Thursday, February 22, 2007

Breaking down the gyroball

You wouldn't think a slider that doesn't break would be too valuable. But it does break, and in this game of inches, it could be just enough.

When Japanese television analysts tried to deconstruct the mystifying slider thrown by Daisuke Matsuzaka, they called it a gyroball, partly because the pitch seemed to come from another world.

Matsuzaka says he does not throw any such pitch in games — but when he signed with the Boston Red Sox this off-season for $52 million, American baseball fans were forced to confront the mystery.

Is the gyroball a myth, or is it real? And if it is real, what exactly is it?

Kazushi Tezuka says he has the answer, and he flew from Japan to the United States this week to reveal it. Tezuka, a Japanese trainer who is credited with creating the gyroball 12 years ago, walked to the mound at Scottsdale Stadium on Wednesday to show off his invention.

Tezuka used a standard fastball grip. He went into a basic motion. Only at the end of his delivery did he deviate. He turned the inside of his throwing arm away from his body and released the ball as if it were a football, making it spiral toward home plate.

The pitch started on the same course as a changeup, but it barely dipped. It looked like a slider, but it did not break. The gyroball, despite its zany name, is supposed to stay perfectly straight.

“That’s it!” Tezuka said, laughing hysterically on the mound. “That’s the gyro!”


New caps

MLB chooses wick over wool.

On opening day, the sport will doff the traditional wool cap in favor of a new polyester blend model designed to wick away sweat before it can stream down a player's face.

The change is part of commissioner Bud Selig's focus on boosting player performance, a Major League Baseball official said, and follows a general trend toward moisture-managing "performance" materials in sports apparel.

"We started to think, 'How can those developments be applied to our headwear?"' said John DeWaal, vice president of brand communications at New Era Cap Co., the Buffalo-based manufacturer that holds the cap contract.

Among early supporters of the new cap is AL Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander, who got a preview while shooting a commercial for New Era during the offseason in New York.

"They look exactly the same, they breathe more and they won't shrink," Verlander said. "The best thing is, when it rains, the hats won't stink like the wool ones did."
Unless, of course, it's a stinkin' yankees cap, which stinks all the time.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Snow job

By "certainly has been aware," he meant "unaware."

During yesterday’s White House press briefing, Tony Snow tried to play down the neglect uncovered at Walter Reed by portraying it as old news. President Bush “certainly has been aware of the conditions in the wards where he has visited, Snow said, affirming that the administration was aware of Walter Reed’s conditions “before the articles appeared in the paper.”

The White House has since backtracked from Snow’s comments. In a small addendum added to the bottom of yesterday’s briefing transcript on the White House website, a note now reads that Bush “first learned of the troubling allegations regarding Walter Reed from the stories this weekend in the Washington Post,” and that he is “deeply concerned” by the conditions:

Following the reversal, Snow told the Washington Post that “he did not know why the president, who has visited the facility many times in the past five years, had not heard about these problems before.”

Asked yesterday if Bush may talk about this scandal at some point in the future, Snow answered, “No.“
Frankly, I found the idea that Bush was aware of the conditions at Walter Reed unbelievable, not only because Bush seems only dimly aware in general, but also because The Base doesn't give a shit about the conditions at Walter Reed, so who would bother bringing it to his attention?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Get the lead in

Dont you wish you could say you were surprised that a government agency has abdicated its public safety responsibility?

In 2005, when government scientists tested 60 soft, vinyl lunchboxes, they found that one in five contained amounts of lead that medical experts consider unsafe -- and several had more than 10 times hazardous levels.

But that's not what they told the public.

Instead, the Consumer Product Safety Commission released a statement that they found "no instances of hazardous levels." And they refused to release their actual test results, citing regulations that protect manufacturers from having their information released to the public.

That data was not made public until The Associated Press received a box of about 1,500 pages of lab reports, in-house e-mails and other records in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed a year ago.

The documents describe two types of tests. One involves cutting a chunk of vinyl off the bag, dissolving it and then analyzing how much lead is in the solution; the second test involves swiping the surface of a bag and then determining how much lead has rubbed off.

The results of the first type of test, looking for the actual lead content of the vinyl, showed that 20 percent of the bags had more than 600 parts per million of lead -- the federal safe level for paint and other products. The highest level was 9,600 ppm, more than 16 times the federal standard.

But the CPSC did not use those results.

"When it comes to a lunchbox, it's carried. The food that you put in the lunch box may have an outer wrapping, a baggie, so there isn't direct exposure. The direct exposure would be if kids were putting their lunchboxes in their mouth, which isn't a common way for children to interact with their lunchbox," said CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese.

Thus the CPSC focused exclusively on how much lead came off the surface of a lunchbox when lab workers swiped them.

For the swipe tests, the results were lower, especially after the researchers changed their testing protocol. After a handful of tests, they increased the number of times they swiped each bag, again and again on the same spot, resulting in lower average results.

An in-house e-mail from the director of the CPSC's chemistry division explained that they had been retesting with the new protocol "which gave a lower average result than the prior report. ... ," he wrote. "This shows ... that the overall risk is lower than our original testing would have showed, as the amount of lead dislodgeable is mostly taken out with the first wipe and goes down with subsequent wipes."

Vallese explained it this way: "The more you wipe, the less lead you actually find. With fewer wipes we got a higher detection of lead presence. We thought more wipes was closer to reflecting how you would interact with your lunchbox. It was more realistic."

The test results also show that many lunchboxes were tested only on the outside, which is unlikely to be in contact with food. Vallese said this was because children handle their lunchboxes from the outside.

As a result of their tests, the CPSC issued a public statement last year reassuring consumers they had nothing to worry about: "Based on the extremely low levels of lead found in our tests, in most cases, children would have to rub their lunchbox and then lick their hands more than 600 times every day, for about 15-30 days, in order for the lunchbox to present a health hazard."

Vallese said the commission stands by those statements.

My response

to Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby's latest effort.

"It is the men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform to whom we owe our liberty. Surely they deserve better than pious claims of 'support' from those who are working for their defeat."
You know what else they deserve? They deserve to be sent into battle with body armor and fully armored Humvees instead of as sitting ducks. They deserve better healthcare and protection from those who would slash their benefits, like, for example, George W. Bush. (Could it be that protecting tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans is more important than the well-being of troops he ordered to war over nonexistnent WMDs?)

The troops also deserve not to be ordered to invade another country on false pretenses. But you don't mention any of that. I guess with all your bullshit about the Indianapolis Colts, stock prices and firefighters in the lede, there wasn't room for all that. “No loyal Colts fan rooted for Indianapolis to lose the Super Bowl”? Nobody who cares about the troops wants them put in harm’s way for a lie.

And, by the way, Iraq isn't a football game, Jeff. Lives are at stake. Your ridiculous analogies trivialize the dangers these men and women face every day. Shame on you.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Scott Brown, asshole

I know it will come as a surprise to learn that he is a Republican.

A state senator and father of a former American Idol finalist read profanity-laced criticism posted online about him and his family in a talk to high school students in his district about his opposition to gay marriage.

Sen. Scott Brown, R-Wrentham, defended his use of foul language during an assembly at King Philip Regional High School on Thursday by saying he was only repeating what had been written about him. The comments were posted on a page dedicated to a pro-gay rights history teacher at the school.

"If the kids can write it, the kids can hear it," Brown said Friday.

Brown said he left the school Thursday feeling pleased that so many of the students seemed highly engaged in the discussion about divisive issues such as gay marriage.

"I felt really good about it. And now I find out I'm being portrayed as a vile-speaking hate-monger. It's pretty saddening. I feel very badly that I'm being victimized here," he said.
Poor you. I know you're still smarting from all the bad things those mean teenagers said about you, senator, so it may not be the best time to bring this up, but there are some out there who might consider your nude photo spread kind of homoerotic.

I'm just sayin'. You don't have to come to my house and read this back to me or anything.

Friday, February 16, 2007



Under Armour’s athletic clothing will be the first product advertised among the ivy on the walls of Wrigley Field.

Under Armour and the Chicago Cubs agreed yesterday to place Under Armour’s logo on 7-foot-by-12-foot doors in the ballpark’s right- and left-field brick walls.

The doors had been painted green and were not covered with ivy, which has been a Wrigley Field trademark since the 1930s. The Cubs were the last major league team without advertising on outfield walls.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Beta, busy signals and broadsheets

How'd you like to be a paginator at the Times after reading this?

Arthur Sulzberger - Given the constant erosion of the printed press, do you see the New York Times still being printed in five years?
"I really don't know whether we'll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don't care, either," he says. He's looking at how best to manage the transition from print to Internet.
Did you ever wonder how pony express couriers felt about the telegraph?

The days of newspapers' print editions are numbered, especially broadsheets. Cellphones about the size of a credit card send and receive voice calls and e-mail, store and play music, take video and photographs, offer video games and online access to news and entertainment, and include a calculator, stopwatch and alarm clock. iPod Shuffles are so small they're a choking hazard. And we're still expected to wrestle with a broadsheet newspaper on a crowded commuter train?

It's true that you can't get cell reception on the subway, and you can't take a cellphone to kill time while waiting around on jury duty. Print still has the advantage of greater portability. However,

What about the costs of development and computerization?
"These costs aren't even near what print costs," Sulzberger explains. "The last time we made a major investment in print, it cost no less than a billion dollars. Site development costs don't grow to that magnitude."
How much longer do you think companies are going to put up with that just so you can take a paper into the restroom?

Someday we will explain to our children terms such as "above the fold" and "jumpline," and the yellowed editions people like us will hold on to will be good only for show and tell.

UPDATE: Ladies and gentlemen, the publisher of the newspaper of record.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the New York Times, has taken some flack for sounding a bit glum about the prospects for print journalism at the World Economic Conference, held last month in Davos.

On Feb. 8, the newspaper Ha'aretz quoted Mr. Sulzberger thusly, responding to a question about whether the Times will still be printed on paper in five years:

"I really don't know whether we'll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don't care either."

On Wednesday, in a speech to Times employees, Mr. Sulzberger plans to clarify the message attributed to him in Ha'aretz. The Times supplied the Observer with a portion of his text in advance:

"We are continuing to invest in our newspapers, for we believe that they will be around for a very long time. This point of view is not about nostalgia or a love of newsprint. Instead, it is rooted in fundamental business realities: Our powerful and trusted print brands continue to draw educated and affluent audiences.

"Traditional print newspaper audiences are still significantly larger than their Web counterparts. Print continues to command high levels of reader engagement. And, of course, we still make most of our money from print advertising and circulation revenue. And yes, I remember what I said here last year and what I was supposed to have said last month at Davos about not having a printed product in five years time.
"What I was supposed to have said." He plans to say that to a room lousy with journalists and not be called on it. And he probably won't be.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


When your approval rating is hovering around Nixon’s, you look far and wide to find an audience that will still treat you like a rock star, or at least not like a pariah. For years, military personnel have been reliable props for White House stagecraft, but even among people constitutionally required to salute him, enthusiasm for Bush has cooled. So George peddled his bullshit on Wall Street, where they buy just about everything.

So it was to this audience, exactly one day ago, that Bush said “Ladies and gentlemen, the state of our economy is strong.”

Tell that to, well, just about everybody else. You know, those people you don’t give speeches to.

People once again spent everything they made and then some last year, pushing the personal savings rate to the lowest level since the Great Depression more than seven decades ago.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the savings rate for all of 2006 was a negative 1 percent, meaning that not only did people spend all the money they earned but they also dipped into savings or increased borrowing to finance purchases. The 2006 figure was lower than a negative 0.4 percent in 2005 and was the poorest showing since a negative 1.5 percent savings rate in 1933 during the Great Depression.

For December, consumer spending rose a solid 0.7 percent, the best showing in five months, while incomes rose by 0.5 percent [that must be the “real wage growth” referred to in the booklet distributed at Bush's Wall Street pep rally. -- Dr. S], both figures matching Wall Street expectations.

In other news, the Labor Department reported that the number of newly laid off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits dropped by 20,000 last week to 307,000. That improvement pushed the four-week average for claims to the lowest level in a year, indicating that the labor market remains healthy.
That is, if you consider 307,000 new unemployed people every week to be healthy.

But the news isn’t all bad. After all, ExxonMobil just reported a $39.5 billion profit for 2006, the largest annual profit by an American company ever.

It’s like the trickle-down effect. Just replace “down” with “up,” and “trickle” with “gushing.”

If you too want to see success in the face of overwhelming failure, if you want to see the world the way Bush does, all you have to do is learn to ignore inconvenient facts. All you have to do is come to a conclusion after minimal consideration of a situation and never let empathy, evidence or facts sway you from that position. Lots of people have already started doing this, notably Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, but none as successfully as Vice President Dick Cheney.