Still At It

As you may have heard, Greg Hardy of the Dallas Cowboys is at it again. He was recently caught on camera on the sideline in the football game against the New York Giants freaking out, pushing and shoving his teammates and attacking special-teams coach Rich Bisaccia, knocking his clipboard down in the process. The aftermath was most interesting as owner Jerry Jones excused Hardy’s behavior and admired his “passion.” (That’s another word these days for “‘roid-rage”).

A brief story provides some of the nonsense passing for excuses these days as pampered athletes are so often out of control, slapped on the wrist, and then quietly worked back into the system only to go off the deep end again:

“He wanted to get in there and kind of get after some of the guys a little bit, maybe get them fired up,” Bisaccia said. “It was just not the right time. It’s really not an issue. I just had to communicate what we were going to do next on the return, so I just really wanted him to move on so we could get going.”

Teammates were also quick to come to Hardy’s side, giving him a pass because of his reputation for being an emotional player.

Added McCray: “It was surprising he was in there. I know when he came, he kind of pushed me a little bit. I just didn’t realize who he was. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, who is this?’ Once you realize it’s Greg, you’re like, ‘We need to make a play.’ We understand that was our fault to give up that lead and he was just showing us the passion to show us we need to fix it.”

Hardy was playing just his second game back from a suspension he earned after his domestic violence arrest last year. He made flippant remarks before his season debut, showing little remorse for the victim of the crime for which he was convicted before the case was dismissed. After those two games he is already tied for the team lead in sacks with three.

To clarify the last paragraph: a couple of years ago Hardy was found guilty in a court of law of beating his girl friend and throwing her down on a bed filled with assault weapons. He was suspended with pay for a year by the NFL and later given an added four-game suspension (without pay). Upon his return he said he would come out “with guns blazing” and made snickering remarks about Tom Brady’s wife, who is apparently very attractive. He’s a piece of work, this man.

In a fairly lengthy discussion of the incident on ESPN I was surprised and delighted to hear Tommy Jackson and Chris Carter, both former NFL players, condemning not only Hardy’s actions but the lame comments that were supposed to excuse his behavior. Carter, for example, noted that this gave him a “snapshot” of what Hardy’s girlfriend must have seen up close and real when Hardy turned on her. Jackson said he wouldn’t want to play alongside such a player whom he would constantly fear. Both condemned his behavior without reservation — as they did the excuses provided by Jerry Jones.

What is most interesting about this entire incident, which seems almost familiar these days, is the fact that Jones, whom Carter described as “the great enabler,” was clearly only interested in the fact that Hardy is an outstanding player and his “other problems” were beside the point. No, Jerry, these “other problems” are precisely the point. Like it or not, athletes are role models for our kids, and huge men who hit women should not be regarded as heroes. This is a time when the NFL is trying desperately to live down its reputation as the place where former (or current) felons go to work and play for obscene salaries.  This sort of behavior is not good for the NFL’s “image” — and should not be dismissed as merely a man exhibiting his “emotions.”

One must suspect that PEDs are involved — or is it possible that these men, who are literally larger than life, really have violent tempers from birth? It beggars belief. In any event, one can be assured this will not be the last “incident” involving huge men out of control. Gone are the days of self-control and the development of character as heroic.

Speaking of those days, I am reminded of a comment penned by Thomas Jefferson back in 1810 while describing kings and which seems so apt today of a great many of us, but especially the spoiled athlete:

“Now, take any race of animals, confine them in idleness and inaction, whether in a stye, a stable, or a stateroom, pamper them with high diet, gratify all their sexual appetites, immerse them in sensibilities, nourish their passions, let everything bend before them, and banish whatever might lead them to think, and in a few generations they become all body and no mind.”

Apt, indeed, though in this age of entitlement it doesn’t take “generations” for this to occur. Witness Greg Hardy.

Like It Is

In a most interesting response to an article by a former elementary school teacher and principal who insists that the decline in American education is due almost entirely to the decline of financial support from the states, we read the following reaction from someone who obviously didn’t spend much time in school:

Read this all you teacher haters. The day is coming soon when very few people will be teachers due to lack of pay, the public blaming them for everything, cut benefits, and disrespect. Look at Kansas and Wisconsin. Those cuts and Republican governors with the “screw the teacher” “get by on less” attitude has really worked well. Kansas now allows a HS diploma to be a sub teacher. And these same states decry that teachers “do more to get test scores up.” LOL Sure with HS graduates in the teachers chair. Oh yes, the day is upon us when you big mouths will be out of a teacher to teach your little darlings that do no wrong. Then what?

This response reflects the frustration felt by so many teachers “out there” who must face a disinterested and undisciplined class each day and spend the bulk of his or her time simply on discipline, trying to get the attention of young people brought up on television and video games, resulting in an attention span that is a flicker at best. It’s a losing battle until or unless folks realize that it begins at home with parents who spend time with their children and instill  in them a love of learning by reading and telling stories and listening to what their children have to say to them. Busy parents trying to make ends meet and children who are spoiled and/or ignored altogether are sure to lead to the very situation we now face. The issue of inadequate funding simply points out the obvious problem that only goes part way toward an adequate explanation of what is going wrong, as the following comment suggests:

What nonsense – I worked as a central office high level administrator in a major city for 35 years and money wasn’t the problem, parenting (or lack of parenting) was. Most of the teachers in our district really wanted the kids to be successful – many. most of the parents didn’t care. For all you libs out there who think you know what’s what, go to the nearest central city, find out when parent/teacher conferences are, find out if you can observe in a few classrooms, then go and sit in the back of the room – but bring a book to read because only 10 -20% of the parents will show up, and you’ll be bored.
Money is not the problem, the home is the problem.

One suspects that, in fact, the problem cannot be explained by focusing on a single factor: multiple factors are at work here. But it is clear that the results are an educational system that is failing our kids.

Genie Out Of The Bottle

You have doubtless heard about the sex scandal involving the basketball team at the University of Louisville. It is reported (again and again) that for a number of years a woman by the name of Katina Powell procured prostitutes and exotic dancers to attend to the needs and urges of basketball recruits in order to entice them into enrolling in the university. Reportedly this has cost the university “tens of thousands” of dollars and involved numerous high school recruits and their fathers or guardians over a number of years.

This is sensational and the media love sensational stories so it will become the hottest story around —  at least until interest wanes. But the real questions lie at the heart of this sort of thing, because we must suppose that Louisville is not the only school to be involved in doing whatever it takes to win. They are simply the ones that got caught, because Powell wrote a book about it and the police and the NCAA are investigating the reports, which appear to be well founded.  The real question is how this sort of thing can be stopped. And the answer, I fear, is that it cannot be stopped. There is simply too much money involved in Division I basketball and football to put an end to the sordid activities that coaches will resort to the get a “leg up” on the competition. And while  Rick Pitino. the coach at Louisville, has denied any knowledge of these going-on, it beggars belief that the man would not be fully aware of these activities. As a recent Yahoo News story notes:

Pitino has repeatedly denied any knowledge of strippers being paid to dance for or have sex with recruits, but in Powell’s first interview since her book was published, she reiterated to ESPN she finds that hard to believe.

Said Powell: “Four years, a boatload of recruits, a boatload of dancers, loud music, alcohol, security, cameras, basketball players who came in [to the dorm] at will … ”

What will be interesting now will be how Louisville responds. Will the school try to get ahead of potential NCAA sanctions and self-impose penalties or encourage Pitino to step down? Or will it do nothing besides continuing to insist it’s still investigating the veracity of Powell’s claims?

The standard response, of course, is that “everyone does it” and that is supposed to count as moral justification. But, even if true, it does not. I have written about the scandals involving athletes before (some would say endlessly) and this one really doesn’t differ in kind from the rest; it is simply more sensational because of the role played by prostitutes and the involvement of high school students — and their fathers or guardians. Louisville will almost certainly be found guilty as charged. The coach and perhaps the athletics director might be fired and there will be NCAA penalties. Whatever does occur, the whole thing will soon go the way of Ohio State, Penn State, Minnesota, and scores of other schools involved in scandals. It will be forgotten. What matters here is the success of the teams and, of course, the revenue they bring in.

I have suggested in the past that all athletes at Division I universities should be paid a decent salary and treated as professionals. If they then want to attend college they can pay tuition like everyone else. If not, they can spend it as they like and gamble on the remote possibility that they will be selected in the NFL or the NBA and become Professionals with a capital “P.” But this would not begin to solve the problems that surround college athletics because, they involve such huge amounts of money and, as in this case, they also involve young people who aren’t even enrolled at the school. There is simply no way to put a stop to this sort of transgression. The demand for sports on television — where the bulk of the money is generated — is insatiable and the networks couldn’t stop broadcasting the contests even if they wanted to. And, clearly, they don’t want to. They also make huge amounts of money.

Didn’t Jesus warn us all long ago that avarice is the root of all evil? These issues, along with many others too numerous to mention, seem to bear this out. In any event, moralizing aside, the genie is out of the bottle and there really doesn’t seem to be any way to put it back.

Either/Or (Both?)

One of the basic lessons in a logic class is the distinction between two types of disjunction. On the one hand, there is the exclusive disjunction that maintains either A or B, but not both. The inclusive disjunction, which is considerably more common suggests that either A or B, possibly both. In the latter case I might have either soup or a sandwich for lunch, possibly both. In the former case the traffic light is either green or red, it cannot be both (at the same time).

One of the “big” issues that is taking up considerable air time these days is (not global warming, but) one-day fantasy football leagues like “Fan Duel.” A number of states, including Nevada (!), have insisted that these games are a form of gambling and they have disallowed them in the state until or unless they are licensed. The N.C.A.A. has determined to penalize college football payers who get involved, because the N.C.A.A. likes to present itself as the guardian of purity in college sports. States like Nevada, I presume, want a cut of the profits which, we are told, run to the billions of dollars. Those who defend the activity insist that it is not gambling, but a game of skill. In a word, they insist there is an exclusive disjunction that insists that weekly fantasy leagues either are gambling or they are games of skill. And since they are games of skill they cannot be a form of gambling. But this is clearly false: we have here an inclusive disjunction, because it could be both: fantasy football leagues might be both gambling and a game of skill — like poker.

In the end, it strikes me as a tempest in a teapot. The issue is clear: the football one day fantasy leagues that are raking in billions of dollars and paying countless millions to swamp the TV networks with advertisements are clearly both games of skill (one needs to know a thing or two about football) and a form of gambling, since players pay in to the leagues and stand to win big if the players they pick each week pay off.

When I become Commissar of Culture I will rule this entire discussion out of order. These games are a form of gambling, period. So, isn’t it time we turned to more important issues? Heaven knows there are tons of them out there!

In A Nutshell

I came across this quote by author, film critic, and editor Ernest Callenbach some time ago and thought it well stated. It stresses the economic plight we see ourselves in, though it ignores the larger, global issues and fails to mention the fact that the democratic experiment that was started in 1776 is in obvious meltdown. Clearly, there are serious issues out there that are simply being ignored by our elected officials who cannot see beyond the nit-picking of party politics.. And THAT’s the real problem.

We live in the declining years of what is still the biggest economy in the world, where a looter elite has fastened itself upon the decaying carcass of the empire. It is intent on speedily and relentlessly extracting the maximum wealth from that carcass, impoverishing our former working middle class.” ~ E. Callenbach, 2012

Cheaters Do Win

When I was a small boy back in the Dark Ages one of the bromides I was fed over and over is that “cheaters don’t win.” I believed it as did most of my playmates. But as I have grown older (and more cynical) I have come to realize that cheaters do win. Not only in sports, but also in business and in politics. In fact, it is now considered naive to think that cheating doesn’t win. Success is measured in wins and losses, not how the game is played, as I had been taught.

A recent obvious example is the New England Patriots who are notorious cheaters and who also have one of the most glittering records in all of professional football. They were caught filming their opponents’ practices and deflating footballs so their quarterback could get a better grip on the ball, especially in wet weather. Most recently, after they beat Dallas on Sunday Night Football, Tommy Jackson — a former Denver Bronco linebacker and now a prominent talking head on ESPN — was praising New England for the “subtleties” in their game plan that allows them to win. He was speaking about a play that New England likes to run in which one receiver “picks” off the defender of another receiver thereby allowing the latter to run free and be open for an easy reception. It’s against the rules and New England was penalized twice for it in this particular game. But, Jackson noted, if they run the play ten times and get caught twice that means they are successful eight times. That is one of the subtleties that Jackson admires about the Patriots.

In that same game we were able to watch Greg Hardy, recently back from a four-game suspension for domestic violence against his then girl-friend — whom he hit repeatedly and then threw onto a futon covered with assault weapons. He was found guilty by the courts and the NFL suspended him four games for his actions. Tsk Tsk. Prior to the game he told reporters he would be back “with guns blazing,” an unfortunate choice of words  — words which were echoed by owner Jerry Jones in his delight over having Hardy back on the football field and on his beloved team. In that same interview, after saying that he only wanted to talk about football, Hardy openly “admired” Tom Brady’s beautiful wife whom he “hoped would be at the game, along with her sister.” Terry Bradshaw, bless his soul, excoriated both Hardy and Jones for their remarks and for the fact that the NFL would allow such a player to continue to play football. And his voice was joined by a few others, one of whom pointed out the glaring inconsistency in which the players wear pink to support breast cancer research and yet are involved in so many domestic violence cases. But, on the whole, the football world is happy the man is back “with guns blazing.” He is an amazing football player. But the evidence suggests that he is a horrible person.

Now, Hardy is a cheater with a capital “C.” And he is not only immensely successful, he is also a very wealthy man — though we tend to equate the two things in this culture. New England won the game despite the fact (because of the fact?) that they employed a plan that involved a beach of the rules. Cheating does win.

I am not naive. I know cheating has always gone on in this imperfect world. And cheaters are often, if not always, successful. Shit happens. But one would like to think that more people like Terry Bradshaw would speak out against the practice when it is well known to happen and fewer talking heads like Tommy Jackson would sit before the TV cameras and drool over the New England Patriots and Tom Brady while they speak with admiration about the “subtleties” of a game plan that allows a team to be successful because it knowingly employs tactics that are a breach of the rules of the game.

Calm Voice of Reason?

Ben Carson, one of the many candidates for the Republican nomination for president, speaks calmly and with supreme confidence. He appears to be every bit the medical doctor dispensing a prescription to a sick nation. In an atmosphere charged with the electricity generated by such clowns as Donald the Trumpet, Dr. Carson strikes many as the sensible alternative. His popularity is increasing daily. But when one gets past the calm exterior one worries about the substance of his positions. He claims, for example, that women are primarily responsible for rape and that Obamacare is a form of slavery. Moreover, in a personal letter addressing me by my first name, Ben asked my support for his candidacy and noted that he opposes such things as Planned Parenthood, and

“believes in peace through strength. We must defeat our enemies before they become strong enough to destroy us. We must seal our borders right away.”

Now there’s a bit of paranoia for you and the typical Republican appeal to fear.  He believes the country needs a “spiritual awakening,” which (apparently) only he can bring about. Indeed, he has a number of strange views that worry those who seek to know where the candidates stand on critical issues.

In an interview on CNN following the publication of a recent book, for example, he advanced the notion that if the Jews had been armed in Nazi Germany Hitler would never have been successful in carrying out the “final solution.” As Yahoo News reports, in part:

“I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed,” Carson said. “I’m telling you there is a reason these dictatorial people take guns first.”

The comments drew a swift response from the Anti-Defamation League.

“Ben Carson has a right to his views on gun control, but the notion that Hitler’s gun-control policy contributed to the Holocaust is historically inaccurate,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, National Director of the organization. “The small number of personal firearms available to Germany’s Jews in 1938 could in no way have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi German state.”

What we are dealing with here is what logicians call “counterfactuals.” It’s impossible to prove or disprove counter-to-fact statements of the type “If the Jews had been armed the Holocaust very likely would not have happened” We can have fun with such statements, as many historians do in speculating about the past, but we must bear in mind that it is just that: speculation. Whether or not the Anti-Defamation League had responded as they did to Carson’s remarks, it is clear that those remarks are on the weakest possible historical grounds. They cannot be proved or disproved. The man seems to be enamored of unverifiable historical claims, however, since he said in the same interview that

 “passengers on Flight 93, which crashed on 9/11, helped avoid further tragedy by rushing the gunman.”

There is simply no way of knowing whether this claim is true or false. We might like to think it is true, but that is neither here nor there.

Thus, in the case of his claim about the Holocaust, the notion that IF the Jews had guns THEN Hitler would not have been so successful in carrying out his Final Solution is totally unfounded, mere speculation. One might be tempted to say it is irresponsible in the climate of the discussion (can we call it that?) of gun control in America in 2015. When the issue is raised, as it invariably is, in an atmosphere of heat and very little light, it is irresponsible to seek analogies with situations that never occurred —  suggesting what would have been the case if events had not turned out as they did in the last century.

Dr. Carson’s demeanor is reassuring and it is a pleasant change to hear at least one candidate speak calmly and assuredly about issues that confront us all. It is, in its way, a breath of fresh air. But when one reflects on what is said and not the manner in which it is said, one realizes that this man is not all that far from folks like Donald Trump at the far right of the political spectrum. Beneath the calm exterior one can sense an element of hysteria. We need to listen to what these people say and not be taken in by the fact that they seem self-assured and confident in the claims they make. Facts do not speak for themselves; they must be supported. Speculation is just that: it is not fact and it is ultimately groundless.

Third Option?

The devotees of guns who insist that the Constitution guarantees them a right to carry automatic weapons are fond of saying that the “cure” for the incredible number of guns deaths in this country — including the latest mass shooting in Oregon — is to lock up the crazies before they start shooting. “It’s not guns that kill people, it’s people that kill people,” or some such nonsense. If there were no guns, of course, there would be no shootings. It’s simple logic.

But the hard-liners are convinced that there are two options, and only two options that face us: either we lock up all those who are likely to shoot random citizens or we continue to live in a state that is rife with domestic terrorism where an “accidental” shooting happens almost daily and there have been 986 mass killings since Sandy Hook; where 4.2% of the world’s population privately own 42% of the weapons. In an interesting article in the web blog “Vox, Policy and Politics” it was noted that Donald Trump, of all people, realizes, perhaps unwittingly, that the first option is not an option at all. As Trump was quoted as saying (pardon the syntax):

you know, oftentimes this happens and the neighborhood’s just, you know, we sort of saw that about him, it really looked like he could be a problem’ but it’s often hard to put someone in an institution for the rest of their lives based on the fact that he looks like he could be a problem.

My goodness, it seems a bit of the truth leaked in there somewhere among the cobwebs that befuddle this man’s consciousness. It is clearly the case that we cannot go around locking up anyone who we (which of us?) think looks like he or she might be on the verge of shooting someone else. This would lead to the worst form of fascist state and even the extreme right wingers don’t want that — I would hope. As the psychiatrist Dr. Paul Appelbaum of Columbia University has noted:

any attempt to predict who is most likely to commit a mass shooting — and therefore prevent it — runs up against the fact that these events are extremely rare, and as a result have only the broadest, least useful risk factors associated with them. […]

The risk factors that are linked to these events — basically, being an angry young man — are so widespread in the population, he explained, and so weakly predictive of an individual actually committing a mass shooting as to be practically useless. “The answer is yes, at least of the most highly publicized, most fear-inducing cases of stranger shootings, by and large they are angry young men,” said Appelbaum. “But that doesn’t get you very far, because there are a lot of angry young men who are angry for all kinds of reasons, and unless one wants to lock them all up or put them all under 24-hour surveillance, it’s really impossible to build on a description that general to come up with effective preventative approaches.”

So, the conclusion that is reached by those who want to marry their guns and continue to shoot first and ask questions later is that things must go on as usual. We simply must put up with it. Better still, we should all go out and buy guns to protect ourselves against the “other” people who are crazy — as though we wouldn’t be certifiably crazy if we were to run out and buy guns just for the sake of protecting ourselves. It’s called “paranoia.”

What’s lost in this discussion, as the Vox article notes is the obvious third option: gun control. But that is not “on the table” in Republican circles and Trump, at the end of his interview, went back to the standard notion that we simply must be more wary. No one should take our guns away from us.  Even though, as I have noted in previous posts, the Second Amendment doesn’t guarantee every Tom, Dick, and Sally the right to carry automatic weapons, or, indeed any weapons of any kind. What it guarantees is the right of the militia to carry weapons in order to guarantee that we would never be a land occupied by armies, our own or others.

But, there’s another one of those “facts” which people like Donald Trump choose to ignore out of a sense of obligation to the weapons manufacturers who provide them with the big bucks they need in order to be elected to high office. Now there’s another of those ugly facts that we would prefer to ignore.