The Weblog

January 2007 Archives

Potpourri

  • Wolf Blitzer asks Dick Cheney about the rightist reaction to his upcoming grandchild. Uh, awkward.
  • Forbes.com ranks the Internet's top 25 celebrities. Interesting that I'm not included. Obviously, name-recognition/celebrity status is an important criterion for this list, but how are some of the bloggers comparably ranked with the Wikipedia guy? Clearly the latter has a greater impact on the web.
  • Roger Federer is a machine. That is all. Oh, and I could sure go for a good tennis match. Too bad it's January, and that I don't have a tennis partner.
  • There's a new invention out called the HyperBike (also here). It's a machine in which the rider stands upright and uses his or her arms for additional power. Allegedly, the contraption will go up to 50 mph. That sounds kind of fun, if true. But I given the wind resistance that thing must generate, I doubt that is a sustainable speed. Moreover, given the HypeBike's large size and weight (200 pounds), I don't be trading my Trek in for one anytime soon. Imagine trying to plod uphill on a windy, narrow Tennessee road in that thing.

Americanizing Soccer

I'm sure in some corner people have been talking about how David Beckham will transform soccer in America. I haven't heard the conversation, but then again I usually don't hear anyone talking about soccer.

I do see that in at least one aspect, Beckham's $250 million arrival will make soccer more American. No, I don't think Beckham will necessarily cause more Americans to watch soccer, or play soccer, or even like soccer. But this deal definitely makes the MLS pay structure much much more Americanesque:

Unfortunately for Becks, clouds have apparently started to circle over his new club, even before he joins them. His extraordinary wages are causing some friction with his future team-mates, with midfielder Peter Vagenas telling FiveLive: "Of course there is resentment. But a wise man once said you are worth what you negotiate. On the one hand you would say more power to him but on the other hand you think 'why can't I be earning that?" He gets £63,000 a year, hardly peanuts, but when compared to Becks...

However, LA Galaxy coach Frank Yallop insists that Vagenas' comments were tongue-in-cheek: "I know our guys and they're not the jealous type," he said. "We have players on $31,000 a year, but we also have someone like Landon Donovan on big money. The salary cap is a way of life over here. He will drive the sport on here. Every kid under 10 in America plays soccer.

So the Galaxy now embody your good ol' American corporation, with one guy (CEO) getting paid 500 times more than all the other workers. Imagine you are one of the no-names getting paid $30,000 to do pretty much the same thing as Beckham. Yeah, that ought to work well to build team unity.

Bush Turns Green

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SOTU preview:

President Bush will lay out a bold plan in his State of the Union tonight for Americans to cut their consumption of all gasoline by 20 percent over the next 10 years, ABC News has learned.
. . .
Such a dramatic reduction in gasoline consumption would require new standards of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy system, known as CAFE, and an increased availability in the U.S. auto market of vehicles that run on alternative fuels.
We'll see whether this is an actual plan with CAFE requirements (which Republicans have rejected for years) or just another of those voluntary goals.

Call me a cynic, but I don't believe Bush would push for any energy policy which wasn't supported by Oil, Inc. Is this an implicit signal from big oil that current levels of oil consumption are unsustainable? That, based on current growth models, production won't be able to meet demand in five or ten years? I don't think Bush is proposing this for the fun of it. And we know that conservation is just a virtue, not an energy policy.

Hirohito Effect

The apparently-departed Billmon periodically referred to Emperor Hirohito's incredible face-saving spin during his radio broadcast announcing surrender (World War II) to the Japanese people:

Despite the best that has been done by everyone-the gallant fighting of the military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of our servants of the State and the devoted service of our 100,000,000 people-the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest.
"The situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage"--that's one way of putting it.

Today we seemingly have our own Emperor Hirohito:

WALLACE: Mr. Vice President, why should we believe that this time you've got it right?

CHENEY: If you look at what's transpired in Iraq, Chris, we have in fact made enormous progress.

One has to wonder how Cheney maintains credibility in anyone's mind these days. But apparently he does, both inside the White House and among the 33%.

Their Plan

In another shocking development, it appears Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is full of it. Here's what she said yesterday regarding President Bush's plan to ramp up the conflict in Iraq (emphasis added):

And I said that I thought it was important to have the Maliki government have a little time now to make its plan work. After all, this is the Maliki government's plan. They came to the President with this plan in Amman. They said, we need to put together a plan that will help us to deal with the problem that our population doesn't believe that we can secure them.
Contrast with today's New York Times:
Iraq's Shiite-led government offered only a grudging endorsement on Thursday of President Bush's proposal to deploy more than 20,000 additional troops in an effort to curb sectarian violence and regain control of Baghdad. The tepid response immediately raised questions about whether the government would make a good-faith effort to prosecute the new war plan.
. . .
While senior officials in Washington have presented the new war plan as an American adaptation of proposals that were first put to Mr. Bush by Mr. Maliki when the two men met in the Jordanian capital of Amman in November, the picture that is emerging in Baghdad is quite different. What Mr. Maliki wanted, his officials say, was in at least one crucial respect the opposite of what Mr. Bush decided: a lowering of the American profile in the war, not the increase Mr. Bush has ordered.
It's very surprising that what we hear from Washington is at odds with what's going on in Iraq. That's a new development. Anyway, this is a good set up for the blame game when if this surge fails to turn things around. The Iraqis failed to deliver on "their" plan.

More Sports Salary Craziness

Just when you thought sports salaries couldn't get any worse:

David Beckham agreed to a five-year deal with the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer, leaving the Real Madrid club at which he enjoyed worldwide popularity but experienced disappointment on the field.
. . .
MLS recently changed its rules on salary caps, clearing the way for Beckham to sign a lucrative deal. British news reports put the Galaxy deal at $250 million.
$250 million? I didn't realize the entire MLS was worth that much, much less one player.

I guess I can understand the economics of this in revenue-producing sports, but here we're talking about soccer. In America. I consider myself to be a fairly knowledgeable sports fan, and I couldn't name four teams in the MLS. But if someone wants to shell out that kind of money for a player, more power to them. I'm just glad I'm not a Galaxy ticket buyer.

Abrupt Temperature Changes

Glad I don't live here:

"Cold Front Will Drop Denver Temperatures 60 Degrees"

Further research, however, reveals that Montana is the king of drastic weather changes:

January 11, 1980. The temperature at the Great Falls International Airport rose from -32F to 15F in seven minutes as warm, Chinook winds eroded an Arctic airmass. This 47 degree rise in seven minutes stands as the record for the most rapid temperature change registered in the United States.
. . .
December 14, 1924. The temperature at Fairfield, Montana (about 20 miles WNW of Great Falls), dropped from 63F at noon to -21F at midnight. This 84 degree change in 12 hours still stands as the greatest 12 hour temperature change recorded in the United States.
. . .
April 25-26, 1969. A late season storm brought a drastic change in weather to eastern Montana. A day after numerous stations registered their highest temperature for the month (many in the 80s), a cold front swept through Montana bringing blizzard conditions to much of the eastern half of the state. Temperatures fell more than 50 degrees in 24 hours with wind chill readings well below zero for nearly 48 hours.
. . .
January 23, 1916. An Arctic cold front slammed through Browning, Montana, dropping the temperature from 44F to -56F in 24 hours. This 100 degree change stands as the most dramatic temperature change ever recorded in 24 hours in the United States.
Unfortunately, the abrupt temperature changes in East Tennessee are almost always of the cold variety. For a change, wouldn't it be great to tune into the weather and see the following forecast: Today--cloudy, high 45; Tomorrow--sunny, high 85.

Credibility Check

Keith Olbermann reviews President Bush's track record regarding Iraq.

Yet notwithstanding that:

(1) this leadership has screwed up at every turn, and
(2) neither the Iraqi government or American military commanders asked for more U.S. troops,

we're now supposed to risk more lives and dump more money into this nation-building fiasco. Wonderful.

UPDATE: The speech didn't contain much that was unexpected, other than the veiled threat at expanding the war (see below). But I'm a bit confused by this line:

It is clear that we need to change our strategy in Iraq. So my national security team, military commanders, and diplomats conducted a comprehensive review. We consulted members of Congress from both parties, our allies abroad, and distinguished outside experts.
With the possible exception of Senator Lieberman (I), when was this alleged consultation with Democratic members of Congress? My understanding is that the Democratic leadership was only informed of the plan on Wednesday, just a few hours before the speech was released. That's consultation?

Please, no. Limit one botched war per presidency.

The Surge

Via Political Animal, there's this Q & A with Iraqi study group commissioner Leon Panetta:

When your bipartisan panel came to the conclusion that relying on Iraqi forces and embedding U.S. advisors was the right course of action, rather than a surge, did you think that you were reflecting the consensus of the U.S. military at the time?

Yes. We sat down with military commanders there and here, and none of them said that additional troops would solve the fundamental cause of violence, which was the absence of national reconciliation. We always asked if additional troops were needed. We asked the question of [Gen. George] Casey and others, we asked it of Marine commanders in Anbar. Do you need additional troops? They all said the same thing: we don't need additional troops at this point; we need to get the Iraqis to assume the responsibility they're supposed to assume...

Did you interview Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who's about to take over command of multinational forces in Iraq? What did he recommend? He is now said to be a supporter of the surge.

At that time he was talking about the need to train and embed U.S. forces in the Iraqi army. (laughs)
. . .
Can any number of U.S. troops stop small death squads from continuing sectarian killing in the middle of the night throughout Baghdad?

We had an American general tell us that if the Iraqi government doesn't make political progress then all the troops in the world won't make any difference.

So according to American generals, a surge won't solve the problems in Iraq. But presumably Mr. Bush thinks it may extend him some additional political cover.

Yesterday Richard Clarke spoke at the Center for American Progress. He pointed out a number of things America needs to be doing in the global "War on Terror." He then made a simple point regarding Iraq: whether America leaves a year from now, or seven years from now, chaos will follow. If we continue assisting the Iraqi government for several more years, this transition will presumably be less chaotic. But whatever marginal benefit this buys us will clearly not be worth the thousands of Americans and hundreds of billions of dollars it will cost. Our resources should be used more effectively elsewhere.

Potpourri

  • A bunch of people on TV news are all aflutter about President Bush's upcoming speech on his "new" plan for Iraq. I think I can save everyone the drama. If you want to know the "plan" you can get a preview in three easy steps:

    (1) Go to the White House website,
    (2) In the Iraq section, dig up "Strategy for Victory" 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, [how many ever versions we've gone through], and
    (3) Reword the headings, change the font, and throw in a few new graphs and bullet points.

    That will pretty much be it.


  • Washingtonian asks if Washington would be better with more writers like Malcolm Gladwell. I haven't read any of Gladwell's books, but I've seen him on C-SPAN several times, and he's interesting. You have to admire a writer who comes up with a contest like this:
    The mischief peaked with what Gladwell refers to as "the contest." He and another young science reporter, William Booth, chose a phrase and competed to see who could insert it in the newspaper faster. The contest culminated with the phrase "perverse and often baffling."

    Booth wrote a story on mollusks. "The copy desk took out 'often,' " he says in the recording, "arguing, I think correctly, that mollusks were either baffling or they weren't."

    Finally, with the clock ticking, Gladwell struck gold. He discovered that Washington is home to both the country's highest number of gastroenterologists per capita as well as the highest fees for gastroenterology, flying in the face of supply-and-demand rules.

    Baffling indeed, and possibly perverse--at least by the standard of Post editors. Gladwell won the contest.

    It's not everyone who can go off the beaten path into academic research and crank out an interesting article or book.

  • What is up with the price of oil? $54 a barrel? I have yet to get a handle on what causes these price movements, but it's not supply and demand.

  • I'm not necessarily the biggest Kathy Griffin fan, but I appreciate how she sometimes tells it like it is:
    "Larry King is either deaf or just doesn't listen, according to our favorite comic, Kathy Griffin.

    During her two-hour set for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center on Thursday, Griffin quipped, '[King] doesn't listen to a word you say. It's unbelievable. After a while, I just wanted to [bleep] with him and try to say something shocking. Did you hear me say that Oprah would be the first gay president? And he's like, 'She has a show, am I right?''"


  • James Howard Kunstler looks at a future with declining oil production:
    If you really want to understand the U.S. public's penchant for wishful thinking, consider this: We invested most of our late twentieth-century wealth in a living arrangement with no future. American suburbia represents the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. The far-flung housing subdivisions, commercial highway strips, big-box stores, and all the other furnishings and accessories of extreme car dependence will function poorly, if at all, in an oil-scarce future. Period.

  • This is encouraging:
    Hamilton wouldn't comment Monday on whether Fulmer would receive a raise, a telltale sign that he probably won't.

    With a salary of $2.05 million per year, Fulmer also didn't receive one following last season's 5-6 finish.

    "I'm on record as saying that I'm giving him a contract extension," Hamilton said. "The media and fans have more of a sense of urgency than we do about it. Phillip knows he's the coach at the University of Tennessee. He's going to get a contract extension. We're working toward doing the right things to make sure we all achieve the goals we've got out there, and we'll announce what we're going to do at some point."

    Hamilton said he and Fulmer have talked at length about what realistic expectations should be at Tennessee.

    "I know people are going to start charting the course of how many we've had since when, and I realize this league is very cyclical, but I think it's reasonable to expect a couple of SEC championships over a 10-year period of time and be in the SEC Championship Game four times," Hamilton said.

    It's a testament to the ridiculousness of coaching salaries that we're even discussing giving a raise to a $2 million/year coach who hasn't won a conference championship in eight years.

Oil/Gas Price Fluctuation; Iraqi PSAs

I thought there was a pricing disparity; it wasn't my imagination:

Despite the nearly 10% drop in the price of oil during the past week, the national average price of a gallon of gasoline has actually gone up $.03. That seems pretty fair, right?

The price of oil briefly fell below $55 during Friday's trading session before rallying to close at $56.31. Despite closing higher, the price of oil fell over 8% for the week - the single largest weekly drop in oil prices since early in 2005.

Unfortunately, the decline of the price of oil didn't carry over to the national average price of gasoline, which actually has increased three cents during the past three weeks.

Funny how gasoline prices always trail oil price drops much slower than price increases. Or maybe it isn't.

Speaking of oil, there's been some discussion regarding this report regarding a proposed deal allowing Western oil companies to cash in on Iraqi oil fields. Jerome a Paris writes that this law, if ever implemented, would be a reasonable business arrangement. But, he adds, the country is far too unstable for outside oil companies to risk investment.

I can't argue with the last point.

If We Were Building Nuclear Weapons. . .

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should team up with O.J. and write an international diplomatic bestseller: "If we were building nuclear weapons, here's how we would do it":

China on Friday urged Iran to give a "serious response" to a U.N. Security Council resolution that imposed sanctions on Tehran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment.

Iran's top nuclear envoy, however, warned that Tehran's commitment to the peaceful use of nuclear technology will change if the country is threatened.
. . .
Iran has denied that it seeks to build atomic weapons, saying its nuclear program is limited to the generation of electricity, a stance Larijani reiterated.

"We oppose obtaining nuclear weapons and we will peacefully use nuclear technology under the framework of the Nonproliferation Treaty," he said.

"But," he warned, "if we are threatened, the situation may change."

So Iran is just innocently working on nuclear reactors, but if they are "threatened," it might magically discover a nuclear arms production process. Right.

That situation would be bad enough as it is, but to make matters worse we have a number of influential people in Washington just itching to launch another war. Never mind the fact that we don't have any extra troops left, where there's a will, there's a way.

Yesterday General Clark was reportedly furious because he believes the Bush administration is on course to launch a military strike against Iran in the next year or two. I sure hope he's wrong.

2006 In Cycling

2006 was a good year for me in cycling. At the outset, my goal was to ride 4,000 miles. I reached that mark in late October:

Month
Mileage
January
206
February
287
March
355
April
538
May
459
June
449
July
416
August
564
September
471
October
329
November
350
December
434
Total
4,858

Had I known December would be so mild, I would have squeezed a few more miles earlier during the year so I could hit 5,000 miles. Oh well.

A key to hitting my goal was getting miles in every week. I logged about 50 miles or more in all but three weeks.

Lowest week: 14 miles (battling a knee ailment)
Highest week: 195 miles

I completed two centuries: The 3-State 3-Mountain Challenge and the Cherohala Challenge (pictured above).

Notably, I didn't have any crashes or significant mishaps in 2006. In fact, I only remember having one flat tire while riding. I can't complain about that.

2007 Goals:

  • Ride lots. (tentative goal: 4,500 miles).
  • Don't crash or get hit.
  • Get faster.
  • Enjoy the scenery.
  • Take a cycling-related trip outside the region and see new country.
Tailwinds.

Happy 2007!

Another year has arrived. And while it's true that every day is a new start, they don't all come packed with college football bowl games. (I wish I could erase the second half of that Outback Bowl from my memory.)

I have a feeling good things will happen this year. Probably not in Iraq, or in other world hot spots. But in my life and yours. Vision, desire, and determination will come together; goals will be achieved.

As for resolutions, I resolve to post interesting stuff at this site . . . at least once in a while. Heh.

Happy New Year.