Sunday, March 22, 2020

Think And Pray

While I've got this thing out, I'll say one more thing.

I've noted before how unfortunate it was that people offering "thoughts and prayers" in the face of a tragedy were met with mockery rather than gratitude. Yes, it's a trite phrase, and maybe some people used it as a substitute for meaningful action they should have been taken, but offering thoughts and prayers to victims of events is a good and decent and necessary thing to do.

Now, we are faced with an issue where, with some exceptions, "thoughts and prayers" (and staying home) are about all we can offer. And unfortunately, we've cancelled the vocabulary we have to express that.

Perhaps the day will come when there are more meaningful actions we can take than thoughts and prayers. But it's what we have now. And if we don't think and pray now, we won't have the wisdom to know the right actions to take when the time comes.

As an Example

I have seen several posts noting that they observed some people playing in the park, and therefore "nobody" is following the recommendations to stay home, and we're doomed to the worst case scenario predictions.

I'm sure there are some people behaving unwisely, but it's important to remember the places people aren't:

  • All the churches and places of worship
  • All the theaters and performing arts centers
  • All the museums
  • All the offices and schools
  • All restaurants and bars
  • All gyms and fitness studios
  • All libraries
  • All sports venues
  • All airports
  • Any non-grocery shopping centers and stores.
So, it may be upsetting to see a park not looking that different from how it would look on a typical sunny weekend afternoon. But I think it's important to remember that the people you see in the park likely represent the sum total of people not isolating themselves.

In my experience, people are following the program. I have been working from home since March 4, and essentially living consistent with a "shelter in place" order (though there isn't one here yet) for the past two weeks. When I do venture out for a walk, things are empty. When I took a (solo) bike ride on Friday afternoon, I did see a number of people out, but they were keeping their distance.

Maybe this hasn't been enough. But I'm not sure it's healthy to conclude that nobody cares about vulnerable populations because there were a few people in a park. 

On the contrary, the degree to which people have been willing to upend their lives for the sake of others has been heartening to me.

A Time For Mercy

Throughout this ordeal, which began a bit earlier for me than for most, I have been praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet with my pastor over Instagram. (I will also mention that you can pray the Chaplet or the Rosary along with me using my Prayer Buddy Alexa Skill).

It has become increasingly apparent to me that mercy is what is needed right now.
  • We need God's mercy on those who have gotten sick and passed away from this outbreak, on their families, on those working heroically to take care of us and keep people supplied.
  • We need God's mercy to end the course of this outbreak.
  • We need to practice works of mercy for each other. The corporal works of mercy may look a little different, and may consist mainly of staying home to slow the spread of the virus.
  • We need to have mercy on each other. We are all dealing with something we have not seen before, and are doing so carrying varying levels of anxiety. It's important to hold our leaders accountable, and it's important to make sure we are doing the right things to help each other out, but I think we also need to have mercy if the way someone else is handling this differs from our own or how we think it should be.
I have hope that we will get through this. I also believe it will require a healthy dose of mercy. I invite those who believe to join me in praying for God's mercy, and for all of us to practice mercy toward each other.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Scattered Kobe thoughts

I was never a particular fan of Kobe Bryant's -- I rooted against him much more than I rooted for him. I don't have much to offer about the human or emotional side of his passing, other than general sadness of lives being cut short so early.

There are some aspects of how he is being recalled that I find interesting, and thought I would explore them here.

--

The Creation story of the modern NBA, and much of sports commentary in general, is Wilt vs. Russell. On the one hand, we have a player who filled the stat sheet up like no player before or since. Yet he only won a couple of championships, played for three different teams (pre "player empowerment era"), and had some glaring flaws, such as poor free throw shooting. On the other hand, we have a player who was not as physically gifted, but embraced the team concept and two hands full of titles. The fundamental lesson for basketball players: Be like Russell, not Wilt.

In The Baseball Abstract, Bill James noted that there are two lines of baseball stars. There are the ones who are almost universally beloved and revered -- Wagner, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Banks, Mays, Clemente, Puckett, Gwynn, Griffey, and a line of those with more mixed reputations -- Cobb, Ruth, Hornsby, Williams, Frank Robinson, Rose, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, and others.

In basketball, there seems to be a Wilt line and a Russell line. The Wilt line includes players like Oscar Robertson, Elvin Hayes, George Gervin, Dominique Wilkins, Allen Iverson, and Russell Westbrook.  Then there were the stars who "got it" -- Jerry West, John Havlicek, Walt Frazier, Walton, Magic, Bird, Isaiah, Duncan.  In his book, Bill Simmons called it "the Secret;" Walton called it "the Choice." 

Much of basketball coaching and commentary is spent coaxing stars from the Wilt path to the Russell path. Jordan got there, or at least the narrative suggests. LeBron was probably always there.

For Kobe, he won a couple post-Shaq championships, but never quite got there. You always had the sense that for Kobe, his teammates were an inconvenience to be managed rather than part of the joy, and this may come from growing up in Italy. His tendency when faced with a problem was to grind it out himself rather than reach out for help.  If there were a 1-on-1 league that offered just as much monetary and reputational rewards as the NBA, Kobe would have chosen that league.

But should we hold that against him? Or should we credit him for going against his natural inclination to the degree that he did? Or for winning championships going against the grain of the dominant narrative?

--

The other trend which Kobe went against analytics. He wasn't an efficient scorer, he relied on mid-range jump shots, and he received a big contract late in his career.  On these, I am more squarely on Team Kobe.

A player like James Harden falls outside of the dichotomy laid out above. The way he plays would be considered selfish, except that it's apparent that this is the team's plan which he is following. And which is awful to watch.

That Kobe stood against the trend that basketball is game best managed by white guys with laptops in luxury suites is a point in his favor.

--

Another James quote that Kobe brings to mind was about Nolan Ryan. According to James, sportswriters always wrote well of Ryan even as they may not have enjoyed his personality or recognized that his approach was suboptimal. The reason was that all other ballplayers had such great respect for Ryan and the difficulty of what he did, that it was a requirement for credibility for sportswriters to share this respect.

I think this is what happened for Kobe for commentators like Simmons and fans like me. Kobe ended up being much more of a winner than Ryan, but his style of play was never what we wanted to see. But we couldn't deny the degree of difficulty of what he did, and the esteem his peers held him in.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Monday, January 20, 2020

Down With The White Guys With Laptops

I've noted before the irony that the analytical revolution in sports was spearheaded by people who would no doubt consider themselves to be progressives, has had the effect of slowing or even reversing the growth of minority candidates in the higher levels of coaching, management, and commentary.

Now, a couple of news items have brought this trend into relief:
  • The sign stealing scandal of the Houston Astros, one of the darling analytical franchises.
  • An NFL head coach hiring season featuring the hiring of only a single minority candidate, Ron Rivera, who had been fired the previous year.
The Astros were build via a massive tear down, following a template that brought the Cubs their first world championship in over a century the year before the Astros won their first title. They lost over 100 games each year from 2012-2014.  They fired their scouting department. They manipulated the service time of their players so they could go longer before arbitration and free agency. Those who criticized these moves were seen as unenlightened. They established the blueprint being followed by the half of major league teams that are not particularly interested in winning, rendering the regular season a foregone conclusion in many divisions.

In the NFL, the criteria for getting a coaching job changed from "pay your dues with a series of college and pro assistant jobs in a number of cities over decades" to "be a 30 something white guy who looks like he needs a shave and have been in the same restaurant as Sean McVay." The conventional wisdom on winning in the NFL was you wanted to have quarterback on his cheap rookie contract, and in order to do that, you needed a "quarterback whisperer" as a coach to get the most out of him (though it apparently hasn't occurred to anyone that the increasing number of African American QBs may respond better to an African American coach).

It's one thing to be held back by an "old boys network." It's not good, but at least there's a path to breaking through. But if the rules keep changing, and you've already invested a lot of time and effort and family disruption to jumping through the hoops of the old system, well, then anger is a reasonable response.

--

In any case, it is my hope that perhaps this can move the sports culture that makes movies about a general manager who managed a baseball team from the Bay Area to the playoffs on the cheap to one that remembers that the games are played by human beings. We'll see.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Twitter Detox (2+ months in)

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. 
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna. 
Matthew 5:29-30  

During my July 4 vacation, I decided to deactivate my Twitter account, and then let the 30 day period lapse before my account was removed.

My reasons for doing this are as follows:

  • It has been getting increasingly apparent to me that Twitter's impact on the world is more negative than positive. One obvious data point is that our current president rose to political prominence on Twitter.
  • In particular, it incentivizes behavior that is detrimental. This includes:
    • Identifying people guilty of some transgression, and mobbing them.
    • Summarizing a piece of information in the most inflammatory manner possible.
  • Leading me to conclude that engaging with Twitter was making me a worse person.
  • Seeing how people behaved on Twitter was lowering my opinion of them.
  • Jack Dorsey's endorsement of abortion so that women can keep working long hours in the office led me to question whether I should contribute to his platform.

So what have I noticed in this time?
  • I had developed a habit of mind of responding to events by formulating a tweet-sized clever quip or take on it. This is starting to fade, but takes some time.
  • I am "out of the loop" and miss some news cycles and controversies. But are they things I would have taken some meaningful action on? No, I really don't think so.
  • Donald Trump does not set the agenda for what will occupy my mind on any given day.
  • There are some voices I discovered from Twitter that I do miss, but the Twitter versions of them are the worst versions of them, and it is better to read them at their best.
  • It was a bit odd going through the first couple football weekends without a stream of instant commentary, but on the other hand, I appreciated the opportunity to make up my own mind about things rather than be lectured.

Is it possible to use Twitter in a way that doesn't make you a worse person? Well, I don't think it is for me, and I suspect it is not for the vast majority of people.

Free your mind from the hive.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Multi-Purpose Stadiums

Rodger Sherman noted that Sunday's Chiefs-Raiders game at the Oakland Coliseum will most likely be the last NFL game played with a dirt infield in a stadium shared with a baseball team, as the Raiders next scheduled home game is after the World Series and they will be moving to Las Vegas next year.

This put me in mind of the dirt infield shared stadiums of my memory, which begins in about 1980:

Grass:

  • Shea Stadium (Mets/Jets)
  • Memorial Stadium (Orioles / Colts)
  • Anaheim Stadium (Angels / Rams)
  • Fulton Country Stadium ( Braves / Falcons )
  • Cleveland Municipal Stadium (Indians / Browns) 
  • Candlestick Park (Giants / 49ers)
  • Jack Murphy Stadium (Padres / Chargers)
  • Joe Robbie Stadium (Marlins / Dolphins)
  • Oakland Coliseum (A's / Raiders )
Astroturf (Outdoor)
  • Busch Stadium ( Baseball and Football Cardinals)
  • Riverfront Stadium ( Reds / Bengals )
  • Three Rivers Stadium (Pirates / Steelers )
  • Veterans Stadium (Phillies / Eagles )
Astroturf (Dome)
  • Astrodome (Astros / Oilers)
  • Kingdome (Mariners / Seahawks)
  • Metrodome (Twins / Vikings)

The interesting thing is that my memory of "multipurpose stadium" is of an artificial turf convertible stadium, but it turns out there were more grass fields than astroturf. 

Certainly, today's single-use stadiums are a better experience, particularly for baseball. And the current efforts to put MLS teams in places like Yankee Stadium or even CenturyLink Field have not been great. Particularly in terms of player safety. The current state of Oakland Coliseum will not leave many fond memories.

Still, there's a frugality to the multi-purpose stadiums that is somewhat admirable that will be missed. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Rooting for Tiger, rooting for myself.

It is somewhat curious that we find ourselves rooting for, and moved by the victory of, an elite athlete who has well-documented incidents of less than admirable behavior, and never was particularly socially conscious. I was crying as I watched him charge off the 18th green and hug his children, and I know I wasn't alone.

So, why is it?

In general, I think it's because we know him so well, and have been watching him for the past 20+ years, and we're familiar with him. Kind of like how we root for the local sports team, regardless of the character of the players or quality of the ownership and management (I say, as I root for this 76ers team that I don't particularly like that pursued a strategy I am diametrically opposed to.)

But for me, it goes a little deeper than that.

I am almost exactly as olds as Tiger Woods -- he was born a little more than four months after me.

Like him, I think my career started with a series of victories (though my successes were obviously less notable). Like him, I have encountered personal difficulties, some of which I have contributed to, which have made those victories less frequent and less impressive. Like him, I have seen a number of talented younger people enter my profession.

And I wonder. Can I still hack it? Do I still have any great victories left in me? Should I continue to invest in myself, or would it be better to focus on developing the next generation?

What Tiger's victory represents to me is hope. Obviously I am not as talented in my field as Tiger is in his, but there is still hope for me, there is still the possibility that I can again create something great. That there will come a time and situation where my experience and wisdom will be more valuable than pure talent.

And so I celebrate Tiger's victory. Even if his adversaries have demonstrated greater character. Even if much of the adversity he's had to overcome is self-inflicted. If he can work his way back to victory again, maybe I can too.

That's worth rooting for.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

What leadership looks like in the Trump era

Before I return to the Covington case, I want to address a couple of tweets from the Catholic governor of New York on the occasion of his signing the Reproductive Health Act, which among other things, legalizes abortion essentially up to full term:



Now, whatever you may think of the theological story Governor Cuomo tells himself to justify going against the clear teaching of the Church (and I don't think much of it), there is also the matter of what it means to so publicly spike the football in the face of one's co-religionists.

Because, when it suits him, Gov. Cuomo still leans into his Catholic identity, as he does here on an issue in which both the Church and I agree with him:



So, Gov. Cuomo must realize that many of his constituents (to say nothing of the unborn ones), this Act is something less than a victory.

But what is his tone? Is it a somber allowance for the harsh realities of the world? No, it's a "celebration." Light up the biggest building in the city. Act like there is no legitimate opposition, and that any opposition must be based on misogyny.

This drives us apart every bit as much as President Trump's rhetoric. And the next time Gov Cuomo invokes the Holy Father to support his policy, he may find it doesn't work quite as well.

If Governor Cuomo's conscience compels him to expand access to abortion, I guess I can't tell him it's not. But I can tell him that the way he is going about doing so is tearing his Church and his country apart.

I hope he cares.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Covington 1 -- My accounting

The Covington case has sparked several thoughts from me. I will start what I hope everyone who helped fan the flames of this incident will do, and consider my own actions and their motivations.

I found out about this from a series of tweets from other conservative commentators. The first ones I saw mentioned the MAGA hats, but not the pro-life march. Knowing the pro-life march had just happened, I looked into it, hoping the boys involved were not from the pro-life march, but suspecting they were.

The tweet that I retweeted was of Prof. Robert George retweeting Fr. James Martin condemning the incident, and that it is not what the March For Life is about.  For those not in the know, Prof. George and Fr. Martin are both pro-life Catholics, but agree on little else. If they agreed on this incident, that was good enough for me. I hoped the criticism would center on the MAGA hats rather than the pro-life aspect. I avoided social media for most of the rest of the weekend, correctly suspecting it would get ugly.

Why did I feel compelled to join in? I understand that the right answer is that I was horrified by the incident itself, but to be honest, it is likely because I sensitive to the criticism that pro-life people do not care about any other issue and are motivated by hatred. I felt the need to distance myself, and the pro-life movement in general, from this.

Why did I believe it? Well, I was once a teenager bused into Washington for the March for Life, and I am aware that those doing so are not necessarily motivated by an abiding seamless garment respect for life in all its stages, or even opposition to abortion. It was a day off school and a trip to Washington with my friends. I also have two teenage daughters and teach Confirmation class to teenagers. They're good kids, but would not be my choice of spokespersons for the cause (more to come on the prudence of this strategy).

Either Fr. Martin or Prof. George deleted the tweet I retweeted, making it unnecessary for me to do so. I also tweeted questioning the prudence of busing teenagers in for the March For Life, which I am even more convinced is something we need to reconsider.

So, for me, I think my mistake was hypersensitivity to the "you pro-lifers only care about people until they're born" criticism.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Yes, I voted. But it's not enough.


I did send in my ballot yesterday.

I think voting is important, and it is even more important to protect the right to vote, but I've become increasingly uncomfortable with the cult around it.

My feelings about President Trump have not improved since the election. He is a terrible leader who drives people apart rather than bringing them together. He brings out the worst in us. Any conventional candidate would be a better president than he, and the day someone else is president will be a good day and cannot come too soon.

On the other hand, I think Trump is a continuation of trends and habits of thought that have been in place for a long time. Trump has accelerated them, and brought them a step further, but if he didn't exist, we'd still be facing the same problems.

So, while I am sympathetic with the notion that Trump's race-baiting must be rejected, I do not agree that simply voting for Democrats is the best means to do so.

The Democratic party, and those who speak for them, do not seem to have learned anything from Trump's victory, content to write it off as racism and ignorance. Nor have they grappled with the effect that declaring that the unborn are outside the protection of the law, and defending that notion more than anything else, has had on the culture.

Sure, voting is a more positive step than trading videos about how terrible conservatives are. But it is the beginning. The culture needs to be healed from the ground up. That work continues.

Friday, September 28, 2018

To expand on below

To make this more personal, if we assume Kavanaugh is a rapist based on the evidence at hand, this is the message, I as a man, will receive:

How you behave doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what you've accomplished or how you've treated women. If one woman comes forward and makes an accusation against you, no matter how vague or difficult to corroborate, we will believe her, and assume you are a rapist, assaulter, or abuser. There is no amount of goodwill you can bank that will protect you from this.

Maybe it's worth it. Maybe this is better or a just comeuppance for the fear women have had to live with.

But it is a real cost. And not all men will respond to this by being super-careful. We are removing an incentive to behave well.  If I'm going to be considered a rapist anyway, why not?

I'm not saying this is how I would personally respond, how how men should respond. Basic human decency and compassion should lead to men treating women with respect. But obviously that hasn't worked for everyone, and for the type of man on the margin of treating women badly, we're removing a reason to exercise restraint.

Again, I'm not saying this is the only or most important concern. But it is a real concern

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Why They Fight For Kavanaugh

I'm writing this as the testimony is going on. I am open to the possibility that it could be convincing of Kavanaugh's guilt, clear him, or leave us in the same uncertain place we are now. But I think the feeling I have right now is worth capturing.

As I posted below, I don't think anyone is indispensable, and I am generally of the opinion that it is better to risk a possible innocent candidate to be denied a big job than to risk a victim being denied justice. The world doesn't owe Kavanaugh a Supreme Court seat, just as the world didn't owe Hillary Clinton the presidency. We have the right to pass over someone with doubts, even if those doubts are less than certain. We have the right to have high standards for our leaders.

At the same time, it is a little scary to see how little it takes for someone who may be innocent to be disgraced as a rapist. It is still within the realm of possibility that he is guilty of nothing more than getting drunk at high school and college parties, writing an off color inside joke in his high school yearbook, and having classmates and friends who were guilty of worse.*  It's not clear that anyone can establish that Kavanaugh has even ever been in the same room as his accusers. It seems like since then, he has represented himself honorably in both is professional and family life, and put in the effort to get to this point in his life. It is a real concern to think that one could do everything right, and it still isn't enough to prevent you from being ruined, if people are motivated to do so.

I'm not saying this is the only concern.  It must also be balanced against the rights of victims. I'm also aware that this is a possibility that less privileged people face in a variety of contexts, and maybe this experience will teach people to be more sensitive to that.

But it is a real concern that cannot be simply be brushed away. So, if people are wondering why people are so hell-bent on defending this nominee in the face of credible accusations, this is why.  It doesn't mean they're right, it doesn't mean we need to confirm him anyway, but it is why people are concerned.


* I'm aware of the antipathy for the "boys will be boys" defense. I think it is wrong when applied to the behavior of adult men, or criminally violent behavior. I think it is reasonable to not condemn a middle aged man for drinking too much or making inappropriate jokes in high school.

Monday, September 17, 2018

My Kavanaugh Thoughts

My thoughts, before they get swallowed up in the spin cycle.

First, before these revelations came out, I was mildly in favor of Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. I am pro-life, which for me means that the lives of the unborn should be legally protected. I like neither the result of Roe v. Wade nor how it has poisoned our politics, and am eager to see it overturned.

While I am not a fan of President Trump, or his politics, Kavanaugh struck me as a fairly conventional conservative nominee, which was fine with me. I found much of the antics opposing his nomination to be absurd.

Now, here are my thoughts.

Character Matters

It matters what type of people we elevate to the highest positions in our country. This sends a powerful signal to the rest of us about what types of behavior are celebrated, tolerated, and rejected.

I think this is apparent in how we feel about our country with Donald Trump as president versus how we felt when someone with impeccable character like Barack Obama was preside his nt, even though I disagreed with many of President Obama's positions and policies.

Furthermore, should Judge Kavanaugh be confirmed, his time in the Supreme Court will most likely be defined by cases we do not know about and aren't currently anticipating. How he decides those will be determined by his character more than his carefully prepared answers to questions about known cases.

More pragmatically, if Judge Kavanaugh were to be the deciding vote overturning Roe v. Wade, those opposed would be even more likely to believe and propose that this was a vote against women by men looking to control them than a vote to protect unborn life. And I can't say with confidence that they'd be wrong.

Teenage Indiscretions

There is an argument, that I am somewhat open to but not convinced by, that even if the accusations against Judge Kavanaugh are true, that things that we do as minors, even terrible things like attempted rape, should not haunt someone throughout their adult life. Statutes of limitations are there for a reason, as are limits on the punishments given to minors. People should be able to reform themselves and repent.  The character of Judge Kavanaugh is better revealed by his record of giving opportunities to female law clerks, etc. over his career than this once incident from when he was in high school.

In general, I support this attitude. But I think that as we apply this attitude, people like Judge Kavanaugh should be at the end of the line of those we extend this mercy to, rather than the beginning.

One of the things that bothered me about Hillary Clinton's candidacy was this sense that she was entitled to this presidency, and things like the e-mail scandal represented a nefarious plot by the patriarchy to deny her what was rightfully hers. No, for me, I think we deserved a president who does not consider herself above the law.  There are millions of people in this country who will never be president, most for worse reasons than that they didn't think they should have to follow the same rules everyone else does.

Likewise, there are millions of people who will never be a Supreme Court Justice. Most for worse reasons than that they attempted to rape someone as a teenager. I managed to navigate my adolescence without ever coming close to doing something like what Judge Kavanaugh is accused of. If we limit the pool of Supreme Court Justices to those who have not attempted rape as teenagers, I don't think we'll be eliminating every possible qualified candidate. 

And if this really was a standard feature of growing up as an elite, then maybe we need to look elsewhere and just nominate women for a while. It's worth it to establish that this isn't something we tolerate.

Many people face much more dire consequences for mistakes they made as a teenager than not becoming Supreme Court Justices. Let's fix that first, before worrying about someone who managed to rise to become a Federal Judge.

The Response

In terms of the facts, I am satisfied with the following:

  1. Prof. Ford was assaulted at a party.
  2. She believes it was Judge Kavanaugh who did it.
I am not satisfied that I am positive it was Judge Kavanaugh who did it, but she did provide enough details that there are questions that demand answers, both from Judge Kavanaugh and independent investigations.

If Kavanaugh responds by smearing the accuser (or stays silent while surrogates do) that will be disqualifying on his character.

If he is guilty, and responded with something along the lines that this did happen, he immediately felt terrible about it and went straight to confession, and has worked since then to make amends in how he lives his life both professionally and personally, and did not mention it because he is ashamed, then I could be OK with his nomination going forward.

In short, even if one buys the argument that Judge Kavanaugh shouldn't pay for the crimes of his adolescence as an adult, it still matters if he has actually moved past that or dismisses it.

And even if he is innocent, how he responds matters. Facing unfair accusations is part of being a public figure. It matters how one responds.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Why I Need Answers

No, I am not leaving, but I am not happy.

Bishop Vigano's testimony demands a fact-based answers. Yes, it appears he is opposed to some of what Pope Francis is doing and has some axes to grind. But pointing that out is not a sufficient response.

Speaking for myself (aware that mine is likely not the most important perspective), here is why I need a response:


  • I have tried to lead my life according to the Church's teachings. My marriage is now separating. I intend to continue to live according to the Church's teachings, but it appears it will be a lonely road (as it is for many others in different circumstances). As I do, I would like to know that the Church's leaders are holding themselves accountable to the same standards.
  • I am living in a city and working in and industry that regards Christianity with suspicion, and considers religious people well-meaning dupes. I would rather not give people additional reasons to consider me foolish. Absent answers, people will fill in their old stories. I may do so charitably; the rest of the world will not, nor will they hold themselves to the facts on offer. To them, we are a Church populated my sexual predators and enablers. While I know this isn't the truth, staying silent makes it more difficult to say so.
  • I am raising two teenage daughters, and would like them to have the support of the Church as they grow in to adults. I want to be able to credibly tell them that the Church, while flawed, is an organization worth dedicating themselves to and has leaders worth following.
  • I teach Confirmation class and do other things to support our parish's youth ministry. As I talk to them about chastity, it will be helpful if I know that the Church's leaders also believe in chastity and take these teaching seriously.
  • I also help teach First Communion class. I want to be able to tell the parents that they are wise to bring their children to Church, and that we are trustworthy with them.
This isn't about liberal and conservative agendas. This is about supporting someone who is trying to serve God in a difficult time. 

I suspect I am not alone.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Why Remain?

As we Catholics are greeted this morning with more bad news about those who would be our leaders, we hear this in the Gospel:

As a result of this,many of his disciples returned to their former way of lifeand no longer accompanied him.Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believeand are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."
And yes, this a big reason why I remain Catholic -- because I believe what the Church proclaims to be true, and that it is the path to eternal life for myself, my daughters, and others I come into contact with. That doesn't change based on the behavior of bishops, no matter how bad.

More personally there have been times in my life when the Church was the one voice saying to me that I had intrinsic worth, beyond what I look like or what I accomplish or what the rest of the world says about me. I need that, and I want my daughters to have that.

I understand that this is not what everyone's experience of the religion in general and the Church, specifically has been, which brings me to my final reason. I am here to serve Church at least as much as the Church is here to serve me. Right now, that is more difficult but no less necessary. If the Church is to fulfill her promise, it will require people like me to serve it faithfully, and to help bring about renewal and spreading the Good News.

Each person's experience is different, and I'm not claiming that this should suffice for everyone. But it is why I remain.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Americans Finale

A look at my Twitter feed indicates that I am in the minority in being underwhelmed by last night's finale of The Americans. So, I figured I'd lay out my thoughts here.

First, I have to praise the show in general. In addition, to producing tense and exciting entertainment, it made the following difficult choices:


  • It did not present the USSR as not so bad, or even as bad, but the US is just as bad, as would have been the fashion at the time. The threat was presented as real. The Soviet agents may have been likable characters, but their cause was never presented as just, or as one of a number of equally bad choices. Yes, the FBI did some shady things, but the entire premise of the Jennings's mission was evil, and the consequences were presented in a straightforward way.
  • When the public (or prestige-drama watching public) mood shifted to a more anti-Russia place, the show did not fall into the trap of making itself "essential" or "timely" by adjusting the show to more closely mirror current events. Not every cultural artifact has to be a reminder that Trump Is Bad.
  • It presented the father as the parent more emotionally connected to his children, and not blinded by ideology.  Yes, Elizabeth was more "badass," particularly in the final seasons, but that didn't serve her or her family well until it was directed correctly. The stereotype is that men would be the ones blindly committed to ideology, and that women would be the ones considering what impact this is having on children. It was nice to see a show presenting that this is not always the case.
I also acknowledge that the showrunners had a very difficult task is presenting and resolving tension in a story we already knew the ending of, one way or another.

I think my main problem comes from the treatment of the character Stan Beeman.

Yes, it takes a certain amount of obliviousness to live across the street from undercover Soviet spies for five years before starting to suspect them. And his involvement with Nina was certainly a misstep. But he was never presented as a fool. He had attained a position at what must have been an elite team in the FBI, and had been presented as a valued and trusted member, brought in to consult even after moving to a different detail.

But when he finally concludes that his neighbors are all spies responsible for a trail of deaths, he confronts them alone in a parking garage???  From what we've seen of Elizabeth, I'm pretty sure she alone could have disarmed him by herself in no time. Letting them go was probably the best possible outcome of that encounter for Stan. (And if he didn't represent the Jenningses only possible connection with Henry, he would almost certainly be dead). 

And then the show sentences him to a lifetime of uncertainty over whether his wife is also an undercover agent. It just seems that he's as smart or dumb as the plot requires. Which I find a bit disappointing.

In any case, that's just my opinion. Others seemed to like it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Welcome the Innovation?

Since the Rockets have now been eliminated, I'll go ahead and publish this month-old post....

With my 76ers suffering perhaps the worst loss of my history of sports fandom (some of those Eagles NFC championships and the 1993 World Series may come close), I'll turn my attention to bigger picture issues.

Mark Titus tackles the question of whether the Houston Rockets are fun to watch.  The body of his article had me arriving at the same conclusion -- that the strategy may be entertaining from the Rockets, but would not be if it were universally adapted. A separate but related question is whether the innovations in strategy that the Rockets have made are ones that should be encouraged, discouraged, or allowed to run their course through the league, a question I find interesting.

Baseball is probably further down the road on batting and pitching strategies reducing balls in play. The NHL faced this with the neutral zone trap.

In considering this, I think there are some relevant questions.

Does the innovation result in an aestheically superior game?

Which is the question Titus's article sought to answer.  Some tangential questions:

Does this change reward athletic skill? Effort? Discipline? Luck? Are these they types of skills we want to see more of?
Does it put the game more in the hands of players or coaches?
Does the innovation reward effort? 
Does the innovation have any impact on player safety?
Does the innovation enhance or diminish the impact star players can have on the game?
What if this innovation were adopted universally? And in lower levels of the game?

This probably isn't a universal standard. But in general, we want sports to reward talent and effort, favor putting the game in the hands of players more than coaches, be as safe as possible, and give its stars a chance to shine. The neutral zone trap fails these tests. I'm not sure about the Rockets.

For some, it can be difficult to tell. It seems that it should be obvious for the NBA to embrace the individual greatness and fierce competitiveness that Michael Jordan brought to the game. But, he became the template for all future stars. He launched a series of hero-ball that we're still not quite out of.

If you determine that the innovation is harmful, then there's the decision of whether to intervene. Which leads to further questions:

Is it likely this tactic will be imitated? Does it rely on unique or rare skills from a certain player or group of players?
Is there a counter other teams can deploy to neutralize the tactic?
Are the interventions likely to cause more harm than good?

Hack-a- is an annoying strategy that requires little skill to execute, and either takes start players out of the game or has them doing the thing they do poorest. But is has multiple counters (including making the damn free throws) and interventions may cause more harm than good.

In the Rockets' case, the main rule is the 3 point line. When it was put in, it was not with the anticipation that teams would take 50 3 pointers a game. It seems there's some adjustments that could be made without impacting the soul of the game

Monday, March 19, 2018

One more thing about UVA

Mark Titus posted this after Syracuse upset my championship pick, Michigan State:

First, as I replied, and I've said before, this style works to level the playing field. The slow, deliberate style makes an anomalous result, like UMBC beating Virginia, or Syracuse beating Michigan St., more likely.

This doesn't mean "Virginia has no chance of ever finding NCAA tourney success," but I think it does mean that they don't enter what should be a mismatch with all the advantages a team like Duke does.

But the contrast with Syracuse points out another problem.

When I was growing up, it was Jim Boeheim's Syracuse team that was a perennial tournament disappointment. They had talent like Pearl Washington, Rony Seikaly, Sherman Douglas, Billy Owens, and Stephen Thompson, but only had one deep tournament run. They lost in the first round to Richmond as a #2 seed. They were notoriously poor free throw shooters.

Now, their typical pattern is to underachieve during the regular season, and then make a run in the tournament with their gimmicky defense that teams ought to be ready for but somehow aren't.

And I wonder if a team like Virginia enters the tournament mentally tapped out. As many commentators noted, they did not blow anybody out. Yes, their games were "over" once they established an 8 point lead in the first half, but only because they could be counted on to maintain their defensive intensity. They had to grind for 40 minutes every night to achieve the record they did. And then they weren't able to kick into a higher gear for the tournament.

Syracuse jogged through the regular season and conference tournament, but then was able to dial it up in the tournament. And for teams like Villanova and Duke, half their games were over before the ball was tipped. They could coast on their superior talent. (And sometimes they couldn't, and lost to St. John's, but no biggie) Virginia didn't do that.

Now, this isn't a hard and fast rule. If you re-ran the tournament 10 more times, I'd bet on UVA reaching the Sweet 16 more times than Syracuse pretty confidently. But it explains why the tournament performances are out of sync with their regular season performance.

--

It gives me no joy to say this. I'd like to believe that hard work and discipline can win out over talent. And maybe we should celebrate Virginia's dominant regular season rather than pick apart their failures.

But for tournament success, it seems right now like having at least some overpowering talent is a clearer path to a championship than a great system.