Sunday, August 30, 2020

RIP Gerald Hines

I would venture to say that no single person has impacted Houston's skyline more than Gerald D. Hines. The legendary developer passed away last weekend at the age of 95:
Hines, who launched his property company as a one-man shop in Houston in 1957, developed billions of dollars’ worth of real estate across the globe, influencing generations of builders and leaving a lasting mark on the world’s top cities. 
The founder and chairman of the Hines firm was one of the first developers to hire sought-after architects, proving that tenants would flock to top-quality buildings, even in a down market. He raised the bar for commercial real estate by showing that quality and financial success could be mutually attainable. 
“Gerald Hines was one of the great patrons of American architecture of the 20th century,” said architectural historian Stephen Fox, putting him in a category with John and Dominique de Menil, Ima Hogg and her brother William, and Edgar Odell Lovett, the first president of Rice University. 
“He put Houston on the map in terms of architecture by his imaginativeness and his business discipline in understanding how he could work with the best architects of the world within the economic constraints of real estate development and construction,” said Fox, a lecturer at the architecture schools at Rice and University of Houston.
Hines and his development firm were responsible for many of Houston's most iconic buildings, including One Shell Plaza, Pennzoil Place, the TC Energy (originally RepublicBank) Center, the JP Morgan Chase (formerly Texas Commerce) Tower, the Transco (now Williams) Tower, and the Galleria. The JP Morgan Chase Tower, built in 1982, remains Texas's tallest building, while the Williams Tower, opened in 1983, remains the tallest building in the United States located outside of a central business district. In addition to his Houston developments, Hines was responsible for notable buildings in places such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Dallas.
Downtown’s Pennzoil Place represented a breakthrough for Hines from a design and development standpoint. The twin 36-story trapezoidal towers of darkly tinted glass was named “Building of the Decade” when it was completed in 1975 by the late New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable. 
Hines collaborated on the project with architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee who turned away from the boxy modern design of the era exemplified in One Shell Plaza just up the street. 
“In so doing they demonstrated that if you make a building that is distinctive there are tenants that will pay extra to have their offices there,” Fox said. “That was kind of the Hines breakthrough — to understand and respect the power of architecture to create structures potential clients would want to identify with.” 
Hines worked with Johnson and Burgee on multiple projects, including the so-called “Lipstick Building” at 53rd at Third in midtown Manhattan, a 34-story elliptical-shaped office tower completed in 1986; and San Francisco’s 101 California, completed in 1982, a cylindrical 48-story tower of glass and granite and glass, featuring a seven-story, glass-enclosed lobby. 
Hines developed friendships with many of the architects who designed his buildings. For his 90th birthday, he was joined by seven of them to discuss design and development in a public architecture forum at Houston’s Hobby Center. Hines sat alongside Burgee, A. Eugene Kohn, Henry Cobb, Cesar Pelli, Robert A.M. Stern, Jon Pickard and Art Gensler who talked of Hines’ outsize influence on commercial real estate. The event drew an audience of more than 2,000. 
“Our best work was for Gerry Hines,” Burgee, who, along with the late Philip Johnson designed several buildings for Hines, said at the forum.
Given his patronage of some of the era's most notable architects, perhaps it is only natural that Hines also lent his support the next generation as well:
Hines’ philanthropic contributions included a $7 million donation in 1997 to the University of Houston’s architecture school that now bears his name. 
When he spoke to students, Dean Patricia Belton Oliver said, there was an immediate connection and mutual respect. 
“I never saw him light up quite the way he did when he was surrounded by students,” she said. “For someone who made his career in such a tough business, it was so gratifying to see the joy he experienced when he had the opportunity to share his legacy.”
Discussions about Hines' contribution to the UH College of Architecture occurred towards the end of my time as a student there, and I remember it being controversial at the time. Some students were miffed that the college "sold out" to a developer, rather than an actual architect. Never mind the fact that, without developers, architects wouldn't have any business at all!

I never got to meet Hines in person, although I was among a group of UH architecture students who was invited for a luncheon at his River Oaks mansion, which was rather impressive.

Hines' firm continues to operate under the direction of his son, Jeffery. A tribute to Hines on the company's website is worth a read. The UH College of Architecture has put up a tribute as well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Hurricane Laura

So, half of the "one-two punch" from the tropics didn't really materialize - Marco fizzled out as it reached the Louisiana coast - but the other half, Laura, is about to make life miserable for a lot of people.

For a while it looked like the Houston region was in danger of a direct hit, but the latest models are coming into agreement that the storm will hit to the east of here:

Unless this track shifts back towards the west in the next several hours Houston itself is probably only going to see mild effects - gusty winds and some rain - from this storm. That's good news for us, although communities along the bay and coast (such as the City of Galveston, which is under a mandatory evacuation) could experience problems related to storm surge.

Of course, this is most certainly not good news for folks in Port Arthur, Beaumont and Lake Charles.

The last days of Braniff

I recently came across this on YouTube and found it fascinating. It's an episode of Enterprise, a business documentary program shown on PBS in the early 1980s and hosted by the legendary Eric Severeid. This particular episode from 1983, entitled "Tailspin," documents the last days of Braniff International Airways, which, in spite of existing since 1930 and being the nation's eighth-largest carrier at the time, became the first major airline in the history of United States commercial aviation to declare bankruptcy in 1982. 

Prior to 1979, the US commercial airline industry was heavily regulated; the government determined which carriers could fly which routes and how much they could charge. Once deregulation occurred, many airlines, including Dallas-based Braniff, saw an opportunity to grow their business in ways previously unimaginable. The airline's leadership liberally added new routes and borrowed heavily to finance its expansion.

The results were disastrous, especially once the US economy entered recession. In late 1981, the over-leveraged, debt-laden, money-hemorrhaging airline hired Howard Putnam away from Southwest Airlines to try to rescue the company.

Putnam attempted to cut costs, soothe creditors and streamline operations, but Braniff's many internal problems, as well as fierce competition from larger, deeper-pocketed rivals such as American Airlines, made his job difficult. Attempts to attract more passengers, such as gimmicky fare promotions, cost Braniff the goodwill of travel agents (who issued most airline tickets back in those days and relied on commissions, as a percentage of fares, for revenue). An attempt to maintain liquidity by selling Braniff's Latin American network to Pan Am was briefly held up by the Civil Aeronautics Board (the network would eventually be acquired by Eastern), and proved to be too little, too late for the airline to survive. Braniff ceased operations at midnight on May 13, 1982. 

Seriously: if you have half an hour to spare, watch the whole thing. Film crews were given access to Putnam and Braniff's upper management as it struggled to stay afloat during its final days, which makes it especially fascinating.

As the documentary explains, Braniff was trying to survive in an environment when the US commercial aviation industry as a whole had too many seats and too few passengers. By the time he arrived, there was probably nothing Putnam could have done to save the company.

Braniff's demise would be the first of many airline bankruptcies, mergers and acquisitions, as deregulation completely transformed the US commercial aviation industry. Today, two-thirds of all domestic passengers are carried by just four airlines: America, Delta, Southwest and United. 

Cool fact: Braniff, was along with Eastern, one of the two original airlines serving Houston's first purpose-built air terminal.

Will the pandemic spark a new round of conference realignment?

Probably not, but ESPN's Ivan Maisel explores how the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the geographic absurdity of college football's conference alignments:
Hey, here's a great idea during a pandemic: Let's have West Virginia fly 1,400 miles to play a Big 12 game at Texas Tech on Oct. 24, but let's not allow West Virginia to play Pittsburgh. After all, the Panthers, 75 miles away, are in the ACC. 
Before the Pac-12 broke the emergency glass on its 2020 season, the conference approved of Colorado flying 1,300 miles to play at Washington but thought it too risky for the Buffaloes to drive 100 miles to play at Colorado State. 
And there's Nebraska, which a decade ago sued for divorce from the Big 12 (née Big Eight), dissolving a marriage consummated in 1928 to grab the money and security and money and money offered by the Big Ten. Last week the Big Ten told Nebraska it couldn't play football this fall, which went over in the Cornhusker State like, oh, I don't know, stalk rot.
For much of the sport's existence, college football was highly geographic in nature, with major conferences adhering to specific regions of the nation: the midwest (Big 10), the great plains (Big 8), the southeast (SEC), the south central (SWC), and the east (ACC) and west (PAC-10) coasts.

Over the last few decades, with air travel becoming cheaper and television money becoming the dominant factor in making such decisions, conferences have merged, split and realigned such that geography is no longer a major consideration. Conferences have become far-flung and messy, and in the process many of the natural regional rivalries that make college football so great - Oklahoma-Nebraska, Texas-Texas A&M, Pittsburgh-West Virginia, Kansas-Missouri - have been abandoned.
We have become numb to the consequences of the periodic spasms of conference realignment in intercollegiate athletics over the past three decades. It's about a regional sport turning national, about the conferences increasing their geographic footprint to grab more television market share (including ESPN). 
In other words, about money.
I appreciate Maisel acknowledging the role his employer and its money has played in the current state of the sport. I would appreciate it even more if he also acknowledged the role his employer and its money has played in the ever-increasing disparity between the "have" conferences (i.e. the Power Five) and the "have-not" conferences (i.e. the Group of Five), but that's a post for a different day.
It has been several years since West Virginia leapt to the Big 12, and Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, and Colorado and Utah to the Pac-12. Colorado is about as close to the Pacific Coast as Morgantown, West Virginia, is to Lubbock, Texas, and Missouri set aside a 120-year Border War rivalry against Kansas to play in a division with Georgia and Florida. 
You want to send your student-athletes halfway across the country for a conference game? It's your money. Only now it's about more than your money. It's about their health. During this coronavirus pandemic, when the epidemiologists are saying don't leave home without a mask, it's time to reconsider conference realignment. The geographic inanity of Utah booting its annual rivalry against BYU worked out well in the best of times. We are no longer in the best of times.
Maisel thinks that college football's solution to the COVID-19 pandemic is to reduce cross-country interaction (and cross-contamination) between players by staying close to home. The sport should return to its regional roots, if only for the 2020 season, and play schools in close proximity to one another. He even suggests that all 12 Texas FBS schools play each other this season.
Football should be no different from the rest of America. The pandemic has given us the power to reconsider the basic architecture of our day-to-day lives. Maybe we don't have to go to the office in order to do our jobs. Maybe we shouldn't move for our work. Maybe our work should move for us. Maybe our lives would be better served by living where we wanted to be all along.
Sports Illustrated's Pat Forde agrees. He even takes this concept further, by imagining what these regional conferences might look like.
Ten years ago this month, the last great spasm of realignment began shaking the college sports world. When it finally subsided in 2014, the landscape had changed dramatically. For the richer, but not necessarily for the better. 
The Big Ten wound up with 14 teams, stretching from Nebraska to New Jersey. The Southeastern Conference expanded into Texas and Missouri. The Atlantic Coast Conference wandered nearly 1,000 miles inland. The Pac-12 annexed the Rocky Mountains. The Big 12, pushed to the brink of collapse, steadied itself by adding a school 1,200 miles to the northeast of the league office. Lesser conferences followed suit, scrambling for financial viability. 
A decade later, it’s time to blow up what was done and start over. The COVID-19 pandemic’s effects have been profoundly felt in a realm where, for 10 years, money was no object and the map made no sense. Slapped in the face by a new fiscal reality, maybe we’re due to both rein in and reach out—to contract geographically into more regional conferences, while expanding the scope of the revenue gusher that is the College Football Playoff.
Forde pares the Football Bowl Subdivision down to 120 members and creates ten 12-team regionally-focused conferences where every school plays each other in a round-robin schedule, with a twelfth game against a semi-permanent out-of-conference rival. All ten conference champions, plus a pair of at-large teams, would advance to a 12-team, four-weekend-long College Football Playoff. Here are his ten conferences:
Pat Forde/Sports Illustrated
In Forde's scheme, all the Texas and Oklahoma schools (except for UTEP, UTSA and Texas State, which Forde relegates to FCS) are grouped into a new Southwest Conference. With the exception of Arkansas, Houston would face all its old SWC rivals once again.

Forde explains the benefits of his scheme:
What college football would gain from this realignment: uniformity; conference championships that truly matter; increased access to a more lucrative playoff; a more level playing field for the little guys; renewed regional identity; cherished rivalries preserved, restored—and, in some cases, forced into permanent existence. The advantages are abundant. 
The complaints about conference schedules would disappear. Everyone would play 11 league games, taking on every opponent within the conference every season. There would be no unbalanced scheduling, beyond six home games vs. five, and that would be flipped every season. Without divisions, there is no luck of the draw in cross-divisional opponents. And the endless carping from conferences that play more league games than others would be silenced. 
Having automatic playoff bids tied to conference championships—and having enough room in the playoff for every conference champion—would remove another chronic complaint. Win your league, get a shot at the national title. It’s just that simple. It works for the NCAA basketball tournament, and it would work for the new FBS.
In addition to expanding playoff access and encouraging competitive equality between "have" and "have-not" schools, Forde's scheme would return college football to is geographic roots:
As for regional identity: This isn’t solely about making travel easier and safer for athletes and more affordable for athletic directors, although both factors are more significant now than at any time this century. It’s also an opportunity to rebuild a neighborhood with sensible boundaries that create common ground among people who already live and work together. There is not a lot of office or barber shop banter in, say, Orlando between Florida and Missouri fans when the Gators and Tigers play; there sure would be when the Gators play Central Florida. And the fans can pretty easily drive to many of these games.
Is any of this going to happen? Of course not. Power Five schools would never deign to consider their Group of Five brethren to be their equals, to share revenue and exposure, to risk being upset by schools they've always considered inferior or unworthy. Television networks would be unlikely to be happy with this hyper-regional conference structure, as well, because it limits matchups of truly national interest. But then again, maybe that's the whole point of Forde's exercise: college football is in this mess precisely because they've put so much focus on expanding television exposure.

The coronavirus pandemic is devastating college football just as it has devastated every other aspect of American life; I still don't expect many, if any, games to actually be played this fall. But the pandemic does expose the absurdity that is college football in 2020, not just with respect to geography but also the economic disparity between its participants. I'm glad sportswriters such as Maisel and Forde are acknowledging that there is a problem.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

A one-two punch from the tropics

Because it just wouldn't be 2020 without two hurricanes in the Gulf at the same time...
Travis Herzog/KTRK
Fortunately, since this graphic was produced earlier today, the forecast has changed somewhat such that Marco no longer appears to be a major threat to Houston. Laura's track is less certain and could still pose a threat to the region. Corinne and I are pretty well stocked up and are secure in our brick-and-concrete mid-rise apartment, so there's nothing to do but keep our eye on the weather while we go about our business.

The more immediate concern is that, as of this evening, both storms are tracking towards the same general location in southeastern Louisiana: a potential one-two punch that New Orleans most certainly does not need.

The coming week, incidentally, will mark the third anniversary of Harvey's landfall, and the fifteenth anniversary of Katrina's landfall.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

RIP Bill Yeoman

The legendary University of Houston football coach has passed away.
Bill Yeoman, a standout lineman and teammate of Heisman Trophy winners Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis at Army, who would go on to shepherd the University of Houston into the top tier of college football as the Cougars' coach for 25 years, died Wednesday at age 92. 
His son, Bill Jr., said Yeoman died of pneumonia and kidney failure.
Yeoman had been hospitalized with COVID-19, and things looked hopeful after he was released from the hospital at the beginning of the month. Unfortunately, he simply couldn't recover from the ravages of the disease.
Yeoman took over as coach at Houston, then an independent, in 1962. He invented the veer offense, a triple-option attack similar to the wishbone. The ESPN College Football Encyclopedia quoted Yeoman as saying, "We stumbled upon it, really. Almost by accident." 
Yeoman dared to recruit Black athletes before any major program in Texas, signing back Warren McVea to a scholarship in 1964. Between his recruiting and his offense, Yeoman created an offensive machine. The Cougars famously defeated Tulsa 100-6 in 1968, the first season they finished in the top 20 (18th). 
"Coach Yeoman was a leader and visionary in our game," current Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said in a statement. "Not only was he a Hall of Fame coach, but also he brought our program to national prominence during his tenure. His legacy will live on in our program and will stand the test of time. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, former players and coaches." 
Houston's success under Yeoman created a path to membership in the Southwest Conference. Houston won the SWC in its first season (1976), finishing 10-2 with a No. 4 national ranking. The Cougars won three more SWC championships (1978-79, 1984) under Yeoman. 
He retired in 1986 with a record of 160-108-8. The College Football Hall of Fame enshrined Yeoman in 2001.
In addition to the aforementioned 1976 season, the Cougars also finished the season in the AP top ten in 1973 (#9) and 1980 (#5). Between the 1969 and 1980 seasons, in fact, the Cougars ended the season with a national ranking nine times - the best such stretch in program history. Yeoman's teams were also 6-4-1 in bowl games. For many UH fans, especially the older ones, Yeoman's tenure represents the "glory days" of UH football; looking at the program's record since then, it's hard to argue with that. He put the program on the map.

I met Coach Yeoman on several occasions: at alumni luncheons, at events for season ticketholders, and at the games themselves. In addition to being very friendly and fun to listen to - he had no shortage of stories to tell - he also retained his passion for UH football, encouraging people to buy tickets and keep the faith.

Thank you, Coach Yeoman, and rest in peace. Ryan Monceaux has more.

Monday, August 10, 2020

A small wedding and a socially-distant honeymoon

Well, we did it.
Corinne, myself, and the sunset over Lake Pontchartrain, just as we had planned.

On the evening of Saturday July 18, Corinne and I had our formal wedding ceremony at Lakefront Airport in New Orleans. We had about 35 people in attendance: mostly close friends and family, and less than half the number we were expecting for our originally-planned March ceremony, but still within the State of Louisiana's limit of 50 attendees for events such as these.

This was good, as it gave people a chance to spread out; we encouraged social distancing and mask-wearing as much as we could (although it gets hard for people to comply as food is served and champagne flows), and our awesome venue caterer was very good with their sanitation protocols. Over three weeks after the ceremony, we've gotten no reports of any of our attendees falling ill from COVID. We're thankful and relieved.

Our wedding occurred almost two years to the day from
when I proposed to Corinne in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.
I celebrated by posting on that village's Facebook page
and received a wonderful response from them.
To be sure, the decision to go forward with the rescheduled ceremony was agonizing for both myself and Corinne. We knew that a lot of people wouldn't be able to attend and we knew that we could be putting ourselves and our loved ones at risk. As we watched the infection rate increase both in Texas and Louisiana, we even considered postponing again or canceling entirely (after all, we were already technically married). But in the end, for reasons both contractual and psychological, we decided to press ahead, to make the best of it while being as safe as possible, and to give our family, our friends and ourselves a small bit of enjoyment in the middle of this otherwise-interminable Coronavirus bleakness.

In retrospect, it was the right decision. The ceremony and reception were everything Corinne and I had planned (see here for some early pictures from our wonderful photographer). The food and cake were delicious. Our vendors were happy to be working a wedding again. Everybody in attendance had a good time. Nobody got sick. And it's all behind us now: no more stress of planning and preparing, no more agony of waiting.

We had our wedding, and it was good.

We stayed in New Orleans for a couple of days after the wedding, visiting with family and friends who remained. Then, on Tuesday July 21, Corinne and I got into a rented Chevy Impala and embarked upon a honeymoon roadtrip that we were probably looking more forward to than the wedding itself. After spending the night with friends in Knoxville, Tennessee, we made our way to Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We spent a few nights at a secluded cabin on the Tennessee side of the park before heading south and spending a couple more nights at another secluded cabin on the North Carolina side, and spent the time hiking, relaxing and enjoying the scenery. While there were lots of people in the park itself and mask-wearing was not universal, we were generally able to keep our distance as we hiked. Car-based excursions such as the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and the Cades Cove Loop also allowed for social distancing. The only big crowds we encountered were at Clingmans Dome, and even those weren't horrible. I was also finally got to see what the view from the observation deck looks like when not completely obstructed by fog, although the walk up there brutally reminded me how fat and out of shape I am.

Th observation deck at Clingmans Dome without the fog
After spending several days in the Great Smoky Mountains, we spent a few more days driving the Blue Ridge Parkway. This was a much better experience for me than my first drive along the road eight years ago, as there was no fog to obscure visibility and the Impala handled the curves much better than my previous rental. However, it turned out that three days is still not enough to see all the sights and take all the hikes along the Parkway; it was also a bit disappointing that most of the visitor centers along the Parkway were closed due to the pandemic or that a particularly scenic section of the Parkway around Roanoke was closed due to mudslides. Nevertheless, we enjoyed what we were able to see; the Blue Ridge Parkway is fascinating in that you can learn about biology, geology, geography and history all at once as you drive along it, and the views (as long as they're not obscured by overgrown vegetation) are spectacular.

A view of the North Carolina countryside from the Blue Ridge Parkway
We ended our trip with a brief drive through Shenandoah National Park, and spent the last two nights of our honeymoon in Fairfax, Virginia. The original plan was to spend a day in Washington DC, as Corinne had never been there. However, after the Mayor of Washington issued a decree requiring anybody entering the city traveling from "high-risk" areas (such as Texas or Louisiana) to self-quarantine, we decided that entering the city would not be a good idea. Instead, we went to the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport. I enjoyed it, since I hadn't been in over a dozen years and wanted to see some new items that had been added to the collection since then. Corinne enjoyed it, too, because she got to see the Space Shuttle Discovery and other NASA artifacts that greatly interested her. The Smithsonian limited crowds by requiring people to make reservations in advance and required visitors to wear masks at all time, so we felt very safe visiting.

A Concorde, among other aircraft at the Udvar-Hazy Center
The following day we drove up to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, dropped off the rental car, and flew back to Houston. While flying on an airplane may have been the riskiest part of our trip (or maybe not), Southwest is taking things seriously by limiting their boarding groups to ten people at a time, keeping middle seats open, requiring passengers to wear masks at all times, and reducing points of contact as much as possible. That meant, unfortunately, no beverages (other than water) and no working the crossword in the in-flight magazine. But the precautions appear to have worked in our case, because Corinne and I are showing no symptoms of any diseases a week and a half after the flight.

All in all, it was a wonderful and much-needed vacation. But now, unfortunately, the fun is over and it's time for me to get back to work. Due to the high infection rate here in Houston, my employer has abandoned the practice of allowing some of us to go into the office a couple of times a week on a rotating basis. This means I'll be working from home full-time for the foreseeable future, and I'm not excited about that. I did get my computer repaired (a failing hard drive was causing it to operate slowly), so I'll be able to be at least somewhat productive here at home. But it's just a matter of time before I start to go stir-crazy again, and it will only be worse if I don't have any college football to look forward to this fall.

Which begs the question: is it too early for Corinne and me to start planning our next roadtrip?

Did The Rock just save the Roughnecks?

It will be interesting to see where this goes:
The sale of the XFL to a group that includes actor Dwayne Johnson was approved Friday morning in a Delaware bankruptcy court.

U.S. District Judge Laurie Silverstein allowed the transaction after the XFL resolved a dispute over the $15 million sale price with the court's unsecured creditors' committee. Johnson, along with business partners Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital Partners, will officially assume control of the league from former owner Vince McMahon later this month.
The sale also includes nearly $9 million in payment of cure amounts.
So now that the XFL has new owners, can we expect a third reboot next spring?
The league had marketed itself as a made-for-TV product that could transition to a bubble concept during the pandemic, and Garcia said this week that the new owners are "planning" for a 2021 launch.

"We're doing all the steps that need to happen for the execution of that," she said. "But we're also being mindful to what has actually been successful. It has been really interesting to see that [in sports], when you create a bubble, your players are safe. When you don't, it's chaos. We are a league, because of the number of teams we have, that actually can create a bubble environment. Those discussions are active."
I'd be surprised if the new ownership group could re-staff the league and turn things around in time for a 2021 season. It could be doable with only eight teams, but it's just one of the many questions that still surround the league following this sale. Including the most important question of all: will it ever make any money?
This remains the elusive question for spring football. There hasn't been a successful alternative to the NFL in 50 years, largely because no one has figured out how to make it profitable.

Broadcast fees are the lifeblood of successful major sports leagues, but they take time to earn. The XFL's 2.0 plan called for three seasons of investment and proof of concept before that point would come. Its 2020 television deals with Fox and Disney (ABC/ESPN) covered only production costs.

A 2021 bubble concept would eliminate all the costs associated with placing teams in multiple cities, as well as much of the local revenue. It also would reduce the number of players the league would need to sign for training camps, a substantial savings. But the XFL 3.0 likely will need to secure broadcast fees on some level to ensure long-term success.
I wish Johnson and his business partners the best, and I hope a third time really will be the charm for the XFL. The Roughneck games I attended last spring (ahh, such sweet memories of the days before the whole world went to pot) were a lot of fun and I'd enjoy attending more in the future. 

Sean Pendergast shares his thoughts.

Adventures in vexillological illiteracy

This is facepalm-worthy:
A couple who came under attack for displaying the Norwegian flag outside their mid-Michigan inn because some observers mistook it for a Confederate flag have found another way to show their Scandinavian pride. 
Greg and Kjersten Offenbecker, who own The Nordic Pineapple in St. Johns, outside Lansing, took Norway's flag down last month after being accused of promoting racism, the Lansing State Journal reported.
Apparently, people were confused because both flags feature a blue cross on a red background. The two flags are otherwise completely different; one cross is diagonal while the other is orthogonal, and one has stars while the other does not:

                        Flag of Norway.svg
Flag of a failed, racist, treasonous cause* on the left; flag of a modern, successful OECD member and NATO ally on the right. Images: Wikipedia

The owners of the inn think they've found a workaround: they'll use a different style of the Norwegian flag that should reduce potential confusion:
They are replacing it with a vimple, a type of long, pennant-shaped flag that can be seen displaying various designs across Scandinavia. The Offenbecker’s vimple will have the colors of the Norwegian flag — a red background with a blue cross superimposed on a white cross — in a nod to Kjersten Offenbecker’s grandfather who was born in Norway.
These pennant-shaped flags are apparently very common in Norway, since the use of the official flag is highly regulated.

While the Offenbeckers' solution is actually rather ingenious, it's honestly not something that they should have been forced to do in the first place. While the public display of racist symbols such as the Confederate flag should obviously be challenged, that's not what was happening here. This family should not be accused of racism or be forced to modify the perfectly legitimate flag they fly on their property just because some people are too ignorant to tell the difference between two clearly dissimilar flags.

*This was never the official flag of the Confederacy, and I'll probably get criticized for even displaying it on my blog.