Archive for 2011 May

NBA stats guys pick Miami, but blew it on Dallas/Lakers

Here's an odd fact to mull going into the good-looking NBA Finals war between Dallas and Miami: Not one NBA statistician polled by ESPN picked Dallas to win this bout.

Henry Abbott explains:

The TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown features eight participants.

Two pick the Mavericks to win the 2011 NBA Finals — the other six pick the Heat.

But know how many of those quant analysts expect the Mavericks to win?

Zero. Nada. Nilch. Not even one. 

(A couple of the analysts choose against Miami to be contrary, despite their statistical analysis.)

But! Dig a little deeper, and you discover that again, not one of these same wizards picked Dallas to beat the Lakers. And Dallas swept the Lakers! 

So what do these alleged geniuses know? 

Another NBA analyst, Dave Zirin, looks into the future for The New Yorker, and predicts that if Dallas can't stop Miami, the Heat will dominate the league for years to come, and change everything: 

Now the Mavs are the last line of defense against the Heat taking a beautiful team game and possibly owning it for years to come. If the Mavs can’t do it, and if Dirk and Jason Kidd lose what might be their last great chance to win a title, then other teams will mimic the Heat: mortgaging complete teams to stockpile stars. We will have a league where a handful of Ayn Rand super-squads will consume all the oxygen, a dispiriting sporting version of the Talented Tenth model of uplift. Teams that are greater than the sum of their parts will be as quaint as shooting toward a peach basket or pro hoops in Seattle.

I picked the Mavs to win it all before the N.B.A. season began. My rooting interests are with their team. But ball don’t lie. The wing is king. The Heat in six.

I'm unconvinced. I've heard those dynasty predictions before. Which is maybe why I seem to be the one American outside of Florida rooting for Miami.

Even superstars can play the team game. That's Miami's message, I think. 


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As men become weaker, movie heroes get stronger

That's according to a Harvard psychologist quoted in yesterday's Los Angeles Times

“As men have lost more economic power, more social power, they’ve wanted to look more pumped up,” [Emily] Fox-Kales said, pointing to the recent recession that disproportionately hit male-dominated jobs like construction and manufacturing. “Muscles have become an accessory, like pickup trucks.”

The piece in the newspaper is mostly fluff, focusing on the latest stars and their stupendous biceps, but it does include Fox-Kales interesting paradox, and a hilariously straight-faced graphic. 

"A bit more brawny," indeed.

The piece also throws in some history, which helps make the point: 

This isn’t the first time social forces have coincided with changing movie star aesthetics — the preponderance of bodybuilder action heroes such as Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in the 1980s, for instance, came just as a generation of American women were marching off to work in record numbers.

Gotta love the remote in the American male's hand. Closest thing to a gun for a couch potato.   

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Beached white males: the Great Recession comes home

At a graduation ceremony, I visited with middle-aged men of my acquaintance, and found many of them — maybe even a majority — living like me without steady work. When I talked about it a little, they readily admitted they were hurting. Taking construction jobs for a $100 under the table, despite having careers in the media, for instance. A journalist friend pointed me to this Newsweek cover story on the phenomenon, which does bring out some new details, and makes its case powerfully: 

…while economists don’t have fine-grain data on the number of these [middle-aged] men who are jobless—many, being men, would rather not admit to it—by all indications this hitherto privileged demo isn’t just on its knees, it’s flat on its face. Maybe permanently. Once college-educated workers hit 45, notes a post on the professional-finance blog Calculated Risk, “if they lose their job, they are toast.”

The chart below is based on a survey of 250 such "beached white males" around the country. 


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How can someone so young write such a good dark novel?

My favorite interviewer of writers is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a writer herself: Michelle Huneven. She's written for countless different outlets, but these days is interviewing for the literary site The Millions

This week she published an interview with a young novelist who wrote a book called The Gin Closet. Here's Michelle's introduction to the book and the author, Leslie Jamison:

I read and admired Leslie Jamison’s The Gin Closet when it first came out –and was immediately curious about its author:  How could someone so young (Jamison was 26 at publication) write a book so lyrical, dark and knowing?  

For more on the book, please read Michelle's interview. I doubt anyone could unveil it better, even the author herself. But for those curious about the title…

MH:  One scene really haunts me.  Stella [a young woman] goes to her aunt’s trailer in Nevada and sees the gin closet, her [elderly] aunt’s drinking room. It’s a terrible womb-tomb place, bottles, flies, a turkey carcass of all things, a stool in the corner—truly the nightmare version of a tuffet. Appalling! But the next thing you know, Stella and Tilly are drinking together.  Reading along, I was thinking: No! Don’t do it, Stella–you’re giving too much ground! I knew she wanted to help her aunt and bring her back into the family.  While I never thought she had a chance of succeeding, I really didn’t want her to sink to her aunt’s level.

LJ:  I wanted to destabilize Stella’s hero complex from the start to show it as confused. She wanted to connect with her aunt and build a sense of trust and to not be just another voice saying, “you’re a fuck up and we want your problems far away from us.” The short cut to that was to get low with her, get shamed with her.

That’s as opposed to saying I’m here, in a better spot, and I want you to come here too, which imposes a boundary and a separateness that requires a lot of moral fortitude and a kind of caring that’s willing to be patient.

A lot of wisdom there, and a lot of issues, too.  


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McKibben/Toles: Ignore the climate/disaster connection!

It's long been my contention that environmental writers, artists, and speakers have to access the full range of human emotion to make the case for the urgency of action needed to preserve our existing climate — even bitterness, if necessary. Science and earnest appeals to reason simply aren't enough. 

So it's good, in a rhetorical sense, to see our leading advocate for action, Bill McKibben, resort to sarcasm and even, yes, a little bitterness in a column in the Washington Post about climate and tornadoes, not to mention, floods, droughts, wildfires, the melting of the ice at the poles, and more. 

Caution: It is vitally important not to make connections. When you see pictures of rubble like this week’s shots from Joplin, Mo., you should not wonder: Is this somehow related to the tornado outbreak three weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, Ala., or the enormous outbreak a couple of weeks before that (which, together, comprised the most active April for tornadoes in U.S. history). No, that doesn’t mean a thing.

It is far better to think of these as isolated, unpredictable, discrete events. It is not advisable to try to connect them in your mind with, say, the fires burning across Texas — fires that have burned more of America at this point this year than any wildfires have in previous years. Texas, and adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico, are drier than they’ve ever been — the drought is worse than that of the Dust Bowl. But do not wonder if they’re somehow connected. 

If you did wonder, you see, you would also have to wonder about whether this year’s record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest — resulting in record flooding along the Mississippi — could somehow be related. And then you might find your thoughts wandering to, oh, global warming, and to the fact that climatologists have been predicting for years that as we flood the atmosphere with carbon we will also start both drying and flooding the planet, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold air. 

Please read the whole thing. It gets even better, but I don't want to give away the punchline. 

From Toles, of course. 

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Making a city resilient: plant more heat-resistant trees

That's what Chicago is doing, among other forward-thinking ideas

Awareness of climate change has filled Chicago city planners with deep concern for the trees.

Not only are they beautiful, said Ms. Malec-McKenna, herself trained as a horticulturalist, but their shade also provides immediate relief to urban heat islands. Trees improve air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide, and their leaves can keep 20 percent of an average rain from hitting the pavement.

Chicago spends over $10 million a year planting roughly 2,200 trees. From 1991 to 2008, the city added so many that officials estimate tree cover increased to 17.6 percent from 11 percent. The goal is to exceed 23 percent this decade.

The problem is that for trees to reach their expected lifespan — up to 90 years — they have to be able to endure hotter conditions. Chicago has already changed from one growing zone to another in the last 30 years, and it expects to change several times again by 2070.

Knowing this, planners asked experts at the city’s botanical garden and Morton Arboretum to evaluate their planting list. They were told to remove six of the most common tree species.

Off came the ash trees that account for 17 percent of Chicago tree cover, or more than any other tree. Gone, too, are the enormous Norway maples, which provide the most amount of shade.

A warming climate will make them more susceptible to plagues like emerald ash disease. Already white oak, the state tree of Illinois, is on the decline and, like several species of conifer, is expected to be extinct from the region within decades.

So Chicago is turning to swamp white oaks and bald cypress. It is like the rest of adaptation strategy, Ms. Malec-McKenna explains: “A constant ongoing process to make sure we are as resilient as we can be in facing the future.”        

Pretty radical stuff. 



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What’s not to “like” about widgets (from the WSJ)

Or at least, what's not to trust. It's why I don't link this site to fb, though it hurts my popularity: 

The charticle is easier to understand than the article, but they're both worth a minute or two. 

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The “peculiar, newsworthy,” Republican style of illicit sex

The New York Times has many famous columnists, and one funny one: Gail Collins.

Which brings us to sex. What is it with Republicans lately? Is there something about being a leader of the family-values party that makes you want to go out and commit adultery?

They certainly don’t have a lock on the infidelity market, and heaven knows we all remember John Edwards. But, lately, the G.O.P. has shown a genius for putting a peculiar, newsworthy spin on illicit sex. A married congressman hunting for babes is bad. A married congressman hunting for babes by posting a half-naked photo of himself on the Internet is Republican.

A married governor who fathers an illegitimate child is awful. A married governor who fathers an illegitimate child by a staff member of the family home and then fails to mention it to his wife for more than 10 years is Republican.

A married senator who has an affair with an employee is a jerk. A married senator who has an affair with an employee who is the wife of his chief of staff, and whose adultery is the subject of ongoing discussion at his Congressional prayer group, is Republican.

We haven’t even gotten to Newt Gingrich yet!        

Don't worry, she won't overlook him. She's not afraid of him, unlike her cohort David Brooks. 


Kidding, kidding…

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USA Today: Climate change deniers just like birthers

When the New York Times writes an opinion piece on climate change and the challenge it poses our political and economic system, as Andrew Revkin and other thinkers at that paper do on a routine basis, the world yawns. When the editorial board at the Washington Post declares that every candidate for political office should be asked if he or she disagrees with the scientific consensus on climate change, and if so, on what basis, few notice. Even when the august National Geographic gives an extraordinary lead column to the leading advocate for action on climate change, Bill McKibben, the nation shrugs. 

But when the centrist USA Today declares that climate change deniers, which today includes almost the entirety of the Republican party, are like birthers, well, that makes news.

They write

Late last week, the nation's pre-eminent scientific advisory group, the National Research Council arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a report called "America's Climate Choices." As scientific reports go, its key findings were straightforward and unequivocal: "Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment." Among those risks in the USA: more intense and frequent heat waves, threats to coastal communities from rising sea levels, and greater drying of the arid Southwest.

Coincidentally, USA TODAY's Dan Vergano reported Monday, a statistics journal retracted a federally funded study that had become a touchstone among climate-change deniers. The retraction followed complaints of plagiarism and use of unreliable sources, such as Wikipedia.

Taken together, these developments ought to leave the deniers in the same position as the "birthers," who continue to challenge President Obama's American citizenship — a vocal minority that refuses to accept overwhelming evidence.

It's a good argument. Maybe it will get traction. 

Clearly, the facts aren't enough — six years ago on its front page the paper said "the debate was over" — the globe was warming. 

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The Seven Steps of Global Warming (a primer for deniers, by Toles)

According to Wunderblog's Jeff Masters. this month we've seen $2 billion damage on the Mississippi, a diastrous 300-year flood in Alberta, and flooding in Colombia the likes of which has never been seen.

He quotes Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, who after 500+ deaths, said, "the tragedy the country is going through has no precedents in our history." 

Masters adds that Colombia often suffers flooding during La Niña, but "La Niña has waned. April sea surface temperatures off the Pacific coast of Colombia (0° – 10°N, 85° – 75°W), warmed to the 13th highest temperatures in the past 100 years, 0.68°C above average. Thus, this month's flooding in Colombia may not be due to La Niña."

Tom Toles breaks it down for deniers in his Friday rant

"What part of this don’t you understand?

1) Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat.

2) Warmer atmosphere holds more water, hence greater evaporation, greater droughts.

3) More water in the atmosphere means heavier rainfall elsewhere, that is greater flooding.

4) Warmer air also means greater volatility, that is violent storms. See also above.

5) A lot like the weather we’ve been having recently!

6) Even if this PARTICULAR weather isn’t the direct result of climate change (and it might be) LOOK AT IT AND YOU CAN GET THE IDEA what we’re asking for, and how our kids are not going to like it.

7) Now think ruined agriculture, food crises, refugee crises, oh and probably some warfare.

And your response? Hope it’s all made up! Yeah, THAT’s the sensible way to respond! Likely the biggest mistake humans have ever made. And you, not somebody else, YOU are making it right now. Way to go."


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