Category Archives: Uncategorized

Extraordinarily Common

Robin Williams was a singular talent, a conquerer of television, film, and stand-up. Comedy was his best-known genre, but he could play with preternatural ease in so many other worlds. His work brought us joy and laughter and that feeling of deep hopeful heartache in almost limitless measure, and we were lucky to be his audience while he was here. But the absence of his artistry is not what makes Robin Williams’s death a tragedy.

The tragedy is much simpler: Robin Williams was a person who needed something that he could not find. Whether it was hope, or peace, or love, or help, it eluded Williams because of his depression. The heights he achieved as a performer were extraordinary, and the struggle he faced was anything but.

That’s important to keep in mind because, by comparison, lots of “ordinary” people face the same pain every day. They are not famous, and when their darkness is at its worst, most of us never hear about it. When we lose them, the tragedy is not any smaller, because they are our brothers and sisters and parents and children, just as Robin Williams was.

The work of Robin Williams, actor and comedian, should rightly be celebrated as something we see only a few times in a generation. The depression that felled Robin Williams should sadden us because it is not. Let’s smile fondly at the former and do everything we can to support those around us dealing with the latter.

When Money Isn’t Power

Everett Golson’s academic suspension, Wes Lunt’s limited transfer options, and the continued institutional bumbling that is O’Bannon v. NCAA are three offseason stories that don’t seem to have anything to do with one another. Scratch that – they don’t have anything to do with one another. But what if that changes?

Which is to say: if the NCAA loses or settles the O’Bannon case and players start seeing some cut of the action (an outcome I’d welcome), how does that change the tone of stories like Golson’s and Lunt’s? Right now, Mike Gundy looks like a control freak and Lunt the victim. Does that change if Lunt’s received a potentially significant amount of money from Oklahoma State? Paying student-athletes potentially means we stop comparing them to other students in scenarios like a transfer and start thinking of them as something else: employees. A coach telling an unpaid athlete where he can and can’t leave for seems pretty plainly unfair. A boss telling an employee with insider knowledge where he can and can’t work next? That’s a little hazier.

And, in Golson’s case, how do we address a potentially lengthy suspension for non-criminal behavior when that punishment is being visited on someone who’s job really isn’t to be in school first and foremost? (Please note: I don’t think academics are the first priority for student-athletes in the present system, but paying players makes that a little more front and center.) Is preventing Golson from playing for Notre Dame – and collecting the pay that goes with that – unnecessarily adhering to a meaningless fiction? Or does the threat of missing time and money become a perversely necessary incentive for athletes to maintain their grades?

The potential danger is that by focusing so single-mindedly on compensation as the primary injustice of college athletics, we risk justifying every non-compensation related power imbalance if and when players do start getting paid. Long term injury becomes a bargained-for risk. Shepherding players into and through school who aren’t getting anywhere near the full academic value of a college degree becomes an acceptable cost of business. If this sounds unlikely to you, consider how quickly “BUT THEY GET PAID A LOT TO PLAY A GAME” gets trotted out anytime professional athletes try to negotiate for better working conditions.

I don’t know how the Lunt and Golson stores are different, or how a whole host of issues – greyshirting, scholarship limits, walk-on players – change if amateurism comes to an end. At present, once an athlete signs his letter of intent, the balance of power is decidedly shifted against him for the rest of his college career. The question is, does making players more like employees shift that power structure, or solidify it?

The Devil You Know

Of all the reactions to Jason Collins’s announcement yesterday, two stand out: Chris Broussard’s and Tim Brando’s. (Please note – this may simply be a reflection of the fact that I spend entirely too much time on Twitter.) Neither could be characterized as positive or supportive, but I think Brando’s view, and not Broussard’s, is more troubling.

Broussard essentially stated that, within the framework of his religious beliefs, homosexuality isn’t something he sanctions. You can certainly question whether this was the time and place for those comments, but, yes, Broussard is entitled to that opinion. That opinion is, if nothing else, very, very simple: gays and lesbians are doing it wrong. I don’t agree with Broussard’s worldview, but as long as we’re not using it as a basis to legislate discrimination, I’m fine with him expressing it.

What I am not fine with is Tim Brando’s point of view, meandering and backtracking though it was. Tim Brando never said anything as clearly on one side of the matter as Broussard did. He never said homosexuality was a sin, or that Jason Collins is a sinner, or that gays should be saved from themselves. Whether he meant to or not, Tim Brando did something more insidious. He suggested that Jason Collins coming out really isn’t a big deal.

Brando wondered if it was a publicity stunt (at least, if you take the most charitable view of his reference to “choice.”) Brando insisted he was defending the sanctity of the dictionary by refusing to label Collins a hero. And Brando, in a deleted tweet, suggested that Collins doesn’t deserve special plaudits because white Christian males who raise wholesome families in this country certainly don’t get any.

The implication of all of that? Jason Collins didn’t do anything special. Brando’s argument relies on the premise that it’s just as hard to make it in this country if you’re gay or a person of color or a woman or a Muslim as if you’re white and Christian and male and straight.  Why is that not the case? Because the Chris Broussards of the world make it a hell of a lot harder to be in the former group than the latter.

Maybe life hasn’t been too difficult for Jason Collins. He seems to have a supportive family. He got a good education at Stanford. He’s made good money as a professional athlete. That doesn’t make what Collins did easy or unimportant.

Tim Brando’s inability to be impressed by Collins’s decision isn’t “real talk.” It’s an abject lack of empathy. It’s the same impulse that leads white people to question whether racism still exists, or men to scoff at the notion of rape culture. Tim Brando doesn’t have to understand how hard it is for Jason Collins, or anyone else, to navigate the hurdles our society’s put up for people who aren’t white, Christian, and male. But he’d be better off conceding his own ignorance.

Answer The Damn Door.

Two days ago, someone placed two improvised explosive devices made using pressure cookers along the route of the Boston Marathon. We don’t yet know how or why. We do know three people are dead and over 170 are injured, some grievously. Tonight, a fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas, and it’s still too early to say what happened or how many people are hurt. Neither of these terrible events could have been prevented by the Manchin-Toomey background check amendment that failed to get out of the Senate by six votes.

That may be an obvious point, but it’s an important one: we cannot forcibly create a world that is devoid of possible peril and tragedy. Short of eliminating civil liberties altogether, we can’t prevent every conceivable act of public violence or preclude every industrial accident.

But we aren’t powerless, and just because Chuck Grassley insists that criminals be criminalin’ doesn’t mean it’s not worth putting up obstacles to people who shouldn’t possess dangerous weapons.  Just because Heidi Heitkamp says gun control should be “about what is in people’s minds, not what is in their hands” doesn’t mean we have to choose between one or the other on such an important topic. And just because Max Baucus thinks “Montana” is enough of an explanation of his nay vote doesn’t mean we have to accept constituent demographics as responsible policy formulations.

I’m not going to pretend this legislation was a panacea, because it wasn’t. But it was a chance to reduce, even if only in part, future harm to our friends and neighbors and families and countrymen. Those chances don’t come along often, and when they do, we ought to have a damn good reason not to seize them.

Why Your Alma Mater (And Probably Mine) Is Full Of Shit

USA Today has the latest line of defense from the NCAA and its member institutions in O’Bannon v. NCAA, and it is a predictable one: force us to share with athletes in revenue-producing sports, and we’ll have no choice but to shut down football/basketball/possibly every athletic team.

It’s a largely empty threat, because it relies on the farce that athletic departments and conferences are not businesses but, rather, simply subunits of a university with little to no control over their financial destiny. You know what they’ll really do if they lose the O’Bannon suit? Raise revenue streams and cut costs elsewhere. Ticket prices and student fees will probably rise, and TV deals will continue to be negotiated upwards.

Because what the defense is very conspicuously NOT pointing out in all of this is that expenditures have, consistently, been rising across college sports in one area: pay to coaches and athletic directors. Look at (again, from USA Today) the numbers for any big-name school from 2006-2011. The column that consistently increases almost no matter who you look at? Coaching staff. And the athletic directors? Average salary jumped 11% in just one year.

Defenders of the status quo will claim that’s just “reinvesting profit to help grow your programs” or “rewarding success in an increasingly competitive market.” There’s no principled reason why that reinvestment or reward should only apply to the men at the top, though.

This is a tactic we’ve all seen before, albeit in different settings – cry out that the sustainability of your team is at risk, and you’ll get a new, publicly funded stadium. Or a labor deal that keeps more in the hands of ownership as opposed to players. But a college football team can’t threaten to move to Los Angeles or lock out for a season, so this is the only play: insist players can’t be paid because it will destroy the system while simultaneously paying your executives more and more. Don’t believe for a second that an entire industry of business-minded people can’t figure out a way to give players some share of licensing revenue and keep teams running because it’s impossible. Realize that they won’t do it because nobody wants to make $500,000 a year when you could make a million.

A Practical Guide To Sending Back Food, Proposed

Progressive Boink has a truly excellent podcast. Jon Bois has a truly excellent brainthing. Combine the two and the result is AUDIO PARTY FOREVER. An audio party that raises important issues, however, such as when, if ever, food should be sent back at a restaurant.

It’s appropriate to point out, as a lifelong guy who just doesn’t want any trouble, that I have never asked something to be taken back to the kitchen. But, in listening to Pete and Jon discuss this with Bill, it struck me that this is a patently absurd approach to the situation. If you went to a shoe store and asked for a pair of size 10 loafers, you wouldn’t just say “no, this is fine, I don’t want to make a fuss” if they brought you size 13 basketball shoes.

Armed with that revelation, I humbly submit the following guide.

TREAT YOUR FOOD LIKE A BLOCKBUSTER VIDEO RENTAL

Scenario 1. What you got is inedible or improperly prepared.

The Blockbuster version of this would be renting Sudden Death and then getting home to find out that the tape cuts out eighteen minutes in. In that event, I’m hoping you wouldn’t just sit there and watch a blank television set for the next 93 minutes. Instead, you’d take this up with the store – you purchased a good, and you didn’t receive anything. Not saying anything is basically the same as walking into a restaurant, putting twenty bucks on the table, and then walking out.

It’s important, however, to note that this is not to be confused with…

Scenario 2. You got something that you just don’t like.

End of the line, friend. Part of adulthood is accepting the consequences of your decisions, and, in this case, that means you don’t get a do-over. I am reminded of a date I went on in college, in which it was my job to pick a movie. One instruction was given to me – no horror. So, when I picked Saw, it was based on some dumbass idea that it was a crime thriller in the vein of Se7en, and not the Dread Pirate Roberts mutilating himself in an abandoned gym shower. I failed to do my due diligence, and I suffered the consequences, and by that I mean holy shit is it awkward for a date to end by turning off a movie you shouldn’t have picked in the first place.

Where was I? Right, food. You order the Maple Onion Ring Turkey Stacker, you eat the Maple Onion Ring Turkey Stacker. The restaurant shouldn’t have to suffer because you couldn’t be bothered to read the menu carefully.

In between Scenarios 1 and 2 is the trickiest situation.

Scenario 3. You got the wrong order.

The Blockbuster version of this is as follows: you wanted to rent Suburban Commando, and the case says Suburban Commando, but you pop the tape in the VCR and…not Suburban Commando. What do you do now? It’s not Scenario 1 because the tape is functional. And it’s not Scenario 2 because this isn’t the result of your own poor decision making.

Some quick calculus has to undertaken here. Is the incorrect item you’ve been given something superior – say, for instance, Terminator 2, which the cashier assured you was not in stock in the store? Where are you coming out price-wise? If you ordered the lobster roll but got the grilled cheese, which one is showing up on the bill?

There isn’t a wrong answer here, necessarily – asking for what you ordered is fine, and so is eating what you’ve been given instead. But there’s one factor here that the Blockbuster model doesn’t account for* – speed. A hesitant eater may find the waitstaff breezing back to the table to retrieve this delicious ravioli intended for someone else. Strike while the iron is hot.

And there you have it. You see? Restaurant misadventures don’t have to be that stressful, once you start thinking of them like a near-dead industry!

*It’s worth noting that the other major difference here is that a kitchen can fuck with your food, whereas Blockbuster employees won’t usually spit in your copy of Surf Ninjas. I believe this is simply a matter of courtesy on your part as a diner, however. Should you need to send a plate back, just be polite about it. If the chef’s an asshole, he probably fucked with your original food, too.

Image

All Things Are Possible Through Ron Cobb

THIS IS IMPORTANT.

The Misdirection of Pitchforks and Torches

The list of things that the NCAA is good at is not terribly long these days, and it’s getting shorter by the minute. Popular opinion is on the side of sending Mark Emmert to the guillotine, either because there’s no way he didn’t know that an NCAA investigator was violating the Association’s own principles and ignoring the advice of the Legal Department, or because he should have known because that’s what the man at the top does. (To his credit, Robert Wheel does note that the NCAA’s problems don’t begin or end with Emmert.)

What the NCAA is very good at, however – especially these days – is providing cover. In the same way that Congress gets saddled with an abysmal public approval rating while individual members keep getting much higher marks from their constituents, we’re never hesitant to decry the NCAA while saying almost nothing about the university presidents, chancellors, athletic directors, and conference commissioners. Mark Emmert didn’t appear out of thin air and declare dominion over all that is college athletics. He was appointed by an Executive Committee made up of chancellors and presidents from all levels of NCAA competition. Not that you’ll find much mention of the Executive Committee on the NCAA’s website, where there’s a whole section devoted to the Office of the President. And I’m betting most college football fans who can name Emmert as the current NCAA president couldn’t name four members of the Executive Committee.

The end result is that Emmert, and everyone else in the NCAA office, is ultimately accountable to the same people they’re trying to police. Inevitably, that leads to oversight where appearances matter more than substance, because the member institutions want to demonstrate they can self-regulate (to avoid losing the financial benefits of amateurism and to keep third-party oversight they couldn’t control at bay) while also keeping that self-regulation as minimal as acceptable. It’s regulatory capture not by campaign contribution, but by design.

(As an aside, that’s, in part, why Donna Shalala’s shot across the bow rings a little hollow. Miami wants to paint itself as the victim here when, if we’re focusing on the NCAA overstepping its bounds, the real damage was done to the two private parties who were improperly subject to the subpoena power. It remains to be seen if the NCAA can effectively apply the exclusionary rule to itself in delivering a final investigative report.)

The criticisms of the NCAA – that it enforces outdated rules in an arbitrary manner, that it may have an internal culture wildly inconsistent with its mission – are valid. But whether or not the NCAA’s mandate to ensure amateurism is a worthwhile one, the organization is, at best, set up to only half-succeed in that pursuit. What the member institutions have done, by way of analogy, is create a Food and Drug Administration with 1) a dual-mandate to promote the pharmaceutical industry while also regulating it for the safety of consumers and 2) staffed the board of that fictitious FDA with nothing but drug company executives.

Most of us won’t be surprise if this debacle culminates in Mark Emmert leaving his post as NCAA president. But that regime change won’t just be a reflection of Emmert’s failures. It’s also a fulfillment of one of the unofficial duties of an NCAA president – give the public someone to behead while the kings remain untouched.

RE: Your Submission To The Alligator Opinion Section

Dear Erik,

Thank you for this week’s piece, though, as I’ve said before, you don’t really need to write it  on the back of a picture of the President dressed like a Sikh. E-mail is just fine. Also, you may want to consider a Google search of “what is a Sikh.”

A few editorial comments below.

————————————————————————————————-

I watched the Grammys Sunday — not that anyone cares.

Look, we talked about this. Don’t turn the reader off right away by suggesting that nobody cares about you. I know Bobby Jindal never wrote you back after you invited him to your laser tag birthday. He’s busy, and I don’t think he meant it personally. 

But if you ask me, it was gauche. LL Cool J reminded us why he should stick to bodybuilding, or whatever makes him so muscular.

We appreciate you avoiding a libel lawsuit by only impliedly accusing Mr. Cool James of illegal steroid use.

Taylor Swift reminded us why her exes probably would never ever want to get back together with her, either.

Topical! Ideally, these three separate sentences need not be individual paragraphs, but we’re short on ads this week so let’s go with the structure you’ve laid out.

Chris Brown reminded us that you can beat the hell out of a woman and still get nominated for a Grammy four years later.

I don’t understand our culture’s morbid obsession with awful music. I don’t understand why we worship these stodgy, talentless clowns. I don’t understand how we listen to their disgusting lyrics and then rationally admire them, whether it’s by following them on Twitter or purchasing their songs on iTunes (or converting them from YouTube).

Sure, it isn’t all of them, but it’s most of them. Music is something that is subjective, and I understand that. In terms of taste, it differs from generation to generation, from society to society and even from race to race.

One might even say musical taste varies from person to person. Oh wait, I forgot about Jock Jams 8: Only 4 Tha Poorz.

Like Obama’s view on gay marriage, it’s constantly evolving — which we can all be thankful for.

Is this sarcastic? Please add appropriate emoji if so. Maybe a baby, a sad raincloud, and a hot dog riding a bike. 

Soon, Fun. will disappear like the Jonas Brothers, Rihanna will be the next Whitney Houston and Drake will return to acting or high school, whichever comes first.

I found the Whitney Houston comparison very unclear. Are you suggesting Rihanna will meet an untimely death, or are you sitting on news of a sequel to The Preacher’s Wife that you haven’t divulged?

Without war, anti-war activists would have absolutely nothing to whine about, and I feel the same way about music: Without it, I would have nothing or nobody to make fun of.

Like I said earlier, music is relative, and therefore it’s impossible to define what objectively sounds the best.

This is a good end to the piece. Thank you again, and please feel oh wait you’re still going?

For example, I could argue that Jimmy Page played the best guitar solo of all time in “Stairway to Heaven,” but somebody else may say that it was Jimi Hendrix’s solo in “All Along the Watchtower,” Eddie Van Halen’s in “Eruption” or neither of the three.

But if there is something that we can all agree is the best, it’s this: the content of the lyrics. No one can deny that Bob Dylan, according to Rolling Stone readers, was the best songwriters of all time. Meanwhile, everyone can admit that the rap industry is characterized by some of the most inarticulate and unintelligible lyricists who confuse clever wordplay and humorous puns for childish metaphors and lay-z innuendos.

The thing we can all agree is the worst is this paragraph! Ha! I’m just kidding, Erik, but let’s see if we can make this a little better. For instance, Bob Dylan can not be the “best songwriters.” He’s just one person. Again, if you’re sitting on a “Bob Dylan Is An Army Of Clones” exclusive, please share it with the rest of us.

I’ll be honest with you. I can’t stand rap. I believe that it is the most profligate and ignoble profession of all.

I’m glad to hear people who kidnap and sell children into sexual slavery have moved up a notch in your estimation.

Rappers spew filth and objectify women. They glorify violence and promote drug use. Paradoxically, they are the most outspoken about the War in Iraq and women’s rights — and so are their listeners.

Please re-send this portion of the piece, as it appears to lack any reference to a) rap artists speaking out about the War in Iraq (you do know that’s sort of over, yes?) or the rights of women, b) any examples of the lyrics you find so offensive, c) the part that’s supposed to be reasoned argument and not just conclusions you stole from a Glenn Beck Gold Fortress  of Patriotism commercial.

There’s nothing that I enjoy more than the feminist who bops her head to sexist lyrics or the lefty who listens to filthy, untalented thugs. These are the same people who criticized Todd Akin because he said “legitimate rape” and chided Mitt Romney because he mentioned “binders full of women.”

What about pizza? You don’t enjoy that more? Pizza is pretty great. 

If only Romney had sang it, featuring rapper Akin, then he would have been a potential nominee Sunday night at the Grammys. And maybe he would be our president.

This is a good point. I remember that most of the firestorm surrounding Todd Akin centered around his whack beats and over-reliance on Auto-Tune.

Their freedom to express themselves trumps the negative influence their songs have on teenagers and the college-aged.

If we have the power to tax carbon monoxide emissions or to socialize health care, then wouldn’t it make sense to regulate their morally repugnant verbiage by tacking on a surcharge every time they sing something obscene, or make some idiotic reference to the Illuminati — whatever that is.

The Constitution is tricky, I agree, what with its multiple amendments and lack of pictures. Why can’t it just say what we want it to?

I’m certainly joking, but imagine how many Planned Parenthood clinics would lose business if teenagers weren’t manipulated by disparaging, undereducated pigs who encouraged fans to sleep around, mistreat women and, uh, vote for the current president.

This was an unexpected turn! I assume you’re referencing Black Rob’s less-successful second album, “Abstinence First But Definitely Birth Control Never.” 

Does that make me out of touch?

Not one bit, Erik. You’ve done a fine job filling the role of Opinion Columnist Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do Any Actual Work, and we very much appreciate your efforts.

Video

A Comprehensive Review of Movie Theater Policy Videos

The policy video which precedes a movie – the one that tells you there’s no smoking (in case you’re coming to the theater from 1993 or Bulgaria), no talking, and concessions are available for purchase in the lobby – is a little like the bread a restaurant provides before your meal. It’s not why you’re there, but, if done right, it whets your appetite for what’s to come.

There is a gold standard in this form.

REGAL – ROLLER COASTER

It hits all the essential notes, informing and engaging the audience in a fantastical journey. The admonitions against littering and the advertisements for Cookie Dough Bites are not primary in this story – they are merely accompanying the viewer traversing along the filmstrip. There are thrills, but never true danger, and at the end we get the sense of that moment Semisonic so eloquently described in 1998, where every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

(Query, however, where this roller coaster ride takes place – on a planet that has two moons at 0:27, moderate proximity to what appears to be Saturn at 0:32, and even greater proximity to Earth in 0:36. Perhaps this is some fully terraformed Mars, serving to remind us all that modernity may force us to flee our current home planet.)

The Regal Roller Coaster is a perfect prelude because it creates anticipation – for what does not matter.  If only all policy videos were so lovingly crafted.

CINEMARK – FRONT ROW JOE

Though it starts in a strikingly similar way to Regal’s video, Cinemark fails to give us any context for the filmstrip journey. Even more problematically, thirty seconds elapse without any information provided other than “we have tickets to Cinemark” – a statement so unnecessary that it insults the audience’s intelligence. At 0:50, we are told Cinemark has many fine arcade games to enjoy before the show. Again, this revelation is less than timely.

Cinemark does, one minute into the video, finally reveal the sort of behavior that they want to prevent: talking, kicking away the popcorn of fellow moviegoers, and  placing feet on someone else’s shoulders. Setting the bar so dreadfully low sends the wrong message, however – it suggest that I may whisper and merely rest my head on a stranger’s lap, instead.

At its core, where Cinemark goes astray is simple: it relies primarily on audio to tell a story in a predominantly visual medium. You wouldn’t lead a tour of the National Portrait Gallery by inviting visitors to smell the materials of the frames, Cinemark.

UNITED ARTISTS – WORDSPLOSION

Here, the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. UA has gone far, far too wordy here – it takes 24 words just to ask people to throw away their garbage. Music and sound effects can only do so much to cover up what this really is: a PowerPoint presentation. The truth is, this video loses any chance of succeeding six seconds in with just three poorly chosen words: “May We Suggest.” Show, don’t tell, United Artists. But if you are going to tell, don’t ask for audience permission.

NATIONAL AMUSEMENTS – SONIC THE HEDGEHOG BONUS LEVEL

There’s a lot to like about this policy video – it’s well-paced, it’s visually engaging, and it avoids unnecessary judgment of the audience. But using “Gift Certificates Available” as the final advisory before wishing us a pleasant moviegoing experience seems like a misstep. It drags us, jarringly, out of the escapist moment which we seek and back into the world we are trying to forget, a world where there are birthdays and holidays to remember and anxiety over whether a gift certificate seems thoughtless and how much do you even get someone for a twelfth birthday. It’s not the embrace of commerce that I object to. It’s just the timing.

REGAL – PEPSI COWPOKE

Finally, a warning. Success is not hereditary. The same theater that delighted us with a thrill ride from an unknown yet somehow familiar future can bring us this heavy-handed piece of corporate thuggery. Pepsi Girl is clearly not the law in this town (thus the off-screen cry for the sheriff), and so her edicts seem entirely personal and arbitrary, not connected to our larger social contract. This video is, amazingly, both too cute and too dark. Why would you want us to think a movie is something we must simply survive, Regal? Better to leave this sad chapter in policy videos to history’s dustbin.