bully move. Bush league.

Rick, your parents fled Cuba when you were two years old. They came to America to give you a better life. In Cuba, you can’t look sideways at a picture of Fidel Castro without getting thrown in the slammer. Or worse. In America, we have the First Amendment! Here, you can say whatever you want! You can say that Michael J Fox is faking Parkinson’s. You can say that a presidential candidate attended a madrassa. You can shout “baby killer” during a congressional debate. You can say that former presidents committed war crimes when they ordered nuclear attacks on Japan. You can even say that another country has WMD’s as pretext for attacking them, kill thousands of American soldiers and foreign civilians, and plunge the country into debt we may never recover from—hypothetically, of course, no one would ever really do such a thing. In America, Rick, you can say whatever you want …

… except you can’t make fun of minorities. Even ones that aren’t disadvantaged. It’s not nice. It’s not politically correct. You can get sued. You can’t insult hispanics—although you can deport them! God help you if you mock blacks—see Imus, Don—and no it doesn’t matter that we have a black president. And, whatever you do, under no circumstances are you to defame, denigrate, or otherwise dis Jews! I mean, Jews control the banks, the media, and White House staff in this country! If you go after one of them, you are going down! You send one of theirs to the hospital, they send you to the morgue! That’s the Chicago way!

So, I’m sorry Rick. I myself am Jewish and I wasn’t offended by what you said about my people. I actually thought it was kind of funny. And really, something can’t be funny if it’s not also true. But funny has nothing to do with it. Sarcasm is for the news. Not for candid interviews on pay radio. You crossed the unspoken line and you got whacked. But don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll get picked up by FOX “news” in a few days.

Sincerely,

-Amir

P.S. Perhaps CNN firing you was karmic payback for the hit-and-run in 1990. How did you get away with that anyways? I know you were driving back from a football game, but were you actually playing in it?

P.P.S. Rick, the following P.S.’s are not directed to you, but rather to my six loyal readers. And to whoever Googles Rick Sanchez and scrolls to the 20th page of hits.

P.S. Red October 2.0 started in Phine Phashion with Roy Hallady no-hitting the Cincinnatti Reds! It can only go down from here! There is much to like about Roy. He’s a non-complainer—10 years and 280+ starts in Toronto with not a sniff of the postseason and not a single complaint. He’s a throwback horse—more complete games than any other National League team. And he possesses a filthy arsenal—then again, as far as I can tell, the 80 mph batting cage pitching machine does too—the second pitcher to throw two no-hitters in the same season. But he has a bad nickname—Doc. Presumably after Wyatt Earp sidekick John “Doc” Holliday. Don’t get me wrong, Doc works. Halladay isn’t spelled quite right—perhaps Matt Holliday should sue Roy for the rights to Doc—but most baseball fans can’t spell anyways. And it gives us “re DOC tober.” Alas, it’s already taken. By Dwight Gooden. Who legally changed his name to Doc by the way. And you just can’t recycle bigtime nicknames, no matter how well they fit. It’s wrong. There is only one Babe, one Wizard, one Sandman, one Rocket, one Kid, one A-Rod, one Hebrew Hammer, two Pudge’s and two Whitey’s. And only one Doc. Roy needs a new nickname! Maybe a play on another famous Holliday—Billie? Matt? Jrue? Perhaps a play on the word holiday—Happy Halladay? High Halladay? Federal Halladay? Or maybe a play on Doc—most doctors are specialists today—the cardiologist? the podiatrist? the proctologist? the gynecologist? I got it—”the dentist!” After all, that’s how John Holliday became “Doc.” Red entistober everyone!

P.P.S. The Andy Reid/Donovan McNabb/Kevin Kolb/Michael Vick tetrahedron spins on! Week 4: Washington at Philly. The hype. The drama. The anticipation. The clock mismanagement! Michael Vick is out with torn rib cartilage—I broke a rib snow-boarding two years ago and couldn’t sleep for six weeks much less play professional football, of course I couldn’t really play professional football even when perfectly healthy but that’s besides the point—and castoff 2.0 Kevin Kolb is back in! Andy Reid immediately announces that Vick will start as soon as he is healthy—because of course you can’t lose your job to injury—unless of course, Mike Kafka looks really good running the scout team this week! Anyways, Donovan McNabb exacts sweet revenge on the Eagles by being the worst quarterback on the field but leading the Redskins to an upset by “establishing the running game,” “throwing only one interception,” “trusting his defense,” and “using Jedi mind tricks to coax another all-time brain-fart from Andy.” Actually, you don’t need any Jedi mind tricks for that.

Hardy Har Har September 28, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in business, climate, economy, football, politics, society, taxes, transportation, war.
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The GOP is always good for a laugh. Regardless of how it’s pronounced, the party’s House leader spells his name Boehner. They gave us tea-bagging. And Sarah P. And wiccan-cum-Palin Christine O’Donnell. And now, just in time for the midterms, they’ve given us the Pledge To America. Yes America, congressional Republicans have an actual agenda other than filibustering Democratic legislation!

What is this agenda? Why are you asking me? Download and read it yourself! Don’t let the 10 MByte file size or 48 pages put you off. Text doesn’t take up much file space—one or two bytes per character—a 10 MByte document has to contain a large number of pictures. And in fact, PTA has 15 full pages of pictures! Of the Statue of Liberty, the Deepwater Horizon Rig, Mount Rushmore, Montcoal, the White House, Gitmo, the Capitol, K Street, House Minority Leader Boehner, Christine O’Donnell, main street USA, prison USA, a cowboy silhouetted against a sunset, Tony Romo, three old dudes at a supermarket beef counter, a CAFO, soldiers, caskets. Pictures that make you proud sick to be an American! There are also nine pages of content tables and titles like “Checks and Balances” and “Speak Out!” Plus two pages of figures for the sake of figures, including a nice one of Obama-spaghetti-care. That leaves you with only 22 pages of text. Still too much? Not to worry, the text itself is in large font, 1.5 spaced, and has huge margins. I banged it out on my iPhone between Tenleytown and Metro Center. And if this is still too long, there is the handy pocket card. Perfect for parties, or just around the water cooler! Alright, enough boilerplate and lace. Let’s briefly go over the “contents” of this bad boy, shall we?

Theme I: “shrink the government, reduce spending, and cut the Federal debt.” End TARP! Privatize the mortgage industry! Cancel the stimulus bill and reclaim all unspent Recovery Act funds! Return government spending to pre-bailout/pre-stimulus levels! Excuse me, but not even Sergey Brin is this rich! TARP was expensive, yes, but TARP also prevented a complete Wall Street meltdown and saved several US financial giants. The Fannie and Freddie bailouts were also expensive, but they did keep millions of American home “owners” temporarily afloat and the housing market from spiraling even more than it did. And yes, the unemployment was 7.7 before ARRA and 9.5 now, but what would it be now without the recovery act? And where would Philly Bluejay swim? Philly Bluejay currently swims at the sparkling Wilson Aquatic Center, proudly built using ARRA funds! But back to my point. All of these programs were and are expensive. And government spending was lower before they were enacted. But all of these programs were necessitated by Republican-led de-regulation of the financial and mortgage industries! And do you know which government programs were and are even more expensive? That’s right, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Strangely, no mention of canceling those in PTA. In fact, the only mention of Iraq and Afghanistan in PTA is in an item related to Iran. Which brings us to …

Theme II: “make America secure at home and abroad.” Protect our borders! A stronger visa program! Don’t let anyone out of Gitmo! Clean troop funding bills! Tough sanctions against Iran! A fully-funded missile shield! Let’s put the borders/visa/hate-of-Mexico/love-of-waterboarding issue aside for a minute and focus on the last three points. “Clean troop funding bills” essentially means a blank check from Congress to the Pentagon. Yes, that will definitely help to decrease spending! Tough sanctions against Iran because … well … Iran hates us and they will have nuclear capability by 2015. Actually kids, Iran will go nuclear before Passover and “tough sanctions” have as much of a chance of getting Ahmadinejad to back down as a personal plea from Philly Bluejay. Please Mahmoud, please dismantle your nuclear program. I promise not to make fun of your height or use your name and Kim Jong Il’s in the same sentence any more! That work? No? Bummer. And so what will definitely work against mini-me—oops, I did it again—Korean mini-me, and any other vertically-challenged-head-of-nuclear-state-gone-wild is a missile shield! The same missile shield will also stop hijacked planes, bombs in the New York subway system, IEDs, cyberterrorism, and attacks on our energy and water infrastructure. And it won’t blow the budget. Much. And also, to defeat attacks from the sea, the US coast will be patrolled by ill-tempered seabass with frikking lasers! A missile shield? Seriously? Do you know what would be far more effective against Herve Villechaise and Nelson de la Rosa—shame on me, I’ve just made fun of three dead dwarves in the span of 100 words—and far cheaper than a missile shield? About 50 F-16 Falcons and 10 B-2 bombers! A missile shield? A missile shield? Why not just run on “We will build a Death Star?”

Theme III: “no more Federal funding for abortion.” Ah, the abortion card! Apparently, they are saving the stem cell card for later.

Theme IV: “increase access to domestic energy sources.” Does this mean offshore wind farms in the North Atlantic and solar in Arizona or lifting the offshore drilling ban and opening up Alaska? I’m confused. Actually, I’m not. Of all the ludicrous statements in PTA, this might be the worst. I guess the fact that DC was buried under three feet of snow this past winter proves that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by Liberal scientists and that an ice age is coming! Drill baby drill!

Theme V: Two items Philly Bluejay supports: “make the Bush tax cuts permanent … for all Americans” and “oppose any carbon ‘cap-and-trade’ system.” These are solid proposals. Payroll taxes should be reduced. Even tiered income tax systems discourage people from working while doing nothing to curb massive consumption at the top. Meanwhile, cap-and-trade is complicated, provides the government with uncertain income, and doesn’t cover a sufficient number of sectors. The US needs to gradually reduce payroll taxes and combine those with a gradually increasing economy-wide carbon tax—payroll taxes should decrease by 1% per year for the next 10 years and CO2 emissions should be taxed by an additional $10 per ton per year over the same period, maxing out at $100 a ton. Think that’s high? It’s actually pretty pathetic—only about $34 per barrel of oil or $0.80 a gallon. Either way, Philly Bluejay salutes you, GOP! These two planks alone are enough to make Philly Bluejay forget about the rest of your nonsense, move to Delaware, and vote for Christine O’Donnell!

P.S. Philly Bluejay’s temporary new employer, US DOE/EERE—United States Department of Energy/Energy Efficiency and Renewables Division for the TLA/TLA/FLA impaired—has some cool programs like CYES (California Youth Energy Services). Philly Bluejay is not personally involved with these programs. Philly Bluejay is only involved with double-secret (i.e., obscure) programs.

P.P.S. Philly Bluejay’s namesakes—the Philadelphia Phillies—just wrapped up their fourth consecutive division title as for all practical purposes the number one seed in the conference. Good job, men! Red October 2010! Woot!

P.P.P.S. More “baseball news.” A California jury found Andrew Gallo—the drunk driver who last summer killed Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two 20-something female friends—guilty of three counts of second-degree murder. Gallo could spend the next 50 years in prison. Gallo is no doubt a LEED Platium moron, but his biggest shortcoming is not being a NFL player! Less than a month before Gallo’s unfortunate accident, then Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth killed pedestrian Mario Reyes in a drunk driving accident in Miami Beach. Stallworth was convicted of second-degree manslaughter, spent 30 days in jail, another two years in house arrest, and came to an “undisclosed” financial settlement with the Reyes family. He was subsequently signed by the Baltimore Ravens! Oh, the hypocrisy! Philly Bluejay wonders what the sentence would have been had Stallworth killed Adenhart.

P.P.P.P.S. In other Philadelphia sporting/avian news—week 2 of the Michael Vick era and the Eagles sit atop the NFC East! This weekend, prodigal son and recent cast-off Donovan McNabb—just “recent cast-off” is not specific enough—returns to Philly. Oh, the drama! Opening line from Vegas? Eagles -7! Whowouldathunkit?

P.P.P.P.P.S. Still more football news. Philly Bluejay major icon and fellow Bethesda resident Gregg Easterbrook had absolutely nothing to say about the Andy Reid/Kevin Kolb/Michael Vick/Donovan McNabb love-hate quadrilateral in this week’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback. Although TMQ did have a funny piece about acronyms disowning their full-word namesakes. Perhaps Philly Bluejay will shoot Easterbrook a text and ask! Perhaps Philly Bluejay will also shoot Easterbrook a text to ask about licensing the name “Tuesday Morning Third-String Emergency Quarterback” or perhaps “Wednesday Afternoon Practice Squad Safety.” Although perhaps TMQ stands for nothing, in which case no text is necessary. Starting this weekend, Philly Bluejay will be known as WAPSS.

A Rare Sports Post August 3, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in books, music, society, sports.
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Philly Bluejay is a bird of the people. Not an elitist who reads only about science, economics, politics, and other high-minded pursuits. He likes to read potty-mouthed rants about meaningless pursuits like sports as much as the next person. And no one does potty-mouth sports rants like fellow-blogger-turned-ESPN-columnist-turned-big-cheese-McGee Bill “The Sports Guy” Simmons. If I couldn’t be Gregg Easterbrook or Chuck Todd—I couldn’t be Chris Matthews or even Keith Olbermann, but I could definitely be Chuck Todd, I even have the Chuck Todd goatee—I would certainly be Bill Simmons. I’ve been reading Sports Guy for over ten years. I like the conversational, college dorm tone, the pop cultural references—did you think I got my pop culture from actual pop culture? please, who has the time?—the sports-as-life-and-life-as-sports analogies, the “theories”, the arbitrary rankings for things—the thirteen levels of losing—the constant need to rank and re-rank, look at things from every possible angle, the mailbags, the trade suggestions, the “Sports Gal” cameos, and the endless parade of Federal Witness Protection Program buddies known only by nicknames like “House”, “Hench”, “JackO”, and “Bish.”

BS has written two books. “Now I Can Die In Peace” about the 2004 Red Sox—he’s a huge Boston sports fan—which I will never read. And “The Book of Basketball” which I recently finished. TBOB is a 700 page magnum opus about the history of the NBA according to Bill. The highlight is a new 96-man countdown of a new pyramid-style Hall-of-Fame topped by a “pantheon” of NBA demi-deities that can go only by their first names—Moses, Shaq, Oscar, Wilt, Magic, Larry, Kareem, Michael.

I can’t imagine thinking about basketball as much as BS does—did I mention that this is a 700 page book by someone who is essentially just a passionate fan?—but it’s fun/amusing/interesting to know that someone can. That he can. Perhaps my favorite part of the book were the incessant footnotes—just the footnotes themselves would be about 250 pages and would form a semi-coherent book. And my favorite footnotes were of the form “so-and-so was the starting on the all-time X team. The starters on the X team were who, what, and I don’t know, the sixth man was whathisname, and the coach was thatguyonthatshow.” X was “Afro,” “lefty,” “known alcoholic,” “white guy that played like a black guy,” and so on. In that spirit, I thought I would contribute a few obscure all-time teams of my own. I’m not an NBA historian so these guys are mostly guys that I’ve seen and remember myself—they all played in the late 1980s or later. I tried to fill in an actual team, with a player for each position. Here goes.

All ugly team: PG: Sam “ET” Cassell, SG: Kerry Kittles, SF: Scottie Pippen, PF: Tyrone Hill, C: George Muresan. 6th man: Dennis Rodman. 7th man: Popeye Jones. 8th man: Tom Chambers. Coach: Jeff Van Gundy. Hide the women and sheep. I could have gone another 20 here.

All Jewish team: PG: Jordan Farmar, SG: Jon Scheyer (should have been drafted), SF: Omri Casspi, PF: Amare Stoudemire C: Danny Schayes. Coach: Larry Brown. Commish: David Stern.

All ink team: PG: Stephon Marbury, SG: Allen Iverson, SF: Kenyon Martin, PF: Dennis Rodman, C: Chris Andersen. Coach: hmmm, hard to say here, but I will go with Larry Brown.

All Johnson team: PG: Kevin, SG: Joe, SF: Marques, PF: Earvin “Magic” (point power forward, the man could play all five position), C: Ervin “No Magic.” 6th man: Dennis. Coach: Avery.

All Abdul team: PG: Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, SG: Tariq Abdul-Wahad. SF: Shareef Abdur-Raheem: PF: Alaa Abdelnaby C: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 6th man: Al-Farouq Aminu. Coach: Larry Brown.

All girls team: PG: Avery Johnson, SG: Gail Goodrich—OK, I did not see Gail play, he retired in 1979, but BS did mention that had one of the all time “porn starlet” names—SF: Tracy McGrady, PF: Jackie Butler, C: Stacy King, 6th man: Stacey Augmon. Coach: Kiki Vandeweghe.

All Jackson Five Team: PG: Marlon Garnett (1998 Celtics) SG: Michael Jordan. SF: Jackie Butler. PF: Tito Horford (1988-1990 Bucks). C: Jermaine O’Neal. Another admission—I had to Google for an NBA player named Marlon. Surprisingly, the name Marlon seems to have gone out of style despite such worthy cross-over torch bearers as Brando and Wayans. On the other hand, I should get points for not having to Google Al Horford’s dad. Also, I think it’s fitting that best player of the bunch is named Michael.

All superhero team: PG: Dwyane Wade. SG: Stacey Augmon. SF: George Gervin. PF: John Salley. C: Dwight Howard. Get it?

Other teams I tried to put together, but couldn’t think up of enough players? The all Snow White team—I didn’t have a center to go along with a backcourt of Glenn “Doc” Rivers and Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, and forwards Julius “Doc” Erving and “Happy” Hairston, with Eric Snow as sixth man. How is it that no one has stuck Bill Walton with “Dopey”? The all Jr. team—guys whose fathers played in the NBA, not necessarily whose proper name is so-and-so Jr.—but again I didn’t have a center to go with Stephen Curry, Damien Wilkins, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Al Horford. The all NFL team—guys who played basketball in college but became pro-football players instead. Not suprisingly, most college-basketball NFL players are power forwards—Julius Peppers, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez. The only one I could think of who wasn’t is Donovan McNabb who played backup point guard for Syracuse. The all dermatology team—guys with bizarre birthmarks or other skin conditions—again, I didn’t have a center to go with Delonte West (birthmark), Charlie Villanueva (alopecia), Terry Cummings (that same pigmentation disease that led Michael Jackson to bleach himself), and Shane Battier (what is up with his wavy scalp?). It just goes to show, a good center is hard to find.

P.S. Still on sports. If Mr. Clemmens can get three months for intentionally vomiting on two people at a Phillies game, then I figure disgraced Illinois governator Rod “I’m not evil, I’m just goofy” Blagojevich should get about 1,750,000 years for intentionally vomiting on the 14 million residents of Illinois.

P.P.S. There are few sports figures I find less annoying than Brett Favre. And not just because he pronounces his name a non-phonetical Farve. Yes, he’s a freak of nature—the Wolverine of quarterbacks. Yes, he’s won a SuperBowl and three most valuable player trophies. Yes, he has child-like enthusiasm for playing, a Mississippi drawl, rugged-looking crewcut and stubble, and a wife who beat breast cancer. But in the ultimate team sport, Brett is the ultimate me-first diva—a selfish limelight hog who lets his teammates do the hard work in training camp and his organization scramble for replacements while he contemplates his future on his farm, and invariably rides in on the owner’s private plane to save the season and grab the credit. Would you want to play with someone like this? Or even be around him? And did I mention that he’s a terrible actor? And where does he get off acting like this? Yes, he was truly great in 1996-1999—and miraculously in 2009—but in 2000-2008 he wasn’t even a top-10 quarterback anywhere other than in his own mind. Well, guess what? The fifth consecutive Summer-of-Brett has officially begun. And I seriously hope that Brett decides to go for good, takes down a promising season for the Vikings who were completely unprepared for this—and why would they be? the previous four retirements were promptly retracted—and leaves us with the lasting image of the egotistical prima donna he is.

P.P.P.S. Congratulations to Mark and Megan, recently upstaged by Marc and Chelsea—is it just me or does Chelsea look like the girl from The Exorcist in this picture, complete with all white eyeballs? Yipes!

P.P.P.P.S. Want to feel old? Did you know that Tom Petty is 59? Still throws a mean—albeit short—concert though. And still draws in the teeny-boppers. And their moms. And grandmothers. And bikers.

No Trade Left Behind July 30, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in education, politics, society, taxes.
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I was going to title this post “No Race Left Behind” as a play on “Race To The Top”® and “No Child Left Behind”®. Then it occurred to me that such a title may sound racist. Especially because the subject of the post is education and any discussion about education is bound to tread on racially sensitive ground. And so I thought better of it—yes, I know, what’s happening to me?—and settled for a subtle homage to the MLB trade deadline, which the Bluejay Phillies “aced” yet again. Ha!

Did you happen to catch POTUS BO’s at the National Urban League—henceforth, the “NUL”? If you haven’t figured this out yet, I overly fond of TLAs, FLAs, FLAs, and the occasional SLA. Just think of how long one of these posts would be without them. It would be like a cricket match. Anywhos, I caught BO’s NUL speech obliquely, listening to it while working. I filtered out most of the stuff about Shirley Sherrod and the de-ridicu-criminalization of crack cocaine relative to powder, and foregrounded POTUS during the RT3® part—RT3 is a registered trademark of Philly Bluejay along with Dumb-and-Plumber 2012®. If you are not familiar with RT3, here is a nice piece in the Atlantic that covers the basics in context. The premise is simple, compelling, and strangely revolutionary to the US and to the traditionally pro-union democratic party in particular—marry public education with free-market economics! Free information! Quantitative measurement! Performance-based pay! Frictionless labor markets! Competition! Unregulated derivatives! Collateralized debt obligations! Taxpayer funded bailouts! What a concept! RT3 would abolish the systems of teacher tenure and seniority based pay and replace them with a more conventional labor arrangement, potentially retaining some of the pieces of the current collective bargaining structure. And surely competition—on both the supply side and the demand side—will do the teaching profession some good. Teachers will compete with each other for better pay on performance metrics. Schools will compete with each other for better teachers on pay metrics—if you think schools are not competing, check out greatschools.org. Teacher performance will improve. Teacher pay will improve. Public education will improve. Everybody wins. Except for entrenched interests like poor teachers with tenure.

RT3 is certainly admirable. Whether POTUS BO, SOE Duncan, and the rest of the Sunday morning pickup basketball crew pulls it off remains to be seen. But here’s another aspect of the education puzzle that didn’t get any lip time during the NUL speech and is rarely mentioned in the press. RT3’s stated goal is “preparing every student for college”—a mission statement which has the twin positive attributes of being unassailably good and unassailably vague. But does it make sense? Not really. Yes, a college education increases lifetime earnings by nearly one million dollars. A Master’s degree by one million more. Seriously, they do. But this is the paradox of thrift all over again. A college degree increases earnings by one million dollars for one individual operating in a perfectly elastic job market. That person can trade in a low paying job for a higher paying one. But the economy as a whole has a pyramid of jobs and someone has to work the lower paying ones. Preparing the people who will ultimately work at lower paying jobs for college—not to mention actually sending them to college—is a waste of resources on the part of society and a waste of time and money on the part of the individual. Not to demean any particular honest profession, but would you go to—and pay for—college knowing that you would ultimately become a bus driver? Or a pizza tosser? Or a computer programmer? I’m not being facetious about this last one. Programming does not require a college education, witness the hordes of kids who learn to do it on their own in high school. If not earlier. Yes, programming well is difficult. Doing anything well is difficult. But becoming a passable programmer capable of carrying out 90% of tasks is not.

I’m all for neoteny, lifelong learning, and good citizenship and I would never tell any individual person not to go to college or to pursue a high-paying career. But public education needs to cater not only to future lawyers and dentists and MBAs. It needs to do a better and more efficient job for would-be bus drivers, and pizza tossers, and computer programmers. Is prepping these students to do well on the SATs/ACTs/TLAs the right thing? For these students, shouldn’t primary education be reoriented along the lines of a terminal (professional) degree? Shouldn’t primary education be—WARNING: politically insensitive suggestion alert—more vocation and less renaissance? In the US, assaulting teachers unions is past its political half life, but vocational education is still radioactive. Why? Because of the million dollar fallacy of composition. And because it smells racist. Or classist. Or X-ist. But in fact, it’s no more racist or classist or X-ist than funding public education using local property taxes. For many people, a free career-oriented terminal education would be a gift. Rather than graduating high school being prepared to do nothing in particular—and spending their lives doing nothing in particular—vocational students would graduate prepared for a job that paid a living wage. I am not advocating tracking based on IQ or aptitude tests—that’s the European model—or some other variant of Plato’s Republic. I am thinking of something much more voluntary. Not interested in general purpose stem cell high school? A vocational alternative would be available to you. Why should any voluntary system be political anathema?

Think of RT3 amended with a vocational “public option” for lack of a better term. There is still teacher competition. And school competition. But now “stem-cell” teaching is more attractive because class sizes are smaller and classes have fewer students not interested in stem-cell learning. And the pool of good stem-cell teachers is not only larger—because again such teaching is more attractive—it is also spread less thin. And vocational teaching is now a high volume career option. And there will be fewer people whose terminal degree doesn’t qualify them to do anything in particular.

POTUS BO. You, SOE Duncan, and the rest of the crew should discuss this as you are running up and down the court on Saturday mornings. And maybe you can talk about it at next year’s NUL address. You know, after the midterms. It’s a message that would sound better coming from you than from almost anyone else.

P.S. My latest Wikipedia entry? Michigan governator Jennifer Granholm. She’s packed quite a lot into 50 years. Did you know she’s a failed actress, a beauty queen—take that Sarah P—and a Canadian? That last fact is especially deplorable as Jen would have looked good on the 2016 Democratic ticket. That’s okay, Rachel Maddow will do nicely.

P.P.S. Speaking of Rachel. Watch her interview with Richard Holbrooke. Also speaking of Rachel? Come back soon! Because the guy who is sitting in for you is absolutely killing the show. Same goes to you, Mike Missanelli—John “Missanelli 1.7” Marks is not doing it for me. Olbermann? You can hang out wherever you are for a little while longer.

P.P.P.S. I have a new favorite television show. No, not Kate + boobjob + eight. How It’s Made on Sc. Who knew that it takes 428 machines to make a socket wrench? Or that soy sauce has to be fermented for four months? Or how peanuts are shelled by machine? Or how glass bottles with matching caps are made? I could watch this show for 48 hours straight! It’s really amazing not only how many different things there are, but what it takes to mass produce them. It seems like more goes into inventing and perfecting the process for mass-producing something than it takes to invent the thing.

P.P.P.P.S. As if you need one more reason to stop eating frozen mice. Notice, the piece was written by someone named Anemona, not to be confused with Anemone.

Philly Bluejay Is Not A Facebook Page! July 13, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in books, business, education, music, society, sports, technology, weird.
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I recently finished Jaron Lanier‘s manifesto “You Are Not a Gadget.” I had started it a while ago. Then about 40 pages from the end I misplaced it. And so I started with another book—Len Fisher’s “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” Then I found YANG and was immediately presented with a dilemma. Should I finish YANG while the first 150 pages are still edible, post about YANG, and then finish a still edible RPS and post about it? Or should I let YANG expire, finish a fresh RPS and post about it, then finish a rancid YANG and post about it? I decided to follow my culinary rule—always eat the oldest still-edible leftovers—and go with YANG first. Gulp.

If you haven’t heard of Jaron Lanier, he’s a computer-scientist-slash-musician-slash-I-guess-author. In computer science circles, he is known as the father of virtual reality. In music ellipses, he is unknown—at least to me. And in computer-science-slash-music hypocycloids, he is known, but not as well-known as Monzy. Lanier is an Edgie. He’s also a one-time roommate of Richard Stallman of GNU and Free Software Foundation fame. I know of both Lanier and Stallman and I did not know that—it’s always interesting to find out how famous people are connected to one another. For instance, did you know that George H. W. “41” Bush and Saddam Hussein were both Freemasons? Truth!

YANG is Lanier’s rant against “cybernetic totalism”—a term of his own coinage. Cybernetics is the study of control systems. Totalism is i) totalitarianism, ii) a new style of music that appeals superficially to neophytes and on deeper levels to sophisticates, and iii) a doctrine of wholeness imposed by brainwashing. Strangely, all of these definitions seem to fit Lanier’s dogma. As I understand it, cybernetic totalism is the opposite of humanism—it is the elevation of information and the machines that process it above humans. Cybernetically total ideas include “free culture,” open source software, crowd sourcing, and the Singularity—think “The Matrix.” Cybernetically total manifestations include Google, Facebook, Wikipedia—most of Silicon Valley and South Africa, actually—and hedge funds. Oh, and blogs! I have no use for Facebook—hi everyone, my name is Amir and I’ve been off of Facebook for ten months—or hedge funds. But where would I—or really anyone—be without Google and Wikipedia? And where would I be without blogs? In existential limbo! And how can anyone hate on open source software? Are Lanier and Stallman still on speaking terms?

Let’s start with open-source software. Actually, I understand the limitations of open-source development. There’s the “too many chefs spoil the broth” problem. There’s the “who let the cat out of the bag?” problem. And there’s the “you get what you pay for” problem. But open-source software not only provides free software, it provides “market” pressure on pay software! Yes, an open-source community may not be able to come up with a new product like an iPhone. In fact, open-source communities may be best suited to creating knock-offs. But knock-offs are a viable and a valuable economic niche. Where would we be without generic drugs?

Onto Wikipedia. Lanier doesn’t so much harsh on the idea of Wikipedia, but rather on the idea that information and its presentation should be shaped by an anonymous crowd rather than by individuals. He may or may not also be bemoaning the notion that the Wikipedia encourages shallow interaction with information—as if reading Wikipedia is akin to reading Cliff’s Notes. I love Wikipedia. I’ve learned many things from Wikipedia, even things about my own purported area of expertise. I probably read an average of ten Wikipedia entries a week. I just read the entry for Freemasonry (not quite like reading “Da Vinci Code”). Before that I read the entry for Italic Typefaces (more interesting than you would think). Other recent entries? Recession Shapes (ouch). The Avengers (my son asked me). The Sinister Six (ummm … yeah). Computational Fluid Dynamics. Navier-Stokes Equations (from latter). SSE4. NAMBLA (just checking if you’re paying attention, but it does does have a Wikipedia page). Body Integrity Identity Disorder. Clean Air Act. Reverse Osmosis. I understand that one could spend years studying each of these topics. But I don’t have years! I have half an hour and need a quick tutorial and perhaps a list of good references. Where else should I go?

Next, hedge funds. There was a lot of weird stuff in this book that I couldn’t really digest, but there was at least one suggestion that I thought was interesting and useful. And strangely enough it has to do with finance. The financial meltdown in October 2008—now that I write it, I don’t know whether that feels too recent or not recent enough—was at base a product of bad loans. But the real culprits were opaque financial instruments that chopped up the underlying risk so finely until it was no longer recognizable as risk—in the same way that industrial hamburger is no longer recognizable as beef. Lanier proposes to create a formal language for describing financial instruments and to outlaw instruments that cannot be written in this language. This would restrict financial engineers, yes, but not in a bad way. It would prevent them from creating contracts that they themselves don’t understand and which cannot be effectively tracked or regulated. When the next crash comes, we’ll know exactly who to blame and how much money was lost! I joke, but this is a really good idea and it needs to happen. Sadly, I don’t think it made it into the House finance reform bill.

Finally. Blogs. Lanier contends that most blogs are “unreadable” and urges bloggers to post only if they have something new to say. And that this something should be a non-knee-jerk reaction that took at least several weeks to ferment—lest the post dilute and devalue “real” journalism and reduce the signal to noise ratio of the noosphere. Ouch. On that note, I think I will end this post, shut down Philly Bluejay, and return to Facebook.

P.S. Speaking of Facebook. You think you have $12,600,000,000 coming, Paul Ceglia? I came up with the idea for Snuggie™ in 1995! I want my two dollars!

P.P.S. Today is the midsummer classic—the major league baseball allstar game for the unwashed. Every year around this time there is always talk about “fixing”—making better not rigging—both the game and the sport. I don’t have much to say about the game other than I don’t really care about it. As for the sport, I admit I haven’t thought a ton about this, but I have a simple and workable suggestion that should improve things and that I have not heard before. Currently, baseball’s 30 teams are divided into a 16-team National League and a 14-team American League. The NL consists of two 5-team divisions and one 6-team division. The AL consists of two 5-team divisions and one 4-team division. Both leagues send three division winners plus one “wild card” team to the playoffs. Both leagues primarily play within themselves, but each team also has 5 or 6 six inter-league series each year. You may have already guessed my suggestion—move to two 15-team leagues with three 5-team divisions in each league. This means that there will be one interleague series on every day of the schedule—occasionally there will be three—rather than packing all interleague series into a two-week stretch in June. But that’s presumably fine. The benefits will be improved fairness for NL teams, especially for teams in the 6-team NL central. Currently, teams in the 5-team AL East and Central have a 27.3% chance of making the playoffs—a 1 in 5 chance of winning their division plus a 1 in 11 chance of winning the wild card on the 4 of 5 chance they don’t win the division. Teams in the 4-team AL West have an even better chance of making the playoffs—32.3%. However, teams in the 5-team NL East and West have only a 26.2% chance of making the playoffs and teams in the 6-team NL Central have only a 22.8% chance of making it. Ignoring baseball’s economic structure—which arguably plays a bigger role in which teams make the playoffs than the division structure—is it fair that the Houston Astros enter each season almost 10% less likely to make the playoffs than the Texas Rangers? Economics aside, wouldn’t it be better if every team had an equal 26.7% of making the playoffs? I can’t believe NL Central owners haven’t gotten more upset about this.

LeBlog is LeBack July 9, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in business, drama, society, sports, television.
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I realize I have not posted in a little while. I was going to write an entry about Jaron Lanier’s book “You Are Not A Gadget,” but then about 40 pages from the end I misplaced that book. And then I started another book. Then the air conditioning in my house died—on a 102 degree day no less. And I hurt my finger which makes it hard to type. And the neighbor’s dog—I don’t have a dog—ate my laptop’s power cord. And. And. And. Speaking of and, here is a nice quote from Martin Gardner courtesy of little brother Bluejay.

“Wouldn’t the sentence ‘I want to put a hyphen between the words Fish and And and And and Chips in my Fish-And-Chips sign’ have been clearer if quotation marks had been placed before Fish, and between Fish and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and Chips, as well as after Chips?”

Not having posted in over two weeks, there’s lots to talk about. But the thing I wanted to weigh in on today is last night’s climax of the year-long LeBron James circus. In case you are either from another planet, comatose, or simply one of those people who cares more about the World Cup than you do about the NBA, you know what I am talking about. LeBron James, arguably the most coveted free agent in NBA history, is leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, where he will team up with fellow superstar Dwyane “Dwayne” Wade, superstar-wannabe Chris Bosh, and nine guys from the Boca JCC to form an NBA juggernaut. LeBron announced his decision in a one hour ESPN special called “The Decision.” It was the highest rated show in its slot—network or pay. I watched it. You watched it. Not you, mom. But everyone else!

What can I say about this that hasn’t already been said? By LeBron’s former owner, Dan “I want him DEAD! I want his family DEAD! I want his house burned down to the GROUND!” Gilbert. By Orlando Magic general manager Otis “My Man” Smith. By Bill “The Book of Basketball” Simmons and his readers. By less-interwebs-savvy Cavaliers fans. By Daily Rundown. By All Things Considered. By Marketplace—that’s right, back-to-back NPR shows had LeBron segments. Probably nothing. But let me rehash the tripe anyways.

Point one. LeBron made a bad basketball move. It makes no sense on any level. There was a better surrounding team in Chicago. A bigger challenge in New York. More money and more honor in Cleveland. Now? He joins Dwyane Wade’s team. The same team that just four years ago won a championship without him. LeBron could win the next six championships in a row. Wade will always have one more. And each of Wade’s will always be worth more. Teaming up with Wade is the weakest move LeBron could have made. The only weaker move would have been to join Kobe and the Lakers—not that Kobe would ever sign off on such a move. Can’t beat ’em? Stop trying and join ’em. By switching teams to join another superstar player who already has a ring, LeBron has effectively admitted that he doesn’t have what it takes to lead a winner. That he doesn’t have the drive and killer instinct to be an all-time great. You could tell during the show. He looked like he was going to throw up. Because individual play affects the outcomes of basketball games more than it does in other team sports, NBA greatness is measured by championships. The NBA’s inner circle is reserved for playoff killers. Bill Russell. Larry Bird. Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant. LeBron has voluntarily taken himself out of the conversation to join that inner circle. When he came into the league, his ceiling was Michael Jordan. Actually, he had no ceiling. Even Jordan wasn’t that good that young. Now? His ceiling is Wilt Chamberlain—an athletic freak who couldn’t win if he was the best player on his own team and didn’t really care that this was the case. A prediction? LeBron’s professional arc will start to go down. Oh well.

Point two. LeBron obviously doesn’t care about being great. He also obviously doesn’t care about his “brand.” There is no other explanation for “Decision 2010.” Thinking that his decision warrants a one hour prime time special made him look narcissistic. Dumping his hometown team on national television made him look loutish. Pretending that he had made the decision that morning rather than months ago made him look disingenuous. And saying that “true fans” will understand made him look clueless. In between, he made third-person self-references—Bluejay would never stoop to such depths—talked about “his talents” and “everything he had done for the city of Cleveland and the Cavaliers franchise,” and threw up in his own mouth about twelve times. Not the most likable NBA star to begin with—he’s not a misanthrope but he’s not Magic or Barkley or Shaq either—LeBron is now seriously unlikable. Another prediction? LeBron’s marketing arc will go down as well. No tears here.

Point three. Is it really possible that professional sports matter this much? Is it really possible that 25-year old professional athletes matter this much? Is it really possible for NPR to run LeBron-themed segments in consecutive shows? Is it really possible that the Cleveland economy will suffer significantly because of this? Have we lost all perspective? The fall of the Roman empire comes to mind.

Point four. Dan, I feel for you. I think Coughlin said it best: “Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end.”

P.S. It’s only fitting that “The Decision” would be spun as a charity event and held at the Boys-and-Girls club of Greenwich, CT—the US town that least needs a B&G.

P.P.S. Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry died last year when we was thrown off the back of a moving pickup truck driven by his girlfriend. Autopsy on his brain shows that he wouldn’t exactly have had a healthy and happy life going forward even had he lived.

P.P.S. On a somewhat happier note, here is a CNN article about Gordon Murray’s T.25—a 4′ wide car that gets 0.013 gpm (74 mpg). Almost as innovative as the T.25 is the method used to manufacture it.

P.P.P.S. This actually happened a few weeks ago, but I did finally finish the 5,000 piece puzzle of Breugel’s (the elder) “Tower of Babel.” It took over two months. I have so much free time now, I hardly know what to do with it!

P.P.P.P.S. Want to regain some perspective? Here.

Post Father’s Day Post June 22, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in family, politics, sex, society, sports.
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A belated happy father’s day to all the fathers, dads, pops, papas, and old men out there! Bluejay Jr. and Little Miss Bluejay, thanks for making mine. You’re the cat’s pajamas and the cat’s whiskers! You can choose which one is which. And you Mrs. Bluejay, you’re the cat’s purr. I know you were behind the gifts, what with Jr. being only five and not having the wherewithal to find the security code on the Amex so that he could order them online.

Onwards. If there are two things I am fond of, they are double entendres and The Atlantic. Particularly interesting issue this month. I could do a post about each and every article. And I might eventually do one about neo-colonialism—Paul Romer’s idea for development in third-world countries. But the one I wanted to hit today is Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men.” The article is long, but the gist is short. The modern world—at least its developed third—is better suited to women than it is to men.

Everything starts with the economy. Traditional economic ballast sectors like agriculture, construction, and heavy manufacturing—with job descriptions that emphasize manual labor—are eroding. Modern economic growth is almost exclusively service-oriented. An ever increasing fraction of new and total jobs—many of these in areas like health care, education, finance, and law—do not value physical prowess at all. Today’s economy is all about intelligence. And Lawrence Summers’ arguments about gender differences in intelligence variance aside—and really, I still don’t know what quite to make of them—the relevant fact is that in the thick portion of the bell curve, men have no inherent advantage. In fact, they may be at an inherent disadvantage! Not only do today’s economic growth emphasize neurons over myofibrils, but the kind of synaptic skills it require—communication, inter-personal relations, cooperation, and the focus, maturity, and self-control needed to acquire formal credentials—are more developed in women! It’s that last bit which should really scare men. Forget about getting ahead in today’s economy. Even standing still requires a bachelor’s degree. And women are just better at getting these than men are—not to mention Masters degrees, MDs, and JDs. And not just slightly better. I think it’s a well-known fact that more women than men go to and graduate from college—what might be somewhat less known is that the ratio is much closer to 60/40 than to 51/49. 60/40! And as degrees go, jobs follow. More than 50 percent of today’s jobs are held by women. And this includes management jobs. Yes, executive management is still male dominated—Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina are exceptions among Fortune 500 CEOs. But that dominance should start to fade given the changing demographics of mid-level management. And while growing the number of F500 CEOs from a handful to 250 may take a little time—especially if Meg and Carly leave the corporate ranks for congress—correcting another distortion should happen faster. The shelf life of unequal pay (for equal work) is getting shorter. If not by bottom-up market forces, than by top-down legal action. There are now a record number of women in the House (74) and Senate (17) and there is about to be a record number on the Supremes (3 if Elena Kagan is confirmed). The day in which women account for the bulk of economic output is coming. Soon.

Society both follows and reinforces the economy. As women gain economic power, they are asserting themselves to a greater degree in the family, pushing men further out to the margins. A staggering 40 percent of children are now born out of wedlock. But the really staggering part of that statistic is that a growing fraction of these are born to post-teenage, educated, working women who simply don’t want husbands or don’t want to settle for the kinds of husbands they can find. For women, it used to be that marriage was the only path to financial security and the freedom to rear children. No longer. With more workplaces flexing to accommodate the single mother, more women are choosing that path. If men aren’t providing financial security, why put up with the raised toilet seat? Even the old bromide that “every child needs a father” is losing leg. An involved father is obviously not necessary to become president of the most powerful country in the world—at least I think the US is still the most powerful country in the world. And recent research shows that lesbian couples may make the most effective parental units! Gender preference is also starting a heavy tilt towards girls. Nearly 75% of couples and women who use artificial insemination with gender selection choose XX chromosomes for their baby. And in Asia, the historic gender bias towards male children is starting to erode. Good news for China and India, which are currently staring at a surplus of 200,000,000 single men standing on the lowest rung of the social and economic ladder.

Are we headed towards a society with a male to female gender ratio of 10/90? It’s not hard to imagine either the final state or the path to it. As demographics shift more and more towards women, heterosexual women will co-habitate and form quasi-familial platonic structures with other women. Most pregnancies will be the result of highly selective artificial insemination, with gender being only one of the criteria. A small number of men will be kept around to stock the sperm banks, satisfy residual demand for heterosexual intercourse, program the computers—although that may no longer be necessary either—and play professional football. Will Earth become Amazon? Or will it simply become Amazon? Both options are perhaps preferable, but less likely, than Earth becoming Eaarth. Either way, we should savor father’s day while we still have it.

P.S. Speaking of father’s day. I remember going to a 76ers game in the early 1990s with my dad to watch Manute Bol. At 7’7″, Manute was the tallest player in the history of the NBA. And now that I think of it, he may still be—although Gheorghe Muresan may also have been 7’7″. At 220 pounds, Manute was definitely the skinniest player in the history of the NBA. I remember cringing every time he tried to block a shot at the basket, fearing that the opposing player may snap his arm on the rim. I also remember my father and I talking about what Bol family pick-up games might have been like—Manute was a Dinka, his father was 7’10” and his older brother 7’8″. Finally, I remember talking about the fact that, sadly, Manute would probably not live a long life as his kind of extreme height often puts undue stress on the body’s core systems. Well, Manute died this weekend at the age of 47—succumbing to a combination of kidney failure and Stevens-Johnson Syndrome—one of the most painful conditions imaginable. Like fellow African and former 76er Dikembe Mutombo, Manute was a humanitarian first and a basketball player second. Whereas other NBA players—Eddy Curry, Antoine Walker—go bankrupt spending their ridiculous salaries on even more ridiculous lifestyles, Manute used nearly all of his earnings to support peace, health, and education in his native Sudan. In the NBA, Manute was a novelty. A sideshow. But I always got the feeling that he knew that and that he was “using” the NBA—both financially as well as to gain figurative stature in his homeland—as much as the NBA was using him. There aren’t many happy days in Sudan, but today is especially sad.

P.P.S. General McChrystal, Sir! Haven’t you heard of WikiLeaks?

Re(dis)membering Aron Ralston June 12, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in society, weird.
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1 comment so far

Bluejay is mostly for political, social, and environmental rants. But that’s not all it’s for. Those of you who know me personally—and I apologize—also know that I am a junkie for all things … “unusual.” Warning: this post is not for the feint of stomach. Safta Bluejay, stop reading now!

Remember Aron Ralston? The Colorado mountain climber who in 2003 got trapped by an 800 pound boulder while hiking alone in Utah and had to amputate his own arm to escape? I do. Well, I didn’t actively remember him until I saw this story. Not to make light of the situation, but I don’t think Danny Boyle will be making a movie about this one. And no, I will not be going to see “127 hours”—I only enjoy reading about these things, not actually watching them.

The story about Aron Ralston 2.0—or maybe Aron Ralston 0.9—made me wonder. And wonder some more. First, I wondered how and what Aron is doing these days. I knew he went back to climbing, wrote the book, was on the “Man Law Program Committee,” and is “working” on this movie—but what else is going on? Has he amputated any other body parts? Sorry, that’s the dark underbelly of Philly Bluejay. Second, I wondered how many more Aron Ralstons there are out there. And what is the most extreme story in this “genre.” Figuring that Bluejay’s three readers must be as curious as I, I decided to do a little WWW research. Here’s what I found. No need to thank me.

Aron is doing fine, thanks. He’s married now and has a child. He makes up to $37,000 an hour giving inspirational talks at corporate gatherings and Bar Mitzvahs—Aron Ralston lights the menorah? I knew it! Other pre-fame facts you and I didn’t know about Aron? He went to Carnegie Mellon University—I went to CMU for geek summer camp back in the day! He graduated from CMU Phi Beta Kappa—I graduated Phi Beta Kappa! He worked at Intel as a mechanical engineer—I worked at Intel in microarchitecture reserach! Jewish? CMU? PBK? Intel? Wife? Child? The initials AR? Could Aron Ralston and Philly Bluejay have more in common? In fact, they could! The accident happened in Bluejohn canyon! Aron, text me! Actually, aside from these superficial similarities, Bluejay and Aron could not be more different. Bluejay has never been mountain climbing—in fact, he’s never even read about mountain climbing except in that it pertains to Aron or to that 13-year old kid who just climbed Mt. Everest. And Bluejay doesn’t have the stomach to sever a shoelace—much less an arm—in order to escape certain death. And Bluejay is overly fond of m-dashes and third-person self-reference!

But enough about Aron. And Bluejay. Let’s get to the real business of this post. How many Arons are there out there? And how many of them have out-Aron’ed Aron? Disclaimer: I have only superficially fact-checked many of these stories, for all I know they may all be apocryphal. And also, I only included stories about intentional amputation. There are many stories out there about accidents—including an especially nasty one about a carpenter, a saw, and a bathtub—which I am not counting.

In June 2007, a 66-year old California man amputated his own leg to escape from a fallen tree. Ironically, he screamed so loud during the procedure that a neighbor heard and came to his rescue! This immediately brings up memories of this Onion parody. More seriously, it begs the question—would he have thought of such a thing if this happened in June 2002?

In January 2008, an Idaho man, believing that his hand bore the “mark of the beast,” cut it off with a circular saw and microwaved it. I hope he didn’t leave his wedding ring on! Imagine the sparks!

In January 2009, a Portugese man cut off his own finger in court to prostest an unfavorable ruling. Just three months later, a Serbian man cut off his own finger and then ate it to protest overdue wages.

Then there are any number of stories about men cutting off their own genitals, either in a drunken stupor, in sober stupor, for love unrequited, or for love requited.

Finally, there is the ultimate amputation. In May 2007, a 24-year old German man cut off his own head with a chainsaw in the back-end of a murder-suicide. In November, 2008 a 50-year old British man did the same thing to avoid having his home repossessed.

Notice some themes? Here’s one—all of these stories are about men. And this isn’t because I only searched for “man cuts off own hand.” I searched for “woman cuts off own hand” too. I just didn’t find anything. One possible explanation—women don’t know how to work power tools! Another—women are less likely to be power tools themselves! Another theme, all of these stories post-date Ralston. Maybe 2003 was a tipping point for the Internet. Maybe pre-2003 only “important” stories were on the internet, and post-2003 every story was. Or maybe the Ralston story set a precedent, planted a cultural seed, and spawned copycats. The way a suicide tragically can. Maybe before Aron Ralston, self-amputation was the last thing you would think of doing in a given situation. After Ralston—and maybe the Saw movies have something to do with this also—it’s the fourth-from-last thing. Of course, the sequel is almost always less than the original. Ralston’s amputation was somewhere between heroism and hubris. It reminds me of the (Peanuts) baseball phrase “a spectacular catch of a routine fly ball” which implies that the outfielder had to make the spectacular catch because he was originally out of position or misread the ball off the bat. Ralston had to resort to spectacularly heroic measures because he took what an unnecessary risk—climbing alone. But that’s just him. This is the same man who gave up a job at Intel to pursue mountain climbing after all—an act which to me is actually more impressive. The sequels are somewhere between hubris and Darwin Award.

However, by far the creepiest/saddest thing I discovered during my research is Body Identity Integrity Disorder. People with BIID are physically healthy people who feel that being an amputee is their “true” identity—much like people with “Gender Identity Disorder” feel that their true identity is the opposite than their phenotype biological gender. And much like people with GID sometimes have surgery to actualize their true identity, people with BIID sometimes—although much more rarely and sometimes by their own hands—have healthy limbs amputated in order to actualize their true identity. There is a 2005 documentary about BIID called Whole.

Anyways, the thoughts of GID and BIID got me wondering. What kind of identity disorders are there? Look for a post soon!

P.S. If you search for “woman cuts off,” the Google auto-completion feature gives you a short list starting with “husband’s penis.” There are at least two pages worth of different stories here, and all of them post-date the John and Lorena Wayne Bobbitt story. Of course, that story is pre-Internet. Which begs the question—how is it that I know about it?

P.P.S. And speaking of hubris and unnecessary risk. All’s well that ends well, but … I wouldn’t have let my child do this. Then again, as my friend Jim once said to me: “What do you mean ‘let’? Obviously, you don’t have any children.”