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August 21, 2004

"The Least We Could Do..."

From an AP story on the reception given American athletes in Athens:

A handful of athletes, such as NBA star Ray Allen, cited fears of anti-American violence as a reason for skipping the Olympics. High jumper Matt Hemingway, son of a Marine who served overseas, questioned such attitudes.

"Anybody who said they didn't want to come because of security, they just didn't want to come," said Hemingway, of Buena Vista, Colo. "Considering what our soldiers are doing, risking their lives, the least we could do is represent our country at the Olympics."

One could argue that Hemingway's comment is a non-sequitur -- that military service has nothing to do with athletic pursuits -- but I think he makes a good point.

Most athletes in Athens -- American or otherwise -- will come home without medals. Many of them are from sports without huge followings, so we will never know their names. Many of them have little or no support and so have had to endure untold sacrifices to achieve the simple goal of attending an Olympics, of representing their nation at the world's premier sporting event. In that context, the thought of an elite NBA player turning down a chance to do so -- and, with a robust team, to almost certainly win a gold medal -- because of "fears of anti-American violence" or just wanting a summer break, seems incredibly lame.

August 17, 2004

Sperm Whales

What a staggeringly beautiful photo from a New York Times story on the future of whaling.

Posted by fboosman from Flickr.


August 16, 2004

Krugman-O'Reilly Smackdown Transcript

Following up on my earlier blog entry, via MonkeyFilter, a transcript of the Tim Russert show featuring Paul Krugman and Bill O'Reilly can be found here. Choice O'Reilly moments include:

Don't call me a liar, pal. That's what you do all the time, and I 'm not going to sit here and take it....

You're appearing with Stuart Smalley [Al Franken], the biggest character assassinator in the country...

You are in with the most vile form of defamation in this country...

You'll lie about me and attack me personally. That's what you'll do...

Mr. Krugman lives in a world of his own. He embraces propaganda of the worst kind, and that's why I have very little regard for his professional analysis...

Hey, Mr. Propaganda, you ought to take and do your own research, pal, and stop taking the left-wing garbage and throwing it out there for the folks...

You are about the most unobjective person on the face of the -- ...

Why don't you just call Fidel? Call him up and have at it...

Hezbollah feels the same way that you do...

As bad as the transcript makes O'Reilly sound, watching the video is much worse. He was in Krugman's face, pointing and jabbing and practically shouting at him.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder about Tim Russert going through with a show like this, giving air time to someone like O'Reilly, who has his own show and certainly doesn't need the additional exposure. I'm sure it drew viewers, and certainly people are writing about it on the Web, but when ratings become the only necessary justification for a show by a serious newscaster, then things have sunk low, indeed.

Apathetic Greeks

If I had a friend in Greece, the one question I'd want to ask them right now would be, "aren't you embarrassed over the empty seats at the Olympic events?" From a AP article:

So far, the Olympics are a box-office bust.

"I watched it on TV and when you looked in the background, you were like, 'Wow, it's the Olympics and nobody is there,'" former gymnast Bart Conner said...

At gymnastics, huge sections of seats had no one in them while the women competed, a fact Greek state television duly noted.

"This must be the first time there is an Olympic gymnastics event that didn't have a full arena," a commentator said.

Organizers say it's too early to judge the games by a few empty arenas. They claim to have sold more than 2.9 million tickets out of a total of 5.3 million. The goal is to sell 3.4 million tickets, and Athens 2004 spokesman Michael Zacharatos predicted sales will increase as the games become "more exciting."

In Sydney four years ago, organizers said they sold 92 percent of the 5.7 million tickets...

Basketball drew a big crowd for Argentina against Serbia-Montenegro, and so did a marquee match in water polo between defending Olympic champion Hungry and Serbia-Montenegro.

More common, though, were the scenes at the Cuba-Australia baseball game, where only 1,549 fans made their way to the 8,700-seat stadium. At the Paraguay-Ghana soccer match in Thessaloniki, no one was sitting on the far side or in the end zones.

At the Japan-Italy game in Volos about 200 miles north of Athens, barely 5,000 fans were in the stadium, and there were almost as many Japanese fans as locals...

[A]t the new Nikaia Olympic weightlifting hall there were more volunteers and officials than paying spectators for the early sessions.

A friend of mine pointed out today that Greece is, by Western standards, a relatively poor country. Fair enough. But then why spend a reputed $1,000 per citizen to stage the Games in the first place?

Between the famous problems getting the Greeks just to build the necessary infrastructure, and the apathy among the Greek public now that the Games are underway, I would imagine that some of the members of the IOC are thinking to themselves that they don't want to take on any more marginal host cities or nations for a long while to come.

August 15, 2004

Nasties in Oz

When I blogged a passage from Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country a couple of weeks ago, I wrote that I would "have to fight the urge to blog something from it every day while I'm reading it." Seeing as how I've done so well and haven't blogged anything from it since, here goes with another anecdote.

One of the recurring themes of the book is Australia's preponderance of deadly creatures. Bryson writes this of the box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri, also known as the marine stinger):

In 1992 a young man in Cairns, ignoring all the warning signs, went swimming in the Pacific waters at a place called Holloways Beach. He swam and dove, taunting his friends on the beach for their prudent cowardice, and then began to scream with an inhuman sound. It is said that there is no pain to compare with it. The young man staggered from the water, covered in livid whiplike stripes wherever the jellyfish's tentacles had brushed across him, and collapsed in quivering shock. Soon afterward emergency crews arrived, inflated him with morphine, and took him away for treatment. And here's the thing. Even unconscious and sedated, he was still screaming.
Unconscious and still screaming? I didn't know that was possible. The mind boggles.

Now, as the friend who gave me the book pointed out, it's pretty easy to avoid being killed by something nasty in Australia:

  • Don't try to kill snakes. Most people are bitten by snakes when trying to kill them.
  • Don't swim off the beaches of northern Australia during the months when jellyfish come onshore. Warning signs let you know when it's not safe to swim.
  • Don't swim or go near waters in northern Australia where saltwater crocodiles are found. Warning signs let you know where it's not safe.
  • If you get bitten by a spider, seek treatment. No deaths have been recorded from redback or funnel web spider bites since the introduction of antivenom.
As it happens, the most dangerous hazard in Australia isn't an animal, but rather the riptide. (See the previous entry on Harold Holt.) Again, warning signs will let you know when and where it's not safe to swim.

Something Bryson doesn't mention, but that an Australian might point out to an American, is that whereas deaths from poisonous creatures there are rare...

  • In the last 27 years, there have been 14 deaths due to saltwater crocodiles -- a rate of 1.9 0.52 deaths/year. (Thanks, Paul!)
  • The death rate from poisonous snakebite in Australia is estimated at 3.2 deaths/year.
  • Since 1884, there have been 63 known fatalities from box jellyfish -- a rate of 0.6 deaths/year.
  • In the last 50 years, there have been 58 deaths in Australia due to shark attack, a rate of 1.2 deaths/year.
...the US is really a far more dangerous place. After all, our murder rate was 5.6 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2002, whereas Australia's rate was 1.6.

Extrapolating from Australia's population of 20.1 million, an Australian visiting the US is 164 times more likely to be murdered than an American visiting Australia is likely to die from snakebite, jellyfish sting, crocodile attack, or shark attack.

August 14, 2004

The Worst and the Best of America

I don't watch much broadcast television, so it was unusual for me to have CNBC on tonight -- I had been watching the Olympics on that channel when they switched to a few hours of news programming. Tim Russert had Paul Krugman and Bill O'Reilly as his guests. I've watched perhaps five minutes total of Bill O'Reilly in my entire life -- and that was five minutes too much. Facing off against Krugman, O'Reilly managed to give simultaneous clinics in how to be unaccountably rude on national television and how to violate every rule of civilized debate. I half expected Krugman to get up and walk out, and he would have been well within his rights to do so. It was so bad that I found myself thinking I was almost ashamed to live in a country where a person like O'Reilly can have a large popular following.

A little over an hour later, I watched Michael Phelps win his first gold medal in the Olympics, in the 400 meter individual medley. His win seemed assured after the first 50 meters -- the real race was for silver, between fellow US swimmer Erik Vendt and Laszlo Cseh of Hungary. Vendt touched second and swam across two lanes to congratulate Phelps with a hug, who then raised Vendt's arm in the air. Then they both swam over to congratulate Cseh, Vendt doing so with a hug.

Who more fairly represents America? The insufferable, insulting, incoherent O'Reilly, or the respectful, sportsmanlike Vendt and Phelps? I choose to believe in the latter. I choose to believe that O'Reilly and his type are freakish products of our media-mad culture, asymbolic aberrations in a country of generally good folks. I choose to believe that Vendt and Phelps represent the people most of us want to be in our hearts, even if we aren't always as neighborly or as generous as we'd care to be. I choose to believe -- as so many of my foreign friends have told me, in more or less the same words -- that Americans are generally "lovely people," even if America itself isn't so loved around the world these days.

Opening Ceremony Thoughts

As much as I like Roots, and as good a job as they do on Winter Olympics uniforms, it's time for them to stop designing Summer Olympics uniforms. This year, they provided the uniforms for the US, UK, and Canadian teams, and none of them looked good. The US uniforms were particularly bad -- somewhere between gaudy short-sleeved leisure suits and early 20th century sailor outfits for three-year-old boys to have their pictures taken in. Ugh.

My favorite uniforms of the opening ceremonies? New Zealand's, and it wasn't close. All black with a huge silver fern... perfect.

How much work has Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki had done on her face? And why couldn't they get her upper lip right? Watching her talk kind of freaks me out.

August 13, 2004

"We'll Know Those Bastards Have Taken Over"

A friend of mine complained about all the geese encountered during a visit to North Carolina. I wrote back:

There are lots of geese here. It's not our fault. Really. They come from Canada. They're the leading edge of the Canadian invasion force. Pretty clever of them, don't you think? Who would suspect geese? I mean, they're geese. It's not like they're toting sniper rifles and channeling Michael Biehn from Navy SEALS. But invaders they are. When the Canadians take over, North Carolina will be the first to fall. I imagine the presence of an NHL team here is all part of the plot. Soon we'll be eating Coffee Crisp bars and all-dressed potato chips. We'll be polite and clean and the crime rate will go down and we'll have universal health care. That's when we'll know those bastards have taken over.

August 11, 2004

The League of Human Dignity?

My friend David Smith pointed me to a CNN article on a Sioux Falls, SD man, Patrick Deuel, who weighed 1,072 pounds when he checked into a hospital for a medically-supervised diet. The article is worth a look, if for no other reason than to ensure you won't miss a session at the gym for a while. What struck me, though, was this paragraph:

A group known as the League of Human Dignity helped arrange for Deuel to be driven to a local livestock scale, where he could be weighed.
Pardon me? The League of Human Dignity took him to a livestock scale? Am I missing something here?

August 10, 2004

Barenaked Arab Ladies?

In researching the Barenaked Ladies set list for my previous blog entry, I discovered that Meetup.com has a Barenaked Ladies interest group. So far, so good.

The hard-to-believe-at-first thing about the interest group was this: while Toronto, BNL's hometown, has 10 members, and Vancouver, where they're extremely popular, has but 3, the number one city for members is Islamabad, Pakistan, with 55 -- 55! Could it be that Islamabad is a heretofore-unknown hotbed of BNL fan worship?

Not exactly. Here are some of the Islamabad fans' profiles:

hi there i am male 24 from isb, and love to have fun, feel free to contact me for some fun 00923008550948


well i m 23 male from islamabd looking for such meeting any body can contact me free 03005130953 i m 5 11 fair having big mustaches, haaa dont be afraid .. i m doin mba it ths itt

Er, okay...

So here's my question: what happens at the BNL Meetup events in Islamabad? On the third Wednesday of each month at 7:00 PM Pakistan Time, who exactly shows up? And what do they talk about?

August 07, 2004

My Favorite Concert Ever

After fourth row right side tickets to the Sarah McLachlan show at RBC Center last week, I wondered if I could possibly be any luckier with the Barenaked Ladies show at Alltel Pavilion. It has been years since I was at Alltel Paviilion, so I wasn't familiar with the layout. I picked up the tickets at the Will Call desk and my son Cameron asked me what the seats were. The tickets read Section 2, Row B, Seats 9 and 10. I wondered, "could Section 2 be the center? Could Row B be the second row?" Not wanting to get up Cameron's hopes, I said that I couldn't tell how good the seats would be until we got there. In fact, they were second-row center seats, the best I've ever had at a concert.

We arrived about a half-hour into Alanis Morrissette's performance. I like some of her Jagged Little Pill-era songs, but overall, it struck me as a fairly run-of-the-mill rock-and-roll performance -- fine as it went, but nothing unique, no special connection with the audience.

When the Barenaked Ladies came out, it was nothing short of amazing -- the energy, the passion, the connection, all of it. And our view was incredible.

Courtesy of barenaked.net, here's the set list for the performance:

Brian Wilson
Some Fantastic
Maybe Katie
In the Car
Another Postcard
For You
Lilac Girl
One Week
Pinch Me
The Old Apartment
Have You Seen My Love?
Too Little Too Late
Lovers in a Dangerous Time
It's All Been Done
When I Fall
If I Had $1,000,000
As I told a friend, the only way it could have been better would have been if it had been a BNL-only tour, giving them two hours to play instead of an hour and a half. I missed some of my favorite songs. But it's a small complaint to be sure.

It's going to take a lot to top that and ever have a better concert experience. It's hard to imagine, really. As for Cameron, this being only his second rock concert, I'm sure he's completely spoiled. Not bad for a 15 year-old.

August 03, 2004

Lance Armstrong's Coach on Carbs

When Lance Armstrong's coach speaks out on nutrition and fitness, it's probably worth listening to. From the August issue of Outside:

In Chris Carmichael's new book on nutrition, Food for Fitness, due out in late July, Lance Armstrong's coach puts the smack down on the high-protein, low-carb diet frenzy. According to Carmichael, the barbarian diet is disastrous for active types -- much better to get back on the pasta-and-potato train... After numerous clients came to him on low-carb diets that left them running on fumes, he decided to set the record straight.

"To think carbs make you fat is wrong. You're fat because you're not exercising. There are some nine million people in this country swimming, running, biking, regularly going to the gym, or doing whatever, and no one's been talking to them about their diet. Low-carb diets are exactly what you should not do if you're active. Carbs are the fuel that drives your life; suddenly everyone's forgotten this. If you're working out five days a week, you need a minimum 60 percent [daily caloric intake] of carbs a day. You need protein to help you recover after you work out, and you need fat to help you digest those carbs. You can't just cut carbs -- or cut protein or fat, for that matter -- like every trendy diet has for the last 20 years. That's dysfunctional. You need them all. To simply blame a food type for us being fat is bullshit."

August 02, 2004

Jobs and Cancer

As everyone undoubtedly knows by this point, Steve Jobs had emergency cancer surgery over the weekend. Apparently he expects to make a full recovery and be back on the job soon.

When Steve Jobs has surgery, it's a Slashdot-worthy topic... and in the discussion was this comment:

I have a prediction:

Bill Gates will get cancer in about 10 years time. He will then file a slew of patents, like he was the first head of a major computing corporation to ever have it.

All the Apple-ites will then point out that Steve Jobs had cancer, 10 years before Bill Gates.

The more historical pedantic will then point out that the head of Xerox had cancer back in the 70s.

All kidding aside, get well soon, Steve. The industry wouldn't be the same without you.

August 01, 2004

Harold Holt

A friend of mine gave me Bill Bryson's Australia travelogue In a Sunburned Country, and from the moment I started reading it, I knew it was a special book about a special place. I know I'm going to have to fight the urge to blog something from it every day while I'm reading it. For now, here's an amazing anecdote from the opening:

On my first visit, some years ago, I passed the time on the long flight reading a history of Australian politics in the twentieth century, wherein I encountered the startling fact that in 1967 the prime minister, Harold Holt, was strolling along a beach in Victoria when he plunged into the surf and vanished. No trace of the poor man was ever seen again. This seemed doubly astounding to me -- first that Australia could just lose a prime minister (I mean, come on) and second that news of this had never reached me.
A prime minister lost off a beach and never seen again? And I didn't know this?

The Wikipedia entry for Harold Holt can be found here. According to Wikipedia:

On 17 December 1967, Holt went swimming at Cheviot Beach on Point Nepean near the holiday resort of Portsea, south of Melbourne. Apparently seeking to impress his friends, Holt, who was 59 and had had a recent shoulder injury, plunged into the surf. He disappeared from view and was never seen again. Despite an extensive search, his remains were never found. He was officially presumed dead on 19 December.