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December 16th, 2007:

The streak

I can’t exactly say that I hope the New England Patriots will run the table and go on to win the Super Bowl. I mean, I’ll root for them against the greater evil of the Cowboys in the unfortunate event the two teams meet up in Arizona next February, and I admire their accomplishments so far, as how can one not? But even putting the Boston factor aside, I can’t claim to be anywhere near their bandwagon. If by some happenstance they lose focus in one of their remaining games, or somehow get upset by Jacksonville or someone in the playoffs, I’ll shed no tears for them.

Having said that, I do endorse what Jim Henley says.

Idiot sports radio personalities – and I apologize for the redundancy – constantly ring variations on The Patriots realize that the real prize isn’t going undefeated, it’s winning the Super Bowl. Nonsense. Somebody wins the Super Bowl every year. The NFL has had 41 of the things and they don’t look like they’re going to stop staging them any time soon. There are plenty of Super Bowl champions. There’s only one post-merger, undefeated champion. Why pass up a chance to make history?

What I suspect and hope is that the Patriot organization thinks the same way. The core members – Kraft; Belichick; Brady; Vrabel et al – have already won a bunch of Super Bowls. They haven’t matched the most annoying achievement in modern NFL history. (In fact, by going 19-0 they’d exceed it.) Don Shula ran his mouth worse than Steeler safety Anthony Smith – you have to figure a vindictive bastard like Belichick will want to rub his nose in it.

Someone pointed out to me the huge risk: If the Patriots go 16-0 and don’t win the championship, people will consider it a great flop. Pundits will second-guess the decision to go for the streak instead of “doing the sensible thing” (like kicking on fourth down?) and resting key players for the playoffs.

I think they’ll like that part best. Get the adrenaline flowing. Introduce some risk into the equation. If the Pats go 14-2 or 15-1 and lose to a 13-3 or 14-2 Colts team in the playoffs, or get beaten in the Super Bowl by Dallas or Green Bay, well, they had a good year but lost. If they go 16-0 and one of those same things happen, observers will paint it as one of the monumental collapses in sports. Tell me these guys aren’t up for that. Tell me these guys don’t need that.

So I have faith that New England won’t pull weenie moves down the stretch like the Colts did a couple times. Unlike the Colts before last year, the Pats don’t have anything else to prove anyway. And if they do bag the last game or two, I hope they get run out in their first playoff game. Spanked like babies. Who dares wins, dudes.

Yep. About the only counterargument I can come up with is that the Pats need another Super Bowl to ensure that they’re included in the Greatest Teams Of All Time debate – you know, the 60s Packers, the 70s Steelers, the 80s Niners, all those teams that won multiple times, and so forth. Of course, by going 19-0 they’d not only be sure of their inclusion in that discussion, they’d be sure of winning it, too. How can you argue against them if they pull it off?

The other thing to mention is the vapidity of the “monumental collapse” meme in the event a 16-0 Patriots team fails to win the Super Bowl. Sportswriters love “character”, and rightly or wrongly, the Patriots’ “character” is open to question by the nattering classes due to the signal-stealing kerfuffle and the team’s penchant for running up the score and generally not doing the things teams are “supposed” to do. They’ll have a field day with a Pats’ loss – it’ll make the gossip rags’ coverage of Britney Spears look like a church bulletin. The simple but uncomfortable (for them) fact is that playoffs and tournaments are always little more than a crapshoot. Being the best team is never a guarantee. Falling short may be a huge disappointment, and may make an otherwise magical season feel like a failure, but it’s not indicative of anything other than one day’s result. Which isn’t to say I won’t enjoy some of the hyenafest that will surely follow a Patriot flameout – I think Bill Belichick is a jerk, too – but I will feel vaguely dirty about it. Such is life.

The urge to conserve

The urge to conserve goes mainstream. Headlines like that are weird to me, because it’s always seemed mainstream to me.

A growing acceptance of human-induced climate change and the link between energy and national security has pushed conservation into the mainstream, industry consultant Joseph Stanislaw says, giving consumers more power than ever before.

In a paper to be released during the Deloitte Oil & Gas Conference in Houston today, Stanislaw says energy consumption has become a political issue because of greater awareness of its effect “on our wallets, on foreign policy, the environment and climate change.”

In turn, that is changing how governments and companies are answering the world’s growing demand for energy. It’s no longer a matter of just finding more supplies but also finding ways to use less.

“Conservation isn’t sacrifice, it’s opportunity,” said Stanislaw, a well-known economist and co-founder of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. “The amount of investment that will be made in the coming decades in these areas will be enormous.”

There will still be a need for huge supplies of oil and natural gas for decades to come, he said, but the breakthrough in perception means long-term changes.

Consumers “are, in effect, on the frontier of discovering new energy reserves — since energy not used is arguably the best, cheapest and least environmentally damaging source of supply,” he said.

I remember, as a kid in New York in the 70s, seeing a barrage of TV ads (usually featuring a member of the Yankees broadcasting team, like Phil Rizzuto) by Con Edison – the utility company, mind you – urging people to conserve energy. New York was forever suffering blackouts back then, especially in the summer, and the only preventative measure was using less. Then there was the OPEC price shocks of 1973-74 and the resulting shortages, for which I remember waiting on gas lines, something which we got to experience again in 1979. Again, the most viable option was to use less. As such, the idea of conservation has been, for me, a lifelong concept. Maybe I’m the odd one in that regard, I don’t know. But if it really is just becoming “mainstream” now, all I can say is no wonder we are where we are.

The Stupid Filter

From the Ideas Whose Time Have Come department:

A team of American scientists are developing the “StupidFilter” – an open-source filter software that will be able to detect “rampant stupidity” of web-content in written English. Similarly to the way spam recognizing software detects suspicious e-mails, the “StupidFilter” will look for pre-fed words or sign combinations that characterize stupidity, assigning particular tokens with different weights based on how often they occur in hand-picked examples of idiotic comments. The developers are using weighted Bayesian analysis along with some rules-based processing, similar to spam detection engines, in order to efficiently distinguish unacceptable messages among the submitted texts.

Their website is here, and no, this is not a joke. It is, however, just about the form of the content, and not the meaning of it. As the FAQ says, it’s entirely blind to irony. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

Aren’t you just trying to eliminate comments and discourse that you consider to be stupid?

As much as that might be nice, no. The StupidFilter does not understand, in a meaningful sense, the text that it parses, and our graders select comments that are formally stupid — that is, their diction, not their content, marks them as stupid. It is not our intent to eliminate debate or disagreement, but rather to programmatically enforce a certain quality of expression. Put another way: The StupidFilter will cheerfully approve an eloquent, properly-capitalized defense of mandatory, state-subsidized rocket-launcher ownership for all schoolchildren.

So you’ll still have to deal with that kind of stupidity on your own, though I daresay there’s a decent correlation between the type of content this thing will catch and actual pain-inducing stupidity. In other words, it still represents progress, and I intend to hunt down a Movable Type plugin for this when it’s ready. Thanks to John for the link.