Archive for December, 2010

Remembering 2010 So You Don’t Have To

December 30, 2010 Leave a comment

The first year of the second decade of the new millennium is nearly over now. Here’s a brief review of some of the top stories of the year and all the web sites that have the details- from mainstream news to weird science, strange stories to the top events in the pizza industry.

Associated Press

The nation’s newsrooms voted these the top 10 stories of the year:

1. BP Oil Spill
2. Health Care Overhaul
3. U.S. Elections
4. U.S. Economy
5. Haiti Earthquake
6. Tea Party Movement
7. Chile Mine Rescue
8. End of U.S. combat Role in Iraq
9. WikiLeaks
10. Afghanistan Top Space Stories

The top story in the universe over the past cosmological nanosecond we know as a “year” was the discovery of a planet very much like Earth called Gliese 581 G. It orbits a sun called Gliese 581. You would think they could have come up with a better name. It’s 20 light years from Earth or 120 trillion miles away. And it may not exist. A few months after the announcement was made, Astronomer Francesco Pepe of the Geneva Observatory claimed all researchers were actually seeing was a bunch of space noise mistaken for a planet.

Scientific American More Science Top Stories

Ranked ninth by Scientific American, but nicely segueing from the planet item above, was the story that scientists had isolated a bacterial strain from California’s Mono Lake that appears to have incorporated arsenic into its DNA, swapping out phosphorus, a nutrient element that enables “life as we know it.”

The implication here is that the things we thought were necessary for life to exist may not be true at all. Which directly affects the possible finding of Gliese 581 G. What was amazing about that planet is that it appears to contain water and many other ingredients Earth has- except if the arsenic microbe finding is accurate- life could take form on a totally arsenic-based planet as well.

And just as scientists cast doubt over the very existence of Gliese 581 G, turns out some researchers say there’s not really enough evidence to support the claim about the arsenic-based life form. So two of the top ten science stories of the year may not even be real.

Popular Mechanics Top Mechanical Stories of the Year

My favorite top-ten story from Popular Mechanics was the discovery that a single aluminum ion, vibrating a quadrillion times a second turns out to be the foundation for a new “quantum logic” clock that remains accurate to within a second every 3.7 billion years. This beats the hell out of the current cesium fountain clock which is the official standard for U.S. civilian time. That one is only accurate to within a second every 100 million years. These infinitesimal slivers of time measurement are actually important because the precision of these clocks are critical to synchronizing telecommunications networks and deep space communications. Plus the GPS you have in your car. Top Tech Stories

In the techie world, Apple’s I-Pad is being heralded as the most revolutionary technical development of the year. They’re calling it the dawn of the “Post-PC” era. Four different companies are developing their own version of tablet technology and people are going to get very rich selling these things. Sales are expected to reach nearly 55 million units next year and by 2014 they’re expected to displace 10% of the PC market. Top Strange Stories

The local ABC-TV affiliate in Tampa, Florida has a good list of the weirdest stories of the year complete with video links. Once you get past the story (with video) of the two-year old kid from Indonesia who smokes two packs of cigarettes a day and gets upset when you take his smokes away, the story I liked best was the clip from a 1928 Charlie Chaplin film that became an internet sensation.

It shows a woman walking down a street with something that looks for all the world like a cell-phone at her ear. This, of course, raises the possibility that a time-traveler somehow managed to make a cameo appearance in the Chaplin film. The video of the film clip shows the scene over and over in real time and slow motion. You be the judge.

If true, it raises fascinating possibilities and interesting questions. Not the least of which is why the genius who discovered time travel chose to reveal the evidence of the most remarkable achievement in the history of mankind…in a 1928 Charlie Chaplin film.

Huffington Post.comFood Stories of the Year

The top food story of the year was the war waged over salt and sugar. School districts started banning sweets for the kids. New York City called for food makers and restaurant chains to reduce sodium by 20% over the next few years. And food turned political as Sarah Palin attacked the First Lady’s campaign against childhood obesity, deriding the government as the “food police” and showing up to a speaking engagement at a school with fresh-made cookies. The final week of the year saw some of Palin’s potential Republican opponents for the Presidency criticizing her pro-obesity stance.

Pizzamarketplace.comTop Ten Pizza Stories of the Year

The #1 story in the Pizza industry was Domino’s “from the crust up” redesign of its main offering- taking advice garnered from Facebook and Twitter focus groups. Not only did Domino’s get a lot of publicity but their pizza sales went through the roof.

Not only was I unaware of Domino’s clever use of social media focus groups but I also did not know there was an actual website dedicated to pizza industry news.

I must say, I am anxiously looking forward to 2011 and what I am fairly certain will be confirmation of the discovery of a planet of pizza-eating, arsenic-based creatures from the future who watch Charlie Chaplin films on their I-Pads.

The Night They Didn’t Play Football

December 27, 2010 82 comments

Back in the days real men played football in snow storms

As Tom Hanks famously stated in the movie, “A League of Their Own,” there’s “no crying in baseball.” And there’s no cancelling an NFL football game because of bad weather. It’s blasphemy. It’s un-American. We, as a nation, have changed forever.

Reacting to the rescheduling of the Sunday night Vikings-Eagles match-up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Governor, Ed Rendell, called the postponement due to blizzard conditions an “absolute joke,” and declared, “We’re becoming a nation of wussies.”

The arguments are all covered in this excellent rant by columnist Will Bunch in the Philadelphia Daily News in a piece entitled the Wimps Who Stole Christmas:

If you grew up anywhere in the wintry half of this country, you probably have fond memories of hiking up your snow pants and sloshing around with your buddies and your Pete Rozelle-signed football in the backyard drifts – and the only thing that comes a close second to playing football in the snow is watching a classic NFL matchup in a furious downpour of the white stuff.

And he goes on to mention that if the same wimps who postponed last night’s game had been in charge, there would never have been the “Ice Bowl” NFL championship game between the Packers and the Cowboys, or the infamous “Snow Plow” game between the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders or the 1948 NFL title game at Shibe Park in Philadelphia that attracted nearly 40 thousand fans in a raging blizzard not dissimilar to yesterday’s conditions.

Do you know how memorable an NFL game played in Philly would have been last night? Wind gusts of 50 mph would have wreaked havoc on every pass. The footing would have been atrocious. There was no keeping up with those conditions and the field would have been a total mess; a quagmire. In other words- the perfect setting for a legendary gridiron contest.

It’s one thing to cancel a football game because the roof atop a domed stadium collapses. It’s one thing to cancel an exhibition game as they did once in one of those games they use to play between the NFL champs and college all-stars because a vicious storm washed away one of the goal posts. But postponing a football game because of a blizzard?

They have a subway in Philly that goes to the stadium. They have fans in the City of Brotherly Love that are certifiably insane who would have gladly braved the blizzard conditions for their beloved Eagles- in T-shirts.

And they delayed the game until Tuesday! Do you know how much that screws up the Eagles who then have to turn around and play in a shortened week next Sunday? Not only has the NFL succumbed to the soft-bellied political correctness of “public safety,” they’ve potentially messed up a team’s fortunes and deprived us all of what surely would have been the talk of the nation for years to come.

No- this is wrong; very, very wrong. NFL- I don’t even know you anymore.

Merry Christmas & Dies Natalis Invicti Solis

December 22, 2010 1 comment

Just putting it out there. That’s right- I work for NPR and I love Christmas. I hate saying “Happy Holidays.” I even say Merry Christmas to my Jewish friends and not a one of them looks at me askance. They seem to understand the spirit in which it is intended and they cut me some slack.

Of course, no one actually knows what day Christ was born. Christmas was the Catholic Church’s successful attempt around 350, A.D. to win over pagans who seemed to be having a hell of a good time celebrating the coming of the Winter solstice. The Pope at the time, Julius I, a clever fellow with a brilliant sense of marketing, decided to blend religion with singing and present-exchanging and general happy frolicking and it all worked out quite well for both the soon-to-be converted pagans and for the church.

For me, Christmas is about memories and it’s about children. It’s Bing Crosby and window displays on 5th Avenue. It’s the hope for snow, the smell of evergreen and when I was a kid, a new GI Joe or a shiny-red toy fire truck with real, working, flashing red lights.

It’s Messiah sing-alongs, Jimmy Stewart, the occasional midnight mass, butter cookies, milk and Santa Claus. And I mean real butter cookies. Emphasis on butter.

Anyway, here it is—in your face—proud as can be—and I don’t even need Fox News to convince me:

Merrrrrrry Christmas everybody!!!!!!

And for you remaining unconverted heathens out there: Happy Dies Natalis Invicti Solis (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun).

Grossman Did Well; Shanahan Shaky

December 20, 2010 Leave a comment

“I understand this game. I understand how it works.” The words of Redskins head coach, Mike Shanahan after Sunday’s losing but inspired effort against the Cowboys. If only he understood diplomacy and basic human decency as much as he understands football.

The much-maligned Rex Grossman threw four TD passes as he rallied the Redskins from a 20-point 3rd quarter deficit. He also threw two interceptions and fumbled but he did seem to validate the coach’s suspicions that Donovan McNabb was a square peg in a round hole. If you check your brain and instincts at the door and just follow Kyle Shanahan’s game plan- it seems to work. At least it did for one game.

So chalk one up for the system. Who the heck brought McNabb in here in the first place? Fire that guy. The guy who gave up precious draft picks for a player the head coach was forced to give up on. Oh- Mike Shanahan did that.

Couldn’t he have benched McNabb earlier in the week? Did he have to humiliate the guy who was introduced to us all as the second coming just a few months ago? Do we need all this damn drama all the damn time?

Now if he could just find 11 Rex Grossman’s who fit into the 3-4 defense…because the current squad doesn’t have a clue. And this crystallizes what is really going on here. The Shanahan’s have systems for both the offense and the defense. They are completely unwilling to change or alter their systems for the talent they have. It’s the only way to explain why they took a top-10 defense and turned it into the single worst defensive squad in the NFL. It’s the only way to explain why 6-time pro-bowler, Donovan McNabb turned out sub-par. They never let him be Donovan.

So how long before we reach the promised land? Well, we have a very stubborn Shanahan clan that does it their way. If their system works, we’ll only know with their guys, not the players from previous failed regimes. All they have to do is stock up the team with their 47 guys. At about 7 draft picks a year, this could be a lengthy process.

It seems to me that in a transitionary period, you implement what you can of your “systems” and compromise a little bit to maximize what you do have in your personnel. This is a foreign concept to Team Shanahan. The result- another lost season. And probably at least two more before this rebuilding process begins to show results.

And I still like Donovan McNabb. I like his intelligence and his style and his temperament. I think he could have worked here if the Shanahan’s had just let him be. If the next team he goes to gives him that latitude, he may well end up being one of the many, many cases of players let go by the Redskins who end up reborn and rededicated somewhere else. I’ll be rooting for him.

As for the “my way or the highway” Shanahan’s- good luck. I’ll root for you guys too. But the cheering would feel a lot better if you could exhibit a little class to go along with all the football smarts.

The Washington Redskins Are Idiots

December 17, 2010 1 comment

They’re benching Donovan McNabb this Sunday for Rex Grossman- a guy who has the nickname of the “human turnover machine.” Let’s just say it; Mike Shanahan and his son, Kyle, are bizarre. Skin’s owner Daniel Snyder is a jinxed, star-crossed icon of ineptitude. This has become a cruel joke on us all.

True…it doesn’t really matter that the players are reportedly “pissed” at this news. Very few of them will be back next year. And true, the game means nothing- the season was lost the day Shanahan benched McNabb the first time- against Detroit with 2 minutes to play. I just didn’t expect this and should have known better. Everything Daniel Snyder touches turns to 100%, unmitigated crap.

Rex Grossman is not the future of the Redskins. He doesn’t know the 2-minute drill better than anyone else. Donovan McNabb has actually been very good in two-minute drill situations this year; his trouble has been with the other 58 minutes. And it’s not his fault. He has a pathetic, patchwork offensive line whose malignant neglect remains the legacy of Snyder’s last stroke of genius, General Manager, Vinny Ceratto. He has no receivers to throw to because none of Vinny’s draft picks bore fruit.

Rex Grossman, one of the least mobile quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, is in mortal danger this Sunday. The Dallas Cowboys, no longer the pathetic team we beat earlier this season, are drooling as we speak. I’m not sure which will happen first; his third fumble of the game or his removal from the contest on a stretcher after he is frighteningly blind-sided by DeMarcus Ware.

And what is it with the Shanahan’s that makes them incapable of leveling with reporters or the fans? At 10:30 this morning, Kyle Shanahan implied McNabb was starting and that nothing had changed with the preparation routine. He lied through his teeth. Turns out Grossman has been practicing with the 1st team today.

His father, whom I thought earlier this season, was a real leader of men, is looking more and more like a lost puppy; flailing about for some miraculous salvation from the living hell he signed on to in agreeing to work with Daniel Snyder. Mike Shanahan lied when he told reporters he benched McNabb in the Detroit game because he didn’t understand the system. He was frustrated with McNabb’s play and made a petulant move that backfired royally. He should have stood up like a man and admitted it.

Dan Snyder’s last act of free agent brilliance, the signing of Albert Haynesworth turned out swell, of course. As much as I enjoyed the way Shanahan humiliated him- the lazy, self-indulgent, overpaid thief should have been released in the pre-season.

Let me be real clear about this. Donovan McNabb has more class, intelligence, poise and skill in his little finger than the combined body mass of the entire Washington Redskins coaching staff and front office. He’s been an inspiring role model for his teammates, for fans, for little black kids- for everybody in greater Washington, D.C.

When this season is over Donovan…run. Run hard. Run for your life- far, far away from the dysfunctional mess that is the Washington Redskins organization. Far away from Daniel Snyder and from the neurotic, lying, and increasingly frustrated Shanahan family. Find your Mecca somewhere else in the NFL and play out the last 3 or 4 years that could have been spent here- anywhere else.

Godspeed to you, Donovan. We’ll see you at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies a few years down the road; a place you richly deserve to be not only for your play, but for your class and style and dignity. And for the patience you have shown throughout your career with so many mindless fools.

Enough Cold- Put Up Fence Between U.S. & Canada

December 15, 2010 1 comment

Alberta in red- proposed fence in black

So, I was thinking. We’ve built thousands of miles of fences between us and Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants who are not the problem they used to be because there are no more jobs in America. What we really need is a super-high fence between us and Canada to keep out the Arctic air masses.

You think I jest?

From the Modesto Bee newspaper just a few months ago:

The bad economy and stepped-up federal immigration audits have dramatically slowed the influx of illegal immigrants, experts say.

Demographers, government officials and business leaders say illegal immigrants not only are returning to their homelands in response to more intense government scrutiny, they’re also staying there.

And as word spreads that jobs are harder to come by in the United States because of the recession, others are deciding not to come in the first place, slowing an unprecedented flood of immigrants that’s lasted more than a decade.

Meanwhile…from Maine to Georgia, from Minnesota to Texas…we are all chilled to the bone, dressed in multiple layers as inhuman, frigid, arctic winds make a mockery of our sad attempts to keep warm. Water pipes are bursting, people are bitching, the bitter cold is killing strawberries in Florida and taking down gigantic stadiums in Minneapolis.

We are 20 degrees below normal and this comes on the heels of one of the worst winters in history last year. The real peril, my friends, is from the north.

So how big does this American/Canadian fence need to be? Here are some simple, undisputed facts about earth’s atmosphere, from a brief article entitled How High is the Atmosphere, by meteorologist, Jeff Haby:

5.5 kilometers- about half the atmosphere is below this height
9.0 kilometers- about 70% of the atmosphere is below this height
16.0 kilometers- about 90% of the atmosphere is below this height
36.0 kilometers- about 99% of the atmosphere is below this height
100.0 kilometers- atmosphere is so thin that it is virtually the vacuum of space
above 600 kilometers- atmosphere is so thin that it is considered outer space

It’s got to be higher than the jet stream, right? Jets actually use those tailwinds and they’re usually at 35,000 to 37,000 feet. For sure the American/Canadian fence needs to be higher than that which would be about 7 miles up.

Using my trusty kilometers-to-miles conversion chart, 16 kilometers translates to just short of ten miles…and as you can plainly see—90% of the atmosphere is below that height.

I don’t think we need to build the fence the entire length of the border with Canada. The frigid air is not coming from the extreme west. That’s where Vancouver is and that’s a fairly temperate zone with temperatures in the 50s most of the time. Not a lot of cold air comes down to us from the east either. That’s St. John’s and Halifax. If it stays this cold from now on we could get their icebergs, but not frigid air.

The culprit resides in the North Pole and generally comes down from the Canadian province of Alberta- hence the term Alberta Clipper. The way I see it, we should be ok if we start the fence at Idaho/Montana and continue east to Lake Superior. We don’t have to worry about the other Great Lakes because people in Michigan, Indiana, Upstate New York, etc., are already used to that Lake-effect snow stuff.

Needless to say, construction of a 10-mile high, 1000-mile long fence would create a shitload of jobs.

And it has to be retractable. If we don’t allow some cold Canadian air in, our summers will be more miserable than they already are.

The American/Canadian fence also has to be lowered for about a five-hour period around midnight, December 24th into the 25th. We wouldn’t want to have to scrape Rudolph off the giant structure. That would be both sad and difficult to explain to the children.

The X-Mas Spirit—Uh, Not There Yet

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Eleven days to go before Christmas and I’m not feeling it. Maybe it’s this incredible arctic cold. I know my fingers have certainly not felt anything for several days. Maybe it’s the city. New York seems a more Christmas-like town. DC’s Chinatown Arch isn’t quite doing it for me.

Anyway, there are several others out there, besides the Grinch, who apparently are not in the Christmas spirit yet either.

Bus Driver; Snowman Hit & Run

At the University of Illinois, a city bus driver has quit after taking out a snowman; video here. What’s slightly disturbing is that if you look at the video carefully, you’ll notice the snowman was actually a prank; it was built in the middle of the road. You could argue the bus driver did local motorists a favor by annihilating the little snow sculpture. I nominate not the bus driver, but the bus company who apparently convinced the driver to resign, as this week’s honorable mention for the “Failure to Get into the Christmas Spirit” award.

Fired Santa

Then there’s the sad tale of John Toomey, out of a job after 20 years as the Santa Claus at the Union Square Macy’s in San Francisco. He upset an elderly couple with a couple of his jokes.

(Credit: Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle)

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

When I ask the older people who sit on my lap if they’ve been good and they say, ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘Gee, that’s too bad.’ Then, if they ask why Santa is so jolly, I joke that it’s because I know where all the naughty boys and girls live.’ The kids who sit on his lap, he said, get only his trademark laugh and questions about what toys they want.

Setting aside Santa’s slightly perverted sense of humor, there really are a lot of San Franciscans who are very upset about this. Mr. Toomey, or “Santa John,” as they call him, has been a local favorite forever- the quintessential Fake Santa. Macy’s and the stodgy old couple share the runner-up “Failure to Get into the Christmas Spirit” award.

And the Winners Are….

The burglars in the Dallas/Forth Worth area who broke into the Rusaw family’ s house over the weekend and stole all their presents—-AND THEIR DOG:

(Not the actual stolen dog- but close to it)

Stealing presents? How low can you go? What are going to do with the little dog? Put antlers on its head and make it pull a great big sled of stolen presents all the way up to your nasty looking mansion at the top of the mountain?

Not only do you get the “Failure to Get into the Christmas Spirit” award, but you should be sued by Dr. Seuss’ estate because this wasn’t exactly an original idea.