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Archive for April, 2007

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Don Imus – the Mourning Show

Friday, April 13th, 2007

As the 2007 NCAA tournament wound to a close, I bet the Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team figured they’d remember this basketball season for the rest of their lives. Other than losing to Tennessee in the finals, it was a dream season. They accomplished (almost) everything they set out to do, and had achieved national recognition for their efforts. They would all graduate from a fine school and move on to successful professional careers, some in the basketball realm, others not. No matter – they would always be remembered as the 2007 Rutgers team – the one that made it to the finals against the mighty Tennessee Lady Vols.

Well, all of that is gone now.

As it turns out, they’ll always be remembered as the women that a popular morning radio DJ made a stupid, racist comment about. The news articles coming out about them now don’t even mention the basketball season, and we’re not even a month past it yet.

So here’s my question: who did this to these poor women? Who ruined their legacies? I would submit that it was not Don Imus. He said a stupid thing that was only heard by his ever-shrinking audience, and most of them probably ignored it or deemed it a lousy attempt at humor. The small minority of folks who took him literally probably brought their own racist and/or sexist attitude to the table to begin with. All the same, he attacked these women without provocation, and he got his punishment – both from the court of public opinion and the unemployment line.

But it was the so-called “civil rights leaders” that affixed the “victim” label on these women for the rest of time. As racism continues its slow decline in our society, folks like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson run the risk of losing relevance. To combat this trend, they need to elevate public displays of racism to “national scandal” status. To do any less would suggest that this instance is somehow less awful than the last one. And so we see a steady stream of condemnations: Trent Lott, Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, Don Imus.

This Sunday marks the 60th anniversary of the start of Jackie Robinson’s major league baseball career. Baseball is acknowledging the day with a league-wide celebration, in which every player on every team 200 players throughout baseball (and of every skin color) will wear Jackie’s number 42 for the day. Yet, there are some who believe that Robinson’s legacy is in danger, because only 8.4% of current major leaguers are African American (more than 40% are minorities – primarily Latinos, as well as a growing number of Asians).

Like Revs. Sharpton and Jackson, I believe these folks completely miss the point. And that point is this: skin color is no longer relevant in becoming a major league ballplayer. Black, brown, yellow and white have all succeeded. Kids of all colors cheer players of all colors, and there is very little talk of who’s in who’s group. What matters is what you can do on the field. That’s why all the so many players are wearing #42, not just 8.4% of them. That’s what Jackie Robinson helped bring about. That is his legacy.

The Rutgers women should be remembered for what they did on the court, not what they said in some press conference or on the Oprah Winfrey show. They’ve earned that legacy. To the extent that it’s been stolen from them, I think it’s a shame.

UPDATE: Apparently, some players felt that having everyone wear the number lessened the impact of it, and preferred to have one or two representatives wear it for their team. Four teams, including the Dodgers (Robinson’s former team), had all the players wear it. All in all, it came out to about 200 people, with at least one on every team.

Categories: News and/or Media, Sports Talk | 2 Comments »

Ladies and Gentlemen, White Trash…

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

“My baby’s mother just died and now my daughter and I are an international media circus! Woo Hoo!”

To paraphrase Jon Stewart: We all owe Kato Kaelin an apology…

Categories: The World Wide Weird | No Comments »

I’m Sure Someone Else Is Curing Cancer…

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Ladies & Gentlemen, an update on what Germany’s scientists are doing these days:

The molecules responsible for the characteristic leathery, plastic aroma that suffuses new cars are known as volatile organic compounds. These are regularly emitted from plastics, synthetic fabrics, upholstery, carpets, adhesives, paints, cleaning materials and other sources. Only a fraction of these volatile organic compounds are obvious—the rest are odorless.

Toxicologist Jeroen Buters at the Technical University of Munich in Germany and his colleagues investigated the health effects of volatile organic compounds that cars emit.

Buters and his colleagues first collected molecules from the air inside a new car and a three-year-old vehicle of the same brand placed under 14,000 watts of light, where temperatures reached up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. They next exposed these compounds to human, mouse and hamster cells grown in lab dishes. These are commonly used to test toxicity.

New car smell does not appear to be toxic, the scientists found. Air from the new car did cause a slight aggravation of the immune response that could affect people with allergies, but the same was not seen with the older vehicle.

Well, I’m glad we got that sorted out. Now they don’t have to recall all of these.

Categories: The World Wide Weird | No Comments »

Baseball Needs a New Stat

Friday, April 6th, 2007

Yeah, I know – baseball has more stats than any other sport, and I’m suggesting a new one. But the fact is, one of the current stats just isn’t measuring what it’s supposed to measure (at least not in all cases) and rather than looking at a meaningless number, I’d like to see it fixed.

The stat I’m referring to is Earned Run Average (ERA), defined as the average number of earned runs a pitcher gives up per nine innings. For a starting pitcher, this stat is fine. If someone pitches six innings and gives up two earned runs, we can safely assume he gives up roughly three runs per nine inning game (especially if he does this consistently throughout the year). My problem involves using the ERA for relief pitchers.

Take last night’s Yankee game for example. In the fifth inning, Andy Pettitte gave up two infield singles and suffered an error by the first baseman, Doug Mientkiewicz, making it first and third with nobody out. Joe Torre lifted Pettitte for reliever, Scott Proctor. The score at the time was 4-2 in favor of the Yankees.

The runner on first immediately stole second, making it second and third. Proctor struck out the first batter he faced, then gave up a sacrifice fly (bringing a run home and advancing the runner on second to third), and then threw a wild pitch to bring a second run home. Score: 4-4. Then, Derek Jeter made another error, but the runner was caught stealing to end the inning.

At the end of this mess, Pettitte gets charged the two runs (although only one earned run due to the Mientkiewicz error) and Proctor is charged with no runs at all. Now, Pettitte deserves the two runs, because he put the runners on base, so the runs that scored are a result of his actions. No complaints there. But to charge Proctor with no runs is to assume that his job is merely to avoid making the problem worse. That’s not the case. Proctor’s job in this situation is to shut down the Devil Rays and maintain the Yankee lead, much like Pettitte would have been asked to do if they let him keep pitching. So, to call Proctor’s performance “perfect” (i.e., no runs allowed) after giving up the lead strikes me as a mis-statement of what relief pitching is all about.

Relief pitchers are frequently brought into tight spots. The good ones get out of the jams without giving up any runs. The mediocre ones let a few runs in, and then stop the bleeding. The really bad ones start giving up runs of their own, but that’s another topic for another day. My point is this: baseball’s current stats judge the good relief pitchers and the mediocre relief pitchers as the same: no runs allowed. ERA = 0.00.

I suggest a new statistic called Earned Runs While Pitching (ERWP), to be defined as the average number of earned runs scored by the opposing team while a given pitcher is on the mound for nine innings. In the above situation, therefore, Pettitte would accrue one run toward his ERA in the fifth inning, but zero runs toward his ERWP (since no one scored while he was on the mound). Proctor would accrue zero runs toward his ERA, but two runs toward his ERWP.

If Pettitte and Proctor continue to have outings like they did last night all season long, Pettitte’s ERA would rank him (deservedly) as a fairly mediocre pitcher, and Proctor’s ERA would rank him tied for the best pitcher ever (ERA = 0.00). ERWP, on the other hand, would show Pettitte as better than average, and Proctor as having let the team down.

One could argue about which stat is most appropriate at what time (roughly: ERA for starting pitchers, ERWP for relievers), but at least we’d have both to consider.

Categories: Sports Talk | No Comments »

The Beatles are Coming! The Beatles are Coming!

Friday, April 6th, 2007

Off the news wires today:

Beatles May Go Online As Apple, EMI Come Together:

Apple Inc. and music label EMI Group Plc plan to announce “an exciting new digital offering,” EMI said Sunday, a move that could involve putting the Beatles music catalog online.

EMI said it plans to hold a news conference Monday at its London headquarters where EMI Chief Executive Eric Nicoli will be joined by Apple Chief Executive and co-founder Steve Jobs, the company said in an e-mail to reporters.

Currently, no Beatles songs can be downloaded via online music services. EMI has been the distributor for the Beatles since the early 1960s.

If that’s really what they’re announcing, I’m willing to bet that the Beatles set yet another music record, becoming the group with the most music downloads in a single day. And you’ll forgive the geek side of me, but it will also be an acid test of ITMS’ network infrastructure, as we see whether or not the servers can handle a huge spike in requests on a single day.

Of course, we’re still not sure that’s what is happening:

A live Webcast of the event, which will feature “a special live performance,” will be available at http://www.emigroup.com beginning at 1 p.m. local time in London (8 a.m. EDT).

That would be a very, very special live performance, eh?

Categories: Words about Music | 2 Comments »

A Congent, Balanced Argument Against “The Surge”

Friday, April 6th, 2007

This guy seems to have it just right:

I do not want–as I believe most Americans do not want–to sell out American interests, to simply withdraw, to raise the white flag of surrender. That would be unacceptable to us as a country and as a people. But I am concerned–as I believe most Americans are concerned–that the course we are following at the present time is deeply wrong…

I am concerned–as I believe most Americans are concerned–that our present course will not bring victory; will not bring peace; will not stop the bloodshed; and will not advance the interests of the United States or the cause of peace in the world. I am concerned that, at the end of it all, there will only be more Americans killed; more of our treasure spilled out; and because of the bitterness and hatred on every side of this war, more hundreds of thousands of [civilians] slaughtered…

Isn’t this exactly what we have always done in the past? If we examine the history of this conflict, we find the dismal story repeated time after time. Every time–at every crisis–we have denied that anything was wrong; sent more troops; and issued more confident communiques. Every time, we have been assured that this one last step would bring victory. And every time, the predictions and promises have failed and been forgotten, and the demand has been made again for just one more step up the ladder. But all the escalations, all the last steps, have brought us no closer to success than we were before…

Let us have no misunderstanding. [They] are a brutal enemy indeed. Time and time again, they have shown their willingness to sacrifice innocent civilians, to engage in torture and murder and despicable terror to achieve their ends. This is a war almost without rules or quarter. There can be no easy moral answer to this war, no one-sided condemnation of American actions. What we must ask ourselves is whether we have a right to bring so much destruction to another land, without clear and convincing evidence that this is what its people want. But that is precisely the evidence we do not have…

But the costs of the war’s present course far outweigh anything we can reasonably hope to gain by it, for ourselves or for the [civilians]. It must be ended, and it can be ended, in a peace of brave men who have fought each other with a terrible fury, each believing he and he alone was in the right. We have prayed to different gods, and the prayers of neither have been answered fully. Now, while there is still time for some of them to be partly answered, now is the time to stop…

Amazing, isn’t it? A critique of the war in Iraq that doesn’t refer to the President as an incompetent, moronic criminal. A rational argument that acknowledges the complexity of the situation, the brutality of the enemy, and the difficulty of ending the war after having fought it for so long. Why, it’s almost like the speaker is from an entirely different era, when politics was more about making your case than destroying the credibility of the other side.

Oh, who was the speaker? Sorry, forgot that detail – it was Robert F. Kennedy, circa 1968, speaking about the Vietnam war. As Glenn likes to say, read the whole thing.

Categories: Political Rantings | No Comments »

Flag Burning Controversy? Not this time…

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

Headline : Three Yale Students Arrested for Burning an American Flag

Political scandal? Excuse for various presidential hopefuls to weigh in with the most opinion poll-tested response to such an incident? Front page news for several days? The subject of continuing coverage on MSCNNOX News?

Not this time. You see, the flag they burned happened to be attached to a house when they burned it:

[Police officers] saw that a flag hanging off of 512 Chapel St. was engulfed in flames, [a spokeswoman] said. While one officer removed the burning flag, the other officer stopped the students, who were further down the street.

According to court reports, the charges against the students initially included two counts of reckless burning, which were later changed to two counts of second degree arson at yesterday’s arraignment.

So this one is too much of a slam-dunk even for the story-starved mainstream media. It doesn’t even help that one of the students was born in Pakistan, the son of a former Afghan governor, and once worked as a translator for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

At least, I should say, it hasn’t helped yet. There’s always tomorrow’s paper…

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | No Comments »

Some Pictures are Worth 2,000 Words

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

If you don’t know who these people are, you probably look at this picture and think, “Boy and his Mom Playing Baseball on a Spring Day.”

If you do know who they are, you think, “Remembering Cory Lidle: Father and Husband.”

It’s hard to imagine a single picture that can convey as much joy and sadness at the same time…

Categories: Sports Talk | No Comments »

Wireless recharging

Sunday, April 1st, 2007

Man, talk about solving a problem no one knew they had! Scalzi just pointed this out:

Powercast and its first major partner, electronics giant Philips, are set to launch their first device powered by electricity broadcast through the air.

It may sound futuristic, but Powercast’s platform uses nothing more complex than a radio–and is cheap enough for just about any company to incorporate into a product. A transmitter plugs into the wall, and a dime-size receiver (the real innovation, costing about $5 to make) can be embedded into any low-voltage device. The receiver turns radio waves into DC electricity, recharging the device’s battery at a distance of up to 3 feet.

Picture your cell phone charging up the second you sit down at your desk, and you start to get a sense of the opportunity.

I had just assumed you’d always have to plug something in to recharge it. Apparently not.

I’m picturing public recharging kiosks in coffee shops, airport waiting areas, etc.. The possibilities really are endless…

Categories: Tech Talk, The Future is Now | 1 Comment »

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