Wednesday, September 28, 2016

How to completely destroy Nebraska football in four easy steps.*

1. Be a nearly all-white state.

2. Have a team that relies on African American players to be competitive.

3. Have angry white officials threaten to kick those players off the team for protesting racial injustice. Compound that with "fans" sending lynch threats to those players.

4. Watch the recruiting bonanza come in!

* Yeah, I know. Lots of football today. It's what caught my eye.

George RR Martin predicted the end of football ... back in 1975.

I was trying to remember this afternoon, a story I read in sixth-grade English about how professional sports had declined because people had come to enjoy video simulations of them much more. It struck me as possibly prescient, so I plunged into Google.

Turns out the story, "The Last Superbowl," was written by none other than George RR Martin. *

The story is actually two tales, as he covers the last Superbowl which takes place in January 2016 and interjects the depiction of that Superbowl, between the Green Bay Packers and the Hoboken Jets, and the downfall of real sports. Real sports, in the 2016 of Martin’s fictional world, have been overtaken in popularity by simulated sports. 
Simulated sports are controlled by a computer that can put any team, from any era, against any other for the enjoyment of the spectators. The technology he describes in the computers that control the simulated sports may have been a thing of science fiction in 1974, when I assume he wrote the piece, but here in the real 2015, our computers are powerful enough to create those simulations. Just look at video games like Electronic Arts’ Madden and FIFA series.
The Super Bowl is still pretty popular, and doesn't look to be overtaken by video games this decade, at least. But with growing concerns about what CTE does to the brains of football players — and the dearth of injuries and suicides by digitized players — it's not difficult to see Martin's scenario, or a version of it, coming to pass.

* I thought it had a tremendous amount of gratuitous nudity and sex for a story in a sixth-grade textbook.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Hillary Clinton is the only candidate who can beat Donald Trump.

The conventional wisdom so far is that Hillary Clinton is so personally unpopular that she might be the only Democratic candidate that could lose the presidential race to Donald Trump. I have an alternative theory.

Hillary's the only candidate who can beat Donald Trump, at least this year.

Donald has turned all the subtext of politics into text, and thus — in the primaries, at least — all but turned the campaign into a dick-measuring contest: He beat his GOP opponents mostly by displays of dominance: "Lyin' Ted," "Little Marco," "No Energy Jeb." The TV news coverage looked less like a campaign and more like nature documentary footage of wild predators establishing a clan's alpha male.

Watching Hillary play rope-a-dope tonight — baiting Donald, then watch him bluster and interrupt while she smiled calmly — it occurred to me she's not playing the dick-measuring game. She was content to poke him, then step back and let him reveal his essential nature while she plugged away with a wonk's command of facts, figures, and plans.

The skills she displayed, a million women Tweeted tonight, are the kinds of skills that smart, professional women generally have had to employ in a world full of mansplainers. It's a form of jiujitsu — let the dudes demonstrate their alpha male moves while the women maneuver around the egos and get stuff done.

A traditional male candidate might not be able to beat Donald Trump's dominance displays this year. A woman? One like Hillary who has spent decades maneuvering among alpha male egos at the highest level? She might be the only person who could beat Donald Trump this year.

Let's turn the news into a public utility. Let the BBC be our model.

Another shitty day for local journalism:

I mean, damnit.

We're left with a couple of conclusions:

• The business model for local newspapers has utterly failed.
• The mission of local newspapers is needed, desperately.

So I make a proposal — one I don't think will find much support in a nation used to thinking of "news" as a "business," but one that recognizes that knowing what's going on is vital to our civic health.

It's time to make the news a utility.

I thought for awhile that the model for this should be public radio, with its funding reliant on donors, grants, and some public backing. But I don't think that'll do that trick. Instead, my model is the BBC, where anybody who uses a TV is required to hold a "TV license" that pays the television, radio and online services of the BBC.

Every city, I now believe, should charge a similar licensing fee and use it to create an online news service to serve the local population. The city's governing body would appoint an independent board to oversee operations and insulate the news operation from political pressures. And while the operation would serve as a repository for citizen opinion — comments, letters to the editor, submitted op-eds — it probably wouldn't have an editorial voice the way newspapers do, so as to reduce the odds your local city council unduly influences public opinion. (This doesn't save Yael's job, unfortunately.) 

A publicly funded news operation would cover the meat-and-potatoes: Local government, crime and courts, schools — and covering sports teams of the local schools would probably be part of that — and business.

Oh, and because it's a public operation: Other news outlets, even for-profit outlets, would be able to use the content generated by the Utility News for free.

Is this a perfect solution? Nope. Will it work? I think it's time to get news out of the news business; we've had 20 years to find a business model and so far we really haven't. The information produced by the news business, however, is still needed. It's time to experiment with new forms.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Evening Walk: Venus

Walking in my neighborhood, after dark. It's not lit as well as my old Philadelphia city block — I probably need to buy reflective shoes or something. The app on my phone tells me I have 2,000 steps to go to make my daily goal, so I keep walking, keep walking, keep walking past my house and my path occasionally lit by the occasional street lamp.

Holst's "Venus: Bringer of Peace" is on my headphones. Above, through breaks in the clouds, I can see a star or two — the benefit of reduced light pollution. The darkness and the music go together; I feel like I'm creating or experiencing my own private segment of Walt Disney's "Fantasia" as I move through the neighborhood.

For a moment, the real world and the digital world playing in my head merge. Everything flows.

And then the music ends.

The tragedy of George W. Bush

This picture:

George W. Bush was, to my mind, the biggest failure as president in postwar history — more than Jimmy Carter, more than Richard Nixon. His choices were uniformly wrong. Budget surplus? Let's fritter it away. Terror warning? Ignored. Terror attack? Respond with attack on Iraq. Devastating hurricane? Heckuva job, Brownie. And, finally, he left us with the Great Recession.

But now, we see, that list doesn't even encompass the worst of his legacy.

For all his faults, you see, Bush doesn't strike me as a bad man. And more than any major Republican before him — at least in the post-Civil Rights Era — Bush seemed to want to treat African Americans as part of America: No Child Left Behind, despite its problems, as aimed at improving educational outcomes for blacks. His RNC chairman acknowledged and refuted the GOP's long-running "Southern strategy." And, as has been pointed out elsewhere, he helped get funding for the national museum of African-American history past reluctant Republicans. (In this he was aided by Sam Brownback. Yeah, I'm still struggling with that, too.)

And so I wonder:

If Bush's presidency hadn't been so thoroughly discredited by nearly everything else that happened in Bush's presidency — if he hadn't failed so badly that even Republicans turned their back on him — would we have today's Trumpist GOP, with white nationalism and, yes, racism resonating so strongly with the base of a major political party?

I do believe the surge in white nationalism is, in part, a backlash to America's first black president. But even Barack Obama became inevitable only because of Bush's failures — chiefly, Iraq — and the complicity of his opponents (Hillary, John McCain) in those failures.

So I'm left  pondering: If George W. Bush been a success, might other Republicans view his example on race as part of the template to follow?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Daniel Pipes, burqa bans, and basic math

Daniel Pipes calls me out at NRO:

I am frustrated that Westerners don’t perceive the obvious point that burqas and niqabs, both of which cover not only the head but the whole body, threaten public security. A person wearing these Islamic garments can be male or female, can carry an assault rifle, and can usually get away with anything anonymously. 
But no, whether it be an intellectual like Martha Nussbaum, a journalist like Joel Mathis, or the many, many voices opining on the recent burkini ban from French beaches, security issues inspire a collective shrug, with almost everyone focused instead on the symbolism of these two garments, whether it be concerning the welcoming of the other, the inhibition of social interaction, or the status of women. 
I'm old enough to remember when National Review was filled with cries for religious liberty.

But I digress. This argument goes back a couple of years, to when a man in a burqa robbed a Philadelphia bank, and Pipes — per usual — offered it as a reason we need to make Muslims act like the Rest of Us.

The problem is, he's right. This particular issue, so far at least, deserves a bit of a shrug.


I expected that my compilation of burqa- and niqab-assisted crimes and acts of political violence going back nearly fifteen years and now about 150 incidents long, would convince any sensible observer of the public security problem.
Let's do the math.

One hundred fifty incidents in 15 years. That's 10 incidents a year.

And Pipes is taking his examples from around the world, not just Philadelphia, or not even a single country. Which means he's drawing on a world population of 6 billion, more or less, in which those 10 incidents are produced.

What's the per capita number, then, on those incidents per year? It's not quite zero, but it's pretty damn close.

So for a problem that, by Pipes' own statistics, is so small as to be unobservable if he hadn't set out to observe it, Pipes would have us deprive millions of Muslim women the right to make their own religious choices.

I don't buy it.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

"The Flight 93 Election" and the end of America: This too shall pass

Damon Linker writes on Facebook about the “Flight 93 Election” and its “end of the republic” doomsaying:

Decius, he says, believes

“that both parties, including the conservative-movement establishment, need to be overthrown for the sake of ... saving the United States! If HRC wins, it's like pointing a loaded semi-auto at the country's head and pulling the trigger! Those are high stakes!”

They are. And here's where, perhaps, I can spare a moment of sympathy for my reactionary friends...

If they're acting like this election is the last one to save America, the last best chance before everything goes down the drain, perhaps permanently, well, they're acting entirely with recent tradition anyway.

The election of 2000 was kind of "meh" until it wasn't — Dems thinking GWB was stupid, Republicans thinking Gore was a beta male (stereotypes that tend to persist in the parties through subsequent elections) and a lot of people not seeing too much difference between the two. The intervention of the Supreme Court and the subsequent 9/11 terror attacks did a lot of clarifying for those of us (guilty!) who had been in the third group, but by then it was too late.

2004 felt like a desperate attempt to reverse course, but it didn't happen. The insane levels of depression in my little liberal town for weeks after was palpable. Many of us thought we'd lost the country, perhaps forever.

And so it goes. Every election these days is now "the most important election of our lifetime," until the next one. And so every election has, for one side or the other, felt like the last-ditch attempt to save what we love about the country.

Except: It hasn't been.

This election season has been extraordinary, it's true. And I can’t quite make myself say, “Well Donald Trump might be bad, but he probably won’t be that bad.” He seems pretty bad to me. Someday, we might be living the election that really is the last chance to save the country. Maybe this one is it.

But probably it isn’t.

What our country needs is a man in a long robe and a beard, carrying a sign to every street corner: “This too shall pass.”

If we remember that, maybe we can be a touch more forgiving of our friends and neighbors whose political stances enrage us. The choices we make in life are important. But life tends go on anyway. This too shall pass. This too shall pass. This too shall pass.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

On Donald Trump and that "Flight 93" piece that Rush Limbaugh loves.

Over at American Greatness, the Trumpist website, there's an article on "The Flight 93" election that makes the case that, hey, the world's going to hell anyway, so why not vote Trump?

One paragraph stood out to me. I've broken it down to consider it more fully.

"If conservatives are right about the importance of virtue, morality, religious faith, stability, character and so on in the individual; "

Trump is your man?

"if they are right about sexual morality or what came to be termed “family values”;"

Trump is your man?

"if they are right about the importance of education to inculcate good character and to teach the fundamentals that have defined knowledge in the West for millennia;"

Trump is your man?

" if they are right about societal norms and public order; if they are right about the centrality of initiative, enterprise, industry, and thrift to a sound economy and a healthy society; "

Thrift? TRUMP is your man?f

Norms? Trump is your man?

"if they are right about the soul-sapping effects of paternalistic Big Government and its cannibalization of civil society and religious institutions;"

Trump is your man?

"if they are right about the necessity of a strong defense and prudent statesmanship in the international sphere"

TRUMP is your man?

"—if they are right about the importance of all this to national health and even survival, then they must believe—mustn’t they?—that we are headed off a cliff."

Oh, then it makes sense then. Trump is your man.

How 50 years of Star Trek changed my life.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, and I guess I’ve been paying close attention for about 35 or so of those years. When I was a kid, the routine was to rush home from school, turn the TV — pre-cable — to the “independent” TV station, watch cartoons for most of the afternoon, then finish with an episode of “Star Trek” before dinner.

The show shaped my imagination to a remarkable degree. “Star Wars” had all the good toys in the late 1970s and early 80s, but I found I could fashion a captain’s chair of sorts in my bedroom, use a flashlight to simumlate a phaser — and, occasionally, I could get my sister Rachel to make up “Star Trek” adventures with me.

I wanted to be an astronaut growing up, and “Star Trek” was part of that passion. The ambitions changed, but my love for the show didn’t.

Scratch that: My love for the show has evolved. I can see now that much of The Original Series was cheesy — how, in fact, much of The Next Generation was pretty bad, too. There’s probably more bad Trek than good Trek, in all honesty, but bad Trek is like bad pizza. It’s still kinda awesome.

My favorite series, these days, is Deep Space Nine. It was the first to use serialization, and though its run ended before 9/11, the themes that emerged during the show’s war between the Federation and the Dominion — about war and the toll it takes on our highest ideals — turned out to be startlingly prescient.

I dated a woman in college who went to see “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” with me. She was the first woman I ever thought I could marry. The woman I did marry? We celebrated our 10th anniversary by going to see “Star Trek Beyond” on opening night.

And all this has affected my son. When he was just three years old, I heard him playing in his room, having all sorts of conversations and making all sorts of noises. Suddenly, he yelled out: “CAPTAIN, WATCH OUT!” And I knew he was playing Star Trek, like I had as a kid.

I sometimes wonder about myself, whether it’s right that the stuff I loved as a kid is the same stuff I love as a middle-aged adult. But I love Star Trek. I imagine I always will.

Monday, September 5, 2016

About my plan to abandon Twitter entirely and forever...

I failed. Dammit.

Why you should stop complaining about "the media": You're the media.

A friend posts a protest against CNN, which she thinks has done a lousy job of covering the North Dakota oil pipeline protests. In response,  I suggested that she's part of the solution — and so are you, if you have a Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat account. (This is slightly edited.)
One last thing to consider that I don't think most people have: You're part of the media ecosystem now. Scratch that: You're part of the media distribution system now. 
Which means: You don't think people are hearing enough about the pipeline protests in North Dakota? Well, you've heard about it. And you have a Facebook page! Post an article about the protests from a source you consider reliable — and there are plenty of reliable sources that have reported on it — and post your link, perhaps a few links, and add your own perspective. If your friends agree to its importance, they can and will amplify it further. 
We increasingly see examples where social media amplification prompts legacy and mainstream media to visit a topic at greater length. Protesting that a story hasn't been covered might get attention, but probably what's more effective in getting attention from big news outlets is showing them that a story matters to a sizable-enough audience to warrant a portion of their resources and time.
You're the media now. If you've heard about a story, that means someone has reported it. Spread the word. You're a vital part of the chain now.

The Horrors of NRO's "I Was Forced to Join a Union"

At NRO, Diana Furchtgott-Roth celebrates Labor Day by lamenting that she's been forced to join a union as a condition of her new job as an adjunct instructor at George Washington University:

I have no need for anyone to represent me. I can represent myself. If GW does not offer me enough to make it worthwhile for me to teach, I can look elsewhere or find other employment.
That's the standard argument. But this is also true: If Furchtgott-Rott doesn't like other conditions of employment at GW — such as unionization— she can also "look elsewhere or find other employment." Somehow, this doesn't come up.

But honestly, it doesn't sound like SEIU representation at GW's been such a bad thing for its members.
George Washington University’s part-time faculty union has made some real gains since it was formed in 2006: It negotiated a minimum payment of $3,500 per three-credit-hour course, secured a supplemental retirement plan and a medical leave of absence, and designated a small pool of money for adjuncts to pursue professional development. ... The group raised the minimum rate of pay per course by as much as 32 percent in some departments, introduced a “just cause” agreement to ensure adjuncts couldn’t be dismissed without reason, and secured more benefits, among other things.
I mean: Sign me up!

Anyway, Furchtgott-Roth doesn't have to join a union to join GW — should could pay a fee that's less than her union dues. But despite her very strong feelings against forced unionization, she's not going to take that option. Here's her bio at the end of the piece.

— Diana Furchtgott-Roth is senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a part-time faculty member at George Washington University. She will soon be a member of the SEIU Local 500. 
She doesn't have to take the job. She doesn't have to join the union. But she's going to do both — and accept the benefits that unionization has wrought — and complain about it. Very principled.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

One of my values: Doubt

It’s been nearly nine years now that I’ve had the privilege of being an opinion journalist, at least on a part-time basis. I’ve won a couple of awards for my work, and the column I co-write is distributed to papers across the nation. It’s the kind of gig a lot of people dream of and never attain, and I know that I’m lucky as hell to have had this privilege.

During the nine years, two big personal goals that have motivated me:

To prove I belonged: I know I wasn’t the person John Temple had in mind when he hired me, along with Ben Boychuk, for RedBlueAmerica. He told me as much — he was expecting somebody who had done a stint at the New Republic, and I’m guessing an Ivy League degree was probably part of that package. I worked hard to prove that while I was green in opinion journalism and had an unusual background for the job, I was well-read enough, smart enough, and thoughtful enough — curious enough — to express opinions at something deeper than a family-argument-at-Thanksgiving level. I don’t know what John’s opinion on the topic is, but I’ve satisfied myself on that score. Oh, there are always going to be people smarter and better-read than I — I argue with them! Often! — but I can generally hold my own at the Grownups Table.

To keep alive my relationships with conservatives.  Even back in 2007, the country’s increasing polarization was obvious. I was liberal, but had gone to a conservative college, had conservative friends, and though we sometimes contended with each other, it seemed important to maintain those relationships. More broadly, it seemed more important that some of us liberals and conservatives keep trying to talk to each other — rather than at or around or near — because, well, we share a country. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and all that.

I’ve been dubious of the latter project lately. Some of it is election-year exhaustion, exacerbated by the presence of Donald Trump in the race: We’ve been on Full Hyperbole for a year now, and it seems possible things will get worse.

There are a couple of other incidents that have made me want to throw my hands in the air.

In the first, a conservative friend responded to an (admittedly frustrated) post on race with a frustrated post of his own — one that featured, prominently, the words “fuck you.” Directed at me. I’ve got a thick skin, but it didn’t feel like the kind of comment that welcomes further dialogue.

The same day, I heard from a very smart liberal friend who suggested — or maybe I simply perceived in her words — that I am a useful idiot for my conservative friends. In any case, she said, my ability to maintain friendships with people who had such bad attitudes on race was essentially a function of white privilege. “Some of your friends don't seem interested in change; instead, they just want to catch a hole in your liberal logic and can say to their conservative friends, "Oh, I have liberal friends" in a way that shows how magnanimous they are,” she wrote. “I don't think it's a healthy relationship, but that's just me.”

I wasn’t all that sure I disagreed.

All in all, it has not seemed, lately, like there’s much room for pursuing friendship and conversation with people who don’t already share my values to a nearly complete degree.

The problem, for me, is this: One of my values is doubt.

Friday, September 2, 2016

What nobody remembers about KU football and sexual assault

Lot of people rightfully angry about this today:

The University of Kansas has concluded a former KU football player accused of sexually assaulting two former KU women’s rowers had “non-consensual sex” with one and violated the school’s sexual harassment policy in the case of the other.
Folks are rightly pointing out there's a name for "non-consensual sex" — I can only imagine KU didn't use it because that name is a legal term, and it reached its findings in a setting outside the legal system.

As the controversy has gone on about two KU athletes who say they were sexually assaulted by a football player, I've been frustrated that nobody seems to remember that we've been through all of this before. Back in 2000....

A Kansas University soccer player says KU football coach Terry Allen discouraged her from pressing sexual battery charges against two of his players. 
She didn't immediately go to police about the February incident, she said, because Allen promised he would punish the players in an "appropriate way" if the woman didn't press charges.
The "appropriate" punishment? Allen made the players run stairs at the stadium.

There was much chest-beating and a few public tears by KU Athletics when this came out. There was even a blue-ribbon panel that set out how KU Athletics should respond to similar complaints in the future. And I'm guessing that the panel's report was promptly shelved.

Yes, this is 16 years ago — today's student-athletes were toddlers at the time. But KU is pretty good about preserving the institutional memory of things it really cares about. That this incident is so thoroughly forgotten would suggest the issue isn't one of them.

This is the first and only time this sentence has ever been written about Donald Trump.

"He doesn’t have that kind of hubris, thank God."

Donald Trump is going to North Philly today.

This will almost certainly end in tears and a lot of shouting. And that's what everybody, on both sides of the issue, wants. Donald gets to play "law and order" in front of a hostile crowd; the hostile crowd gets to show its hostility to a racist blowhard. Politics always feels like kabuki, but today more than most.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Heather Mac Donald is a hack.

Over at City Journal, Mac Donald starts out:
One of the most revealing contradictions of left-wing ideology is the determination of liberals to bring as many Third World “immigrants of color” as possible into the U.S., where, if those same liberals are to be believed, they will face bigotry of appalling proportions.
And she keeps going from there. It's a strawman piece of epic proportions.

Why? Because it's possible for a reasonably intelligent person to hold these two thoughts in their head at the same time:

• America offers more freedom and opportunity than many countries, including the countries where immigrants come from.

• America nonetheless is not yet perfect, and has improvements to make in offering freedom and opportunity to all who seek it — particularly people of color.

All it takes is just a touch of nuanced thinking and the desire not to mischaracterize your opponent. Mac Donald apparently lacks the desire or ability to do so. She seems smart, so I'm guessing she just doesn't care enough. And that makes her a hack.