Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Belated Acknowledgment of the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Broadcast of The Day After

The Day After first aired nationally on 20 November 1983, on the ABC network. (There was a special screening a few days earlier in West Germany, for an audience of dignitaries.) I was in the second grade and the teacher said we ought to watch it. My mother said no, so I didn't. When I saw it a few years later (1989?) I'm glad I wasn't allowed to watch it as a seven year old.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Interesting article on jet fuel.

A natural-gas pipeline exploded in Missouri.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Century's End

Five writers, including Kunstler, predict the state of things at the end of the century.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

H.R. 2728

True. China feels a need to prove something. If you're inclined to boycott a country's goods, it's relatively easy to boycott Israeli products, but what about China's.

Monday, November 18, 2013

George Zimmerman Arrested--Again

George Zimmerman arrested on domestic violence charge after allegedly pointing a shotgun at his pregnant girlfriend's face. N.b. He is still married to Shellie Zimmerman, although they are estranged. Apprarently, Zimmerman and his girlfriend were breaking up.

The Field Negro's post.

A lot is coming out. Shellie Zimmerman's lawyer was finally able to serve her estranged husband with divorce papers--while he was in jail. And yesterday's Politics Nation with Al Sharpton concluded with Al interviewing a psychologist on Zimmerman's mental state.

Schilling Shilling

Kunstler takes on notions of energy independence and the seeming abundance of the shale boom.

Schilling Shilling

Such is the power of wishful thinking that a set of fool-making memes now pulses through the word-clouds of financial chatter in America spreading the false good cheer that our economic troubles are behind us and pimping for perpetual motion in wealth expansion. A poster boy for this bundle of falsehoods is financial analyst A. Gary Schilling. Just last week, he was talking out of his cloacal vent about US “energy independence” and “the manufacturing renaissance” that will allow this country to magically decouple from the compressive contraction driving the rest of the world.

Shilling is among the growing chorus of cheerleaders who believe that the shale oil and gas boom will make it possible for so-called “consumers” (what we foolishly call ourselves) to keep driving to Wal-Mart forever — which is the master wish behind all the current fantasies of endless expansion. That idea is going to leave a lot of people disappointed and put the nation further behind in the necessary reorganization of all the key systems that support everyday civilized life, namely: food production, commerce, transport, and the management of capital.

Here’s what’s actually going to happen with shale oil and gas. Best case scenario: shale oil production rises for three more years to about 2.3 million barrels a day and then crashes so quickly that in 10 years the shale oil industry ceases to exist. A less rosy forecast would admit that the exorbitant costs of drilling-and-fracking will not find the necessary capital to even take the industry that far. Rather, dwindling capital will see the shocking decline rates of shale wells (commonly 50 percent the first year and double digits the following) and will run shrieking for other places to hide.

Contrary to Gary Schilling’s blather, America is not practicing “energy conservation.” Rather, an economy engineered strictly to run on cheap oil has gotten crushed by oil that is not cheap. Does Schilling believe, for example, that American suburbia works just as well on $90-a-barrel oil as it did on $11-a-barrel oil, or that it has a future as the basic armature of daily life, or that we are doing anything meaningful to alter the burdens of living this way? My guess is that he has never thought about it.

Likewise, as the American economy got crushed by no-longer-cheap oil, all the working classes in this country below the one-percenters got crushed, hammered, and trashed. Among other things they can no longer afford is gasoline. Total vehicle miles driven has gone down by almost 3 percent since 2007. It will keep going down, and the Happy Motoring matrix will collapse for another reason: capital scarcity will translate into fewer available car loans for Americans, and fewer qualified borrowers, and Americans are used to buying their cars on installment loans.

The shale gas situation is also not the “energy savior” it’s cracked up to be. Because it costs so much to export the stuff, and we don’t have the export infrastructure in place — ocean terminals, fleets of special (expensive!) tanker ships — shale gas is hostage to the US domestic market. The initial boom was so extravagant that it produced a gas glut, which drove the price way below the level that makes it economically rational to drill for the stuff. Now, a lot of those drilling rigs are migrating to North Dakota, where the Bakken shale oil fields require perpetual increases in rig-counts to offset the rapid decline of existing wells.

The shale gas regions of Barnett (Fort Worth), Haynesville (Louisiana), and Fayetteville, Arkansas, are already dwindling. The “sweet spots” turned out to be smaller than the hype suggested. The Marcellus (Pennsylvania and New York) is next. Several of the other hyped shale gas “plays” — the Antrim and the Utica — proved too unpromising to even bother with and never made it out of the wish bag.

The problems with fracking and groundwater pollution are secondary to the economic quandaries as far as the fate of the industry is concerned. At under $8 a unit (1000 cubic feet), shale gas is not worth drilling-and-fracking for. It’s currently around $4. Above $8, Americans are going to have a hard time paying for it. So, enjoy the temporary glut and now stand back and watch the industry begin to dry up and blow away.

As for the “industrial renaissance,” clowns like Gary Shilling can’t put together the obvious trends. The talked-about new factories will be operated by robots, so there would be no employment renaissance to go along with them. Then there is the question of who might the products be sold to? To Americans who have no jobs and no money? To Europeans who are also going broke and also have the ability to roboticize industrial production and impoverish their own working people? To Asia, which is already at industrial over-capacity — and which will only grow worse as Americans and Europeans buy less stuff? I guess that leaves South America and Africa. Well, good luck with that.

Schilling is really only shilling for delusional stock market psychology, which tends to be a self-reinforcing racket until it reaches a threshold of credulity criticality and then implodes from a sudden loss of faith, ruining even a great many one percenters. Money may indeed keep pouring into the US stock markets, especially from other countries, where the money is frightened. I’ll tell you what it ought to be really frightened about: that it doesn’t represent genuine capital, i.e. has no real value. One day not distant, all the nations will discover that their money is only notional and that notions have a way of going up in a vapor. Foolish ideas, though, appear more durable and plentiful. They just keep coming, no matter what’s going on in reality.

My basic wish is that we would quit all our wishing in America and get on with the job of transforming our economic arrangements to a scale and mode that are consistent with the resource and capital realities of these times — before they whap us upside the head and put and end to the project of remaining civilized.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Vegetable-Gardening Website

Monday, November 11, 2013

Kunstler: The Turning

Kunstler: The Turning

In these northern climes, this turning into the year’s final quarter feels written in the blood, or at least into the legacy code of culture. The leaves skitter across the streets in an early twilight, chill winds daunt man and dog, the landscape buttons itself up for the long sleep, and human activity moves indoors — including the arduous festivities around the spooky solstice. We take the comfort that we can in all that. But a strange torpor of event attends this year’s turning. In the year’s final happenings, nothing seems to happen, and what little does happen seems not to matter. The world sits with frayed nerves and hears a distant noise, which is the cosmic screw of history turning.

The nation gets over everything without resolving anything — fiscal cliffs, debt ceilings, health care implosions, domestic spying outrages, taper talk jukes, banking turpitudes, the Syria bluster, the Iran nuke deal fake-out. It’s dangerous to live as though there was no such thing as consequence. Societies have a way of reaching a consensus about something without ever stating it outright. The American public has silently agreed to sit on its hands though one more Christmas and after that things shake loose.

What happens, for instance, in the limbo months of ObamaCare ahead, when people either won’t sign in for health insurance, or can’t because of the stupidity of the website design, and the failure of its work-arounds, and the number rises of people falling seriously ill without insurance, and the ludicrously extortionate hospital bills start rolling in and the machinery of bankruptcy and re-po turns the screws on tens of thousands of families — while the insurance company executives spend their 2013 bonus money on Beemers and McMansion additions? There must be some threshold for criticality there, some breaking point that prompts a swindled population to break out its fabled arsenals. Say, somewhere in America a child tragically dies after being hit by a car and three unsuccessful surgeries to try to fix the damage, and thirty days after the funeral, the uninsured dad gets a bill for $416,000? I doubt a society can withstand many insults like that.

Above all, this big nation has failed to reckon the central quandary of our time: the fatal hypertrophy of finance. This ghastly engine of rackets and swindles is the enlarged heart of a dying body politic, and all we know how to do is feed it more monetary Cheez Doodles. This has been going on far longer than the doctors and the witch doctors thought possible, and there is a foolish hope among the credulous that the larger organism of the economy must therefore be immortal. But the reality-based minority stoically awaits the final congestive infarction.

Everything points to 2014 as the moment the pretending stops and things get real. Nobody believes anymore that the Federal Reserve can replace an economy of authentic transactions with promissory notes. There is only one final thing that can happen with the Fed, and that is losing all control over rising interest rates. Janet Yellen is being set up as one of the epic chumps of history, and proof of her academic fecklessness is the mere fact that she accepted the post as Fed chair. She will preside over a fabulous disappearance of wealth in America. The blame for it will be epic, too, but it will not represent any genuine understanding of what happened.

Much is being made of the loneliness of Barack Obama these days. He also occupies a rather tragic niche in history — or the arc of his story at least points that way these days. Right now, it is very hard to tell whether he has been a hostage or a fool. He could have moved to break up the big banks in January of 2009, and any time since then he could have sent a memo to the Department of Justice instructing the prosecutions of financial crime to begin in earnest (or replaced the Attorney General). Didn’t happen. Was he being blackmailed by the likes of Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, or did he just not know what was at stake?

The history of Barack Obama will be one long record of omissions to act, not just overt failures. He is the Bartleby the Scrivener of our politics. He “prefers not to….” Hence, the powerful lure of the charismatic figure who is sure to act. Adolf Hitler was very clear about his proposed program in the early 1920s, a decade before he came to power. He spelled it out unmistakably in his speeches and his political testament, Mein Kampf: do away with pain-in-the-ass democracy and destroy the Jews. He couldn’t have put it more plainly. The residual admiration for Hitler among the extreme right-wingers of today derives mainly from the simple fact that the man actually did what he said he would do. You can’t overstate the potential hunger for that sort of thing. The current climate of US politics being Weimar-on-steroids, I’m sure that an American corn-pone Hitler would have huge appeal for a beaten-down citizenry.

The means for such a coup of the zeitgeist are rather frightful now: drone aircraft, computer surveillance, militarized police, a puppet press. It makes thoughtful folks queasy. My bet, though, is that a fascist takeover of the US would end up being as inept and ineffectual as ObamaCare. It is one of the great hidden blessings of our time, actually, that anything organized on the massive scale is doomed to failure. But it is likewise the great mission of our time to prepare to get local and smaller, something we’re not really ready for and certainly not interested in. The intertwining of these dynamics will be the story in the year to come.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Oil and Gas Exploration in Somalia

On oil and gas exploration in Somalia.
When we look back at the early twenty-first century, we will be astounded by the pace of social change.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Goliath Arrives

I received my copy of Goliath in the mail yesterday. It's a substantial book, which Max Blumenthal began writing in 2009. I think publication was delayed a few times so he could include more material. Following his Twitter account these last few years is how I learned about the persecution of African migrants in Israel.

Some people have crowed that the book is a "flop" (especially when compared to the sales for Killing Jesus and Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims). Two reasons why it hasn't gone gangbusters, I think, are:

It deals almost exclusively with the situation inside Israel, whereas Republican Gomorrah was about American politics. And, it is a very critical overview of Israeli history and society. So, the cable-news shows that featured RG in 2009 have not done the same with Goliath because it's not America-centric and because it "goes there" on Israel. Yet, the book is one of Amazon's top sellers on the topic of Israel.

This review, at Religion Dispatches, is mixed, but also worth reading.

9 November update: Towards the end of Goliath, Max focuses on young Israelis immigrating to the U.S. and Germany. Berlin has a sizable Israeli population.

10 November update: "Attacks on Max Blumenthal's Goliath Escalate Veer Into Wingnut Land."

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Drilling for Oil in the West Bank

6 November update: On a related note, Israel is counting on a natural gas field to become "energy independent."

But as we've seen from Eike Batista, there might not be much in the ground anyway.

Even if there is, Israel will have to "navigate a geopolitical quagmire that risks angering enemies and enemies alike" according to an Associated Press article ("Israel Faces Geopolitical Tangle With Natural Gas" by Tia Goldenberg) published in the 30 March 2013 edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. The article adds that Israel's discoveries of the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields represent "just a portion of the huge reserves in the Levant Basin, which the U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 2010 holds some 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas."

Much to Write About

It sounds better than another cutesy/clever/navel-gazing novel.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Football and Farming

Inspiring story of a small Dallas-area college which gave up football (because it was a financial drain) and converted its field into an organic farm.

It might be the first, but certainly won't be the last football field to become a farm or garden.

I'm reprinting this pro-football speech, because it shows that football isn't going away yet. But small colleges will continue to end their football programs.

“Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.”

September 2013

John J. Miller
Director, Herbert H. Dow II Program in American Journalism
Hillsdale College

Football and the American Character
JOHN J. MILLER is director of the Herbert H. Dow II Program in American Journalism at Hillsdale College and national correspondent for National Review. A graduate of the University of Michigan, where he served as editor of the Michigan Review, he has also worked on the staff of The New Republic. A contributing editor of Philanthropy magazine, he writes regularly for newspapers and journals including the Detroit News, the Wall Street Journal, and National Review. He is the author of several books, including The First Assassin, a novel set during the Civil War, and most recently The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football.

The following is adapted from a luncheon speech delivered at Hillsdale College on September 9, 2013.

When we talk about football, we usually talk about our favorite teams and the games they play. The biggest ongoing story in the sport right now, however, is something else entirely. It’s not about the Bears vs. the Packers or Michigan vs. Ohio State, but rather the controversy over concussions and the long-term health effects of head injuries.

On August 29, 2013, the National Football League agreed to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit involving more than 4,500 players and their families, who had claimed that the league covered up data on the harmful effects of concussions. Although medical research into football and long-term effects of head injuries is hardly conclusive, some data suggest a connection. A number of legal experts believe the NFL, which will generate about $10 billion in revenue this year, dodged an even bigger payout.

Football, of course, is much bigger than the NFL and its players, whose average yearly salary is nearly $2 million. Football’s ranks include about 50,000 men who play in college and four million boys who play for schools or in youth leagues whose pockets aren’t nearly so deep. A Colorado jury recently awarded $11.5 million to a boy who suffered a paralyzing injury at his high school football practice in 2008. How long will it be before school districts begin to think football isn’t worth the cost?

Earlier this year, President Obama waded into the debate. “If I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football,” he said. He also called for football “to reduce some of the violence.” Others have called for a more dramatic solution: Malcolm Gladwell, the bestselling author of The Tipping Point and other books, thinks football should go the way of dogfighting. He would like to see America’s favorite sport run out of polite society.

So football’s future is uncertain. But the past may offer important lessons. After all, football’s problems today are nothing compared to what they were about a century ago: In 1905, 18 people died playing the sport. Football became embroiled in a long-running dispute over violence and safety—and it was almost banned through the efforts of Progressive-era prohibitionists. Had these enemies of football gotten their way, they might have erased one of America’s great pastimes from our culture. But they lost—and it took the efforts of Theodore Roosevelt to thwart them.

On November 18, 1876, Theodore Roosevelt, a freshman at Harvard who had just turned 18, attended his first football game. Destined for great things, he was enthusiastic about athletics in general and eager to see the new sport of football in particular. So here he was at the second game ever played between Harvard and its great rival Yale.

As Roosevelt shivered in the cold and windy fall weather, he watched a game that was quite different from the sport we know today. There were no quarterbacks or wide receivers, no first downs or forward passes. Before play began, the teams met to discuss rules. What number of men would play? What would count for a score? How long would the game last? They were like school kids today who have to set up boundaries, choose between a game of touch or tackle, and decide how to count blitzes.

Harvard’s veterans agreed to a couple of suggestions proposed by Yale. The first would carry a lasting legacy: Rather than playing with 15 men to a side, as was the current custom, the teams would play with eleven men. So this was the first football game to feature eleven players on the field per team.

The second suggestion would not shape the sport’s future, but it would affect the game that afternoon: Touchdowns would not count for points. Only goals—balls sailed over a rope tied between two poles—kicked after touchdowns or kicked from the field during play would contribute to the score.

In the first half, Harvard scored a touchdown but missed the kick. By the rules of the day, this meant that Harvard earned no points. At halftime, the game was a scoreless tie.

After the break, Yale pushed into Harvard territory and a lanky freshman named Walter Camp tried to shovel the ball to a teammate. It was a poor lateral pass that hit the ground and bounced upward, taking one of those funny hops that can befuddle even skilled players. In a split second, Oliver Thompson decided to take a chance on a kick from about 35 yards away and at a wide angle. The ball soared into the air, over the rope and through the uprights, giving Yale a lead of 1-0. No more points were scored that afternoon.

In a letter to his mother the next day, Roosevelt gave voice to the frustration that so often accompanies defeat in sports. “I am sorry to say we were beaten,” he wrote, “principally because our opponents played very foul.”

More about Teddy Roosevelt and what he did for football in a moment. But first, let me discuss briefly why football matters.

Love for a college football team, whether it’s the Texas Longhorns or the Hillsdale Chargers, is almost tribal. In some cases the affiliation is practically inherited, in others chosen. Whatever the origin, football has the power to form lifelong loyalties and passions and has supplanted baseball as America’s favorite pastime. Yet it almost died 100 years ago. Over the course of an ordinary football season in those days, a dozen or more people would die playing it, and many more suffered serious injuries. A lot of the casualties were kids in sandlot games, but big-time college teams also paid a price.

Football isn’t a contact sport—it’s a collision sport that has always prized size, strength, and power. This was especially true in its early years, when even the era of leatherheads lay in the future: Nobody wore helmets, facemasks, or shoulder pads. During the frequent pileups, hidden from the view of referees, players would wrestle for advantage by throwing punches and jabbing elbows. The most unsporting participants would even try to gouge their opponents’ eyes.

The deaths were the worst. They were not freak accidents as much as the inevitable toll of a violent game. And they horrified a group of activists who crusaded against football itself—wanting not merely to remove violence from the sport, but to ban the sport altogether. At the dawn of the Progressive era, the social and political movement to prohibit football became a major cause.

The New York Evening Post attacked the sport, as did The Nation, an influential magazine of news and opinion. The latter worried that colleges were becoming “huge training grounds for young gladiators, around whom as many spectators roar as roared in the [Roman] amphitheatre.” The New York Times bemoaned football’s tendency toward “mayhem and homicide.” Two weeks later, the Times ran a new editorial entitled “Two Curable Evils.” The first evil it addressed was lynching. The second was football.

The main figure in this movement to ban football was Charles W. Eliot, the president of Harvard and probably the single most important person in the history of higher education in the United States. Indeed, Eliot hated team sports in general because competition motivated players to conduct themselves in ways he considered unbecoming of gentlemen. If baseball and football were honorable pastimes, he reasoned, why did they require umpires and referees? “A game that needs to be watched is not fit for genuine sportsmen,” he once said. For Eliot, a pitcher who threw a curve ball was engaging in an act of treachery. But football distressed him even more. Most of all, he despised its violence. Time and again, he condemned the game as “evil.”

One of Eliot’s main adversaries in the battle over football was Walter Camp, one of the players in the game Teddy Roosevelt watched in 1876. A decent player, Camp made his real mark on football as a coach and a rules-maker. Indeed, he is the closest thing there is to football’s founding father.

In the rivalry between Eliot and Camp, we see one of the ongoing controversies in American politics at its outset—the conflict between regulators bent on the dream of a world without risk, and those who resist such an agenda in the name of freedom and responsibility. Eliot and other Progressives identified a genuine problem with football, but their solution was radical. They wanted to regulate football out of existence because they believed that its participants were not capable of making their own judgments in terms of costs and benefits. In their higher wisdom, these elites would ban the sport for all.

Into this struggle stepped Theodore Roosevelt. As a boy, he had suffered from chronic asthma to the point that relatives wondered if he would survive childhood. His mother and father tried everything to improve his health, even resorting to quack cures such as having him smoke cigars. Ultimately they concluded that he simply would have to overcome the disease. They encouraged him to go to a gym, and he worked out daily. The asthma would stay with Roosevelt for years, but by the time he was an adult, it was largely gone. For Roosevelt, the lesson was that a commitment to physical fitness could take a scrawny boy and turn him into a vigorous young man.

This experience was deeply connected to Roosevelt’s love of football. He remained a fan as he graduated from Harvard, entered politics, ranched out west, and became an increasingly visible public figure.

In 1895, shortly before he became president of the New York City police commission, he wrote a letter to Walter Camp that read as follows:

I am very glad to have a chance of expressing to you the obligation which I feel all Americans are under to you for your championship of athletics. The man on the farm and in the workshop here, as in other countries, is apt to get enough physical work; but we were tending steadily in America to produce . . . sedentary classes . . . and from this the athletic spirit has saved us. Of all games I personally like foot ball the best, and I would rather see my boys play it than see them play any other. I have no patience with the people who declaim against it because it necessitates rough play and occasional injuries. The rough play, if confined within manly and honorable limits, is an advantage. It is a good thing to have the personal contact about which the New York Evening Post snarls so much, and no fellow is worth his salt if he minds an occasional bruise or cut. Being near-sighted I was not able to play foot ball in college, and I never cared for rowing or base ball, so that I did all my work in boxing and wrestling. They are both good exercises, but they are not up to foot ball . . . .

I am utterly disgusted with the attitude of President Eliot and the Harvard faculty about foot ball . . . .

I do not give a snap for a good man who can’t fight and hold his own in the world. A citizen has got to be decent of course. That is the first requisite; but the second, and just as important, is that he shall be efficient, and he can’t be efficient unless he is manly. Nothing has impressed me more in meeting college graduates during the fifteen years I have been out of college than the fact that on the average the men who have counted most have been those who had sound bodies.

As this letter indicates, Roosevelt saw football as more than a diversion. He saw it as a positive social good. When he was recruiting the Rough Riders in 1898, he went out of his way to select men who had played football. The Duke of Wellington reportedly once said, “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” Roosevelt never said anything similar about football fields and the Battle of San Juan Hill, but when he emerged from the Spanish-American War as a national hero—and as someone talked about as being of presidential timber—he knew how much he owed not just to the Rough Riders, but to the culture of manliness and risk-taking that had shaped them.

Like Roosevelt, our society values sports, though we don’t always think about why—or why we should. My kids have played football, baseball, hockey, soccer, and lacrosse. As a family, we’re fairly sports-oriented. It has forced me to think about a question that a lot of parents probably ask at one time or another: Why do we want our kids to participate in athletics?

Many parents will point to the obvious fact that sports are good for health and fitness. They’ll also discuss the intangible benefits in terms of character building—sports teach kids to get up after falling down, to play through pain, to deal with failure, to work with teammates, to take direction from coaches, and so on.

It turns out that there really is something to all of this. Empirical research shows that kids who play sports stay in school longer. As adults, they vote more often and earn more money. Explaining why this is true is trickier, but it probably has something to do with developing a competitive instinct and a desire for achievement.

Roosevelt was surely correct in believing that sports influence the character of a nation. Americans are much more likely than Europeans to play sports. We’re also more likely to attribute economic success to hard work, as opposed to luck. It may be that sports are a manifestation—or possibly even a source—of American exceptionalism.

When Roosevelt ascended to the presidency, football remained controversial and Harvard’s Eliot continued his crusade for prohibition. In 1905, Roosevelt was persuaded to act. He invited Walter Camp of Yale to the White House, along with the coaches of Harvard and Princeton. These were the three most important football teams in the country. “Football is on trial,” said Roosevelt. “Because I believe in the game, I want to do all I can to save it.” He encouraged the coaches to eliminate brutality, and they promised that they would.

Whether they meant what they said is another matter. Walter Camp didn’t see anything wrong with the way football was played. Harvard’s coach, however, was a young man named Bill Reid. He took Roosevelt more seriously, because he took the threat to football more seriously. Indeed, within weeks of meeting with Roosevelt, he came to fear that Eliot was on the verge of success in having Harvard drop the sport, which would have encouraged other schools to do the same.

At the end of the 1905 season, therefore, Reid plotted with a group of reform-minded colleges to form an organization that today we know as the NCAA and to approve a set of sweeping rules changes to reduce football’s violence. In committee meetings, Reid outmaneuvered Camp while receiving critical behind-the-scenes support from Roosevelt.

As a result, football experienced an extreme makeover: The yardage necessary for a first down increased from five to ten. Rules-makers also created a neutral zone at the line of scrimmage, limited the number of players who could line up in the backfield, made the personal foul a heavily penalized infraction, and banned the tossing of ballcarriers.

These were important revisions, and each was approved with an eye toward improving the safety of players. Yet the change that would transform the sport the most was the introduction of the forward pass. Up to this point, football was a game of running and kicking, not throwing. There were quarterbacks but not wide receivers. It took a few years to get the rule right—footballs needed to evolve away from their watermelon-like shape and become more aerodynamic, and coaches and players had to figure out how to take advantage of this new offensive tool. But on November 1, 1913, football moved irreversibly into the modern era.

Army was one of the best teams in the country, a national championship contender. It was scheduled to play a game against a little-known Catholic school from the Midwest. The headline in the New York Times that morning read: “Army Wants Big Score.” The little-known Catholic school was Notre Dame. Knute Rockne and his teammates launched football’s first true air war, throwing again and again for receptions and touchdowns. And they won, 35-14. Gushed the New York Times:

"The Westerners flashed the most sensational football that has been seen in the East this year. The Army players were hopelessly confused and chagrined before Notre Dame’s great playing, and their style of old-fashioned close line-smashing play was no match for the spectacular and highly perfected attack of the Indiana collegians."

A West Point cadet named Dwight Eisenhower watched from the sidelines. He was on Army’s team but didn’t play due to injury. “Everything has gone wrong,” he wrote to his girlfriend. “The football team . . . got beaten most gloriously by Notre Dame.”

With that game, football’s long first chapter came to a close. It had reduced the problem of violence, and the game that we enjoy today was born.

The example of Roosevelt shows that a skillful leader can use a light touch to solve a vexing problem. As a general rule, of course, we don’t want politicians interfering with our sports. The only thing that could make the BCS system worse is congressional involvement.

At the same time, our political leaders help to shape our culture and our expectations. They can promise a world without risk, or they can send a different message. As a father myself, I can sympathize with President Obama’s cautious statements about football. At the same time, his comments would have benefited from some context: Gregg Easterbrook, who writes a football column for ESPN, has pointed out that a teen who drives a car for an hour has about a one in a million chance of dying—compared to a one in six million chance for a teen who spends an hour practicing football.

Americans are a self-governing people. We can make our own judgments about whether to drive or play football—and when we make these choices, we can make them in recognition of the fact that although sports can be dangerous, they’re also good for us. They not only make us distinctively American, they make us better Americans.
Copyright © 2013 Hillsdale College. The opinions expressed in Imprimis are not necessarily the views of Hillsdale College. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the following credit line is used: “Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.” SUBSCRIPTION FREE UPON REQUEST. ISSN 0277-8432. Imprimis trademark registered in U.S. Patent and Trade Office #1563325.

Excellent post by Louis Proyect about bullying in the NFL and football as a modern gladiator sport.

Friday, November 01, 2013

The Downfall of Eike Batista

Eike Batista, once the richest man in Brazil and the eighth-richest man in the world, prepares for bankruptcy. He'd borrowed billions to fund exploration of offshore oil deposits, whose value he'd estimated at a trillion dollars.

I'll post a lot more on this, but as the article says:

Batista and OGX had to admit that their much-hyped “new frontier” of oil off the Brazilian coast was actually a collection of mediocre-to-dud oil wells. Production would come nowhere close to paying off the billions he had borrowed in the bond market to finance exploration and production.

At one point Batista was worth $34.5 billion but has since lost $30 billion! He still has several hundreds of millions of dollars.

60 Minutes segment from December 2010: