Mobile Quarterbacks vs. Pocket Passers

While watching NFL games this weekend, I kept hearing the same claim over and over — young, extremely mobile quarterbacks who are as comfortable running as throwing are going to dominate the NFL. Personally I’m a bit skeptical.

First, note that the best quarterback in the league at the moment, and maybe one of the best quarterbacks ever, Kurt Warner, has barely attempted a serious rush. His stats for rushing are 9 attempts, for a grand total of 14 yards.

Okay, fine but aren’t Duante Culpepper and Donovan McNabb proving a running quarterback can create nightmares for a defense, and isn’t Michael Vick, who just ran for 215 yards the other day, going to light the NFL up after going number one in the draft.

Sure, just like Kordell Stewart lights up defenses with is running/passing combination. What? Don’t tell me Stewart has more interceptions than touchdowns and abysmal 56.4 passer rating. What happened.

First, defenses adapted, and second, the concentration on the running game distracts from the passing game. Notice how Randall Cunningham made a lot of thrilling plays while he was in Philadelphia, but never got his team close to being a serious contender until he became largely an immobile pocket passer with the Minnesota Vikings and now the Dallas Cowboys.

The main thing that makes me skeptical, however, is what happens once Culpepper, McKnown and Vick start getting taking a lot of hits from NFL-sized defensemen. Look at all of the problems another mobile quarterback, Steve McNair has had staying healthy (and he tends to be inconsistent even when he is healthy, though not to Stewart’s extremes).

Donovan McNabb’s performance against the Falcons last night was very impressive, as was Culpepper’s domination of the Detroit Lions, but I want to see how these quarterbacks stand up to taking the punishing hits that are headed their way before declaring the era of the pocket passer to be over.

Parents Want Kids Better Informed in Sex Education Classes

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey of parents attitudes on sex education reflects a less dramatic example of what I referred to the other day as the almost society-wide abandonment of parents moral/ethical obligations toward children. The Kaiser foundation surveyed 4,000 parents and found that, “Most parents want the nation’s junior and senior high schools to teach their children more about sex…” (Unfortunately the CNN story only gives vague claims like that rather than concrete numbers).

It is mind boggling to me that so many parents want to relegate such an important physical, social and moral issue to a third party. Personally I’d rather not have the state meddling in such affairs.

The irony with sex education is that for the most part opposition to sex education in the past came from conservative Christians and others concerned that schools’ sex education courses promoted promiscuity. Now, however, most sex education programs include a strong dose of abstinence education. I’d really prefer my daughter not be exposed to either.

The other annoying new fad is so-called “character education.” Two candidates fighting over a Michigan Senate seat, incumbent Republican Spence Abraham and Democrat Debby Stabenow, have been running ads on the local television stations attacking each other over the issue. The weird thing is the politics are the reverse of what you might expect — Stabenow is a big supporter of character education and has been mercilessly going after Abraham for voting against funding for such measures in the past.

Do parents really want the state giving their children moral instruction?

My daughter is almost 4 years old and at the moment she is pretty much a bundle of joy. She has her temper tantrums and other moments, but for the most part we spend our time singing and dancing, reading and playing, generally discovering fascinating new things about the world. But she’s going to grow up and at some point her mother and I are going to have to provide her with the tools to understand and think critically about the many important decisions she will have to make as an adult about things like sex and the sort of morally ambiguous issues most of us face every day.

I’d hate to think we’ll shirk that duty and tell her to talk to her school teachers when she starts asking serious questions and begins facing adult situations.

ArsTechnica on Apple’s Problems

After Apple’s stock tanked on a warning to investors that profits were down, ArsTechnica’s Hannibal surveyed various media explanations, summing up my view of the Cube a bit bluntly,

My favorite had to be the reports of cracks in the G4 cube, and how that might’ve slowed sales. I dunno about cracks in the plastic, but my suspicions about the the sales problems surrounding the cube are that they’re crack-related alright–as in, what kind of crack was Apple smoking when they priced that thing the way they did and then expected people to buy it in droves?

The real problem hurting sales seems to be the same long-term problem Apple has faced over the past 10 years or so, though — it’s only selling new computers to people who already own Macintosh hardware. Unless it can make significant entry into the market among PC owners or non-computer owners, the company is going to have a very troubled future.

One of the problems I see Apple having is that it doesn’t seem to be able to satisfy consumers and power users at a reasonable price. How do they think they can tout their audio/video capabilities, for example, and then not ship a Mac with a CD-RW, which has become pretty much standard an all but the lowest end Wintel machines?

More Immortality News

New research on Swedish mortality data strongly suggests that the maximum age at which people die has been steadily increasing since the middle of the 19th century. In the earliest period with reliable data, the oldest maximum age at death was around 100. Last year in Sweden that was at 108, and is still growing.

University of California at Berkeley’s John Wilmouth told the Associated Press, “I don’t expect modern medical breakthroughs that will allow people to live to 200 or something.”

I think he’s wrong on that and it should be noted that researchers throughout the 20th century made predictions about where maximum life expectancy would finally stop increasing, most of whom saw their estimates surpassed in their own life time. Going from 108 to 200 in maximum life span would be quite a leap, but we have seen life expectancy come close to doubling in many parts of the world in less than a century thanks to medical advances. It is not inconceivable that in the next 20 to 30 years medical advances might permit maximum life spans of 200 or more.

Nature on Aging

Speaking of aging, Nature has an article on the topic at its web site, The times of our lives, which looks at current theories about aging.

A good article, for the most part, until the last couple paragraphs which detail why we might not get to immortality as quickly as we’d like — politics.

Most human beings are not so blessed. According to figures from the World Health Organization, people born today in Sierra Leone will be lucky to reach their 40th birthday. Life expectancy in Africa and countries such as Russia are declining for a variety of reasons, ranging from AIDS to economic hardship. The leading cause of death among young black men in the United States is gunshot wounds.

One might argue that before we seek to find ways to increase the maximum possible human life span from Jeanne Calment’s current record of 122 years, we should ensure that more people get the chance to enjoy even that allotted span.

I’m not quite sure how stopping basic research into aging would keep black men in urban areas from killing each other in such large numbers nor how biologists, or anybody for that matter, will be able to stop the real scourge that plagues Africa: non-responsive, corrupt regimes (how can South Africa stop its AIDS problem when its president recently denied outright that HIV causes AIDS).

Fortunately there is a huge profit to be made from any breakthrough that might extend longevity, so I’m confident research will continue.

Bush’s “Subliminable” Press Conferences

This Salon.Com article whines that ever since the press conference where George W. Bush’s mispronunciation of “subliminal” was widely reported, the presidential candidated seems to be avoiding the press. It’s a shame Salon doesn’t spend more time looking at just how unbalanced coverage of such gaffes is.

Last month while giving a speech on women’s health, for example, Al Gore drew a blank when trying to name the procedure used to screen women for breast cancer. He had to ask the audience to help him remember and somebody yelled out the correct answer — “mammogram.” Although there were plenty of members of the press with Gore that gaffe was reported in only a few places, usually by media critics pointing out the obvious: if Bush makes that gaffe it runs on the national news and Gore probably puts it in a commercial pointing out how out of touch Bush is with women’s health needs.

It’s this sort of unbalanced and unfair coverage that makes me laugh when I see people being concerned with how the line between editorial independence and commercial efforts is being blurred, especially thanks to the Internet. That might be a concern except for the fact that the news, especially television news, is already a heavily scripted entertainment package that rarely even comes close to trying to increase people’s understanding of complex issues.

In fact when I watch the news on the three major networks the closest analogue I can think of is to those wonderfully packaged but highly grotuesque wrestling shows. Just like the WWF, network news reduces stories down to heroes and heels, with revolving story lines that are largely made up beforehand — so a gaffe by Bush leads because the media angle is that Bush is stupid, while a Gore gaffe won’t cut it because Gore’s character is the over-intelligent policy wonk.

As far as I’m concerned network news is largely an entertainment program and should be labeled as such.