Sterling Prediction

I should really write something longer about the whole Sterling episode, but I know myself pretty well and there’s a good chance I won’t. So in lieu of that let me just make this prediction.

Here are what I think are the two possible scenarios that eventually unfold from here.

1) Sterling will fight this in court and because he has a near infinite amount of money, he will win.  Some court will find that it’s illegal to make someone to sell something because they are racist.  After all, the highest court in our land just recently decided that it’s ok to make it illegal to prevent racial discrimination in higher ed.  It turns out that the courts have a history of helping out racists.

2) Sterling will fight this in court and lose because the NBA has infinity + 1 amount of money, and he will sell the Clippers and realize a profit of nearly half a billion dollars.

I know I’m being Debbie Downer here, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that cultural, legal, and economic institutions are designed specifically to protect people like Sterling – rich white asshole dudes – who very often happen to also be racist.  Ok, they just don’t happen to be racists – being racist is very connected to being a rich white asshole dude, but I digress.

I’m glad the NBA has done something in the direction of the right thing, but I feel compelled to remind you that this is America.

Sad Song

Even though the album came out in August and I listened to it then, I’m only now getting around to really listening to the words of “I Should Live in Salt” by the National.  Holy fuck, what a sad beautiful song.  I think I am going to cry now.  Anyways, here is a nice cover of that song by some random artist who we’ve never heard of

Chait vs Coates

I’m finally catching up with the Chait/Coates exchange and found this fantastic bit of writing.

White supremacy does not contradict American democracy—it birthed it, nurtured it, and financed it. That is our heritage. It was reinforced during 250 years of bondage. It was further reinforced during another century of Jim Crow. It was reinforced again when progressives erected an entire welfare state on the basis of black exclusion. It was reinforced again when the intellectual progeny of the same people who excluded black women from welfare turned around and inveighed against it through caricaturization of black women.


Sometimes I miss hard rock

Before my wallet got stolen in 2003, I used to carry this picture around in my wallet.  True story.

Before my wallet got stolen in 2003, I used to carry this picture around in my wallet. True story.

Every couple of years I go through a phase where all I do is listen to David Lee Roth era Van Halen. They’re not necessarily productive periods of my life, These are not necessarily productive periods of my life, but there sure are a lot more bitchin’ guitar solos during these times.

Some Thoughts about a College Football Players Union

Some things to keep in mind while thinking about a college football players union

  1. In order to be paid fairly, colleges and universities in the big power conferences will have to pay their athletes more than they pay the highest paid professor.  And in some cases, such as big sports schools like Alabama or Notre Dame, a fair wage for some of the players would be in the millions of dollars.  Currently head coaches command most of the money in college football.  But that is only because they are the ones that currently wrangle free labor.  When this practice ends, so does paying coaches outrageous sums of money.  There’s a reason why coaches in pro sports make a lot less than the athletes.  It is because they are a lot less important to the final product.
  2. Similarly, the difference between the highest paid professor and the lowest paid professor vary wildly according to many factors something as basic as which department the professor works for.  You will see a similar thing happen to different sports.  Football players should be paid more than say the water polo team because they generate more money.  However, at the same time, this system is inherently sexist (and probably racist, and definitely homophobic) in a way that should be completely antithetical to any college or university’s mission.  Compliance to Title IX will be impossible and say goodbye to fringe sports such as rowing or tennis.
  3. The big colleges will be able to better support better programs because they have alumni stupid enough to donate money towards paying players.1 What this means is that smaller colleges will fade from any kind of relevance in college sports.  When making a decision, a recruited high school player will and SHOULD make their decision based on who can compensate them the best.  Just look at this chart.  No more Cinderella.
  4. Colleges and Universities actually owe billions of dollars to college athletes who played previous to this year, so good luck sorting all that out.
  5. Colleges and Universities can hardly get a handle on paying their teaching assistants or their support staff a fair wage.
  6. But it kinda doesn’t matter because if colleges and universities pay athletes fairly, then most of the revenue generated by college sports will not go towards supporting the teaching and research function of the university – which by the way, it already doesn’t – it will go towards supporting athletic departments (you might say that the revenue generated by college sports end up being athletic supporters.  TRY THE VEAL!).  Sports will no longer be a cash cow for the university and therefore, they will actually have very little incentive to maintain them at all.  This again is especially true for smaller schools.  Seriously, look at this chart.
  7. I have not even broached the cultural problems that big time college sports contributes to.  See Penn State, Jameis Winston, students running onto the court for no good reason.  These problems will most likely be exacerbated, particularly at Division I schools.

What I’m getting at here, is that while it is a good thing that the Northwestern football players won the right to unionize, this brings us closer to a system where one of the central function of the university will be managing a multi-billion dollar sports and entertainment business.  It is IMPOSSIBLE for colleges and universities to do this without undermining their core mission, which is educating students and producing knowledge via the research process. 

I know what you’re thinking.  Oh Bob!  You’re so reactionary!  Surely everyone will figure out a way to divide up the money fairly and in a way that benefits everyone.  Well, you’re wrong.  Most colleges and universities can’t even do this within their own academic departments. Come on people, this is America!  As the pie gets bigger, it doesn’t get divided more fairly, the opposite happens.

To reiterate – I am in complete support of college athletes organizing and fighting to be compensated fairly for their labor.  The system is a little less exploitative and that’s a good thing.  However, saying that paying players is going to fix the issues that college sports creates is like saying abstinence education is going to fix teen pregnancy (SPOILER ALERT: IT DOESN’T).

So, while the NRLB decision is a victory for student athletes,2  I don’t know if it is really a victory for higher education in the US.

  1. And let’s be honest, they are where they are because they already do this. []
  2. Honestly, I’m pretty sure that the NCAA will still find a way to exploit these kids []

Somebody owes me NBA All star tickets

This was published last year on True Hoop, ESPN’s basketball blog – so basically the world’s largest sports news outlet:

We asked readers for suggestions on how to improve All-Star Weekend, so take it away, Bob Ngo!

The X games used to structure their best trick contest the similar to the dunk contest. Each contestant would get three chances to do their trick, and like the dunk contest, the trick took a few seconds, the announcers would go crazy, and the crowd would cheer and then that was it. It was ok, but there was a lot of downtime between tricks, between skaters, and this was especially felt if the skater did not land the trick.

Recently, they’ve switched to a “jam session” format, which I find to be much more compelling. Basically, skaters take turns, but they go immediately after the previous skater attempts a trick. I mean, I guess there are a few seconds between skaters but it feels like non stop skating for twenty or so minutes. This gets the crowd fired up and it gets the skaters fired up. Each skater gets caught up in the moment and knows that to do well, he has to outdo the trick that the previous skater just landed. It also, gets rid of the interminable time after a missed dunk because someone else is going right away. What you get is a contest where with each attempted trick, the tricks get increasingly more difficult, and increasingly more tense. By the end of it, the whole crowd is going nuts!

They say basketball is like jazz. In jazz, the true moments of genius come out of improvisation. Why not give the dunkers a format where they can show us their genius.
I dig this because I hate watching high flyers awkwardly walk around mid court, blowing on their cold hands while trying to generate some energy and enthusiasm in the current, over-produced format. Let them hype up each other (and the crowd) by creating a live mixtape of eye-popping dunks!

And these are the new rules for the dunk contest this year:

In the Freestyle Round, each conference will get 90 seconds to perform as many dunks as they can. This will basically be like what you see when a team goes up against the 2013-14 Los Angeles Lakers. Just a constant stream of dunking goodness.


RIP Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall 1932-2014

There are lots of things being written about Stuart Hall today after he passed away last night.  Most of the stuff that is being written is about how he is the “father of multiculturalism” and one of the first public Scholars from England to really transcend the boundaries of the academy.  And this makes sense.  His writing on gender and race in Great Britain has been extremely influential in the way modern leftists conceive of oppression and social justice.  He is indeed a towering figure in the intellectual world.

I would write more about this, but to tell you the truth, I really don’t know much about that part of Hall’s work.  No, I know him more as one of the leaders of a group of Scholars out of Birmingham, England in the late seventies and early eighties better known as the cultural studies movement.  This group of scholars heavily influenced the way that I and many other in the field of popular culture studies understand the role of popular culture in our lives. Additionally, the entire field of American Studies can be considered an extension of the cultural studies movement.

Hall never actually wrote that much about popular culture.  In fact, the one piece that he is known for is only 15 pages.  The piece I speak of is called Encoding/Decoding.  When I teach popular culture studies classes, it only takes about half a class period to go over the basic model.  The encoding/decoding model is a generalized model for the production and the reception of culture, and the thing about it is, it’s perfect.  As someone who spent a great deal of the last 10 years thinking about and researching popular culture, I have yet to find an situation where it is not applicable.  In fact, when people ask me what was the main takeaway from my dissertation about Sabermetrics is, I tell them that “Stuart Hall was right and encoding/decoding works for everything.”1

We academic types spend a great deal of time reading other’s people work with the specific goal of trying to find weaknesses in theories and arguments, and despite it being published in 1977, I have yet to find a valid critique of the model.  Which is why I consider this to be Hall’s greatest achievement.  The model itself is fairly simple – producers of culture encode messages that are influenced by the producers social and economic circumstances, and in turn, those messages are decoded by consumers of culture in a way that is influenced by their social and economic circumstances.  Despite it’s simplicity, it has proven time and time again to be a powerful and illuminating way to understand how popular culture “does” things.  A simple concept that almost completely explains a social phenomenon – what else could one want to achieve in life as a scholar?

Do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to read Encoding/Decoding.  If not as a tribute to a very smart man, then at least do it to make your stupid self just a little bit smarter.

  1. The other thing I tell them is that Pierre Bourdieu was right and Distinction also works for everything, but he died years ago []

Things we learned today on February 2nd, 2014

1.  Nearly almost all of the things that you do unrelated to football, specifically being emotional after a victory, have exactly zero influence on how good of a football player you are and how you and your team perform during a game.

2.  Relatedly, no matter how much of a douchebag you were as a coach at USC and in real life, it does not affect your ability to lead a team and organization.  Denver looked completely unprepared.  Did they not know that there would be pressure on the edge?  Did they not know that Champ Bailey was a shell of his former self?

3.  We already knew that the Seahawks defense was historic.  But now we know that they are another level of historic as they completely shut down the greatest offense in football history.  The Seahawks D should be mentioned in the same breath as the 2000 Ravens and the 2002 Buccaneers.

4.  Vegas makes lots of money on the Super Bowl.

5.  Bruno Mars is like really really really really short.

6. Joe Namath does not give a fuck what you think.

7. Neither does Bob Dylan, but in a bad way.

8.  Stay away from smack kids.

2 thoughts on Macklemore’s performance at the Grammys

Watch the performance below if you haven’t seen it yet.1

1) The decision to include straight couples in the mass weddings seems like a choice made to soften the impact of the image of gay marriages on national TV. In turn this reduces the impact of the performance as a political statement. Last I checked no one is trying to prevent straight people from getting married. If your response to this is “The point of the song is that marriage is for everyone, gay and straight,” then I think you might have a real misunderstanding of the social problem of discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Also, that actually may be the message that Macklemore intends, which speaks to the issues with using this song as some kind of protest song.  And when you think about it, it speaks to the problem of gay marriage as the principal LGBTQ issue in the public’s mind.

2) I saw the West coast broadcast so it wasn’t live and I don’t know how it played out on live TV. However it was obvious that on the broadcast that I saw, the editor/director made sure to show as little physical affection between same sex couples as possible. Every time a same sex couple would move in for a kiss, the camera would cut away abruptly to Macklemore or Queen Latifah.  I can’t emphasize how super shitty this is.  Basically, someone took a giant crap all over the political statement that the song was making.  Whether it was for personal beliefs or whether it was in the interest of avoiding angry phone calls or emails – it shows that even with more and more states legalizing gay marriage, we are no where near where we want to be on this issue.  If something as simple as two newly married people kissing each other immediately after getting married is still something that needs to be edited out of a national television broadcast, then we as a culture are still discriminating based on who you want to make out with.

I promise that I’m not just trying to shit on a shitty rapper.2  After all, it was nice that some kind of social justice issue was engaged with at all on national TV.  But what should have been a very nice and touching moment was marred by CBS’s desire to ‘sanitize’ the broadcast, so you know, eff those a-holes.

Bonus thought on Grammys unrelated to Macklemore’s performance as political statement – Macklemore3 winning best rap album over Kendrick Lamar is like a poop on rye winning best sandwich over the Monte Cristo.

Both of these white guys have extremely stupid haircuts.

  1. Before it gets yanked from Youtube that is []
  2. See what i did there? []
  3. Did you notice I never mention that clown Ryan Lewis.  He doesn’t do shit except press buttons on his Macbook and jump around like an asshole.  A John Oates for the new century []