Monday, March 28, 2011

Germ Panic

In the late 18th Century, English physician Edward Jenner took an untested (at least in modern research terms) theory and ended up finding a way that led to the eradication of smallpox.

A big part of his hunch toward a vaccine was that milkmaids tended to not get smallpox. The theory was that cowpox, a similar, less lethal virus, did something that, in the end, made the body immune to smallpox. In fact, modern science can tell you exactly why this is the case. As an oversimplification, the body "learns" to fight smallpox by killing the similar cowpox virus.

So today, as you live your life free of smallpox, you should be happy that milkmaids of yore weren't using Purell every time they got done touching an udder.

Would you do the same? I doubt it. My lovely wife wrote a rather humorous blog post on the subject of bathroom habits and it got me thinking... We are flipping nuts. Flushing the toilet with your foot? Washing up like you just left a salmonella factory every time you leave the bathroom?

Humans evolved for tens of thousands of years due to a variety of factors, not the least of which was the fact that they got sick now and then. And got better.

I get a cold or two a year. It bites. I hate them and I go to war against them when they hit. But it's all the colds I contract and don't get that are awesome. Thank you white blood cells. You are a finely-tuned army that knocks out diseases I probably don't even want to know about days before I ever feel a symptom.

And it's true. I sit my cell phone on my desk. It rings. I pick it up... and put it near my mouth! How outrageous. Good thing I have a health insurance plan.

You don't have to look far to find plenty of pieces in peer-reviewed scholarly journals to see there is much debate over the real-world benefits of using antibacterial products around the home. I lack the time to get into finding out the specific research methods used by each of these researchers to even begin to get into the validity of findings.

But I can tell you I started my career riding the NYC subway every day - grasping onto a stainless steel pole with any number of random New Yorkers - and today I fly almost weekly. I wash my hands when they are dirty. I do not use antibacterial much of anything. And I get sick almost never. Maybe I've built up some immunity.

I'm not saying if you wash your hands every time you hit the head you're nuts. And I'm sure there's a person out there who can counter my argument here by saying they used to get sick until they started trying to eliminate any germ they come upon.

But I do think we should be able to stand back and realize that here, in an age of antibiotic resistant bacteria, avian flu panics and the rush to medicate, most of the time, we're breathing in things we'd probably rather not consider.

And we not only get through... but possibly get some benefit from it all.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fountain of Excess

I fly through Phoenix a lot. Comes with the territory of being a US Airways flyer. I always go for window seats because I am a six-year-old and love looking out the window at stuff. As much as I fly into PHX, I had never noticed something until a few weeks ago.

At first, I didn't know what I was seeing. I kept looking...





Yes. It's a flipping fountain. But, thanks to The Googles and The Internets, I know it is not just any fountain. Apparently, it is the key feature of the Fountain Hills community and was built in 1970. Our friends at Wikipedia say it blasts 7,000 gallons of water every minute through three 600 horsepower pumps and that "ideally" it shoots water 560 feet into the air.

The Washington Monument, by the way, is 555 feet and 5 1/8 inches tall.

Yes, friends, in the middle of the flipping desert, we have built a fountain that can top out higher than a major national landmark.

I barely know where to start here. I should note that it doesn't constantly run at that power. But, really, in a world where the population is going to hit 9 billion by 2050, while our water supply stays the same, perhaps we might not fire 7,000 gallons/minute of it into hot, dry air for a good chunk of it to simply evaporate.

I'm not against evaporation. It makes rain. However, I am also in favor of irrigating local food supplies. And drinking water. Oh... and not paying out the wazoo to do so.

Anyhow, I'm glad we achieved the miracle of water in the middle of the desert. I'm sure, though, that when the settlers first saw the Salt River in Phoenix, their thoughts were "oh thank the lord it's water... it's 115 degrees out here and we need a drink."

It probably wasn't "I know what let's do... fountain!"

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Numbers on Soccer

On Tuesday night, I'm attending the opening of Major League Soccer's 2011 season. In fact, I'll be at all of the Seattle Sounders FC games this season as a season ticket holder.

I have to admit, if you had told me 10 years ago I'd be an MLS season ticket holder, I probably wouldn't have believed it. But, 15 years in, MLS is starting to gain some respect as a soccer league. Players in offseason training with Barclay's Premiership teams in England come back reporting that the gap is closer than ever. And, to be honest, the way Seattle cheers its team on makes the games worth it out of the box... 36,000 rowdy, chanting, singing fans.

When I first went to a Sounders game, I was stunned by the crowd. I've attended a lot of sporting events in my life, been in some jacked up crowds... but never have I seen a crowd quite like the Sounders fans that fill Qwest Field.

It makes some sense. More Americans grew up playing soccer in the last generation than any other sport. I imagine folks my age follow the sport worldwide more than our parents did. It makes sense that the sport would grow.

Major international competitions have become sought-after programming on TV - last year's World Cup got great ratings. The final - which did not include the USA or any Spanish-speaking country - got 24.3 million viewers (15.5 on ABC, 8.8 on Univision). You may find it interesting that Game 7 (game 7!) of last year's NBA finals scored 28.2 million.

That got me thinking... the Sounders set the pace for MLS attendance for a variety of reasons. Seattle is a soccer town. But take a look at the per-game averages for some cities' MLS and NBA teams:

Los Angeles
  • MLS Galaxy 21,473, NBA Lakers 18,997
  • MLS Chivas USA, 14,574, NBA Clippers 17,423

Toronto
  • MLS Toronto FC 20,453, NBA Raptors 16,358

Philadelphia
  • MLS Union 19,252, NBA 76ers 14,315

New York/New Jersey
  • MLS Red Bull 18,441, NBA Knicks 19,717, NBA Nets 13,715

Houston
  • MLS Dynamo 17,310, NBA Rockets 16,151

Now, this isn't really apples to apples. The NBA offers fans 42 home games. MLS give home fans 17. At the same time, In Philadelphia, the NHL Flyers draw 400 more per game than does the Union, so, you can say there's something bringing fans to seats for the hockey and soccer sides that's missing on the NBA side.

And ticket prices make this an unfair comparison in many ways. One can only imagine how many people might shell out for NBA seats if they could sit down low for $500/season like you can in many MLS stadiums.

TV ratings for MLS still lag, though, who knows? If you ask me, the discerning sports fan watches Sounders FC host David Beckham, Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy Tuesday night instead of two iffy NCAA college basketball "play-in" games. ESPN is certainly hoping so.

More than anything, though, the attendance figures - which will likely only be bolstered by big crowds in expansion Portland and Vancouver, plus a likely bump in Kansas City with a new soccer-only stadium opening in June - show that if we base our "major sport" lexicon based on fans-in-seats, pro soccer has arrived in the USA. It's up to MLS to sustain and grow the interest.

But if you are one of those who says "no one in America cares about soccer," the numbers say you're not just using hyperbole.

You're flat out wrong.