Sunday, October 24, 2010

Taking Care of the Heroes

Football is valuable entertainment. Add up the value of the NFL teams: $30 billion according to Forbes to get one measure of just how valuable it is. A hundred bucks for every man, woman, and child in the US.

We love to play and watch it more when we can build (indirect) relationships with it by following our favorite teams, coaches, and players.

We love it more when we can build community with other fans around said relationships.

We love it more when it's exciting (meaning the competition is close and the outcome uncertain).

We love it more when it reminds us of humanity's higher nature. We can't stop talking about players who achieve super-human heroic feats, or coaches who execute strategies to snatch victory from the clutches of defeat.

We love it more when it makes us feel like winners.

We love it less when it is unjust.

We love it less when it is boring.

We love it less when it is inhumane.

We love it less when we lose connection to players or teams.


A good way to kill the sport would be to remove the best available (and best-known) players. Heroes: gone. Relationships: severed. Excitement: weak.

Another good way would be to have no rules or penalties. Justice: betrayed. Heroes: broken. Participation: discouraged. Humanity: degraded.

Yet another good way would be to have too many rules and penalties. Action: mundane. Risks: not taken. Super-humans: enfeebled. Results: predictable.

Helmet-to helmet, launching, spearing, intimidating, crushing hits are designed not to stop the opponent, but to intimidate him. Tru dat, but they also damage him, sometimes permanently. They prevent him from being his best.

For some they may be fun to watch or commit, but they are a net negative to the value of the sport and that's the best reason I can think of to stop them. Football is nothing without it's heroes. We have to let them show off ... but not at the expense of knocking other heroes out of the game. That's exactly what no-holds-barred hits do ... in more ways than one. They can injure, sure. They also can cause a receiver to muff a catch because they're too busy worrying about what semi truck is coming their way. The long-term effects (ALS, etc) might even cause some smart-and-athletic dudes to avoid college and pro ball altogether.

On top of that, menacing hits call attention to the embarrassing base nature of the hitters. These are not heroes. Their lack of humanity exposes that.

Joe Pa agrees:
"I've been saying for 15 years, we ought to get rid of the face mask," Paterno said this week. "I think, then, you go back to shoulder blocking, shoulder tackling, and you wouldn't have all those 'heroes' out there."

I'm not convinced that he's found the best solution, but his point is that these guys are just doing what they can get away with. Whether pain, fines, suspension, or legal proceedings provide the disincentive, the point is that these guys will figure it out. It's unacceptable to cream kickers and QBs (Favre aside). Players have somehow figured out how to avoid those hits. It should be unacceptable to demolish receivers, too. Egregious hits are not required. They are not unavoidable. They're not the result of confusing rules. They're not a necessary part of the psychological game. They're not the natural result of younger quarterbacks. That's all ridiculous. They are an embarrassing lack of discipline on the part of the aggressor, exploiting a loophole in the rules. The loophole should be closed and enforcement should be strict. Players will figure out how to comply ... or they're not the kind of players we want in the game.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Yeah, What HE Said: The Blasphemy of Expressing Opinions

“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot, but when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

OK, OK, probably ... maybe ... peut-ĂȘtre I'm over-reacting a bit. I mean, it WAS an opinion show, so ... maybe ... but eek - what will people think? That's it. Out he goes!

Apparently that's NPR's idea of a defensible argument for firing one of their most renowned, long-standing employees. That's exactly what they did to Juan Williams for his O'Reilly Factor quote ... or for something ambiguously "larger" as several have suggested.

And therein lies the rub. Juan Williams has long been a bridge across many political worlds. He worked for NPR (for many years) but was happy to participate in political discussions live, in print, on air, and on TV with just about anyone, on just about anything. He has always been willing to try and expand mutual understanding. Problem: Conservative nuts don't understand the real world? Juan's Solution: Go on Conservative shows and explain the opposing viewpoint in refreshingly clear, even-keeled, non-inflammatory terms.

Was his line culturally-insensitive? Yes. Did it reflect a true bias that he ... and many others have? Yes. Did he specifically preface it with the caveat that he's not bigoted? Yes. Did he mis-represent opinion as fact? No. He clearly stated a fact: he gets nervous. In doing so, did he betray his insensitive opinion? Yes.

Even journalists are allowed to have opinions ... even insensitive ones.

In his own words (on Good Morning America this week)
"This is one of the things in my life that's shocking. I grew up on the left. I grew up here in New York City and I've always thought the right wing was the ones who were inflexible and intolerant. Now, I'm coming to realize that the orthodoxy at NPR, as it's representing the left, is just unbelievable," he said. "And especially for me as a black man, to somehow, you know, say something that's out of the box. They find it very difficult... I think they were looking for a reason to get rid of me. They were uncomfortable with the idea that I was talking to the likes of Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity."
NPR's differentiating advantage is that they're like Juan: Clear, non-inflammatory, diverse, and comprehensive, if a bit left-leaning, in their reporting. When I want to get a (much) deeper understanding of an issue than I can get from the talking heads on TV ... and a (much) clearer understanding than I can get from the cacophony of the internet ... I turn to NPR.

And I want to hear Juan.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Yeah! What HE Said: Inspiring Government to Be All It Can

Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.
- Frederic Bastiat, French Economist (1801-1850)

A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.
- Thomas Jefferson, US President (1743-1826)


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Talking People to Death

From this week's NY Times:

"[Netanyahu's offer to freeze colonization of contested Palestinian territories] was aimed either at keeping talks with the Palestinians alive and his right-wing coalition partners in check, or at seeking to shift the burden of failure to the Palestinians and escape blame should the talks wither and die. - NY Times 10/12/10
They said "should" but clearly they meant "when." Why the hell did they re-start colonization anyway?? Oh, yeah, so they could offer to stop ... again.

This, to me, summarizes the whole problem. The involved parties, including the Israeli, Palestinian, and US governments as well as the Jewish diaspora, the militant mullahs, the Syrian and Iranian militaries, the arab-royals, the money-siphoning nonprofit organizations, and all the other agents provocateurs have no intention of saving the patient. They just want to make sure they're not blamed for it's death.

Lest they forget among all their strategic positioning (in soft chairs at fancy resort hotels), ego-stroking (whilst sipping tea on private jet they didn't pay for), and diplomatically chortling (while enjoying 5-star cuisine on finer china), there are people dying because of their delays. Some of those people are starving in camps. Others are getting blown to bits during their daily commute. Others are so hopeless and angry about their future that they're letting Bin Laden's clowns whip them into homicidal/suicidal furies. Others still are dying atop Humvees.

Yet everyone just continues talking. One step left, then one step right. Never moving forward lest they accidentally resolve the issue and lose their relevance. If that happened, who would pay for their fancy limos and massive security detail? Who would fund their next European vacation?

Hey Bibi, Hill, Abu! Hey nationalists! Hey settlers! Hey martyrs! Hey donors-to-the-cause! Hey talking heads! You're all wrong. You're all culpable. You're all criminally negligent. Let history reflect that as your true legacy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Insensitive Cultural Observations: The Chinese Quirky Quant

In the interest of equal opportunity, I'll focus my next cultural-insensitivity at India's top "strategic competitor" ... and ours.

You'd never believe it by the example of Victim Two: The Chinese Quirky Quant.

To stereotype, scientists the world over have quirky tendencies. And Chinese people, to stereotype, are particularly good at choosing a group and flawlessly conforming to its norms.

The Quirky Quant is no exception in that regard. At all hours of the day and night, he will be hunched over a massive PC in an undesirable cubicle of a large tech slash financial company. The famous-er the better. The cube will have reams of paper strewn about among books on fancy maths. Well-worn books. It will be decorated with something red, something growing, and/or something proclaiming what Chinese zodiac animal-year we find ourselves in. The PC will have multiple monitors upon which will be a plethora of windows of code and diagrams suggesting an incredibly active powerful multi-tasking brain. WARNING: DO NOT try to understand what's on these screens. Your head will explode.

The specimen, himself, will have large and squarish glasses. The distance between his belt buckle and the open throat of his light blue button-down will be no more than 6 inches. Yes, his socks will be showing. They will be athletic socks. Preferably white.

You may think to yourself "how does he get away with wearing white socks to work like that?" The answer is that he wore the same white socks to his interview. At which he flubbed the behavioral part of the questioning, sat through the case study, and made generally unintelligible comments which were one part macerated grammar, two parts technical jargon, and three parts baffling accent. At which point the interviewers, from peers to execs, said to themselves ... wow - he must be smarter than me ... I should frown and nod a lot ... and then hire this dude.