NPF: GREAT LEAP FORWARD

Posted in No Politics Friday on November 21st, 2014 by Ed

What is the Next Big Thing?

This is a silly question to ask on some level since anybody out there who could answer it correctly would be too busy getting rich off of it to waste time idly perusing the internet. Regardless, I can't shake the feeling that with the possible exception of the internet (and before that, the home computer) there hasn't been anything new lately. What passes for new technology these days is almost inevitably an improvement, be it incremental or exponential, of some extant technology. Things get faster, smaller, and cheaper. We get more and better ways to waste away our lives staring at movies, games, and the internet. Medicine gets a little better at treating what ails us, cars get a little faster, food gets more plentiful (and imperishable, although we dare not ask how). We have conquered instantaneous global communication and the cheap mass production of any imaginable disposable consumer good (turns out the key ingredients were Slave Wages and complete lack of regulation).

I'm not bright enough to think of anything actually new, here are my best guesses at the next incremental steps forward that will make someone who isn't me a multi-billionaire someday:

1. Cheap, safe wireless energy transmission. Recharge electronic devices (not to mention electric cars) without plugs, cords, or wired infrastructure. We've already taken some baby steps in this direction with charging mats, but whoever can invent something that allows you to charge your phone and laptop just by walking into a building is going to print money.

2. Non-brittle carbon fiber / composites that can replace steel. CF was hailed as a revolutionary breakthrough back in the 90s, but unfortunately despite being extremely strong it is also brittle as hell. Whoever overcomes that problem will have a material that can replace metal and masonry in buildings, vehicles, heavy machinery, prosthetics…

3. Doing away with the physical interfaces between us and our various computing devices. I have no idea how this could work, but eventually someone will find a way to make this sentence appear on my computer screen as soon as I think it. The keyboard and my fingers will be superfluous.

4. Artificial organs that are improvements upon, not just replacements for, the real ones. Any significant further extension of our lifespans will require either some way to stop aging (unlikely) or organ replacements that last forever and perform even better than the ones nature gave us.

5. Online smells. As stupid as it might be, someone's going to find a way to do it and then middle schoolers texting each other farts is going to be a billion dollar per year industry.

I'm not very creative, as you can see. I bet you can top these.

NPF ERRATUM

Posted in No Politics Friday on November 7th, 2014 by Ed

The preceding post might be more enjoyable had I remembered to include the video.

NPF: HORSE WARS

Posted in No Politics Friday on November 6th, 2014 by Ed

As a (hobbyist) drummer I've never understood the fascination with "retro" drums. I get that anything old automatically confers Cool Points upon the owner but drums from the 1960s are, to put it charitably, shit. The metal hardware is beyond flimsy, the shells rarely stay in round, and the (critical) bearing edges often look to have been cut with a butter knife. There are some gems to be found – a day on which everyone at the old Gretsch factory performed flawlessly and they happened to grab the most perfect wood and the strongest lugs and screws – but the quality is wildly inconsistent and generally poor. It's inarguable that while old drums look cooler to a lot of people, the "beginner" drums on the market today are vastly better than the best, most expensive ones made in the 1950s in terms of build quality, design, and sound.

The same is true of cars. Buy the cheapest new economy car available today and you're driving the technological, performance, and safety equivalent of a Rolls Royce from the 1980s. Old cars have a lot of panache and style, and people love them because they are reminders of what most people define as their Good Old Days. But when was the last time you drove a car built in, say, the 1960s or 1970s? They're terrible cars by modern standards. They're loud, primitive, lacking in all but the most rudimentary safety features, and they suck down oil and gas like a Formula 1 racer. They look cool and some of them drive quite well. You wouldn't want to drive one to work every day if you had the option of driving, say, a mid 2000s compact instead, and you certainly wouldn't want to get in an accident in one unless you're weary of life.

I recently came across this Motorweek video of a comparison test between the "Hot Hatches" of the 1986 model year. I daresay some of the older readers found themselves driving one of these vehicles at some point: the Volkswagen GTI, Acura Integra, Dodge Colt Turbo, Toyota Corolla FX16, and Ford Escort GT. As is the case today, these are cars that are intended to be affordable to the average new car buyer but with lively performance emphasized over luxury or interior space. The GTI (many generations down the road, so to speak) is still the most popular car in this segment today.

The most powerful car in that group of five boasts 123 horsepower. This is less than you would get in the most basic transportation type car today – and yet in 1986 these were "performance" cars. For example, pedestrian 2014 offerings like a new Ford Focus (160 hp) or Hyundai Accent (138 hp, and one of the very cheapest new vehicles for sale today) would blow the doors off of 1986's performance compacts. And their gas mileage, safety features, and creature comforts are all significantly better as well.

The lame excuses made by the auto industry for so many years have been exposed in the last few as fuel economy has finally started to improve sharply. For years they claimed that the technology was too expensive, yet every new generation of cars had dramatically increased horsepower. This horsepower arms race means that today even the dullest vehicles on the road (Camrys, etc) can be equipped with 270+ hp engines that would outperform a V8 Corvette or Ferrari from the 1970s. Hell, a modern kid-hauler SUV comes equipped with a more powerful engine than a Ferrari 348 or a 1996 Corvette. And if the technology to offer such an unnecessarily large amount of power can be offered affordably, then better fuel economy is also possible (since equal power can be achieved with successively smaller engines). Only recently have manufacturers started taking advantage of this, offering even expensive luxury cars (Audi A6, BMW 535, Cadillac ATS, etc) with 4-cylinder engines.

Obviously, comparing any technology with its predecessor from 1986 is going to reveal some dramatic changes, but the average (not all that interested in cars) driver has no idea how staggering the increase in power has been over the past two decades. In 1995, Cadillac's full-sized offerings featured 195 hp V8 engines. Today, not only are there engines literally less than half that size producing over 200 hp (VW's 2.0L 4 cyl in the Audi S3 is rated at an insane 296) but the largest Cadillac now comes with a 415 hp V6. What in the name of god the average elderly Cadillac driver needs with 415 hp is beyond me (other than that the rapidly ballooning weight of modern cars, with their frivolous tech toys and heavy safety accommodations) but he can drive with the confidence of a man who would have needed to pay $250,000 for an exotic sports car to get that kind of power in the 1990s.

As much as it pains me to say it, a choice between Steve McQueen's Mustang in Bullitt and a new 2014 Ford Focus would be no choice at all. And the latter could blow him away in a road race anyway.

NPF: HOW TO BE BILL THE BUTCHER IN 12 STEPS

Posted in No Politics Friday on November 2nd, 2014 by Ed

I haven't done a Halloween costume more than a handful of times in my life but when I do, I prefer to do it right. I didn't go for Total Historical Accuracy or anything – you can, for example, get authentic 1850s pants and a shirt, but they're expensive so I went with basic modern equivalents in the correct color and close enough style.

billbill2

Step 1. Grow a giant beard (Step 0.5 is "Be Eastern European, or possibly Italian.")
Step 2. Carve said beard into sideburns down to the jawline and a handlebar mustache
Step 3. Brown cotton or twill pants
Step 4. Natural henley-type shirt. Cut or rip off the elastic at the wrist. Open the neck.
Step 5. Either make leather knife holsters for a belt or, if you're basically talentless like me, use leather shoelaces to hang butcher-type items from a belt.
Step 6. Be realistic about the fact that no matter how cool it might look, you probably can't walk around outside or in any kind of business establishment brandishing a real meat cleaver and knife.
Step 7. Make a red/white/blue sash either by dyeing a white cotton strip or sewing together colored fabrics
Step 8. Make or buy the appropriate cap. This was the hardest thing to find. I eventually bought an aviator style cap ("Snoopy cap"). Either cut off the chin strap or pin them up inside the lining of the cap.
Step 9. Tie a leather strip around the cap at the brow. This keeps it in place and tight against the head.
Step 10. Use tall brown leather work-type boots, pant legs tucked in. If you're willing to spend insane amounts of money you can get vintage knee-high types.
Step 11. The vest. I had a lot of problems with the vest. Ultimately I bought one, although given time and a sewing machine I think the best option would be to make one to fit your torso. As it was, I safety pinned the vest to eliminate some of the billow and extra material.
Step 12. Ask the Christian Lord to guide your hand against Roman popery. Yell at people a lot.

NPF: EXOTICISM

Posted in No Politics Friday on October 24th, 2014 by Ed

Anyone who does a substantial amount of traveling in the continental US can tell you that there is a depressing sameness to the vast majority of this country. The background scenery changes, but 99% of the country is a collage of strip malls, gas stations, and chain restaurants that make it almost impossible to determine where you are. It would be fun to blindfold a few willing contestants, take them to some random small-to-medium city, and have them take their best guess at the location. How many people could actually tell Akron from Amarillo?

Since I travel either to see scenery or friends, this bothers me only on the existential level – the vague sense of unease that our culture is losing any sense of regional identity as it is replaced by the blandest kind of conformity. Most Americans have made uneasy peace with the fact that Indiana looks like Kansas looks like Alabama and frankly there's not a whole lot of local color. When we travel internationally, though, we definitely want to feel like we've traveled internationally. We want that shit to look foreign, son. That's why we feel so outraged when the internet reminds us, for example, that the Pyramids at Giza are within spitting distance of a KFC / Pizza Hut. We don't want to see air conditioned chain restaurants; we want our trip to Egypt to be a romantic adventure in the desert, perhaps involving us mounting a camel at some point and interacting with The Natives. Noble Savages or whatnot. Well, it turns out that the Natives in Cairo, a city of about 10 million, drive the same car you do to a job that probably pays better than yours and spend most of their time in public the same way Americans do, which is to say staring at their phones.

I don't think Americans are unique in this respect; I believe that people from all over the world travel with the expectation of seeing something "exotic" and appropriately foreign. When we visit Paris we want to see scenes that come straight from 1960s Hollywood Paris. We want Africa to be one endless safari dotted with nomadic spear-wielding hunters. In Rome or Venice (a city essentially preserved as a museum for foreign tourists) we expect romance and artistic splendor to fill the air (instead of, you know, pollution). And everywhere we expect the local inhabitants to be charming and filled to the brim with quirks and character.

The most "foreign" place I've ever been is not terribly exciting – some of the less populated areas of Brazil. At first I have to admit that I was a bit surprised at how different-but-not-that-different from the US it was. It's hard to fly 6000 miles and encounter an Olive Garden without getting a bit of that "I didn't come here to see this shit" resentment. And the more I thought about it, I accepted the fact that there are KFCs all over Brazil for the same reason there are KFCs all over the USA: because people want to eat there. As much as I hate seeing the absolute worst parts of mass produced American culture infecting the rest of the world, it's the worst kind of snobbery to get upset at Egyptians for liking Pizza Hut because it somehow diminishes the Exotic-ness of our travels. The world is not a movie set designed for our personal enrichment. It would be great if people in other countries told McDonald's to piss off because McDonald's is terrible, but not because it ruins my fantasy image of what Paris should look like.

NPF: PENDULUM

Posted in No Politics Friday, Skip this if you hate sports on October 10th, 2014 by Ed

There cannot be a baseball fan on Earth, Yankees devotees included, who is not a little embarrassed by Jetermania. The national sports media's overindulgence in #2's final month was at parts ridiculous ("Jeter's final night game!") to the unwatchable (various "tribute" videos from annoying NYC personalities). People are so sick of hearing about Jeter that there has been a strong and unsurprising backlash of articles critical not only of the media coverage but of Jeter as a person and a player. While many of us have been on the "Shut Up about Jeter" bandwagon for a decade now, it filled to overcapacity in the past two months.

So that is how I find myself sitting here about to defend, and even laud, Derek Jeter. I am as sick to death of the coverage of his retirement as anyone else, but even as a career Yankee hater I have a hard time believing that any half-serious fan could say with a straight face that #2 is not an all-time great player. All of these sarcastic headlines about honoring "one of the 500 greatest players of all time" might inspire some giggles but are patently ridiculous.

Derek Jeter has that Ben Affleck disease – just looking at his face and listening to him talk creates an irresistible urge to punch him, even when he's saying something intelligent. He benefits from playing on teams that are always loaded with expensive talent. He lives in the media capital of the US, if not the world, and his every accomplishment is reported on in glowing terms. All of this is true. Fine. Look at the numbers, though, and you see an absolute, slam dunk, first ballot Hall of Famer and that's not even debatable. Oh, I'm sorry…are there a lot of other shortstops with 3465 hits, .310/.377/.440 career slash numbers, eight 200 hit seasons, and 96 career oWAR? I guess he should wait until the rest of them are inducted. If they existed.

The criticisms of Jeter are well known and valid. He was not a great defensive player. He was an average one for the first half of his career and then a liability in the field over the second half. For how many great HOF hitters is defense a consideration? Most HOFers were either undistinguished defensively, played next to none (Molitor, Thomas, etc), transitioned to easier positions like 1B in their 30s to hide their defensive deficiencies (Murray, Foxx, Mize), or had allegedly fantastic defensive skills that were mostly mythical (Brock, Stargell, Winfield). When guys are great hitters, nobody cares about their defense. Dave Winfield was about as useful in the field as a traffic pylon in the field; I don't recall that mattering much when he became Hall-eligible.

Jeter also gets considerable criticism for how bad his final season was. This is so stupid it isn't even worth discussing. Pick ten random HOF hitters and look at their final seasons. Look at what players who are practically worshiped like Ripken, Brett, Murray, and Mays did in their final season (or two). Everyone hangs on a year or two too long, usually in a desperate effort to pad counting stats or reach milestone numbers.

Did he benefit from playing on high payroll, talent-stocked teams? Yes. And he was consistently the best or one of the best players on those teams when they were successful. He also delivered in the postseason, a notable shortcoming of many HOF caliber hitters.

In short, I get it. I understand that everyone is sick of Jeter and that the media coverage was so far over the top that it's hard not to hate him for it. That said, don't be an idiot. He was not a perfect player, but with the BBWAA opening the doors of the Hall to mediocre Nice Guys like Rice, Dawson, and Perez in recent years there is not a single decent argument against Jeter, the best hitting shortstop of the last 100 years, being anything but a lock for Cooperstown the moment he is eligible. Fuck that guy, but he could hit.

NPF: BACK ME UP

Posted in No Politics Friday, Skip this if you hate sports on September 25th, 2014 by Ed

My Cardinals are off to a surprising 3-0 start, surprising not only because they aren't as talented as many other teams but also because they're down to their backup quarterback. Luckily they're one of the few teams in the NFL that has that valuable commodity known as a backup QB. And I mean the old school kind, the kind you don't see very often these days. The Professional Backup is a unique animal, far more rare than the backups most often seen around the league.

There are four types of backup QB. First and most common is the Failed Starter. Guys like Jason Campbell, Derek Anderson, and Jimmy Clausen are classic FS types. The problem is that they failed as starters because they're not very good, so if you have to play them it turns out that they're…well, not very good. Second is the Untested Rookie. You spent a high draft pick on him and he makes a decent salary so by default he's second on the depth chart. If he has to play, it's a total crapshoot. Third is the Aged Veteran. He was a good starter at some point but he's pushing 40 now. The team hopes that if he does have to play, it will be mercifully brief. Each hit could be his last, and the speed/arm strength are gone. Finally there is the Professional Backup – a guy who knows that he is not the starter, knows his place on the roster, and is competent to play without crippling the team's chances to win. The PB plays a quarter here or there when the starter is having an off day; he starts a game every year or two when the #1 guy sprains his ankle. After each performance he returns to the bench with zero complaints. There is never a "QB controversy" on account of his ego because he doesn't have one.

Arizona's Drew Stanton is a good modern example of the PB, but undoubtedly the greatest ever was Earl Morrall. Most casual fans have no idea who he is. But he backed up some of the greatest greats – Johnny Unitas, Bob Griese, etc – and was always ready to provide competent if unspectacular play in relief. Did any fans out there realize that during the legendary 1972 Dolphins undefeated season Morrall started and won more games than gimpy Griese? Or that in 1970 he took over for an aging Johnny Unitas on short notice and won a Super Bowl? And yet everyone including Morrall himself knew he was the caddy and not the starter. He never set the world on fire when he played; he did the same as Stanton is currently doing in the desert – not making mistakes and playing within his limited skill set. Like a professional.

The PB has disappeared for the same reason that the Long Reliever has disappeared from baseball: there is a shortage of quality quarterbacks so anyone remotely competent is anointed a starter. Josh McCown, for example, is a great backup but now he's starting on a woeful Tampa Bay team. Some other great PBs that come to mind are Zeke Bratkowski (Bart Starr's longtime caddy), Don Strock, Jeff Hostetler (who supported Phil Simms on those great Giants teams), and Jon Kitna. The latter two were eventually turned into starters – Hoss with the Raiders and Kitna with Cincinnati and Detroit – by desperate teams even though it was clear that they were destined to be excellent number twos. Green Bay's Matt Flynn is a recent example of a guy who clearly isn't a starter but who plays great in relief.

Scarcity is slowly driving the Professional Backup into extinction, but there are still a few out there. It's the kind of thing that you appreciate if you're a non-casual fan with an eye for the little things that make the game fun to watch. Viva Earl Morrall.

NPF: BAT PORN

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 18th, 2014 by Ed

So here's what is about to happen.

I am going to read (for the first time) and live-blog my reaction to a Batman-themed fan fiction / slash porn piece that one of my friends sent me for the expressed purpose of horrifying me. It is entitled "Go Your Own Way" and included in the "Jim Gordon/Bruce Wayne" section of a part of the internet that I can only assume includes every conceivable combination of fictional characters fucking and sucking one another in ways that normal people would not think about sitting down to write about using 43,000 words. I'm serious, it's 43,000 words long. I may not make it but I'm going to try.

Among the tags on this piece are "Daddy Issues," "Jim Gordon," and, helpfully, "porn".

The abstract, if that is the correct term, explains the author's motivation and concludes with the harrowing declaration / warning: "Again, not a lot of plot."

Fuck.

11:04 PM: Half way through chapter 1. The preface was accurate. The set-up here appears to be limited to "Gordon and Wayne are in the same place for a contrived reason of no real importance. They flirt in the manner that an author who has never spoken to another person in a social situation would imagine flirting sounds like. Wayne has a semi; Gordon is intrigued. Soon they will plow each other." Even by the lowered standards of what I was expecting this is not very good, and honestly I kinda just want them to ram it in already because this dialogue is painfully boring to read.

11:09 PM: "I didn't mean to pry," Wayne said. He had, but Gordon didn't bother disputing him. "You might as well come in, since you're here."

I hope I die soon.

11:10: "The bedroom, with its single bed, because that was all he needed, and the chest of drawers that was one half of what had been a set. "Cozy," Wayne said, looking at the bed."

Oh, I get it. Foreshadowing. Because they're gonna bone.

11:14: They've barely gotten into it and they're already calling one another "good boy" and "bad boy." This is gonna be rough. (Double entendre).

11:15: Yeah they're doing it now. Lots of cop allusions and talk about restraints and cuffs and everything else you might expect your average Batman / Fanfic / Chronic Masturbation enthusiast to include in a story like this. Just for reference there was about 8 seconds of foreplay. Maybe 10. It is basically "They kissed, and then grabbed each other's dicks."

11:18: The sex was over in like 11 seconds. This author may have a highly unsatisfying sex life. Also, when Bruce Wayne was blowing Gordon, Gordon was thinking about Batman. That's some deep shit right there.

11:20: 90 seconds of banal conversation, then Wayne blurts out "Ready for another fuck?" I…

11:21: "Wayne's jeans were still open. He'd never fastened them, and with one hand he was somehow able to open the lube, spread it on his hand, and finger himself, all while still kissing Gordon." Spoken like a man who has never had sex before, and possibly has never had hands.

11:23: Oh good, Gordon just called him "son." While banging him. Jackpot!

11:25: "Even the fact he'd thought of Batman when Wayne was sucking him off last night didn't bother Gordon. After all, it hadn't been Batman's pointy hat or swirly cape or man of mystery appeal, or even his bravery and all he stood for."

11:26: Wayne and Gordon are having a conversation about Pasta Roni, which is a code word for fucking each other. See, Gordon wants to go out to a "cheap, quick, and dirty" Italian place, "just like (Bruce) likes". Wayne would rather go straight to Gordon's apartment for what I assume will be another thrilling 18 seconds of old man sex.

11:29: 'Gordon's hand tightened. "Ask it nice."'

11:30: Gordon has an emotionally charged moment and reminisces about his ex-wife whilst kneeling on his kitchen floor. The trigger for this was the smell of Batman's ballsack. Rich people have the most fragrant nuts.

I mean, you know how it goes. One minute you're inhaling balls-aura and the next you're like, man, remember that time I was married to a woman?

11:32: Bruce Wayne is rock hard again approximately 30 seconds after completion of a sex act with Mr. Gordon. Bruce Wayne has some special powers indeed.

11:34: Gordon and Wayne exchange several lines of dialogue marveling at the snugness of the former's asshole. This is approximately as erotic as reading the phone book, albeit less interesting.

11:41: OK the fifth chapter makes it apparent that this has settled into a very mundane formula. Gordon is working and Wayne appears. They have lunch. They fuck. Gordon pretends he is Bruce's dad. Lube is sparingly applied and occasionally forgotten by the author. Phrases like "But he did see Wayne the next night. They had sex. They didn't have Pasta Roni." are used.

I'm done. I don't have seven more chapters of this in me. I suspected that I might be gripped by a range of feelings and emotions while reading this but I did not expect that overwhelming boredom would be one of them. For christ's sake, he at least could have worn the Batman costume or they could have double-teamed Bane or something. Maybe picked up some drifter. Broken out the toys. Anything, really. Anything other than having lunch, talking about noodles, and then pushing each other around like a wheelbarrow.

If anything happens in chapters six through twelve, let me know.

PS. You'll be pleased to know that Commissioner Gordon is a stickler for condoms.

NPF: MELODIC WANKING

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 5th, 2014 by Ed

Despite being a huge and nearly exclusive fan of guitar-based music, I've always hated guitar solos. They strike me as cliched theatricality at best and pointless filler at worst. There is nothing that interests me less than how many notes some Steve Vai worshiping d-bag can play in 30 seconds. A guitar solo is what you shoehorn into a song when you can't write a decent bridge.

When one of my friends challenged me recently to resist writing off all guitar soloing, I spent a long car ride with my mp3 player trying to find out if I like some without realizing it. Apparently I do. If a guitar part actually sounds like it's a part of the song rather than some noodling crap layered on top of it because the band couldn't think of anything else to do or because (as in a lot of kinds of metal) every goddamn song needs three solos in it just because, a guitar solo can be not-the-most irritating part of an otherwise good song. In no particular order (and obviously limited by my less than all-encompassing taste in music, tending toward the noisy and loud) here are four pretty excellent guitar performances. Feel free to add yours in the comments and let's just go ahead and not waste time trying to prove who has the better taste in music. OK? OK.

1. Bob Stinson, "Customer" (off The Replacements, Sorry Ma Forgot To Take Out the Trash). The magic happens from 0:45 to about 1:10. The liner notes say "Bob's lead is hotter than a urinary tract infection" and who are we to argue. He was the Drunken Master of the music world in the 80s. It's slop, but the best kind of slop.

Stinson drank himself to death, which is a pretty predictable ending when you get kicked out of The Replacements for drinking too much. Think about that for a second.

2. Tom Morello, "Know Your Enemy" (off RATM self-titled debut). Solo from 3:15 to about 3:45. This old RATM stuff sounds really dated and more than a little juvenile (although if teenagers are going to listen to juvenile music, they might as well get something other than right-wing talking points out of it). There are about 50 Tom Morello solos you could put in a pile and throw darts at. The guy just makes more sounds out of a guitar and cheap stompboxes than anyone, period. This was one of the first ones he got a lot of attention for, and it has all of the things we came to associate with his sound over the next 20 years.

3. Tim Sköld, "Putting Holes in Happiness" (off Marilyn Manson, Eat Me Drink Me). Solo from 2:30 to about 3:30. OK you're just going to have to trust me on this one. It's a really good solo. The off-key parts jump out of the speakers.

Not a great album, but I think a lot of "music people" would be shocked to give it a listen and hear how good of a guitarist Sköld is. I don't even play guitar and it was a real "Damn this guy can play" moment. Not a lot of people can be interesting soloing for a full minute in a musical environment as restrictive as this kind of sluggish blob of goth.

4. Kurt Cobain, "Sappy" (not "Verse Chorus Verse", which it's usually and inaccurately called – the "hidden track" on that 99 cent bin legend, the No Alternative compilation). Solo from 1:40 to 2:10. Here is a guy who had more technical skill than anyone gave him credit for, yet he rarely showed it off.

This is a perfect example of a solo that actually fits perfectly into the song. It makes the song better. Nobody cares that the average Guitar Center employee or bar band member could play this with ease. Side note: it's funny how a throwaway Nirvana song sounds about a thousand times better than the best the bands on the radio today can pull off. Turns out that it's more interesting to listen to people playing instruments than sounds manipulated to death by a producer armed with every post-effect known to man.

NPF: FAST FORWARD

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 28th, 2014 by Ed

Fun trivia: the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria were originally awarded to Denver. Colorado voters turned it down because they thought it would cost too much and the predictions of the revenue that would be generated were overly optimistic. It foreshadowed the modern issue of the inversion of the IOC selection process from cities fighting over the right to host in favor of the IOC struggling to find suitable candidates willing to take it in the financial neck to host games that routinely are monuments to cost overruns and optimism biases. Increasingly the only countries willing to host things like the Olympics and the World Cup are ones with quasi-autocratic national governments that can decide to do things that make no financial sense, or Brazil types that see the huge losses as a marketing fee to show the world that They are Way Cool.

The other major issue with hosting is what to do with the copious (expensive) infrastructure after the games are over. The internet is littered with photo galleries of dilapidated Olympic sites – the ruins of the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics are particularly poignant in light of what happened to that city in the following decade. What is amazing is how rapidly these flashy, expensive, modern sites turn into decrepit ruins. China's $40 billion investment in the Beijing games yielded a number of architecturally significant stadiums that are now white elephants; the only revenue generated by the "Bird's Nest" today comes from itinerant tourists who pay $20 to ride Segways around the Olympic track.

Even though the sad sight of abandoned Olympic infrastructure is by now a familiar one, it is stunning to see the speed with which the Potemkin village build by Putin's Russia in Sochi has fallen into disrepair. Sochi was a disaster from the get-go – like the 1976 Montreal debacle, very little of the construction was actually finished when the games began. What was finished was held up to worldwide ridicule for the shoddy construction and downright bizarre design. And now, even though the Games seem like they just ended a few weeks ago the "city" already looks like Pripyat minus the background radiation count.

With most industrialized nations starting to see hosting the Games for what it is – a classic boondoggle – it's going to be interesting to see where the IOC and similar organizations like FIFA go in the future. My guess is that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is the beginning of a trend of events being hosted in Flashy Oil Money countries run by gaudy sheikhs. When they get tired of competing to see who can own the most Rolls Royces, they'll turn to building stadiums that will someday be about as useful as an asshole on their collective elbow.

Here's a gallery of former Olympic sites if you feel like your Friday needs to be a little bleaker.