jump to navigation

Of Man and Nectarines September 30, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in climate, food, football, transportation.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

I love nectarines. They’re delicious. Especially when they are just before ripe and the flesh breaks off the pit cleanly rather than making a sticky mess. I am not a big fan of peaches, however. It’s not the fuzz. It’s the taste. Something about it nauseates me. For a while, this nectarine/peach dichotomy didn’t bother me because I believed that they were two different species of fruit. Specifically, I thought that the nectarine was some hybrid of a peach and a plum. You know, like a pluot/plucot/plumcot/Dinosaur-egg is a hybrid of a plum and an apricot. As it turns out, the nectarine and the peach belong to the same species, with nectarines classified as a cultivar. The nectarine’s smooth skin is simply a recessive trait. Peach fuzz is dominant. To use a politically incorrect analogy—is there a better kind?—caucasians are nectarines, mongoloids are peaches, and peach fuzz is the epicanthal fold. The analogy breaks because I like mongoloids and caucasians equally well. But it works otherwise.

Nectarine season is over. The last batch I bought was crap and I couldn’t finish it. We have now officially entered the two-month dead zone between nectarine season and orange season—which is roughly equivalent to the two-month dead zone between the football and baseball season. To commemorate, I thought I would write a philosophical/environmental post about man and nectarines. You see, the parallel between humans and nectarines are downright creepy. Humans come in several cultivars—some fuzzy, some not—same for nectarines. Humans bruise easily, so do nectarines. Humans are delicious—probably—so are nectarines. Humans were not meant to fly. Neither were nectarines.

Segue alert!

If Darwin wanted humans to fly, he would have made us descendants of bats rather than apes. Mechanical flight is one of humanity’s greatest achievements and one of the true game-changers of the industrial age. It’s also one of the lynchpins of climate change. There is nothing that blasts out CO2 like flying. A round-trip from Washington, DC to Seattle emits about 2,000 kg of CO2 per passenger. That’s as much as the average non-hybrid passenger car emits in a year! Washington, DC to Chicago is 580 kg. Washington, DC to Paris is 4,140. Washington, DC to Wellington 9,800 kg! Visit atmosfair.de to find out how much CO2 your next plane trip will cost the world.

Now, I understand flying to Paris. Paris is probably amazing and you should definitely see it once or twice if you can—I haven’t yet, but I plan to. Same for Wellington. Chicago on the other hand is a different story. Chicago is cool, but the O’Hare Hilton is not. And I personally have done somewhere on the order of ten day trips from Philadelphia to a conference room in Chicago O’Hare. Ten day trips and 5,800 kg of CO2. Ten day trips and 5,800 kg of CO2 that could just as easily have been replaced with ten conference calls. Hmmm. I would never tell people to travel less for vacation or pleasure. Seeing different places is an incredible experience and one of the true benefits of our advanced civilization. But I have no problem telling people to travel less for business or quasi-business. Business travel is one of the banes of humanity.

Segway alert! Man, I am on an absolute roll when it comes to making jokes at the expense of deceased people. Anyways, from now on, the term segway will be used to describe a segue back to the original topic. Run with that.

The Whole Foods on River and Dorsey sells nectarines from three originations—from Pennsylvania for $1.99/lb, from Washington State for $2.99/lb, and from New Zealand also for $2.99/lb. I buy the ones from Pennsylvania. Because I am a cheap-elitist-bastard—a cheap-bastard shops at the Giant, a cheap-elitist-bastard is the kind of person who shops at Whole Foods but buys the cheapest stuff there, it’s an important distinction—and because it pains me to think of nectarines flying from Washington to Washington, much less Wellington to Washington. That’s a long way for a nectarine to fly. A good-sized nectarine weighs about four ounces. The average 180 lb. man is the weight equivalent of 720 nectarines. Using the same atmosfair calcluator, dividing by 720 and carrying the one, a one way trip from Wellington to Washington, DC spews out 7 kg of CO2 per nectarine. Emissions-wise, buying a nectarine from New Zealand is the same as driving a non-hybrid for day! Buying 720 nectarines from New Zealand is the equivalent of flying to New Zealand yourself or driving a non-hybrid car for two years! Now, I have bought at least 720 nectarines this summer. I may have bought 1,720. I said they’re delicious didn’t I? Happily, all but perhaps 20 of them were from Pennsylvania. Sadly, the ones from New Zealand are superior. Smaller, but with more tang. However, my atmosfair experiments have taught me a valuable lesson. Next time I am jonesing nectarines from down under, I should just fly there myself and eat them there.

P.S. What am I doing in a conference room at the O’Hare Hilton? Attending program committee meetings, of course. For the unwashed, a program committe meeting is a meeting held on a Saturday in a conference room at the O’Hare Hilton—or at the Hyatt if the Hilton is booked—in which 30 men and women gather to decide which 40 of 200 research papers submissions will appear in upcoming technical conference X. Physical program committee meetings—in which the committee is physically present in one room—are the biggest wastes of CO2 I can personally think of. Virtual program committee meetings—in which the committee is physically distributed and communicating by phone—are far better environmentally and likely result in technical programs of equal quality. Why are virtual program committee meetings not used more frequently? Is it because you have to flush them on context switches?

P.P.S. There are many things to admire about professional athletes—their talent, the time they must have put in to work on their bodies and on their games. There are a few things to despise also—the fact that they can get away with vehicular homicide. Add another to list number two. As part of rookie hazing, Roy Williams of the Dallas Cowboys took the entire team out to a fancy dinner and left the bill with disrespectful rookie Dez Bryant. The total? 54 large. That’s right. $54,000. On dinner. There are 53 players on a football team. That’s $1,000 per person! Roy, you want to make a point without looking like an LEED silver a-hole? Donate $54,000 dollars to charity and stick Dez with that bill!

P.P.P.S. On second thought, this isn’t a reason to hate professional athletes, just the the Cowboys! E! A! G! L! E! S! EAGLES!

P.P.P.P.S. The Vegas line for Eagles-Redskins has moved from 7 points to 6 in the last two days. Still solid for a division game. 24-13 Eagles.

Hardy Har Har September 28, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in business, climate, economy, football, politics, society, taxes, transportation, war.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

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.

Trifecta September 24, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in books, clean energy, football, politics.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

It’s been a good six months. If you took the fossil fuel disaster three team teaser. What? Vegas doesn’t give odds on such things? Are we sure? Each of the big three fossil fuels has experienced a major US calamity in the past six months. April 4th, an explosion at the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch coal mine in aptly named Montcoal—that’s coal mountain for the Franco-unwashed—West Virginia kills 25 miners. April 20th, an explosion on the Beyond Petroleum/TransOcean/Halliburton Deepwater Horizon rig 50 miles southeast of the Mississippi delta in the Gulf of Mexico kills 11. September 9, a PG&E gas line in San Bruno, California ruptures starting a fire that kills six, including an acquaintance of an acquaintance and her eight year old daughter.

Shortly after the Deepwater Horizon disaster I posted that there are two costs associated with fossil fuels. There is the slow and certain, low-margin-but-high-probability, frog-in-a-boiling-pot-of-water cost of CO2 emissions. This cost is much talked about. But there is also the awful but random, high-margin-but-low-probability, shock-and-awe cost of disasters. This cost is usually much talked about in the immediate aftermath of the disaster—”if it burns, it earns”—but soon forgotten as the “cost of doing business” or the “price of progress.” And it is rarely if ever mentioned in the fossil vs. renewable fuel as a major point for renewables. And why not? Because of the rare and random nature of the disasters themselves and because blame is always assigned to the companies rather than to the fuel. It’s not coal’s fault, Massey Energy ignored safety regulations and preferred to appeal fines than to bring its mines up to code! It’s not oil’s fault, Beyond Petroleum didn’t install the acoustic blowout prevention valve and Halliburton used sub-standard concrete to seal the well! It’s not natural gas’ fault, PG&E didn’t properly inspect the pipes! Well, that may all be true but the deeper truth is that no company, however earnest and by-the-book can avoid disaster indefinitely. Disasters happen. Screws fall out all the time. The world is an imperfect place. And to the degree that molecules can be at fault, coal, oil, and natural gas are themselves the problem. The thing that makes fossil fuels useful is that they burn. But this same property is also responsible for disasters—sometimes they burn prematurely and spectacularly. And yes that is the cost of doing business … with fossil fuels. Perhaps it’s time we take our business elsewhere.

The same dichotomy plays out on the grander scale of climate change. The kind of climate change that gets the bulk of the press is the high-probability-but-low-impact kind—and here I am using the adjective low in the relative sense, specifically relative to the climate change not talked about. There is a one hundred percent chance that global average temperature will increase by one degree Celsius by mid-century. A one hundred percent chance that floods, droughts, heatwaves, hurricanes, and wildfires will increase substantially in both frequency, duration, and intensity. A one hundred percent chance that ocean levels will rise by about 20 inches displacing 500 million people and robbing the world of 20% of its food producing river deltas. A one hundred percent chance that we will lose between 10 and 20% of all plant and animal species on earth. A one hundred percent chance that climate change mitigation will eat as much as 3% of world economic output. That’s the climate change most Americans know about and the kind that frankly probably doesn’t sound that bad to most Americans who don’t live in Florida and Louisiana—8% of Florida’s land area and 24% of Louisiana’s is within 20 inches of sea level. But there’s the climate change almost no one talks about, the low-probability-but-high-impact kind. There is a one percent chance that global average temperature rises by five degrees Celsius by midcentury. A one percent chance that we lose all the ice in Greenland and Western Antarctica and sea level rises by 43 feet, displacing two billion people and robbing us of 60% of all arable land. A one percent chance that we lose as many as 50% of all plant and animal species including … maybe … humans. I made up the one percent number. I don’t know what the probability of climate disaster is. No one does. The earth’s physical, chemical, and biological systems have too many non-linear feedback loops. But the point is that this kind of climate change—climate disaster—is also part of the equation. The price of progress. The cost of doing business. And while there may be a way to rationalize the risk of the occasional mine explosion, oil spill, and gas main rupture, is there a way to rationalize this kind of risk?

P.S. The DC Metro vs. Philly Bluejay score is now 2-1 Metro. On vacation at my sister’s a few weeks ago and out of reading material, I borrowed her copy of David Sedaris’ “Naked.” I generally do not read fiction—one of my mottos is “real life is fiction enough”—but “Naked” is not really fiction. It’s autobiography. And it’s pretty funny. My favorite short was “A Plague of Tics” or any mention of David’s mother. I was about 20 pages from the end when I left “Naked” by the SmarTrip machine at Friendship Heights. When I returned that evening, it was gone. And so was my faith in mankind.

P.P.S. Speaking of DC Metro. Anyone else notice the geometrical theme of the stations? Federal Triangle. Judiciary Square. Pentagon. Dupont Circle. Ballston.

P.P.P.S. I wasn’t planning on running my streak of sports related items to whatever it is now—four straight posts? five?—but I feel that I have to comment about the situation currently going on with the Philadelphia Eagles. Six months ago, head coach Andy Reid jettisoned 11-year quarterback Donovan McNabb to division rival Washington, largely on the strength of two spot starts by backup Kevin Kolb. This despite repeated proclamations that Donovan would be the Eagles quarterback in 2010. The move was seen as a slap in the face to McNabb—who along with late defensive coordinator Jim Johnson “made” Reid—but not as knee-jerk, or self-serving. After all, Donnie 5 had ample opportunity to get the Eagles a Lombardi trophy. Now, two quarters into the Kevin Kolb era Reid has effectively jettisoned Kolb, largely on the strength of two spot appearances by backup Michael Vick. This despite repeated proclamations that Kolb would be the Eagles quarterback in 2010. This move is a slap in the face to both Kolb and a slap in the face to McNabb and knee-jerk and self-serving. Not to mention self-destructive. Will Kevin Kolb ever be a starter in the NFL? I hope so. He deserves a shot. Can he ever play for Andy Reid? I don’t think so. Would you ever play for someone who threw you under the Liebherr T282B? For that matter, will anyone play for Andy Reid having seen what he’s done to McNabb and Kolb in the span of six months? Andy, this better work or this year will probably be your last coaching in the NFL. Mike Kafka, get your helmet ready!

P.P.P.P.S. Kolb/Vick-gate happened late Tuesday night. Too late for TMQ to weigh in. Tune in next week.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Rumors are flying that Philly Bluejay icon and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel may be stepping down after the elections to run for mayor of Chicago. Who will replace him? What about moi? I’m Israeli. I’m a ballbuster. I will cut off my finger if I have to!

Nuclear Football September 20, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in football, politics, transportation, war, weird.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

It’s football season. And I couldn’t be happier. Well, until the Eagles lost their opener plus four starters to injury anyways. But hey, Dallas lost also! Football is a game of war metaphors. Football players are “warriors.” Quarterbacks are “field generals.” Linemen play in the “trenches.” Quarterbacks get “sacked.” Running backs get “blown up.” “Bombs” get “intercepted.” It’s like the Middle East! With cheerleaders!

Three weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi “Benjamin” Netanyahu met with Fatah leader Mahmoud “The Tall One” Abbas in POTUS Lightning “Barry” Obama’s house for what was described as a hopeful opening round of peace talks. They met again this past week in Egypt accompanied by SOS Clinton. And they will continue to meet every two weeks thereafter. Until either a two state solution emerges. Or until next spring when when Mahmoud “Napoleon cum beard” Ahmadinejad wipes them both off the map with a nuclear warhead.

Most experts agree that Iran is about six months away from joining the nuclear club. The recent freeing of hiker/alleged-spy Sarah Shourd does not mean that Mahmoud suddenly gives a pigeon’s ass about what the West thinks. If it did, her male companions would be freed as well. It doesn’t even mean he has respect for women. If he did, there wouldn’t be this. Ahmadinejad sees twin openings in the Middle East/Central Asia and in the world of Islam and he is ready to pounce on both simultaneously. From a geopolitical standpoint, he is determined to make Iran a major world player—on par with the US, Russia, China, and the European Union, most of whom he repeatedly and deliberately thumbs his moustache at. From a religious standpoint, he sees an opportunity to leapfrog Saudi Arabia and to make Shiites the dominant Muslim sect. Nuclear armament is a quicker path to the first goal than social and economic reform. And it’s a quicker path to the second than decades of brainwashing-by-madrasah in Pakistan. And what a grander entrance to the world stage, holier ascension to the throne of Islam, and more absolute show of force and the will to use it than to eradicate the enemy of Islam—to finish off what the Holocaust couldn’t. It’s as if he’s trying to recreate the scene from Episode IV where Darth Vader forces Leia to watch as he tests the Death Star on her home planet—”Now witness the power of this fully armed and operational battle station!” Actually, given that it’s Ahmadinejad, it would be more like Dark Helmet from Space Balls, but the fate of Alderaan would be the same. Ahmadinejad is six months away from the Muslim nutbag end zone. He’s at the 35. 30. He’s in the clear and he’s starting to high step it. 25. 20. He’s looking at the Jumbotron and holding the nuclear football over his head. 15. 10.

Some experts believe that Israel has a good tackling angle on Iran. That it is ready to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities the same way it took out Syria’s in 2007 and Iraq’s in 1981. Israel—itself unofficially nuclear for at least 35 years—has never let an Arab neighbor get to the end zone. And they are about to go Don Beebe all over Iran’s Leon Lett. The Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg’s has literally kept a running column/blog about this. It will happen. The world has enough problems without a nuclear Iran. The US is probably not going to take military action on its own—there may be a limit on the number of Arab countries that can be attacked in one decade—although it should. The world will applaud. And Israel’s other Arab neighbors will not protest. Saudi Arabia knows that once Iran is done with Israel, Riadh is next.

Which brings us back to the biweekly—bimonthly?—Israel/Fatah talks. Long term, an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank is a necessary component of any stable configuration in the region. Israel cannot keep barricading and illegally settling the West Bank indefinitely nor will it accept 2.5 million Muslims into what is at core a Jewish state. But until the Iran situation is resolved, Palestine 2.0 is a distraction. Peace with Fatah will not significantly change Israel’s security situation. Fatah is already not a security threat to Israel proper—as opposed to Israel improper, the Jewish settlements within the West Bank—neutralized partly by the wall and partly by its leadership. Hamas to the south and Hezbollah to the north operate independently of Fatah and will remain intermittent threats whether a West Bank Palestinian state is established or not. And so perhaps this is a misdirection play—Israel making the world look in the backfield while it sends fifty F-16s deep. Then again, if recent Israel has anything in common with Iran it’s that it doesn’t seem to care much for world opinion. Perhaps this is all political cover for POTUS Lightning. Israel needs to make nice with Lightning—it can’t wait until 2012 and hope that a militant pro-Israel anti-Arab Republican lands in the White House.

Disclaimer. Most of Philly Bluejay’s readers already know this, but I started out as Petah Tikva Starling—there are no Bluejays in Petah Tikva, but plenty of starlings. From what I can remember. This—and cousins—gives me more skin in this issue than the typical American bird, not to mention more cred. Ahem. Of course, I became Philly Bluejay at the age of eleven, never served in the Israeli army, and never lived in Israel as an adult during wartime or Intifada—I spent May-August 2000 in Haifa and the Second Intifada started that September. This gives me significantly less skin and cred than anyone who had actually spent significant time in the .il as an adult. My general stance is pro-Israel, but pro-Israel is not the primary criterion by which I judge US or other non-Israeli political figures. I’m glad we clarified this.

P.S. Sherley, you must be joking! I’m dead serious, and don’t call me Sherley!

P.P.S. Ummmmm … wow!

P.P.P.S. I love the DC Metro—never more than a three minute wait, never less than 80% full. Apparently, the feeling is not mutual. At approximately 8:50am this past Friday, at the Metro Center station, the Orange Line to New Carrolton grabbed me by the right ankle and refused to let go! Isn’t the door supposed to open automatically if it feels an obstruction? Fellow passengers tried to pry the door open but failed. Isn’t the door supposed to release if it feels people pulling on it? I was about to channel Aron Ralston, but I didn’t have my trusty Leatherman with me as it will not go through DOE metal detectors. Instead, I slipped off my shoe, used it to brace the doors while pulling my foot free, then turned it 90 degrees and pulled it through. Next station, Federal Triangle! Philly Bluejay 1-Orange Line 0! This morning, the Orange line to New Carrolton was waiting with doors open as I was heading down the escalator. Rather than run and risk another incident—why don’t train doors have the same countdown timers that most streetlights have these days?—I let the train go and waited three minutes for the next one. Buck, buck, brawwwck! Philly Bluejay 1-Orange Line 1.

P.P.P.P.S. Pastor Jones, how about this for a compromise? You call off the Koran burning and return James Hetfield’s moustache, and we move the planned Cordoba House mosque from Ground Zero to the Dove World parking lot. Haven’t you done enough damage?

P.P.P.P.P.S. What’s the first thing you learn in baseball? No, not “There’s no crying in baseball”—that’s the second thing you learn. It’s “When you get into a fight with a drunk, you don’t hit him with your pitching hand!”!

Baseball Tidbits September 6, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in sports, war.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

Philly Bluejay is not a sports blog per se—a quick look shows that only four of 61 posts so far have had sports as the primary topic—but I did want to comment a few generally interesting—and strangely inter-related—stories from the world of baseball. Bear with me.

First story. Lou Gehrig is one of the most iconic figures in baseball history. One of the best players of the pre-war era. The man who “protected” Babe Ruth in the “Murderers Row” Yankees lineup of the 1920s and 30s. The “Iron Horse” who held the consecutive games played record before Cal Ripken broke it so ceremoniously about ten years ago. The man who gave the reverberating “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” retirement speech even as he was dying. The man who eponymously gave Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) its nom de guerre and Curt Schilling’s son his name. Now it turns out that Lou Gehrig may not have had Lou Gehrig’s disease after all! Instead he may have had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a buildup of protein in the brain due to repeated concussions. Lou played in the pre-helmet baseball era and reportedly kept playing after numerous “beanings.” It is now well known that concussions are like ligament sprains—once you have one you become more susceptible to having another one, especially in the weeks immediately following. The study in the NYT article says that professional football players are diagnosed with ALS eight times more frequently than the general population. Eight times! Former eagles fullback/battering-ram Kevin Turner was recently diagnosed with ALS. It is possible, even likely, that many of them have CTE instead. Brian Westbrook, I hope you’re reading Philly Bluejay. Aren’t two concussions in the span of a month enough? Do you really want to spend your a shortened post-football life a la Stephen Hawking? In the mean time, maybe SNL can do a third Lou Gehrig-themed skit—in this one the doctor tells him that he doesn’t in fact have Lou Gehrig’s disease! By the way, I did not mean to offend Stephen Hawking or sufferers of ALS or their families and friends—I actually have a friend whose mother died from ALS a few years ago.

Second story. Washington Nationals rookie-phenom/100-mph-flamethrower/50-million-dollar-man/face-of-the-franchise Stephen Strasburg will miss the rest of the year—and ostensibly a good part of next year as well—after undergoing ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction aka “Tommy John surgery.” Other than time lost, this is not terrible news. Tens if not hundreds of pitchers have undergone Tommy John surgery and the large majority—at least of recent patients—have come back as good if not better. Former Phillie/Diamondback/RedSock and father-of-Gehrig Curt Schilling came back from Tommy John throwing harder! Evidently the procedure tightened up something in his elbow and gave his arm better “whip.” Who knows perhaps Strasburg comes back from the operation throwing 105! As fast as Cincinnati-Red-callup/105-mile-per-hour-blowtorch/future-face-of-the-franchise/Tommy-John-surgery-waiting-to-happen Aroldis Chapman! But then again, after his own Tommy John operation, perhaps Chapman comes back throwing 110! Oy vey! With the remarkable success of Tommy John, Philly Bluejay 20816 wonders whether future prospects will have elective Tommy John surgery to improve their stock! Why wait for injury? Just have a second ligament put in there and fire away! One final thought about Tommy John, it is fortunate the the first pitcher to successfully undergo the operation had a name as singsong as TJ. “Dan Schatzeder surgery” doesn’t roll off the tongue nearly as well. One final final thought about Tommy John, what if several years from now research will show that Tommy John didn’t in fact have Tommy John surgery after all?

Third story. About 6% of major league baseball players are switch hitters—hit either left handed or right handed depending on whether they are facing a right handed or left handed pitcher, respectively, what did you think I meant? No one in major league history has been a switch thrower or more specifically a switch pitcher—supposedly, Boston RedSox catcher Victor Martinez is completely ambidextrous and can throw 80 mph with either hand—but we may be getting close. Yankees switch-pitching “prospect” Pat Venditte is now in AA ball! The ESPN piece claims that this may be as far as he gets because Venditte’s “fastball” is not “major league”—only 88 from the right side and 85 from the left! But so what? Wouldn’t that be overcome by the fact that he could have a builtin advantage against every hitter he faces? Not to mention the fact that if he blew out one arm and had to get Tommy John surgery, he wouldn’t have to go on the disabled list. He could just pitch with the other hand! Imagine the possibilities and logistics if Pat ever made it to the majors? Would he be forced to choose which hand he threw with in a given appearance or would he be allowed to change? How often would he be allowed to change? Once? Every inning? Every hitter? Every pitch? What would happen if he faced a switch hitter? How would he keep two arms warmed up? At the beginning of every inning, would he get eight warmup pitches per arm or eight pitches total? Where would he keep his other glove? The mind boggles.

Fourth story. Brian Cole was a star outfield prospect for the Mets about ten years ago. Along with Torii Hunter, and Jose Reyes he was supposed to form the core of the Mets lineup. Unfortunately, Cole died in a single vehicle accident in 2001. He was leaving a spring training event, going 80 mph when he veered off the road, turned the steering wheel 295 degrees, and rolled his Ford Explorer three times. Cole was not wearing a seatbelt. He was thrown from the car and died. A passenger who was wearing a belt walked away. Last week, Cole’s family won a 131,000,000 dollar judgement against Ford. Huh? Presumably the judgment reflects Cole’s projected lifetime earnings profile. One can only assume that if Cole was a middle school teacher the judgement would have been for 1,300,000 dollars. Or there would have been no judgement at all. After all, there would have been no collective dreams of the entire Cole clan to be dashed on the asphalt. Philly Bluejay is cynical, but not callous. I do not mean to exploit another family’s suffering for readership such as it is. At the same time, I do not feel that I am exploiting this unfortunate episode any more than the Cole family itself is. As for Ford, what exactly have they done to deserve this? Say “no thanks” to government bailouts? Perhaps the judgement would have come down differently if Ford had taken bailout money. Perhaps the court would have been more reluctant to hand over taxpayer money to the Coles rather than corporate money.

P.S. Philly Bluejay has recently become obsessed with Steven Spielberg’s 1998 war epic “Saving Private Ryan”—perhaps the all time leader in on-screen body count. SPR was on TNT a few nights ago—stretched to four hours by the commercials—Philly Bluejay was there. He then rewatched the first 20 minutes or so—the opening of Dog Green sector on Omaha Beach—on YouTube. If you aren’t already convinced that war is hell … Anyways, throughout SPR, Ranger Charlie Company Captain John Miller—Tom Hanks’ character—has uncontrollable shaking in his right hand. A telltale sign of the onset of ALS? Is it possible that Miller was so chill throughout the action—except for the time he broke down after medic Wade was killed about two thirds of the way through—because he knew he had only six months to live anyway?

P.P.S. Philly-Bluejay-hero/ESPN-TMQ-boss/now-fellow-Bethesdian Gregg Easterbrook has a new blog. This one on Reuters. As if Philly Bluejay needs more ways to waste time! Thanks Gregg!

Just What Environmentalism Didn’t Need September 2, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in books, climate, crime, environment.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

For the next year, Philly Bluejay will be multi-casting from the home office in Bethesda, MD. Bethesda Bluejay … Philly Terrapin … Philly Bluejay 20816 … is on hiatus from the glass and red-brick ivory tower and spending the year working for Uncle Sam. Both figuratively—I am working at the Department of Energy’s Building Techologies Program. And literally—my boss’ name is Sam, and he is certainly old enough to be an uncle.

Philly Bluejay saving the world one building at a time—just what environmentalism didn’t need? Well the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but the title refers to something that happened just a few zip codes over at One Discovery Place, Silver Spring, MD 20910—Philly Bluejay wanted to live in either the 20910 or 20915 zip codes for the sole purpose of playing on 90120 or 90125 but alack, 20816 is closer to Mrs. Bluejay’s work. Yesterday morning, one James Lee walked into Discovery Communications Headquarters carrying a rifle, shells, and two pipe bombs. He allegedly fired a shot into the air before taking three hostages, making a list of demands, and negotiating with police for over four hours. He was finally shot and killed by a sniper when he pointed his weapon at one of the hostages. Mr. Lee claimed to be willing to die for his views. And he did. I am sure that he regretted that he had only one life—and 15 minutes of fame—to give.

Mr. Lee did have some valid aims—we do in fact need to find a way to stop global warming. Although his ways and means were less than practical—all human procreation and agriculture must cease immediately! And while some of his programming suggestions were good—enough with Kate+boobjob+eight and with the Duggars and their 19 children—others were just loony—can we really have enough shows about little people, the morbidly obese, or conjoined twins? I say no! But in the end, he was a nutball, peeved that Discovery Communications could not find a place for his television show in its lineup of stations—Discovery, TLC, Sc, PlanetGreen, Animal Planet, and the Military Channel to name six. Really, could we not get an hour of Mr. Lee rather than the umpteenth rerun of Shark Week or that insufferable Bryan Cox on Wonders of the Solar System?

The problem with nutballs is that they give legitimate causes a bad name and opponents of those causes ammunition. Is it bold to predict that in the coming days Beck/Hannity/Limbaugh or some TEA Partier will paint Mr. Lee as the face of the environmental movement? Environmentalists are nutballs! Drill baby drill! Kate Gosselin for congress! And nutballs never advance their chosen cause in any real way. Did the goofs at ELF (Earth Liberation Front)—the outfit that set a Seattle subdivision on fire several years back to protest over-development—stop northwest exurbia? Did this freak actually save any animals? Now, nutballs with their own ships are something else completely. If you have your own ship, you can do something! If you are a nutball with your own ship, Discovery Communications will beat a path to your door and put you on prime time! Mr. Lee, your biggest mistake was not plowing into headquarters with a ship!

But nutballs for good causes are not as harmful as respected critics of the same. There is a particularly good example in this case—the late Dr. Michael Crichton of of Jurassic Park, Rising Sun, and Disclosure fame. Bright, articulate, and successful as he was, Dr. Crichton was one of the most visible deniers of anthropogenic climate change and argued vociferously that we should spend our monies and energies on one hundred more important pursuits and problems before we turn to carbon dioxide. He even wrote a book called “State of Fear” about a band of environmental terrorists and the protagonists who foil them, presumably with the aim of calming down what he viewed as environmental hysteria. I’m not sure how much impact his writing and speaking had, but it’s fair to assume that he had some. He was a visible dude with the ear of important people. If only he were alive to see the shit that is going down today. In “State of Fear” the eco-terrorists try to set off strategic explosions in Antarctica in order to detach an ice sheet. Detaching ice sheets? Now that’s fiction.

My suggestion to would-be eco-nutballs? Forget about whales and squirrels and the red-bearded monkey and the four-assed monkey—but not the bluejay, no no—start protesting the fact that gas is still 2.73!

P.S. No P.S.’s today.

P.P.S. Oops!

Forty Five Minutes To Where? August 28, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in clean energy, climate, transportation, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

It’s summertime. And Philly Bluejay is living it easy. And also has sporadic internet connection other than his iPhone. It’s hard to bang out multi-line email responses on an iPhone, much less 1,200 word blog posts! If only Philly Bluejay was a teenager during the dawn of texting, he would have developed the thumb dexterity necessary to conduct all of his online business on a 2.5″ by 4.5″ touch screen. Alas, club-thumbs relegate Philly Bluejay to the laptop set.

Anywhos, here is a SmartPlanet—not to be confused with SmarterPlanet®—blog post about vactrains. What is a vactrain? It’s a maglev (magnetic levitation) train that travels in an airless—or at least highly depressurized—tube. Because there is no friction with either the rails or the air, vactrains can presumably achieve very high speeds while using relatively little energy. China is currently developing a vactrain that will travel at 600+ mph. That is more than twice as fast as the fastest maglev train—the 268 mph Shanghai line, more than three times faster than the fastest conventional train, and even slightly faster than a jet! Second- and third- generation vactrains could break the sound barrier and reach speeds of 4,000 mph! NY to LA in 45 minutes!

Okay, so a train going 4,000 mph along a relatively straightshot 3,000 mile tube is probably not going to happen—not even with eminent domain—but even a train going 600 mph along a 300 mile tube would be a useful thing. Here is a CNN.com piece about high-speed rail projects in the US. The most interesting parts of the piece are the actual projects as well as the criticisms. The most prevalent criticism is that high speed train travel is less energy efficient than traveling in a small car and that it is not sufficiently faster to forfeit door-to-door convenience. This is a false argument. The competition for high speed trains is not cars—it’s regional jets. Regional jets are the least energy-efficient form of transportation. Jet travel in general is hard to make green because batteries cannot achieve anywhere near the energy density of kerosene-based jet fuel. But regional jets are worse than long-haul jets because they have larger vehicle-to-payload weight ratios and because they fly at lower altitudes where air resistance is higher. When Philly Bluejay and eighteen other people take the 6AM Embraer 170 to Boston—this happens!

Regional jets are ripe to get picked off by high speed trains. Train travel is as convenient as regional jet travel if not more so. There are no long security lines at train stations—although security at train stations should be increased. And most inter-city train stations are located in downtowns—at the hub of the local train system—whereas most airports are not. Philly Bluejay would much prefer to take the 6AM maglev-Acella or vac-Acella—actually, vac-Acella sounds too much like a disease—to Boston and get to the train station at 5:45 than the 6AM United-Express and get to the airport at 5:15.

Which gets us back to the US high-speed rail projects. Most of the projects—northeast corridor, California coast, Miami-Orlando—are sensible. There is a lot of regional jet travel along these routes. But some are pure pork. Is there significant regional air traffic between Cincinnati and Cleveland? Between Milwaukee and St. Paul? High speed track—especially maglev- and vac-tracks—is expensive. From a climate-change/renewable-energy perspective, it only makes sense if it can displace a significant amount of air travel.

P.S. Speaking of the 2.5″ by 4.5″ magic portal, Philly Bluejay recently discovered the rationale behind these magical dimensions! I’m sure you’ve heard of the classic Microsoft interview question: “why are manhole covers round?” The real answer of course is “Duh, because manholes are round and the cover needs to fit the hole!” but the answer Microsoft expects is “So that it can’t fall in.” Well, the reason the second smallest dimension of an iPhone is 2.5″ is so that it doesn’t fall through a sidewalk grating when someone bumps into you while you are trying to take a picture.

P.P.S. If you travel in computer science circles—and who among Philly Bluejay’s four readers doesn’t? except for my mother, hi mom—you know about the recent buzz surrounding the central question of the field—whether P=NP. About two weeks ago, Vinay Deolalikar—a mathematician working at HP—published a 100+ page proof of the widely believed but still not formally proven result that P≠NP. Why would anyone do such a thing? Well, there are 1,000,000 reasons—or maybe 1,166,666.66 now that Grigory Perelman refuses to collect after resolving the Poincare conjecture. After much prodding and pulling on the WordPress-sphere, it now appears that all has been for naught and that Mr. Deolalikar will not be collecting after all. Well, Philly Bluejay has recently proven a somewhat less known but no less important result—sources tell me that it was ranked 1,530 on the list of millenium challenge problems—specifically that YP≠MP. Follow closely. You≠me∴your problem≠my problem. QED. Now, where is my 1,166,666.66 USD?

P.P.P.S. Anyone know the HTML code for the QED “tombstone?”

P.P.P.P.S. A few weeks ago, Baghdad recorded an all time record high temperature of 126 Fahrenheit—it’s a dry heat. Then just this past week, the last US combat troop pulled out of Iraq. Coincidence? Perhaps the US/West strategy against Iraq/Afghanistan/Iran should revolve not around military action but rather around climate change! Humans can’t tolerate prolonged exposure to temperatures higher than 120 Fahrenheit. If we can raise the average summer high temperature in the region to that level—it’s currently about 108 Fahrenheit—I bet the locals would get a lot less feisty. Come on, we can do this!

P.P.P.P.P.S. Philly Bluejay also has a plan for long-haul trans- and inter-continental jet travel. With the shuttle program now retired, NASA needs to develop hybrid jets that fly both in the atmosphere using conventional forced-air jet propulsion and above it using stored oxygen. These hybrid jets would take off from commercial airfields, climb through the atmosphere like conventional jets, transition to shuttle mode, travel the bulk of their route in zero-drag conditions while discharging waste gas outside of the atmosphere, then reenter, transition back to conventional jet mode, then land again at a commercial field.

Little Additional Threat August 8, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in business, energy efficiency, environment, sustainability.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

There are many scary things about the Deepthroat Horizon disaster. Safety procedures on offshore platforms? Frightening. The overly cozy relationship between “regulators” and the oil industry? Terrifying. 190,000,000 gallons spilled—between 9 and 30 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill? Mind-boggling. Future prospects for Gulf communities? Cover-your-eyes awful. But the scariest thing about it? It might be over soon.

The static kill procedure seems to be working—no more sexy videos of the gushing leak! Two relief wells will be finished soon. One quarter of the oil that spilled has been skimmed. Another quarter and change has simply disappeared—presumably evaporated. And the remaining 90,000,000 gallons that remain at large—about half of which has been “dispersed” either chemically or by natural water churn— poses “little additional threat.” Little additional threat? Phew. What a relief (well). Game over. Good night. Drive—literally—home safely. Thank G-d we didn’t pass any knee-jerk clean energy bill! Now we can get back to talking about the Iraq withdrawal/unemployment/Charlie Rangel/Brett Favre/Ellen DeGeneres.

Of all the jargon and soundbytes that Deepthroat has given us—top kill, stacked cap—”little additional threat” may be the most sinister. It’s the soothing background to the 20,000,000,000 dollar escrow account, Tony Hayward’s resignation, and the reorganization of the MMS. It’s the lullaby that finally puts us to sleep after four months of building Deepthroat fatigue. We’re tired of thinking about it—too depressing. The media is tired of talking about it—no new angles. “Little additional threat” makes it okay to move on. But is it?

31 years later, Prince William Sound has still not fully recovered from the Exxon Valdez. And Deepthroat spilled at least ten times as much! How exactly can anyone claim that 40,000,000 gallons of oil floating around the Gulf is a non-threat? And what exactly makes “dispersed” oil harmless? From what I understand, “dispersed” means broken up into tiny droplets. Did you know that plastic in the ocean becomes really harmful only after it’s broken down into tiny pellets? Because that’s when small fish can eat it and start pushing it up the food chain! Fish don’t eat plastic cups and rubber ducks and sneakers! They eat tiny pieces of orange and red plastic that look like krill. Fish are not going to get near beachball sized orange globs, but they will get near—and probably try to eat—little orange droplets of oil and dish soap! I’m sure “little additional threat” makes every Gulf resident who earns a living from the water feel so relieved! Who knows, maybe Joe Barton can get the 20,000,000,000 dollar “shakedown” reduced to 5,000,000,000!

The bigger disappointment is that the swell of clean-energy sentiment seems to have crested and crashed with no real long term effect—an energy bill with real teeth! There is nothing sadder than opportunity lost. And with “little additional threat” and the midterms coming, I smell a Republican backlash against clean energy and for the oil industry? After all, “even the worst offshore drilling accident in the history of the world didn’t turn out to be such a big deal!” [Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, Gingrich Oct. 2010]

But here is a way to think about Deepthroat and clean-energy/energy-efficiency going forward—this is courtesy of energysavvy.com via Lane Burt@switchboard.nrdc.org. I am going to redo their math, because it doesn’t seem quite right to me, but even the much more conservative numbers I come up with are compelling enough. The average American home (AAH®) uses 11,000 kWh annually. Let’s say that an energy efficient home uses 8,000 kWh. That’s a 27% improvement—not drastic, and certainly not “zero-energy.” So an AAH wastes about 3,000 kWh a year which works to about 200 gallons of oil—one gallon of oil will get you about 15 kWh of electricity. So 1,000,000 AAHs waste about the same amount of oil a year as Deepthroat spilled—that’s 1% of all AAHs as there are about 100,000,000 of those. Now, let’s say that making an AAH energy-efficient costs 20,000 dollars. Making 1,000,000 AAHs energy-efficient would cost 20,000,000,000 dollars—that’s the same amount of money as in the BP disaster relief account. Suppose BP set aside this money to retrofit AAHs rather than to pay for cleanup/relief/compensation. That one time investment would effectively save the equivalent of one Deepthroat spill—every year in perpetuity! It would also save EEAAH owners 1,000,000,000 dollars in energy costs a year—essentially paying for itself within 20 years. Without the environmental/stock-price/public-relations damage. And no additional threat.

P.S. Summer-of-Brett 5.1. The increasingly-pathetic-looking-yet-in-reality-perfectly-rational Minnesota Vikings increase Brett Favre’s 2010 salary from 13,000,000 to 16,000,000 plus 4,000,000 in “achievable bonuses”—that’s right, kids, 1,000,000 dollars per game! Undoubtedly pleased by this sycophantic plea, Brett announces that he is “still undecided,” that he “wants to play health permitting,” and that “this isn’t about the money.” Of course it’s not about the money, it’s about the incessant ass-kissing! Or maybe its about the sexting.

P.P.S. Summer-of-Alex 6.0! In case you haven’t heard, Alex Rodriguez—aka ARod aka ARoid aka AHole—hit his 600th career home run yesterday, joining Barry “Bobblehead” Bonds, Henry “Hank” Aaron, George “Babe” Ruth, Willie “Willie” Mays, Sammy “JackO” Sosa, and Ken “Junior” Griffey. Despite its apparent magnitude, the accomplishment was met with a collective yawn. Here is a nice piece about the milestone by ESPN’s Rob Neyer. The picture in particular is fantastic.

P.P.P.S. Fringe with a better actress.

P.P.P.P.S. SPOILER ALERT! A question for people who have seen “Inception” and “Dreamscape“—a mid-80’s less sophisticated Inception with Dennis Quaid and Kate Capshaw. Anyways, in Inception, if you die in a dream, you wake up. In Dreamscape if you die in a dream, you die in real life. So which is it?

P.P.P.P.P.S. I’m sorry I missed your birthday, POTUS BO! This would never have happened if we were Facebook friends!

A Rare Sports Post August 3, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in books, music, society, sports.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

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.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

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.