August 11, 2012

Thirty Years Ago Tomorrow

From the NYT:
Down With Shareholder Value 
Published: August 10, 2012
I’ve been known to say that I was present at the creation of “shareholder value.” 
It’s an exaggeration, of course. But in 1982 — literally half a lifetime ago for me — I wrote an article about the first big takeover attempt by T. Boone Pickens. One of his central justifications for the takeover movement that he helped spawn was that company managements didn’t care enough about the company’s owners, a k a the shareholders. Their cash-based compensation wasn’t properly aligned with the desires of shareholders. Shareholders, he believed, need to assert their primacy — and force executives to start paying attention to the price of their companies’ stock. I later learned that Pickens was not the first person to make this argument — academics had already created the theory that undergirds it. But, at the time, it was still a pretty radical view.

The rise of the theory of shareholder value has been good for shareholders. On August 12, 1982, thirty years ago tomorrow, the Dow Jones Average stood at 776. On August 12, 2012, it stands at 13,208. 

Most of the attention in public discussions of the increase in profitability of big corporations over those 30 years has been about cost-cutting, and rightly so. Yet, very little attention has been paid to the possibility of collusion, which therefore interests me.

Paul Ryan, 6'2" 163 pounds

As the country gets fatter, its politicians get skinnier.

Fundamental changes proposed

From the AP:
The Census Bureau wants to make broad changes to its surveys to keep pace with changing notions of race. The changes would drop use of the term “Negro,” leaving a choice of “black” or “African-American.” It would count Hispanics as separate from blacks and whites. It would also add write-in categories that would allow Middle Easterners and Arabs to specifically identify themselves. The census director, Robert M. Groves, says research during the 2010 census found that making these changes increased response rates and improved accuracy. The government currently defines Latino as an ethnicity. Census forms now instruct people to indicate if they have Hispanic origin and then check a race box such as “white” or “black.”

This little bureaucratic stuff can turn out to be hugely important down the road, but nobody on the Republican side cares to think about it.

August 9, 2012

Women's soccer: USA! USA! USA!

It's especially amazing that the American women's soccer team triumphed in its semifinal and final games over two countries with such long histories of soccer excellence, places where kids are dribbling soccer balls all over the favela from the time they can walk: Canada and Japan. 

The problem is that there's nobody left for our women to beat. So, they'll just have to start up a women's pro soccer league, just like all the other super successful women's team sport leagues that got launched in the excitement after the USA proved its feminist superiority by crushing disgusting sexist foreigners for gold in women's basketball and women's softball in 1996, women's ice hockey in 1998, and women's soccer in 1999.

Maybe they should form a Republican women's soccer team and a Democratic women's soccer team that would barnstorm around the country playing each other to see who deserves to win the election. It would be like the Blue and Green chariot racing teams in Justinian's Byzantium. That worked out well.

But seriously, I think we should now spend a quadrillion dollars to send the U.S. women's soccer team to Alpha Centauri so they can win the Galactic Women's Soccer Championship over Epsilon Eridani. Man, I hate those those seven-legged freaks. They are almost as bad as the Canadians.

Hey, how about the American gold medalist in women's boxing! How come Women's MMA isn't in the Olympics yet?

And what about that Aztec game where the losing team captain's heart gets ritually torn out on top of a pyramid? It's sexist that isn't in the Olympics. I can think of a lot of American dad sportswriters who would volunteer at the 2016 Rio Olympics to personally rip the heart out of any foreign upstart who dares challenge the supremacy of our women's ōllamaliztli team. USA! USA! USA!

Olympic medal counts sorted by sportsmanship

The Chinese public has recently begun to question its government's and media's emphasis on winning Olympic gold medals while ignoring or castigating silver and bronze medalists. 

Indeed, there's something bullying about the Go Gold or Go Home attitude. So, I've sorted the medal charts by percentage of non-gold medals won as one clue to which countries have a healthy middle-of-the-road attitude toward the Olympics, wanting to be competitive without being obsessive about Winning Is the Only Thing. The top three countries in terms of percent of medals won that are not gold are Canada (only one gold out of 16 total medals), Sweden, and Japan. At the bottom of the list is North Korea (four golds out of five). Who would you rather have as a neighbor: Canada or North Korea?

Gold Silver Bronze Total % non-Gold
Canada 1 5 10
Sweden 1 3 3
Japan 5 14 14
Spain 2 7 2
Brazil 2 2 7
Australia 6 13 10
Russia 12 21 23
Romania 2 5 2
Denmark 2 4 3
Poland 2 1 6
Czech Rep, 2 3 3
Slovenia 1 1 2
Germany 10 16 11
France 8 9 12
Kenya 2 2 3
Belarus 3 3 4
New Zealand 3 2 5
Ukraine 3 1 6
Netherlands 5 5 6
Jamaica 3 3 3
Georgia 1 1 1
Norway 1 1 1
Italy 7 6 6
Cuba 3 3 2
USA 39 25 26
Iran 4 4 1
China 37 24 19
Korea 12 7 6
Great Britain 25 13 14
Croatia 2 1 1
Ethiopia 2
Hungary 8 4 3
South Africa 3 1 1
Kazakhstan 6
Switzerland 2 1
DPR Korea 4

Heinlein on "The Mote in God's Eye"

Here's an interesting bit of science fiction literary history: Robert A. Heinlein's 17-page critique of the first draft of The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (pp. 15-31 of this PDF). Heinlein tells them it's the best first-contact-with-aliens story ever, but nobody's going to read it unless they replace their original title Motelight, ideally with something Biblical (Heinlein's title Stranger in a Strange Land from the story of Abraham has to be among the best names ever bestowed upon a book), and lose the first 100 pages of future history backstory.

In a recent vote on the top 100 fantasy and sci-fi novels by 60,000 NPR listeners, Mote came in 61st in a broadly defined list that includes just about every conceivable classic except Gulliver's Travels.

August 8, 2012

Athletes marrying athletes

In which sports are men men and women athletes most and least likely to marry each other? 

The least likely sport for marrying a fellow professional appears to be professional golf. The only couple I can think of off the top of my head was Gardner Dickinson and Judy Clark-Dickinson. The husband, who was 23 years older, had pretty much retired by the time they married. The PGA and LPGA tours are separate, except maybe for one week per year during golf's silly season, so men and women pros seldom get together. In contrast, male and female tennis players get together at several championships per year. Male pro golfers generally marry women who like being home with the kids and house while they are travelling on tour. '

Similarly, I can't think of any NBA-WNBA couples.

In contrast, my impression is that track and field athletes are most likely to marry each other. Blacks don't get married at a particularly high rate, but black women runners often hyphenate their last names after marrying a male track & field athlete. Traditionally, track was an upscale sport among African-Americans, the spring sport at black colleges instead of baseball. Men's and women's track meets are typically held together, and they tend to be hurry-up and wait affairs, kind of like a movie set, another famous locus for romance since there isn't much else to do.

Famous cross-sport couples include soccer player Mia Hamm and shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, golfer Nancy Lopez and baseball manager Ray Knight, and golfer Greg Norman and Chris Evert. That last pair of strong personalities burned brightly but quickly burned out, with complaints from their new step-children of micro-management leading to disputes with their new spouses' long-suffering ex-spouses.

How good looking are women Olympic athletes?

Anecdata time:

About 20 years ago, corporate America started experimenting with video-conferencing to cut down on its huge bills for travel. Face to face contact builds more camaraderie than phone contact, so why not have workers in remote offices communicate face to face via telescreen?

The problem was that, 20 years ago, the people we were used to seeing on television were people who had been hired because they would look good on TV, and then they were costumed, made up, lit, and rehearsed to look even better on TV. Nature and nurture conspiring together, as usual.

In comparison, my fellow marketing researchers on early video-conferences tended to look pretty ghastly. My reaction: My coworkers on this project look like a gang of zombies? We're doomed. (Politely, their opinions of how I looked on video-conferencing screens were never articulated in so many words.)

Similarly, women athletes on TV aren't typically as good looking as the high-heel-wearing spokesmodels on TV. But that doesn't mean they aren't good looking on average. To understand this, it helps to see them in person in civilian clothes.

For example, the last Saturday night of the 1984 L.A. Olympics, I was in a frozen yogurt shop in Westwood Village, next to the athlete's dorms, and in walked three couples from the Swedish Olympic team out on a date. 

The three girls were probably swimmers, high jumpers, something like that: tall and blonde. Plus, for a night on the town, they were wearing high heels (all about 6'1" in heels), make-up, had their hair done, and had on stylish clothes chosen to flatter their best features (e.g., legs) and understate their features that might be a little too much (no need for those 1980s-style shoulder pads on those young ladies).

There were always a lot of beautiful young women in Westwood in the early 1980s, and while these three athletes might not have been above the 90th percentile in exquisiteness of features, they radiated so much sheer health that they were stunning.

On the other hand, these three were not recognizable stars, nobody was mobbing them for autographs, they were also-rans who didn't give the impression that they Would Do Whatever It Takes for Gold, which often leads to some scary looks. So, that's probably the sweet spot -- Olympic qualifier but non-contender.

More unasked Olympic questions answered

Q. What’s the oddest thing about Jamaican 100 meter sprinter Usain Bolt?

A. Although Bolt epitomizes West African-descended sprinting talent, he has the face of an East African distance runner. (Here’s a picture of Bolt with his more conventional-looking Jamaican rival Yohan Blake.) Nobody seems to know why Bolt looks like an immense Kenyan.

Q. How much of the track success of former British colonies like Jamaica and Kenya originates in British Chariots of Fire-style sporting culture?

A. A fair amount. It's taken ex-colonies of other European countries much longer to catch on. For example, the Dominican Republic, which isn't lacking in athletic talent as its baseball success shows, has only recently become an Olympic power in the long sprints and hurdles. (Of course, it doesn't hurt that you can buy PEDs in the Dominican Republic without a prescription.)

On the other hand, ex-colonies tend to take what they like and forget the rest. For instance, although the South Asian countries remain heavily influenced in some ways by the British Raj (for example, India represents one of the world’s leading concentrations of P.G. Wodehouse fans), South Asians are the world’s least interested in sports – except for that most Wodehousian of English games, cricket.

Q. Some black women took to Twitter to criticize gymnast Gabby Douglas for not having expensively processed hair like they do. In contrast, black women sprinters, such as 400m gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross, often wear extravagant hairdos, jewelry, or nails. (Remember Florence Griffith-Joyner’s and Gail Devers’s jeweled claws?) How come?

A. Compared to gymnasts (or to swimmers or long-distance runners), sprinters have a lot of time on their hands. Endless workouts don’t help much. For example, to get ready to win four gold medals at the 1984 Olympics, Carl Lewis worked out eight hours per week (not per day, but eight per week). Thus, Lewis had time to become a disco star in Japan, and Richards-Ross appears to have had everything imaginable done to her hair, plus that of whichever lady in India grew her weave.

Personally, I am happy that sprinters don’t have to train five hours per day like Michael Phelps did. I like the old tradition of the sportsman, the notion that competing can be part of a non-monastic life. 

Q. You say that Southern California's long history of sports success is suspect due to its proximity to Muscle Beach. Hey, America’s sweetheart, 200m runner Allyson Felix, grew up in Southern California!

A. I think it’s fair to say that Felix has, over the years, resisted more temptation than most people could withstand. She’s twice lost the 200m Olympic gold medal to massive Jamaican women. So far, she hasn’t totally Jeterized herself. While Jeter signed up with John Smith, the Dark Side of sprint coaching, Felix recently teamed with Bob Kersee, who has somehow remained the respectable face of muscularity over a long career coaching his wife Jackie Joyner-Kersee, his in-law the late Florence Griffith-Joyner, Gail Devers, and Shawn Crawford.

August 7, 2012

Olympics Q&A

My new Taki's Magazine column consists of the answers to a bunch of made-up questions I asked myself about the Olympics.
Q. An NBC segment showed muscular American 100M silver medalist Carmelita Jeter working out under shadowy veteran coach John Smith on Venice Beach in Los Angeles. Is that a reassuring sign? 
A. No. The Santa Monica-Venice area has been Muscle Beach since the 1930s and a hotbed of steroid use for a half-century or more. (In general, Southern California’s fabulous athletic history—such as O. J. Simpson’s 1968 Heisman Trophy and world record in a sprint relay—should come with a big asterisk.) 

Read the whole thing there.

By the way, Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard has been just about the only journalist interested in researching the pre-history of the Steroids Era. As we all know, there were a lot of dirty rotten cheaters recently, but the sporting heroes of our youths (whenever our youths may have been) were pure as the driven snow  But, Karlgaard has repeatedly asked, how do we know that? If you are under 60, how do you know that your favorite athlete of your youth wasn't a pioneer?

A little over the top?

From the New York Times:
Perfectly Captivating for Their Imperfections
The United States women’s soccer team is not a Dream Team. It can’t be. After all, Dream Teams don’t have “nightmares,” as Abby Wambach grimly described last summer’s shootout loss to Japan in the World Cup final. 
It is strange then how many and how widely the Americans continually captivate. Typically, fans in the United States fall in love with the fresh, new face — think the gymnast Gabby Douglas and the swimmer Missy Franklin — or become obsessed with a team based on dominance and power and might. The Olympic men’s basketball teams are made up of N.B.A. mercenaries, yes, but they are almost always effective mercenaries. They throttle. They pummel. They thump. 
The women’s soccer team does not, or at least it has not as often over the past few years. An Olympic team of veterans — only one player was not on the World Cup roster — the Americans are neither new blood nor the types who routinely bloody, and yet they are perhaps the most universally embraced group of Americans playing team sports. ... But what is the greatest allure of the Americans? The attraction, it seems, lies in their flaws. Unlike the basketball Dream Teams and unlike their sporting ancestors, the commanding women’s soccer squads of the 1990s, the current incarnation is gloriously imperfect.

Let me guess ... sports reporter Sam Borden has a daughter whom he loves very much.

I wrote about the sociology of why nice white people love the U.S. women's soccer team so much (and would never ever mention its lack of ethnic diversity) last year for VDARE:
Female soccer embodies many of the most deeply-held values of white American upper middle class families: gender equality; parental (especially paternal) investment in their children; organized practice instead of play; ambitions for college scholarships; tacit race and class segregation via spending; and chauffeuring … lots and lots of chauffeuring.

Evolution in Inaction

From Gardiner Harris in the NYT:
Where Streets Are Thronged With Strays Baring Fangs 
No country has as many stray dogs as India, and no country suffers as much from them. Free-roaming dogs number in the tens of millions and bite millions of people annually, including vast numbers of children. An estimated 20,000 people die every year from rabies infections — more than a third of the global rabies toll. 
Packs of strays lurk in public parks, guard alleyways and street corners and howl nightly in neighborhoods and villages. Joggers carry bamboo rods to beat them away, and bicyclists fill their pockets with stones to throw at chasers. Walking a pet dog here can be akin to swimming with sharks. 
A 2001 law forbade the killing of dogs, and the stray population has increased so much that officials across the country have expressed alarm. … 

Is this a Hindu v. Muslim thing? The Muslims are anti-dog, so the Hindus are pro-dog? Or vice-versa?
With pointed ears, a wedge-shaped head and a tail that curls over its back, the pariah is similar in appearance to other prehistoric dogs like the Australian dingo. ... 

Short yellowish fur and medium size seems to be sort of the Platonic Essence of dogdom, what dogs evolve back to when you stop bothering to breed them.
“Dogs essentially started out as scavengers,” Dr. Bradshaw said. “They evolved to hang around people rather than to be useful to them.” 
While that relationship has largely disappeared in the developed world, it remains the dominant one in India, where strays survive on the ubiquitous mounds of garbage. Some are fed and collared by residents who value them as guards and as companions, albeit distant ones. Hindus oppose the killing of many kinds of animals.

When I was in Turkey, there were a fair number of dogs lolling about, sleeping on the sidewalks and streets, but they seemed peaceful and undangerous. I would imagine that troublemaking dogs get removed from the gene pool pretty quickly in Turkey, but what do I know?

August 6, 2012

"Stuck on Stereotypes"

Why don't relatively smart, sophisticated network TV shows like multiple Emmy-winning Modern Family do well with the Hispanic audience? The answer, according to a variety of Latino activist and media types in the electronic rolodexes of New York Times reporters, is that Modern Family isn't smart and sophisticated enough to lure Latino audiences away from Spanish-language shows.

To find out, the New York Times interviewed various self-appointed spokespersons for the Hispanic Tidal Wave, such as 

- "the co-owner and chief operating officer of the advertising agency Zubi Advertising," 

- the "founder of the Web site Latino Rebels," 

- a "31-year-old Mexican-American documentary filmmaker," 

- and "a senior vice president for development and production at Encanto Enterprises." 

You can't get a much more statistically representative sample of the typical Hispanic than that (at least, among people who will instantly return Times' reporters calls and not tell them anything that might make them the slightest bit uncomfortable.)

Thus, they all told the NYT that the reason is because these shows like Modern Family are full of insensitive stereotypes about Hispanics and thus turn off the millions of culturally cutting edge Latino viewers who are annoyed by retrograde stereotyping of Hispanics (which by the way, I must add, could be solved just like that by hiring the people being quoted). 

Thus, due to white racists who fail to perceive how sophisticated the burgeoning Latino audience is, Hispanics viewers just stick with watching Sabado Gigante, where they are sure to see a fat mestizo guy with a droopy Pancho Villa mustache and a giant sombrero leer at some dyed blonde spicy senorita and fall down. No stereotyping of Mexicans on Spanish language TV! (Or at least that's the logical implication of this article -- neither the reporters nor the sources for the article give any indication of ever having watched Spanish language programming.)
Stuck on Stereotypes
Networks Struggle to Appeal to Hispanics 
Sofia Vergara is probably the most recognizable Hispanic actress working in English-language television. She is one of the stars of “Modern Family,” the highest-rated scripted show on network television, and she has parlayed her celebrity into commercials for brands like Pepsi and Cover Girl. 
Despite her popularity, “Modern Family” is not a hit with Hispanic viewers. Out of its overall viewership of 12.9 million, “Modern Family” drew an average of only about 798,000 Hispanic viewers in the season. That audience accounts for only about 6 percent of the show’s viewers — less than half of what you might expect given the 48 million Hispanic television viewers that Nielsen measures. ...
The numbers encapsulate the problem facing English-language television executives and advertisers: they desperately want to appeal to the more than 50 million Latinos in the United States (about three-quarters speak Spanish), especially those who are young, bilingual and bicultural, but those viewers seem to want very little to do with American English-language television. 
They do, however, continue to watch Spanish-language networks in huge numbers. 
In May, on the final night of the most recent season of “Modern Family,” far more Hispanic viewers were watching the top Spanish language show that week, the telenovela “La Que No Podía Amar,” on Univision, which attracted 5.2 million viewers. 
... The list of top English-language shows watched by Hispanics is headed by the same competition shows as among the total audience, with “Dancing With the Stars,” and “American Idol” faring best this spring, while “Sunday Night Football” was the leader in the fall. 
But the discrepancy between English and Spanish language shows is most acute among shows that are scripted in English. The issue, many viewers and critics argue, is that there still hasn’t been the Hispanic equivalent of “The Cosby Show,” meaning a show that deals with Latino culture in a way that doesn’t offend viewers with crude stereotypes. 
This winter, CBS hoped to have a cross-cultural hit with the show “Rob” featuring the comedian Rob Schneider. The show, based loosely on Mr. Schneider’s own life, showed his experiences of marrying into a Mexican family and the culture clashes that ensued. But the chief conflict ended up being between the show and its intended viewers. 
“Big family,” said Mr. Schneider’s character, when he meets his wife’s family for the first time. “Now I know what’s going on during all those siestas.” In another scene, the character Hector, played by Eugenio Derbez, tells Rob that he is visiting from Mexico. Then he gets closer to Rob and whispers, “I’m not leaving,” and after pausing for effect adds, “Ever.” 
For Joe Zubizarreta, the co-owner and chief operating officer of the advertising agency Zubi Advertising, with headquarters in Miami, the comedic devices used in “Rob” were too much. “They’ve used just about every stereotype they could in the pilot,” Mr. Zubizarreta said. “I understand that the general market taste will find humor in the idiosyncrasies of Hispanics. But as Hispanics, when we watch general market television, we’d like to see some semblance of reality to our lives.” 
For Julio Ricardo Varela, the founder of the Web site Latino Rebels, both the content of “Rob” and how it was marketed relied too much on stereotypes.
“ ‘Rob’ was a big running joke among our community,” Mr. Varela said. “It just felt lazy, stale and I think that mainstream television is missing the boat.” Mr. Varela noted a contest on the show’s Facebook page where viewers were invited to hit a virtual piñata to “whack and win” a trip to the show’s set. Also on the page were promotional images of Mr. Schneider and the rest of the cast in a conga line. “I thought the marketing was beyond ridiculous,” Mr. Varela said. 
Nina Tassler, the president for entertainment for CBS, declined to comment on “Rob” specifically, but said that reaching out to the Hispanic community was important for the network. (The network declined to pick up “Rob” for a second season.) 
“Everybody’s culture is wholly unique, so finding the storytelling language that can reach out and communicate with the biggest cross section of the Latin population is obviously what we are trying for,” said Ms. Tassler, who is the highest-ranking network television executive with a Hispanic heritage.

Here's Nina Tassler's background from Wikipedia.
Mr. Schneider declined to comment for this article.

Schneider is part Filipino. I've always found him funnier than his friend Adam Sandler, although perhaps that's not saying much.
Among the series that were in development for next season by English-language networks, one, an ABC show called “Devious Maids,” gained attention for its focus on a Latino stereotype — maids working in Beverly Hills. The show was being produced by Marc Cherry of “Desperate Housewives,” and had been based on a Spanish-language telenovela. 
When Liz Colunga, a 31-year-old Mexican-American documentary filmmaker heard about “Devious Maids” she wasn’t surprised at the show’s theme. “I’m used to watching stereotypical roles for Latinas and Latinos,” Ms. Colunga said. 
No character stirs more mixed emotions for Hispanic audiences that the one played by Ms. Vergara on “Modern Family.” She plays Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, a sexy Latina trophy wife whose persona has gotten mixed reviews from Latinos. 
“It’s working for her, but at what expense?” said Ms. Colunga, the filmmaker. “She’s playing the clueless Latina.” 
In a show where all of the characters are a bit extreme, the least stereotypical of all is Gloria’s smart-talking son Manny. Lynnette Ramirez, the senior vice president for development and production at Encanto Enterprises, a production company owned by George and Ann Lopez, said Gloria’s character works because she is tempered by her son. 
“Sofia’s character is a first generation Latina,” Ms. Ramirez said. “Manny’s going to grow up to be like Sara Ramirez’s character in ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ ” she added, a reference to the actress Sara Ramirez’s role as a doctor on the show. 

Judging by who likes summer blockbuster movies the most, perhaps Modern Family could broaden their demographic appeal by adding a couple of fireball explosions to each episode.

August 5, 2012

Too much even for Guardian commenters

From the U.K. Guardian:
The poison of inequality was behind last summer's riots 
A year on from the riots, the government is still failing to identify their underlying causes 
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

Commenters on the Guardian site were not impressed:
- Inequality - yeah, he's got better trainers than me so I'll just smash in a shop window to get some better ones. 
- A year on from the riots and the Guardian/LSE is still pushing this nonsense. The only real lesson to be drawn from last summer's exhibition of violent consumerism was that if the police keep a low profile during hot weather, people take the piss. 
- Does anybody want to buy a cheap LG 40" flat screen. Ive got ten left. 
- The Interim Report showed that rioters brought before the courts had on average 11 previous convictions 
- Almost half of those held over the riots have been re-arrested for a catalogue of crimes including rape, threats to kill and robbery. Days before the anniversary of the disorder, official figures show that 44 per cent of riot suspects have been arrested on suspicion of committing fresh offences within the last 12 months. The statistics, released under the Freedom of Information Act, have raised serious questions over the penalties handed out to offenders. 
- Everyone should have the human right to take whatever they need from any shop to achieve a lifestyle that meets their expectations. Everyone should have the right to express their anger at those that own property by burning it down. 

San Francisco, tear down this dam!

The Hetch Hetchy Valley in California's Sierra Nevada mountains is the Lower 48's second most spectacular glacier sculpted valley of sheer granite cliffs. The most spectacular is of course Yosemite Valley, 17 miles to the south. In 1913, Congress handed the city of San Francisco the right to turn Hetch Hetchy into a reservoir and profit off the water and electricity even though it is in Yosemite National Park. The battle against submerging this valley was one of the roots of activist environmentalism.

In the late 1980s, Reagan's Interior Secretary Don Hodel came up with a great divisive environmental issue: San Francisco, tear down this dam!

The citizens of San Francisco are finally going to vote on whether to even consider giving up this reservoir. Local Democratic politicians like Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and mayor Ed Lee are utterly opposed to restoring Hetch Hetchy to its natural state. 

In general, I think that people on the right are way too concerned about trying to figure out correct universal principles when it comes to environmental issues. Instead, think of environmental regulations as tools. San Francisco Bay Area liberal politicians are smarter: they are adamant environmentalists when it is in their constituents' interests and adamant anti-environmentalists when it's not.

[Spoiler Alert] Men's 100m dash semifinals

For Americans planning on watching on tape delay, I won't give away who won the finals of the men's 100m dash on the London track, but I will note who didn't make it to the finals for the eighth consecutive Olympics, beginning with 1984: a non-black. That's 64 men in a row of primarily black African descent.

Three non-blacks were among the 24 semifinalists striving for the eight spots in the finals:

- A Chinese fellow who then ran an unimpressive 10.28.

- A young Japanese runner, Ryota Yamagata, who failed to advance with a decent 10.10. The Japanese typically have one or two semifinalists in the Olympic 100m, although I don't think they've made the finals since the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932.

- Most interestingly, an 18-year-old U.K. runner Adam Gemili, who appears to be largely a swarthy Caucasian of Middle Eastern descent, who finished third in his semifinal at 10.06, just shy of the 10.02 needed to move on.

The fastest white 100m man of all time, France's Christophe Lemaitre, who has a personal best of 9.92, decided to pass up on the 100m in favor of concentrating on the 200m where he felt he has a better chance of medaling. 

The long jump

To the delight of the home crowd, the Olympic long jump was won by a red-haired Englishman named Greg Rutherford, whose great-grandfather was a prominent soccer player before WWI. Rutherford's winning leap of 27' 3.25" was the shortest gold medal leap since 1972. 

The long jump has a lot of mythology about it because its records are rarely broken. Jesse Owens' 1935 record lasted into the mid-1950s, Bob Beamon's 1968 record lasted until 1991, and the current record is 21 years old and is in no danger. Even lower level records sometimes last a long time. I can recall in the early 1970s hearing on the radio that a Southern California junior college long jumper had broken the national JuCo record that had been held since the late 1930s by Jackie Robinson. The future Brooklyn Dodger was the  long jump favorite heading toward the 1940 Olympics that got called off.

A few days ago, Josh Levin had an interesting article in Slate about why long jumping winning marks have fallen since the 1991 World Championship in Tokyo when Carl Lewis jumped 29' three times in a row and lost to Mike Powell's world record of 29'4", which broke Bob Beamon's famous 1968 record by a couple of inches.

In contrast, the men's 100m dash was broken as recently as 2009 by Usain Bolt.

Obviously, as Levin notes, better drug testing has brought long jumpers back to earth.

Also, it has become rare for the top 100m dash men to also long jump, the way Owens in 1936 and Lewis in 1984 won four gold medals by combining the 100m, 200m, 4x100m, with the long jump. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that local peculiarities matter a lot in famous records. Beamon broke the existing record by 22" at the Mexico City Olympics, and about half of that margin was due to the thin air at 7300 feet altitude. (It was still an astonishing leap, but lots of other long-lasting records were set in Mexico City due to the altitude.) 

In Tokyo in 1991, like in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 where Michael Johnson set a famous sprint record, the track surfaces were made super-hard to encourage records in the explosive events. (Hard surfaces are good for sprinters and long jumpers, bad for distance runners, who get beaten up by them.) Carl Lewis set a world record of 9.86 in the 100m, leading an unprecedented six runners across the finish line in under ten seconds. But, as Levin notes, 100m times have continued to fall because it's a glamor event with a fair amount of money involved, while the long jump has lost its glamor status. 

The long jump is really hard to do well. The ideal long jumper is both the world's fastest man (Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis), a great athlete, a technician, and a little lucky, too. Lewis was hardly an unlucky man overall, but he never held the long jump world record because Beamon and Powell had a little more luck at the perfect moments.

With the rare, storied exceptions of Jesse Owens v. Luz Long in 1936 and Lewis v. Powell in 1991, long jump competitions tend to be anti-climactic and frustrating for audiences. A lot of leaps turns out to be fouls and the standard practice is not even to measure fouls, such as on the legendary 1982 jump that Lewis claimed might have been 30 feet.

A typical anti-climactic performance is Lewis at the 1984 L.A. Olympics. He comes out, jumps 28 feet on his first try, then figures that in the cool damp L.A. night time air, nobody else is going to come within a foot of that and he needs to conserve energy for the rest of his busy schedule. So he packs it in for the night to boos from instant experts who wanted him to pursue Beamon's record (even though Lewis was likely a lot better judge of what he was capable of at the moment than anybody else in the Coliseum).