Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Kickoffs, Basketballs, and More Iran

Went into some reasonable depth on a couple of issues with this post, so I'll keep it pretty brief.

The death of the college kickoff.
Okay, so that's a bit of a dramatic way to put it, especially in light of the fact that most college kicking isn't that great. That's a point that Adam Kramer brings up in his piece analyzing the new rule change. It's becoming pretty similar to the NFL rules: kick from the 35; kicking team has to line up 5 yards behind the ball; and a 25 yard touchback. The touchback is the real difference because it's still only a 20 yard touchback in the NFL. I guess the reasoning was to especially encourage the receiving team to accept the touchback. I'm curious to see if the better kickers start trying to maximize height but still land the kicks short of the endzone. Kramer brings up the fact that college kicking isn't what NFL kicking is so a lot of the kicks won't go far enough for the touchbacks even still. I'm sure that's partially true since there are so many teams and such a varying quality. However, I do feel that the game in general is improving and kicking is improving as well (maybe more rapidly than a lot of the rest of the game). Boise State might take issue with me suggesting kicking is getting better. So maybe for the first few seasons most kickers will struggle getting it there, but I could see it becoming ever more common in 5-10 years. Also, the main cases of people threatened with bodily harm on kickoffs is probably in the games with better players, who are also the most likely to kick it for a touchback. So I don't know how much this is completely addressing the issue.

I think my real beef with this increased safety focus is that it seems to be focusing on such a small element of the problem. It's like the kickoff is getting demonized as the whole cause of concussions in football. I've never seen studies done on it, but I wouldn't doubt that compared to an average play, concussions are caused on a kickoff quite a bit more often. However, the percentage of kickoffs to regular plays is quite minuscule, so I would imagine that concussions are still occurring far more regularly during the course of regular play than during kickoffs.

As far as Kramer's post, I take some beef with the way he kind of demonizes those that enjoy the big hits and would complain about these rule changes. I get it, safety is a big deal. However, I don't become a villain for appreciating a monster hit. At least he did get a bit more evenhanded toward the end about the whole matter. Hopefully we can figure out ways to increase safety and still try to keep the game largely intact.

There's a lot in a brand. Especially a brand of basketball. Jefe pointed me to an article about the home court advantage for teams because they get to choose the brand of ball they play with. I had read a piece about this once before and it's a very impressive advantage to have. It really changes a lot about a shot. Very interesting little rule (although it's really about allowing universities to make money for the sponsorships more than creating additional home court advantage). I'll be honest, I didn't really read this piece, but since it was rule related (and if people actually read my blog, which I know they don't since I've seen the data, they might like to know) I figured it would be a good thing to incorporate.

To bomb or not to bomb? The Economist took a look at potentially bombing Iran and why they feel like it's a bad idea. Look, I don't know what the answer is as far as whether or not it's a good idea to bomb or not. War is an awful thing, and I can't deny I've historically been a bit hawkish, but the years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have worn on even me. So the decision on whether or not to bomb is something that I'm just going to trust in the military and the executive to make this decision. I do want to address a lot of what they talk about in the article though.

I'm really not sure that Iran with a bomb is that bad of a thing. Calm down for a second and hear me out. I don't really feel like going into the entire principles of nuclear deterrence, so just read the wikipedia link I've presented. Honestly that doesn't do much justice to the subject so if you're particularly interested, do a quick search. But really the principle is that nuclear weapons are defensive. So a state with nuclear weapons isn't typically much of a threat to use them. The US is the only state to ever have used them. The argument people would present about Iran is that they're too crazy and irrational so they might actually use them. That's fair, but I think that is misjudging the state of Iran. I think they do act quite rational and it's mostly because they have big brothers China and Russia backing them up, which I'll talk about more in a minute. I'm not saying I'd encourage Iran obtaining a bomb, but I'm not sure the world is going to end if they get one.

There might be a stability issue in Iran, but frankly the regime seems to have things in quite a bit of control. Sure there are some issues there and maybe someday there might be a regime change, but currently it looks like it will be at least 10 years and I'd anticipate a regime sympathetic to democracy to take power. I'd also anticipate the Russians and Chinese would give their assistance in protecting the current regime. So lets say worst case scenario, there is a negative regime that takes over. You think they're going to want to randomly start nuking people? No, they will want to stay in power and maintaining their nuclear arsenal is the best way to ensure that. What about if some sort of terrorist group gets their hands on the nuclear weapon? Well, if it's a nuclear weapon of any real significance it will be of such a size and technological basis that really it would be hard to transport and use. Sorry 24 fans, you're not going to see a suitcase bomb blowing up LA anytime soon.

So why not continue our path of sanctions? Here's where I believe the real issues with Russia and China begin. First of all, being members of the security council for the UN they have tremendous power. They can influence the potential for sanctions heavily and I can imagine they are hesitant to allow any sort of major sanctions to be placed on Iran. But even if they did allow for the sanctions I imagine they would simply find a way to go behind everybody and still supply Iran with what they needed. This really is why Iran seems to act irrationally but is quite rational. They know they've got two powerful big brothers looking out for them.

Now as far as issues with actually attacking Iran. First, they mention the potential problems of damaging the Arab Spring's attitudes toward the West. I think this is terrible reasoning because it seems to me that anybody involved in the Arab Spring is sympathetic toward democracy and, at least to some small degree, sympathetic to the West. Second, the Economist argues that stopping the Iranian nuclear program might be nigh impossible. It might legitimately be quite difficult, but I think this is a rather hollow argument for trying to prove that attacking should not be done. It's all a question, that is kind of their point. So the impossibility and possibility are on reasonably level playing fields. We don't know if Iran has successfully hidden their potential arsenal in the earth or not. The idea of hardening a weapon arsenal is something that has been employed by both the former USSR and the US for their nuclear arsenal. However, I'm pretty sure there are still some pretty reasonable means to take care of these hardened weapons if the US and Israel desired to do so. The Daisy Cutter is a pretty impressive device.

Honestly, I don't know what the right answer is with Iran. This I do know, it's not typically a good idea to take your options off the table.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Lorax, Bountygate, and Awesomeness

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not. So The Lorax movie just came out and I grew up on Dr. Seuss and have a great love for him. I haven't really seen most of the Dr. Seuss movies though (but I do love The Cat in the Hat and how could you not love How the Grinch Stole Christmas?). So I'm pretty excited about The Lorax and plan to see it at some point. Of course there's a bit of an uproar about the content, not that anybody should have been surprised. The original book has a clear environmentalist tilt and I'm okay with that. I often haven't taken to the slants that are too preachy like in Happy Feet or Wall-E. Even those that seem to object to the content of The Lorax are somewhat permissive in this case.

BBC News has an interesting look into the lessons of The Lorax and I'm actually on board for most of these messages. Seuss had a way of giving those lessons like Mary Poppins administers medicine and it is sweet and cute and seemingly innocent (I respect people who take issue with that "innocence"). Of course I do laugh about the final lesson, Mazda using the movie hype to sell kids on their brand. Yeah, not a fan.

The NYTimes released one of the more bizarre reviews for the movie I've ever seen. I feel both assaulted as a conservative but somehow congratulated all at the same time. I'm really just confused by the whole experience, kind of like how people tried to go after the new Muppet movie for the oil tycoon villain.

RT isn't too hot on The Lorax, receiving a rotten rating currently (it's on the cusp). It hasn't reached 100 reviews yet, so that might change. I'll bet the political nature of it probably doesn't do it any favors though. Either way, I'm still excited (and at 56% it should be very watchable).

The President's personality. The NYTimes has an interesting look at David Plouffe, a key Obama election advisor. Very interesting person and a fascinating glimpse at who he is. Only wish they had something more to say about him.

Bountygate: the legal look. @mccannsportslaw takes a look at some of the legal implications of the Saints bounty scandal. Interesting on a purely speculative level, but I do feel like it's written in a semi-disingenuous manner. He mentions all of these potential legal consequences but basically says, at the end, "Well, they're not likely to happen." Which as a 1L, I would have assumed the same. I think the reasonable person would likely agree. I think it's interesting to have this kind of look for hypothetical/theoretical purposes, but you should really come out stating its more of a thought experiment rather than something that is likely to happen.

Mike Silver also takes a look at some of the implications for the league, likening the whole situation to Spygate of a few years back. As Mike says, this is going to be a whole lot worse though.

The malice at the palace. Grantland did an excellent piece detailing the whole circumstances of the crazy situation. It's written in an interesting manner in that it is recreated through quotes from the different individuals involved. Most of them were not willing to give current interviews, so it was bits and pieces of things they had said in the past. At first this kind of bugged me and I wanted more narrative but it grew on me as I read.

As far as the incident, I think my main beef of what went down resides in the refs. Refs are responsible for controlling the game. Undoubtedly players should be mature enough to control themselves, but that's just not how it works often times; things get heated and people get out of control, it's not right but it happens. So the game had become increasingly chippy and it was pretty much won already. The refs really should have called it tight and warned both benches (i.e. their coaching staffs). It doesn't sound like that was the case though.

It was interesting to see the comment about players demanding to meet their statistical requirement, not surprised by that much but I'm not sure I had ever seen a real comment about that ever.

Going back to officiating issues, it's interesting that Tim Donaghy was involved. Given what we've found out about him since, I wonder if the way he was calling the game was somehow influenced (you'd have to assume yes). Which means that potentially he was choosing not to call fouls due to his gambling problems. That's a scary thought. Also, since this was an issue that started on the courts I see absolutely no reason why the refs should have been allowed to run off of the court when it got out of hand. As I stated before, it is their responsibility to control the game. That means they should be ready and willing to put themselves into positions of danger to control the on the court situation. If the fans started flipping without an on court incident, I think their behavior could be excused, but that wasn't how this worked. I realize they are small, older men, but that seems like part of the responsibility they accept. If the NBA doesn't want it to work like that, then they need to have special security assigned to take that responsibility from the refs (and that's a fine alternative).

It's an incredibly long article, but I do recommend reading the portion about Ron Artest on the table. Just absolutely hilarious because he is such a bizarre individual. Ron breaking the fourth wall was a lot of what made this get out of hand. It was like he became a part of the crowd (and then he got real up close and personal). Of course it's too bad the NBA or the Palace didn't have a better way of enforcing known, unruly fans. Those guys that started the incident sound like they never should have been allowed in the building in the first place due to previous incidents.

UCLA Basketball is a mess. SI gave an interesting look into how much of a mess they've become. Of course to most of the article I say, "Whatever." Look I don't doubt the validity of what occurred and I certainly would never excuse any of the behavior, but they paint this as a huge institutional mess there and I don't think that's what's going on.

Lets start with Coach Howland. Frankly I'm surprised he's found so much success by being the type of coach he's portrayed to be in the article. My guess is that means he's a good recruiter and typically has recruited good, disciplined players (till more recently). I think it's fair to suggest there is a lack of institutional stability in that the head coach drives everything. If there are problems with the head coaching, undoubtedly issues will abound. However, it does sound like historically Howland has had a good eye for great players who have a good work ethic and great skills. Maybe he got lucky or maybe it's skill on his part. Of course things seem to have changed more recently, I think it's more of an issue that he brought bad apple(s) (I'd attribute that mostly to Reeves Nelson, but we'll get to that in a few) rather than his methodology fosters improper behavior in general. And maybe it's because of his recent success that he became more lax in those he selected for his program. Sure, I think he could and should improve and his hands off approach is not likely to fix problems. But I don't think this entails a complete institutional breakdown.

Now for the players. This is mostly where my "whatever" comment is driven. There's this big huge painting of the improper behavior of players and I just want to scream at society when I see this. Look most of what occurred does not sound any different that what is typically going on with most D1 programs. You have got to be kidding me that kids aren't partying quite regularly. And personally I don't find that to be acceptable, but I don't force my value system on others. They're adults, they're allowed to make up their own mind on acceptable behavior. However, the issue arises when they let that get out of balance as it appeared this UCLA Basketball team did. Maybe Howland could have helped with that, I don't know. I do know that a number of the players let the balance of off court stuff affect their on court stuff. Even with that going on though, that doesn't seem to be nearly the killer that Reeves Nelson was. Maybe this atmosphere of bad behavior encouraged the attitude of Nelson, I couldn't say for sure. However, he clearly seems to be a particularly vile individual in the way he chooses to behave. Unfortunately the coaching staff (i.e. Howland) failed to reign this in early and it turned into a big fiasco. But really Nelson is responsible for so much of what is going on now because he was clearly such a bad apple. That still all falls on Howland's shoulders, but I wouldn't be surprised to see UCLA rebound from this a bit. Their history is enough to rise above this current negative PR. But Howland may not be the coach that reaps those benefits.

Beautifully crafted ad. Bravo Guardian. Just tremendous work.

I know nothing about the genesis or purpose behind this, I just know it's fun, beautiful, imaginative, and really awesome. Clearly there is some influence from The Wizard of Oz behind it.

This might be the greatest sport ever invented. I really can't say much more about it. It's that awesome.

The Fulmer Cupdate. Just sheer genius as always. The story about the South Carolina kid is so masterfully crafted it brought a tear to my eye.

And in more awesomeness.