Thursday, October 01, 2015
My Greatest Sports Moment
This has been misinterpreted by enough people that I will start by saying that the intent of the story is not about me. It is about the basic misconception that most people have about sports; that it is all about athletic ability.
In fact, sports is all about the intersection between athletic talent and intelligence. Most of the time the former will reign supreme, but every athlete should work hard on developing the other side of the game.
To set the stage, I was on an abroad program in college in London in 1976. We stayed in a residence hotel, and in the basement of the hotel was a foosball table. Over the course of our semester there, lots of games were played.
Gary, a particularly enterprising sort, set up a league. Foosball is a two-person game, and Gary selected Ho, the best defenseman on the program to be his partner. Gary was not the worst offensive player (he was probably about the third or fourth best), but with Ho behind him the team was unstoppable. They won all fourteen games in the eight team series and went into the semi-finals of the playoffs against my team with a huge advantage.
I was probably the second best defenseman in the league. My partner, Wayne, was about average--probably worse than Gary but not by much. So we had a double negative against the team of Gary and Ho; I was worse than Ho, and Wayne was worse than Gary.
But with time to prepare, I thought about Ho's devastating defense. It was not so much that he blocked shots more than average; it was that he could score with his players, seemingly at ease. It seemed obvious that he could not be doing that with straight shots; there were too many players in our league who could block those.
So the afternoon before our match with Gary and Ho, Wayne and I tried to figure out how Ho did it. It was obvious that he sent his shots off at a slight angle, and with a little practice I managed to do it. And that was the key. We figured out an alignment of our players that would make sure that Ho's angled shots did not get through our defense.
We won the first two games. Ho was no one-trick pony, he managed to change his shot and they won the next two. We split the fifth and sixth games and were tied up 4-4 going to the "meatball" as it was referred to.
By this point everybody in the London program was in the basement cheering both sides on. I feel that Wayne and I had more than our share of supporters, but that may just be the natural inclination to support the underdogs.
Wayne's hand shook as he put the final ball into play. It went back and forth a few times until Ho finally teed it up with his defenseman. He sent a wicked shot my way but it hit the goalie flush and then, with lots of english, it tried to wiggle around. I jerked the goalie my way and the ball went safely into the corner. Now it was my turn to tee the ball up.
I passed it back and forth a few times between my fullbacks and sent a shot home. Clunk! The game was over. Although I had not been as nervous as Wayne, I was completely numb. He jumped into my arms and we both fell to the floor, as the crowd went crazy.
The denouement? We got crushed in the finals by the best offensive player. We did not win the championship. It was wonderful beating the team everybody expected to win, but there is a limit.
Monday, December 01, 2014
The podcast show Serial
has become something of an American phenomenon. Ten weeks after debuting on NPR's weekend show This American Life, the podcast now reportedly gets 1 million listeners a week. I recently heard about the show and thought I'd give it a listen.
The podcast examines the circumstances surrounding the murder of a young (17) Korean-American girl named Hae Lee in Baltimore in 1999. The investigation soon centered on her most recent ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, also 17 years old back then. With the confession of a friend of Adnan's named Jay that he helped Adnan bury the body, the police quickly cracked the case and Adnan was sentenced to life in prison.
Sarah Koenig, a former investigative reporter in Baltimore was contacted by friends of Adnan who believed he was actually innocent of the charges, and so she has started her own investigation, which she chronicles weekly in her podcasts. The show is well-produced and highly entertaining. But....
I think there is an obvious bias on Koenig's part towards believing in Adnan's innocence. In a way, this is understandable. Adnan is currently in jail and so there is no real need for an advocate for his guilt. In addition, it just makes for a more interesting show. What entertainment value would there be in a show which examined a 15-year old murder and simply came to the conclusion that the right man is behind bars for the crime? Especially when you consider that the show originated on NPR, where the listeners presumably are prone to believing that the cops often railroad innocent people.
The concern I have is that the show is purposely attempting to mislead the listeners by highlighting potentially exculpatory evidence and ridiculing or ignoring facts that indicate Adnan is guilty.
For example, consider the very first episode, The Alibi. It focuses on a girl named Asia, who wrote Adnan fifteen years ago, claiming to have remembered that they were together in the library after school that day, when the murder is supposed to have taken place. Koenig goes to the library. Did they have security cameras back in 1999? Yes, but simply videotapes which were recorded over on a weekly basis. Did they have sign-in sheets to use the computers (Adnan says he probably checked his email at the library). Yes, but just plain pieces of paper that they certainly have not been filing away carefully for fifteen years.
But Koenig did not (at the time) check on the most easily verified piece of corroborating evidence. Asia recalled that particular day vividly because it was the first day of snow in Baltimore that year. But when Koenig and her assistants checked the weather records for that day, guess what? No snow. It seems likely that Asia was remembering a different day, and in fact her alibi is useless. Keep in mind her that the day of the murder did not stand out as a particularly memorable day at the time. Hae did go missing but her body was not found until weeks later.
The third episode is similarly wasted on a discussion of the rather weird person who found the body whom police suspected initially as a potential killer. He had gone into the woods where Hae was buried in a shallow grave in order to take a piss, and noticed her hair. The guy was a flake; he had been arrested several times for public exhibitionism.
But it should have already been obvious to Koenig that the flasher was not the murderer, because in an earlier episode we had heard the story of Jay. Jay claimed that Adnan had given him his car and his cellphone earlier that day. Adnan planned to kill Hae in her vehicle, then call Jay and have him help dispose of the body. Jay's story was corroborated by a very key piece of evidence; he was able to lead police to Hae's car, which the cops had been searching for unsuccessfully for several weeks.
So it is pretty obvious that Jay was indeed involved to some extent in the murder, and it narrows down the suspect list to Adnan and Jay. Forget about the guy who found the body, no matter how crazy he seems.
Jay's story is a bit odd. He claims that Adnan killed Hae in the parking lot of a Best Buy store, then stuffed her body in the trunk of her car. It seems a rather public place to carry out a murder. In addition, Jay says that Adnan then called him from a payphone in front of the store, But nobody can find any record of a payphone ever being there. Jay also describes them driving all over the area, getting high and not accomplishing what Adnan would probably want--to get back to school for his track practice to establish an alibi for the time of the murder.
But in some key respects, Jay's story does have some corroboration. Adnan apparently acknowledges loaning Jay his car and cellphone that day. But Adnan also made a call from that cellphone at the time he claims he would have been at track practice. In addition, cell tower pings indicate that Adnan's phone was in Leakin Park (where Hae's body was found) at the time Jay claims he and Adnan were burying her. By that time, Adnan clearly had the phone back in his possession.
As an example of evidence that Koenig ridicules, Hae wrote Adnan a letter telling him to get over her. Adnan and another girl apparently wrote each other notes on the back of the letter during class--Adnan's in pen and the girl's in pencil. Afterwards, Adnan apparently wrote (again in ink), "I'm going to kill!" Koenig laughs it off as something one would find in a cheesy detective novel.
Or consider the motive for the killing. Hae broke off the relationship with Adnan. Koenig (and others she talks to) pooh-pooh the notion that this would give him a motive to kill her. Why people break up with their boyfriends/girlfriends all the time, and very few of them are murdered in response. But of course it does happen sometimes; it's not completely ridiculous.
Another bit that Koenig has ignored at least so far. Here's an article
on Adnan's current appeal of his conviction. Keep in mind that Adnan has consistently maintained his innocence. In the most recent episode, Koenig notes that Adnan's lawyer recommended that he not claim innocence at the sentencing phase of his trial (i.e., after he was convicted). She also notes that he was angered that the defense attorney requested that the judge consider Hae's murder as a crime of passion, not premeditated, because he considered that as also tacitly admitting his guilt. But get this detail on the appeal:
Syed's appeal centers on whether Gutierrez failed him when he said
she did not investigate a "credible alibi witness" who had seen him at
the time of the crime, according to the appeal. That witness, a
classmate named Asia McClain, had written Syed a letter saying she had
seen him at the Woodlawn branch of the Baltimore County Public Library
on Jan. 13, 1999, the day Lee disappeared after school.
attorney for the appeal, C. Justin Brown, also questions whether
Gutierrez failed Syed by not following up on his request to inquire if
prosecutors were offering a plea deal.
Wait a minute! He was interested in a plea deal? That certainly does not fit in with him steadfastly maintaining his innocence.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
This Modern World
Gotta love this long thumbsucker
on the problems transgendered people bring to all-women colleges. I swear at least ten times I had to stop to laugh at the pretzel logic on display:
the start, Timothy introduced himself as “masculine-of-center
genderqueer.” He asked everyone at Wellesley to use male pronouns and
the name Timothy, which he’d chosen for himself.
the most part, everyone respected his request. After all, he wasn’t the
only trans student on campus. Some two dozen other matriculating
students at Wellesley don’t identify as women. Of those, a half-dozen or
so were trans men, people born female who identified as men, some of
whom had begun taking testosterone to change their bodies. The rest said
they were transgender or genderqueer, rejecting the idea of gender
entirely or identifying somewhere between female and male; many, like
Timothy, called themselves transmasculine. Though his gender identity
differed from that of most of his classmates, he generally felt
comfortable at his new school.
Now it is important to understand that Timothy was considered female for most of her life. She was born with internal and not external plumbing. And I'm not trying to poke fun at her/him; I can respect the choice to identify as a man, even though she's attending a women-only college. But it does illustrate the problems inherent in this era of gender fluidity. And when he decided to run for office, things really got confusing:
Last spring, as a sophomore, Timothy decided to run for a seat on the
student-government cabinet, the highest position that an openly trans
student had ever sought at Wellesley. The post he sought was
multicultural affairs coordinator, or “MAC,” responsible for promoting
“a culture of diversity” among students and staff and faculty members.
Along with Timothy, three women of color indicated their intent to run
for the seat. But when they dropped out for various unrelated reasons
before the race really began, he was alone on the ballot. An anonymous
lobbying effort began on Facebook, pushing students to vote “abstain.”
Enough “abstains” would deny Timothy the minimum number of votes
Wellesley required, forcing a new election for the seat and providing an
opportunity for other candidates to come forward. The “Campaign to
Abstain” argument was simple: Of all the people at a multiethnic women’s
college who could hold the school’s “diversity” seat, the least fitting
one was a white man.
Now remember, Timothy had only been a man (we'll leave the white part out) for a little over a year; for the most part he had been a girl. But the school and the students had been so accepting of his gender decision that he magically transformed into the symbol of the patriarchy. No, I'm not kidding:
I asked Timothy what he thought about that argument, as we sat on a
bench overlooking the tranquil lake on campus during orientation. He
pointed out that he has important contributions to make to the MAC
position. After all, at Wellesley, masculine-of-center students are
cultural minorities; by numbers alone, they’re about as minor as a
minority can be. And yet Timothy said he felt conflicted about taking a
leadership spot. “The patriarchy is alive and well,” he said. “I don’t
want to perpetuate it.”
The article just continues on in that vein forever. Professors at these female-only schools have gotten used to defaulting to "she/her" when talking about people (instead of the patriarchal he/him), but now even that causes controversy:
times, professors find themselves walking a fine line. Thomas Cushman,
who has taught sociology at Wellesley for the last 25 years, first found
out about Wellesley’s trans population five years ago, after a student
in one of his courses showed up at Cushman’s office and introduced
himself as a trans male. The student pointed out that every example
Cushman gave in class referred to women, and every generic pronoun he
used was female, as in “Ask your classmate if she. . . . " He told
Cushman that Wellesley could no longer call itself a “women’s college,”
given the presence of trans men, and he asked Cushman to use male
pronouns and male examples more often, so trans students didn’t feel
excluded. Cushman said he would abide by whatever pronoun individual
students requested for themselves, but he drew the line at changing his
emphasis on women.
my life here,” Cushman told me, “I’ve been compelled to use the female
pronoun more generously to get away from the sexist ‘he.’ I think it’s
important to evoke the idea that women are part of humanity. That should
be affirmed, especially after being denied for so long. Look, I teach
at a women’s college, so whenever I can make women’s identity central to
that experience, I try to do that. Being asked to change that is a bit
ironic. I don’t agree that this is a ‘historically’ women’s college. It
is still a women’s college.”
No surprise, women who are taking male hormones are starting to dominate athletically:
spring, Alex Poon won Wellesley’s 131-year-old hoop-rolling race, an
annual spirit-building competition among seniors. Alex’s mother was the
hoop-rolling champion of the Class of ’82 and had long ago taught her
daughters the ways of the hoop, on the assumption that they would one
day attend her alma mater. (One of Alex’s older sisters was Wellesley
Class of ’11; another went to Bryn Mawr.) Alex was a former Girl Scout
who attended an all-girls high school. But unknown to his mother, he was
using Google to search for an explanation for his confusing feelings.
By the time Alex applied to Wellesley, he secretly knew he was trans but
was nonetheless certain Wellesley was a good fit. For one thing, going
there was a family tradition; for another, it was a place where gender
could be reimagined. In his sophomore year at Wellesley, he went public
with his transgender status.
hoop-rolling day, Alex — wearing a cap backward on his buzz-cut hair —
broke through the finish-line streamer. President H. Kim Bottomly took a
selfie with him, each with a wide smile. A small local newspaper
covered the event, noting that for the first time in the school’s
history, the winner was a man. And yet the page on Wellesley’s website
devoted to school traditions continues to describe the race as if it
involves only women. “Back in the day, it was proclaimed that whoever
won the Hoop Roll would be the first to get married. In the
status-seeking 1980s, she was the first to be C.E.O. Now we just say
that the winner will be the first to achieve happiness and success,
whatever that means to her.” But Alex isn’t a her, and he told me that
his happiness and success includes being recognized for what he is: a
conversation about trans students touches on the disproportionate
attention they receive on campus. “The female-identified students
somehow place more value on those students,” said Rose Layton, a lesbian
who said she views trans students as competitors in the campus dating
scene. “They flirt with them, hook up with them. And it’s not just the
hetero women, but even people in the queer community. The trans men are
always getting this extra bit of acknowledgment. Even though we’re in a
women’s college, the fact is men and masculinity get more attention and
more value in this social dynamic than women do.”
Austin noticed the paradox when he returned to campus with a man’s
build and full swath of beard stubble after nearly two years on
testosterone. “That was the first time in my life I was popular! People
were clamoring to date me.”
Now you might think that there's an obvious answer to this problem: Just get rid of the young women who decide that they are young men. Ah, but that raises another problem: what to do about young men who decide they are women?
While trans men are allowed at most women’s colleges if
they identify as female when applying, trans women — people raised male
who go on to identify as women — have found it nearly impossible to get
through the campus gates. Arguably, a trans woman’s identity is more
compatible with a women’s college than a trans man’s is. But most
women’s colleges require that all of an applicant’s documentation
indicate the candidate is female.
And of course they have benefitted from the patriarchy all their lives:
"What if someone who is male-bodied comes here genuinely identified as
female, and then decides after a year or two that they identify as male —
and wants to stay at Wellesley? How’s that different from admitting a
biological male who identifies as a man? Trans men are a different case;
we were raised female, we know what it’s like to be treated as females
and we have been discriminated against as females. We get what life has
been like for women."
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Whew, Canton seems to be picking up the pace; six players inducted last year, and seven this year! It's exactly what was needed; too many of these players had been clogging up the list and making it hard to get in. This year's inductees:
Derrick Brooks, Linebacker, Tampa Bay (1st year of eligibility): No questions asked Hall of Famer. A defensive player of the year award, 11 Pro Bowls and 5 All-Pro seasons.
Walter Jones, Tackle, Seattle. Nine Pro Bowls and 4 All-Pros.
Andre Reed, WR, Buffalo. A fine player, at the position most clogged these days. Marvin Harrison and Tim Brown didn't get in this year, but they are inevitable picks eventually. I would have taken Harrison first out of this trio, but Reed has been waiting the longest.
Michael Strahan, NYG, DE. Another easy pick.
Aeneas Williams, DB, AZ-StL. Great player, glad to see him get the recognition he deserved.
Ray Guy, P, Oak. Certainly one of the greatest punters of all time. By the way, I remember the announcers well into the 1980s telling us that he had never had a punt blocked; according to Pro Football Reference this is untrue; two were blocked in 1978 and one in 1979.
Claude Humphrey, DE Atl-Phi. Vaguely remember him from the Philly days, but Atlanta in the 1970s didn't get much national TV.
Morten Andersen. Most points ever, most games ever, most field goals ever. He's the kicker on the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 1980s and 1990s team. Certain to get in sometime in the next couple of years.
Roger Craig, RB, SF-Oak-Min. One of my favorite players ever. He put every ounce of effort into every run. The signature play during the 49ers run from 1984-1989 was Roger Craig catching a screen pass from Joe Montana and barreling around end to punish some hapless DB at the end of the play. What got me was that Craig never seemed to look back for the pass; he would just put up his hand and Montana would hit it.
Terrell Davis, RB, Den. Another great player with a similar career to Craig--somewhat short, but oh, how sweet.
Overall, I am very encouraged that the NFL seems to have broken up the logjam at the Hall of Fame. The pace of inductions means that some of the quality players who have missed out for years, will finally get in, and we can have a meaningful dialogue about those who remain.
Wednesday, July 02, 2014
Bill Chadwick, aka the Big Whistle, was a color man for the New York Rangers TV broadcasts during my youth. Prior to his broadcasting career, he was a longtime NHL referee, although I see by his Wikipedia page
that there was a ten-year gap between the two jobs.
Chadwick was an aggressive "homer" and in his last few years became noted for his exhortations to Rangers defenseman Barry Beck, to "Shoot the puck, Bawwy!" He had the Elmer Fudd speech defect in which all his "R"s became "W"s. This caused some amusement when the Rangers came up with a player named Mario Marois, whose name he pronounced with evident difficulty as Mawio Mawa.
I didn't particularly like Chadwick; like all old people (now including me) he tended to dwell too much on how much better things were in the past. I do find it interesting that he almost lost both his eyes while playing hockey, and that he experienced some discrimination as the first American-born ref in the NHL.
Sunday, May 18, 2014
My Irritation Gets Some Aggravation
Okay, been following the goofball protests at various universities over commencement speakers? Well, so had Princeton's former president
, who took his speech at Haverford U as an opportunity to speak out against the kooks:
“I am disappointed that those who wanted to criticize Birgeneau’s
handling of events at Berkeley chose to send him such an intemperate
list of `demands,’” Bowen said Sunday.
“In my view, they should have encouraged him to come and engage in a
genuine discussion, not to come, tail between his legs, to respond to an
indictment that a self-chosen jury had reached without hearing
The problem that Birgenau had was that despite being at Berkeley (yes, that Berkeley), he was insufficiently deferential to the Occupy Wall Street kooks. So far, so good, but:
Bowen also said Birgeneau had “responded intemperately, failing to make
proper allowance for the immature, and, yes, arrogant inclinations of
some protesters. Aggravated as he had every right to be, I think he
should be with us today.”
Aggravated means "made worse." I am pretty sure that Bowen intended to say "irritated," which Birgenau certainly had every right to be. The former president of Princeton can't get that right?
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Too Young For the Communism Debates...
And thus still a communist. The New York Times gushes
Thomas Piketty turned 18 in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, so he was spared the tortured, decades-long French intellectual debate about the virtues and vices of communism.
Yes, I'm sure he was. Unless his parents were commies themselves. DOH!:
Mr. Piketty — pronounced pee-ket-ee — grew up in a political home, with
left-wing parents who were part of the 1968 demonstrations that turned
traditional France upside down. Later, they went off to the Aude, deep
in southern France, to raise goats. His parents are not a topic he wants
Fair enough; does he want to talk about the goats? Actually he wants to talk about the usual Marxism that he was too young to debate:
As for the Gulf War, it showed him that “governments can do a lot in
terms of redistribution of wealth when they want.” The rapid
intervention to force Saddam Hussein to unhand Kuwait and its oil was a
remarkable show of concerted political will, Mr. Piketty said. “If we
are able to send one million troops to Kuwait in a few months to return
the oil, presumably we can do something about tax havens.”
Wasn't he 20 or 21 during the first Gulf War? Suddenly he's old enough to learn lessons, whereas the fall of the Soviet Union taught him nothing? And what does he suggest we do about tax havens; invade them?
The rest of the article goes on to decry income inequality. Paul ($225,000 a year to not lecture at NYU) Krugman:
Paul Krugman, winner of the Nobel in economic science and a columnist
for The New York Times, wrote that it “will be the most important
economics book of the year — and maybe of the decade.” Remarkably for a
book on such a weighty topic, it has already entered The New York
Times’s best-seller list.
I'm going to make a guess that the author is not going to donate his royalties to pay the bills of the less fortunate, and thus strike a blow against income inequality.