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Wednesday, January 9, 2008
TMQ Nation fires back

By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2

I noted that most high school boys carry their books and binders low, on the hip, while most high school girls carry their books and binders high, against the bosom. Why? Lyle Beidler of Denver, Pa., proposed, "I think the answer is simple: high-school guys, being of high testosterone levels, walk around all day staring at girls' chests. The 'up' textbook carry is a subconscious defense mechanism against the feeling of being stared at. High-school guys, on the other hand, being of high testosterone levels, want to be stared at."

But no female readers supported this theory. Emily Brungo of Pittsburgh wrote, "For me it was physically impossible to carry big text books by my side. My hands are too tiny to hold a big clunky book like that." Nikki LeBrasseur of New York City supposed, "Like boys, girls probably would hold their books down by their hips -- if their hands were big enough to do so. As a lady, I certainly need two hands to keep a good grip on a set of textbooks and notebooks. If a girl is holding just a light notebook or two, she's more likely to hold it like a guy." Jennifer Holmwall of Phoenix wrote, "Depending on how many books/folders you're trying to carry, holding them in the down position can be quite difficult. I've done it on occasion, but my fingers get tired really fast. On the other hand, if you hold your books up, you can support the books' weight with your whole arms. So my theory is that girls carry books high for comfort, and while guys could carry their books the same way, they won't because it's girly."

On size, Ben Beattie was more specific: "Placing weight in the hand of a slender person will cause the center of mass of that person to shift, also creating torque by way of a lever arm, in this case an actual arm. In the case where the arm is at the side and there is not as much upper body strength, that torque is felt in the neck and spine. By holding books to their chest, girls are keeping the weight closer to their center of mass as well as keeping the weight dispersed, reducing neck stress. Boys have the advantage of both weighing more (generally) and being more muscular. The former results in a smaller shift in the center of mass as the book represents a smaller percentage of the total mass of person + book. The result of the latter is that the stronger muscles in the neck and back of the male could more easily handle the torque caused by the books' weight."

Matt Fernandez of Mount Laurel, N.J., endorsed evolutionary psychology: "My belief is that it's inherited, gender specific behavior. By inherited I mean the history of the species. Men, traditionally being the hunter/gatherers, would carry their weapon of choice -- club, spear -- down low on the hip, relaxing their arm, until such time as they need to use the weapon to strike their prey. The men would want their arm at ease during the stalking and moving phases of hunting, keeping it from getting tired or wearing out prior to needing it for the strike. Women, traditionally being the mother/nurturer, would carry their child up near their chest as they move. To them it would be most critical to keep the child safe and in the loving/nurturing position near the breast."

The last word goes to Evan Birnholz of Highland Park, Ill., who wrote, "That high-school girls tend to carry their books across their chests and that boys tend to carry their books at their sides -- was actually the subject of a study in Science Magazine way back in 1976." Let's hope this study was not federally funded! He continues: "One of the reasons for this difference, according to the paper, is that girls typically have wider hips and larger hip-to-shoulder width ratios than do boys. In order to hold books and binders at their sides, girls would be forced to hold them at an angle, rather than let their arm hang vertically and more comfortably as boys would be able to do. Another reason for the difference is sociological. When girls and boys enter middle school and high school, peer group conformity and gender norms play huge roles in their development. Young girls see older females carrying their books across their chest, and they copy that behavior because it is a traditionally accepted norm. Young boys do the same by copying the behavior of older males. Adolescent girls and boys face enormous pressure to fit in with their peers. The difference in book-carrying behavior is just another example of the pressure for young girls and boys to conform to common sexual standards." Here is the scientific study, "Carrying Behavior in Humans: Analysis of Sex Differences," which concludes, "In kindergarten and the first grade, both sexes carry like mature males. Sex-typical carrying appears before adolescence. Behavioral differences seem to be primarily a consequence of morphological differences and social modeling."

I said the NFL's injury list is useful mainly to gamblers. Alex Resch of Wilmington, Del., counters, "You are forgetting another large, growing contingent that relies on injury lists -- fantasy football fans! I believe the elimination of the injury list would be crippling for fantasy football as a game and a cottage industry. Just ask some of the fantasy football experts at ESPN how much more difficult their lives would be if they didn't have any idea about the status of injured players. Right now, with how popular fantasy football is, the NFL would be alienating a large fan base by getting rid of the injury list, and the gambling is always going to be there, regardless."

I rolled the drums for the NFL playoffs to be a seeded tournament, so the teams with the best records advance and the two best teams could meet in the Super Bowl, even if from the same conference. Brian Wilhorn of Vesper, Wis., adds, "Another benefit of the seeded tournament is eliminating many meaningless late-season games. Tampa was 9-7, but went 1-3 down the stretch. Why? Partly because of locking up their division and playoff position and resting starters, then playing boring, meaningless games. If there were a seeded tournament, in the final week of the regular season, Dallas, Indianapolis and Green Bay all would have needed to win as part of the fight for the second and third seeds. A final weekend with the Colts, Packers, and Cowboys playing all-out for playoff position would have been more appealing than the Jim Sorgi, Craig Nall and Brad Johnson show we had to watch."

I complained of dozens of cars sitting in line at a state emissions testing station, engines running for an hour or more, causing emissions! Mike Pines of Baltimore points out that the Maryland emissions testing Web site actually recommends wasting gasoline: "When you pull into the lane for the test, put the vehicle in 'park' and keep the engine running." Modern emissions control hardware doesn't work until the engine is warm, so if you lived, say, two blocks from the testing station, you might need to keep the engine running to insure operating temperature during the test. But 99.999999 percent of cars driving to an emission testing station will reach full engine operating temperature. That the state emissions testing agency tells drivers to leave the engines running for an hour shows a government bureaucracy that doesn't care about reducing emissions, it only cares about collecting fees for the tests.

TMQ pointed out that sometimes lower-cost items at fast-food restaurants are more nutritious, while containing fewer calories, than higher-cost menu options. Jeffrey Larson of Denver adds this: "As a Ph.D. student in mathematics, I attempted to find the most nutritionally efficient way to eat at fast food restaurants. The goal was to purchase a day's worth of recommended nutrition (2,000 calories, 25 grams of fiber, 50 grams of protein) while keeping fat, sodium and cholesterol under FDA recommended amounts (which are 65 grams, 2,400 milligrams and 300 milligrams, respectively). For $12.27 at McDonalds, two regular burgers, two fruit and yogurt parfaits, one large fries, five apple slices with caramel dip, and one side salad without dressing provides an entire day's worth of nutrition without violating FDA guidelines. At Wendy's, $7.64 will purchase one Jr. Cheeseburger, one large fries, one bag of bag baked Lays, one plain baked potato, one sour cream and chives baked potato, and one small Frosty. This is the cheapest fast-food meal that provides all the nutritional requirements for an adult, though clearly, a daily multi-vitamin would be required."

I said football-factory coaches were overpaid, compared to their marginal impact on game outcomes. Jeff Wilcox of Asheville, N.C., countered, "One point overlooked in your SuperCoach piece is the college coach's value in recruiting. On the field, in practice and at games, the best coaches may be only 10 percent better than the worst. However, in college much of the real action occurs in recruiting. A SuperCoach in college is the one who can make the tough sell to 16- and 17-year-old kids and their parents. Barry Alvarez built the program at the University of Wisconsin (I'm a proud alum!) from the ground up because he was able to bring in talented players. Most Gator fans will tell you that Ron Zook cannot distinguish between X's and O's, but he sure brought in talented players to a downtrodden program at Illinois. The fact that Rich Rodriguez continued recruiting Terrelle Pryor (urging him to switch from West Virginia to Michigan) may be slimy, but that is EXACTLY why Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez. Michigan doesn't need Rich Rodriguez to beat Ohio State; at the game itself, he'll mostly watch. Michigan needs Rodriguez to get Terrelle Pryor. Ironically, most of the coaches who hop from job to job, selling themselves as SuperCoaches, turn out to be rather disappointing recruiters. This is because their main job is to sell themselves and their programs to 16- and 17-year-old kids and their parents. Would you trust anything Nick Saban or Bobby Petrino said to you and your 17-year-old son now? Would you believe they would look out for your son's best interests? Would you believe they will even be around when your son is a senior? This is why stability can be an effective recruiting tool (in college basketball, look at Coach K at Duke, Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, Jim Calhoun at UConn, etc.). Finally, the main reason college coaches often fail in the pros is because their SuperCoach abilities -- recruiting skill -- are no longer beneficial at the professional level."

I said the Giants' gray pants "make them look so slow that they couldn't outrun the Staten Island Ferry." Alex Zarganis of Warsaw, Poland, writes, "According to the Staten Island Ferry's official Web site, the cruising speed of the fleet is 18 mph, which translates to a 4.5 second 40. So in an any color pants, the majority of Giants players wouldn't be able to outrun the ferry, particularly over any considerable distance."

TMQ lamented that there seems to be no sports team actually called the Fighting Quakers. Bernie Oakley of Chapel Hill, N.C., writes, "When my son graduated from Guildford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, the sports teams there were still the Fighting Quakers. Now they are just the Quakers or to their close friends, The Quake. Growing up I lived close to Elon University in Elon, North Carolina, and at that time were the Fighting Christians. When Elon decided to move up to Division I in some sports, they thought they needed a new sports name. They are now the Phoenix. I'm not sure what the plural of phoenix is, but Elon has not tried to come up with one. It's just another of those weird team names that have no plural form." If only Friends University of Wichita, Kan., would call its sports teams the Fighting Friends!

Before last week's blowout bowls, I said the BCS system was not so bad. Glenn Roemer of Richardson, Texas, adds this analysis: "After reading your column, I think I finally understand why there are no undefeated football factory teams in Division I this year, and it is because of the BCS. Almost each week this fall, either the number 1 or 2 ranked team fell in defeat to some lowly unranked team, and none of the regular sports reporters out there have been able to properly explain why we have not had the usual 11-0 undefeated football factory team that wins its games by large margins, and cruises to the final game. I do not think this because these traditional football factory colleges have dropped in their level of play, I think it is because the competition has gotten better. Look at the Ohio State-Illinois game, Illinois had plenty of talent on the field. One reason Illinois has become a much better team, is because they have received over 10 years of big checks from the BCS, even though they themselves did not go to any bowl games during this time. The spreading out of the BCS money to all of the teams in the conferences has greatly improved the traditionally unranked teams, to the point where they can compete and even beat the football factory schools. The improvements in the lesser teams is why there were so many upsets."

Finally Rich Fetcho of Coplay, Pa., writes, "I was shopping for a last minute Christmas card at my local CVS in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, when I noticed a display of Easter candy in one of the aisles. This was on December 21st!"

In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse" and other books. He also is a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly.