Saturday, March 04, 2006

So Who Really Has An Energy Strategy?

(Hat Tip To Katrina)

Oil producers reach for more power

[...]In the U.S., the strategy, as articulated by President Bush, is to put all our hopes in new technologies like straw-grass ethanol, hybrid cars and coal-to-oil plants that might bear fruit over the next 15 years. And in the meantime, we'll all think about driving less.

It's easy to poke fun at a plan that seems to have been brainstormed by a committee of ostriches with their heads buried in the, well, sand. But it's not like our economic allies and competitors have done a whole lot better.

The European Union has a two-pronged approach:
- Produce more energy from nuclear plants and from renewable sources like wind and solar.
- Buy more natural gas from the Russians.

I only see one tiny problem with each prong:
- The European Union says member countries are falling way behind their relatively modest targets for nonpetroleum energy sources.
- Russia's promise to be a reliable energy supplier is close to worthless.

China has come up with its own two-part strategy. Part One involves cozying up with any pariah regime that happens to sit on oil. So the Chinese are going to supply patrol boats to the Nigerian government so it can quash the rebellion in the oil-rich Niger delta. Last year, China signed an $800 million deal for 30,000 barrels a day of Nigerian oil. Arms for oil, anybody?

Of course, any government that is counting on the governments of countries such as Nigeria and Iran to honor deals is doing some major wishful thinking of its own.

Part Two of the Chinese strategy is predicated on building as many new nuclear power plants as it can, as quickly as it can. The nuclear industry promises that the new generation plants are a huge improvement over the last generation. China looks like it has signed on as a massive testing ground for this next-generation technology.

Against that backdrop, the energy strategy set out by the world's net oil exporters is a model of clear thinking and simplicity. It, too, has two parts.

First, seize greater effective control of all the oil inside the national borders of the oil producers in the name of national oil companies.

Second, build new refineries in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Persian Gulf to become the main global exporter of finished petroleum products such as gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel.
A chilling article, to be sure. Read the rest with the warning that you will need to catch your breath.

What does this OPEC strategy mean? It's effectively puts companies like ExxonMobil and Shell under OPEC control, as the "host" countries will extort huge royalties out of the oil companies for their rights to pump oil, until such time as their own national (or, more likely, "nationalized" as in seized) refineries can take over the process, insuring themselves a good long term profit at the expense of the short-sighted quarterly bottom line of Western companies.

Someone once said that capitalism is the worst economic model except for all the others. I think we're watching capitalism be taken down a peg, and ain't a damn thing we can do about it. This is all starting to sound like Frank Herbert's "Dune."

So when Bush talks about an "energy policy" and alternatives like switch-grass ethanol or hybrid cars (neither of which is really an alternative in that it weans us off oil), now you'll understand why. He's terrified that the one area he should have been on top of, as a former oil man (*snark*) is taking him by complete surprise. When history records this era, the one failure it could never forgive him for is a lack of effort to avert and plan for the coming oil crisis.

I made a prediction about two years ago that oil would hit $150 a barrel by the year 2010 (that was in 2003 dollars.) I was obviously being conservative, but I couldn't have dreamed of this worst case scenario. This will have enormous implications in all sectors of our economy, including housing (the bubble bursting and energy prices being triple what they were last year is not a coincidence), food, even medical care.

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Friday, March 03, 2006

It's A Syn

This is a story that features the usual corrupt suspects(link may require subscription, so I'll generously quote here):
When asked about the provision's origins, Senate Finance Committee aides at first said they did not know, only that it did not "originate" with Grassley. One aide noted that the Senator "ultimately is responsible for everything in [the bill], but routinely with such bills, other committee members propose certain ideas, and he accepts them or rejects them as he sees fit."

Asked again by TIME to identify the author, the Senate Finance aide later wrote in an e-mail, "the provision originated as an amendment from Sen. [Rick] Santorum [a Pennsylvania Republican]. Sen. [Gordon] Smith [an Oregon Republican] had a similar amendment co-sponsored by several other Senators, Republicans and Democrats. Chairman Grassley accepted the Santorum amendment ... It's routine for him to accept non-controversial provisions that way rather than have the committee vote on each amendment ... So now the Santorum amendment is in the bill." A Santorum aide said the senator pushed the provision to "provide parity for the non-conventional fuel tax credit with other energy tax credits and to provide certainty for taxpayers." He added that it would also "allow coke plants" to take advantage of tax incentives, claiming "this is important to the steel industry, which employs thousands of Pennsylvanians -- making it more competitive in the global market." Coke, produced from coal or crude oil, is used in steelmaking.

Another Senate supporter of the credit is Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee. An aide said Hatch believes the new provision in the Senate bill "helps make the current credit work better." Utah-based Headwaters Inc., one of the synfuel industry's most active companies, licenses its technology as well as sells materials to synfuel producers. "If the tax credits under Section 29 of the Internal Revenue Code are repealed or adversely modified," the company said in its latest annual report, "Headwaters Energy Services' profitability will be severely affected."
What the article is describing is this provision:
Today about 55 such plants around the U.S. process 125 million tons of coal or, in many cases, coal waste from an earlier mining era. For owners and operators, the whole point isn't creating a profitable new energy resource for the U.S.; it's about collecting the tax subsidy. Progress Energy Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., which owns electric utilities that serve portions of the Carolinas and Florida, reported in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that in 2002-04 its synfuel-production losses added up to $400 million. No problem: the company claimed $852 million in tax credits, magically transforming a money-losing operation into a money-making business with $452 million in profits--courtesy of the American taxpayer. And that's not all. Like other synfuel producers, Progress Energy can't immediately use all the tax credits it mines because of tax-law limitations. As of Dec. 31, 2004, it was sitting on $745 million in deferred credits that it can write off against future earnings for years to come. And Progress Energy is not alone. Plants run by DTE Energy Co. of Detroit generated $1.2 billion in tax credits during the same years.

This was not what Congress had in mind in 1980 when it enacted the subsidy. The idea was to stimulate the birth of a new industry that would make synthetic fuel competitive with the price of conventional oil and gas. To achieve that end, lawmakers pegged the value of the credit to the price of crude oil. If oil prices were to rise above a certain level, the synfuel industry would no longer need the credit to make a profit and the subsidy would be phased out. As long as oil prices were below $50 per bbl., synfuel producers could claim the full value of the credit. But in the past year, as prices have risen to as much as $66 per bbl., anxiety has spread through the synfuel ranks that their boondoggle is imperiled.
So guess what happened in 2005? Because of Bush's enormous blunders in Iraq and Iran, coupled with the devastation to the Gulf of Mexico oil producing sector, the price of oil valuted past $50/barrel.

Which means the credit, intended to provide an artificial-yet-guaranteed profit for synfuel, was null and void, since that was the level Congress originally estimated would be sufficient for synfuel to make it's own way in the world. Granted, the credit is on the books now 25 years and likely that ceiling needed to be adjusted, but rather than do that, what the Senate did was quite remarkable: it rolled back the price of a barrel of oil to "the amount which was in effect for sales in calendar year 2004."

Nice trick, huh? Kinda like backdating a late check to take advantage of a lower interest rate on your adjustable mortgage. Except you couldn't get away with that, in the reality-based world.

Even more ludicrous is how the use of coal in synfuel is determined(WILL require subscription):
What happens inside them? To alter coal's chemistry so it qualifies as a synthetic fuel even though it looks and burns like regular coal, some plants merely spray newly mined coal with diesel fuel, pine-tar resin, limestone, acid or other substances. Others mix coal waste with chemicals, coat it with latex and blend it with untreated coal to form briquettes. And plant operators in some extreme cases do nothing at all. Whatever the process, it's still coal.

This may explain why synfuel owners, in addition to being reluctant to talk about their processes, are not eager to let anyone actually see one of these so-called plants. Half a dozen electric utilities contacted, from DTE in Detroit to Progress Energy in Raleigh, N.C., declined to give TIME a tour. As did plant operators.

Actually, plant is a grandiose term for such operations. The facilities consist of little more than a collection of conveyor belts, nozzles, mixing vats, a few small buildings and sometimes equipment to convert the coal into pellets or briquettes. The spraying equipment is fairly simple. According to an industry consultant who asked not to be identified, it resembles "what you go through in a car wash, like the sprayers that wash your car." The plants can be easily taken apart and trucked hundreds of miles and then reassembled. "It's not that complicated to take one of these apart, load it on trucks and take it someplace else and put it back together," says an industry official. If the process seems flimsy, keep in mind that the real product is not synfuel but tax credits. And lots of people are cashing in.

Who benefits? A carnival of characters. But the most stunning numbers have been posted by big companies that wanted to boost their bottom line. The hotel chain Marriott International Inc., which has 2,500 lodging properties worldwide, bought four synfuel plants in October 2001. The next year, the first full year of production, Marriott's new synthetic-fuel operations generated $159 million in tax credits. Marriott had paid $46 million in cash for the facilities, meaning the tax credits gave the company a return of 246% on its investment in just one year. It was a welcome boost for the company at a time when the average room revenue from Marriott's traditional lodging business fell 4.8%. Moreover, the company's effective income tax rate plunged to 6.8% in 2002 from 36.1% in 2001, "primarily due to the impact of our synthetic-fuel business," according to its annual report. Consequently, Marriott paid federal income taxes at a rate below that paid by individuals and families earning less than $20,000 a year.
So a program intended to promote "independence from foreign oil" while mitigating risk to the American public has been turned into a scam to line the pockets of Senators from Pennsylvania, Utah, and Iowa.

Shame on them.

Why is it necessary to alter coal in the first place? Two words: carbon dioxide:
Coal-burning power plants like [the Gibson generating facility]supply the United States with half its electricity. They also emit a stew of damaging substances, including sulfur dioxide—a major cause of acid rain—and mercury. And they gush as much climate-warming carbon dioxide as America's cars, trucks, buses, and planes combined.

Here and there, in small demonstration projects, engineers are exploring technologies that could turn coal into power without these environmental costs. Yet unless utilities start building such plants soon—and lots of them—the future is likely to hold many more traditional stations like Gibson.
Of course, there's more to the story than that, and for that, I urge you to pick up the current issue of "National Geographic" magazine for an in-depth discussion on synfuel and on a new coal mining technique called "mountaintopping". While synfuels maybe a key bridge to renewable energy generation, it's far from a friendly one.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

For Your Oscar Consideration....

The Ultimate Brokeback Spoof Site

And I Think We Know What The Other Shoe Is...

A few days ago, I posted the following:
Get The Feeling Yet Another Shoe Is About To Drop?

[....]Give Qaeda credit: they're a damn sight more persistent than the Bush administration has been. They've set an eye on a target, like the Trade Center, and have carefully chosen their plan, while we've rushed willy-nilly, sending boys and girls into harm's way only to change the target and focus of our activities. Al Qaeda does what they say they'll do: the Bush administration has to find post facto excuses.
Yesterday, comes this:
The guidelines in al Qaeda's war against "crusaders" and U.S.-allied governments were laid out in a manifesto written by Abdulaziz al-Enezi, arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2005 and described by the Saudis as a prominent ideologue of al Qaeda.

In the manifesto, which was recently posted on an Islamist Web site, Enezi said disrupting oil supplies was the best way to hurt the U.S. economy and destabilize the Saudi royal family.

The document said Saudi state-owned refineries and oil pipelines and Iraqi facilities were "all in the hands of infidels."

"It is permissible to target oil interests held by infidels ... including American and Western oil tankers," Enezi said.
Which makes the concerted attacks on Iraqi oil pipelines not just the insurgency's way of ensuring instability in Iraq, but Al Qaeda's sworn goal. By hitting the pipelines, they prevent oil from boosting the Iraqi economy.

See, oil is more than a commodity for our use. It's a tool used by despots around the world to keep a stranglehold on power. When a country has oil, its stability is threatened until a tyrant, monarch (or oligarchy, as is the case in Iran) seizes power. We've seen it in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iran, Iraq (and will see it again there), even traditional democracies like Venezuela are in deep unrest until a forceful figure wrests control of the government, like Chavez has.

And yes, even in America.

Iraq, indeed, the Middle East, will never sustain a working democracy of the kind we want to see until and unless another way of fueling cars and powering machinery can be found. Period. Poor countries with no resources don't have civil wars. Poor countries WITH resources do.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Man For All Seasons

Man for All Seasons

Needless to say, one of the great movies of all times, and particularly instructive on this, Ash Wednesday, 2006:

For Patriots Like Me:
Sir Thomas More: The world must construe according to its wits; this court must construe according to the law.

For The Bush Administration and the GOP in Congress:
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

For Colin Powell:
Cardinal Wolsey: You're a constant regret to me, Thomas. If you could just see facts flat-on, without that horrible moral squint... With a little common sense you could have made a statesman.
Sir Thomas More: I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.

For Condoleeza Rice:
Sir Thomas More: They'll think that somewhere along your pedigree a bitch got over the wall!

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Sometimes, The Caption Just Writes Itself....

These were juxtaposed on the Reuters website...

What Did We Learn From the "Port Control" Debacle?

From James Pinkerton, a moderate conservative (believe it or not):
First, all Americans, starting with Bush, should be alarmed that such an important issue was handled so sloppily...To assure the public that such fecklessness isn't to be tolerated, some high official should be allowed, or asked, to resign. That would send a signal that those who hold high jobs are supposed actually to do them.
Well, Jim, that would be nice, but after the intelligence failures of 9/11 and "yellowcake uranium" produced precisely zero resignations, do you honestly think anyone in this administration has the cojones to step up to the plate?

Hell, even after Katrina, Brownie had to be forced out of his position first, and then quietly allowed to become a consultant.
Second, we are all being schooled in foreign-policy realism. Since 9/11, the president has mostly expressed himself in the language of good-versus-evil morality. As he said Sept. 20, 2001, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." Such rhetoric might have been useful in getting Americans psyched up for fighting Saddam Hussein. But, as the long war drags on, "moral clarity" has morphed into murk. So today we see that the UAE and Saudi Arabia - which have and will continue to play footsie with al-Qaida, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Hamas and other nogoodniks - are our best available allies. That's the difference between realism and idealism: Idealists see the world as they wish it to be, realists as it is.
Orwell said it best: "Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy...we mean, Four legs bad, two legs better." It stops being idealism when it becomes caving in.
Third, Bush's democracy-is-on-the-march speechifying is now at rest. W.'s high-flying lyricism peaked with his second inaugural address, in which he declared that the "untamed fire of freedom" would burn away tyranny everywhere. But in the past year the White House has looked the other way as Arab countries across the Mideast have suppressed democratic movements - although not in the UAE, because there never has been any democratic movement there. And, with the UAE as a possible partner in future port security, it's a safe bet that the United States won't be encouraging elections in that country, thus risking a replay of the recent Islamist victory in the Palestinian territories.
Can't argue with Pinkerton's assessment here. For the sake of his birthright, he has sold his brethren into slavery.
Fourth, in regard to the cold realities of this world, most Americans have only recently learned that overseas interests already control many of our ports.
The Teamsters seem to have finally taken notice as well. This issue is STRICTLY an economic one: port masters want to keep American union workers from the docks. It would mean importer and exporters paying slightly higher fees to ship.

Gee, there's a concept: "insurance" against terrorism.
Fifth, no matter who owns the ports, the greatest concern should be cargo inspection. Estimates of how much cargo is searched vary, from 2 percent up to 6 percent. So, port ownership aside, the bigger question is whether Uncle Sam is scrutinizing nearly 9 million potentially bomb-laden containers a year.
There is a side issue as to whether we can, but the effort must be made. If you're going to have an uproar over illegal border crossings of immigration, then you really do have to take a closer look at what (or who) is being smuggled into this country with unfettered access to a major hub of commerce for America.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Best. Olympic Comparison. Ever.

Failure meets failure:
George Bush in the flight suit on that carrier was Bode Miller in the Nike ads before the Olympics, all image and promise. No substance and sacrifice, no guts and inner fire. Here's what Mr. Miller told the (obviously angry) team at NBC Sports:
"The expectations were other people's. I'm comfortable with what I've accomplished, including at the Olympics ... I wanted to have fun here, to enjoy the Olympic experience, not be holed up in a closet and not ever leave your room. I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level ... I just did it my way. I'm not a martyr, and I'm not a do-gooder. I just want to go out and rock. And man, I rocked here."
Replace Olympics and Olympic with Presidency and Presidential, and how far are you really from the life and times of George W. Bush - who, after all, can always say he got to party and socialize on the Presidential level after a life partying and socializing on the silver spoon circuit.

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Another Reason I Oppose The Death Penalty

Watch any murder mystery on television, read any crime story in the papers, and there's bound to be a mention of a lie detector test. Today, most of us think of the polygraph's spikes and drops as a classic (but flawed) indicator of truth and deception. But a revolutionary technology called "Brain Fingerprinting" may be about to change our perceptions. This episode takes viewers onto Oklahoma's death row, where convicted murderer Jimmie Ray Slaughter is awaiting execution. In a last-ditch attempt to get the case back into court, Slaughter's attorneys have called upon Dr. Lawrence Farwell, the neuroscientist who developed this controversial new test.

While conventional lie detectors rely on fluctuations in respiration, perspiration and blood pressure, "Brain Fingerprinting" is based on a sub-set of brain waves that register as brief electrical patterns when a person recognizes familiar stimuli. Imagine, for instance, that a murder suspect maintains his innocence. While in custody, he is read certain words related to the crime in question. A computer measures the brain's response to these stimuli, yielding results that suggest whether or not the suspect's memory holds information about the crime that only the perpetrator could know. But is this emerging technology ready for public acceptance?

After performing the test on Jimmie Ray Slaughter, Farwell has announced that the inmate did not know certain key facts about the crime. Slaughter, who claims he is innocent, hopes his lawyers will be able to use the test to get him a stay of execution. But others, including the Oklahoma District Attorney, claim the "Brain Fingerprinting" test is severely flawed. Dr. Farwell's former mentor Dr. Emanuel Donchin, also weighs in with his viewpoints about applying the brainwave science outside of a laboratory environment.
Compelling evidence. The technology has existed for years now, and has been vetted many times over by scientific studies.

In Slaughter's case, brain fingerprinting showed he did not know such crucial details of the crime (despite the fact that he sat through a trial and who knows how many discussions of the evidence?) as the location of the adult victim's body, where the infant had been killed, or what the adult victim was wearing when she was killed. In addition, testimony given by a metalurgist regarding the bullets used to shoot the victims was cast in doubt, and a hair sample found at the scene, which could not be tested at the time of the original trial, was tested for DNA and showed that a completely different person had been at the victim's house.

Further, testimony given during the trial by a co-worker of the victim and Slaughter (and ex-lover of Slaughter) was shown to be unsubstantiated beyond hearsay.

An appeal was filed, but you read the rest:
Claiming the results of his brain fingerprint test and additional DNA testing on a hair found at the crime scene were new evidence not presented at the original trial, Jimmie Ray Slaughter petitioned the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for a new evidentiary hearing in March 2004. The judges found brain fingerprinting to have insufficient scientific documentation to be admitted as evidence and denied Slaughter¹s request in January 2005 and again on March 10, 2005. The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court¹s decision and denied the appeal, at which point a date for his execution was set. The U.S. Supreme Court denied his application for a stay of execution, and with all his appeal options exhausted, Jimmie Ray Slaughter was executed by lethal injection on March 15, 2005 in Oklahoma.
I should point out that the "brain fingerprinting" was done in a small window to file a final appeal.

Indeed. Not even "sentence commuted," which would have been a reasonable alternative until the evidence could be more thoroughly investigated. So here's a situation where clearly a man's guilt was reasonably in doubt, but the butchering red staters had to have blood on their hands and now.

If you get the chance to catch the episode of "Innovation" that featured this, I urge you to watch it.

And get angry.


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Race On Ice

As we round neatly into Black History Month, I thought this column would be an instructive review of the just-completing Olympics (and besides, the Olympic hockey finals start in about an hour and I needed to drop a post before then :-). )

One of the unfortunately messy stories out of Torino took place on the speedskating oval, where Chad Hedrick and Shani Davis, fierce rivals, played out their anger towards each other. Hedrick is white (and Texan), Davis is black (and from Illinois). Davis would be (and was) the first African American man to win a gold medal and the first African American to win gold in an individual competition. Hedrick was after five gold medals to match Eric Heiden's feat in skating, and one of those events was the team pursuit event. Hence, he needed Davis.

The US federation overseeing speed skating pushed Davis to compete in that event, which would be held mere days before his best event, the 1,000 meters individual. Davis refused, on the grounds that racing the pursuit would hinder his chances of winning gold in the 1,000. Hedrick, understandably, got upset at this hit to his quintaurum medal chances.

What wasn't understandable was how Hedrick expressed his anger, questioning Davis' patriotism, and his loyalty to the team.

To their credit, NBC never played up the racial aspect of this dispute.

Or was it to their credit? Maybe they should have delved into this aspect of the dispute a little more closely. After all, Davis' credentials for the sport are impeccable. He has qualified now for the Olympics in two separate disciplines, short-track speedskating and long course skating, which is a little like a sprinter running a marathon. Davis is the reigning world all-around champion. Davis has trained for the Olympics since he was a little boy in Evanston, IL, when he had to run home from school because he liked wearing a shirt that honored skating legend Bonny Blair, and bullies would beat him up.

Hedrick came to the sport four years ago. He decided to try it when he saw his good friend, Derek Parra, win a gold medal at Salt Lake City. He was sitting at a blackjack table in Vegas. He's been called the Paris Hilton of the skating world (I can only imagine him and Bode Miller at the same party!)

Hedrick said he had big shoes to fill, and wanted to fill them with gold medals for his personal glory. Davis said he just wanted to compete and do his best.

And *Davis* is disloyal to his team? Davis' one gold medal would mean more to the American team than all of Hedrick's five medals (and likely celebratory "drunk-and-disorderly" arrest). The first by an African American male. The first by an African American in an individual event. Versus five by a hard-drinking, late-night partying "good ol' boy". Whom would you rather see succeed?

And yet, here's how it played out on NBC and particularly by the MC of the Olympic coverage, Bob Costas. From a column by Christopher McIntosh, on the Athens Exchange website:
Jay Mariotti - writing about a hometown boy in his hometown paper (Chicago Sun-Times) - called Davis one of the most selfish Chicago athletes since Frank Thomas and Sammy Sosa.
That theme was pretty much picked up by Costas and NBC.

Of course, Davis didn't help things much when after his silver medal in the 1500 meter race, he said the following: " 'I'm just throwing this out there,' Davis said, but 'it would have been nice if after I won the 1,000-meter race, he could have been a good teammate and shook my hand, just like I shook his hand - and hugged him - after he won the 5,000 meters.' " While his point is valid, if you're really looking at the good of the team and what America stands for, you swallow your Texas-sized pride and congratulate an adversary on a job well done.

Just like Davis did.

But, to the race thing. From Les Payne of Newsday:
Naaah, ice skatin's definitely a white man's game. Back in the '40s, everybody knew this about baseball, same as at the turn of the millennium with ice skating. Skaters like Chad Hedrick were born to their entitlements. The "sun people" played basketball contentedly on their side of town. Blacks had more speed, less pain, more brawn, less brain. This impure approach was kept on the playground and off college campuses until deep into the '60s.

First, there was a trickle of blacks into college hoops. Then greedy, ambitious coaches broke the covenant and placed winning above white entitlement. In '66, a traitor out of Texas Western College took an all-black team to the NCAA championship - and won. Basketball fell to the black hordes.

All was not lost. White boys still had golf, tennis, rugby, ice hockey, tiddledywinks and the Winter Olympics. That was before Arthur Ashe, Tiger Woods, sort of, and most definitely Cherie Davis. This Chicago mother hooked her 6-year-old son on speed skating by feeding him quarters at the city rinks. Jeered by hoop-playing "sun people," Shani Davis stuck with ice skating.

When the talent of the wunderkind proved irresistibly world-class, the speed-skating federation stepped in to put down this black, mother-son rebellion. Cherie was a handful. She accused the lily-white federation of running the sport "just like Augusta National Golf Club." Her son's sponsorships dried up. Skating was not to go the way of basketball. The pressure drove Davis to live in Calgary to skate in peace.

Since winning the 1,000-meter and edging Hedrick in the 1,500, Davis has been celebrated as a pioneer as well as demonized by Hedrick supporters, some media and nasty fans. Welcome to territory familiar to Jackie Robinson, who had pitchers throw at his head, base-runners slide murderously on him, all while his teammates stood idly by.
Instead of celebrating this accomplishment with little more than a passing kudo before jumping back on the "selfish bastard" bandwagon, NBC and the rest of the coverage of this disagreement did signal service to advancing the causes of ignorance and entitlement of the privileged. And signal disservice to the Olympic spirit of competition and achievement beyond gold medals.

Which is really funny, because just yesterday, the network did a really nice little documentary about Eugenio Monti. An Italian bobsledder who gave a team from England the tools to beat him for a gold medal. This guy ought to have a movie made about him.

To Les Payne for the last word:
Chad Hedrick knows nothing of the terrible price Davis had to pay to lace up his skates at the Winter Olympics. This selfish oaf is insulated from concerns other than his narrow sense of racial entitlement, blind as he is to the real lessons of black American history. That great sucking sound is the yelping about speed skating as the latest lily-white sport to be breached by a black athlete.

UPDATE: To its credit, when NBC reviewed the Olympic speedskating events late yesterday afternoon, they made a point to show that-- after Hedrick's hissyfit about "team" and winning for America-- the US lost the team pursuit because KC Boutiette couldn't keep up and then they showed Boutiette deeply upset and being consoled.

By the Russian team. So much for "team spirit," huh, Chad?

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