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Thoughts from TMQ: 27 Sept

Fun non-football bits from Gregg Easterbrook’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback 27 September column on ESPN.com. (find the whole thing here):

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Bad Predictions Watch: Reader Tyler Smith of Zionsville, Ind., notes students at Hamilton College tracked a year’s worth of predictions by political pundits, and found the average pundit no more accurate than a coin flip. Hamilton College students also discerned a hidden pattern: “Prognosticators with a law degree were more likely to be wrong.”

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Ridiculous Title Watch: Reader David C. of Houston notes a hedge fund manager whose title is “CEO, CIO and senior managing director.”

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Unified Field Theory of Creep: Lacey Ward of Missouri City, Texas, writes, “In the United States Navy, of which I am a part, sailors’ inputs for their yearly evaluations are due three months before the end of the reporting period. The reports must be signed by the commanding officer, debriefed to the sailor and mailed to the Bureau of Personnel by the end date of the reporting period. We either have to project out what we think we will do over the last three months (though overestimating is a cardinal sin), or leave off 25 percent of our accomplishments.”

Many readers, including Martha Roberson of Ithaca, N.Y., noted that CNN has already named its Top 10 Heroes of 2011, though three months remain in the year. “If you see a house on fire, don’t save the people inside till January,” she advises.

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Wacky Food of the Week: I bought the Official Dog of TMQ some Kibbles ‘n Bits Homestyle dog food. A bold label declared, HOME COOKED TASTE. Dog food just like your mother used to bake? The manufacturer assumes you will not sample the product and complain that the dog food does not, in fact, taste like mom’s.

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Another Way the High and Mighty Steal from Average People: Obviously, 9/11 meant a need to improve security, but “security” has become a hustle used to justify luxury and self-importance for government and corporate officials. TMQ often documents midlevel and even minor public officials surrounding themselves with taxpayer-paid bodyguards supposedly for security, but actually so they can seem more important while cutting to the heads of lines. Shareholder-paid “security” for CEOs is as much a hustle, and increasingly focuses on the private jet.

Many CEOs now justify their shareholder-paid personal jets based on “security” — though no one traveling on U.S. commercial airlines has been harmed by terrorism in a decade. Recently the Wall Street Journal reported “Yum Brands Inc., which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell, said in regulatory filings that CEO David Novak and his wife are required to use company aircraft for personal and business travel” for security reasons. The company “requires” the CEO and his wife to take private jets on personal travel. Forces them to!

The Journal continued, “Comcast Corp. says that for security, certain senior executives must use company planes for business and personal travel. In 2010, the cable giant bought a third jet for its fleet, a Dassault Falcon 900 that can cost upwards of $40 million. The new jet’s most frequent destination in its first six months, from its home base of Philadelphia, was the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where [Comcast] CEO Brian Roberts has a house. The plane made 24 trips there in that period, mostly in the summer, FAA records show. Starting in October, the jet also began flying to Palm Beach, Fla., where Mr. Roberts has another home.”

Corporate leaders are using average people’s money, extracted from labor via wage cuts and from shareholders via lower dividends, to lavish private-jet luxury upon themselves. The only complication is that average people may find out. How did the Journal determine that corporate jets are spending so much time commuting to vacation homes? Because in most cases, jets must file flight plans that are public documents.

So CEOs are lobbying to have their flight plan information withheld from the public. There is a privacy issue. While airspace must be regulated, generally, government should need a court order to monitor a specific person’s location. And on rare occasion, traveling executives may have reason to fear what the law calls a “valid security threat.”

But 99 percent of the time, people on corporate jets want their movements secret so shareholders and labor don’t know they are using company planes for personal luxury — and so the IRS doesn’t know they are receiving corporate-paid personal travel they may not declare as income. Privacy could be protected, yet the public interest maintained, if private aircraft flight plans were not disclosed in real time — but at year’s end, all trips taken by an aircraft were made public, by tail number. That way shareholders, labor and the IRS could figure out if executives were using the company plane for personal travel. But on any given day, the CEO’s movements would receive privacy protection.

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Disclaimer of the Week: Reader Gary Goldstein of Cincinnati took his family to the King’s Island amusement park in Mason, Ohio. The star thrill ride is the Wind Seeker. Goldstein reports, “On the day we were there, the Wind Seeker was not operating. A sign said,’ Closed due to wind.’ “

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Speed of Light Pulled Over, Ticketed: Many readers, including Jared Grisbgy of Jonesboro, Ark., noted that researchers at Europe’s CERN particle accelerator think they observed neutrinos moving just slightly faster than light. The Special Theory of Relativity says matter cannot exceed the speed of light, which may render impossible the warp drives beloved of sci-fi writers. Confirmation that matter can, in fact, exceed the speed of light would be huge news.

Because the claimed velocity is less than one-thousandth of 1 percent more than light speed, observer error seems the likely explanation. But maybe matter can exceed the speed of light and we just haven’t noticed this yet because we don’t know what to look for. Maybe it’s even relatively easy to exceed light speed, based on knowledge we don’t yet possess. After all, two centuries ago, the top scientists at Harvard and Yale would have said that heavier-than-air flight would always be impossible, and now this seems relatively easy.

If matter can exceed the speed of light, once humanity builds starcruisers, all manner of shenanigans will become possible at what are now unimaginably faraway star systems. If matter can exceed the speed of light, advanced aliens could have their eyes on us right now. (“Gorzon, before we vaporize their world, let’s take all the cheese curls, those things are yummy.”) TMQ said last week, before the CERN finding was announced, that there are many reasons to think “humanity knows hardly anything about the larger universe.” Now there’s another.

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Read the football parts, and other miscellany, here.

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