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Abstracts

Big-Time Ball: Hard Cash or Hype?
Flagler's Secret Army
Mideast 101
Research Rx
One Small Step
Speed Machine
Gyp-Stack Cost Fix?

Big-Time: Hard Cash or Hype?

It’s a given that’s rarely challenged: American cities compete ferociously for the privilege of hosting big-time sporting events because these events are guaranteed to shower them with big bucks.

Next year’s Super Bowl will pump a cool $250 million into the local economy of Jacksonville, Florida. In 2008, the NCAA Women’s Final Four basketball tournament will drop $23 million into the Tampa Bay area.

Or so say community and sports industry boosters. Problem is, some economists have little faith in studies that generate such figures. And in Florida, with a vibrant tourism industry, the economic impact of both events may be zero, says an FSU sports economist.

Michael Mondello, an assistant professor in the department of sport management, says many of the dazzling figures quoted in the media are really aimed at legitimizing a position and should not be taken at face value.

For instance, his analysis of the Women’s Final Four in St. Louis (2001) and San Antonio (2002) found a far smaller windfall for the host cities than was reported. Instead of a $23 million impact he found that the 2001 games contributed, at most, $11 million to the St. Louis economy and $19 million to San Antonio. Tampa’s weekend of basketball in 2008 could generate very few new dollars to the Hillsborough County economy because of what is called “displacement,” Mondello argues.

Promoters are good at adding up the dollars that change hands during the festivities surrounding the big game, he says, but fail to subtract the money that would have been spent anyway, regardless of a Super Bowl or Final Four. The effect is magnified in a state like Florida, he says.

“When you have a tourism destination, like Florida is, what happens is that people who would normally come for a visit will stay away and be replaced by fans.”

Mondello cites a study of Major League Baseball spring training in Florida, which the Florida Sports Foundation estimates creates a $490 million impact on the state’s economy. But an analysis of sales tax collection in counties that host major league clubs in 1995, when the players were on strike, canceling spring training, and in the previous and subsequent years showed no change.

“If there is any impact generated by spring training it is negligible at best,” said Mondello.

His conclusion is supported by studies conducted by other sports economists. A 1998 Stanford University analysis found there is little or no increase in taxable sales during the month when a Super Bowl is played in a town. A University of South Florida review of sales tax paid in Miami Dade County showed $2.2 billion dollars collected in January 1999, when Miami hosted a Super Bowl, and $2.4 billion the next year, when the game was played elsewhere.

And a study by a couple of Mondello’s graduate students indicates that the millions of dollars of economic impact promised by promoters may take as long as 10 to 15 years to be felt, if it occurs at all. A dollar injected into a local economy needs time to create benefits for that specific economy. And if that dollar is paid to a business that transfers it to corporate headquarters, its impact may be close to zero.

“The biggest mistake made in these studies is confusing gross sales with income, money that stays in the community,” said Mondello. “Not all dollars are equal. Money collected as sales tax will stay but if a visitor eats at a chain restaurant then some of the dollars collected are shipped to corporate headquarters and are barely felt locally, if at all.”

Remarks like that infuriate Jim Steeg, NFL senior vice president in charge of the Super Bowl since 1979. On a promotional tour for this year’s Super Bowl, he told the Houston Chronicle that when he retires he is going to write a book proving that sports economists are wrong about big games lacking an economic impact.

“I’m tired of people making a career out of being negative,” said Steeg.

Flagler's Secret Army

From Pensacola to Key West, high-school history books praise industrialist Henry Morrison Flagler as “the creator of modern Florida.” What Flagler did for the state—building its first reliable railway link to the industrial centers of New England—is well documented. But how he did it is much less so.

In researching the working world of America’s notorious Gilded Age of the late 19th century, FSU sociologist Larry Isaac was surprised to find the names of Flagler and John D. Rockefeller on the membership list of an armed militia whose primary purpose was to force workers to shun unions and accept company policy—or else.

That Flagler and Rockefeller were ruthless entrepreneurs is hardly news. The men who turned Standard Oil into a nation-strangling monopoly in the 1870s implemented labor policies that both their biographers have described as brutal.

In Cleveland, Standard Oil’s headquarters, the company cut wages, provoking strikes, and then mobilized the Cleveland police who waded into crowds wielding nightsticks, cracking heads and breaking unions. Conditions at Flagler’s Key West construction camps during the building of his railroad resembled slavery. Flagler successfully fought off brutality charges in court, although many of the workers turned out to be convicts controlled by foremen armed with whips.

But what Isaac found in the Western Reserve Historical Society archives—proof of Flagler and Rockefeller’s close ties to a well-armed group of company thugs—brings into sharper focus the seedy picture of corporate and political life that marked the Gilded Age. Isaac says the discovery shows that the industrialists had become increasingly fearful of the society they helped create.

It was a time when America’s white Anglo-Saxon citizenry viewed efforts to unionize immigrants from eastern and southern Europe as a threat to their status. In the absence of any government labor controls, captains of industry took matters into their own hands, forming—and eagerly joining—private militias trained to keep a lid on a restless work force at whatever cost.

But the militias also had a secret agenda, says Isaac—the preservation of men’s dominant role in a society that was showing increasing influence from a nascent feminist movement.

“The privileges that the upper class enjoyed in the new industrial age led to a fear that someday men would no longer be macho,” said Isaac. “The militia movement was a way for the wealthy to address this private concern while saying they were arming themselves to maintain public order.”

Rockefeller’s Cleveland militia even boasted a full cavalry unit and a machine gun battery. In the end, Isaac says these Gilded Age militias were a rugged fraternity, offering manly pursuits like horseback riding, shooting and other martial arts.

That apparently wasn’t enough for Flagler. Shortly after joining the militia in 1877, he moved to St. Augustine and tested his manhood by taming the Florida jungle—albeit on the backs of an oppressed army of workers. By the time his railroad was finished in 1912, hundreds of Flagler’s workers had died, including more than 300 who were drowned in a single day by a hurricane in 1906.

Mideast 101

Florida State is gearing up to be the first university in Florida—and one of just a few in the Southeast—to offer a bachelor’s degree with a major in Middle Eastern studies.

Since 9/11, FSU professors offering courses with any Mideast content have been thronged by students who want them.

“I went from four to five students to 10 to 15 in graduate seminar topics on Middle Eastern subjects, and my 4000-level survey on Middle Eastern history was the same–now virtually always full,” said Peter Garretson, associate professor of history and director of the university’s recently revived Middle East Center. Garretson is an expert on the Middle East, particularly on Ethiopia and the Sudan.

Zeina Schlenoff, assistant director of the center and FSU’s only teacher of Arabic, has to turn away many more students than she accepts, even though she has added classes.

The new major, on track to start next fall, will have a core faculty of 13 Middle East experts from seven departments: modern languages, religion, history, classics, urban and regional planning, criminology, anthropology and English. All teachers are already on the FSU faculty.

Garretson and Schlenoff hope one day to add subjects–Farsi (Persian) and Turkish, for example. The degree in Middle Eastern studies should make graduates supremely employable, Garretson said.

“Every student with decent Arabic will get a good job,” Garretson predicted. With the language and the background, he said, Mideast majors will be recruited by U.S. agencies like the State Department, intelligence, defense, the Treasury, and even the Department of the Interior, whose purview includes domestic oil production.

Students who don’t want to work for the federal government will have their pick of companies doing business in the Mideast and non-governmental organizations doing humanitarian work throughout the region.

“We need more experts, graduate people who understand the Mideast,” Schlenoff said.

The need goes beyond jobs, she said. It also springs from the current frightening international situation, with war and threats of war between cultures that barely know each other.

“We’re not good at telling people there (in the Mideast) about democracy, human rights, the good things this country is founded upon,” she said. “This education has to go both ways… to have any hope for peace, respect, tolerance, understanding.”

Research Rx

Florida State’s newly minted College of Medicine is raising its profile in the academic world—officially hanging out its shingle as a place not just for medical training, but for medical research as well.

This fall, the college adds a Ph.D. program in biomedical sciences—the first non-M.D. track within a new Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Program that eventually will offer other doctoral degrees, say school officials.

Initially, the new doctorate program will focus on the roles genes play in disease.

“The faculty of a medical school should be generators of new knowledge, problem-solvers,” said Associate Dean Myra Hurt. “And when faculty research and teach graduate students, an atmosphere is created that benefits the entire college.”

The med school currently has 14 full-time faculty members in biomedical sciences who will lead the new curriculum. Another nine faculty members will be hired and some 25 faculty members from other science-related colleges and schools at FSU will participate in the program, Hurt said.

The program begins at a time when interest in studying medicine is growing and federal funding of medical research is reaching an all-time high.

“The timing is perfect,” said Brooks Keel, associate vice president for research at FSU and a professor of biomedical sciences. “The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently doubled its funding of research and is now emphasizing science that explores the relationship between genes and disease. FSU is now better able to compete for some of that money and build a bridge between the laboratory and bedside.”

The NIH is the largest federal grant-giving agency for biomedical sciences. Last year, it completed a five-year effort that doubled its budget from $13.6 billion in 1998. The increase showed NIH’s popularity on Capitol Hill and the political muscle of advocacy groups seeking funding to battle dozens of diseases.

Enrollment numbers at medical schools are increasing as well. More students are pursuing careers in medicine, as either practitioners or researchers. The Association of American Medical Colleges reports that med school applications nationally rose 3.4 percent in 2003-04 and are up 5 percent compared to fall of ’02.

To begin the program, the med school will recruit seven Ph.D. students for the fall semester. That number is expected to increase to 50 by 2009, when the school also will have more than 300 students pursuing the M.D. degree.

“We want students who will train to become faculty at other medical schools or work for companies doing this kind of research,” said Hurt. “We’re a new program, but we have a big research infrastructure to work with in a very collegial environment. “

One Small Step

Life first appeared on Earth, one theory holds, when amino acids organized themselves into what eventually became living cells. A little over 4 billion years later man began to understand just how is it that those tiny, muscle-less blobs off protoplasm can move.

A team of FSU biologists have reproduced in the laboratory a key part of cell movement called retraction. Biologist Tom Roberts and two postdoctoral associates collaborated with Murray Stewart of the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England to investigate how the sperm cell of a roundworm nematode retracts to create movement. The scientists tore apart a cell, extracted the molecules used for movement, reassembled the cell and manipulated it to move.

“Diseases, sickness and infections all involve the movement of cells,” said Roberts. “Understanding how a cancerous cell travels through a body will open new strategies for fighting it.”

Cells move by pushing out a finger-like protrusion from the front while retracting, or pulling their rear ends forward. Seven years ago, Roberts was part of a team that figured out how cells push out forward. The mechanics of the pulling motion, the retraction, remained a mystery.

“We thought, why not use the same methods we used in the protrusion study and see if they reveal how retraction works,” said Roberts.

It took two years of lab work to understand the process and the team published their findings in the November 21 issue of the journal Science.

The article describes how the cells push out to grip the surface in front of them by building a network of thousands of tiny protein filaments from their cytoskele-tons (molecular equivalent of the human skeleton).

The cell moves forward as the filament network moves from the front to the rear of the cell, where it comes apart while pulling the cell forward. Roberts’ team reproduced the retraction, the pulling movement, by introducing an enzyme called a phosphatase to the network of filaments.

Speed Machine

Albert Einstein was skeptical about a meteorologist’s ability to make accurate forecasts. “One need only think of the weather, in which case the prediction for a few days ahead is impossible,” he once said.

Since the late 1940s, computer technology has steadily improved the accuracy in weather forecasting.

Today, Einstein would gasp at the progress scientists have made in predicting the elements, thanks to increasingly clever hardware and software.

Last summer, projections correctly showed Hurricane Isabel’s path more than a week in advance. Scientists program wind velocity and other related data describing a storm into computers and create pictures simulating the direction storms will take and their chances of becoming either pussycats or monsters.

Mathematicians at FSU’s School of Computational Science and Information Technology (CSIT) recently succeeded in building some new tools that dramatically speed up the prediction process. The tools are algorithms—mathematical equations—that scientists can use to greatly enhance the powers of high-end computers to draw clearer, animated pictures of developing storms and even oil spills.

The algorithms developed by the FSU researchers vastly shrink the amount of information that must be transferred between a computer’s memory and its graphic card, explains Gordon Erlebacher, a CSIT mathematician. Such cards, printed circuit boards installed in the computer, are devices that speed up the downloading of data that create images and animation. The CSIT algorithms enable the cards to translate huge data sets needed to produce large-scale simulations much faster than anything currently on the market.

“Our graphic card is 10 times faster and provides a much higher quality of animation than any card on the market,” Erlebacher said. “These graphic cards have the potential of turning a moped-like computer into a Harley Davidson for analyzing wind and tide currents.”

Supported by $300,000 in grants from the National Science Foundation and FSU, Erlebacher and his colleagues programmed two different cards— a Radeon 9800 and an nVidia FX 5900 —both popular off-the-shelf models—to create animation of time-dependent vector fields in real time. They run the cards on a Dell Precision Work Station 530.

“These new algorithms make it possible to change the parameters as the information becomes available and (thus help) make more accurate predictions,” said Erlebacher.

For information about the availability of the software, call Erlebacher at 850-644-0186, or send him an e-mail query at erlebach@math.fsu.edu.

Gyp-Stack Cost Fix?

It's not like you can lock the gate and just walk away. Toxic waste piled 12 stories high and holding a billion gallons of poisonous water make closing down a phosphate plant complicated--and expensive, as state officials are learning. When the Mulberry corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of the American Phosphate Corporation of Delaware, declared bankruptcy in 2001, it left two 200-foot-tall stacks of phosphogypsum, a byproduct of turning phosphate rock into fertilizer, at its Piney Point plant near Tampa Bay at Port Manatee and its Mulberry facility in Bartow.

Phosphogypsum isn't actually stacked. Rather it is gathered into a massive volcano-shaped mound with holding ponds of water rich in ammonia and heavy metals in its crater. The pond at the Mulberry site is 50 feet deep.

"This site constitutes one of the largest risks to the environment in Florida's history," Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Allan Bedwell said. Bedwell's agency governs who can maintain a gyp stack. Two dozen of these huge piles of slightly radioactive waste dot the state, with the majority concentrated in central Florida, the home of the state's phosphate mining industry. To prevent leaks and spills, when a phosphate plant is closed the water within a gyp stack is supposed to be processed and drained, the sides collapsed and a plastic tarp placed over the site before it is covered with dirt. The state assumed control of the Piney Point stack when Mulberry went out of business and has been spending about $400,000 a month to close the stack and avoid a massive spill into the Gulf. The ultimate closure cost is projected to be $120 million.

To prevent getting stuck with such a bill again, DEP is drafting new rules. Last fall, the agency called on FSU finance professor Pamela Peterson to help identify potential "Mulberries," companies that go out of business and leave a toxic mess behind. Peterson devised a financial test to evaluate whether a corporation had the financial resources needed to close a phosphate plant if it were forced out of business. The agency soon plans to include her test in the financial assurance provision for a phosphogypsum stack system permit. At present, companies are subjected to tests that are outdated and inadequate. Because a sudden downturn in the company's fortunes can lead to bankruptcy, as in Mulberry's case, Peterson said that looking at specific dimensions of a company's financial condition, such as the ratio of the company’s net worth to the potential cost of closure and the ratio of cash flow to total liabilities, provides a better idea of its financial health.

"This is a better method to measure the viability of a company," said Peterson. "It provides some level of assurance that they will be financial responsible in the event that the site is closed.." A DEP spokesman says the new rules governing the mining and processing of phosphate will go into effect this March.