Ferguson

There is nothing to say to make this situation better.  But one sure way to make it worse is to ignore it.  A friend texted me last night, expressing disbelief at the protests and rioting, and saying that he thought that would only make things worse.  I have seen that sentiment echoed by others, including veterans of the civil rights movement such as John Lewis, who argued for peaceful demonstrations.

Many people out there may feel that protests and riots only turn the public sentiment against those doing the protesting.  That is a legitimate point of view, and it may be correct.  But at this point the public needs to be hit over the head with this issue, and trying to win public sentiment isn’t as important as forcing the public to confront the ugly reality that the government of Missouri, from a local cop to the police chief and mayor of Ferguson, and on to the district attorney and the governor of Missouri, is guilty of inflicting racial violence.  And the criminal justice system has exacerbated rather than alleviated that violence.

I think the most appropriate response to that sentiment is that marches, protests, demonstrations, and riots exist for the extreme moments in the life of a country, and the state murdering an innocent teenager is absolutely an extreme moment.  There really isn’t any other choice besides large public demonstrations, unless you think that “Continue to be the victims of unpunished violent crime at the hands of the police” is a viable option.

 

According to the news, White People Celebrate or Demonstrate, but Black People Riot

Before we get too caught up in some of the imagery from last night, it is important to consider some other recent incidents that fall under the categories of demonstrations.  One obvious trend is that when groups of mostly white people gather in public to it doesn’t get called a riot, even when they wantonly destroy property and engage in violent acts.  Also, these people don’t get teargassed, bombarded with smoke grenades, or shot at.

 

(Look closely and you will notice a surprising lack of armored police vehicles and officers dressed for combat in those photos).

 

The Fucked Up Legal Proceedings

I am sure most of you have seen the statistics on how rare it is for a grand jury to fail to return an indictment.

Jay Nixon, the Governor of Missouri, chose not to appoint a special prosecutor and left district attorney Bob McCulloch in charge.  It seems pretty clear that Nixon had a reasonable expectation that this move would reduce the likelihood of an indictment and therefore upset the community, which is why he called up the Missouri National Guard last week!

After being placed in charge of the case, McCulloch did an unusual and self-serving thing – he decided to place responsibility for the outcome in the hands of the grand jury.  He was very clear about this in his speech last night, when he said, “They are the only people – the only people – who have heard and examined every witness and every piece of evidence.”  McCulloch presented himself as simply a resource for this evidence.

But McCulloch was the fucking prosecutor!  As several prosecutors have explained today, in deciding to present the grand jury with all of the evidence he abdicated his role as prosecutor.  McCulloch was tasked with framing the case to the grand jury, calling witnesses and presenting evidence to make that case, not leaving them with a pile of evidence to figure out themselves.  Grand juries almost always side with prosecutors, but McCulloch didn’t act like one.  In choosing to act this way, he made an indictment less likely.

It is also important to remember a few underreported facts.  First, a lot of attention has been focused on the fact that Michael Brown was a big kid, with the implication being that it would be natural for Darren Wilson to be afraid of someone that size.  Brown was 6″4 and somewhere around 280 lbs.  But Wilson is a big guy as well, he is 6″4 and roughly 210 lbs.  We aren’t talking David and Goliath here.  We are talking about two large people, one of them a teenager and one a grown man, and the grown man had police training, a motor vehicle, and a gun.  Second, the St. Louis County medical examiner didn’t take photos of the crime scene because…his camera battery died!1  Absurd.

Third, Wilson’s account of what happened is literally unbelievable. According to Wilson, he asked Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson to walk on the sidewalk.  When they refused, he asked again, and Brown approached the car, slammed the door shot as Wilson tried to open it, began punching Wilson (though oddly he hit the left side of Wilson’s face from his alleged position outside the driver’s side door), paused his assault and calmly handed some cigarillos to his friend, and continued the assault. Then Wilson reached for his gun, and Brown allegedly said “You’re too much of a fucking pussy to shoot me.”  Sounds more like the dialogue of a Sylvester Stallone film than what an unarmed 18 year-old would say. Wilson apparently fired 2 shots before Brown began running away, at which point Wilson got out of his car and began chasing him.  Wilson screamed for Brown to get on the ground.  Brown allegedly turned, began running at Wilson, on his second stride reached for an imaginary handgun (again, Brown was unarmed).  Wilson shot him multiple times, which apparently did nothing to slow Brown down, so he continued shooting (he fired 12 times).

Are you fucking kidding me?

Wilson claims Brown ran 20-30 feet from the car, turned, and charged him. But Brown’s body was 150 feet from the car (sure would be helpful to have some crime scene photos).  More to the point, as Ezra Klein states, why? “Why did Michael Brown, an 18-year-old kid headed to college, refuse to move from the middle of the street to the sidewalk? Why would he curse out a police officer? Why would he attack a police officer? Why would he dare a police officer to shoot him? Why would he charge a police officer holding a gun? Why would he put his hand in his waistband while charging, even though he was unarmed?  None of this fits with what we know of Michael Brown.”2

This story is just begging for holes to be poked in it.  But, as legal analyst Lisa Bloom states, the cross-examination of Wilson was a cakewalk, not the type of detailed, intense questioning that the situation merited:

If the victim was white all the news shows would be focusing on the many holes in the case and serious problems with McCulloch’s strategy, things we learned about yesterday when the evidence was released.   Both Wilson and the medical examiner would be crucified on national television. Instead we are talking about protests and looking at images of police in riot gear.

As one former federal prosecutor put it, “So when a District Attorney says, in effect, “we’ll present the evidence and let the grand jury decide,” that’s malarkey. If he takes that approach, then he’s already decided to abdicate his role in the process as an advocate for justice. At that point, there’s no longer a prosecutor in the room guiding the grand jurors, and — more importantly — no state official acting on behalf of the victim, Michael Brown.”

Exactly.

 

The Disconnect 

We live in a society where statistics like this are shocking to some people (none of them black):

A big reason for the disconnect (not to mention a huge driver of “black on black” crime) is segregation, most importantly in the form of housing discrimination.  In America, we live in different neighborhoods and go to different schools and mostly have friends that are the same race as we are. Next time you read that stat about how 90% of black murder victims are killed by black people, remember that 83% of white murder victims are killed by white people.”3  Basically, people kill people nearby.  But conservatives only throw a hissy fit when talking about crime involving black people.

“Overall, the social networks of whites are a remarkable 91 percent white. White American social networks are only one percent black, one percent Hispanic, one percent Asian or Pacific Islander, one percent mixed race, and one percent other race. In fact, fully three-quarters (75 percent) of whites have entirely white social networks without any minority presence. This level of social-network racial homogeneity among whites is significantly higher than among black Americans (65 percent) or Hispanic Americans (46 percent).”4

White Americans almost never have black friends, Hispanic friends, or Asian friends. White Americans are less likely to have minority classmates than they were 30 years ago. This might all seem shocking to people in my generation, the so-called “millennials.”  According to social science research, we support diversity and equality at higher levels than older generations.

The problem with all this is that the same research also shows the troubling prevalence of “post-racial” thinking.  5  That is troubling because the idea that America is “post-racial” is complete bullshit.  Pick any stat, from incarceration rates to income levels to neighborhood demographics (which, again, are the biggest and most under-discussed issue when we talk about race in America) to police shootings, and it is clear that not only is the idea of a post-racial America a distant fantasy, it is one that is moving further from reality because of our refusal to recognize reality.

Basically, millennials want people to be treated the same but we don’t want to discuss race, we are opposed to government measures to reduce inequality, and we aren’t really even sure what racism is.

White people in America don’t know what life is like for black people in America (or Latinos, or Asians, et al).  It really comes down to that.  If we had even a faint idea we wouldn’t be surprised by the outcome in Ferguson.  Because we don’t know, we look at cases like this from a totally different perspective.  As Jamelle Bouie of Slate argues, “A generation that hates racism but chooses colorblindness is a generation that, through its neglect, comes to perpetuate it.”

 

Gardner Marshall

 

Postscript: Charles Pierce of Esquire has a powerful piece up today on Ferguson.  I will paste most of it below, but it is worth reading in full here – http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/There_Is_Always_A_Reason.

“There is always a reason. Fear. Orders. Duty. There is always a reason after it happens. There is always a reason because we want there to be a reason.

There always have been people in whom we invest the power to take a life. There always has been a tendency among us, or at least among the more privileged among us, to give the benefit of a thousand doubts to those people in whom we invest this awesome power, because we give it to them in order for them to protect us and to keep us safe. They act in our name, always, no matter what they do. That, on the other hand, is often what we refuse to admit to ourselves when that power is misused. That is the way it is in a self-governing Republic. Every act of war is done in our name. Every action by the police is done in our name. Every prosecutor does his job in our name. Every governor who makes a decision does so in our name. When Michael Brown is shot and killed in the middle of the street by a police officer named Darren Wilson, then Darren Wilson is acting in our name, whether we want to admit it or not. We have given him the power to decide to take Michael Brown’s life. And, last night, the governor of Missouri, and a local prosecutor, and 12 members of a grand jury told their their fellow citizens that, in killing Michael Brown, the moderately abraded Darren Wilson acted properly, and in their name. That is the hard and undeniable truth of the matter. Darren Wilson cannot be guilty, because then all the institutions of our government are, and we are, as well, because we told Darren Wilson to protect us from people who look to us like demons.

Right from the beginning, when Governor Jay Nixon refused to name a special prosecutor and left the case in the hands of Bob McCulloch, the greasy and hopelessly conflicted local district attorney, this case was headed for the biggest public fix since the 1919 World Series. The people in Ferguson knew it. The police knew it. Even Nixon knew it; he declared a state of emergency a week before the grand jury’s decision was handed down. McCulloch simply abandoned his duties as a prosecutor and dumped the evidence on the members of the grand jury without giving them any direction at all. Both of them relied, tacitly, on the fact that they knew the benefits they all would get of the thousand doubts that we give to the people we empower to take another person’s life—”under the color of law,” as the legal jargon has it, and in this case that couldn’t be more ironic.

And whoever it was that prepped Wilson for his testimony deserves a raise. There is the “hand in the waistband” defense, which you hear in almost every police-related shooting. Wilson was able to convince a grand jury that he was physically intimidated by someone who was exactly the same height. He was able to convince them that he was struck in the head with a closed fist three times, and that he suffered what appeared to be nothing more than a severe razor burn. He was able to convince them that Michael Brown had become something else—a “demon”—and that Wilson’s actions in killing him was an act of exorcism on behalf of the entire community. He was able to convince them of something that the elected officials of the community already needed to believe.

This is a perilous time for the country, and for many of the citizens living in it. Our police are armed and trained as you would arm and train an occupying army. They are given body armor, and armored vehicles. They have been removed, physically and psychologically, from the people they are paid to serve, the people who invest in them to take the life of another. And there is a reason because there always is a reason, when some citizen winds up dead. The argument always is that you, the citizen, do not know the pressure these people face, that you never will experience a split-second life and death decision, and that the benefit of a thousand doubts is always justified because, otherwise, you will not be made safe by the people you empower to take a life. As regards to all the incidents cited above, not one person ever served one day in jail. This because there were reasons, and there are always reasons.

And the people who complain, and the people who riot, and the people who march and shout and scream for some kind of justice are just ungrateful because it is the job of the people we empower to take lives to keep them safe from each other, and don’t they understand that? Don’t they understand that Darren Wilson’s exorcised the demon on their behalf as well, that Michael Brown died so that they can be safe? That is the reason, and there is always a reason.”

 

Two Early NBA Thoughts

It is early in the NBA season.  Right now a bunch of projected contenders – Spurs, Clippers, Cavaliers, Thunder – are having underwhelming seasons. The Spurs and Thunder are dealing with injury issues, but the Cavs and Clips are pretty healthy to begin the season, and yet both began Wednesday just 1 game over .500.

The Cavs will continue to generate an insanely high level of discussion, debate and totally unnecessary noise simply because LeBron plays for them.  The Clips also attract a fair amount of scrutiny in the wake of the Sterling controversy and because they have the best point guard in the world and one of the best power forwards.  It is too early in the season to draw firm conclusions or freak out. But it isn’t too early to examine some minor tweaks that might improve on-court performance.

Thus far the Cavs best lineups are not their big 3 flanked by another big. Like the LeBron-era Heat, the Cavs play better when they go small.  We can see several reasons why the Cavs might be an elite small ball team just as the Heat were.  First, the Cavs have a fantastic pick-and-pop big man in Kevin Love.  Second, they have two long, athletic forwards capable of playing the 4 in LeBron and Shawn Marion.  Third, by putting as many shooters on the floor they create bigger driving lanes for Kyrie and LeBron and give more room for post-ups from LeBron and Love.  Perhaps the most unstoppable half court set in the NBA is LeBron posting up on the left block surrounded by shooters.

These lineups could go several ways.  The optimal balance between shooting and defense would be Love-Marion-LeBron-Irving and one of Miller-Waiters-Dellavedova-Harris-Jones.  Thompson and Varejao could be substituted for Love, but obviously neither brings the same level of outside shooting, although Varejao is a decent midrange shooter.

One thing that sometimes gets misconstrued is Love’s defense.  He doesn’t have the size or athleticism to be an elite rim protector.  He also isn’t nearly as quick as Bosh and therefore is less effective at trapping the pick-and-roll. But he is strong, and he isn’t going to be bulldozed by many post-up players in the NBA.  There just aren’t many players like that in the league, and the guys with either a bully-type post game (Pekovic, Cousins, Howard) or a refined set of post moves (Al Jefferson, Duncan) mostly play in the west or for non-contending teams.  Pekovic bullies everybody, it’s not as if Varejao or Thompson are going to do much better than Love.  And none of those guys are long, strong and skilled enough to really limit Big Al or Duncan or Cousins, but then there really aren’t many guys in the league capable of doing that.

Love is big and strong enough to play center, and his shooting brings opposing bigs away from the basket.  If he is flanked by a stretch 4 like LeBron or Marion that can open the floor even more and give the nascent offense more room to operate. Not surprisingly, the best Cavs lineup is a front line of Love-Marion-LeBron.6

Also, Love can do work in the pick and roll. In tonight’ game against the Spurs Varejao played very well, especially as the roll man.  But late in the game he passed up several open midrange jumpers.  This threw off their offense because then the clock was ticking down and LeBron was forced to create something quickly, which often led to a tough shot.  A screener who can take and make that midrange shot helps the offense flow better.  And both LeBron or Marion are big enough to guard Boris Diaw.

Out west, the Clippers have a glaring hole on the wing right now.  Both Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick are struggling shooting the ball.  Barnes is supposed to be their defensive stopper, but he is older and he was always more of a physical pest defender than an elite, lockdown, Tony Allen type of guy. Redick can track guys around screens but he is too small and slow to lock down an athletic perimeter scorer.

The Clips need more size, shooting and defense on the wing.  There has been speculation that they will make a trade at some point to address this weakness.  But they already have a good candidate on their bench: Reggie Bullock.

Bullock, at 67% from 3, is shooting better than Barnes (30%) and Redick (32%) combined.  Of course this is a small sample size.  Everything is at this point in the season.  But Barnes is in the midst of perhaps the worst shooting slump of his career, and he is a streaky shooter anyway.  He is also 34, so it stands to reason that he is in decline a bit and will continue to lose some athleticism.

Bullock is 23.  He should continue to improve.  Advanced stats already rate him higher than both Barnes and Redick.  Surely this level of play merits more than the 12 minutes a game he has been playing so far.

Tonight the Clips had a blowout win over the Magic, and Bullock played a measly 4 minutes. Hedo Turkoglu, who has been dead for several years, played 15. Turkoglu will give you terrible defense and inconsistent production on offense. He is barely a rotation player.  Doc is trusting declining veterans (who both had good playoff series against his Celtics teams 4 & 5 years ago) at the expense of developing younger guys.

Remember what Doc did with DeAndre Jordan last year?  He trusted him with more minutes and let the growing pains happen during the season, and DeAndre had the best season of his career and solidified their center position.  Why not try that with Bullock?  Barnes isn’t the future at the wing, neither is Crawford, neither is Turkoglu.  Bullock may not be either, but at least give him a shot. Could be a difference maker this year.

 

Gardner Marshall

What Will Happen to Football Fans?

Sports season for me lasts from the beginning of NBA training camp to the last game of the NBA finals.  It’s not really sports so much as it is sport. And I only watch the people who are compensated for their labor, though that is due more to the superior quality of NBA basketball than to my total dislike of the NCAA.

However, I am an anomaly in terms of American sports fandom.  Football is the most popular sport in America, followed by baseball, and football again (the college version).

“In 2014, 35 percent of fans call the NFL their favorite sport, followed by Major League Baseball (14 percent), college football (11 percent), auto racing (7 percent), the NBA (6 percent), the NHL (5 percent) and college basketball (3 percent).”

Hell, the NBA is behind auto racing.  I don’t know a single person that follows auto racing seriously, and I know my fair share of Republicans. Altogether almost half of the country (46%) considers football their favorite sport.  Wow.

The NFL is in the news a lot.  And recently the news has been quite bad. Players killing people.  Players killing themselves.  Billionaire owners and multimillionaire commissioners clinging to the absurd notion that the NFL is a “non-profit” entity and thus deserves to avoid paying taxes.  Players abusing wives/girlfriends and children.  Players saying homophobic things. Players saying racist things.

I think the attention is most appropriately focused on the ongoing problems associated with CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and other long-term brain injuries suffered by NFL players.  Recent studies have found CTE in 76 of 79 former players, including Junior Seau (who committed suicide) and Jovan Belcher (who killed his girlfriend and then committed suicide).

There are a bunch of articles out there lamenting the ongoing popularity of the NFL.  These pieces point to stats like the ones I have listed above as evidence that playing football is more dangerous than we previously thought.  And that’s true.

There are also pieces predicting an imminent decrease in, and the potential demise of, the popularity of football.  The most common comparison is boxing, a sport that was very popular 50-60 years ago but now barely sustains a niche following.  The parallels are clear. Both sports are violent, both sports are macho, and both sports even cause the same type of brain damage.

It is easy to find counter-arguments.  The NFL occupies an unprecedented financial situation, both in the American sports landscape and the American economy.  Consider just the television revenue.  Sports channels such as ESPN are forced on cable/satellite TV subscribers (there are generally no plans without ESPN).  ESPN pays tens of billions to the NFL for the right to broadcast MNF.  And ESPN wants to protect that investment.  In fact, ESPN is so concerned about that partnership that it was willing to suspend Bill Simmons, a very popular writer, for merely pointing out that the NFL commissioner lied regarding the timeline of the Ray Rice abuse scandal. Hard to imagine the NFL’s bottom line being impacted anytime soon when it has decades-long, multibillion dollar TV deals in place.

My question: If, in 30-40 years, football has experienced a significant decline in popularity (which is possible; I expect at least a moderate decline), what happens to all those sports fans who no longer follow football?

The articles excoriating society for its embrace of football often insist that one day people will be ashamed that they were once football fans. And there is the subtle hint that people should be ashamed.

I know people who used to love watching boxing.  I have never heard anyone apologize for it or express any shame.  Consider Muhammad Ali. Probably the greatest athlete of all time, adored by tens of millions of people all over the world.  Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 42, just 3 years after his last fight (his second-to-last fight, in 1980, was described as “watching an autopsy on a man who is still alive”).

Though boxing is no longer a mainstream sport, Ali is still spoken of with reverence, appropriately so.  His current state is tragic, but that doesn’t stop people from focusing on his years of glory, years which ultimately contributed to his deterioration.  Fans insist on seeing Ali as he was, not as he is.  We look away from the depressing stuff.

I think this is what will happen with football.  The sport will experience some decline, surely. As more parents learn about the increased risk of long-term brain damage – a risk that exists even at the high school level – fewer kids will play, and fewer people will watch.

More players and ex-players will experience the effects of CTE.  More stories, like the recent one in the New York Times, will describe the daily suffering of football players:

“Spend an extended period of time behind the N.F.L. curtain, as I did, see eerily subdued postgame locker rooms filled with vacant stares and hear anguished screams echoing from the training room, and you’ll understand how the physical and emotional toll these players endure is devastating enough to erode the morality of a good man or exacerbate the evils of a bad one.”

Terrible as it is to imagine, the rash of suicides by ex-players is not probably not over.  And the discussion about the dangers of football is far from over.

Eventually fewer people will watch.  They will look away from the depressing stuff, and perhaps try to forget how intently they once looked toward what caused it.  They will just find something else to watch instead.7

Hopefully it is something that causes less suffering than football.

 

Gardner Marshall

The NBA Cares

March Madness is almost upon us, and football season is (mercifully) over.  I thought it might be time to address two of the more pernicious tropes regarding basketball in the United States.  These foolhardy notions are intertwined, and can be described as follows: college players play harder/care more about the game than NBA players.

The absurd logic of many (many) college basketball fans apparently goes something like this:

When player A is playing for his college team, he is a selfless, heroic, laudable athlete playing simply for his love of the game, his school, and his teammates (in roughly that order).  If player A is skilled enough and works hard enough (and is very lucky), player A makes it to the NBA. Upon entering the professional ranks, player A becomes a selfish, overpaid, lazy jerk who loses all love for the game, his teammates, and his organization, and cares only for himself.

Clearly this is a deeply flawed perspective.

Player A is admirable only when his labor is being exploited by a bunch of administrators and coaches and NCAA officials.  Once he is finally compensated for his labor (as he should have been all along), he become selfish?

One facet of reality that this perspective ignores is that college athletes don’t have a choice.  How many would turn down a salary if it was offered to them?  Would the ones who accepted it – an overwhelming majority – care any less about the game?

Also, NBA players play many more games each year, roughly 3 times as many as college players.  That is a sizable difference.  And an NBA game lasts about 17% longer (8 minutes) than a college game.  NBA players are playing against the best, most athletic, strongest, fastest, players in the world every single night.

Think of a guy barely in the rotation on an NBA team, a guy that other teams pick on and target (e.g. Jimmer Fredette).  That guy almost certainly dominated at the college level.  Did he just stop caring once he made the NBA?  Was his goal simply to make it and not actually to succeed?  The partying was too much to handle?  (As if college athletes never get a chance to party, ever).

When an NBA team (or player) plays a bad game (or a few), people say they aren’t playing hard.  When a college team plays a bad game (or a few), it is blamed on coaching or lack of skill or the folly of youth. Because of their youth and much, much kinder schedule, college players certainly have less of an excuse for not playing with 100% effort. Yet that happens all the time.  It happens in all sports, and in every other facet of life.  The occasional lapse in effort is a universal human quality.

The more plausible answer is that succeeding in the NBA is incredibly difficult.  Harder than anything these players have ever done before in their lives, by a magnitude of several degrees.  And the players in the NBA, though they have lags in effort like any human being in any endeavor, are actually consistently playing at an incredibly high level.

Consider someone like Steve Nash.  He played 4 years of college basketball.  He is in his 18th season in the NBA.  He has played 1,332 total NBA games (including playoffs).  He currently plays for a crappy team (the Lakers) that has essentially no chance of making the playoffs.

Nash is 40 years old.  He has dealt with numerous serious and debilitating injuries in his career, the most recent – a nerve root irritation – has forced him to basically rebuild his muscle memory and come up with an entirely new training regimen.

Check out what he is currently going through just to suit up in an NBA game for a non-playoff team:

Incredible.  This guy has 2 MVPs, numerous career achievements, and tens of millions of dollars.  He has far exceeded any expectations that people had for him when he came out of Santa Clara University in 1996. He has nothing left to prove.

Nash could simply retire and live a very enjoyable life on the coast of Southern California. But he chooses to go through agonizing physical rehabilitation every single day so that he might have a shot at getting back out on the court.

So who says NBA players don’t care?

I think the other portion of the answer is that the people who turn to these tired stereotypes don’t watch the NBA.  Maybe they turn in during the playoffs a bit, or watch some of the NBA Finals, but they don’t watch a Monday game in the middle of the regular season.

It is easy to say NBA players don’t play hard in the regular season when you don’t watch the games and thus have no idea what you are talking about.  And of course people are free to watch what they want and say what they want.  But perhaps a few more people should tune in during the NBA regular season, if only to watch the two best basketball players in the world compete for the MVP award (and earn home court for the playoffs in their respective conferences).

Last night LeBron put up 61 points while wearing a mask.  He shot 22-33 from the field against the 7th ranked defense in the NBA, making 8-10 3-pointers, with 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and only 2 turnovers (http://espn.go.com/nba/boxscore?id=400489766).

Pretty amazing for a guy who apparently doesn’t care enough to try hard.

 

Gardner Marshall

 

Movies

Bill Murray did a great AMA (“Ask me anything”) at Reddit recently:

http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1vhjag/bill_murray_here_ok_ill_talk_ill_talk/

 

Political and Military Affairs

A history of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the document upon which most of the legal reasoning and political justification for the ongoing War on Terror rests.  The immediate aftermath of 9/11 is a crucial and overlooked period in our history.  The construction and subsequent interpretation of this document is frightening and disturbing:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/gregorydjohnsen/60-words-and-a-war-without-end-the-untold-story-of-the-most

If you don’t initially agree, consider the following quote from the article:

“Twelve years after 9/11, who exactly is the U.S. at war with?”

“When I contacted the Pentagon to get an answer, a spokeswoman emailed back: “’The list is classified and not for public release.’”

 

Humor

An open letter to people on the Paleo diet:

www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/an-open-letter-to-paleo-diet-enthusiasts

 

Music

A look back at Nirvana’s phenomenal live performance on MTV 20 years later (this performance ultimately became the album Unplugged In New York):

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/12/nirvanas-tense-brilliant-em-unplugged-in-new-york-em-20-years-later/282040/

 

Sports

Zach Lowe of Grantland (probably the best NBA writer around) makes his case for who should be selected to the NBA All-Star game this year:

http://grantland.com/features/our-nba-all-star-team/

 

Tech

I have never had a Facebook account, in part because of some deep philosophical issues I have with the lack of privacy and seemingly trite nature of the majority of the content on the site.  So I am encouraged by the fact that teenagers, in spite of their tiny brains and poor taste in many areas, have begun a shift away from Facebook (although I am sure many of them are choosing to spend time doing something equally wasteful):

http://istrategylabs.com/2014/01/3-million-teens-leave-facebook-in-3-years-the-2014-facebook-demographic-report/

 

I apologize for the delay in posting, I had to be a law student for a minute.  And then travel.  But I’m back.

 

Gardner Marshall

 

 

The NBA is back. Stop the hate, enjoy the game.

Close your eyes.

Picture a great NBA athlete, with elite strength, quickness, leaping ability, court vision, and agility.  He has the type of physique that, even among the elite athletes in the world, appears to give him an unfair advantage.  He is too strong, too long, too fast.  He is known for his impressive dunking ability.

This player is a capable ball handler and talented passer with a penchant for making unselfish plays.  However, he is also a skilled scorer who attacks the basket with ferocity. He complements these offensive skills with All-NBA caliber defense; he is capable of defending positions 1-4 (even the 5 in a pinch), and is especially adept at containing quick point guards.

He has amassed numerous triple-doubles throughout his time in the NBA.  He been on All-NBA teams and the All-Star team.  He has hit several game-winning shots during his career. He won a gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics as part of the USA National Team.  He hit a game-winning playoff shot over Hedo Turkoglu.

Personal background: Born in the winter of 1984, this player is from the midwest originally.  He spent the first several seasons of his career with the Eastern Conference team that drafted him.  This team had some success, but ultimately never won a championship.  Because of the lack of a title, this player’s personal traits (character, clutch ability) were questioned, as was his overall basketball ability.  People wondered whether he could be “the guy” on a championship team.

A few seasons ago this player was traded to a new team.  His skills meshed better with this new squad, which was filled with more talented players, many of whom were fantastic athletes.  But, this team also experienced serious playoff disappointment during the first season that the player in question was on the roster.

Keep your eyes closed.

If you are at all familiar with the NBA, by now you are picturing a certain player. This person probably causes strong emotions to well up within you, most likely a mixture of anger and disdain.  That is because you assume the player in question is LeBron James.

But wait, stop.  Focus on imagining the player.  Now imagine it’s Andre Iguodala.

Open your eyes.

Iguodala hit a huge shot last night at the buzzer to win a really exciting game against the OKC Thunder.

If you have heard of LeBron James, chances are you don’t like him.  Unless you are an NBA fan, you probably haven’t heard of Andre Iguodala.  Regardless of which group you fall into, you don’t know either of these men personally.  You haven’t had involved conversations with them.  You haven’t gotten a sense of their character, you don’t know a lot about their personal history, their principles, whether they possess a high level of integrity or not.  At most you have seen them in brief post-game interviews, and, in LeBron’s case, numerous commercials.

Neither of these men have ever done anything to personally harm you in any way.  They have not insulted your friends or family.  Neither is infamous for off-court personal problems or run-ins with law enforcement.  Both come across as jovial, good-humored guys.

But, if you know who LeBron James is, the first thing you would likely say is some version of “I don’t like him/what a jerk.”  If you like basketball then you probably prefer college basketball, so your assumption about Iguodala is that he is another spoiled pro athlete who doesn’t love the game the way the college players do (the ones who generate billions of money for their schools and the television networks and are barred from sharing in those profits, whose alleged love of the game is a result of not being paid, as if they made a choice not to be).

Why?  Why, if you watch the NBA, would you expend energy hating the best player in the world?  A man who combines unparalleled size, strength, speed, agility, and court vision. Whose ability to shoot, pass, defend, and rebound may be unmatched in the history of the league.

Why would you hate LeBron simply because he decided to play for a different team (especially if you weren’t originally a Cavaliers fan)?  All sorts of players do it every summer.  Michael Jordan played for two teams in his career.  Charles Barkley played for three.  Shaq played for six.  Andre Iguodala has played for three, and I don’t see anyone burning his jersey.  Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard both fucked over their teams in ways LeBron never did with the Cavs, but they haven’t felt even a fraction of the scorn LeBron has received.

If, like most Americans, you don’t watch the NBA regularly, you probably still know who LeBron is.  Disliking a guy in a league you don’t even care about seems even more bizarre than if you were an actual NBA fan.  Why would you be angry at a guy whose most offensive act was shifting the balance of power in a professional sports league that means little or nothing to you?

If you are going to possess irrational hatred or dislike (which, of course, please don’t, and, if you do, try to stop), at least try and minimize the irrational part by applying it consistently.  If you dislike LeBron for deciding to go to another team then you should dislike Carmelo, Dwight, and Andre Iguodala.  And the hundreds of other guys who have done that in their professional careers.

Ultimately life is way more fun if you can just get over this type of silly shit and enjoy the good stuff. And watching players like LeBron and Andre Iguodala most certainly qualifies in the latter category.

(By the way, both of them really have made game-winning buzzer-beaters in the playoffs over the same guy – Hedo Turkoglu.  Each shot is in one of the clips).

These are two phenomenal athletes, a couple of the best two-way players in the league, who play hard every single night – and their season is way more grueling than a puny college season.

The NBA is back, and it is as exciting as ever.  Tune in.  Enjoy it.

 

Gardner Marshall

 

 

 

Elliott Smith: “Been pushed away and I’ll never come back”

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of Elliott Smith’s death.  This was popular topic of conversation amongst certain people and in certain parts of the Internet.  To those of you who may not be familiar, Elliott Smith was a fantastic musician who found his niche as a haunting and strikingly original solo multi-instrumentalist from the mid-1990s until his death in 2003.  I personally dislike dudes who sing while playing acoustic guitars, but classifying Elliott Smith as one of those guys is like calling The Wire a cop show.

Anyway, Grantland did a nice roundup of many re-issued and newly written articles on Elliott. This can be found here: http://www.grantland.com/blog/hollywood-prospectus/post/_/id/90300/the-music-world-remembers-elliott-smith-10-years-later , and is strongly recommended for those of you who have both the interest and the time.

Notable amongst these pieces is a long, detailed and exceptional oral history (including interviews with 18 people who were very close to Elliott) done by a writer for Pitchfork. Found here: http://pitchfork.com/features/articles/9246-elliott-smith/# .  This piece has great photos, video clips, and songs interspersed throughout and is really more of a multimedia immersion into Elliott Smith than a simple article.

(One great observation from the Pitchfork piece was made by Mary Lou Lord, a fellow musician and labelmate, who described the first time she saw Elliott Smith perform live: “I was backstage, just talking to everybody, and Slim said, “Mary Lou, you really need to go out and watch that guy.” I wasn’t very interested; I had heard a million acoustic guitar guys, you know? But Slim was like, “No, Mary Lou, you really need to go and watch him.” In other words, “Shut the fuck up and get out there.”  The first thing I noticed was that his guitar was really crappy. I realized he was making that crappy guitar sound really good. By the third song, I had completely lost myself. I was sucked in. I immediately invited him on tour.”)

For those of you who may not be longtime fans of Elliott Smith, or may never have heard of him, this piece on the Consequence of Sound site provides a great introductory crash course on his music by taking 10 songs from across his discography: http://consequenceofsound.net/2013/10/elliott-smith-top-10-songs-10-years-later/ .  I think this list is well done, and it contains several of Elliott Smith’s undisputed great songs, such as “Between The Bars,” “Christian Brothers,” and “Waltz #2.”  It is absolutely worth going through for a full listen, as the 10 songs are an excellent playlist. And below each clip is a paragraph on the song, the sound, and the possible subject matter.  These last portions are very touching and can help a new listener appreciate the depth of thought and emotion that was present in Smith’s songs.

The final page of the Consequence of Sound article contains some important truths about Elliott Smith’s music.  I believe these should apply more broadly to great art.  “Elliott Smith could make you feel like you weren’t alone…He created emotional balm. His songs enable depression, sure, but they also enable catharsis. Something about these sketches of inner turmoil comforts us.”

I try to make this blog a forum for ideas and topical posts and explorations of trenchant issues. But Elliott Smith’s music is very personal to me, more personal than almost any other music.  It makes me feel.  It makes me feel happy, and sad, and jubilant, and less alone, and more alone (but I revel in that aloneness).  It makes me feel a rare euphoric sadness that I hope other people are lucky enough to experience.

Just listening to the complex rivulets of sound that he created can fill me with emotion, but when combined with his lyrics Elliott Smith’s music just floors me.  Listening to his music is the probably most cathartic auditory experience I’ve ever had in my life.

Many people call his music depressing, and certainly depression was an issue he examined with acuity and persistence.  He immersed himself in emotionally raw subject matter, but he cloaked that in sonically beautiful tapestry, with his ethereal8 voice providing the delicate threads.  The listener is left with something so well-crafted, so precise, so harmonized that it sounds almost too fragile to exist, like it might slip through your fingers if you held on too tight.

I find catharsis to be the most powerful element of Elliott Smith’s music.  And if you listen closely and you feel that catharsis, there is hope.  At the end, there is this beautiful, unfettered, radiant hope.

 

Gardner Marshall

I will include a few personal favorites.