Monthly Archives: April 2014

Drilling in the wilderness

Courtesy of The Economist.

Energy extraction can coexist with native peoples and forests

PASSENGERS arriving on the sole daily flight to the Las Malvinas gas-processing plant by the lower Urubamba river in Peru are ushered into a waiting room and shown a video. This contains a long list of “don’ts” for the Camisea gas project’s 600 permanent workers, including bans on bringing food and having contact with the Amerindian peoples of the surrounding forest. To get on the flight, which is chartered by Pluspetrol, the Argentine firm that operates the gas concession, passengers must have a medical pass, issued only after vaccination against flu and yellow fever.

These conditions embody bitter lessons. Camisea is Peru’s most important source of energy, pumping 1.6 billion cubic feet of gas a day. Since 2004 it has provided the government with more than $6 billion in royalties. Gas from Camisea’s Block 88, which has the biggest probable reserves in the Peruvian Amazon, is sold at a regulated price of $1.80-3.30 per million British thermal units, which has helped fuel Peru’s stellar economic growth of the past dozen years. (By contrast, energy-short Chile imports gas at $8-11 per million Btus.)

But most of the block lies in the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti reserve, created by the government in 1990 to protect Amerindians who have shunned contact with the outside world. Pluspetrol has drawn up plans, approved by the government in January, to conduct seismic tests and develop up to six new well-sites in the block. Foreign NGOs such as Survival International accuse Pluspetrol and the government of threatening the survival of these isolated tribes. “There is a serious risk to people in initial contact,” says Vanessa Cueto of DAR, a Peruvian NGO.

So Camisea has become a test of whether hydrocarbon exploitation can coexist with fragile environments and native peoples. “Camisea is a world environmental hotspot,” admits Germán Jiménez, Pluspetrol’s boss in Peru. In particular it could be a model for Ecuador, which recently agreed to allow oil exploration in the Yasuní national park.

The NGOs cite a dark antecedent: when Shell began exploring Camisea in the 1980s, it built an access road. This was used by illegal loggers, who enslaved isolated Nahua Indians; 300 of them died from diseases to which they had no immunity.

Yet the lessons of that tragedy have been learned. Camisea was developed with a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank, which set rigorous environmental safeguards. Pluspetrol uses an “offshore inland” method for developing the field, as if the forest were an ocean. There are no roads in Block 88: access is by helicopter. Horizontal drilling minimises surface sites. The five well-sites are each no bigger than a couple of football pitches; they are surrounded by dense forest, as your correspondent saw on a flight last month as a guest of Pluspetrol.

Maintenance crews come by helicopter to the remotely operated wells with their dismantled equipment, reassembled on site. They are accompanied by local guides; the company says they have never encountered any isolated Indians. The bright yellow pipelines that carry the gas to Las Malvinas are buried, visible only when they cross watercourses. A scheme funded by the company but run by an NGO employs a small team of Indians as environmental monitors. Cristóbal Rivas, a Machiguenga Indian who is the scheme’s president, says they have investigated small leaks of diesel but that in 11 years there has been no serious impact on the forest.

Peru recently overhauled its laws to incorporate international norms on the rights of indigenous peoples. The government imposed conditions on the expansion, barring seismic testing in the north-west of the block, where there are unconfirmed reports of visits to streams by nomadic Pukirieri Indians, and placing limits on night-working, to avoid interfering with hunting. Pluspetrol will pay $5.8m into a compensation fund for the 850 or so Indians who live in the reserve.

Counting the unknown

This includes about 90 Machiguenga believed to be living in initial contact inside the part of Block 88 that lies in the reserve. Mr Jiménez says that last year, during consultations with the settled Indian communities outside the block, some of the 90 canoed downriver to take part and asked for identity documents so that they could get jobs with the company.

James Anaya, the UN’s special rapporteur on indigenous rights, issued a broadly favourable report last month on the expansion project. He noted that “in many cases” the claims of NGOs are “speculative and imprecise”. But he found that official information on Indians in the reserve was “out of date and incomplete”. He urged the government to complete a study of who might be living in the block, and to organise a consultation with those in initial contact.

The government is hastily doing both these things before work starts on the expansion in June. For some Indians, the work cannot start soon enough. Among those in favour of the expansion is José Dispupidiwa Waxi, the chief of 470 Nahua Indians in the north of the reserve who are classed as being in “initial contact”. Initial contact includes trips to Washington, DC, where Dispupidiwa Waxi has just been to denounce the NGOs that want to block the expansion. The Nahua stand to gain from the compensation fund, which they would spend on more classrooms and a nurse. “We want people to know that we don’t go around naked—we want to be recognised as a settled community,” says Elsa Dispupidiwa, his daughter.

Camisea has changed the lives of the people of the lower Urubamba. “Communities forget their traditional customs,” says Mary Luz Trigoso, a Machiguenga environmental monitor. “The positive thing is that there is work, the children can go to school and there is health provision.” The main complaints are aimed at the local and regional governments, which pocket half the royalties from Camisea; all there is to show for that in the main Machiguenga community is an unfinished secondary school and a 500-metre bog that serves as the main street.

For Peru, the benefits of more cheap gas from Camisea are clear. How to weigh them against the right of, at most, a few hundred indigenous people to live the life they choose is a difficult question. But it is not an impossible one. The Indians “can’t go back, like it or not. History has taken its path and the people too,” says Patricia Balbuena, the deputy minister with responsibility for indigenous peoples. “We have to respect and accompany its process. You can’t say to them, ‘You don’t know what you want’. Tutelage is never positive.”

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Headaches

By Lloyd Graff

The Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA) reported that according to 67 members who reported solid figures — March was the best month for shipment volume since they have been keeping track. This is good data to keep track of. It’s more important I think than broad sentiment vibes from purchasing managers across the economy or bumpy employment numbers that the stock market traders focus on but which do not directly reflect the sweep of the economy. The winter certainly affected the first quarter in some negative ways, mostly retail, but the PMPA numbers show me that the cold weather machine guys find a way to get it done no matter what the external impediments cast in their way.

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David Brooks, the superb New York Times columnist, delivered a TED talk recently that really struck me. He said that he had been thinking about the virtues of the résumé and the eulogy. The “résumé virtues” are the skills you bring to the market place. The “eulogy virtues” are the deeper ones that would get mentioned in a eulogy. Who are you? What is the nature of your relationships? Are you bold, loving, dependable, consistent? He says most of us would say the eulogy virtues are the most important. But Brooks says, and I agree, that few of us spend a fraction of our thought and energy on them compared to the time spent on marketplace victories. Personally, I find my brain easily drifting into thoughts of deals and competitive advantage, even during my imperfect attempts at prayer. I highly recommend listening to the TED talk. It is short, pithy and unsettling.

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For many years, I have suffered from a form of migraine syndrome. Fortunately, I do not suffer from the headaches most people have, but I get the aura, sometimes called a scintillating scotoma, which is annoying because it interrupts my vision with a curved jagged image crossing my sight for almost exactly 25 minutes. My father dealt with scotomas for 40 years, so I was not terribly bothered when I started getting them. My son Ari also deals with them. I read an interesting piece this week in the Chicago Tribune about migraines. I have been trying to figure out what tends to trigger mine. Caffeine is considered a primary culprit so I have switched to decaf. Chocolate and red wine are also thought to be triggers, but the thesis of the expert quoted in the piece, Andrew Charles, professor of neurology at UCLA, is that migraine is a syndrome much bigger than nasty headaches. He says the reason we think chocolate is a trigger is that we crave chocolate in the neurological phase hours before the actual headache. Charles’ research has shown that you cannot fully prevent attacks, but if you keep consistent sleep patterns, shun caffeine, exercise regularly, and eat a consistent diet without a lot of sugary foods, you can minimize the misery. Lets hear it for decaf.

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I appreciate your comments on the last blog, even the negative ones that argued I was wasting your precious time writing about ping-pong. What struck me was that people cared enough to read the piece and tell me they were disappointed. They thought I could do better. That is a sincere compliment.

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“How do I get rid of the fear?” Alas, this is the wrong question.

The only way to get rid of the fear is to stop doing things that might not work, to stop putting yourself out there, to stop doing work that matters.

No, the right question is, “How do I dance with the fear?”

“Fear is not the enemy. Paralysis is the enemy.”

From Seth Godin’s Blog, April 20, 2014

Question:  What causes your headaches?

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Ping-Pong Magic

By Lloyd Graff

Bud Light Super Bowl XLVIII (2014) Commercial – Arnold Schwarzenegger Ping Pong Ad

When the Internet nerds from Tumblr sold out to Yahoo, they rented a $75 per square foot space in New York’s iconic Flatiron Building. One of the first things they did upon moving in was to install a ping-pong table right in the middle of the office.

It seems like every hot Internet startup puts in a table and paddles as soon as the ink is dry on its lease. Therapists use the “thwup” of pimpled rubber on celluloid ball to calm and focus their patients. Kuka, the big Japanese robot maker, brought in a ping-pong world champion from Europe to inaugurate its new factory in Shanghai. Arnold Schwarzenegger played ping-pong in this year’s Bud Light Super Bowl commercial. The old suburban basement game of the Leave it to Beaver set is hot again.

I have loved the game since childhood. I grew up playing with my dad at home — never competitively. We would talk and kid around and try out spins. My friends loved to come over and play the game at our house. My cousin, Don, who had trouble making friends and eventually had an emotional breakdown, loved to play. He lost himself in the game and played well. We communicated through ping-pong.

I got to be a good player at religious school. I went to Hebrew school in the afternoon after regular school and they had a gym program to entice children to attend. There was a year-long table tennis competition and the two best players played for the championship at the awards dinner. I won two years in a row. I remember those matches a lot better than my Hebrew.

I met my wife Risa, literally, with a ping-pong paddle in my pocket. I was at the University of Michigan Student Union looking for some competition and had brought my own personal paddle. I couldn’t find a game so I ambled toward the music blasting down the hall from a Freshman dance. I surveyed the girls in the room and was drawn to one in particular. She evidently was not put off by the grad student with a paddle in the pocket of his corduroy sport jacket.

Table tennis has always been close to my heart. After seven eye surgeries, today I play more by feel and sound than visual acuity. I understand the allure for the Google and Tumblr sets. You don’t need to prepare to play. You just walk up and hit. No uniform, no padding, little equipment. It is not as time consuming as running. Not spiritual and solitary like yoga. It’s a social game and fun. When my children were young we would play often. When they were agitated or withdrawn sometimes the only way we could break the ice was hitting the white ball across the net.

My wife is an educational therapist and works in our house with a lot of kids and teenagers who have ADHD. When a student cannot focus or is uncommunicative she often asks them down to our basement to play ping-pong. She says it always lifts them out of their funk. I suspect it works along those lines in Silicon Valley offices.

To me the sound of the paddle striking the ball is magical. Playing invariably buoys my mood.

When I bought out my brother I vowed to buy a table for Graff-Pinkert. I am still going to do it. I wonder if we would still be partners if we had a table in 2012.

Question: Do you feel magic when you play ping-pong?

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A Swarm of Ant-Sized Robots, at Your Service

Courtesy of The NY Times. By NICK BILTON

While the robots imagined in science fiction novels have often looked like humans, today’s robotic armies are emerging in all shapes and sizes.

Take the little army of bots made by SRI International, called “Magnetically Actuated Micro-Robots,” that are designed to build small things on small scales. They look like a swarm of ants, and they can be controlled by a central computer.

The bots are incredibly fast for their size, able to move at 35 centimeters a second, according to a video posted by SRI. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE, wrote that this is the equivalent speed of a human “running at slightly under Mach 1.” Not bad for something smaller than a pea.

The bots are also very agile, able to weave in and out of tiny objects and capable of climbing up or down walls. They can even travel on flexible circuits in any direction.

SRI says that the technology behind the bots can be used to “reliably control thousands of micro-robots for smart manufacturing of macro-scale products in compact, integrated systems.” In other words, you can imagine a swarm of tiny bots working together to build miniature structures.

The bots are incredibly small because SRI has created a special surface for them to travel along ,which allows each robot to be controlled on the same board, even though they are all performing different tasks. There is no on-board power source, either, since they use magnets to move around.

The robots are part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s open manufacturing program, which seeks to “lower the cost and speed the delivery of high-quality manufactured goods.”

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Silicon Valley’s Elite Comes Out Against the Keystone XL

Courtesy of BusinessWeek. By Brad Wieners

In a March 7 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry that was made public on Monday, more than 200 business owners, venture capitalists, and the odd Stanford B-school professor have asserted that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is not in the economic interests of the U.S. Over its lifetime, the 875-mile extension linking Alberta tar sands to refineries and tankers in the Gulf of Mexico would cost billions more than it brings in, the letter states, and “these costs will be borne by U.S. citizens, businesses and taxpayers, while the profits from the pipeline will accrue to private corporations many of which are foreign interests.”

Sent by Washington-based Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), the letter refutes the State Department’s recent report (PDF) suggesting that the tar sands will be developed with or without the Keystone XL and carbon emissions from the extraction and consumption of its oil reserves will thereby be negligibly higher with the pipeline in place. E2′s business leaders contend that the lower transportation costs of the Keystone XL are critical—if not indispensable—to the tar sands development plans, and they note that tar sands developers themselves are onrecord as saying as much. “Markets rely on both price and policy signals when making investment decisions,” the letter states. “While increasing prices for crude oil have driven interest in further development of tar sands, this development is not inevitable without continued high prices and policy support.”

E2 bills itself as “a non-profit, non-partisan group of business leaders and others who promote sound environmental policies that drive economic growth,” and its members claim to have collectively created more than 570,000 jobs while managing more than $175 billion in venture and private-equity capital. E2 is also an affiliate of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental advocacy group that—with Robert Redford as its spokesman—has been against the Keystone XL from the start.

If it’s hardly surprising that the NRDC had a hand in circulating the letter, what is notable is the number of prominent signatories from Silicon Valley—and not just solar energy and “clean tech” companies betting on a move away from fossil fuels. It’s signed by executives at Apple (AAPL), Oracle (ORCL) and Facebook (FB) (which boasts a sustainability team) and by Google (GOOG) Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

“Even beyond our group, I’d say it’s a consensus among tech leaders that developing the tar sands will not benefit our economy—and on the contrary, increase the risk of real harm,” says Anthony Bernhardt, the Northern California director of E2. A retired physicist who spent much of his career at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Bernhardt says E2 took the extraordinary step of speaking out on an oil infrastructure project because he and the other business owners in his group couldn’t abide “the manifestly untrue” claims for the project that they kept reading in press reports.

For example, the idea that the tar sands oil was headed to U.S. markets and would improve America’s “energy independence.” “With Texas and North Dakota, we are now producing, as a nation, two million barrels of oil more per day than we were [when Keystone XL first became an issue],” Bernhardt says. “We have no use for this oil.” Yet by committing to its transport, the U.S. “will be creating an enormous incentive to increase tar sands production—for export—and all the carbon emissions associated with its extraction and consumption for energy.”

Clearly, the letter’s release was timed to coincide with the most recent United Nations report that climate change—linked by carbon increases in the earth’s atmosphere—is already costing world economies billions and contributing to resource shortages. Elements of the letter deserve further debate—notably, the claim that the Keystone XL will eventually cost the American people $100 billion. That eye-popping number is based on controversial “social cost of carbon” figure. The point, Bernhardt says, is not whether the long-term cost is $50 or $100 billion. It’s that we are faced with a decision where “there is no real benefit for the American people. Meanwhile, we have the opportunity to avoid significant harm in the future. If I’m a prudent person, I take preventing harm over no benefit.”

Not all the letter’s signatories are techies or investors on Sand Hill Road. One is Bob Fisher, the chairman of Gap (GPS). Another is Tedd Saunders, a fourth-generation operator of East Coast hotels headquartered in Boston. The Keystone XL would not seem top of mind for a hotelier, Saunders says, but there’s just no denying the trend lines. “Year after year, we’re seeing more major storms, more cancelled events for our clients, more flights cancelled—everything the scientists warned us about is happening—and all of it having a direct or indirect on our business.”

So, why, he asks, should he support a project that benefits foreign companies and risks greater disruption to American ones likes his? For Saunders, it’s a matter of common sense—there are 64,000 clean-tech jobs in Massachusetts—and self-preservation: “In Boston, we have the more real-estate value at risk [to rising sea levels] than any American city besides New Orleans, Miami, and New York. And we’ve seen what’s happened there [due to storm surges and flooding]. I don’t see increasing the risk of that for about the same number of jobs it takes to build and run a medium-sized mall.”

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How America Pays Taxes—in 10 Not-Entirely-Depressing Charts

Courtesy of The Atlantic. By Derek Thompson

A brief history of where your money goes and why.

The appropriate thing to say about taxes on April 15 is that they’re absolutely terrible. And yes, sure, they are, in a way. Filling out taxes is miserable (especially considering the IRS could probably do it all for you), watching money leave your bank account stinks, and seeing the difference between your adjusted gross income and your take-home pay is depressing.

But perhaps more than any other law, taxes are a keen reflection of what we value as a country. You know what you’re paying this year. Here’s some information about where your money’s going—and where it would go if you lived in Spain, or France … or in the U.S. 50 years ago.

Where do our federal taxes go?

Defense and insurance. It might not surprise you that about $1 in every $5 of federal taxes paid goes to defense. But the rest of the budget is overwhelmingly designed to insure the old and poor and provide a safety net. Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid/CHIP, safety net programs, and veterans’ benefits account for nearly two-thirds of the budget (not including interest paid on our debt).

Read the full article at the www.theAtlantic.com.

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Talent is Arriving

By Lloyd Graff

PMPA Tech Conference 2014

I attended my first Technical Conference held by the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA), this past weekend in Indianapolis. Some observations.

I think there are a lot of good things going on in American machining firms now. Talent is arriving, just in time to replace the tiring Baby Boomers whose feet are aching from 40 years of tending gear gnashing machines. Young people are coming in via community colleges, or out of sheer boredom of frying lettuce at Subway for $9 an hour, 26 hours a week. The message that you can earn a decent wage, earn respect, and find economic stability in machining is finally starting to get through the franchise blahs. I find this is particularly true in the Latino community, though Eastern Europeans and Vietnamese are also entering the ranks. They are bringing youth and energy in American job shops, if the PMPA is representative. Miles Free, PMPA Director of Industry Research and Technology, calls Latinos “the new bench.” I think they are first stringers already at many plants. Miles, also proudly told me his youngest son recently left University, enrolled at a community college and is now a certified CNC operator and liking it.

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Machining businesses are still male dominated, but not quite as much so as a few years ago. Women are starting to make their mark, but often come in through family knowledge. Very few are coming into management via the factory.

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Several members at the conference told me that a bit of tension is brewing within the PMPA about the growing number of “Technical Members” in the organization. Technical Members, such as my company Graff-Pinkert, are firms selling goods and services to manufacturers, who are classified in the PMPA as “Active Members.” With the “Technicals” providing the PMPA a hefty chunk of budget funds and a lot of organizing energy, they will be pushing for the perks of full membership. I think the PMPA’s difficulties in attracting a lot of new machining firms to its ranks yet strong magnetism for suppliers, will make for some interesting politics in the organization in the coming years. I imagine other trade groups have similar issues.

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One of the fascinating side stories of the conference was the competing open houses of the machine tool builders Index and ZPS last Monday night, both located near Indianapolis. Index is a 100-year-old German builder of high-end CNC lathes and multi-spindles. ZPS is an Italian owned, Czech builder focused on high quality, modern multi-spindles, both cam and CNC. Olaf Tessarzyk, head of ZPS America, actually used to run Index in the United States.

Index has a magnificent headquarters in the Indianapolis suburb of Noblesville, with perfect lighting, aisles big enough to play soccer, and a sanded and sealed painted floor you’d be happy to eat bratwurst off of. ZPS is smaller and a little less shiny, but still emitted a good energy.

Index’s open house had a polka band with musicians in traditional German garb. Their buffet served sausage and sauerkraut. ZPS featured a “pig roast” and an 18 foot screen showing the NCAA basketball final. Index gave away diaries, while ZPS passed out bright red tee shirts. Our Graff-Pinkert team drove to both places in a hideous rainstorm. We may have been the only folks who did.

Impossible to say who won the Monday Night Fight, but ZPS clearly had the bus-filling edge, due to its strong promotion and a drop dead gorgeous bus recruiter to shepherd the docile undecided men into their transports. She gets my MVP award, hands down.

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Lloyd’s Scuttlebutt

By Lloyd Graff

Capital Equipment Business Slow in 2014

We’ve seen April Fools Day. My turn. What’s happening?

For machining people, the first quarter was solid if not spectacular. The harsh winter hampered production, and inventories piled up in the last quarter of 2013. Automotive was a little soft in January and February, but generally machining folks were satisfied. Not so for companies selling capital equipment.

After a strong finish to 2013, machinery and capital goods firms were looking forward to a strong start in 2014. They did not get it from the scuttlebutt I hear. Nobody knows why for sure. You can blame the rush to use the investment tax savings last year, or tight-fisted big companies who are determined to squeeze more profit out of relatively flat sales (and succeeding). Maybe it’s sticker shock on European manufactured goods, or it’s the ridiculous five-month winter. However you spin it, the first quarter was a disappointment for capital goods sellers. Three more quarters to catch up.

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We are coming off a terrific year for the American stock market. It caught everybody by surprise with 25-30% gains for the indexes. It happened with the Fed easing off the gas pedal, interest rates rising (but not a lot), top line sales growth struggling, persistent unemployment, huge budget deficits, Washington gridlock and mediocre growth in the economy. All these headwinds, yet people piled into stocks.

My own feeble answer is “where else do you invest?” Baby boomers see that retirement on interest is impossible at these rates. Real estate is interesting, but difficult for most people to get into on their own. Precious metals and collectibles are tough in times of very low inflation. Starting a business is an option for some, but a forbidding challenge for most. So people pile into index funds and hope for the best. Last year it worked beautifully.

But I always try to keep in mind that the crowd is often wrong, especially if they follow the pundits. Almost every predictor last year was certain that interest rates were going to spike when the Fed stopped priming the pump aggressively. So far, rates are up very modestly on a historical basis. Inflation continues to be almost non-existent. Commodities are flat. Copper and gold have tanked. And this is while running huge federal deficits. The old equations on inflation no longer seem to hold. I ask, can you raise the prices for your product? I doubt it.

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This is the best NCAA Tournament I can remember. Overtimes, upsets, tremendous defense. I love it. I like Kentucky with its superior athletes to win it, but I am rooting for Wisconsin.

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One of the greatest political ironies is that President Obama has only one play that Vladimir Putin will respect – flooding the world market with cheap oil and gas, plus dirty old coal. If Obama okays the Keystone Pipeline, makes it easy to drill on Federal land, and embraces fracking as the source of national power, he could scare the Ruskies silly. He could even threaten to use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which is full, to knock down world oil prices. Oil at $75 would probably end Putin’s political career and wreck the Russian economy, which is built on oil almost as much as that of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. It would be a juicy irony for Obama, who has catered so ardently to the Democratic Greens, to use American carbon to punish Putin on Ukraine.

Question: Are you working more for less money than you did five years ago?

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A Prayer For Baseball

By Lloyd Graff

Bull Durham: Baseball Cliches

At the beginning of our observance of the Jewish Sabbath last Friday night, we said the customary opening prayers over the Shabbat candles, wine and bread. I then had the impulse to add one more prayer called the “Shehecheyanu,” which is a special thanks for surviving to that day. It is also tradition to say it when doing something for the first time that year. My wife asked me why I had taken this moment to say it. I said, “Risa, it’s opening day of the baseball season on Sunday. I get to celebrate it again.” And she knew I really meant it.

I know I’m hopelessly sentimental about this stuff, but baseball is a secular religious experience for me. It signals another chance to win, another hopeless challenge against impossible odds as a Chicago Cubs fan. But who knows? Last year the Pirates made the playoffs and Boston went from last in 2012 to winning the World Series behind a Japanese reliever who barely made the roster and David Ortiz who batted .600 in the playoffs after everybody thought he was washed up before the season. Miracles can happen. Kansas City could win it all this year, maybe the Twins. God knows.

Do I know my team, the Cubs, stink? Of course, but it’s April, I still have hope.

One of the things I love about baseball is the language and literature of the game. No other sport has anywhere near the library of books, essays, plays and movies as baseball. I grew up reading THE BABE RUTH STORY, then THE LOU GHERIG story. I was no bookworm as a kid, but those books captivated me. I graduated to Bernard Malamud’s The Natural later, but honestly the movie is better than the book. My favorite movie is Bull Durham, though I loved it more the sixth time I watched it than the first. My runner up flick is the less acclaimed but equally wonderful For the Love of the Game, also starring Kevin Costner. I also strongly recommend book (and film), Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, which is great, but not even his best baseball book. Lewis’ story about his high school baseball mentor, Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life, published in 2005, is his best piece of work.

It seems like something really cool comes out every year. Last year 42 came out, the story of the great Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. I rate Robinson one of the most important figures of post war America. The movie is no classic, but worth seeing.

The long article in Sunday’s New York Times on Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees’ huge signing of the off-season, is a worthy read for anybody who likes baseball or is intrigued by Japanese culture. Reporter Barry Bearak went to Itami, Japan, near Osaka, to really get into the life of Tanaka, who signed a $154 million contract after going 24-0 last season in the Japanese Major League. He was a catcher growing up who was considered a prodigy by 5th grade. In Japan, youngsters are recruited for baseball like LeBrons. The Japanese national high school baseball championship is the equivalent of our NCAA Basketball Tournament in prestige and national following. Tanaka could have gone to high school anywhere in the country, but chose to go to Hokkaido to learn the game–a place so cold he literally took grounders on ice and routinely hit in the snow.

Tanaka ultimately turned to pitching at the urging of his high school coach, but credits growing up as a catcher for some of his success. He decided to come to America for the huge money (three times more than he could get in Japan), the competitive challenge, and to follow his model, Yu Darvish, who signed three years ago with the Texas Rangers. Darvish is A favorite to win the Cy Young award this season.

Baseball is back. The planet has cycled. More is right with my world.

Question: Should college athletes be paid?

Bull Durham: Baseball Cliches

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