Archive for January, 2010

Scott Brown and the GOP’s Forward Pass

January 30, 2010

Time, February 1, 2010: Karen Tumulty reported from Boston on “Scott Brown’s surprise Senate win in the Bay State (Massachusetts).”

Brown, a likeable candidate for the Senate seat, worked hard in the campaign in contrast to his Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley.   He also campaigned “on a promise to be the 41st senator who would give the Republicans the power to block… the health care bill…”

As the gap in the polls began to close, “the National Republican Senatorial Committee quietly dispatched staffers to Massachusetts and shifted $500,000 to the state party…  ‘It was a long shot,’ says a strategist, but there was a very real opportunity for a forward pass.’  That pass connected and Scott Brown has given his party a brand-new playbook.”

I wonder if the staffer, in this case. played football or is a fan of American football. There are three sports idioms in the last two sentences above: “a long shot” connotes difficulty; “a forward pass is usually a football term used when the quarterback throws the football towards the goal line;  “a brand-new playbook” is a sports term for new strategies.


Chief Justice Sonia Sotomayor and “Bodysurfing”

January 26, 2010

The New Yorker, January 11, 2010, “Number Nine; Sonia Sotomayor’s high-profile debut”, by Lauren Collins

Apparently, Justice Sotomayor likes to ask a lot of questions in the course of arguments before the bench.

The National Law Journal …”calculated in November, that Sotomayor, who asked a hundred and forty-six questions in the course of thirteen arguments…had asked more questions than Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr., and Justice Alito at comparable periods in their first terms.  If the first year of the job, as Justice Souter…once asserted, is like ‘walking into a tidal wave,’ Sotomayor is bodysurfing.”

Nerdy Football and Toxic Mortgage Bundles

January 17, 2010

The New Yorker, January 18, 2010, p. 27, Malcolm Gladwell, “The Sure Thing:  How entrepreneurs really succeed.”

Mr. Gladwell’s article highlights entrepreneurs such as Ted Turner and his television stations as well as a  wall street businessman, John Paulson.  His thesis is that entrepreneurs are, yes, predators, but carefully assess their markets and are not the risk takers people assume them to be.

Mr. Paulson, a hedge-fund manager, was a (according to Gregory Zuckerman, ‘The Greatest Trade Ever”)  a “solid investor, careful and decidedly unspectacular”…

“By 2004-05, Paulson was suspicious of the real-estate boom.   He decided to short the mortgage market, using a financial tool known as the credit-default swap, or CDS.  …At one point, incredibly, Paulson got together with some investment banks to assemble bundles of the most absurdly toxic mortgages–which the banks then sold to some hapless investors and Paulson then promptly bet against.  As Zuckerman points out, this is the equivalent of a game of football in which the defense calls the plays for the offense.  It’s how a nerd would play football, not a jock.”

To assess the risk, Paulson asked associate, Paolo Pellegrini, in 2006 to track millions of mortgages to see if there was a “bubble” in the housing market.   In the years from 2000 for the next five years, housing prices had risen 7 % a year, “to the point where they would have to fall by 40% to to be back i line with historical trends.”  Further, they found that if “home prices fell 5%, it would lead to losses as high as 17%.  Paulson and associates did more research on the cost of insurance–to insure a million dollars of mortgages;  it would cost him only $10,000.

His bet paid off.  In one year, 2008, his firm made five billion dollars.  In this case the nerdy call worked.  However, only in home games of football where the father calls the plays for his children playing offense, would a “quarterback” or the coach for the defense tell the other side what to do. And perhaps not even then.

“Quarterback” and the game of American football: see prior blogs and

An End Run in Harvard Stem-cell Research

January 7, 2010

Harvard Magazine, February-January 2010:  Jonathan Shaw, Managing Editor of Harvard Magazine is the author of “Tools and Tests, The Evolution of Stem-Cell Research”.

In this article, Mr. Shaw highlights what Harvard researchers are doing at the forefront of this research.  Among the researchers is Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences, Douglas Melton.  One way Melton has “dealt with the problem (“of directing the process of differentiation in ES (embryonic) cells or iPS  (pluripotent cells”)  is to do and end run around the whole process.”

“Instead of resetting a cell to a pluripotent  (in which a cell could become any cell in the body) state and then trying to contol the ensuing cascade of cellular divisions to create a particular type of cell, he attempted to change one adult cell into another–in a living animal.  In 2008, using three transcription factors (a class of genes known to regulate cell fate during early development), he and postdoctoral fellow Quiao “Joe” Xhou succeded in trasforming a common type of pancreatic cell in mice into insulin-producing beta cells.  This was a stunning achivement in what is now called direct reprogramming, the process of determining which genes are turned on and off in the cell…”   p. 28

In the game of American football an end run occurs when an offensive man goes around the end of the opponent’s defensive line.  In business this could occur when an employee “goes around” his or her immediate supervisor to a higher authority.  In this case a brilliant end run by a Harvard researcher shortens a biological process.

For a short description of the game of American football and more literal sports terms and their metaphorical meanings go to

A Team of Soldiers: Horse Soldiers in Afghanistan

January 5, 2010

Doug Stanton, the author of “Horse Soldiers’, the story of a band of U.S. soldiers who “rode to victory in Afghanistan”  needed to find a source for his book.   He was looking for Mark House, a soldier who might be willing to meet with him.

Stanton said to one of a group of soldiers, “I’m working on a book.”

“Blank stare.  Then I threw a Hail Mary.  I told him I wanted to know what it was like to wake in the predawn hours on a tree-lined street in the middle of America and leave for war… Children’s toys fill the cracked driveways of the neighbors’ houses up and down the street… A man steps outside, walks to his car, and turns for a last look.  He may not see this place again. This was the face I waned to see, I said to the soldier–the face of that man, in those private hours.

He held out his hand.  ‘I’m Mark House,’ he said.

He smiled.  ‘You found him.”

A last effort, a Hail Mary, (see previous blogs) got Doug Stanton his interview.

Horse Soldiers in Afghanistan: A Team

January 5, 2010

October 2001:

A group of special forces are flying into Afghanistan for their assignment.  Nelson was the group leader, the captain of the team, the twelve guys comprising the “entire American fighting force striking back at Osama gin Laden.”

“Nelson was going to have to hit one out of the ball park as the team’s leader.”

This is an idiomatic use of a magnificent home run in baseball, one hit so far it goes out of the ball park, an almost impossible feat.  Nelson was going to have to win the game with one amazing swing of the bat.  He was only going to have one chance!

Punting Estate Tax Legislation

January 5, 2010

Wall Street Journal, January 2, 2010

In an article on a possible estate tax repeal, Martin Vaughn of the Journal stated: “…estate planners anticipated congressional Democrats would prevent the 2010 repeal (of the current estate tax) from taking place.

Instead, amid disagreement over the proper level for the tax and preoccupied with health-care legislation, lawmakers punted, and the tax disappeared.”

Football players punt (kick) the ball downfield away from their goal line on 4th down (last down before the ball would automatically go over to the opposing team with no change in yardage).

The federal legislators, in this case, decided, in essence, not to do anything but “kick” the issue into the next congressional session.