Monday, March 19, 2012

Are They Nuts? NFL Teams Flip Out for Rookie QB's.

Since when do NFL teams become playoff contenders by overpaying for rookie quarterbacks?  This question could be put to the Indianapolis Colts, who will draft Andrew Luck, and the Washington Redskins, who traded three first round draft picks and a number two in order to draft Robert Griffin III.  

 Is Andrew Luck so good that he is worth Peyton Manning and four top draft picks?

    The Colts are particularly interesting because they could have kept Peyton Manning and traded their draft pick for  the equivalent of four number one draft picks (at least two and maybe three of which would be this year) because Luck is significantly better than RG3.  So, in effect, the Colts gave up Peyton Manning plus four number ones in order to draft an unproven but unquestionably talented rookie. 
    It says here that that was dumb.  With the equivalent of four number one draft picks (two or three of which might be this year), the Colts could have built around Manning and would be Super Bowl contenders.  Also, with Manning there is a automatic attraction for free agents to come to Indianapolis.  As it is, the Colts have basically had a fire sale, getting rid of players such as Joseph Addai and Dallas Clark.  Good luck to Andrew Luck.
    Peyton Manning, on the other hand, is reportedly planning to sign with the Denver Broncos, making them the automatic favorite to win their division.  It’s very hard to imagine how Andrew Luck could be so good that it made sense to jettison Manning, not to mention the four draft picks that they could have had in exchange for the number one overall pick.  

Peyton Manning--not good enough to play for Indianapolis, with Andrew Leaf---I mean Luck---available.   Digitally altered photo by:

    The case of Robert Griffin III is equally if not even more odd.  Although none of the scouting reports can find much to not like about Luck, RG3 is not as bulletproof.  Although he has an elephant gun arm and great speed, he played in the spread offense in college rather than a pro style.  Quarterbacks who excel in the spread are not always successful in the pro offense.   In addition RG3  has below average size.  He might have been considered big in 1980, but in 2012 when quarterbacks are 6’7” and 240 like Cam Newton or Ben Roethlisberger, RG3 is definitely small for a first round pick.   I’m not saying he can’t play, but I am questioning why he is automatically so much better than any other player (except Luck) and worth all of those draft picks to get. 

RG3:   Will college stats and a fast 40 yard dash time translate to  Superstardom with the Washington Redskins?

    Cam Newton was great in his first year with Carolina, but that did not transform the franchise into a playoff team.  By the same token, the Rams had numerous injuries and other problems last year, and thus having Sam Bradford was not a guaranteed ticket to the Superbowl. 
    My team, the Browns, has been blasted for not outbidding the Redskins for RG3.  But consider what the Browns would have been had they given up all those draft picks.   After free agency, the Browns lost running back Peyton Hillis, former Pro Bowler Eric Steinbach at guard, Tony Pashos at right tackle, and meantime butterfingered Mohammed Massaquoi is a starting wide receiver.  Ben Watson is a good tight end, but after three concussions last year it’s not clear whether he can still play.  No, the Browns need a running back, a wide receiver, right tackle, left guard, right guard, and tight end.   I don’t see how getting a speedy quarterback fixes those problems.  Mind, the Browns didn't resist the temptation to fall all over themselves for RG3, they were simply outbid.  My guess is that the big winners through this process will be first and foremost the St. Louis Rams, who are going to have extra draft picks for the next three years.  Then comes the Broncos, who get a veteran qb, one of the greatest ever.  The Browns will win by default, and will be able to at least some of their MANY needs in the draft.  The big losers will be Washington, who gave up their present and future for an talented but unproven quarterback, as well as the Indianapolis Colts, who had been given two gifts from heaven, and couldn't figure out how to use them.    


Friday, March 9, 2012

Gasoline Replacement at $2 per gallon?

    What if gasoline could be replaced with something that cost under $2 per gallon-equivalent (that is, for the same amount of energy contained in a gallon of gasoline)?  There would be an energy revolution, right?
    Maybe or maybe not.
    The fact of the matter is that there is such a replacement out there, and its available in practically unlimited quantities, but most of the country doesn't care and hasn't noticed.  
    There seemed to be a shortage of natural gas just six years ago, like when I bought a house in Morgantown WV and decided not to use natural gas heat because the prices seemed likely to go over $10 per thousand cubic feet.  Now, it's under $3.  The reason is that industry has developed new technologies for drilling and recovering gas from shale formations such as the Barnett shale in Texas, the Marcellus in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York, the Utica formation in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and probably more to be found.
    Natural gas is cleaner than oil or coal, and results in less carbon dioxide when it is burned than either of those two fuels.  People are now saying that the Marcellus formation holds as much energy as the oil formations in Saudi Arabia.
    Moreover, it is very realistic to use natural gas to power automobiles.
    You can go out and buy a compressed natural gas (CNG) powered car from Honda.  A natural gas Honda Civic stickers for about $26,000, and you can buy natural gas for it at filling stations around the country (there are not a lot of natural gas filling stations, but they do exist in most metropolitain areas). Or you can buy a refueling kit from Honda that will allow you to refill in your garage.  I don't really need a car right now, because in 2009 President Obama gave my $4000 to trade in my old Chrysler minivan with 200,000 miles on it, so that I could buy a Jeep Patriot.  But when I do get around to buying a new car, I'm very likely going to get one that runs on compressed natural gas. 

 2012 Natural Gas Fueled Honda Civic.

    You  can also buy CNG fleet vehicles from General Motors, and several companies supply buses that run on natural gas (one of the best applications, because fueling stations are guaranteed to be available).  You can also legally convert many cars to CNG. More cars are certainly coming.  

    You  would think that this would cause Americans to be ecstatic about finding a new source of plentiful and abundant energy, and some are.   Others are not so sure however.  Many of my friends, for a variety of political, philosophical and environmental reasons, hope for declining fossil fuel energy use across the board, and so they are disappointed to see the American economy use natural gas to fuel its recovery. 
    There are concerns anytime you drill holes into the ground, but if you go to Texas or Oklahoma, it's very normal to see oil drilling rigs in the middle of cities and farms.  This can be coped with.   
    Another reason for the lack of enthusiasm is that Americans have been fed so much bullshit about energy, that many of us have come to enjoy the taste.  Bush tried to sell us on hydrogen fuel cell cars.  This is very interesting, because you make hydrogen by reforming natural gas and then purifying it so that it costs 10 times more than gasoline.  Then you use converted Space Shuttle fuel cells in an economy car that costs about $100,000.  What a great idea!       
      Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has tried to kill that horrible idea since he took office, but the supposedly frugal budget conservative Republicans won't give it up.  And California is still building hydrogen filling stations for all of the millions of fuel cell cars that they think will soon be built.  They plan to make hydrogen via water electrolysis, using electricity from the nuclear reactors that they built on earthquake faults.  Well they must know what they are doing, right?  Otherwise they would be wasting millions and millions of dollars of taxpayer money, and that couldn't happen, could it?

Rich people everywhere rejoice at the opportunity to spend ten times more for fuel than the average person spends. Californians are forced to support them generously with their tax dollars. 

     Then there is ethanol.  This is not totally crazy, but if America ever gets serious about replacing gasoline with ethanol, we will have to defoliate the entire country to make ethanol.  Ethanol is a poor fuel, with only about half the energy content of gasoline.  In order to make it pay, you have to have pure alcohol for about half the price of gasoline.  So in other words if gasoline costs about $4 bucks, alcohol has got to be around $2 per gallon just to break even. All I know is that they've been making whiskey for a long time, and if it was going to really be that cheap Jack Daniels would have gotten there by now.  

If politicians think they can make ethanol at $2 per gallon, they were probably drinking this stuff when they came up with that idea.  

    So much for Republican brainstorms.  The Democrats are not much better.  They are countering with The Great Light Hope, solar energy (only about five to ten times as expensive as conventional power except during daylight hours in Arizona, in which case it may only be double) and windmills (ditto--far too expensive to compete with natural gas to make electricity, never mind produce transportation fuel).   They also like biofuels, which makes for odd bedfellows since it is one of the few alternatives that Republicans and Democrats both like.  But they are both wrong. 

   These far-out costly "Green" technologies can make it for certain niches, but they never make significant market share in the energy market, and the net result is that we wind up being increasingly dependent on people that are even crazier than we are:  namely OPEC nations like Iraq, Iran, Venezuela and others.  What a great idea that is!   But that is where conventional wisdom is trying to take us.   

    At the same time there has been sharp criticism of organizations like the National Energy Technology Laboratory, which is chartered to do research on fossil fuels and other technologies that might actually work. In my view it is the finest of the Department of Energy Laboratories, despite the political efforts to have America focus its efforts on very tenuous concepts.

    The fact of the matter is that NETL developed technology for  compressed natural gas powered automobiles years ago.  CNG is cleaner than gasoline and is compatible with conventional piston engines, with comparatively minor modifications to the fueling system.  This technology exists, and Honda has brought it to the US in the form of a passenger car.  You can also buy fleet vehicles from GM, and Ford and Chrysler are said to be considering product launches as well (hurry up, guys). 

     Both the Republicans and Democrats are foolishly hoping that their aged and foolish pet projects are going to miraculously achieve a breakthrough, while RIGHT NOW YOU CAN BUY A CAR THAT RUNS ON FUEL THAT IS CHEAPER THAN GASOLINE PER MILE DRIVEN.  This time, it is not a joke, it is a real revolution that is happening under our noses.  Yet many people are trying to prevent it because it doesn't agree with their antiquated and preconceived notions about energy.   But I think this is the real deal and I'm thankful that America may actually have a chance to cut its dependence on foreign energy sources and power its own REAL economy with REAL fuel.  

 The Department of Energy says that Natural Gas cost the equivalent of $1.85 per gallon of gasoline last year.  You can get Americans to drill for you, or you can trust those nice people in Iran and Iraq to provide for your fuel needs.  Which is it going to be, America?   

Additional reading:


3.  A list of cars that can be converted to CNG is contained here: .