Wednesday, May 30, 2018

293. Amazing birds need our protections

One of the most fragile animal classes on the planet are migratory birds.
These amazing birds maintain winter and breeding homes and travel thousands of miles per year, relying on sustainable food, water, and habitats along the way. The remarkable journey and life cycle incorporates more than the normal amount of risk as birds are highly evolved and often very specific in their adaptions.
Some interesting migration facts provided by the Audubon Society:
  • The Arctic tern has the longest migration of any bird, almost 50,000 miles in one year, going from the Arctic to Antarctica.
  • Some migrating birds fly as high as five and half miles above sea level. The record is a Ruppell’s griffon vulture, which traveled seven miles above sea level.
  • The northern wheatear, weighing less than one ounce, travels from the Arctic to Africa — almost 9,000 miles each way.
  • The fastest migratory bird, traveling 60 miles per hour, is the great snipe.
  • The bar-tailed godwit can make the nearly 7,000-mile trip without stopping.
  • Migratory birds enter a physical state called hyperphagia before traveling, bulking up on fat to fuel the trip.

Obviously, any trip of this magnitude is quite dangerous and billions of birds die each year from a variety of causes. Windows, radio and television towers, cars, and windmills all cause the death of these brave migrants. Other human activities threatening bird species are hunting, habitat fragmentation, and domestic cats.
It’s due to the hunting and habitat destruction that birds are among the most protected animals. And, as with any environmental issue, it can be quite contentious, as many people put the interest of industry, sport, trade, and economic development above the needs of birds.
The Migratory Bird Treaty was born, in part, out of the overhunting and annihilation of birds like the passenger pigeon. Once abundant, it was hunted to extinction despite the attempt of activists.
All About Birds provided this account of the failure of an 1857 Ohio Senate committee to protect the passenger pigeon: “The passenger pigeon needs no protection. Wonderfully prolific, having the vast forests of the North as its breeding grounds, traveling hundreds of miles in search of food, it is here today and elsewhere tomorrow, and no ordinary destruction can lessen them, or be missed from the myriads that are yearly produced.”
According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, “The MBTA provides that it is unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, possess, sell, purchase, barter, import, export, or transport any migratory bird, or any part, nest, or egg or any such bird, unless authorized under a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior. Some regulatory exceptions apply. Take is defined in regulations as: ‘pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect.’”
This basically means you have to leave birds alone. You can’t kill, hunt, or trap them for fun or because they are a nuisance. You can’t destroy their nests or collect their eggs. You can’t catch them and sell them or their feathers. There is an exhaustive list of migratory birds, including common birds like the Canada goose. They might be messy and abundant but they are protected by federal law.
The MBT has been credited with saving the snowy egret, which was hunted for it delicate feathers, and many other birds such as the wood duck and sandhill crane.
However, in the Trump administration’s continued effort to destroy anything that gets in the way of financial interests, enforcement of the MBT has been changed to accommodate industry that may “incidentally” kill birds. A Washington Post report said the greatest beneficiaries of the change are oil and gas companies, which “were responsible for 90 percent of incidental takes prosecuted under the act, resulting in fines of $6,500 per violation.” Newsweek noted that “environmental disasters still carry legal ramifications, but the MBTA will no longer have the power to prosecute actions that incidentally harm birds.”
Birds provide numerous benefits to our ecosystems. They eat insects, clean up road kill and dead fish, and distribute seeds. They are also a sign of ecological health.
And bird-watching is one of the most popular hobbies. They are fascinating to watch and learn about — they all seem to have different story. They also provide tremendous economic support to places like Magee Marsh, where thousands of birders come from all across the world to see dazzling warblers make their final stop before crossing Lake Erie.
They are worth protecting and with hundreds of bird species on the endangered list — it might be now or never.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

292. Baseball and the world have changed

Baseball has been a big part of my life. When I was young and playing in youth leagues, I would go in my room and cry when games where rained out. I carried this passion from my youth through high school, college, and adult leagues.

While of course I wanted to play professional baseball, my goal was to play college baseball and I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to play at Ashland University.

After college, it was hard to give it up. Most guys fade away to start their careers, attend graduate school, or raise families. But I was lucky to play into my mid-30s and I also coached at several area high schools. Baseball was in my blood.

The Cleveland Indians’ remarkable run in the mid-90s was enjoyed with my wife, whom I started dating in 1995. We spent many nights at Jacob’s Field watching incredible Tribe comebacks. We also traveled to some away games with friends to root for the team.

I always pictured myself buying season tickets to Indians games after I retired. I would live out my days at the stadium eating hot dogs and watching the game I loved.

However, like so many things, the game has changed.

The analytics and subsequent approach to the game has transformed it and fans have noticed. Major League Baseball has noticed the declining attendance and is trying to make changes to improve the fan experience.

The game increasingly relies on the home run to produce runs, as hitters have adjusted their “launch angle.” In 2014, the percentage of runs via the home run was 33 percent; in 2016 it was 40 percent.

Swinging for the fences has also led to the more strikeouts, which have increased 10 straight years. The obsession with home runs has also led to defensive shifts, which places extra fielders on the “pull” side of the field. In 1993, Frank Thomas, swinging down through the ball and hitting to all fields, hit 41 home runs and stuck out 54 times. In 2017, Joey Gallo hit 41 home runs and struck out 196 times.

Watching the Indians and Yankees in the playoffs last year was miserable. The Yankees struck out 64 times in the five-game series, almost 13 per game. The Indians struck out 61 times.

Stolen bases are down, bunts are down, and I can’t remember the last time I saw a well-executed hit and run. Many players no longer even own these skills, as evidenced by an entire side of the infield left unattended. Managers and players don’t want to “waste an out” and thereby reduce the number of attempts to hit the ball out of the park.

The number of pitching changes has slowed the game down to the point that baseball has limited the number of trips to the mound. And the lack of offensive creativity has limited the game management to pitching and batter match-ups. Speaking of game management (in the National League), it’s time to choose between a designated hitter and the pitcher batting. Inter-league play should encourage that the leagues share the same set of rules.

I thought I would be a fan of instant replay in baseball. However, like football, it has created a delayed reaction to close plays. Managers must get a signal from their staff to challenge the call and then the umpires must look at it. The spirit of replay was never to punish baserunners who come off the base an inch or two — but a rule is a rule. And while replay is important for game-changing plays, the calling of balls and strikes is a critical part of the game and the umpires’ ability to do this varies greatly.

The major league playoff system, which was smart to introduce a wild card team in 1994, ruined it in 2012 when two wild card teams from each league qualified and now battle in a ridiculous one game playoff. When you need 162 games to determine playoff teams, you need a seven-game playoffs series — even the five-game series is not statistically long enough.

And finally, postseason baseball (to the Indians’ benefit in 2016) is a different game than the regular season — it’s long and disjointed.

But it not just the game that has changed. The world has changed.

The slow play of baseball (compared to other major sports) lends itself to the distraction of cell phones. When I do get to a game, it is hard to understand the number of people who spend more time watching their phones than watching the game.

Finally, when I was younger, it never bothered me that athletes made the money they did (and back then they didn’t make anything like they make now). Although baseball is probably the most affordable of the major professional sports, it’s gotten ridiculous and many hard-working people aren’t willing to pay that kind of money to attend a game. And the player excuse of, “I have to the think of my family,” when choosing between a $100 million contract and a $95 million contract is a little out of touch.

I grew up in North Eaton, and I was there a couple of weeks ago looking for birds. I told my wife it reminded me of the days I spent there playing baseball. There was something in the air, the smell of rural spring evenings, and the threat of rain, that took me back to the simplicity of my hopes and dreams.

Unfortunately, things change.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

291. You have to consider lost opportunities

Opportunity cost is largely a business term describing the impact of a decision to produce one product over another or invest in one company over another.

“Opportunity cost refers to a benefit that a person could have received, but gave up, to take another course of action,” Investopedia describes it. “Stated differently, an opportunity cost represents an alternative given up when a decision is made. This cost is, therefore, most relevant for two mutually exclusive events.”

The last sentence is the key to understanding opportunity costs — it is the decision that comes at the expense of every other mutually exclusive choice.

It is a relevant and sometimes overwhelming concept that applies to not just financial matters but many other elements of our lives.

For example, if I go to law school, it comes (most likely) at the time and financial expense of going to medical school, bartending school or studying to be an architect. But it also applies to simple matters like what to do on Sunday mornings when you cannot be in two places at the same time. Going to Cedar Point comes at the expense of everything else you could do on that particular morning, such as go to church, have brunch with the family, or fly to Rome.

In terms of personal finance, some advisors have suggested that it is one of the most overlooked considerations of decision-making.

If I decide to buy a boat, I have to consider not just whether or not I can I afford to buy the boat but whether I should purchase the boat at the expense of everything else I could buy with that money. Should I buy the boat or a car? Or should I take 10 vacations or go out to dinner 500 times?

Too often we want it all and don’t think about how one thing affects the other — we just do it and hope to figure it out later. It’s the danger of credit cards — that which allows us to delay or spread out opportunity costs by not paying only what we can afford at a given point in time.

This distinction lends itself well to the discussion of local and national budgets. Whereas state and local governments have to balance budgets, the federal government, as we all know, can run trillions of dollars in debt.

Local governments, with a finite amount of projected revenue, have to make difficult decisions. Officials have to choose between adding another police officer, fixing up a city park, repairing a road, or buying a fire truck. For the most part, it is a good requirement as it attempts to prevent local governments from going into debt. The trade-off, of course, is that poorer communities — those that collect less in tax revenue — often see their services decline. There might be fewer police officers on the roads to keep the community safe or it might take longer for roads to be repaired.

Conversely, the federal government can fall in debt — currently to the tune of $21 trillion, according to the U.S. debt clock. That works out to almost $175,000 per American taxpayer. Of course, the federal government can also sell bonds or obtain loans from foreign governments. It’s a complicated financial system but the point is: opportunity costs.

Federal opportunity costs are limited more by political consequences than actual budgetary restrictions. For example, imagine if you went to the polls in November to vote on the budget and the questions read as an opportunity cost. You’d have to choose between a border wall, improved infrastructure, larger military, or an to end homelessness.

When the government (or individuals) can borrow money, it negates the value of considering opportunity costs in decision-making.

However, as I mentioned, it can be an overwhelming, even paralyzing, concept in terms of time and money. It can be exhausting to consider that you are spending your money at the “expense” of everything else you could buy or spending your time at the “expense” of everything you could be doing.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

290. Pruitt doesn't belong at EPA

Despite promising to hire the best people, President Donald Trump’s administration has been a revolving door with Trump hiring them and then firing them in often rapid and dramatic fashion. He pledged to “drain the swamp,” but I am not sure he planned on stocking the swamp as well.

One slime-covered gator still swimming in the metaphorical political swamp is Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt.

Pruitt is, in fact, an enemy of the EPA, describing himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Putting him in charge of the EPA would be like putting a trophy hunter in charge of PETA. Pruitt, of course, doesn’t “believe” in climate change, to the degree that all references to climate change were removed from the agency website. The White House and EPA have sought to reverse as many as 67 environmental rules, according to the Harvard Law School’s Environmental Regulation Rollback Tracker and reported in the New York Times. Some include reversing migratory bird protections, endangered species listings, and the anti-dumping rule for coal companies. That 52 Republicans confirmed him in the Senate is embarrassing. His relationship with fossil fuel companies was apparently too lucrative to pass up.

It’s quickly becoming the Environmental Destruction Agency.

But it’s not just his environmental record, it’s also his ethics — or lack of them. Like his boss, he seems to have little regard for taxpayer money or conflicts of interest. He has allegedly rented a condo for $50 a night in Washington, D.C., from a lobbyist and purchased a $43,000 soundproof phone booth.

The Office of Government Ethics has also questioned his frequent and sometimes first-class travel, raises given to some employees, and demotion of employees who questioned his spending. Acting director David Apol wrote, “If true, it is hard to imagine any action that could more effectively undermine an agency’s integrity than punishing or marginalizing employees who strive to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations that safeguard that integrity.”

Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) said, “He’s the subject of no less than five independent investigations, he has retaliated against EPA staff who have questioned his spending habits, and he likely violated ethics rules by renting an apartment from an industry lobbyist.”

But it is not just environmentalists and Democrats who want to see Pruitt fired. Many Republicans have had enough, including, according to a Wall Street Journal report, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

The Hill reported this spring that “Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Florida) appear(s) to be the first Republican lawmaker to publicly request Pruitt’s dismissal. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) echoed his call shortly after. In a Tuesday afternoon tweet, Curbello said Pruitt’s ‘corruption scandals are an embarrassment to the administration, and his conduct is grossly disrespectful to American taxpayers.’”

Thus far, Pruitt has Trump’s support. In light of the turnover in the Trump administration, it is both mystifying and unfathomable that this is the guy that Trump stands with. Then again, ethics have never been anything that Trump has seemed to care much about — unless he was trying to impose them on President Barack Obama.