Posted by: bkivey | 24 March 2015

NCAA Women’s WWF

I attended Oregon State University; not because I had a burning desire to go there, but because it was the university of convenience when the company I worked for shut down. Since the engineering employment  opportunities were pretty slim, I went for a business degree, and the campus was eight blocks up the road. That said, I enjoyed my time there. I didn’t think that the quality of instruction was lacking, and it’s a gorgeous campus. I didn’t attend any sporting events while there: 40-hour weeks plus school will do that. I did attend a women’s basketball game soon after graduation, and enjoyed it.

During the 2014 – 2015 season women’s Head Coach Scott Rueck guided his team to a 26 -4 regular season. They were ousted in the first round of the PAC-12 tournament, but still managed a regional 3rd seed in the NCAA playoffs. Last Friday they beat South Dakota State to advance to the round of 32. The next game was on Sunday, and as I knew I’d be done with work by noon, and the game was at 1600, I bought the best ticket available ($23 inclusive of charges), and made plans to attend.

Since I last attended a game, the University had built a convenient parking garage amongst the sports complexes, and parking on game day is reasonably priced. The garage is situated so that there is easy access to the baseball, football, and coliseum venues. Much better than parking on city streets and hiking to the venue. No metal detectors at the entrance, and the view from my seat was excellent:

Gill 1503.22 seat view

Five rows up from the floor. Now this is more like it  Not the vertigo-inducing seats I can afford for pro events.

Built in 1949, Gill Coliseum is, frankly, a hole. The upper seats are black, and the upper walls are covered in half-tone grey images of former player. Along with the barely adequate lighting, the combined effect is that the upper reaches suck up every photon available. I doubt that even a white dwarf would adequately light this arena.

I had bought the ‘best ticket available’, and a perusal of the seating chart showed it in the Student Section. I wasn’t really happy with this, as the last thing I wanted was to wind up with a bevy of drunken, screaming 20 year olds while I was watching the game. These fears turned out to be ill-founded, as my seatmate was about my age, and most of the other fans within eyeshot were families or older individuals. Maybe ‘former student section’ was what the chart meant.

In my seat, ready to watch some Division I playoff basketball.

Observations:

  • When the teams came out for shoot-around, it was apparent the Beavers were significantly larger than their Gonzaga counterparts. The center was a woman 6′ 4″. This looked good for our side.
  • During the starting line-up announcements, the starting players were alternately called from each side, and the players shook hands at center court. Never seen that before.
  • The Gonzaga band were much better cheerleaders than their Beaver counterparts.
  • Gill Coliseum has the most uncomfortable seats known to man. The benches are solid plastic with a nominal concave curve to (I suppose) accommodate the human anatomy.  It doesn’t work. I wondered if this wasn’t a ploy to get people to donate to the Athletic Department for better seating. I’ve been to arenas with bench seating; this is the worst. Oregon State is the largest supplier of engineers locally; perhaps they should get on this.

Observations during the run of play:

  • The pick seems to be almost unknown in women’s college basketball. At the NBA level, when the ball is brought into the front court, the center will usually set a pick to free the ball-handler for a shot or pass. This almost never occurred during the game. Even when I played high-school ball, this was the usual opening move.
  • The Beaver’s went with the obvious play of putting their big center in the low post, then feeding her so she could loft the ball into the basket without much opposition. The Bulldogs caught onto this quickly, and started boxing out the lane.
  • The Beaver’s tried to counter the increased interior defense by spreading the offense so the Zags would have to come out and defend the perimeter. This only works if shots are falling, and for the Beaver’s, they weren’t. I considered donating to the Athletic Fund so the Beaver’s could buy a shot.

The Beavs were down 34 – 37 at the half, and looking at the stats, there was an obvious problem. 30 of the Beaver’s points came from just four players, while the Bulldogs had more balanced scoring. This indicates a lack of depth.

As one might expect from a national championship tournament, play was spirited. I credit the refs with not calling ticky-tacky fouls: they let the players play, but that’s the extent of my accolades for the zebras. And the beginning of a dark mood that settled on me and most of the crowd. People expect that refs will make bad calls in the course of a game: they’re human, and the occasional miss-call will occur. But for much of the first half, the calls against Oregon State were egregious. Or, more precisely, the non-calls against Gonzaga. Traveling? Walk all you want. Hacking? Flail away. On the other hand, defenses run by Oregon State were continually flagged. You could say that I’m partisan, and that would be true, but I was sitting close enough to see everything, and the video replays confirmed. Something wasn’t right in Denmark. It’s one thing to compete against the opponent, quite another to compete against the refs too.

The officiating was so lopsided that one began to suspect a fix. Fixing games through partisan refereeing has dogged the NBA. I’m no conspiracy nut, but if there is anything to the suspicion, it puts the NCAA’s anti-gambling message in a new and sinister light. Oregon State didn’t do themselves any favors (2 points off the bench?!) outside of intense pressure on the boards in the second half, but the officiating left a bad taste in people’s mouths.

Gill 1503.22 final score

Final score. Beaver Nation will have to try again next year. The women had a great season, and Coach seems to have the team on the right track. But can we please God get better seating.

Skylights

I’m a bit of a weather junkie, and got to witness some interesting phenomenon on the way up Hwy 34 out of Corvallis on the way to the Interstate. There was this baby mesocyclone:

mesocyclone panorama

That’s a nearly 180-degree view. You can see the well-defined shelf cloud on the right, the rain in the northwest quadrant of the structure, and the tailing clouds off to the West. Nothing like it’s monstrous brethren of the Midwest, but interesting nonetheless. I hit the rain just north of Albany in Millersburg, and it was like driving through a waterfall.

 

The combination of clouds  and mountains formed crepuscular rays from the setting Sun. They were unusually well-defined, illuminating clouds to the East:

Illuminated cloud 1503.22

And forming bands of light across the sky:

Light ray 1503.22

Light ray 2 1503.22

This is actually not an uncommon sight in this part of Oregon, but still cool to see.

Posted by: bkivey | 20 March 2015

Motor Voter

Oregon governor Kate Brown (filling in for ousted John Kitzhaber) recently signed a ‘Motor Voter’ bill into law. Under the law, anyone receiving an Oregon driver’s license will be automatically registered to vote. As Secretary of State, this was one of Ms. Brown’s pet initiatives. No surprise that she jumped on the chance to enact it into law. I’ve never been a fan of these sorts of initiatives, because they lower the bar on something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

A Q & A gives the details on the law, and it all looks very aboveboard. The primary concern on these types of laws is that they open the door to voter fraud: whether by enabling non-citizens to vote, or enrolling people who are resting in peace. The State says that non-citizens won’t be allowed to register, but this reassurance rings a bit hollow given Oregon’s history.

Several years ago there was a ballot initiative to give non-citizens drivers licenses. A similar measure was defeated in the last election. The problem is that in the US a driver’s license (or State-issued ID card) is the de facto national identity document. You have to show one to get on an airplane, rent a car, or do any of a myriad of things, except, well, vote. Oregon state government was only deterred from issuing driver’s licenses to non-citizens after the Feds told them that Oregon citizens would face difficulty in boarding airplanes with a document that didn’t establish citizenship. There was a period of time when I was concerned that I would be a 2nd-class citizen in my own country because the state leadership was too stupid, or ideologically blinded, to see what they were doing.

The argument for establishing voter registration with driver licensing is that it makes the process easier. Easier than what? All one had to do previously was go to the county clerk’s office, show proof of citizenship and residency, and register. Changes in party or address can be taken care of online. In an election year, there are time horizons to meet, but elections occur at fixed times; it’s not like it’s a big surprise. I would argue that if someone can’t be bothered to expend the minimal effort required to meet the standard for voter registration, perhaps they shouldn’t be voting in the first place.

As for voter fraud, the State maintains that non-citizens with driver’s licenses and resident aliens will be excluded. Uh-huh. These safeguards are all dependent on state computer systems. Government computer systems are notorious for their ease of hackability and general insecurity. And what’s to prevent future Administration’s from playing games with the data? One of the things I learned in engineering school and later as a project manager was not to introduce more variables than absolutely necessary.  KISS is a good idea. Motor voter introduces variables into a system that was working pretty well.

Voting is a Western societal institution, but Progressives have no use for institutions save how they can be suborned to keeping them in power. The course is predictable. After a while, people will start to complain that excluding non-citizens and legal aliens is ‘unfair’. Why, they’re working  and living here, paying taxes; they should get a say in how things are run. There shouldn’t be any barriers to registration, up to and including someone getting off a plane and signing up to vote in the local election that day.

And it’s all bullshit.

A viable, dynamic, successful society requires standards, provided those standards can be reasonably met by the majority of citizens. The lower the standards, the lower the standard of living, and the less viable, the society that employs them.

Scott County, Tennessee

Occasionally I’ll be diverted by some random piece of information, and spend some time looking into it. I read an article that mentioned Scott County, TN, and took a passing interest. It turns out that Scott County seceded from the Confederacy, and was briefly it’s own self-declared country. So we have a county that seceded from an entity that seceded from a larger entity.  The climates better than Texas. Maybe a place to consider.

Posted by: bkivey | 14 March 2015

Pi Day

“Computer. Compute to the last digit the value of pi.”

Spock

The Ultimate Computer

Not even the M-5 could complete this impossible task, but a fitting quote for this century’s Pi Day. Every 14 March is ostensibly Pi Day, but today is the only time this century when the date approximates the value of pi to four digits. If one were to round up the fifth digit, then 14 March next year would qualify as a centennial Pi Day, but that’s just sloppy, although not as egregious as some attempts to set the value of pi to 3. The belief that pi could be set to 3 is based on another mathematical impossibility: squaring the circle. Irrational and transcendental pi may be, but it’s not 3.

Quote of the Day

I’m currently reading Plutarch’s Lives, and the first paragraph of the section on Pericles got my attention, perhaps because it so succinctly describes the vast number of people who waste their time (and other’s) on irrational matters.

Caeser once, seeing some wealthy strangers at Rome, carrying up and down with them in their arms and bosoms young puppy-dogs and monkeys, embracing and making much of them, took occasion not unnaturally to ask whether the women in their country were not used to bear children; by that prince-like reprimand gravely reflecting upon persons who spend and lavish upon brute beasts that affection and kindness which nature has implanted in us to be bestowed on those of our own kind. With like reason may we blame those who misuse that love of inquiry and observation which nature has implanted in our souls, by expending it on objects unworthy of the attention either of their eyes or their ears, while they disregard such as are excellent in themselves, and would do them good.

Not much has changed in 2000 years.

Earworm

The other day I was afflicted with an earworm, this time Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman. It’s a decent enough song, but not when it won’t get out of your head. Since I couldn’t get rid of the tune, I decided to have some fun with it by imagining how it would sound in different styles.

Rap

I am the county’s bitch

And I drive that m —–f —–ing road

Lookin in the sky

For a suckass overload

That wire be tuning hard

Like some punk midevel bard

And now you know it’s time

To end this lame-ass rhyme

Social Justice Warrior (spoken word poetry)

I am public infrastructure repair person

And I drive my ecosystem destroying vehicle

Across lands taken from native peoples

I search in the Sun

For another example of imperialistic aggression

I hear the voices of the dispossessed in the wire

And it burns in my soul

About the injustices of capitalism

And power made by coal

Posted by: bkivey | 12 March 2015

My First NBA Game

I’m not a diehard sports fan, but I do enjoy watching anything done well, and I enjoy watching athletic competition performed at a high level. I’ve played several league sports, but I abused my body enough in my 20’s and 30’s to be chary of sustaining injury just to advance a ball. Now I’m content to sit and cheer on the home team, preferably with an adult beverage to hand.

Over the years and in different cities I’ve attended NFL, NHL, MLB, NWSL, and MLS games, along with F1 events, and have enjoyed the experiences. But I’ve never been to an NBA game. Because I live in the Portland metro area, this is something of a hole in my sports fan resume’. People here love them some Blazers, and in truth there’s a lot to like about our local NBA franchise. After the ‘Jail Blazers’ era of the Oughts, ownership decided that players that play well together were more important than simply recruiting the best talent available. Over the past three years the Trailblazers have assembled a core group of players that obviously enjoy the game, like playing together, and are fun to watch. They also win a lot of games. Going to a Blazers game is something of a right of passage around here, and in 8 1/2 years in the area, I hadn’t yet made it to a game. One of my goals this year was to rectify that shortcoming.

Wednesday 11 March the hated Houston Rockets were in town, the very same team that ejected the Blazers from the playoffs last year. Money and time were available, so I bought a ticket, and went.

I took public transit, because parking at events is expensive, and an all-day transit ticket is $5. It’s about a 10 minute drive to the train station, and an hour to the arena. I got off a couple of stops before the arena to eat. I stopped at Kell’s, Portland’s most authentic chain Irish pub, for a bite. The waitress gave me a look when I ordered iced tea rather than a pint. I had the Reuben, and it was OK for the price. Fueled and hydrated, I had a look at some items of interest across the street while waiting for the train.

The light rail stops directly in front of the Rose Quarter, which is where Moda Center ( basketball/hockey/general events), and Veterans Memorial Coliseum (hockey), are located, There’s a complex of shops and restaurants here, too,

20150311_185900

This used to be the Rose Garden, until a large national health insurance company bought naming rights. Yes, it hasn’t gone unnoticed in Portland that paying millions per year for naming an arena is maybe not the most productive use of healthcare dollars.

On game nights, there’s a lit cauldron:

20150311_190115

I’d never been inside the Rose Garden Moda Center, but figured it would be laid out like every other sports  venue. It was. There was an unexpected pass through metal detectors, but otherwise nothing unusual.

The view from my seat:

20150311_191007

I’m surprised there weren’t Sherpas and oxygen masks for rent. But really, the view wasn’t bad, and there are very few obstructed view seats in the place. There are spaces ringing the upper level for standing room only, and for $20 you can see a game: you just can’t sit down. I’ll note that this photo was 1/2 hr. prior to tipoff; nearly all the empty seats were filled. Even on a weekday, the Blazers can sell the house.

The game experience went about as expected. There was the usual amount of promotional activity during timeouts and intermissions; all entertaining. There was a halftime show by a gymnastics group from Union College of Lincoln, NE, which was fairly impressive and got a respectable amount of applause. The game was easy to follow even from my lofty perch, and I was mildly surprised to find that defensive sets and shots were plainly visible. This was the same feeling I’d had when watching NHL from the same tier of seats. You can see a lot more than you think you might from the 300 level.

The home team won. It was a close game through three quarters, but the Blazers pulled away in the fourth, although miscues allowed the Rockets to close the gap late. Some, um, unfortunate calls by the refs didn’t help. James Hardin can’t be too happy to play here: he was loudly booed every tine he touched the ball. Overall it was fun to see a game and players in person that I’d only seen on TV.

But the experience reminded me why I don’t go to live events more often. Mostly it’s the people. There’s a lot to be said for the collective experience, especially for a sporting event, and I try to let the little things slide, but sometimes, you have to wonder.

My seat was between two families. Family A, on my left, was two adults and one child of about 4. The child was old enough to appreciate what she was looking at, and her parents parented, in that they explained what was going on, and except for excessive talking during the National Anthem, indoctrinated her in the norms of society.

Family B, on my right, had some issues. There were two adults and three children, but they’d only bought four seats. The youngest child was maybe 2, and that was a problem. The plan was apparently to hold the youngest on laps for the game, but that didn’t really work out. The child couldn’t know where they were at, or what they were seeing, and they were squirming all over the place. The mother had her hands full the entire game with this child. The school kids in the row in front (attached in some way to Family A) were distracted by this child. What’s the point of going to an event if you can’t watch it, much less enjoy it? I was thinking: why didn’t they buy a seat for this child? It would have cost less than a babysitter.

It was a decent evening out  I like the Blazers, but I’m not a rabid fan. I couldn’t help but think that for the price of the night, I could watch four or five games at the local bar, with people who are just as good company, and who cheer just as loud. I’ll probably go to another game, but maybe I’ll spring for the 200 level

 

Posted by: bkivey | 10 March 2015

“Musqutors Verry Troublesom”

The Journals of Lewis and Clark (Bernard DeVoto, Houghton Mifflin, 1958) was the next work on my reading list, and having finished it, I’d like to see it required reading in American high schools. While most Americans have a passing familiarity with the Expedition, to actually read the words of the Captains is breathtaking.

The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 doubled the territory of the US, and President Thomas Jefferson was anxious to find out what he’d bought. Army Capt. Meriweather Lewis was in nominal command of the effort, while 2nd Lt. William Clark was brevetted to Captain for the duration.  Prior to the start, both men agreed that they would act as co-leaders, with duties divided according to each man’s aptitudes. This command strategy worked brilliantly.

Jefferson’s instructions to Lewis (reproduced in the book), took a ‘kitchen sink’ approach, as nothing was known of the territory west of the upper Missouri River. The Expedition was tasked with discovering a navigable water route to the Pacific and land north of the 49th parallel, contacting the natives and promoting peace between them and the US as well as other tribes, documenting the geography, climate, mineral resources, fauna, and flora of the area, and anthropological information on the various peoples. There was also some time pressure to establish a US claim to the Northwest before the British could gain a foothold. A daunting task, and they had to accomplish these goals with no support, and only 30-some people in the permanent party. The Captains didn’t blink an eye.

The introduction to the book is lengthy, but necessary to understand the geopolitical situation surrounding the Expedition, and the editor explains his editorial process. The book includes only about a third of the original Journals: omitted are nearly all of the descriptive text, and some of the more tedious stretches where nothing much happens. The editor selected and arranged the material to read like a novel, and this approach works well in forming a narrative. The editor kept the Captain’s original grammar and spellings, which to the modern eye are a bit jarring. In many cases the spelling of words changes in the same sentence. This editorial decision does much to put the reader ‘in the moment’.

And that moment is very early 19th century America. Once the Expedition leaves their winter quarters in early 1805, they only have about six months to reach the Pacific Ocean, over an unknown distance (which was severely underestimated) through unknown territory. Except for water travel as far as practicable, and horses over the Rockies, they’re walking the whole way. And these people are animals. Even over rough terrain, 30 miles a day isn’t uncommon. Not to forget they have to hunt and gather, or trade with the natives, for everything they eat.

The Journals are high adventure. There’s bear attacks, attacks by natives, supplies stolen, periods of hunger, misery from weather and terrain, tough decisions to make based on nothing more than experience and supposition. And always onward, ever onward into the unknown.

The Expedition is also a fascinating management study, as the Captains had to keep themselves and their party alive and intact for two years cut off from their country. They lose one man early on to appendicitis, and several members suffer serious injury, but they make the journey and return reasonably whole. If they’d done nothing more, it would be an astonishing achievement.

But they did so much more. It’s fair to say that the Expedition opened the American West. They were the first white men to see and document the territory between the western Rockies and eastern Cascades. The path they pioneered opened trade routes and established the American claim to the Pacific Northwest. They recorded the first anthropological data on the peoples of that area, as well as the first documentation of numerous plants and animals.

I would put Lewis and Clark in the first rank of explorers. It occurred to me while reading that we’ll likely never see such expeditions again, as any new lands will be thoroughly interrogated by our robots long before humans arrive. But to get an idea of what it was like to live in a time when large parts of the globe were unknown to Western civilization, this book is a worthwhile read.

 

 

Posted by: bkivey | 27 February 2015

“It Is Time”

“”Leonard Nimoy passed today at 83, and for more than half his life, he was indelibly identified as Mr. Spock. The logical, emotionless, efficient Vulcan-Human First Officer of the USS Enterprise formed the analytical half of Kirk’s Greek chorus, with DeForest Kelly’s emotional Dr. McCoy representing Kirk’s conscience. Spock was one of Star Trek’s most popular characters, and surprisingly interesting to female fans, perhaps because

“You may find that having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. This is not logical, but it is often true.”

The outsider nature of Spock’s character allowed the writers to examine human nature, and Spock often got the best lines:

“Quite simply, Captain. I examined the problem from all angles, and it was plainly hopeless. Logic informed me that, under the circumstances, the only possible action would have to be one of desperation. Logical decision, logically arrived at.”

” I object to you. I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose.”

“Insufficient facts always invite danger.”

“Superior ability breeds superior ambition.”

“It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.”

Even providing the title for one of my posts:

” I am endeavoring, Madam, to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bear skins.”

Given a character as ostensibly two-dimensional as Spock, Mr. Nimoy managed to expand the character’s range through voice tone and inflection, and showed the world how much meaning can be conveyed with a raised eyebrow.

DeForest Kelly, who played Dr. McCoy and Spock’s frequent verbal sparring partner, passed in 1999, so as Mr. Nimoy makes his final voyage, perhaps one more quote is appropriate:

“Daniel, as I recall, had only his faith, but I welcome your company, Doctor.”

Posted by: bkivey | 12 February 2015

The Shape of Thinks to Come

You don’t have to look far these days to find examples of philosophical systems at variance, sometimes wildly so, with the observed universe. Ideas and worldviews that mere decades ago would have been labeled irrational are now presented as mainstream. The wonderment at which a rational person views this development is two-fold: first, how does societal thought keep moving further from reality, and why do intelligent people embrace irrational thoughts?

My thinking on the first can be illustrated by the progression of classical liberalism. Prior to The Enlightenment period of Western culture during the 17th and 18th centuries, the human condition was pretty much as it had always been: the strong established monarchies and tyrannies to virtually (or actually) enslave the weak. Even so, everyone was strongly connected to the natural world, as the cycles of seasons and climate determined the success of a given society. There is little discussion of ‘animal rights’ in a world where work and sustenance depend on the exploitation of animals. Accordingly, there’s equally little discussion of human rights in societies where the vast majority are kept ignorant and fearful by a very small minority.

For approximately a century starting in mid-17th century Western Europe, the prevailing order was challenged by the intelligentsia. The prevailing order didn’t take kindly to radical concepts like equality before the law, individual rights, and freedom of expression, and persecution among the proselytizers was common. As information technology and literacy developed, the dissemination of these concepts spread, reaching an apotheosis in the American Revolution. The result was a society founded on liberal ideology while still very much connected to the natural world.

But without specialized training, humans have a real problem recognizing when a system has reached maximum utility. As founded, the US was far from perfect, but a damn sight better than any other political system. A few tweaks, like abolishing slavery and universal suffrage, were needed, but no wholesale overhaul. Human nature being what it is, the original radicals found their ideas had become mainstream, so to maintain their self-identity as radicals, they had to espouse ideas more extreme than those considered normal. As society adopts the more radical tenants, the radicals have to move further away. And so it goes until the society bears almost no resemblance to it’s original form. So it is that the modern Liberal has much more in common with the tyrant than the egalitarian.

As to why intelligent people can embrace irrational concepts, let’s look at whence philosophical system spring.

The natural world is governed by well-understood physical laws. There are situations where our intuitive understanding fails us, but in the low-gravity, low-speed world we inhabit, Newtonian physics and Euclidean geometry work very well. The universe would follow the same laws whether humans were around or not, and it’s important to remember that humans are part of the natural universe, and are governed by the same laws.

It’s also useful to note that economic laws are as inviolate as any physical law, and if one substitutes ‘resources’ for ‘money’, economics models natural process well. In fact, economics bears such a close resemblance to thermodynamics, it seems reasonable to suppose they are two facets of the same thing.

So any philosophical system will attempt to reconcile human consciousness with the observed universe. This is a bit of a problem, as the human consciousness far exceeds the limits of the physical world. People will manufacture ideologies invariant with the observed universe because there are other factors in play. Compassion, altruism, the need to serve a higher power are all part and parcel of the human experience. But when governing human behavior, these extra-(natural law) legal behaviors engender complications.

In mathematics, a manifold is, to grossly oversimplify, the universe in which certain calculations can take place. If we take the observable universe to be the manifold in which natural law is defined, we can come to grips with where certain philosophies fail. Remember that natural law is the observable universe and all its interactions. It is the basis.

My contention is that the further thought gets from the basis, the more error-prone the philosophical modeling. The rational person will develop philosophies based on the observable world, and in so doing create social systems that take advantage of human nature and natural law. Such systems allow the greatest possible individual freedom consistent with the common good.

The irrational person will develop axioms independent of observation, and develop social and philosophical systems that may be self-consistent, but bear little resemblance to natural law. Forcing people into these idealized constructs requires severe restrictions on individual freedom, and the refutation of human nature. The adherents of these philosophies argue that their systems are ‘better’ because they are more ‘fair’, when in fact they are neither.  A good way to judge the worth of a society is to examine how closely it comports with the observable world and human nature.

My New Favorite Website

The folks over at climatechangepredictions.org have collected every bit of climate fearmongering they can find and put them all in one place. Especially good is the category ‘Having It Both Ways’.

h/t Robert Zimmerman from ‘Behind the Black’.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: bkivey | 2 February 2015

WTF!?

The Seattle Seahawks contested Superbowl XLIX with the New England Patriots, and came up on the short side. It wasn’t that the Patriots won so much as the Seahawks lost. There are many appellations for extraordinary events in the NFL: The Drive, The Catch, The Immaculate Reception, but this event may go down as The Call, and not in a good way.

This Superbowl lived up to it’s hype for 59:40; hell, even the halftime show was worth watching. Two tough teams battling. The first quarter was the feeling-out period, then the Seattle defense and New England offense showcased. Seattle was committed to taking away yards-after-catch, and New England brought back the West Coast offense with short passes underneath the coverage. Seattle went with man coverage the entire game, but New England QB Tom Brady will pick that apart if there is any whiff of a mismatch. The fact is that the Seattle defense couldn’t match the New England receiving corps. New England got some mileage out of the running game in the first half, but Seattle’s ‘Legion of Boom’ shut that down in the second half.

Seattle QB Russell Wilson made plays with his legs, and showed his ability to loft a ball accurately downfield, while Tom Brady flicked balls quickly out of the pocket. The game was the Seattle hare of opportunity versus the New England tortoise of possession offense.

Cue the final two minutes.

After the Patriots had gone up 28 -24, Seattle found itself on the New England five yard line following an improbable catch by Jermaine Kearse. One play later, Seattle was 2nd and goal at the 1-yard line with 20 seconds left.

Let’s stop for a moment.

You are down by four points, and have to score a touchdown. You are on the opponent’s 1 yard line.There are 20 seconds of game clock.  You have three tries to punch the ball in, and the best running back on the field that day to do it. You have one timeout in hand.

What would you call?

If you said ‘passing play’, congratulations! You could get a job with the Seahawks coaching staff! Play resumed, and “Wilson fires into the end zone. . . intercepted!” Game over. There was an unseemly brawl the next play, but the game was over.

What in the name of all that is holy was head coach Pete Carrol and his coaching staff thinking?

Give the ball to  Marshawn ‘Beast Mode’ Lynch, and you stand a fair chance of winning. Your offensive line has been doing the job all day, why doubt them now? Why in the HELL would you call a pass play when a running play would very likely win the game?

Worst-case scenario: you run a play, it doesn’t work, you’ve burned maybe 6 -7  seconds, Call a timeout. Run another running play. Maybe now you’re down to 5 – 6 seconds with the clock running. Run or pass, if you fail, you’ve failed trying. No shame in that. But to throw a ball when the rushing game was working . . . WTF!?

I’m not one for armchair quarterbacking, but the events in this game were . . . unusual.

TBI

TBI, or Traumatic Brain Injury is something I know far more about than is literally healthy. My first experience came when I was 6, falling out of a car onto a curb, and I’ve had a total of four Grade III concussions, with a host of minor ones. And heck, I’m not being paid big money to sustain them.

I experienced another head injury a couple months ago when a piece of furniture I was lifting took the opportunity to let go and smack me in the head. The 150 lb piece hit me on the upper left side of my skull at 32 ft/sec/sec from a distance of  1.5 feet. It knocked me on my ass and temporarily stunned me. One minute later, the exact same thing occurred. I had to take a few minutes to recuperate.

As I mentioned, I’ve sustained severe head injury, but the most recent was in a league by itself. For a nearly a month I had severe headaches centered on the point of impact, and noticeable degradations in motor, speech, and cognitive functions. I didn’t seek medical attention. Not because I couldn’t afford it, or because I have some irrational fear of medical treatment, but because there wasn’t much that could be done.

I knew how the drill would play out if I went to the hospital. I’d be seen by a nurse, and recommended for an MRI. No matter what the scan showed (in this case, probably a skull fracture), there wasn’t anything that could be done. My biggest fear was a subdural hematoma, and when I failed to exhibit those symptoms, it was a matter of letting nature take it’s course. If I’d gone to hospital, I’d be in the exact same place I am now, minus thousands of dollars.

It’s only been the last couple of weeks that I’ve felt ‘normal'; no headaches and more-or-less normal cognitive function. But for a couple of months I was very concerned that I’d permanently lost cognitive capacity; everything was in sort of a haze. And in truth, I probably have, but not to the extent that it appeared on first blush.

I have gained understanding into why professional fighters at the highest levels only fight once or twice a year: the body just can’t take any more.

 

Posted by: bkivey | 30 January 2015

Letter to the Editor II

It’s been some 30 months since I wrote a post based on the Letters page of the local paper, but the 18 January edition was too good to pass up.

Blaming the Victim

Press and ‘moral responsibility': Let’s not call those who publish provocative cartoons deriding the religious beliefs of others — not just Muslims — “heroes.” By kindling hatred among the few French Muslims likely to respond violently, the cartoons led to many deaths, including those of innocent bystanders. No government interfered. Thus the issue is not freedom of the press; it is the moral responsibility of the press.

Ironically, morality is the cornerstone of all religions. Buddha taught that hurtful speech has consequences. Saint Paul agreed, saying you reap what you sow.

John Folawn

Northwest Portland

Mr. Folawn appears to be under the misconception that only government can repress free expression. Any entity willing to use deadly force can repress freedom, and multiple examples are apparently not enough teach the writer that lesson. In a civilized society, murderous rage is not an appropriate or acceptable response to a slight. Those who worry about offending the ‘violent’ Muslims, how ever few they may be, are already in the oppressor’s thrall.

Missing the Point

U of O’s academic bona fides: I am dismayed about the hoopla over the University of Oregon and its football team. I went to U of O in the 1950s and 1960s, and I chose that school because of academic excellence in its liberal arts program — in particular, mathematics. Nowhere did the university’s record in football influence my choice, and I doubt that members of its outstanding faculty were enticed to the school by a winning football team.

Today, I would almost certainly not choose U of O as a place for my education. Football is fun, but it isn’t the purpose of an institution of higher learning.

Jack Gjovaag

Southwest Portland

Assuming that Mr. Gjovaag majored in Mathematics, or some other technical field, the intervening years haven’t been kind to his grasp of logic. The majority of football powerhouse schools are often in the top academic tier as well: UCLA, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, USC, Georgia Tech, and yes, Oregon. Major sports programs in universities are funded primarily by alumni donors and various fund-raising activities. Oregon has a very good football team, and one very large alumni donor in Nike founder Phil Knight. It may be that some students select Oregon because they want to cheer on a winning program Saturday afternoons, but I suspect most students select their school based on some combination of academics and proximity. I would suggest that perhaps Mr. Gjovaag isn’t enamored of success in general.

Self-Hatred

‘Growth is not the answer': The Oregonian editorial board would be far more worthy of respect if it occasionally departed from its monolithic support of any project that produces “jobs” to treating the bigger-picture issue — namely, where is our current business model leading us?

An export-driven economy like Oregon’s sits on a double conundrum: It supports growth at home and growth on the receiving end. It doesn’t matter what the exported product is — but surely fossil fuels are the worst of the lot. Let’s have some talk about where this leads. The Earth already suffers from the effects of too much humanity. We need to be working out how to lessen our impact, not make it greater.

Growth is not the answer — it is the problem.

Steve Iversen

McMinnville

The biological imperative is ‘Grow or Die’. Every organism seeks to expand it’s niche and secure resources to ensure the survivability of the species. Humans are biological organisms, meaning we follow the same natural laws as any other living thing. Even though we’re little better than slightly more intelligent monkeys, our biological niche is at the apex. To say that humans should voluntarily reduce their ‘impact’ (niche) is not rational. We’d do far better to harness our biological impulses for the collective good than try to suppress them. And there’s an app for that: capitalism.

Bonus!

A Lisa Crnich wrote on 19 January that she was appalled at the increase in rates for the use of a public natatorium. And indeed, the rate increase isn’t trivial. Apparently the fee for a single class went from $4.50 to $10 at the start of the year, or a 120% increase. Not even college increases that much. Fortunately, Ms. Crnich clears up the mystery.

She relates that she consulted her tax bill, and found that two bond measures increased her tax bill by nearly 25%. The key quote from her letter:

“I have always been a supporter and voted for the bond levies. I’m not sure I can do that in the future.”

Where does she think bond repayment money comes from? It’s true that the voter information pamphlet provides an estimate of the additional tax burden for bonds, but it seems most people don’t bother to read it or ignore it because it’s ‘for the children’ or some such drivel. Magical thinking, meet economic reality.

Posted by: bkivey | 27 January 2015

A Bug, Not a Feature

Almost exactly one year ago I wrote a post on the stifling effect government largesse has on social mobility. My premise was that as more government money is given to people in lower income brackets to ‘help’ them, the more difficult it is to move out of poverty. The usual economic progression is one of incremental steps rather than sizable jumps, so low-income workers often find that any increase in their paycheck is more than offset by the decrease in benefits. Thus it takes a person with fortitude to suck up the negative differential and ride it out for a few years.

Lo and behold, the 23 January edition of the local fishwrap of record led with a story on how a $15/hr minimum wage would affect a single parent with two children. There’s a graph illustrating how a putative $3100/month would break down in wages and benefits given hourly wages from the state minimum $9.10/hr to $18.10/hr. As surmised, the net income is negative from $11.10/hr to $14.10 hr. To politicians and social workers, this is known as the ‘benefits cliff’.

I was pleased that the paper ran the analysis on a single-income family household, because that’s the demographic most often cited by the Social Justice Warriors (SJW) when agitating for a higher minimum wage. A single person with no dependents, aka most of the minimum wage workforce, would likely see a net increase as their marginal wage rate rose. In fact, most estimates put the single income family on minimum wage at less than 0.5% of the workforce.

The article interviews bureaucrats, politicians, and social workers, and none of them see the ‘benefits cliff’ for what it is: the walls around the reservation. Gearing public social policy to the lowest common denominator has created a negative feedback loop: the greater the dole, the harder it is to escape it, the more people are on the dole. This is likely one of the reasons public assistance success stories are so uncommon. Even stipulating that intelligence and ambition are normally distributed among a given population, the combination of spirit-crushing benefits and ever-higher barriers to mobility require an exceptional individual to overcome them.

This isn’t to say that people aren’t generally thrust into these situations unwillingly. If you’re a single parent trying to raise a family on a minimum-wage job, you’ve very likely made some bad life decisions. I’m not blaming the victim, just going with the high-probability event. But youthful indiscretion shouldn’t be punished by those who profess to ‘help’ you.

The folks interviewed in the article were generally of the same mindset: rather than lower benefits to encourage work and social mobility, they were of the opinion that benefit triggers should be raised. They see generous welfare benefits as a feature of the social system, rather than a flaw of paying people not to be productive. They certainly don’t recognize the toxic effect on society of limiting access to a more financially rewarding life.

I’ve noted in other posts that income inequality is a necessary part of a productive society. Just as in thermodynamics, there has to be an energy differential to make the engine work. The key, and the one thing that has made America the pre-eminent economy for two centuries, is the promise that someone on the lower end of the economic ladder has access to the upper end. As the political class seeks to consolidate power by limiting access to the upper reaches through programs to ‘help’ those less fortunate, the poor will continue to vote for those that promise to give them stuff, not realizing they are little more than serfs.

So if you are in the position of trying to raise a family in a one-earner minimum wage household, you’re pretty much trapped in a life of, if not outright poverty, low income and lower probability to escape your situation. That may not be servitude, but it sure as hell isn’t freedom.

Mutiny on the Bounty

One of my goals this year is to read more. My primary motivation was the number of unread books in my library, most of which I picked up last year. I recently finished William Bligh’s account of the mutiny on board HMAV Bounty.

The Bounty mutiny is probably the most infamous in the English language. The bald facts are: Lieutenant (Leftenant) Bligh was commissioned in 1788 to take the Bounty to the South Seas, procure a number of breadfruit plants, and convey them to the West Indies to be used as cheap food for slaves.

Other than having to quit the attempt to enter the Pacific by way of Cape Horn and sail by way of the Cape of Good Hope, the outward voyage was uneventful. After five months in Tahiti taking on breadfruit trees, the Bounty sailed for the Caribbean. A month into that voyage, the crew, led by master’s mate Fletcher Christian, wrested control of the ship and put Bligh and 18 loyalists in an open boat in the middle of the Pacific. Four other loyalists were retained by the mutineers for their skills.

In a stunning display of seamanship and command, Bligh sailed that open boat 3,600 miles to the Dutch settlement on Timor without charts or compass, losing only one man to native action. As an exercise in competence and leadership, it compares favorably with Shackleton.

After finishing the book, I watched the 1935 movie version of the story. Featuring Charles Laughton as Bligh, and a y0ung Clark Gable as Christian, the movie has much to do with the popular perception of Bligh as a tyrant the crew was only too eager to get rid of.

But the logs tell another story. A captain must record everything of note in the ships log, and Bligh says the first punishment wasn’t ordered until some three months into the voyage, while the movie implies that the Bounty was a Hell ship pretty much from the get-go. The movie also depicts some events, notably a keel-hauling and forcing Christian to sign a stores manifest against his will, that aren’t evident in the history.

The movie does allude to the likelihood that after five months in Tahiti, some sailors didn’t want to give up Paradise on Earth. I think this the likely motivation for the mutiny, because a choice between life on the islands and the harsh discipline of British naval service at the time would be an easy one for many men to make. The fact that over half the ship’s company was loyal to Bligh, although some may have wanted to avoid the noose, says his reputation as a martinet may be overblown. And even the mutineers respected Bligh as a mariner. When the carpenter was allowed his tools, some sailors expressed the opinion that Bligh would see England for sure.

The Bounty story is a good one, all the more so as the mutineers fared on the whole worse than those they set adrift.

 

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