On The Other Side Of The River

When Kish and I lived in D.C., I don’t think we ever made it to the Maryland side of the Potomac River. We we went to the Virginia side all the time, in Alexandria, and Arlington, and at Mount Vernon. But the Maryland side seemed like No Man’s Land.

Now I’ve finally made it, for work-related meetings. The meetings are in one of those massive, sprawling convention centers that is like a city within a city. It’s got a nice waterfront path, a big Ferris Wheel, a water taxi, and a fine view of a bridge leading to the Virginia side. And, it’s right on the landing path for Reagan National Airport, with planes descending about every two minutes.

So, this is the other side of the river, eh? Who knows? Maybe if I look hard enough I’ll find the silver dollar George Washington supposedly threw across the Potomac.

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Putting Our Destructive Appetites To Productive Use

The State of Maryland really doesn’t like the frightful northern snakehead.  Its name, while grimly evocative, doesn’t quite do the creature justice.  It’s an ugly, slimy fish that can reach weights of 15 pounds or more, it looks like a torpedo with a mouthful of sharp, needle-like teeth, and it can even survive out of water for several days and wriggle along on land.  And, it’s an invasive species to boot.

snakehead-fishThe northern snakehead is native to Asia and simply doesn’t belong in Maryland, but when one thoughtless pet owner dumped some of the fish into Maryland waters, the state took action.  (Anybody who would want these horrors for pets probably shouldn’t be permitted to own them, when you think about it.)  When the state found the fish in a pond, it poisoned the pond, and when it found the fish in a lake, it drained the lake.  But the northern snakehead apparently is as wily and hardy as it is repulsive, because the fish kept turning up — and then it was finally found in the Potomac River, where the poisoning and draining approaches obviously wouldn’t work.  In the meantime, people started catching the northern snakehead, or seeing it in the river, and were close to freaking out for fear that it might eat their pets or be some kind of poisonous mutant.

So Maryland decided to take another tack — now, it is encouraging people to hunt for the northern snakehead and eat it.  Maryland sponsors snakehead fishing tournaments and offers licenses to hunt the fish with bow and arrow, and Maryland restaurants have started serving the fish to customers, too.  The fish apparently has a firm, white, mild flesh, but to get to it you have to first scrape off a thick layer of slime — which doesn’t exactly make the fish seem appetizing, does it?  Still, its meat apparently stands up well to seasoning, and it is perfectly edible for most people . . . if they don’t know about the monstrosity from which the meat came.  Some people, on the other hand, actually like the idea of striking back and eating the flesh of the scary invasive species that shouldn’t be in the Potomac River in the first place.

Maryland has gone from no commercial fishing of the northern snakehead to harvesting thousands of the pounds of the fish for restaurants.  It’s still got a long way to go before it can eat its way out of the northern snakehead infestation, but it’s made a good start.  We all know about how the destructive activities and appetites of human beings have put some creatures onto the endangered species list, and worse.  Maybe this time we can finally put those destructive tendencies to good use.  Who knows:  if we can eat our way to the demise of the northern snakehead, perhaps we can take the same creative and filling approach to the dreaded Asian carp, zebra mussels, and sea lampreys that are invasive species in the Great Lakes?

Newcomer Ass-Kicking

Hey, Maryland!  Welcome to the Big Ten!  We think you suck!

Look, I’ve got nothing against Maryland.  Their mascot is a turtle, for God’s sake.  Who could hate a turtle?  Or, a terrapin if you want to make it a high-class turtle.  It makes no difference — I still want to kick their shell-protected keister.

This is the Big Ten.  Sure, our national reputation blows . . . but we’ve still got some pride.  We can’t let some newbie to the Old Conference come in and beat a traditional conference power.  So, I’m glad the Buckeyes toasted the Terrapins, 52-24, and I wish they hadn’t taken their foot off the gas at the end of the game.  I say, score 60 on these guys, and let them know they’re in a real conference now.  Kick their butts until they beg for mercy!

As for OSU, I think they’re still a work in progress.  They’ve got speed and talent on O, but their D is a question mark.  Michigan State will be the big test, and I’m interested to see how these young guys respond.  Can the offensive line block the Michigan State D?  Will J.T. Barrett continue to impress?  Can the D finally avoid giving up a big play?

This is why college football is great.

The New Big Ten

Today I was invited to Ohio State’s homecoming game.  What traditional Big Ten team is the opponent this year?  That’s right — Rutgers.  Wait, what?

Oh, yeah.  Ugh.  This is the year the Big Ten adds the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Maryland Terrapins to the conference.  I don’t know whether Ohio State will be any good this year — I’ll write something about that later this week — but I know that Rutgers and Maryland aren’t likely to increase the Buckeyes’ strength of schedule any.  Last year the Scarlet Knights were 6-7 in whatever conference they were in (was it the Big East?) and the Terrapins were a hardy 7-6 in the ACC.  Will they be any better this year?  Heck if I know, but I do know that a homecoming game against Rutgers doesn’t exactly get the blood pumping.

I get what the Big Ten is doing.  College sports these days is all about money, and money flows from TV revenue.  The Big Ten wants the Big Ten Network to be carried on the cable packages in the big media markets on the East Coast, and it also hopes to increase sales of jerseys, hats, and other paraphernalia.  Does that mean lots of New Yorkers and inside-the-Beltway types will decide to watch Big Ten football this year and wear Big Ten gear?  I doubt it — unless they’re alums and were going to be watching the games, anyway.  I’m not sure that New Yorkers pay any attention whatsoever to college football, and the main sport in D.C. is politics.  But there’s probably enough Big Ten alums in the two markets to make cable companies include the Big Ten Network, and that’s what matters.

I think adding Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten is lame, and when I see the devious looking Maryland Terrapin sporting the Big Ten logo, as in the illustration accompanying this post, I cringe.  They may make a lot of money through this expansion, but they’ve really undercut the tradition in a conference that had a tradition second to none.  No amount of money is worth that.

 

Adding Up The Obamacare Tab

When the Affordable Care Act was passed, its drafters contemplated that states would design their own health care exchanges, with the federal healthcare.gov website serving as a kind of backstop.  That turned out to be a miscalculation.  More than 60 percent of the states — 36 out of 50 — elected not to create their own health care exchanges.

At the time, some critics argued that the decisions of states with Republican governors to refrain from building their own websites was politically motivated.  In retrospect, however, the decisions to eschew developing state-specific health care exchanges seem more like a wise recognition of the limitations of state capabilities, because the experiences of states that did attempt their own websites have been decidedly mixed.

Six of the 14 states that chose to create their own exchanges — Masschusetts, Oregon, Nevada, Maryland, Minnesota, and Hawaii — have had severe functionality problems and have become tremendous cash drains and political albatrosses.  In Massachusetts, Oregon, Nevada, and Maryland alone, the federal government has paid at least $474 million to support the establishment of non-functional exchanges, and that cost total seems certain to increase significantly.  In those states, Democratic politicians are blaming the website contractors and threatening litigation, and Republicans are saying that the states never should have attempted to build the exchanges in the first place.

Obamacare has become such a political football that every fact and development gets spun to death — but if we can’t learn from the current reality, and recognize that mistakes were made in the legislation and its conception, then we are just compounding our problems.  In all, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that about $5 billion in federal funds that have been shelled out to states to allow them to assess whether to create state-specific exchanges and then, in some cases, to support their creation.  That’s an enormous sum of money, and it is becoming clear that a significant part of it has been wasted.  Whatever happens with Obamacare, let’s at least hope that in the future we refrain from enacting statutes that require states to develop large-scale, complicated technological systems, on their own, with the federal government picking up the tab.  As the mounting Obamacare costs demonstrate, that approach is fraught with peril.

The Challenge

Every year, the college basketball season officially begins — in my book, at least — when the Big Ten and the Atlantic Coast Conference face off in the Big Ten-ACC challenge.  Early on, the ACC dominated; more recently, the Big Ten has controlled.  Either way, it’s been entertaining basketball — and also a living testament to how college basketball is different from college football.

In college football, any loss could, potentially, disqualify you from contention from a national championship.  (Just ask Alabama.)   In college basketball, on the other hand, no one goes undefeated.  In college basketball, in fact, you want your team to play the tough teams early on.  Let them get a taste of tough competition at the outset, so that they will understand the need to play hard when the later stages of the NCAA Tournament roll around and your team has to realize the need to play hard, or go home.

And that’s why the Big Ten-ACC Challenge is so great.  It’s a guaranteed, evenly matched, power conference game on the schedule, and a chance to assess how your boys fare against a quality opponent.  This year, the Ohio State Buckeyes trounced Maryland as Sam Thompson displayed his high-flying act, LaQuinton Ross displayed his silky three-point stroke, and Aaron Craft . . . well, Aaron Craft did what Aaron Craft always does.  Does it mean Ohio State will win it all?  No, or course not — but it gives us a bit of a measuring stick, and some bragging rights, too.  After all, Maryland will be joining the Big Ten next year.

I love the Big Ten-ACC Challenge!

Big Ten, Big Money, Big Changes

This week the Big Ten announced that, beginning in 2014, Rutgers and Maryland will join the conference.  That will bring the number of schools to 14 — and many people think the Big Ten is likely to add two more teams to end up at an even 16, with two eight-team divisions.  The pundits are talking about North Carolina, Kansas, Georgia Tech, and other schools as potential candidates.

One of the traditional Ohio State fight songs — Across the Field — ends with the line “so let’s win that old conference now.”   Thanks to Commissioner Jim Delany, it’s not the old conference anymore.  With the addition of Nebraska, and now Rutgers and Maryland, what used to be a northern, Midwestern conference now stretches from Nebraska to the Atlantic Ocean and from northern Minnesota to below the Mason-Dixon line.  Everyone knows, too, that the expansion is all about money.  The Big Ten wants access to the New York City and Washington, D.C. TV and fan base markets and believes that adding Rutgers and Maryland will provide that access.  Rutgers and Maryland are joining because they will get far more money from the Big Ten than they would from the Big East and the Atlantic Coast Conference, respectively.

What does it mean for Big Ten fans?  Sure, it means Big Ten teams will play schools who aren’t traditional powerhouses or traditional rivals — but Ohio State already does that, with its preseason schedule and with perennial Big Ten doormats like Indiana.  Rutgers and Maryland may not be top 20 football programs, but neither are most of the teams the Buckeyes play in their “pre-season” schedule.  If the addition of more teams means that the Big Ten schedule gets extended  and Ohio State loses a few games against the likes of San Diego State, I’m not going to cry about it.  The only problem I would have is if expansion causes Ohio State to not play Michigan every year, or puts the Buckeyes in a division featuring a bunch of new eastern teams.

What does this mean for college football?  I wonder how, with everyone chasing the almighty dollar, NCAA members can continue the pretense that college athletics is just about sacred concepts of amateur competition.  College football and, to a lesser extent, college basketball generate huge amounts of money — amounts so huge, in fact, that universities will abandon conferences they’ve belonged to for decades to get a bigger piece of the pie.  College football is saturated with TV money, product tie-ins, merchandising deals, sponsors, and other revenue generators.

So how can the NCAA justify suspending student-athletes who (in the recent case involving Ohio State) sell memorabilia for a few thousand dollars or a few free tattoos?  At some point, will someone choke on the hypocrisy?