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.


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.


All Things Are Possible Through Ron Cobb