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Thoughts from (Last Week’s) TMQ

A little behind on my reading of Gregg Easterbrook’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback column on ESPN.com, so just getting to the entirety of last week’s TMQ. The football pieces are old news now, but here are my favorite non-NFL pieces (find the whole thing here):


On New York Times corrections:

New York Times Corrections on Fast-Forward: In recent months, the Multicolored Lady has run these corrections:

• Describing the Volt hybrid car, the Times wrote that if its battery runs down, “an electric motor provides backup charging.” What would drive the electric motor if the problem was the battery ran down? The backup motor on the Volt is, of course, gasoline powered.

• A chart said an event happened in 1997. A correction said it happened in 1976. A correction of the correction said it happened in 1977.

• An article described attempts of British television personality Andrew Marr to keep secret an extramarital affair. Two months later, the paper published a correction. Why the time lag? “The correction was delayed for research,” the Times huffed. What kind of “research” does one conduct into a sexual affair?

• An article “erroneously reported a story about cows falling from planes. No cows … ever fell from a plane into a Japanese fishing rig.” Pointed out by reader Jonathan Duker of Beit Shemesh, Israel.

• An article “misstated the proportion of Americans who believe extraterrestrials live among us.” Who in this context is “us”?

• An article “described incorrectly a scene from ‘The Godfather Part II.’ The senator threatens to squeeze the Mafia boss Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino; Corleone does not threaten the senator.” Come on Times, let’s be accurate about imaginary events!

• “A report misidentified the material used to create a muppet of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.”

• An article “incorrectly described Claudius’s actions in Hamlet. Claudius married his brother’s wife, not his brother’s sister.” Not only did this rudimentary error occur in a story written by a man identified by the Times as an expert on Shakespeare — “his brother’s sister” would be his own sister.

The correction of the year, pointed out by reader Heather Rebman of Mountain View, Calif., was found on the weddings page: “The Vows column paraphrased incorrectly comments made by the bridegroom about the way the bride’s father … would test his children. When the bridegroom called it a ‘blindfold test,’ he was speaking figuratively, not literally.” Get what happened? The original item made it seem the bridegroom told the New York Times his bride-to-be had, as a child, been blindfolded by his new father-in-law. Must have been a cheery rehearsal dinner!


On Christmas Creep:

Christmas Creep: Reader Natasha Wunderlich of Sacramento, Calif., reports, “I went to Costco and my 3-year-old son said, ‘Look mommy, Santa!’ There was a big light up Santa. Then I got home and in my mailbox was an advertisement for the health club chain 24 Hour Fitness. It said, ‘Want to lose those holiday pounds? Join 24 Hour Fitness for the New Year.’ ”

Reader Brian Endo of Tokyo reports that the Costco in Kawasaki, Japan, already has Christmas trees on sale. Paul Lockhart-Korris of New York City reports that in late August, he received an email from ESPN The Magazine (published on Earth The Planet) urging him to renew gift subscriptions now because, “The holiday season is fast upon us.”


On the state of Sci-Fi TV:

Sci-Fi Update: The science fiction scene on television remains weak. The “Star Trek” and “Stargate” franchises are no more, “Fringe” has veered into the silly, and TNT’s “Falling Skies” is so lame in plot and dialogue it doesn’t even merit an insult. Will Steven Spielberg put his name on anything?

“Stargate Universe” ended in May, concluding the run of “Stargate” serials. “Universe” was poorly written in its first season, canceled early in its second. Then a surprise: Midway through the second season, the writing improved noticeably. But the first season lost the audience, and by the time quality improved, nobody was watching. The last few episodes were terrific, building to a series finale that numbers among the best in television annals. In the finale, the starship crew decides to attempt something dangerous and noble. The characters make sentimental promises to each other, then the ship disappears into the distance. The last frame is a character admiring the grandeur of the cosmos. Viewers never find out the ship’s fate.

The premise of “Stargate Universe” was that a wormhole accident put a group of present-day soldiers and civilians aboard a million-year-old automated starship built by an extinct civilization. Though the vessel had been exploring the universe on its own for a million years, the moment people arrived, engines and shields began failing — and must be fixed by characters pressing buttons. If pulling out a failed piece of electronics and screwing in a new one as warning alarms sound is critical to starship operation — this happened several times in the series — how did the vessel function autonomously for a million years? Plus why did an automated ship have loud alarms?

When the “Stargate Universe” starship got into battles with other spaceships — which happened surprisingly often, considering galaxies are 99.999999 percent void — laser hits on the outside meant showers of sparks on the bridge, just like on “Star Trek.” I admit I don’t know much about the electrical engineering of faster-than-light starcruisers. But why, in sci-fi space battles, do weapons hits on the hull cause sparks deep inside the vessel? It seems the civilization that built the ship was able to invent warp engines, but not circuit breakers.

Will Fox’s upcoming “Terra Nova,” touted as the most expensive television series ever made, revive sci-fi TV? Spielberg sold his imprimatur to this show too, possibly a bad sign. “Terra Nova” posits a scenario in which humanity acquires the ultra-sophisticated knowledge necessary to send an expedition 85 million years into the past, but everyone forgets there were dinosaurs back then. More on “Terra Nova” next week.


On fact checking:

Calling Tony Reali: TMQ’s favorite part of “Pardon the Interruption” comes at the end, when Tony Reali corrects factual errors made during the course of the show’s unscripted comments. Not only does the on-air real-time fact checking lend authenticity — it’s entertaining!

So why not have on-air real-time fact checking during presidential debates?

Perhaps the worst aspect of political debates is candidates’ self-flattering phony claims: Viewers have no way of judging whether the claims are true or false. So appoint a fact checker! The obvious candidate is PolitiFact, sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, which is devoted to verifying or denying the assertions of politicians. In 2009, PolitiFact won a Pulitzer Prize for its work. Here is PolitiFact’s fact-check of last week’s Republican debate.

Suppose that while candidates were speaking, a neutral third party such as PolitiFact checked all factual claims and reported its findings the moment the debate concluded: or even live, in a crawl as candidates were speaking. Candidates would be furious about this, because then they’d have to tell the truth, or at least stop making preposterous claims. There would be obvious public benefit in presidential debate fact checking. What are we waiting for?


On the cost of an Ivy League education:

The Butler Will Bring the S’Mores: Summer, as usual, has gone too quickly. You probably wish you attended a summer camp that costs $198 a day. Yale, including room and board, has a list price that works out to $235 a day. The average Yale undergrad pays 70 percent of the list price, or $165 per day — less than for a high-end summer camp.


On concussions in football (sorry for the football related piece, but it has to do with player health, and mentions Virginia Tech, the official graduate school of No Longer Normal, to borrow a TMQ stylistic flair):

Concussion Watch: Are there different types of head trauma risk for different positions in football? This is a question the NFL says it is studying.

Researchers at Brown University already have the answer: Running backs receive the hardest blows to the head, while linemen and linebackers are hit in the head most often.. The study, led by Brown professor of orthopedics Joseph Crisco, looked at several years of helmet accelerometer data from players at Brown, Dartmouth and Virginia Tech, which has become the leader institution for study of helmet safety. Crisco speculates that his findings could lead to rule changes, or position-specific helmets that are designed to withstand the types of contact a player is likely to experience.


On government waste:

Washington Is Borrowing Money to Give to Hawaii to Give to the NFL — Why Isn’t the Tea Party Upset About This? The state of Hawaii is cutting its education budget, yet paying the NFL $4 million annually to hold the Pro Bowl in Honolulu. Bad enough that Hawaii (or any state) offers public funds for the private profit of the NFL (or any pro sport). What’s shameful is that the NFL accepts the money. Commissioner Roger Goddell, and at least some of the NFL owners, talk big about setting a good example. But it’s all talk. Setting a good example would be this: Give Hawaii the money back, to use for schools.


On economics and Washington, DC:

In Praise of Lawrence Lindsey: Don’t be lulled to sleep by super-low interest rates — it seems close to inevitable that interest rates will rise. This matters because the ginormous national debt is financed using very cheap T-bills and T-bonds selling for 3 percent or less. When interest rates rise — as they must, unless neoclassical economics is totally wrong — federal debt-service payments will skyrocket, pushing the nation further into the red. This complication has simply been ignored by presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and by Democrats and Republicans in Congress, in the past five years of reckless debt-based federal spending.

Lawrence Lindsey, who was head of Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors, warned a few months ago that if the interest the Treasury pays to borrow money simply rises to the 20-year average of 5.7 percent, this will add another $4.9 trillion to the national debt in the next decade — more than wiping out the savings the congressional “supercommittee” is supposed to agree upon.

Lindsey’s is a credible voice. Before the invasion of Iraq, when Lindsey was working in the Bush White House, he said an American occupation of that nation would cost about $200 billion a year. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called Lindsey’s estimate “baloney.” At that time President Bush was asserting an irresponsible fiction that an attack on Iraq would be quick and cheap. Bush wanted to run the war entirely on borrowed money, thus foisting the cost onto future generations — not to raise taxes for war, the honorable course, as was done during World War II and Vietnam. Bush fired Lindsey shortly after he issued his cost estimate, because Lindsey said something the president and defense secretary did not want the public to hear. So far, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the Iraq occupation has cost about $1.3 trillion over eight years, about what Lindsey predicted. Every penny of that cost, under Bush and now Obama, has been billed to the young, so the reckless men and women running Washington can spend without accountability.

In recent years, Bush and Rumsfeld have tried to argue away their blunder in Iraq by saying they had no way of knowing how costly it would be. They claim this even though the White House chief economist warned them! If interest rates rise, and the national debt skyrockets owing to debt-service expenses, look for Obama and Nancy Pelosi to claim they had no way of knowing that could happen.

Lindsey note: Though a top-notch guy, he is another example of the Washington grandee who names a consulting company after himself, then boasts of being in charge. Lindsey is “president and CEO” of The Lindsey Group. Chosen, surely, after an exhaustive search! Despite a tiny staff, this boutique consultancy has a president, a CEO, a vice president and two managing directors.


Read the football parts, and other miscellany, here.





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