Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ready to Go

I've got dancing shoes, walking shoes, water sandals, hiking boots, and bare feet. I've got a tiny flashlight and a maglight. I've got an extra-light sheet bag, a sleeping bag, an extra sleeping bag, and a lightweight emergency blanket. I've got a bathing suit, sunscreen, wool socks, and a warm fleece. I've got a passport, 10 pages of directions, and a giant atlas. I've got The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the radio play of the first six Chronicles of Narnia, and twelve other audiobooks. I've got my wife / co-pilot.

I'm ready to go West.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

America Confounds the Cynics

Washington has learned: when somebody cries "RACISM" in a crowded room, the panic won't end until someone's head rolls. Washington has learned: make someone else's head roll today and it won't be your head tomorrow. So when Andrew Breitbart posted video clips of a USDA employee making racially inflammatory remarks, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack moved with speed and got Shirley Sherrod to resign under pressure the same day.
"You know, the first time I was faced with helping a white farmer save his farm. He took a long time talking but he was trying to show me he was superior to me. I know what he was doing. But he had come to me for help. What he didn't know, while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me, was I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him. I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland. And here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land, so I didn't give him the full force of what I could do... I figured if I take him to [a white lawyer], that his own kind would take care of him."
What has followed is ready-made for the Lifetime channel. Turns out, Breitbart's video was incomplete, and her March speech to the NAACP was about overcoming - not exacerbating - racial division. Now Vilsack, who tried to save his own neck from a cable-TV scaffolding, looks foolish. The NAACP, who condemned Sherrod without even fact-checking their own event, looks more foolish. And foolish would be a compliment to Andrew Breitbart in this case.

But outside of Washington, a funny thing happened: in a story of smears, lies, and coercion, a peculiar humanity showed through.
"Working with him made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who haven't. They could be black, they could be white, they could be Hispanic. And it made me realize then that I needed to help poor people - those who don't have access the way others have."
With her life now under scrutiny, Shirley Sherrod has been lauded as a case study in overcoming adversity with grace. Her father was shot in the back and killed by a white man when she was 17. A white grand jury refused to bring charges. White USDA officials were skeptical of her agricultural co-operative and denied them loans during a drought.

But this time was different. Roger Spooner, the white farmer who Sherrod said "acted superior" when seeking help, came forward, along with his wife. The wife's live chat on WaPo today (usually a tedious medium) is endearingly folksy:
"That was just about two weeks before they were gonna sell our farm up at the courthouse. He got the Chapter 11 to stop it and Shirley Sherrod arranged it all and got it going. We would have lost everyting if it hadn't been for Shirley.
The farmers grew up, they said, as friends with blacks. In 1986, when Sherrod offered them a black lawyer in their town or a white lawyer 45 minutes away, they chose the local man (he was too busy, so they eventually switched). And when an acquaintance from 24 years ago was being tarred and feathered, the white farmers drove to Atlanta to set the story straight.
So we listened and me and Roger looked at each other and we said that she helped us when we really needed help and we were gonna try to help her.
Shirley saw White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs apologize to her on TV. She got a new job offer from Tom Vilsack to be high up in USDA working on civil rights issues. And she was asked whether she wanted an apology from President Obama. No, she said, but she would like to talk to him.
"[Obama]'s not someone who has experienced some of the things I've experienced through life being a person of color. He might need to hear some of what I could say to him. I don't know whether that would guide him in the way that he deals with others like me, but I'd at least like to have the opportunity to talk to him about it."
And the movie has a happy ending.
"Shirley called me today and told me she talked to the president. She wanted to come over tomorrow but we're gonna be busy; Roger's got to go to the doctor and then Saturday we've got funeral. Sunday she's gonna call me we'll decide then when we can get together. We didn't talk a long time. She said I know you're like me and we're both tired. She said it would be good to sleep in own tonight.
Washington, you've been confounded by America.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Overheard on the Youghiogheny

OK, technically this isn't anywhere near the Yough, and we didn't "hear" anything. But it was on the way there, and we saw it (oversaw it?) and it was hilarious.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Overheard on the Youghiogheny

Guy #1: Yeah, it's a cool job. I get to fly a helicopter, a small, maneuverable one like Magnum P.I. used.
Guy #2: Wow, I wish I could say that I go to work like Magnum P.I.
Guy #1: Just grow a mustache and start wearing Hawaiian shirts!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Intelligent Congressional Leaders?! Working together???!!!

This could be the best thing to come out of Washington in years. Leaders Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and John Boehner (R-OH) spoke in separate instances about the need to raise the retirement age to 70 for people now under 50 years of age. Absolutely! This is the single most important, obvious, and simple step in creating Social Security and Medicare solvency. The sooner the better.

Hat tip to Drudge.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Overheard on the Youghiogheny

Us: swimming down the rapids on the Loop
Kayaking Guide paddling by: Gnarly run! Don't let the State Park catch you.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Red Meat

Ross Douthat at the NYTimes has some blood-boiling class warfare rhetoric (as far as conservatives go). He understates the degree to which the rich pay income taxes, but he's certainly right that those who work hard and pay taxes are subsidizing a panoply of well-connected special interests. If the Republican Party doesn't go after some of these interests with their nascent mandate, they'll be booted out again as quickly as they're racing in.

World Cup Recriminations

FIFA insists on showcasing its two most heartbroken teams in a 3rd-place match the day before the final both yearned to play in. They do this so that the number of matches in the 32-team World Cup is a beautifully symmetric 64. They also do this because the game showcases the best football of the entire tournament. Freed of the terror of losing, players stop gaming the referees, attack audaciously, and stop tripping each other.

In the competitive games, however, the quality of play decreases linearly with the quality of talent. The least talented teams - North Korea, New Zealand, the U.S.A. - play their hearts out, keep their noses clean, and emerge with respect (if not hardware). The best talents revert to playground tricks and duplicitous histrionics as they face tough competition. The World Cup final saw a team noted for aggressive play (Holland - my favorites) face a Spanish team noted for precision. Predictably, the Dutch broke up the Spanish midfield ballet with hard tackles and rapid attacks. Wonderful - that's good football. But they started playing for fouls, cards, and referee attention instead of for goals. One of the many eye-rolling moments of the match featured a Spanish attacked fouling a Dutch defender in the box. The referee missed it, but the Dutch player looked away from his man and threw up his hand to signal a foul before returning to playing defense. That's the epitome of a lousy game.

The epitome of bad refereeing (a theme throughout the tourney) occurred when a Spanish player had rolled around for a full 10 seconds, after a minor foul the referee didn't see. When the referee noticed the Spanish thespian's bravado performance, he stopped play and issued a yellow card by way of applause - for an infraction he did not even see!

To paraphrase Gregg Easterbrook, there is no immutable law that football must remain as globally popular as it now is. Many talk about what FIFA must do to win Americans over. Nay, FIFA must reform itself to hold onto European and Asian fans, who can and will shift their attention and Euros to other venues if international football continues down the road to travesty.

After watching more of this World Cup than any before, I suggest the following simple reforms for improving the matches.
  1. Use video review before issuing cards or awarding penalty kicks (not free kicks). Use video review of goals at the referee's request. Under this system, when the referee calls a foul, the free kick is taken and play continues. A centrally-located booth reviewer automatically gets all the video angles and takes his time determining whether a yellow card is deserved for either the infraction or for the dive. At the next break in play, the on-field referee issues any cards.
  2. Choose better referees. If a player born and playing in France qualifies as Algerian, why not a referee of Algerian descent who referees in France? Matches should not be officiated by lightweights like Koman Coulibaly.
  3. Add a referee per match. People are more attentive when they aren't exhausted, and an extra angle always helps.
  4. Make red cards a 45-minute power play, carrying over to the next match. Reds early in the match are too debilitating; Reds late in the match (e.g. Suarez) are too lenient. If booth review is a bridge too far, at least review all red cards between matches and rescind unfair ones for the subsequent match. FIFA can't bear admitting it is wrong. But if the Association behaves like a child, how can it expect adult behavior from its players?
  5. Never end a match with penalty kicks. Extra time is often goal-less because players are exhausted and defense is less taxing than offense. When extra time occurs, give longer breaks to let players catch their breath. That's more time for commercials ($$$) and the revived players will reward you with better play. Also, award one or two extra substitutions to each team at the start of each 15-minute overtime period. After the first half-hour extra time, continue 15-minute extra time periods indefinitely (with a new sub for each one), like a baseball game in extra innings. Could it be insanely long? Yes, maybe. But that would also be insanely exciting. And anything is better than penalty kicks, which is like settling a draw in Chess by playing War.
Thematically, what's wrong with FIFA is a breakdown in respect. The referees and the association exact enormous penalties at will, but are subject to big margins of error. They refuse to admit that they may be wrong. The players respond by gaming the system and playing flop instead of playing football. The refs demand respect instead of earning it, and the players openly mock the system. A more humble approach by FIFA ("We're wrong sometimes") would lead to more respect for the game among players. And all of that would lead to the best football being played at the highest level in front of the largest audience - and isn't that what everyone wants?