140 years ago sheep were devastating the slopes and meadows of the Sierras and John Muir launched an effort -- which took decades -- to remove them. He wrote:
It is impossible to conceive of a devastation more universal than is produced among the plants of the Sierra by sheep...The greass is eaten close and trodden until it resembles a corral... Where the soil is not preserved by a strong elastic sod, it is cut up and beaten to loose dust and every herbaceous plant is killed. Tees and bushes escape, but they appear to stand in a desert very different from the delicately planted forest floor which is gardneed with flowers arranged in open separated groups. Nine-tenths of the whole surface of the Sierra has been swept by the scourge. It demands legislative interference. [from his journals for September 19, 1873]
Recently the well-known environmental columnist for the Guardian, George Monbiot, has launched his own campaign against the destruction wrought by sheep on a landscape, bY opposing -- in a contrarian fashion -- the designation of England's famous Lake District as a World Heritage site. He writes:
The celebrated fells have been thoroughly sheepwrecked: the forests which once covered them have been reduced by the white plague to bare rock and bowling green. By eating the young trees that would otherwise have replaced their parents, the sheep wiped the hills clean. They keep them naked, mowing down every edible plant that raises its head, depriving animals of their habitats. You’ll see more wildlife in Birmingham. Their sharp hooves compact the soil, ensuring that rain flashes off, causing floods downstream. This is the state which the bid would help preserve in perpetuity, preventing the ecological restoration of England’s biggest national park.
This is part of Monbiot's rewilding campaign, as he states in a manifesto:
Through rewilding – the mass restoration of ecosystems – I see an opportunity to reverse the destruction of the natural world. Researching my book Feral, I came across rewilding programmes in several parts of Europe, including some (such as Trees for Life in Scotland and the Wales Wild Land Foundation) in the UK, which are beginning to show how swiftly nature responds when we stop trying to control it (18,19). Rewilding, in my view, should involve reintroducing missing animals and plants, taking down the fences, blocking the drainage ditches, culling a few particularly invasive exotic species but otherwise standing back. It’s about abandoning the Biblical doctrine of dominion which has governed our relationship with the natural world.
It's so difficult for us to imagine a landscape before the arrival of us and our domestic animals. Monbiot quotes a forester named Ritchie Tassell sarcascitally wondering: "How did nature cope before we came along?"
"Rewilding" is a concept introduced in this country by Dave Foreman, of Earth First! fame. I think it's best-known example in the U.S. is the idea of a route built over or under a highways to allows animals, especially migrating animals, to pass safely
But removing the sheep from the Lake District sounds like a start.
Anyone who has been to Santa Cruz Island, in a national park off the coast of Southern California, can can readily imagine how different and pleasant that island would be with hills of vineyard, producing tens of thousands of gallons of wine, instead of the unimaginably huge sheep farm that took over.
For many years, dating back to the Spanish era, Santa Cruz island produced wine for the entire state, until a rancher named Ed Stanton took control, idled the vineyard, and imported thousands of sheep. A sucessful sheep operation resulted, and produced revenue while devastating the island, but eventually was bought out by the parks service. The sheep were eradicated in recent years.
Point being: the Lake District too could benefit from a rewilding -- and sheep removal.
[We have no pictures, apparenlty, of Ed Stanton having the wine casks emptied and 26,000 gallons of wine poured out on the ground, but we do have a history of his operation. ]
Sam Farmer usually writes about football for the Los Angeles Times, but on All-Star Sunday he had a marvelous look at the three-point shot in the NBA, with the graphic to tell the story:
The three-pointer, first used by the NBA on a trial basis in the 1979-80 season, has morphed from a lightly used gadget to a cornerstone of the game. In that first season, teams averaged fewer than one three-point basket per game. Thursday night, for example, the Clippers made 16 three-pointers in a romp over the Lakers.
It's worked so well that many of us, including long time Laker coach Bill Betka, think the time has come for a four-point shot:
Bertka has pitched his own idea. He thinks there should be a four-point shot just inside the halfcourt stripe, a heave that would give a team trailing by two baskets a flicker of hope at the end.
"You could put the line at 40 feet," Bertka said. "Can you imagine some of the scenarios with a four-point shot? Just look at the way the three-point shot has created a lot of excitement, opened the floor up, stretched the floor. That's the way I like to play the game."
[Kylie] Irving, [the rookie phenom shooter], approves of the idea: "People would be growing up trying to become four-point specialists."
I've been wondering why I continue to watch basketball. I gave up playing in a thirty-five and older league years ago, when I could no longer jump. My NBA team, the Lakers, has long since been knocked out of the play-offs. Lefty friends deride the idea of enjoying competition and hierarchy, and there is both science (see this amazing speech from Michael Lewis) and humanity in their argument.
Our national preoccupation with the images and performances of great athletes is not a simple matter. The obsessive intensity with which we watch their beautiful movements, their careless energy, their noisy, narcissistic joy in their own accomplishments is remarkably close to the emotions we feel when we observe very young children at play. While their games last, we smile with pleasure -- but not for long, not forever. Rising from the park bench at last, we look at our watch, and begin to gather up the scattered toys...
Everyone agrees that Kevin Durant is the least narcissistic and even least dramatic of superstars, but you can see Angell's point even so, in this pic.
Since the great Vlade Divac left the NBA for charity work a decade ago, the prize for best flopper in the Association has been up for grabs. But last night, the ever-clever Tony Parker made a move to take Vlade's crown, transforming a slightly extended elbow brush-by into a flailing backpedaling collapse that took him and Steve Nash to the floor. Amazing.
Any flop that epic really does deserve a call...and perhaps a nomination.
From a fascinating new longform site devoted mostly to sports, Grantland, the famous analyst and writer Malcolm Gladwell argues:
Pro sports teams are a lot like works of art. Forbes magazine annually estimates the value of every professional franchise, based on standard financial metrics like operating expenses, ticket sales, revenue, and physical assets like stadiums. When sports teams change hands, however, the actual sales price is invariably higher. Forbes valued the Detroit Pistons at $360 million. They just sold for $420 million. Forbes valued the Wizards at $322 million. They just sold for $551 million. Forbes said that the Warriors were worth $363 million. They just sold for $450 million. There are a number of reasons why the Forbes number is consistently too low. The simplest is that Forbes is evaluating franchises strictly as businesses. But they are being bought by people who care passionately about sports — and the $90 million premium that the Warriors' new owners were willing to pay represents the psychic benefit of owning a sports team. If that seems like a lot, it shouldn't. There aren't many NBA franchises out there, and they are very beautiful.
The best illustration of psychic benefits is the art market. Art collectors buy paintings for two reasons. They are interested in the painting as an investment — the same way they would view buying stock in General Motors. And they are interested in the painting as a painting — as a beautiful object. In a recent paper in Economics Bulletin, the economists Erdal Atukeren and Aylin Seçkin used a variety of clever ways to figure out just how large the second psychic benefit is, and they put it at 28 percent.7 In other words, if you pay $100 million for a Van Gogh, $28 million of that is for the joy of looking at it every morning. If that seems like a lot, it shouldn't. There aren't many Van Goghs out there, and they are very beautiful.
Gladwell goes on to argue that NBA owners should be happy with the psychic benefits of their teams, and not expect them to make money on a day in and day out basis, but a San Antonio sportswriter doesn't buy it, and knows the NBA owners won't either.
Gladwell concludes that an NBA owner is losing money “only if he values the psychic benefits of owning an NBA franchise at zero — and if you value psychic benefits at zero, then you shouldn’t own an NBA franchise in the first place. You should sell your ‘business’— at what is sure to be a healthy premium — to someone who actually likes basketball.”
But Gladwell makes no allowance for the economic upheaval of 2008 disrupting the dynamics of psychic benefit theory. Some NBA owners who love basketball just as much as Cuban have been badly buffeted by the recession. The owners of some of the 22 teams reported to have lost money last season no longer can easily afford the psychic benefits they once were willing to absorb.
Trouble is, there’s no reason to expect those owners will soon sell their teams to basketball-loving billionaires willing to treat teams like Van Goghs or Picassos just so NBA training camps will open on time. They would rather crush the players union to get new terms that guarantee profit.
In Las Vegas, they're eager to take bets on the season, but not on whether the season will be played, period. Probably for reason. NBA union chief Billy Hunter is willing to bet the season will be cancelled, and Madison Square Garden's stock was just downgraded due to that likely possibility.
Just when you think the Los Angeles Times can't stoop any lower...they fire their climate change reporter while she's on a story in the Arctic. Yes, while camping in the snow. Believe it or don't.
Here's how Margot Roosevelt relayed the story, from her farewell to her colleagues, via the LA Observer:
It was a strange place to get an email with the news of my lay-off: An Alaska field station 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn’t set in July. I was about to get on a helicopter (thanks to a two-week science journalism grant) with biologists who study how arctic fire is changing earth’s climate. Been sleeping in a cold tent, fending off mosquito swarms and happily roaming over moss-green tundra, the lavender peaks of the Brooks Range in the distance.
She was one of a dozen or so staffers laid off, including virtually the entire remaining book staff, and Mark Heisler, who had been covering the NBA for the paper for the last twenty-five years, and was widely considered the best writer on the Association.
Unbelieveable. Nice graphic from The Wrap, though:
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.
The play-offs (and Ted Rall) remind me that the sports mindset, as the President might say, has its limits.
I hear Noam Chomsky also has some views on sports. In Manufacturing Consent, in front of an adoring audience, he marvels out loud at the intelligence with which "Joe Six Pack" types can on the radio analyze these matters of "no importance."
The Los Angeles Lakers basketball club were widely expected to sweep the New Orleans this month, on their way to a possible third consecutive NBA championship, but on Sunday were torched by the smallest player on the court, Chris Paul.
Lakers' fans focused blame on the Laker's big man Pau Gasol, who put up a measly eight points, less than half his average. One friend told me Pau was "monitoring" the game.
Pau was roughed up, flagrantly fouled once, and repeatedly hit in the face, but took no offense on Sunday, in his classic nice guy style.
The sportswriters covering the team marveled this morning at his niceness in adversity, writing of how he had been "blamed for everything but the destruction of the Roman Empire," but still stayed kind.
Can a nice guy finish first?
It's an enduring question, and the kind of question that basketball, which reveals character in the moment as well or better than any other sport, can actually answer.
In the last two years, Pau put the question to rest twice. But he'll have to face it again tonight.