Thursday, 30 June 2011

Green and Red: Not Just for Christmas Anymore

Came across this article in a recent New York Times edition, titled as "Across Europe, Irking Drivers Is Urban Policy."  The alpha and omega of the story is that many urban governments in Europe are intentionally adopting policies designed to make it difficult to use a car within their cities.  Apparently, it's part of a conscious effort to discourage the use of cars and steer people towards public transit, walking, and/or bicycle use.

It's all ostensibly part of the so-called green agenda, you see.

European Union countries probably cannot meet a commitment under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions unless they curb driving. The United States never ratified that pact.

Now, whilst I tend to be pretty right-wing in much of my politics, I here put some distance between myself and many of my fellow-travellers, in that I accept the science that indicates that climate change is real, and that there is a very, very good chance that human activity is at the least a significant factor.

I believe that the goal of reducing pollution is a good one, and I support improving the quality of life in our cities.  People should make the effort to walk more for their own health, and the more people on buses, trains, and other public transport, generally, the better.

But this story indicates to me a couple of things.

First, the "green movement" in no small part mixes significant amounts of red into the tint; and by that, I mean much of what it is attempting to accomplish is less about the environment, and more about giving government more control over our choices and behaviour.
As he stood watching a few cars inch through a mass of bicycles and pedestrians, (Zurich's) city’s chief traffic planner, Andy Fellmann, smiled. “Driving is a stop-and-go experience,” he said. “That’s what we like! Our goal is to reconquer public space for pedestrians, not to make it easy for drivers.”
In the San Francisco Bay area, the city of Menlo Park has for decades used similar thinking to hobble traffic flow and block development.

Second, I live near New York City, where automobile transport is essentially impossible, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been trying for some time to implement "congestion pricing" to drive up the cost of bringing a car into Manhattan (note: it's ONLY Manhattan, and ONLY upon entering Manhattan, so if you live in an expensive converted loft in TriBeCa, the toll would not apply to you).  We also recently returned from London, where just such a scheme already exists.

I wonder if there is a somewhat subtle subtext here about turning urban centres such as Central London or Manhattan into sorts of Disneylands for self-selected urbane elites.

Put simply, as it becomes increasingly difficult to get into and around city centres (whether to work, shop, visit a cultural attraction), there will be increasing pressure on the housing stock in or near these attractions.  I am sure that there are many, many people who would LOVE to ride a bicycle to their jobs in lower Manhattan or walk around shopping in Knightsbridge.  If you happen to be Leonardo Di Caprio and can afford to live in TriBeCa, that's an option.  If you're a mid-level manager, it's not.

No; you will have to ride two hours from your affordable suburban home.

Walkable cities is a terrific idea in theory.  But far too often, putatively "enviromental" restrictions such as zoning laws are pushed quietly behind the scenes by people who own land and property that will be made more valuable.  It's a sort of perverse win-win: the government gets more control.  The connected get more money.  And the elite get to filter out the people from their urban playgrounds whom they deem as undesirable.

All for the good "of the planet," of course.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

300: A Good Batting Average

The oddball season for the Toronto Blue Jays continues.  I wrote in this post a few weeks ago that the Blue Jays were (at the time) 3-13 during day games, and 12-6 at night.

The Jays yesterday lost their fourth straight in the final game of a three game sweep in Atlanta (by the Braves).  It was, no surprise, a day game.  (As an aside, the Blue Jays amassed a total of 2, 5, and 5 hits, a 12 for 93 performance in the series; that's a nice .129 batting average, prompting number one starter Ricky Romero to pop off).

The Jays are now 9-21 during day games.  That's a .300 winning percentage, not bad for a batting average, but would, over the course of a 162 game season, approach the record for the worst in modern history.

Toronto continues to essentially appear to be two different teams between day and night, posting a 27-18 record during night games (which includes two of the three losses in Atlanta).  That computes as a .600 winning percentage.

If the Sunlight Blue Jays were to compete in a division with the Moonlight Jays, the standings would look like this:

                  W    L     PCT   GB
Moonlight    27 - 18 (.600)    --
Sunlight        9 - 21 (.300)   10.5

Over the course of two hypothetical 162 game seasonS, the Moonies would finish with a 97-65 record, perhaps competing for the AL East crown.  The daytime bunch would finish with a 48-114 record, a shocking 49 games behind.

Neither team would hit with runners in scoring position, so at least that would remain stable.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Stanley Cup to Remain Hostage in US

Boston blanked Vancouver last night, 4-0, to wrap up the Stanley Cup and deny its return to Canada for at least another year.  Though it's Boston (ick), at the least, this year it was one of the Original Six, and not a team in, say, South Florida who got to hoist the Cup this year.  Still, as a Canadian, it was a sad outcome.

Some reflections on the playoffs:

  1. The seven game series really was among the most lop-sided ever.  Vancouver won its three games 1-0, 3-2 (OT), and 1-0.  Three wins by a total of three goals, with one of the games ending in regulation at a tie.  The Bruins won their four games 8-1, 4-0, 5-2, and 4-0.  That adds up to a 21-3 goal differential.  It really wasn't close, and Tim Thomas was remarkable.
  2. It was ironic that, on the day of Game 7, an ESPN headline reported that the Boston PD were adding additional police offers in anticipation of potential trouble should the Bruins win and the Boston revellers get out of control.  History was on their side, given the violence that followed the Red Sox World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, which resulted in the killing of a student (2004) and numerous fires and overturned vehicles (2007).  This year, it was the fans in Vancouver who burned cars, smashed windows, and looted, perhaps undermining the generally accepted wisdom of Canadians as orderly and polite.
  3. It was sort of a nice touch to see Marc Recchi get one more championship and get to retire on a high note.  Recchi is older than I am by a couple of years, and I honestly had thought he had hung up his skates already.  My five year old has this winter started to learn to play (which at this point, largely means learning how to skate around with a stick, and to keep his focus on the puck and not randomly wobble around the ice), and I had told him about "The Wrecking Ball," a nickname that has obvious appeal to a five year old boy.  Of course, in the world of five year old hockey, they're all more or less "Wrecking Balls" on the ice - meaning that one will crash into the rest, usually clustered in front of the goal, and knock the lot over like an old building that is being razed.
  4. The 2010-2011 season marks the 44th consecutive year that the Maple Leafs have not appeared in the Cup finals, which is by far the longest streak in the NHL.  Better still, the team did not even make the playoffs, extending that streak to 7 seasons.  The Leafs' last appearance in the Cup finals was the year my parents got married (1967)....

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A Statistician Raises the White Flag

I love baseball.  I enjoy numbers.  I make my living with mathematics.

So naturally, combining the three seems a natural interest.  But there is an old saw that goes something to the effect of the following apocryphal story:
Two Hollywood producers are brainstorming over a new movie idea.  One says to the other, "Hey; everyone likes Abe Lincoln.  Everyone likes dogs.  Everyone is interested is fascinated by movies about doctors.  So let's make a movie about Abe Lincoln's doctor's dog."
But like the story above, the three often make for a nauseating combination.  And as a statistician who watches baseball games wherein we are inundated with cobbled-together and often meaningless meta-statistics, I raise the white flag.

Enough.  No more stats about how a hitter hit against a pitcher in a certain count in a certain inning, in road games, during a full moon.

Last night, the Toronto Blue Jays beat Baltimore, 6-5 in 11 innings.  (As an aside, thank God for the Baltimore Orioles, who year in, year out can be counted on to provide soft-landing cushion to keep the Jays out of the AL East cellar).  The game ended when Adam Lind hit a homer to lead off the 11th.

Sure enough; the ESPN laughing boys chattered about how Lind had hit a "walk off home run" to end the game.  The ubiquitous use of cliches like this are chronicled in a rant here about LeBron James over at National Review, but needless to say, this term (like many others) is well past its sell-by date.

But the folks at ESPN are not satisfied just to bore us to death with idiotic cliches like "Walk Off" this, that, or the other, the headline today for the game blared:

"Lind Ties Jays Record."

Hmmmm... The team is in the midst of its annual battle with mediocrity, so that's not the likely "record" they speak of.  Lind's homer was his 12th of the season, and sad as the team has been of late, that's not close to any sort of significance.

So, what 'record' did he tie, exactly?

Well, it's the third "walk off" homer of his career.

Boy, I wish I had been at the game and saved the ticket stub for posterity.  I could show my grandson in 40 years the evidence that I had been in attendance the night Adam Lind tied the team record for "walk off home runs."

It's a 'record' he now shares with Jesse Barfield, George Bell, Joe Carter, Carlos Delgado, and Vernon Wells.

I wonder if Cooperstown want the ball?