Monday, August 28, 2006

Basketball Rules

As you astute readers know, the Basketball World Championships are nearing completion in Japan. As Americans, we are watching to see whether we can reclaim our post atop the world's basketball stage. The chances seem decent with the team we have, especially with our greatest threats (Spain and Argentina) now in the opposite bracket.

As the tournament has progressed, I've begun questioning more and more why there are rule differences between FIBA, which runs the world championships, and the sport I grew up playing here. Chris Sheridan at ESPN did a good job of breaking down many of the rules differences, but the major ones include a smaller ball size, a trapezoidal lane, a shorter court, and a shorter 3-point line. The question that kept resonating with me was why are there so many differences?

the international court

Apparently I wasn't the only one. Last week, John Hollinger, he of the Pro Basketball Forecast, noted,

Another problem reared its head at the line, where the Americans made only 19-of-34.This has been a problem all tournament, and probably has to do with the slightly smaller ball used in FIBA play. It's not as much of a problem when the team is running and dunking, but just enough of a difference to throw them off on a finely calibrated maneuver like the free-throw stroke. (This also might be a good time for a rant on why, exactly, FIBA insists on using such different rules for a game that was invented and played here for half a century before anyone else picked it up. Can you imagine if the World Baseball Classic had used a different ball, changed the strike zone, and had the bases arranged in a trapezoid instead of a diamond?)

Indeed, John, exactly my thoughts and a fair query. And I haven't been able to find answers.

Wikipedia only notes a ball size change in 1935. How did the FIBA and NBA balls end up different? Is it an anti-USA move on FIBA's part? I wonder too, does the different ball size actually affect shooting? One would expect the difference to show up in other NBA-players on non-US teams (for outside shots and FT's). Or does the ball being smaller actually mean shots go in more easily (smaller ball to rim circumference ratio)? And most importantly, is there a movement afoot to standardize the rules?

the international ball in action

Unable to find an answer I was content with, I emailed the premier pro basketball blog in the world, TrueHoop, to see what I might be able to find out there. So now, finding my question posted there, we shall see if an answer is to be had. Where from have the differences arisen?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Surname Popularity

How popular is your surname? (If you don't know what a surname is, that's very sad, and you need to go here.) Find out here.

I'm proud to say that I'm in the top 50,000 but only barely. I wouldn't want to be too common.

The most common amongst the people I searched turned out to be my co-blogger Greg, who checked in within the top 1,000.

And as it turns out, I'm much more common than some of the others in the blogroll whose names, like my mother's maiden name, were not even in the top 55,000. I guess they have fewer relatives than the rest of us. (Not really.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Once in awhile, we get the chance to meet people who remind us how blessed we are.

Every evening I walk home after work from the el. Several of those evenings this summer, I have encountered a fellow walker going the opposite direction about my age. The only difference between he and I is that I'm coming from work and he's not. Oh, and that I am fully physically capable and it's obvious he is not anymore. He is out doing his best to make his way around the block unassisted. I am not sure what issues are afflicting him--my mind jumps to ALS--but the struggle to walk around the block he is enduring makes light of any so-called 'pains' I persevere through at work.

I recently was passed on an article that shares another person who makes the most of what he has been given.
Blind since age 3, Ben Underwood skateboards, shoots hoops and plays video games. How does he do it? Just like bats and dolphins.
Ben is an inspiration. Here is a youngster who is able to make his way about without a cane, a dog, or any other assistance, and without the aid of sight. My cousin is also blind. He has been since a car accident at age 15. I am struck in his case, as seems to be Ben's case, at the tenacity and grit that have become second nature as he moves through the world as effortlessly as most of us do. Memorizing floor plans and hearing things we don't become habits.

Ben has learned to perceive and locate objects by making a steady stream of
sounds with his tongue, then listening for the echoes as they bounce off the
surfaces around him.
Says an expert in the field,
Ben pushes the limits of human perception.
Says Ben,
I'm a normal kid.

Truly, an inspiration to us all.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

#2 - The Day G-R-E-G Couldn't Spell "Relief"

Let me start out by saying that for any normal person, this memory would top their personal list of most embarrassing baseball blunders. But unfortunately I’m not normal and this one is only #2 for me. In fact, I began to have doubts that this event happened quite the way I remembered it. So I recently asked my dad, “Hey, do you remember when…” and he solemnly answered, “Yes.”

Sadly, this is the story of the time I was on the wrong side of a “sports miracle."

I was 10 years old, and it was the summer of 1990. At the time, I lived in southwestern Ohio where the Cincinnati Reds were on their journey to winning the World Series. Naturally, every day at the local ballparks people were talking about the Reds, and my team was no different. In fact, the head coach and assistant coach of my baseball team would repeatedly compare me to Reds players throughout the season. For a 10-year old it was kind of flattering at first, but then it got a little eerie.

For instance, whenever I got my flattop trimmed, the assistant coach would remark, “I can’t get over how much you look like Chris Sabo.” Granted, Chris Sabo and I were both white, wore goggles, and had a flattop, but making the comparison once is enough. However, he kept bringing it up. In fact, toward the end of the season he was calling me “Chris” and my dad and I would have to keep correcting him.

Then there was our head coach. He was a big, tough guy with a thick (read “manly”) mullet and facial hair who loved watching the Reds (and I think he fantasized about being the fourth member of “The Nasty Boys.”) He and I got along just fine because, for some odd and unexpected reason, I reminded him of Tom Browning. You see, as the head coach explained to me time and time again, I was “left-handed” and “worked quickly on the mound,” so therefore I reminded him of Tom Browning. (After a while I quit contemplating this odd comparison and was just glad that he was letting me play both first base and pitcher.)

Speaking of pitching, at the tender age of ten I had already mastered three pitches. My bread and butter pitch was the meatball. But of course, to keep batters off balance I would sometimes switch to the meatball. And if I ever got into a really tight spot, then I’d dig deep into my bag of tricks and surprise them all with my meatball.

Okay, so I didn’t have great stuff, but I was pretty consistent at throwing strikes. In fact, probably a little too consistent considering my velocity wasn’t exactly overpowering. Overall, I was just an average little league pitcher—with one glaring exception...

It was the latter half of the season, and my team was in the middle of the pack in the standings. We were decent but probably not going to make much noise in the playoffs. However, on this sunny summer afternoon that all seemed to be changing, for we were playing our best ball of the season. We were playing against another one of those middle-of-the-pack teams and on this day we could do no wrong. It was one of those games where we’d score a few runs, then shut them out, score a few more runs, then shut them out, and so on. In our league we only played 6 innings and had all sorts of “mercy rules.” In the fifth inning of this game we had a 12-0 lead, so we were very close to the kill. That’s when our head coach decided to make a call to the bullpen for “Tom Browning.” So instead of heading out to first base, I took the mound; and I’m sure somewhere from the dugout the assistant coach hollered, “Go get ‘em, Chris!”

Now, despite the fact that this memory is 16 years old, I distinctly remember the thought floating through my mind as I warmed up on the mound, “There’s no way I can blow a 12-run lead.” But quickly I put that thought out of my mind because surely I could give up enough runs to let them back in the game and then I’d be removed. I didn’t want that to happen, so despite our huge lead, I had to take this seriously. Every pitch counted.

Starting out, things went okay. I mean, yeah, I gave up a few hits, a few walks, and we made a few errors. But two runs crossing the plate isn’t all that bad. Sure, there’s nobody out yet, but if I had gotten that called third strike instead of ball four, we’d be in good shape. Besides, we’re bound to get an out soon, maybe even a double play seeing as how the bases are loaded.

But the pattern continued. I was able to work most batters deep into the count, but whenever it came to the critical pitch, it always seemed to be ball 4, a hit, or an error. Eventually, the score narrowed to 12-7. Still bases loaded, nobody out, and the other team’s bench had more than come alive; it was now a full blown party with everyone on their feet, wearing their rally caps, and cheering. (And I’m sure at least one of the kids was hopping around and dancing like nobody was watching.) At this point, I remember pacing around the mound and knowing, right or wrong, my spirit was broken and I wanted out.

But the head coach didn’t make the move; and I was now frustrated beyond belief. From that point on I only remember four things:

#1) Somehow, some way we got an out and it gave me hope.

#2) Our shortstop booted a grounder and I glared at him for a long time.

#3) I blew the entire lead before finally getting the hook.

#4) We lost the game.

I don’t remember anything that happened directly after the game, except to say that it’s kind of like when one of your relatives abandons his wife and three kids to run off with his gay lover. Nobody in the family talks about it.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


The world has changed remarkably in the last century. We've moved from a largely rural world citizenry to one that is rapidly becoming largely urban. In 1905 the largest city in the world was London, with a population of 6.5 million. Today it is dwarfed by Tokyo, with a population of 34 million. London, now with a population of 7.5 million, doesn't even make today's top twenty largest cities. In 1900, only 14% of the world's population lived in cities. It's likely that, as is my case, your ancestors did not live in a city. Today, roughly half of the world's population lives in cities, and unlike my ancestors, I do. Here in the United States, 80% of our population now is urbanized. Cities continue to grow larger, and many towns are becoming new cities.

The ramifications on our lives of this new societal placement are many. A common refrain of those less than thrilled about urban life is that this new settlement pattern is bad for the earth. As it turns out, this is really not the case. Many of today's most ardent environmentalists recognize that a city designed for sustainability offers the best opportunity for us to most sustainably populate the world. The best way to help our planet may be urban living. Of course, this is only if it's done correctly.

So what can be done to make a city sustainable? It's an important goal as currently cities comprise a mere 2 per cent of the Earth's land, but use up seventy-five per cent of its resources. What is good, though, is that the size of cities create inherent economies of scale that make living on less natural. First steps include reducing the need for cars and creating spaces for urban agriculture. Smart urban planning is needed to ensure vibrant communities centered on good transit options, with space for all socioeconomic groups to find a corner.

As the future becomes now, will urbanization result in more slums and poor educational systems; or will the world's resources be managed more efficiently in bringing a good life to the masses?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Milk Myth

"Milk is filled with hormones. Who knows what evil they're wreaking on your body." Have you heard that one? Or how about, "Milk is causing girls to hit puberty sooner."? Sounds terrible.
If it were true.
I'm curious, though, how many of you have heard this? What is your impression of the current safety of milk? Has it been influenced by statements that trickle down from the fearmongering media like these?

Folks, I'm here to tell you the concern over hormones is all a myth. An example of how grassroots misinformation spreads like wildfire. What's the real story here?

Milk, a wholesome way to get many of our daily essential vitamins, does contain hormones. They're naturally occurring. Always have been there. The hormone in question with these issues is rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin) or BGH (bovine growth hormone). Cows naturally make BGH, which causes them to produce milk. Lo and behold, scientists discovered that if cows are given more BGH, they produce more milk. While this may marginally affect the health of the cow, it does NOT affect the milk. The milk produced still has IGF1 (insulin growth factor), which is produced via BGH in the cow, in the same proportion as a normal cow. Thus, the milk is as good to drink as any milk. The concern had come when certain people claimed that the hormone levels were also elevated in milk. They said it caused an increased risk for some cancers, particularly colon and breast cancers, as well as premature puberty in females. Studies seemed to back it up. However, a closer look at the variables in the latter study seems to show that early puberty is much better predicted by obesity. The other data did show that an elevated level of IGF1 in blood may be linked to cancer, but there was not any correlation with milk as the source for it. A good rundown of the rBST issue can be found here.

Therefore, milk is safe to drink. I have seen absolutely no study that causes me to think otherwise. But alas, the grassroots rumors continue to spread. I have talked to many friends, especially girls, who have heard from their friends (who heard from their friends who read scary articles) that we should not give our kids milk, that they shouldn't drink milk while pregnant, and that in general milk was dangerous.
Unfortunately, the story spreads, true or not.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Giving it all away

As most of you probably heard, a little over a month ago, the world's second richest man announced he's giving most of his fortune to the world's richest man. Wait a second, what?

Well, Warren Buffett is giving away 85% of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a philanthropic organization focused on world health -- fighting such diseases as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis -- and on improving U.S. libraries and high schools.

His gift is an estimated $37 billion dollars today. The Foundation was previously worth about $30 billion. With the combined assets now available, can you imagine the impact it's going to have? It's worth imagining.

If the Foundation spends $3 billion per year as planned, it works out to roughly $1 per person if you consider only the poor half of the world's population. Is that enough for the it to make a huge difference? It very well might be.

I'm left wondering, though, what sort of statement does it make that one of the world's most successful capitalists chooses to give it all away?

*Edit (8-13-06): The NYT has an interesting article looking at how the Gates Foundation will give away all the money donated by Buffett. It certainly will be fascinating to see what new endeavors they are able to embark on.