Thursday, September 27, 2007

My new favorite African economist

Click on the link above to watch a dramatic* talk by Ghanian economist George Ayittey.

(* as dramatic as a talk on economics can be.)

Ayittey's view of Africa is enlightening.

While appreciative of Tony Blair's drive to generate $50B for Africa, Ayittey suggest that corruption has cost Africa $140B, and capital flight another $80B. In other words, Africa needs structural change to deliver more liberty to Africa, and not a hand-out. One of his suggested first steps is to cast out the "Swiss Bank Socialists" providing economic advice in favor of free markets.

He's quite blunt about what the problem is - a lack of leadership - and what the solution looks like. He says "Africa is poor because she is not free." It's a compelling talk on Africa - easily downloaded for podcast consumption - and it woke me up for other reasons: it's not often in my life that I'm exposed to a raw cry for liberty, and it refreshed my appreciation for what we take for granted here in America.

America can play an important role, and in fact, I'd bet that before long, we'll realize the libertarian and strategic value in boosting Africa.

For an example of the strategic opportunity, consider how much of the US trade deficit originates from China in exchange for simple goods that are competitive only due to the low labor cost. The economic impact of transferring some of this production to even-lower wage Africa would be huge.

What if, someday, African-sourced goods imported to the East Coast of the USA were just as economically viable as Chinese imports to the West Coast?

btw: I highly recommend all of the TED Talks podcasts.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The carnage from rookie hazing week

Check out the link above to see the results of one of baseball's underheralded traditions: hazing the rookies by making them wear ridiculous outfits in public.

Typically, during the last game of a series, the rookies' regular clothes are taken from their locker and replaced with comical outfits. The rookies then wear the outfits from the stadium to their bus, signing autographs along the way, then to the airport, on the flight, and then to the team hotel in the new city, or beyond.

Here's Dice-K and Hideki Okajima as a Teletubby and a pirate, respectively.

Gore vs. Powell - becoming slightly more likely.....

Christopher Hitchens in the linked article shines a light on a notion that I've been predicting for a while: that Al Gore - after winning the Nobel Peace Prize - declares himself a candidate for President.

(I've been predicting this, as well as a "Draft Powell" movement from the Republicans.)

I think this would be justified, appropriate, and exciting. I think there's a great deal of discontent towards the early '08 candidates, and I don't think anyone has really fallen in love with any of the leading candidates (Clinton, and Rudy, as far as I can tell.)

Only a former VP with huge party connections and massive media recognition could competitively enter the Democratic race at this point, given the massive fund raising to date by Clinton.

Even without fertile, untapped fund-raising territory, it may be a strategic advantage to be a late comer to the race. Every candidate has aired out various economic and healthcare packages, which if not already, will be stale by the time that voters head to the primary polls. Gore would enter with the ability to criticize the existing plans and repeat his Iraq and global warming points ad nauseum, without really having to forward plans, especially ones involving a lockbox.

All this being said, I'm unlikely to vote for Gore, as I've been turned off by how he handled the 2000 election debacle. My impression is that he's waaaay too sore of a loser, as it wasn't the 500 or so vote difference in Florida certified by the Supreme Court that cost him the election - as he often laments - but rather his inability to carry his own state, and even his own congressional district, and his inability/unwillingness to cut a deal with Ralph Nader.

(With Nader earning ~90,000 votes in Florida in 2000, I think if Gore wants to identify who "cost" him the election, it's not the 9 Supremes, but rather Ralph Nader.)

Better luck this time, Al.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Prank that probably went too far....

Check the link above to see the 8th round of a long-running prank war. The prank-er (Amir) sets it up so that the prank'ee's (Streeter) girlfriend thinks she's been proposed to AT YANKEE STADIUM!

Streeter is likely respond with a 9th round of pranks, but I don't see how he can escalate this any further beyond having Amir arrested and sent to Guantanamo.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

3rd baseball team in NYC?

Having just read Andrew Zimbalist's book on baseball economics, I got to thinking about what we'll be seeing in the near future.

I think MLB will decide to expand in the next decade for a few reasons:

-with nearly every team in a new stadium, MLB will be looking for new spikes in revenue.

-realizing that MLB needs to compete more intensely with the NFL, NBA, and MLS, MLB will look to make a land grab to make sure that the MLB flag is planted in all of the major metropolitan markets.

-along the same lines of MLB realizing that raw interest in numbers is the best measure of health vis-a-vis the other sports leagues, total "fannies in seats" will become an increasingly important metric for both the owners and advertisers. Expansion could boost annual MLB attendance -currently in the 75M range - by another 4-6MM.

-MLB is also realizing how to take advantage of marquee marketing opportunities, like Daisuke Matsuzaka. Expanding by 2 teams would provide more marquee opportunities.

-with labor peace, the the next or the following MLB-player agreement will need a sweetner. Expanding by 2 teams would add another 50 jobs for the players union.

-adding 2 teams to the current 30 just makes sense. (2 leagues of 16, and probably 4 divisions of 4 in each league.) (I could see expansion beyond 32.)

-all of the traditional arguments about expansion (dilution of the talent pool) are becoming less relevant. It's been 10 years since the last expansion, and the addition of Asian players and an increased talent flow from Venezuela could easily provide enough talent.

And, as I'll explain in a moment, adding one team in the NYC area will provide roughly the same effect of extending revenue sharing.

So, expansion makes sense, and while MLB is famous for NOT doing things that make sense, they are changing that, as Zimbalist points out in his book.

I think that if baseball expands the 2 new teams will go to Portland, Oregon, and northern New Jersey.

Why North Jersey?

The New York MSA covers more than 18M people, while the median MLB city has 3.87M people. New York could probably handle 4 teams.

This surely hasn't escaped the notice of the other MLB owners. I think another driver of expansion will be the sentiments of the 28 other non-New York owners to bring the Mets and Yanks back to the pack, financially and competitively.

The amazing thing is, expanding to the New York area could theoretically happen without any interference from the Mets or Yankees, as a portion of Northern New Jersey lies outside of the teams' territories.

The Yankees' and Mets' territory includes New York City, plus Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester and Rockland Counties in New York; Fairfield County south of I-84 and west of SR 58 in Connecticut; and Bergen, Hudson, Essex and Union Counties in New Jersey. This doesn't include Middlesex county, which while not particularly attractive in its' own right, IS adjacent to Staten Island and at the crossroads of several major roads.

In particular, I'd nominate this location in Woodbridge, NJ, which abuts the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike, and lies less than 2 miles from Staten Island.

This location would represent a very different market than the existing New York teams, perhaps even a new market. It'll take a while for this idea to take hold, but it makes too much sense. The only complicating factor could be the desire of an exisiting owner to move to this location prior to expansion.

For more, read the article linked above.....

Friday, September 07, 2007

Steroids double standard?

Great point from Jayson Stark's most recent ESPN column:

"Suppose a prominent and popular All-Star player on a two-time World Series champion were to get suspended for a quarter of a season because he got nabbed obtaining HGH (human growth hormone, a performance enhancing drug) . And suppose, at the same time, a coach on one of last year's World Series teams was also suspended for the same offense. How gigantic would the headlines be on every front page in America? How scathing would the columns be from all your favorite writers?"

The above scenario has actually happened in the last 2 weeks - in football. (Rodney Harrison of the New England Patriots, and Wade Wilson of the Dallas Cowboys.)

Where's the outrage? Why isn't the press working feverishly to figure out who Wilson was buying HGH for? Why is nobody asking "if a defensive back like Harrison is taking HGH, what do you think the bigger guys are doing?"

The whole Baseball ecosystem deserves loads of criticism for how they handled the steroids issue, (in fact, how they exploited it, if you tie the '90s fascination with HRs with tacit steroid approval by the leagues) and has gotten it's fair share of negative press, but why is football virtually untouched?

My 4 best guesses are:

1) football has many other more sensational off-field stories stealing the headlines, like Michael Vick's dog-fighting case.

2) football is considered by fans more entertainment than sport, and much like WWE fans not really caring that wrestlers take steroids to look the part, football fans in effect just don't care what wardrobe the actors wear.

3) fans aren't dumb, and already realize that the average NFL player is already a steroid-fueled freak of nature. (Geez, if an NFL kicker like Todd Sauerbrun took steroids, how about the 350 pound linemen freaks?

4) so much of the media has bought into football, that a foundation-jarring issue like rampant steroid use is soft-pedaled, in order to protect the media's investment in the NFL. (At present, ESPN, NBC, and FOX each have multi-billion dollar contracts to broadcast the NFL.)

Any careful examination of the trend in size and strength of NFL players clearly indicates rampant performance enhancing drug use, much like the rise of home runs in baseball in the 1990's illustrates the growth of steroid use. With the similar trends in usage of performance enhancing drugs, why the double standard in the press?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The coolest thing you'll see all week.....

It's an optical illusion, but this video, courtesy of Gizmodo, shows a helicopter flying without moving rotor blades. As Gizmodo explains, it just so happens that the rate of blade rotation syncs perfectly with the camera's frame rate, making it seem like the blades aren't rotating.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Moon mission motivation

Completely under-reported is the renewed and heavy interest by the US, China, Russia, and India in visiting, exploring, and eventually populating the Moon. All 4 of these countries have stated their intention to visit the moon and establish a presence by 2025 or earlier. (Russia says by 2015, the US a base by 2024.)

So why the interest in the Moon, besides nostalgia? As detailed in the link above, the interest is based on the Moon's abundant supply of helium-3, which could power fusion reactors.

(Never mind that today's fusion reactors consume 1000X more energy than they produce, or that the cost of production - when including the expense of the space exploration and transportation might be exorbitant.)

It's great that there's such broad and deep interest in exploring any remotely viable alternative energy source, as the lunar interest is validation that fusion could be such a source.

It would also be great if this generation of lunar efforts also drives interest in space exploration beyond what little we've done. (Mars, anyone?) On this point, it's very sad that neither the US, nor the world has accomplished much of note in space since the last lunar expedition 35 years ago.

Of course, this whole lunar fascination could just be a case of escalating competitive press releases, or better yet, a goofy competition for national pride, which in the past has begotten wacky things like the great jet train race.

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
Click to go to my online photography

World sun clock

Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous