Archive for January, 2017

The Doomsday Clock

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

So a piece of news that floated out today was that the Doomsday Clock was advanced to 2.5 minutes until midnight:

We are creeping closer to the apocalypse, according to a panel of scientists and scholars.

The Chicago-based Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved the “Doomsday Clock,” a symbolic countdown to the end of the world, to two and a half minutes to midnight.

It marks the first time since 1953 — after hydrogen bomb tests in the US and then Soviet Union — that humanity has been this close to global disaster.

The group cited US President Donald Trump’s “disturbing comments” about the use of nuclear weapons and views on climate change among other factors, including cyberthreats and the rise in nationalism, that have contributed to the darkened forecast.

“The board’s decision to move the clock less than a full minute reflects a simple reality: As this statement is issued, Donald Trump has been the US president only a matter of days,” the organization said in a statement.

I’ve trying to sugarcoat this but there is simply is no way to do so. So I’ll just be blunt: any clock that thinks the world is closer to doomsday now than we were in the past is a clock that is badly in need of repair.

According to the BAS, we are in greater danger than we have been since 1953. Let’s look over that 64-year span and take a year almost at random: 1962. In October of 1962, we had the Cuban Missile Crisis. The world teetered on the brink of nuclear war. At that time, one side was run by a drunken mass murderer and the other was run by a novice President taking enough medication to stock a drug store. And yet the Doomsday Clock was left at seven minutes to midnight at a time when we were almost literally seven minutes away from Armageddon.

Oh, it gets better. In 1962, the United States was on the brink of starting its long bloody involvement in Vietnam. There were active civil wars going on in Laos, Sudan, the Congo, Yemen, Guatemala, Burma, Malaysia and Nicaragua as well as Communist insurgencies in other countries. By contrast, today is literally the most peaceful era in human history with fewer national and domestic armed conflicts than we’ve ever had as well as less violent crime. Blood and tears may dominate the news. But for most of human history, they dominated everyone’s life. It’s not just 1962 that was more dangerous. It’s almost every year up until the present.

The BAS says that their clock has advanced, at least in part, because of concerns about the environment (which muddies the original purpose of the clock). But is the environment worse now than it was when half the planet was starving, cars were belching lead into the air and our rivers were so polluted they could literally catch fire? By every standard that can be measured — with the exception of greenhouse gases — our planet is better off now than it was 50 years ago. Or 40 years ago. Or 30 years ago. Smog is down, sulphur dioxide is down, species are rebounding to the point of being taken off the endangered list, the ozone layer is healing, etc., etc. And even global warming isn’t hopeless, Trump or no Trump. Greenhouse gas emissions in the United States have fallen in recent years. Greenhouse intensity — that is emissions per economic dollar — is plunging.

I don’t mean to downplay the challenges we face. We still have enough nuclear weapons to ignite a cataclysmic holocaust. And global warming is a very real challenge. Nor do I mean to downplay the concerns about a Trump Administration, many of which I share. But to pretend that the world is closer to annihilation that it was during the last century is an idea that is simply not supported by the facts at hand. All it does is make the Doomsday Clock even more irrelevant.

(More from Tom Nichols.)

The Rise of the ACC

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

So another College Football Season is almost done. Time to revisit my Bowl Championship System:

A few years ago, I invented my own Bowl Championship Points system in response to the Bowl Championship Cup. You can read all about it here, including my now hilarious prediction that the 2013 national title game would be a close matchup. The basic idea is that the Championship Cup was silly, as evidenced by ESPN abandoning it. It decides which conference “won” the bowl season by straight win percentage with three or more bowls. So it is almost always won by a mid-major conference that wins three or four bowls. The Mountain West has claimed five of them, usually on the back of a 4-2 or 3-1 record.

My system awards points to conferences that play in a lot of bowls and a lot of BCS bowls. As such, it is possible for a mid-major to win, but they have to have a great year. The Mountain West won in 2010-2011, when they won four bowls including a BCS game. But it will usually go to a major conference.

Here are the winners of the Bowl Championship Points system for the time I’ve been keeping it.

1998-1999: Big Ten (12 points, 5-0, 2 BCS wins)
1999-2000: Big Ten (10 points, 5-2, 2 BCS wins)
2000-2001: Big East (8 points, 4-1, 1 BCS win)
2001-2002: SEC (9 points, 5-3, 2 BCS wins)
2002-2003: Big Ten (9 points, 5-2, 1 BCS win)
2003-2004: ACC/SEC (9 points each)
2004-2005: Big 12 (6 points, 4-3, 1 BCS win)
2005-2006: Big 12 (8 points, 5-3, 1 BCS win)
2006-2007: Big East/SEC (11 points each)
2007-2008: SEC (14 points, 7-2, 2 BCS wins)
2008-2009: SEC/Pac 12 (11 points each)
2009-2010: SEC (10 points, 6-4, 2 BCS wins)
2010-2011: Mountain West (8 points, 4-1, 1 BCS win)
2011-2012: Big 12 (11 points, 6-2, 1 BCS Win)
2012-2013: SEC (10 points, 6-3, 1 BCS win)
2013-2014: SEC (11 points, 7-3, 0 BCS wins)
2014-2015: Big 10/Pac 12 (10 points)
2015-2016: SEC (19 points, 9-2, 3 CFP wins)

You can contrast that against the Bowl Cup, which has been awarded five times to the Mountain West Conference and three times to Conference USA based on their performance in such venues as the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl. I’m happy when the mid-majors do well, but winning three or four second tier bowls just isn’t the same as winning six bowls, two CFP bowls and a national title.

I also keep track of “doubles”, when a conference wins both the Bowl Challenge Cup and my system. That’s been done by the Big 10 (1998, 1999, 2002), the ACC (2003), the Big 12 (2005), the Big East (2006), the Pac 10 (2008), the Mountain West (2010) and the SEC (2013, 2015).

For years, I said that the SEC’s dominance was waning, based on the points system, from its 2008 peak. And to the extent that the SEC did dominate, it was a result of being one of the only conferences that played defense, not “SEC speed”. In 2014, I saw the Pac 12 rising and predicted we were moving toward two super-conferences — the SEC and the Pac 12 — dominating the college football scene. But then the Big Ten, with two of their top teams returning, moved into the picture, with more parity overall. Last year, however, the SEC dominated, shattering the record for the best Bowl performance.

This year, however, we’re seeing something unexpected: the ACC has essentially already won the “double” with an 8-3 record, two CFP wins already and a chance at a national title. The SEC could finish a close second if Auburn wins tonight and Bama wins the title. However, if Clemson wins the title, the conference will have had the second most dominating performance in the last two decades. I don’t think anyone saw that coming.

The B1G has been a disappointment, with a 3-7 record. Michigan and Penn State played well, but Ohio State was humiliated in their playoff game. Of the four B1G teams ranked in the top ten, only Wisconsin won and that was against MAC champ #15 Western Michigan. The MAC, incidentally, just broke their own record for most futile bowl season by going 0-6 (they went 0-5 in 2008-9). That makes Wisconsin’s win a bit less impressive as well. I think it’s fair to say the B1G was a tad over-rated, which always seems to happen when Ohio State and Michigan are both having good years, inducing a circularity in the press’s ranking logic. Still … the B1G has long put their status as a doormat behind them.

Looking back over the last few years, I’m surprised at how much parity has asserted itself. I truly believed we were moving toward a system where two conferences would dominate, but the B1G came back in a big way and the ACC is having a great year this year. I don’t why there’s so much parity in college football right now, but it’s a good thing. Makes it much more fun.

The SEC continues to dominate the all-time rankings, of course. Here are the conferences through tonight’s Rose Bowl:

SEC: 102-65, 21 BCS/CFP wins, 160 points, 9.5 titles
Pac 12: 62-57, 16 BCS/CFP wins, 83 points, 1.5 titles*
Big 12: 69-72, 11 BCS/CFP wins, 77 points, 2 titles
American: 54-46, 10 BCS/CFP wins, 72 points, 1 title**
ACC: 70-77, 9 BCS/CFP wins, 72 points, 2 titles
Big 10: 63-81, 18 BCS/CFP wins, 63 points, 2 title
Mountain West: 46-38, 4 BCS/CFP wins, 58 points
Conference USA: 47-50, 44 points
WAC (defunct): 23-29, 2 BCS/CFP wins, 19 points
Sun Belt: 18-20, 16 points
Independents: 14-18, 10 points
MAC: 27-45, 9 points

(*Screw the NCAA. I’m counting USC as a champion.)
(**This counts previous games from the Big East and Miami’s title.)