Friday, September 23, 2011

FOOTBALL IS SOMETIMES MAKE BELIEVE

What a great (NOT) revelation happened this last Monday night during the St. Louis Rams - New York Giants National Football League (NFL) game. All of a sudden the NFL which has known about the rampant faking of injuries during games for a long time has now decided to enforce penalties up to and including fines, suspensions and loss of draft choices (ouch!). Why now? Well, because the faking of injuries has become so increasingly blatant that it is to the obvious detriment of the game. They have no choice.

The proverbial cat was finally out of the bag after two New York Giants players, Deon Grant and Jacquian Williams simultaneously and inexplicably hit the deck as the Rams came to the line in their no-huddle, hurry-up offense that had the Giants back on their heels. A rabid NY Giants fan since 1953, I watched the video over and over looking for an excuse to believe them. The charade, however, was so obvious that even the usually stoic and impartial ESPN announcing team called Grant and Williams out for their illegal ploy to slow down the Rams offense and probably save a timeout. It looked rehearsed, practiced…and poorly executed.

To make matters worse, when Williams saw that Grant was down he realized the fait accompli, stood up and walked away as if nothing had happened. Despite whatever assertions of injury or protestations by Grant or any other player past, present or future - he and others of his ilk have absolutely no credibility from that point.

Some folks counter, “So what?” alleging that the NFL has no rule specifically against faking an injury. While that may be true there is one rule in the books which (given what appears to be a broad interpretation by an official) specifies that behaviors intended to stop the clock or deliberately slow the game are met with (Ta-Da) a delay of game penalty. Having said that, much of the injury faking is no longer even discreet or a hand well-played. These flops are so badly performed that there is little doubt as to their purpose and that’s what tipped the NFL to action. These poor actors may even ultimately fail to effectively promote a legitimate injury or health-related issue that should result in a time out. When player safety has to be the top priority, Chicken Little is close at hand.

Present NFL players including Reggie Bush, Scott Fujita, Ed Reed, Frank Gore and Bryan Kehl among others have publicly admitted and verified to the whole world that faking injuries in order to slow down an opponent and give your team a break has been an accepted tactical part of the game for quite a while. Several NFL coaches when asked about the practice gave winks and nods while admitting nothing. Tony Dungy, the highly respected former player with the Steelers and Forty-Niners and successful Colts & Buccaneers head coach and now color analyst with NBC Sport’s Football Night in America commented that it was, “…part of what's happening now in the NFL.”

So, faking injuries isn't a new thing with players who even talk about being taught to flop and even individuals being designated for that duty. We’ve seen it mostly in soccer and, of course, in wrestling where dedicated combatants even use blood packets/capsules or in their manic enthusiasm cut themselves with hidden razors. But now these “embarrassing flop jobs” could cost the NFL valuable credibility it cannot afford to lose after the most recent extended labor dispute.

No doubt the NFL realizes that if they don’t crack down on this corruption of the game, the disease will spread to the rest of the sport. A wink and nod today becomes blatant disregard tomorrow. We already know The Game is mostly about money with some fans now pondering whether it’s nothing more than bad theater.

Aye,

Ned Buxton

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

DALLAS HITS THE HEAT JACKPOT

Our high temperature of 107° yesterday marked the 70th day this summer that the temperature has attained triple digit marks. The old record of 69 days was set back in that horrendous summer of 1980, but we were better or worse, like the heat or not. Putting this all in perspective – our average number of summer days at 100° or above is eighteen (18) so we are literally in a rarified atmosphere all thanks to La Nina and a dome of high pressure that just won’t move. Despite some thundershowers to our northwest this morning we will probably hit 100° again today further solidifying our hold on the record.

We are not alone with cities and regions all across the southwest setting equally impressive marks. Even in the deep Piney Woods of east Texas my old haunt of Lufkin set a new record this year. Horror of horrors with their recently extended burn ban, no barbecuing is even allowed…

Long after this record fails to impress and is lost in weather history, the effects of this heat wave will be felt. As we have reported in earlier posts, already compromised building foundations, streets and other utilities are continuing to deteriorate. The Texas power grid has been pushed into the red zone and beyond. Texas agriculture and ranching have been substantially compromised and probably changed forever. The long term effects of the drought will soon be seen in the trees and landscapes of our area. Already over three and one half million acres have burned in Texas including numerous new fires and the horrendous Bastrop fire near Austin which after two weeks and the heroics of firefighters is still only 60% contained. The area has been described alternately as a war zone and “volcanic” by state officials.

No sense of pride here, just survival. Questions heard on the street include, “Where’s a hurricane when you need one?” and “Can a tee shirt be far behind?”

Aye,

Ned Buxton

PS. That morning rain never arrived save a few scattered drops that just seemed meant to tantalize. The Bastrop fire is now 75% contained though has now attained status as the worst fire in Texas history. Last night the recovery process was in full swing as the Bastrop Bears defeated San Marcos Rattlers, 48-23 in football. During the halftime ceremonies the community honored and thanked all the first responders and firefighters who continue to work on their behalf.

Aye,

Ned


Saturday, September 10, 2011

THE REAL DEFINITION OF THEORY – RICK PERRY TAKE NOTE

As we have seen recently many politicians, especially those on the far fundamentalist right are inclined to interpret all they see within their domain in Biblical terms. That especially includes evolution which is consistent with their mostly literal interpretation of the Bible and Genesis. Like GOP presidential candidate, Governor Rick Perry of Texas recently opined to a youngster in Manchester, NH, "I know your mom is asking about evolution. It's a theory that's out there and it's got some gaps in it.”

So Perry is either incredibly na├»ve about science and the differences between scientific laws, hypotheses and theories or he’ll just say anything for votes. Either option is a sad indictment and certainly not qualities we want to see in a world leader in the 21st century. It would appear that Perry will continue to blur the lines of distinction between Science and Religion as, "a firm believer in intelligent design (creationism) as a matter of faith and intellect."

We understand the “faith” part of his statement, but the “intellect” component scares us. Everybody has a right to embrace their own belief systems but when they try and shove it down our throats under the guise of credible, mandatory education (even public policy), we have a problem. Perry and the Republicans have been trying to do that in Texas, witness the scary logic and machinations of former chairman of the Texas State Board of Education, Don McLeroy, a Perry appointee.

But let’s get back to basics and put this issue in perspective by acknowledging that it is to the obvious advantage of those with a literalist, far right agenda to discredit science and evolution. In order to justify their thoughts, words and deeds they borrow credible and seemingly scientific terms like “intelligent”, “design”, “creation” and even “scientific” to denote a belief system that incorporates none of these aspects.

So, we need to define what the scientific method is and the not so subtle differences in scientific Laws, hypotheses and theories. During our research we came across several great articles/posts but none were as clear and understandable as Wilstar.com and their post Scientific Laws, Hypotheses, and Theories. We can do no better and heartily recommend.

Confusing this whole issue are individuals who don’t understand or won’t credit the concepts, protocols, disciplines and the attendant vocabulary and terms scientists use. That includes use of the term theory which conveniently for some can also mean that based on limited knowledge, a conjecture or assumption - a mere guess or something that hasn’t yet been proved. Again, it has a whole different meaning in science and that’s the Perry Blur.

Theories including the Theory of Evolution are based on the application of the scientific method where scientists propose one or more hypotheses or explanations for the process and then test them for accuracy and correctness. Evolution has passed thousands of such tests and is accepted to be true by the scientific community and most of the rest of the world, including this writer.

Here’s the kicker and perhaps why we retain the term theory. Scientists will always assume that there may be an opportunity to refine, fine tune and perfect all theories as new evidence is discovered. Simply put, they can build on an existing and proven truth. Scientists are always willing to alter any theory when and if new evidence is discovered, presented, tested and found to be valid. This scientific method allows any theory to ultimately become more and more accurate as research progresses. Ultimately, there is no agenda, no right or wrong in science – rather just what the record reflects.

A great example would be the discovery and analysis of DNA evidence that from the mainstream perspective squarely puts the origins of modern man in that part of the world we now call Africa. We know that to be true because of the distribution of archaic DNA material in Homo sapiens sapiens around the world today.

Will that theory be tweaked? Absolutely! As new evidence is discovered we will add to our already credible body of knowledge. That same tested, tried and proven “Out of Africa” theory is also irrefutable evidence for evolution. The question now remains, rather, the extent of regional interbreeding and exchange between modern humans and archaic forms in Africa, not whether evolution is a viable theory. That debate has been over for some time.

So, when you see the word theory used to describe a scientific conclusion that may include Relativity, Plate Tectonics, Quantum Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Evolution, etc. think in terms of science and find comfort that these theories have passed incredible scrutiny.

So, don’t sell yourself short by believing the nonsense and irresponsible statements you hear from politicians like Perry and Bachmann. The next time Perry tries to lump science and, frankly, all that doesn’t fit into his very, very small universe as nothing more than conjecture, call him on it and judge him accordingly. Questions? Refer to the non-partisan factcheck.org or snopes.com to see where the truth lies.

Sometimes being a “straight talker” isn’t enough especially if that talk is all palaver. If enough of us don’t hold radicalized public officials like Perry and Bachmann accountable for their outrageous perspectives and judge them honestly on their beliefs and attitudes then go and pick out your club for evolution or not we are all going back to the Stone Age. But, irony of ironies, Perry doesn’t believe the earth is older than 6,000 years old…

Aye,

Ned Buxton

Monday, September 5, 2011

JERRY LEWIS AND THE MDA

Since I was a kid in the 1950’s I remember Jerry Lewis as a comedian who was mostly paired up with Dean Martin (Martin & Lewis) and also as the actor comedian who hosted fund raising events for sick kids. We didn’t exactly know what muscular dystrophy was back then but we had seen lots of kids come out of the 40’s and 50’s with the dreaded polio virus and neuromuscular diseases like Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS).

Lewis at the behest of a staff member began hosting local telethons to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Associations of America (MDA) in 1952. These benefits were held in New York and some were reported on Providence, RI TV (seen by this writer) and received widespread attention. MDA approached Jerry about hosting a national telethon and thus was born the annual Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, since renamed the MDA Labor Day Telethon. Lewis hosted that show from 1966 to 2010 and according to MDA raised over $2.6 billion (US). Equally important, Lewis with his celebrity raised awareness about muscular disease throughout the international community.

From 1966 to last year – no matter where I was – I watched at least a snippet of that Labor Day ritual. Sometimes I even tried to emulate Jerry and pull an all-nighter but I was never as strong as Jerry and his incredible crew. I didn’t watch this year – not one second – though I will write a check.

That show with its attendant emotion and sometimes not so predictable success was the heartbeat of America over that Labor Day weekend. The world watched in that grueling, knee buckling and exhausting LIVE marathon as Jerry poured his heart out (OK, punctuated with some good acting) wondering in cliff-hanger, soap opera fashion whether he would make the goal. Jerry always got the job done.

That telethon was never boring and given the spontaneous nature of the event you never knew what Jerry was going to say or do next (“unpredictable, in a good way”). That show will now seemingly morph into a bland, shop-worn showcase for corporate America and groups of responsible citizens from firefighters to cheerleaders to walk on camera, present a check and take their bows. While these groups deserve the accolade it will be mostly staged from this point on. That’s predictable given the year round macro management now required to put on such a huge event. On the local level the true spirit of the telethon is still epitomized by kids motivated to run neighborhood lemonade stands to raise money for, “Jerry’s Kids.” We saw one flourishing the other day in Dallas.

On May 16 Lewis announced his retirement as telethon host though would remain on as MDA National Chairman and at least do a walk-on in 2011. On August 3, 2011 MDA tersely and unceremoniously announced that the now 85 year old Jerry Lewis had been removed as MDA National Chairman and would not participate in the telethon. An incredulous public including this writer gasped. The reaction was universal and for me was epitomized by David Letterman’s very talented bandleader (actor, author, comedian and composer) Paul Shaffer who opined that Lewis’ absence seemed hard to believe. Shaffer often praised for his own charity work (Epilepsy Canada) and with his own star on Canada's Walk of Fame commented further, “I think it’s insane.” And it is…

The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon to the current MDA hierarchy had become an albatross - another time capsule not unlike the one recently discovered in a wall of the old Hall Elementary School building in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Jerry Lewis Telethon had become a vestige of the past and the way we used to do things. The world has changed and however unceremonious and distasteful, MDA felt it was time to move on.

Seemingly because of all the outrage surrounding Lewis’ ouster, the beginning of the MDA Telethon included Jerry Lewis tributes delivered by the show’s new hosts though MDA and Lewis would not comment or elaborate on the remarks.

From this point on there is nothing but speculation abounding about what really happened between Jerry’s announcement on May 16 and MDA’s lynching on August 3rd. Something happened, words spoken but nobody’s talking now. If you go on the MDA site some of the pages that relate to Jerry are now inaccessible. The MDA site disrespectfully has no mention of Jerry Lewis under “Telethon History.” That by itself makes MDA look very bad. We all needed a better outcome.

So, whether it was the disability activists who thought Jerry was throwing an annual pity party; Jerry’s very personal identification with the cause; Lewis’ recent dissing of the new telethon co-hosts; shrinking revenues and TV markets/coverages; corporate big wigs who couldn’t appreciate Lewis’ slapstick, sometimes irreverent and inappropriate shoot from the hip actions and comments; Jerry’s own failing health or something we haven’t even fathomed – it doesn’t really matter. Any further speculation about the reasons still won’t bring Lewis back. It seems more prudent to look forward but still somehow find a way to show our appreciation and gratitude for the absolutely heroic life’s work that Jerry Lewis has performed. That, of course, is continuing our support for MDA and encouraging a reconciliation.

Whatever the reason, Jerry’s gone for now and MDA did OK this year. No doubt this whole issue was handled very badly, much to the discredit of MDA, even if they turn out to be good guys.

As Jerry would still dutifully say, nothing else matters, it’s all about the kids…and the adults. Thank you Jerry.

Aye,

Ned Buxton

Saturday, September 3, 2011

DALLAS AND NORTH TEXAS – DRY AND BRITTLE

Our October 2007 Water, Water Not In Atlanta post outlined some of the misery when Atlanta and north Georgia was in a severe drought crisis, seemingly the worst in the history of that region. We commiserated with our north Georgia cousins invoking our own similar experience just two years earlier and assured them the rain would return. It did, though that Georgia drought exacerbated the ill feelings and further compromised the already precarious environmental relationship Georgia has with the states of Alabama and Florida who also depend on the waters of the Chattahoochee River to supply water to residents and irrigate crops. That controversy continues and we wonder if it will ever be amicably (or reasonably) resolved. It’s a modern war over water now a scarce commodity here in Texas.

You’d be right if you assumed that many of us here in Texas have a great appreciation for our water resources. Well educated Texans know that there are no natural lakes in our area save Lake Caddo which is well east over on the Louisiana-Texas border. Even then Caddo was the result of water backed up by a 100-mile log jam on the Red River in Louisiana. The removal of the jam was accomplished by Buxton ancestor, steamboat builder and river captain Henry Miller Shreve (1785–1851) who opened the Mississippi, Ohio and Red rivers to steamboat navigation and was memorialized forever and a day with the naming of Shreveport, Louisiana.

Given the scarcity of this natural resource and spurned on by the record drought of the 1950s Texas built dozens of reservoirs (now almost 200) designed to maintain an adequate water supply in the event of another inevitable severe drought. We wonder, however, if regional planners have accurately conjured the meteoric growth of our state and the ultimate demands still to be placed on our still limited water resources. We have seen low population projections that in the opinion of the water folks will see the state of Texas unable to supply water to the great majority of its residents by 2060 in the event of severe drought. More pragmatic folks say that figure is closer to 2025.

This year (the hottest and driest on record in Texas) thanks to La Nina we have been faced with a true test of our plan and the jury’s still out whether we passed or failed. If the citizenry of our state doesn’t wake up and listen to those that monitor those precious water resources, then many feel that we will have an ultimate failing grade. Simply translated: if we don’t change some attitudes and conservation practices then someday we won’t have enough water for everybody.

The north Texas DFW region has a humid subtropical climate, though situated so that we also experience the heat and drought typical of the semi-arid region to our immediate west. This is all capped off by spring cool fronts that move south out of the high plains and Midwest only to collide with the warm, humid air streaming north from the Gulf of Mexico. That spawns severe thunderstorms, many with hail and tornadoes prompting our inclusion in the southern aspect of Tornado Alley. In short, we get a wide variety of weather that can include cold bitter wind chills from storms that sweep down from Canada in the winter, witness the 2011 Super Bowl fiasco at Cowboy Stadium.

So our precipitation in Texas has always been boom or bust, either too much or too little as the folks in Vermont can now attest. We aren’t getting enough rain at present and area lakes are being quickly depleted. North Texas area lakes have more water than other regions of the state and, thankfully, as of this writing it looks like the excessive 100°+ degree weather may be on the wane starting next week. Huzzah!

Even with our good fortune most of north Texas and for that matter most of the state is now rationing water. The DFW metro cities of Richardson, Plano, Frisco, Allen, Forney, Wylie, Rockwall, Garland and many others get their water from the North Texas Municipal Water District and are now in stage 2 mandatory restrictions. Many other cities are in voluntary water restrictions limiting any watering from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. That would include Dallas and Fort Worth who appear close to implementing mandatory restrictions. The fact that nearly 500 water systems throughout Texas are now under mandatory restrictions is unprecedented.

It’s easy to identify folks who are abiding by the water restrictions. A quick drive thru of any DFW neighborhood will feature dead and dying brown or yellowing lawns - proof positive that those homeowners are serious about conserving water. Lush, green lawns that are obviously being watered every day are the scarlet letter for those who care only for themselves and not for the good of the many. Even in the best of times we know that despite all our proactive conservation efforts roughly 50% of all the water consumed ends up on our lawns. The conclusion is obvious – we all have to change how we, first of all, perceive, then use and preserve this resource.

I drove through our neighborhood the other day and saw sprinklers on during the middle of the day, one guy washing a car in his driveway and another hosing off the gutters in the street in front of his home. A drive down some of the business and apartment thoroughfares will find sprinklers going strong during the day with all its attendant runoff. These incredibly stupid and callous acts are those that will tip us to an increased water rationing and the potential that some folks might not be able to get a drink of water. Ultimately that kind of irresponsibility will put us out of business.

Our infrastructure is already taking an incredible beating with almost daily water main breaks where the earth has moved mains and water supply lines where they didn’t want to go. Many roads have buckled and heaved and even if passable, drivers need to use special caution when traversing these areas. Railroad tracks have warped (so-called sun kinks) prompting a super heightened maintenance vigilance and much slower train runs. Rolling power outages have started to hit major population areas as record demands are placed on energy sources. The reduction and outright loss of trees and other vegetation is exacerbating the superheating effect that our cities (already heat islands) have on their surrounding environments.

As a youngster and even young adult I would never have dreamed that we would actually pay for water in a bottle. There was a lot of controversy when it was first introduced though now with its mostly guaranteed quality, portability and availability, it’s a major industry and a seeming harbinger of water in the future a la macro blue gold futurist T. Boone Pickens.

This week amid all this heat and drought I saw hope and promise in a mass planting of Texas Sage profuse with extraordinary amethyst blooms on silver leaves along the George H. W. Bush Tollway north of Dallas. They were magnificent and perhaps along with the succulent Red Yucca and other plants more suitable for our summer heat, a harbinger of what more of us should and will be planting around our homes in the near future.

And speaking about responsible plantings of native trees and plants, who were the yahoos (municipal arborists?) who brought in the Bald Cypress to the very alkaline and dry soils of north Texas? I was dumbfounded when I came back to north Texas and saw these trees which require acid soil and very wet feet. Tree of the Year or not, while they have survived and even flourished in good times with reliable irrigation, in this unprecedented severe drought and heat they are not just dropping their leaves, rather dying all over the metro area. They may be our canary in the coal mine – a foreign species of life brought into a hostile environment and now succumbing to Mother Nature.

Our reality is much crueler than a misplaced species of tree, however. Because of the drought and heat many Texas ranchers and farmers have quit or retired never to return again. So - no cattle, no auctions, no transportation and a whole industry – in a state where cattle far outnumbered people – now gutted. No plants, no insects, no pollination, no birds or other animal life and no agriculture as we have known it. The cycle of life and the food chain, all linked together has been compromised. And what about our continuing record-breaking wildfire season?

What about the effects of the heat and drought on John and Jane Doe? At work folks have commented about the changes they see in the overall demeanor and heightened stress levels of individuals including drivers who appear less cautious and respectful. Many are on edge what with the recession, increased cost of food, power, water, gas – the list goes on. The heat and drought have put a fork in it. One gentleman recently observed, “Everybody’s not in quite as good a mood as they could be. It just kinda beats you down.”

We wonder about Texas Governor Rick Perry’s blustery posturing against the Federal government and President Obama despite their substantial and apparent uncredited support fighting the wildfires and all the while hypocritically cutting the budget of the Texas Forest Service, the very agency charged with fighting those fires. Now how about Perry’s very public strategy to deal with the drought and heat – prayers. Perry is as we say in Texas, “A hat with no cattle.”

This chapter in Texas history is a reminder that we are only temporary occupants in a self-correcting system where we are the ones who have to make concessions to our environment. Our Native American Brothers and Sisters had it right all along: the Earth will sustain Homo sapiens and all other life on the planet to the degree that we choose to be good stewards of its controllable resources. Failing that we will go the way of the dinosaurs. Just ask the folks left in Happy, Texas. The state of Texas, Ladies and Gentlemen, has been changed forever.

Aye,

Ned Buxton