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.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Tentative theory on why a team like UVA was the first to lose to a 16 seed.


I would have expected the first loss to come from a team built on lottery talent like the Fab Five or Tark era UNLV or DC era Syracuse or a Coach Cal team looking past their first round opponent. (the Mourning-Mutombo Georgetown team that almost lost to Princeton as a template). 

But it was a disciplined defensive "system" team that dominated the toughest conference in the country. It may be that UVA was built to neutralize talent disadvantages against the likes of Duke, North Carolina, etc. Which is successful, but negates their advantage when they play a team like UMBC. The playing field is leveled. So teams like Duke and Villanova roll over their early round opponents on the strength of their talent, but UVA has to grind it out. And if a team like UMBC hits their shots, an upset is in play, whereas lottery pick teams can just run over them. I don't really like this, but I think it makes sense.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Not getting better....

I saw the original Tweet Ruth Marcus pitching article I discussed yesterday::
and it occurred to me that I was probably guilty of the exact behavior (though I was more criticizing a response to the article than the article itself) so I figured I'd check it out.

First, I want to note the work this tweet is doing. Effectively, it pre-empts any criticism her article might receive as uninformed shouting. That she posted this on Twitter, where over-reacting to out of context quotes and uncharitable paraphrases is the normal past time, this is somewhat rich. If people want slightly more restrictive immigration policies, they can be dismissed as racists. Those who are skeptical about whether gun control will end school shootings don't care about kids. But people should keep their cool when someone advances eugenics.

Anyway, given this pitch, I was expecting to see an argument, that might not convince me, but that I might be slightly sympathetic to.

Nope.

To give some credit, Ms. Marcus does go out of her way to validate the experience of parents of Downs Syndrome children (and, I suppose, other genetic diseases), and that she understands why they may find her position abhorrent. And I am not highlighting this to attack Ms. Marcus personally, but that the citation of this as "courageous" is a notable data point in the state of the culture. The line of thinking she outlines is a product of the sick culture we live in, just like school shootings and "President Trump."

And I am not alone. More than two-thirds of American women choose abortionin such circumstances. Isn’t that the point — or at least inherent in the point — of prenatal testing in the first place?
We have the technology. If we don't use it to kill undesirables, we're putting it to waste. Let's hope we don't apply this to nuclear weapons.

This is how she justifies her position:

I’m going to be blunt here: That was not the child I wanted. That was not the choice I would have made. You can call me selfish, or worse, but I am in good company. The evidence is clear that most women confronted with the same unhappy alternative would make the same decision.
She doesn't want it, and lots of other people agree with her.

As if this type of thinking has never before been used to justify all sorts of evil.

From there she goes on to discuss the particular Constitutionality and enforceability of laws aimed at protecting Downs Syndrome children, given Roe v. Wade, and she may well be right about that.

Think about it. Can it be that women have more constitutional freedom to choose to terminate their pregnancies on a whim than for the reason that the fetus has Down syndrome? And, to the question of enforceability, who is going to police the decision-making? Doctors are now supposed to turn in their patients — patients whom they owe confidentiality — for making a decision of which the state disapproves? 
Emphasis added by me.

Gun rights advocates are challenged to consider the impact of their absolutism in handgun violence and mass shootings. Yes, perhaps the Founders may have written the right to bear arms into the Constitution, but we know more now about how that plays out in the modern world, and should be able to make some necessary corrections.

Not so for abortion, apparently. The Court decided for abortion on demand 40 years ago. If people are using it to eliminate people with certain genetic disorders, our response can be little more than the shrug emoji.

In other words, though he didn’t put it in these exact words, the state can hijack your body.
If you're going to pitch your story with a plea against shouting, I don't think you should be allowed to put words like "hijack your body" in your adversaries mouths.

The rest is pretty much standard pro-choice rhetoric -- it's a woman's decision, in conference with her doctors. She, not government officials (this isn't the time for "government is the name we give to things we choose to do together" talk) is best positioned to make this choice. Etc.

It also is so common that it is almost not worth noting that there is no place for the father in this decision making process.


---

So, again, I do not mean to highlight as Ms. Marcus as uniquely evil. She is probably correct that most Americans share her views. Which makes the categorization of her column as "courageous" all the more ridiculous. As Mark Shea might have said before turning is blog into how much he hates Trump, it's a case of "bravely standing to face the applause."


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Gun control won't fix this....

As I have observed people generally freaking out over Trump and about school shootings, I have not joined in. I struggled to come up with exactly why, but it is encapsulated in this tweet:
This is what is celebrated in our culture today as "courageous" -- confessing that one would have killed a hypothetical defenseless baby because she had a mental disorder.

Not a sad but necessary accommodation to the difficulties that exist in the world. "Courageous."

I suppose it is somewhat sickeningly gratifying that the Planned Parenthood is  getting back to its eugenicist roots.  Never mind that they kill thousands of children a year and were founded by a racist eugenicist. They do cancer screenings, so we should #standWith them, and wouldn't it be fun if the local WNBA team had a night to support them! Who could possibly have a problem with that?

And then...


  • We have the nerve to act surprised that some people support a buffoon from reality TV for president because he fights for them.
  • We dare to act surprised that some teenagers who are produces of this culture have received the message that violence is a reasonable solution when life hands you more that you think you can handle, and act accordingly.
  • We dare to act surprised that people don't see ties to racist people and organizations as disqualifying.
  • We have the nerve to act shocked that some people value their liberty to own guns over a possible reduction in mass shootings.
--

I am not opposed to gun control. It seems that, at a minimum, it would limit the damage mass shooter can enact.

But I will not make and idol out of it. It will not solve the deep spiritual and moral sickness that has invaded our culture. I will not pretend that this will solve the deep moral sickness that celebrates the "courage" of those who would kill a Downs Syndrome baby rather than care for it.

Acknowledge this, commit to changing this as well as our gun laws, and I will gladly join you.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Stumbling blocks for me in the push for gun control

As a pro-life and socially conservative person for the past couple decades, I have seen arguments similar to what I list below successfully deployed and often win arguments over the past several years:
  • You shouldn't try to legislate morality, especially when you don't have a clear majority in place.
  • If you try to make something illegal that people really want to do, all that will accomplish is to lead those people to fulfill this desire outside of the law, likely with disastrous consequences.
  • Rather than ban some action you disapprove of, you should work to create conditions such that this will no longer be seen as an attractive or necessary choice.
  • If you do support banning something for some reason, you are morally obligated to support every issue that could plausibly be linked to that issue, or else have your movement compromised by charges of hypocrisy.
  • The moral character of leaders is not a relevant concern for voters, in particular their consensual sexual behavior.
  • It is unreasonable to expect people to curtail their personal freedoms for greater societal benefit.
  • You should look past an organization's involvement in morally reprehensible acts if they can present a plausible case that their other activities are beneficial.
  • It is simple-minded to be a "single-issue" voter. Voters should weigh "proportional reasons" rather than disqualify candidates based on their position on a single issue, no matter how reprehensible.
  • Vivid images of the barbarism of some practice are manipulative and should not be deployed for your cause.
  • Attacking organizations that are deeply implicated in a practice you oppose is a dirty, divisive tactic that should be avoided.
So. despite being disposed to believe that some gun control could at least limit the loss of life from these type of attacks, it is moderately annoying to see tactics that are considered improper when deployed against the killing of unborn children being used with no apparent consequences.

This doesn't invalidate the case for gun control. But it does represent a stumbling block for me supporting it, that I have to move past. It is possible I need to move past it anyway, but it would be helpful in doing so if some of those making these arguments acknowledged that they may have been wrong in the past about how our laws influence behavior, whether someone needs to be morally perfect themselves to support restrictive policies, and that an organization's involvement in a reprehensible practice can make it unacceptable so support.

It would also be helpful if these activists would acknowledge that gun control is addressing a symptom of a deeper spiritual sickness in our culture and not a root cause. We have had lax gun laws for years; we have not had regular school shootings until recently.  This sickness has produced a number of symptoms -- the opioid epidemic, family breakdown, the election of a reality show huckster as president. Gun control may mitigate one symptom, but leave a lot of hard work to be done, hard work that may impact people more sympathetic than the NRA.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Championship Observations

From my survey of championship teams:


  1. It appears that championships now come early in the success cycle, on a team's first deep run in the playoffs.  The old narrative where a team built up playoff experience before they were ready for a championship doesn't seem to be operable.  If you've got a young team that could make a playoff run, you may as well go all-in for a championship, since it may be your best chance. This could be bad news for teams like the Vikings and Indians that have been lingering around.
  2. Unexpected championships seem fun, but are ultimately less satisfying than ones with a solid build-up behind them. 
  3. It's hard to find a champion with a bad, or even average, coach or manager. Maybe Charlie Manuel? Coaches do seem to matter.



Monday, February 12, 2018

Championship Teams in Reverse Chronological Order

I grew up in South Jersey, went to college in St. Louis and lived there until moving to Seattle five years ago. This has given me the opportunity to root for a few championship teams, ending with the current Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. I thought I would walk through these and consider what made them appealing or memorable, or not so much.

2017 Eagles (NFL)

Coach: Doug Pederson
Key Players: Carson Wentz (injured before playoffs), Nick Foles, Fletcher Cox, Malcom Jenkins, Zack Ertz
Championship Game: 41-33 Super Bowl victory over the defending champion New England Patriots, featuring scoring the winning touchdown with 2 minutes left, and a pass to the quarterback on 4th and goal.
Other Key Victories: Win in the divisional round over defending NFC Champion Falcons that came down to 4th down stop with less than a minute remaining. Blowout win over 13-3 Minnesota Vikings in NFC Championship Game. Week 3 win over Giants on 60+ yard FG as time expired. Blowout win over Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. Comfortable win over Redskins on Monday Night Football. Close win over Rams in game when Wentz got hurt.
Bummers: Wentz injury, followed by unimpressive win over Raiders and final week loss to Cowboys. Loss in Seattle on Sunday Night Football
Best Team?  Most likely. Their playoff road included every serious challenger, with the possible exception of the Saints.  And they won them all without their franchise quarterback.
Hunger Factor: First Super Bowl victory, first NFL championship since 1960
Championship Experience: 9.5/10   Eagles are the team I have the most visceral connection with, and this is probably true for most Philadelphia fans. Team was a joy to root for -- class guys all around, and some real solid characters like Chris Long. And a wonderful Super Bowl victory

2016 Sounders (MLS)

Coach: Midseason replacement Brian Schmetzer.
Key Players: Clint Dempsey (out with heart condition for playoffs), Nicholas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris, Chad Marshall, Ozzie Alonso, Goalkeeper Stefan Frei
Championship Match: Shootout victory over Toronto FC
Other Key Victories: No individual victories stand out, but team went on a tear after replacing Sigi Schmid with Schmetzer and acquiring Lodeiro
Bummers: Dempsey medical condition, Slow start resulting in Schmid's departure
Best Team? Probably not. Toronto outplayed them in final match, but couldn't get a goal and lost on penalty kicks. Toronto soundly beat them the next year. Few are convinced that MLS Cup playoff system successfully identifies best team.
Hunger Factor: First MLS Cup for Sounders, but team was only in MLS for a few years. In MLS almost equal weight is given to Supporters Shield for regular season record. Plus, team should be good given its revenue advantages
Championship Experience: 6/10 Winning on penalty kicks is dramatic, but it's manufactured drama from necessity. Team can be hard to root for at times.

2016 Villanova (NCAA)

Coach: Jay Wright
Key Players: Phil Booth, Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson, Kris Jenkins, Daniel Ochefu, Josh Hart
Championship Game: Defeated North Carolina on a buzzer beater 3 pointer by Jenkins after the Tar Heels had tied it with a miraculous shot.
Other Key Victories: Blowout victory over Oklahoma in the Final Four. Close Elite Eight Victory over Kansas
Bummers: Midseason loss to Virginia, Big East Tournament Final Loss to Seton Hall
Best Team? Who's to say. As entertaining as the NCAA tournament is, I'm not certain it is an effective means of finding the best team. The KU and UNC games could have gone either way.
Hunger Factor: First NCAA victory for Villanova since 1985, and coincidentally the first win for a non-Duke private school in that time.
Championship Experience:  7/10 Time and distance makes my personal connection to this team a bit tenuous, though I know some alums. It is interesting how Villanova has found success by zagging while others zig in the one-and-done era .

Wow, I've cheered for 3 champions in the past 2 years. This must be what it was like to be a Boston sports fan in the 2000's.

2014 Seahawks

Coach: Pete Carroll
Key Players: Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Marshawn Lynch, Doug Baldwin, Earl Thomas, Cam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Percy Harvin
Championship Game: Blew out Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the Super Bowl
Other Key Victories: Defeated 49ers in NFC Championship Game on Richard Sherman's tip to an INT to stop the final 49ers drive.
Bummers: Sometimes the jawing from the defense made this team not so much fun to root for. 
Best Team?  Almost definitely. Indeed, it is disappointing that this team's window appears to be closing with only one title.
Hunger Factor: First Super Bowl Title, first title for city since 1979 SuperSonics. Bitter over officiating errors in only other Super Bowl appearance.
Championship Experience: 9/10. It was my first full year out here, and enjoyed the ride.

2011 Cardinals

Manager: Tony LaRussa
Key Players: Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina, David Freese
Championship Series:  Won World Series over Rangers in 7 games, after facing elimination multiple times in Game 6, one of the most memorable games in history. 
Other Key Victories:  Defeated heavily favored Phillies in divisional round, with Carpenter winning a 1-0 game over Roy Halladay in Game 5. Overcame double digit game deficit to claim wild card spot.
Bummers: Ace pitcher Adam Wainwright missed the year and playoff run with a shoulder injury. La Russa's  over-managing could get annoying. Pujols left for the Angels as a free agent after the year.
Best Team? Probably not. Carpenter was their only reliable starter.  Under the current rules, where the wild card team has to win a play-in game, this would have likely proved to be a fatal flaw, since they wold have had to burn Carpenter there. That Phillies team was stacked.
Hunger Factor: Had won in 2006, so not terribly high.
Championship Experience: 8.5/10 Probably darkened by one of the postseason victories coming against my original favorite team. Miraculous run, clutch performances, still a sense it was a bit unearned.

2008 Phillies

Manager: Charlie Manuel
Key Players: Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Brad Lidge
Championship Series: Five game WS win over Rays in a rain-interrupted fifth game.
Other Key Victories: NLCS win over Dodgers won with key HRs by Matt Stairs and Shane Victorino.
Bummers: The rain-interrupted clincher was a bit of a downer, as well as the underwhelming opponent.
Best Team? Yeah, most likely.  Another team where it's kind of disappointing they only won one. title. Steadily dropped out of contention one step per year.
Hunger Factor: First title since 1980, first pro title for city since 1983 Sixers
Championship Experience: 9/10 The World Series was less than captivating.

2006 Cardinals

Manager: Tony LaRussa
Key Players: Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Chris Carpenter, Jeff Suppan, Adam Wainwright, David Eckstein
Championship Series: Five game WS win over Tigers, in a Series the Tigers lost at least as much as the Cardinals won.
Other Key Victories: Seven game NLCS win over the Mets, capped by 7th game with Endy Chavez's catch off Scott Rolen's drive, Yadier Molina's HR, and Wainright's series-ending strikeout of Carlos Beltran. 3-2 victory on next to last day of season over Brewers to clinch on Scott Spezio's 8th inning triple.
Bummers: 83-78 regular season record, team dysfunction populated by La Russa and Rolen not speaking to each other in postseason, David Eckstein winning WS MVP and bringing out the worst in stat head vs. traditionalist debates, ads for embryo killing.
Best Team? I sure hope not.
Hunger Factor: First title since 1982. Previous two (vastly superior) teams came up short.
Championship Experience: 3/10. I'm sure my contempt for this team is leaking through. I hated this team. They very nearly blew a huge lead down the stretch.  This team was the living embodiment of the Cardinals "we're in the NL Central; all we have to do is win 85 games, then the playoffs are a crapshoot" approach. And it worked this time.

1999 Rams

Coach: Dick Vermeil
Key Players: Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Az-zahir Hakim, London Fletcher, Kevin Carter, Todd Lyght
Championship Game: Defeated the Tennessee Titans in the Super Bowl on Warner's 80 yard TD pass to Isaac Bruce with 2 minutes left and Mike Jones's tackle of Kevin Dyson at the 1 yard line on the final play of the game.
Other Key Victories: Defeated Bucs in NFC Championship game on late TD pass to Ricky Proehl. Steamrolling almost every other team in the schedule.
Bummers: Trent Green's preseason injury that cleared the way for Warner's magical season. Otherwise, pretty much a dream season.
Best Team? Almost definitely.  Another one that should have won more titles.
Hunger Factor: First Super Bowl for Rams. But had just gotten to town in 1995.
Championship Experience: 9/10. This was pretty much the ideal. The team came from nowhere, was ridiculously entertaining (Marshall Faulk remains my favorite athlete I have rooted for), and had an unbelievable story in Kurt Warner. Only demerit was their recent arrival in town and thus lack of attachment to the city. Not really a long-suffering fan base. But that wold change.

1985 Villanova

Coach: Rollie Massimino
Key Players: Ed Pikckney, Dwayne McClain, Gary McLain
Championship Game: Defeated Georgetown led by Patrick Ewing in one of the greatest upset wins ever.
Other Key Victories: The UNC "pasta" game.
Bummers:  None, really. Although history has not been kind to the members of this team, including Gary McLain's SI cover story of his drug activities.
Best Team? Eh, probably not.
Hunger Factor: Nobody expected them to win until the clock showed zeroes in the final game, so probably not much.
Championship Experience: 8/10. The completely unexpected upset nature is fun, but there's not much build-up, and everyone kind of knew it was a fluke. 

1983 76ers

Coach: Billy Cunningham
Key players: Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney, Bobby Jones
Championship Series: Swept the Lakers in the Finals
Other Key Victories: None stand out, other than the Sixers falling one loss short of Moses's Fo-Fo-Fo prediction.
Bummers: Harold Katz essentially bought the championship by signing Moses to a contract the Rockets couldn't match, and then pulling a heist of a trade. The Lakers suffered a number of injuries before the Finals, and were a shell of themselves.
Best Team? Almost definitely.
Hunger Factor: Last title was 1967. But Sixers had lost in the finals in 1977, 1980, and 1981, so there was some urgency to win this one.
Championship Experiences: 7/10 They were supposed to win, and again, probably should have done more with the talent at hand.

1980 Phillies

Manager: Dallas Green
Key Players: Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Tug McGraw, Pete Rose
Championship Series: Defeated the Royals in 6
Other Key Victories: Won the NLCS despite being behind in the late innings in Houston against Nolan Ryan
Bummers: None that I recall, though I was five at the time. The fans' relationship with Schmidt was always a tad odd.
Best Team? Maybe. Royals fans believe this was their best team. Series were close enough that they could have gone either way. This series of teams was good enough to win a championship.
Hunger Factor: First World Series win in team history, dating back to beginning of National League. This team in particular had lost the NLCS in 1976, 1977, and 1978. So they were ready.
Championship Experience: 7/10? I was five at the time, so don't remember all that well.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Greenies Defense....

I'm in a bit of a nasty mood with a laptop in front of me, so I'm going to channel it into something (relatively) harmless, the argument about whether known or strongly suspected PED users should be admitted to the Hall of Fame. Even if I will be largely repeating myself.

One of the most popular arguments for inclusion is something like this, posted shortly after Joe Morgan sent his letter opposing the induction of PED users:
Olney is referring to the widespread stories of players in the 1960s taking "greenies," or amphetamines to improve their performance.

This fails for a number of reasons.

  1. The use of greenies was much cloudier than the use of PEDs in the 1990s was. It is so even today. There was not a Congressional investigation. Nobody thinks that they fundamentally altered the game or how it was played. Nobody is seriously asserting that any players' achievements were greatly inflated by the use of greenies. This is a distinction adults should be able to make. This is an actual case of "false equivalence."  
  2. But, ok, let's accept the equivalence. Maybe the election of greenies users was a mistake, somewhere between innocent ignorance of what these players did, or willful avoidance of the truth. Does that mean we must repeat that mistake? If I get pulled over for speeding, and there's an unsolved crime, can I get out of the ticket on that basis?  We've elected slaveholders president; does that mean it can't be disqualifying now?
    This seems to be arguing that we can't possibly learn and be better than we were in the past. No, thanks. I certainly hope that our election of Donald Trump means that we can never again hold presidential candidates to high moral standards.

The only you get there is by (deliberately) misstating the position of the exclusionists --that they want a "pure" Hall of Fame, free from anyone who ever did anything wrong, and since it already includes various varieties of scoundrels, this is an absurd argument on its face.

But that is not the argument. Whom an institution chooses to honor is a serious decision about what that organization values. Things that might disqualify from one organization might not be disqualifying for others.

Joe Morgan has advanced the argument that for the Hall of Fame, using PEDs should be disqualifying.  He thinks the Hall exists for those who have worked hard to achieve a set of accomplishments, not those who took shortcuts. He may be wrong about that, and I myself probably have a softer stance.

But given what he has invested in both baseball and the Hall of Fame, he deserves a better answer than "but players in the 1960s used greenies!"

Saturday, September 23, 2017

My Hierarchy Of Anger

I am angry.

I am angry that we have a president who might be bungling us into war, isn't leading us as various parts of our country are devastated by hurricanes, and stokes resentment trying to get private companies to fire people for political activism.*

There is no shortage of targets for my anger. Here's the rough descending order of how worthy I think they are.


  1. Trump himself.
    Yes, his behavior in office has been pretty much the same as his behavior before he took office, which didn't stop him from getting elected. Nevertheless, it would be nice if he retained enough respect for the office he holds and the people he leads to use it for better purposes than picking fights with those who slight him. That he hasn't is a profound failure of character. An unsurprising failure, but a failure nonetheless.
  2. Trump's Supporters
    And here, I don't mean people who were economically devastated and who supported Trump in a misguided way.

    I'm talking about people who should have known better who wrote articles like this arguing that we had to support Trump if we wanted conservative principles to survive.

    Trump will poison any cause he is remotely associated with. He will make it impossible to advocate for them for a generation to anyone who remembers him. Nobody can ever take someone who would support such a figure seriously, in particular on matters of integrity.

    To pick one example, some supported Trump because he would confront the "PC culture." And I agree this is a problem in some quarters. But when your remedy is to support someone who as president, pressured for specific people to be fired by private companies for political activism,  you have lost all credibility on this issue.
  3. Democrats
    They could have beat him. They could have positioned themselves to make themselves acceptable to those who couldn't stand Trump. They chose not to do so.

    I didn't blame them at the time, since I figured they would win anyway.

    But they should have known better than me, both about what a disaster Trump would be, and the possibility of him winning.

    But they stuck to the script. The nominated a a candidate many of us couldn't stand and who considered herself entitled to the presidency, dismissed all concerns about her as sexism, and continued to stake out extreme cultural positions, and calling anyone who disagreed bigots. They were content to trade articles about how much smarter they were than others instead of actually helping people.

    And then, they couldn't beat this doofus. And they're continuing to whine about press coverage, James Comey, Russian interference, and sexism to avoid taking a hard look at themselves in the mirror and figuring out how to win.
  4. Republicans
    For generations, they've benefited from a core base of racism that they took votes from rather than confront. And then they accepted the support for an outside chance of winning the White House. And now they are using what power they have to try to take away people's health care.

    Our current choice of parties: the party that nominated Trump and the party that couldn't beat him.
  5. The Culture
    It is true that Trump has ratcheted up the coarseness of our culture several notches.

    It's also true that this didn't come from nowhere. That he is the endpoint of a cultural degradation that has been going on for some time. Look at the titles of TV shows. Look at who we celebrate and pay attention to. Look at what we share and read.

    Yes, criticize Trump for is crassness and vulgarity. But also ask yourself what contributions you have made to get us to where this is a possibility.
I'm sure there's some I've missed.

Of course, getting angry is the easy part. Channeling that anger into productive action is more difficult. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

2017 Kyrie Irving vs. 1982 Magic Johnson

A lot of the commentary about Kyrie Irving's trade request centers on the assumption that two alphas can't co-exist on the same team for long. Shaq and Kobe are the canonical example.

On the other hand, almost every legendary player had a top-level sidekick. Jordan had Pippen. Bird had McHale. And, in what I think may be the most interesting parallel, Kareem Abdul Jabbar had Kyrie Irving.

We remember the 1980s Showtime Lakers as a pinnacle of teamwork and harmony, but as the 30 for 30 documentary reminded us, it wasn't always this way. In the 1982 season, Magic complained that he wasn't having any fun, may have gotten his coach fired, and was resented by his teammates.

As we all know now, Magic was able to put this behind him, and lead the Lakers to four more championships, with the baton of leadership slowly passing from Kareem to Magic as the decade progressed.

And now, Magic Johnson is remembered as fondly as any player in NBA history. His reputation is exceeded only by that of Michael Jordan, and he ended up eclipsing even Kareem, whose accomplishments are unparalleled.

Some similarities between Kyrie's situation and Magic's situation in 1982:


  • Both are playing in the shadow of one of the best players in history who appeared to be nearing the end of his prime, but seems to keep going indefinitely.
  • Both had played key roles in the decisive game of their championship -- Magic's 42 points with Kareem injured in Game 6 of the 1980 Finals, Irving's game winner with a minute left in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals.
  • In both cases, this was followed by a disappointing playoff performance.
  • Both are blocked from their natural roles.
And some differences:
  • Kareem was the incumbent star of the Lakers, and Magic was drafted in. In Cleveland, Irving was in place before James made his return.
  • Kareem was never the marketable star that LeBron is. Ironically, Kareem's sullenness may have allowed this to work, since it left space for Magic to be a star even while being on the same team is Kareem.
  • On the Lakers, it was Magic who was rumored to have the ear of management and unduly influencing team decisions, while in Cleveland, it is LeBron.
  • Players have much more power now than they did before. Trade requests tend to be honored rather than brushed off.
  • The Magic-Kareem situation was managed by Pat Riley, one of the best coaches in the history of the NBA, I'm not sure Tyronn Lue is in that class, or if any modern coach could be.
  • Magic and Kareem's skills and positions were much more complementary than rivalrous.
Irving may be looking at the league, watching fans explode over the individual accomplishments of Ruseell Westbrook and James Harden, and be thinking to himself, "I could do that."

But it might be wise for him to also look at history. If Magic had been able to force himself to be traded from the Lakers, would we look at him the same way? Or would he be in the class of players like George Gervin, Alex English, Dominique Wilkins, and others who put up gaudy stats on mediocre-to-good teams? Which path will lead to a better ultimate legacy? Yes, it currently looks like LeBron will play forever, but is it possible that there could be a passing of the baton?

I'm not sure it can work. I'm beginning to think that Magic's personality and disposition is unique enough that it can't be replicated.  But if I were in the Cavs and trying to sell Kyrie on staying, I'd be pointing to 1982 Magic as a path forward.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Unconventional Wisdom -- School Shopping Lists

First of what may become a series in which I confront from standard opinions that pop up in social media that I disagree with but am not inclined to confront there.

We're getting closer to school beginning, meaning that parents are starting to get shopping lists from schools, and parents are grumbling, and in response we're seeing links to articles like this popping up in social media.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that for families with means, it is not unreasonable for them to do what they can to assist underpaid, overworked teachers in the education of their own children. Parents who grumble about shopping lists are exhibiting an alarming lack of prioritization for education, and if they do this grumbling within their kids' earshot, passing on this poor attitude to their children, which is likely to manifest itself in them not taking their education seriously, making life even more difficult for these underpaid, overworked teachers. The right thing to do is to dutifully complete these shopping lists without complaint, thankful for the opportunity to contribute to our children's education, and maybe throw in something extra, too.

Allow me to object.

First, to establish my credentials, I have done some side job teaching for most of my professional career -- in religious education as well as teaching courses at a for profit college. While I admit that this does not mean I know all the challenges full time teachers face, I don't think I am writing from a place of complete ignorance of them, either.

In the case of public schools, the basic contract we have is that the residents of the area will pay taxes into the system, and the district will provide an education for our children. I understand that many factors interfere with this model, but this is the basic contract. School shopping lists represent passing a portion of this burden on to parents. In my judgement, support should flow from school districts to parents, not the other way around -- parents are taking on the burden of raising the next generation; the rest of us should be helping them.

Now, perhaps there are some gaps that emerge that cannot be addressed through the a lengthy funding system, and I and I believe most parents are happy to pitch in. Or if there are supplies, like hand sanitizer or facial tissues, that may not be explicitly ordered toward education but make the school more comfortable for all involved, especially if one's child is likely to be a heavy consumer of those.

But sending home the same list of supplies every year for parents that includes items necessary for classroom education to buy seems less like covering an emerging gap than an institutionalized passing of the buck. And this I resent. If something is truly necessary to educate our children, then the school district should be supplying it. And if not, then parents shouldn't be emotionally blackmailed into supplying it.

But school districts are already strapped? Are they more strapped than the typical family budget? I understand that making the case for some of these expenses can be difficult; I don't think that justifies emotionally manipulating the families you're supposed to be serving to cover it instead.

--

I've always suspected there is a bit of a power play going on here. I recall one "back to school night" watching all my daughter's classmates in their families putting the tightly specified supplies (specific brand names, pencils sharpened) in front of their new teachers as if it was some kind of tribute. This person is going to have significant control over our child's happiness for the next nine months; we want to make sure we impress!

And this is before we get to families for whom these lists represent a significant financial hardship. Yes, I know that almost all schools allow for students to avoid / opt out in such cases, but do we really want to put families in a position where they must begin the school year by disclosing their financial difficulties?

--

So, to summarize, school supply lists:

  • Pass the burden of education from all of us onto parent of school age children.
  • Emotionally blackmail parents into compliance.
  • Establish what I consider to be an unhealthy power dynamic between teachers and families.
  • Exacerbate the suffering of families that are struggling financially.
Again, I do not object, and parents ought to respond, to unexpected needs that emerge in educating our children. And I do not object to helping to furnish the schools with non-education related supplies that make everyone more comfortable.

I do object to institutionalized annual lists of education-related supplies that ought to be supplied by the district, and the emotional blackmail that goes with it.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Easing The Burden

Meagan, Katherine, and I worked at the Vacation Bible School last week. The girls were both “crew leaders” of groups of about a half dozen elementary school children, and it was fun to see them having a good time and growing into leaders.

My job was to help put the snacks together, but due to some illnesses on the second day, I was asked to work at the Bible Discovery station.  The lesson ended by asking the campers what they have had to struggle with. One little girl raiser her hand and said that her struggle is that she has had Cystic Fibrosis, and has had to take enzymes before meals her whole life.

“Oh, no!” I thought. Because of the risk of infection, CF patients are not supposed to have any contact with each other. I quickly scanned through the week to think about how much contact this girl and Meagan would have had so far and would have the rest of the week. I informed the leaders of the camp that Meagan and this girl had to be kept as far away as possible, and shuffled their seating so they would be on opposite sides of the room during group activities. I talked to Meagan about who she was and how she had to stay apart from her. At the end of the camp day, I waited for her parents to come by so I could tell them Meagan was a CF patient, so they could decide for themselves whether this was an acceptable risk.

And still I wondered if this was enough. Should I have immediately pulled Meagan out of the camp? Should I have ensured beforehand that there were no other CF patients before we committed to volunteering? Should I make Meagan wear a mask? How do we balance between letting giving Meagan opportunities to do things she enjoys and not exposing her (and others) to unnecessary risk?

These are the questions families of children with diseases like Cystic Fibrosis deal with every day.  It is part of our lives. Even something as simple as volunteering at Vacation Bible Camp is complicated.

I mention this for two particular reasons.

One is that we are considering changes to health care policy that will make life more difficult for families dealing with major diseases. Our particular family would likely be insulated from most of the changes (since I am privileged that my particular skills happen to be well-valued in the marketplace, not any great responsibility on our part), but many other families would not, and would see their already heavy burdens worsened.

I understand that people have different opinions on what the federal government should do, and I tend to resist linking those to morality. Still, I would like to live in a country where we do what we can to ease the burdens of those whose are carrying an extra load, and for these families, having secure access to health care, and not having to worry that it will be capped, or will be unavailable with a change of jobs, or will be inaccessible due to pre-existing condition clauses. So, I ask you to use what influence you have to ensure that is who we are.

Second, I am once again doing the Cycle For Life in Woodinville, to help raise money for a cure for Cystic Fibrosis, which we are coming closer to, so that Meagan, the little girl in VBC (and her little sister, as I came to find out), and thousands of others and their families can live lives free of these burdens, doubts and questions. I invite you to join me or support me financially.

If your don’t feel you are positioned or called to do either of the above, I hope you will consider  what you can do to support the families in your lives who are dealing with diseases and illnesses.

Peace,

John McGuinness

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Winning Time = Joyful Time?

First, it was a wonderful piece of work, one that I will likely be sucked into whenever it comes on, which, to my family's dismay, will likely be often. Any talk of the demise of ESPN will have to reckon with the fact that it continues to produce work like this, and others can't really match it, no matter how much talent is let go.

A couple notes:


  • They should make documentaries about everything Bill Walton was remotely involved in, so they can include his talking head interviews (and if there's a way to include Kevin McHale impersonating him, even better). Do another documentary on the Wooden UCLA teams, the 1977 Blazers, NBA and NCAA teams Walton covered as a color announcer, teams Luke Walton was involved in, etc. Have some of these already been done to death? Sure. Will we have to endure things like the anecdote of Wooden teaching the UCLA players how to put on their socks that we've heard a million times before? Sure. I don't care. I want more Bill Walton in my life.
  • Having said that, the coverage Walton relative to some other figures was probably disproportionate to their impact on the rivalry. I don't think Mychal Thompson's name was even mentioned, though he provided to front line bulk to deal with the Celtics' front line. Michael Cooper, who was on all the Lakers teams in the 1980s, got some talking head interviews, but was never discussed as a player. Robert Parish was discussed a bit when he was acquired, but then forgotten.
    Again, it's hard to blame to producers for leaning too heavily into a figure as compelling as Walton, but considering that Walton was only active for one Celtics-Lakers series, and was injured during it, it was probably a bit off.
  • Was Cedric Maxwell's agent involved in the production? Yes, he was the MVP of the 1981 Series, and led the team in scoring in Game 7 of the 1984 series, but he was not regarded as the fourth member of the Big Three. 
  • This may be coming from a place of privilege and having lived through it, but I thought the racial angle was laid on a little thick. I didn't need to revisit the Isiah Thomas controversy. And even that coverage failed to note, say the Red Sox troubled history with race. I was a white Sixers fan, and hated both teams, with an extra edge to hating the Celtics. Maybe elsewhere, people took sides based on race to a greater degree. But as the Celtics started kicking the Sixers ass every year, I don't recall a sentiment of, "at least we're getting beat by the White team." But maybe it was different elsewhere. Were white New Yorkers cheering for the Celtics? I kind of suspect not. (Plus racist Celtics fans would have to account for the fact that they were coached by a black man).
The thing that stuck out to me the most was the joy with which Magic Johnson played the game, and with which he continues to talk about it now.

It's a joy I haven't seen in any professional player in any sport, save for perhaps Brett Favre. The Warirors' game in general, and Steph Curry in particular, are almost joy personified. They are a joy to watch.

But, in general, the players seem to carry themselves with a more business-like manner than the joy that personified Magic. I've written before how LeBron James almost always seems to be carrying some unbearable burden. I think the Warriors are having fun, but I'm not as sure as I am with Magic.

Why is this? Magic was certainly under pressure. He was the #1 draft pick. He signed a big contract and forced his first coach out. He had the Lakers' legacy on his shoulders, as well as, the documentary would have you believe, an entire race.

Some mitigating factors:
  • He had Kareem, who would not take on the media burden, but was the best player to begin with.
  • He had Bird and the Celtics. There is not much shame in losing to a team like that.
But I think the biggest factor is that the template for modern superstars is not Magic but Michael Jordan. His competitiveness bordered on the pathological. He berated his teammates, and even had to step away from the game for a time. To this day, he remains bitter at those who slighted him. That's whose legacy LeBron is chasing, not Magic's.

Jordan eclipsed Magic in terms of NBA accomplishments. But if I had a son with elite NBA talent, I'd want him to emulate Magic's attitude rather than Jordan's.

It may seem that I am placing an additional burden on James -- not only do I expect you to win championships, but I expect you to look happy doing it. But I want LeBron to enjoy what he accomplishes, and if that means, he accomplishes slightly less, that's fine with me.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

That Championship Feeling

(Memory of below may be a bit hazy as the events happened when I was a child, but looking them up would ruin them).

As the Philadelphia 76ers entered the 1982 offseason, they had had the following results in their past 3 seasons:


  • 1980: Lost in Finals on rookie Magic Johnson's 42 point game substituting for the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at center
  • 1981: Lost in Eastern Conference Finals to the Celtics, blowing a 3-1 series lead.
  • 1982: Lost in Finals to Lakers
They were reaching the end of Julius Erving's prime, but otherwise had a young core of guards Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney, and big man Darryl Dawkins.

So, that season, they signed reigning MVP Moses Malone to an offer sheet, leading to a trade in which they acquired Malone for Caldwell Jones. They let Dawkins go, and went on to a dominant regular season, 12-1 record in the playoffs (coming just short of Malone's prediction of "Fo Fo Fo"), beating the injury-depleted Lakers in the Finals.

History has not been kind to this team, despite its dominance, and that it was the last professional championship until the Phillies won the World series 25 years later. Erving continued to age, Toney's feet gave out,  and there were some horrendous trades that the acquisition of Charles Barkley could not overcome. Boston solidified their team with Dennis Johnson, and the story of the 1980s NBA was the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, with 76ers as an afterthought, despite making three of the first four Finals, and winning one in the most dominant fashion.

--

In the past several years, I've become a sap for championship celebrations. I tear up watching athletes I hardly know achieve the pinnacle of success. Perhaps it's because our regular lives offer few of these moments of undiluted success. There's always the next task, something that could be improved or could have been done better. But if you win a championship, that's as good as it gets.

But I had little interest or emotion seeing the Warriors cap off their championship last night. When you win 73 games in one year, and then you add an one of the best 5 players in the league, aren't you supposed to win the championship? I'm guessing this is now non-Sixers fans regarded the 1983 76ers, except that the non-Durant Warriors had already won a championship two years earlier.

Look, Kevin Durant seems to be a great guy, and he has the right to guide his career toward whatever he wants (just as I can with mine). I just don't find it as compelling as, say, the late 1980's Pistons overcoming the Celtics, and then the Lakers to win a championship, or the 1990s Bulls overcoming those same Pistons, and maintaining their excellence for six championships.

Does this mean that the Warriors are destined to the same fate as the 1983 Sixers? I don't know, but I think it's more likely than them dominating the league indefinitely and joining the ranks of best teams ever.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Responding to Defeat

In the last week, I came across, two articles about how teams responded to mistakes that led to defeat in the championship round:


It certainly seems that the Warriors have done a better job of responding to this mistake than the Seahawks have. The Warriors are on the verge of winning the championship, and the Seahawks have been on a slow decline since. But why? Some possible reasons:

  • Team Culture Because Steve Kerr espouses political opinions that are popular among sports commentators and supports his players in doing the same, (and also because his team is so successful), he is currently the darling of that community. The thrust of Lowe's article is that because the Warriors have a team culture based on compassion and letting its players be individuals, they were resilient to this type of setback. Ok, but...

    If there's a Steve Kerr of the NFL, it's Pete Carroll. Nobody gives his players a longer leash, and in fact Kerr sought out Caroll as a mentor. So I'm not sure it's all about letting the players be themselves.

    Also, the most successful organization in the NFL is led by Trump buddies Robert Kraft and Bill Belichik.
     
  • The offseason As Lowe notes, in the offseason following Green's error, the Warriors added Kevin Durant, one of the five best players in the league. After their defeat, the Seahawks got a year older. They did add Jimmy Graham, but he has often been injured, and came at the cost of key offensive linemen. It's a lot easier to forget about the past when the future looks awesome.
  • Branding While Green's error was egregious, it was in line with his character as a player and what he brought to the team. His job was to bring in energy, emotional intensity, and stand up for his teammates. In this instance, he took it a step too far.

    The Seahawks' mistake, on the other hand, was out of line with their brand as a football team built on defense and a bruising running attack. They were going away from what the other players saw as making them great. The opportunity to win on their strengths was taken away from them.
  • Finality The consequence of Green's mistake was that he was suspended for Game 5. The Warriors could have still won Game 5 without him, or Games 6 or 7 with him. There was a chance to overcome this mistake; they didn't do it.

    For the Seahawks, the interception gave the Patriots the ball with less than a minute to go in the game, essentially ending the game. There was no overcoming it.
  • Intention In this piece, I've been referring to "Green's" mistake as well as the "Seahawks." That's because the Seahawks error was mainly the choice of play calls which many in the organization had a hand in, as well as the interception itself, whereas for the Warriors, it was a sudden impulse from one player. That's probably easier to bounce back from.
  • The Story The Warriors lost to the Cavaliers, who were led by other-worldly performances by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, bringing the city of Cleveland its first championship in memory. The Seahawks lost to the Patriots, who are organizationally savvy and led by the brilliant Tom Brady, but are also kind of a default champion. This was the year of Deflategate, and I don't think anyone would pick that year's team as the best of the Brady-Belichik era.

    The story was that Cavaliers won their championship, and that the Seahawks lost theirs.
  • Popularity and Resentment Draymond Green is probably the most popular guy on the Warriors. He does the dirty work that enable the other Warriors to do what makes them great. And as noted above, his punch was taking what his teammates appreciate about him so much. Also, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut, who were unable to contribute much in the series, were let go to make room for Durant, so there were scapegoats available.

    I'm not sure the same is true of Russell Wilson. Yes, he's a winner, and his teammates certainly appreciate how he helps them succeed. But I kind of suspect his goody-two-shoes no-time-to-sleep act can grate a bit. If the Seahawks were the Mecury 7 astronauts, Wilson would definitely be John Glenn.

    Bigger than that, over the past several years, the team has gradually come to be defined more by Russell Wilson, and less by the defense and running game, and this game was probably the center of gravity.  The Seahawks were in the Super Bowl because Wilson had led an unlikely comeback in the NFC championship game against the Packers. They were in this situation because the defense had allowed the Patriots to score two fourth quarter touchdowns. Had the pass found its target, it would have been Wilson's victory, and I'm not sure the team was excited about that.
  • Football vs. Basketball While it's true that succeeding in basketball required players to sacrifice for the good of the team (hence Bill Simmons writing an 800 page book based on that theme), the sacrifices for football players on a successful team are more immediate, visceral and profound. It's probably not an exaggeration to measure it in years of life lost.

    In particular for the Seahawks, Richard Sherman will likely never be regarded the same way as shut down corners like Darrell Revis and Champ Bailey. He is part of a successful system in the Seahawks secondary, and it's not clear whether he, Earl Thomas, or Kam Chancellor is the most crucial part of it.

    To make those type of sacrifices, and then be deprived of victory by a mistake, must be an embittering experience.
So, what does this mean? A number of these factors are outside of a team's control, especially after the fact. So I'm not sure there's many lessons here for other teams looking to bounce back from key mistakes, like the Atlanta Falcons as Lombardi suggests.

So what's the prognosis? Well, the Falcons have some of these factors going for them, and others against them. They didn't sign the NFL equivalent of Kevin Durant, but their key mistake (keep throwing with a big lead in the 4th quarter) was consistent with their identity as a team.

I think the larger lesson is that I'm not sure it's possible to create a team culture to inoculate yourself from the effects of a bad mistake. If I could summarize what the Seahawks problem was, it is that they were unclear about their identity. The defensive players believed they were a team based on defense on ball control; their decision to throw from the 1 yard line revealed that the coaches believed differently.

So, my lesson on recovering from a mistake, or more precisely on how to avoid mistakes that haunt you is:
  • Be clear about your identity and core principles as a team.
  • Act consistent with those principles.
A mistake that is consistent with your shared identity can be forgiven and recovered from; one that goes against your identity, or reveals a dissonance, will be more difficult.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The truth is a cross -- Why the anti-anti-Trump temptation must be resisted.

When pushback first started against the "anti-anti-Trump" position, I was not on board. Wasn't Trump himself a response to the failures of the media and the establishments of both parties? Should we ignore those problems? Don't we need to provide a credible alternative to Trump, and isn't taking on some the excesses (and there are and have been real excesses) of the anti-Trump movement a part of doing that?

I was particularly unpersuaded by this Damon Linker piece, perhaps because he began with an unfortunate parallel to anti-communism. I had thought the historical consensus was that the zeal of anti-communism ranked below things like slavery, segregation, and the treatment of native Americans in ranking of American sins, but somewhere in the neighborhood of things like the internment of Japanese Americans. "McCarthyism" is not a compliment. Blacklisted movie industry workers are our American version of martyrs. The Vietnam War cost many lives for little apparent effect. Ronald Reagan didn't defeat communism; it was never a threat, and self-destructed. This was the cultural consensus until the day before yesterday. There are still some artifacts from this time in history.

But now we're supposed to believe this was wrong? That communism really was a threat, that the anti-Communists weren't opportunistically taking advantage of people's fear for their own ends but taking a necessary stand, and that those opposed to them were the real cowards?

Anyway, this was my general attitude until the last couple weeks.

It is apparent that Donald Trump is not a good president.

It is also apparent that there are a number of people who are committed to the idea that, whatever Trump's faults may be, they pale in significance to the faults of the media and elites, and that the best way to confront those is to allow Trump's presidency to run its course. Any criticism of President Trump is not a response to Trump's actual behavior, but a desperate attempt by the elites to regain their stranglehold on all the institutions of power over the expressed desires of the voting public.

The more people become committed to this idea, the harder it will be for them to confront the reality, and, human nature being what it is, they will grasp at any reason not to.

Enter the respectable anti-anti-Trump commentator, with their well-worn criticisms of the media and establishment figures. Which probably have truth behind them. But it feeds these supporters' sense that Trump is being persecuted for standing up to power rather than facing legitimate criticism for poor behavior. And that is bad.

--

I may have some problems with the healthcare industry, or how the case for vaccinations has been made.

But if I have a friend who refuses to vaccinate her children, and whose child is suffering from a disease that could be addressed by vaccinations, it is not a loving thing for me to do to commiserate with her about the arrogance of the medical community, or to forward her articles and comments on this theme.

Does this mean that the medical industry is perfect and above criticism? No. But there is an acute problem that needs to be addressed, and focusing on this chronic issue prevents us from doing that.

--

There are many problems we had in our society before Trump entered politics, some of which contributed to Trump's election. We do need to address them.

But the biggest problem we have right now is a childish president who doesn't seem to understand the responsibilities that come with his office. Getting through this will require us to be vigilant, and not wave off crticisms. Commentary like this, which pre-empts all criticism as so much turf-defending, is profoundly unhelpful:


Was Trump's speech any good?  This tweet doesn't give me any basis to determine that. But I do know that any Trump supporters now have support for the notion that any criticism of it is motivated by protecting turf instead of its actual content.

A Dramatic Loss

I'm sure the sabermetric community would kill me for this, but it seems like last week;s thrashing of the Rockets at home in an elimination game by a Spurs team missing its MVP candidate best player and point guard was more than just a single game. It seemed like a rejection of the Rockets' system by the basketball gods (and incidentally, a rejection of tanking and other similar systems).

First, for the Rockets Moreyball system. In its purest form, it is that the only good shots are dunks/layups and 3 pointers. The theory is that this is a higher percentage strategy, but the three pointers introduce a higher degree of variance.

This should give them a puncher's chance in against a superior team like the Warriors because, if the shots are falling, then they count for 3 points instead of 2, and they can have a better result than they merit.

But it also means that the possibility of being run off the court at home by a team with inferior talent is also in play. They have a higher ceiling, but a lower floor.

Now, I don't care for the Rockets system, so perhaps I'm jumping the gun a bit. But I don't think the Rockets system can win a championship. Sometimes you need to grind out a win when the shots aren't falling, and the Rockets do not seem capable of that.

Perhaps there's some incremental tweaks. But a 39 point loss at home at an elimination game to a team missing its best player (and that doesn't appear to belong on the same floor as the Warriors) suggests something more fundamental.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Criminal DefenseA Criminal Defense by William L. Myers Jr.


I enjoyed this book up until the ending.

It was a tight, legal thriller and mystery. Having grown up in South Jersey, I enjoyed the mentions of Philadelphia landmarks (though I'm pretty sure nobody keeps track of time on the City Hall clock).

Then, we get to the "twist" ending, which I will discuss my problems with in the spoilers.


Friday, May 12, 2017

Digital Citizenship

In his farewell column at This Week, Michael Brendan Daugherty apologizes for writing for the internet, and notes the negative consequences of our life online.

I am more optimistic about the future of this than MBD is (as I am about a lot of things), but I too have noted the bad effects. Indeed I think a big reason for the election of Trump is that we haven't yet adjusted to the new streams of information that are coming our way.

As a technology worker for the entirety of the internet era, I should be ahead of the curve on these things, but even I admit letting it things bother me more than I should. We have build a machine that is excellent at presenting us information to get us angry.

What I think we have is a national mood, and thus an electorate, that is being formed by unbalanced pieces of information. We seek out and find information that reinforces our point of view, and the only thing we see about those we disagree with is framed to make them look ridiculous.

This is not sustainable.

But I think we'll figure it out.

To speed that along, here's some guidelines I've adopted.


  • "Hypocrisy," or supporting a principle when it helps your party, and not when it supports the other party, especially from a partisan figure or organization, is unremarkable, and detecting it is not a laudable feat.
  • If someone says or does something stupid, that is mostly about them, rather than about every cause or movement they can semi-plausibly be linked to.
  • Think through what you intent to accomplish and what you are likely to accomplish before passing some piece of information on.
  • Do not share anything simply based on a headline without actually reading the article, remembering that headlines and tweets are often crafted by someone other than the author of a article to maximize clicks and views.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Being Right Isn't Enough

For some time, I've resisted the tendency to give great credit to politicians and pundits who were "right" in opposing the Iraq war. Yes, obviously, this is better than being wrong, and many prominent people were very wrong about it, with disastrous consequences. But those who were opposed were ineffective in doing so. The war went on. Their being against it did nothing to prevent it.

This came back to mind reading Isaac Chotiner's response to Jimmy Kimmel's talk about his son's scary first few days, and his call for coverage of pre-existing conditions.

First, I want to applaud Kimmel for considering what his experience might have been like for someone is a less privileged position than himself, and using his forum to try to improve that. As a father of a child with a chronic disease (ahem), I'm thankful for his witness.

So what problem would Democrats have with it? Well, Kimmel didn't quite say that removing this limitation was all Republicans' fault, and that Democrats were all tirelessly working to ensure no parent would ever have to face the choice he describes:

We need to make sure the people who represent us, the people who are meeting about this right now in Washington, understand that very clearly. Let’s stop with the nonsense. This isn’t football. There are no teams. We are the team. It is the United States. Don’t let their partisan squabbles divide us on something every decent person wants.
As the Bret Stephens controversy has demonstrated, many people on the left simply cannot abide the notion that they are anything less than perfect, or that Republicans are anything more than miserable reprobates. The important thing isn't that we work together to ensure children with such conditions have medical coverage, it's that some might have come away from Kimmel's talk not knowing that this is all Republicans' fault:

But the problem in Washington is not partisanship per se. It’s an ideologically deranged party and its know-nothing leader in the White House. The fact that approximately half the voters in this country support that party is a much less comforting thought than the one about America coming together to care for kids like Billy. Until we face up to that pre-existing reality, we don’t have any chance of ensuring that we live in a society that truly cares for its most vulnerable citizens.
Kimmel wants kids to get covered; I get the sense that Chotiner would be just as happy if they weren't covered, and it was Republicans' fault.

--

Yes, Chotiner is right that this coverage is in place because of ACA, which was advanced by the Obama Administration and opposed by Republicans, who are currently trying to dismantle it.

Bravo. That and $5 will get you a coffee at a hospital cafeteria.

What Chotiner refuses to grapple with is why ACA is vulnerable. Yes, the Republican Party has a number of people with a disordered commitment to small government, and probably a few mean-spirited people who don't want to give coverage to those who don't "deserve" it. I don't think those numbers add up to one sufficient to provide the majorities the GOP currently has attained.

What makes up for it is what's included in the package. How they were willing to risk it to keep abortion coverage. How it was used as a weapon against organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor to coerce them into violating their conscience. Things like this whittled away at the ACA's popularity to make it vulnerable.

Then the Democrats nominated a candidate loathed by much of the electorate with a questionable ethical track record who lost to the worst major party presidential candidate in living memory.

If Chotiner and others really want to make sure kids are covered, they'll stop trying to cover their own asses, and roll up their sleeves and try to win elections. That might mean dealing with people he doesn't like. That might mean compromising on some social issues. That might mean not chasing people out of the coalition for favoring legal protections for the unborn. That  might mean taking people's concerns seriously rather than just calling them names.

Yes, it is unfair that those who are right on an issue bear a moral burden that those who are wrong don't share. As a pro-lifer, I need to present the case for the unborn in a way that people will respond to. If I am aware of the horror of abortion, but I advocate for the unborn in an ineffective or counterproductive way, then I have failed in a way that someone who doesn't recognize it has not. My being "right" on the issue does nothing for the unborn.

So, yes, Chotiner is correct that the Democrats are on the right side of this issue, and Republicans are on the wrong side. But that is entirely besides the point. Those who value medical coverage can be angry at Republicans for taking it away, but also at Democrats for putting it in a package that people are repeatedly rejecting.