Monday, February 06, 2012

Clock Management

In the past two days, I have seen my least two favorite plays in all of sports.


  • Trailing by two points withe one minute left on the 6 yard line, the Giants handed the ball to Ahmad Bradshaw, who burst through the line of Patriots defenders who were letting him score, tried to stop at the one yard line, then fell into the end zone for the most anti-climatic last-minute Super Bowl winning touchdown we'll ever see.
  • Leading Oklahoma by three with five seconds left, Missouri fouled an Oklahoma player who was not in the act of shooting, so he would have two free throw attempts.  (He missed the first, then purposely missed the second, which set up an open 3 point attempt for Oklahoma that was missed.)

The intentional walk probably belongs in this category as well.  I have a little more tolerance for more established tactics like basketball teams fouling when they're behind and calling time out while falling out of bounds.

Why do I hate these?  Because they turn the games into a contest over who can think of and execute the anti-competitive play rather than which team is playing the sport better.

Yes, "clock management" is part of the game.  And the ways in which coaches screwed up various end of half situations are great for filling time on 24 hour sports radio stations.  But it has nothing to do with how the game was originally designed, or how we played the game as kids.

Or does it?  In the age of video games, probably more fans have experience managing a team in different late game situations than have ever gotten into a three-point stance or burst through a hole in the offensive line.  Which may partly explain the focus on these tactics.

But it's my belief that telling a running back not to score, and telling defensive players to let them score, takes them away from what got them into that position in the first place.  The Giants didn't get to the Super Bowl by not scoring touchdowns; they got there by scoring touchdowns.

Mike Greenberg loves these things.  You can count on him coming on the air of every morning talking about how some player should have taken a knee, run out of bounds, fumbled on purpose, ran through his own end zone, dropped an interception, or done something contrary to his competitive instincts.  And Golic is there to set him straight from the perspective of someone who's actually played the game.

Sure enough this morning, he was justifying Bradshaw falling down by saying that the Patriots wanted him to score, so by falling down, he was playing into their hands.  But you know what I'm saying to my defense if I'm Tom Coughlin?  I'm saying that the Patriots think they can out-clever us, but I believe in our football team.  I think we can beat them on the field, and they don't.  Now go out there and prove me right!

This is one thing I think soccer may have the right idea on -- the referee keeps the time on the field, and the players and coaches don't know exactly when time will end, so the end of games doesn't turn into a mutual effort to manipulate the clock to your advantage. 

In general I watch sports to see athletes competing at the highest level.  I don't watch hoping to see coaches out-clever each other, defensive players letting a team score, and offensive players falling down before they score a touchdown.  It may be fun to talk about, but it's not why I watch sports.  To paraphrase Bill James, "Quit screwing around and play football!"

For more of me on this topic, see here.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Diveristy Is Bigger Than Individuals

Supporters of the HHS decision not to broaden the religious exemption (or who think the objections to it are overwrought) for the directive to include coverage for contraception in employee health benefits point to the absurdity of an organization as large and diverse as the Catholic Church having a "conscience."  The proper unit for considering the right of conscience is the individual, and that, from this perspective, it is the Church that is imposing its morality on the conscience of its employees, the vast majority of whom do not share the Church's opposition to contraception, and that through the mandate, the administration is freeing them from this imposition.

They have a point, if one thinks that the most important things is to preserve the conscience rights of the individual.

But I'm not sure that's the crucial thing.

I'm reminded of an article several years ago from Emily Bazelon several years ago about doing a book swap instead of birthday presents for her childrens' birthdays that I commented on.  While I wasn't, and am not, a fan of this particular innovation, I saluted (and continue to salute) parents taking a stand against the rampant consumerism surrounding birthdays and other holidays.

Of course, this can be seen as the parents dictating to the children how their birthdays will be celebrated, and an individualist might claim that the child should make that determination for his own birthday, and the parents have no right to do so.

But notice where this thinking will lead us -- the individual child will tend to conform to the mainstream of society -- he wants a party with presents just like every other kid!  And this status quo of consumerism will remain unchallenged.  When we make the unit of conscience rights the individual rather than families or other organizations, what we are really doing is privileging the status quo, because an individual is less likely to effectively resist the mainstream than an organization.

History demonstrates that the US mainstream has been terribly wrong on many issues, and thus it's likely we're terribly wrong about something now.  Most will scoff that our embrace of contraception is one of those things, but I think there's a non-zero chance that it is.

But if it is, or if some other aspect of mainstream culture is a great mistake, we will need alternatives to show us a better way.  And leaving it to individuals isn't likely to get us there, because individuals are easier to sweep up in the mainstream than institutions like churches and families are.

I'm not sure "conscience" is the correct term to capture this -- perhaps institutional diversity or institutional pluralism?  But we need space for institutions to dissent from the mainstream of cultural practices.  The Administration's action closes this off, and that's a bad thing.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Scenes From The Culture War

I'll break from my blogging hiatus to comment on a few culture-war related news events.

First, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced it is ending its partnership with Planned Parenthood, launching a great deal of outrage.

A couple quick hits first:


  • Given how many people seem to celebrate Planned Parenthood, it is surprising that they would be so dependent on the government and groups like Komen for funding, to the point where one group ending a partnership threatens their ability to provide vital services for poor women, which they claim to be so much about.  One would think that an organization that has amassed such goodwill would be awash in donations.  Yet, it seems Planned Parenthood is always on the edge where if one state withdraws a bit of funding, they will have no choice but to let poor women die of cancer.

    Unless, of course, it's not really about providing vital services to the poor, but in getting as many people as possible to associate themselves with Planned Parenthood, all their services, and ultimately abortion.  I did Race for the Cure, which is good, and they donate to Planned Parenthood, so they must be OK, and Planned Parenthood performs abortions, so maybe abortions aren't so bad.....
  • If people really are only concerned about providing health services to poor women, it seems to me they should be furious at Planned Parenthood for continuing to perform abortions, and putting their ability to do so at the mercy of societal acceptance of something as contentious as abortion.  It would seem that providing cancer screenings, and defending one's funding from the pro-life movement are two separate activities, and organizations would be more effective at concentrating on one than in working on both.
  • For all the talk about how this decision seems sentences poor women to death from cancer, I was thinking I had missed the part of the announcement where Komen said they were going to burn the money they would have donated to charity.  As Rachel Larimore notes, it would have been better if Komen had also announced how they planned to replace the services that had been provided through its partnership with PP.  But I haven't seen anything suggesting that PP was uniquely positioned to provide these services, and that other organizations not entangled in the abortion debate aren't willing and able to step into the gap.  So count me unconvinced that this decision means that more poor women will see an early grave.
One more thing I wanted to address is the puzzlement some people seem to feel about pro-life people's opposition to Planned Parenthood.  I'm not talking about those who don't even try to understand, and just assign them the worst possible motives. (yes, it's surely "cowardice" to take on what Komen's taken on the last couple days). But people who seem to honestly struggle with why those who consider abortion to be the killing of innocent human life would have anything but warm feelings for the largest provider of abortions.

And insofar as access to contraception and other family-planning services reduces the demand for abortion, Planned Parenthood also prevents abortion. In my view, it is an important part of civil society. Even from a pro-life position, I would think it qualifies: being pro-life is a coherent moral position, and not one that necessarily implies a lack of concern for women's health. So I really don't understand why Planned Parenthood gets so much grief from the right. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that I understand what the complaints are, but I'm not really convinced.

I think non pro-life people think that pro-life people regard abortion as something akin to unemployment or population.  Something that's bad, but probably a secondary symptom of other societal ills, and it would be better to address those than to attack this symptom directly.  A high level of unemployment is bad, but that doesn't mean it is morally to fire someone.  If a company fires 5 people but hires 10 others, that is on net a good thing.

Pro-life people (or at least people who are pro-life like I am) see abortion as something more akin to slavery, or Jim Crow segregation.  I'm not saying that's the most useful way to describe it  when making arguments to others who are unconvinced, but is how we feel about in our bones.  So supporting an the organization that is the leading provider of abortions, consistently lobbies against abortion restrictions, but engages in other activities that may on net reduce the number of abortions would be as absurd to a pro-lifer as an anti-segregationist supporting a business a whites-only business that patronized a black-owned suppliers.  Perhaps, on net, its actions were beneficial to blacks, but it was publicly and prominently on the wrong side on a fundamental issue of justice.

For more on why this pro-lifer does't instantly give three cheers to all organizations and programs claiming to reduce the number of abortions, see here.

Finally, it's interesting to compare the reaction to a private organization deciding not to partner with an organization that is the leading practitioner of something a significant minority of the population considers the killing of innocent children, to the reaction of the government ordering the Catholic Church to provide coverage for something it considers immoral.