Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Current Events Ombudsman: Trayvon Martin and the Rush to Judgment

Why do we do this all the damn time? How come every 4-5 years something happens and we turn it into a Racial Event without letting the facts come out? It’s the most predictable, depressing process. White person allegedly commits crime against black person, racial connotations are implied by the press. As tension heightens, we roll out the aging civil rights figures (an increasingly archaic and unnecessary class of pundit) to dreamweave a narrative where the United States has not changed racially in 50 years. Others, increasingly shrill, compete to be the most outraged and anyone who disagrees is a racist and an idiot.

So now, as with all of these Racial Events, the Trayvon Martin case has reached a point where it is nearly impossible to talk rationally about it. But its possible for TWO.

1. The Specific Narrative

On February 26th, 2012, Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, a man who says he acted in self-defense but who may have been an over-zealous (and racist) neighborhood watch captain. He was not arrested. By March 21st, Al Sharpton had organized a rally and by March 23, President Obama was commenting on the murder.

When a murder becomes a symbol of a broader systemic issue – in this case, racist treatment by police and unfair stereotyping of black youth by society in general –such attention risks swallowing the event itself. The media uses inflammatory language to get ratings and page views, the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of this world swoop in, and people on facebook and twitter frantically update their feeds, increasingly outraged. During the process (indeed, in order for this process to work) the unfortunate people actually involved in the incident are reduced to caricatures – oversimplified manifestations of good and evil – in the story that the participating public has constructed for them. Trayvon Martin the human becomes Trayvon Martin the symbol – the innocent 17 year old black kid returning from the store where he bought Skittles. George Zimmerman the human becomes George Zimmerman the White Hispanic (?), bigot and cold-blooded murderer.

However, the truth (which some of us still care about) is rarely without nuance. First, it turns out that George Zimmerman was a mentor to black youths and, if his friends and defenders are to be believed, not a racist at all. Trayvon Martin, meanwhile, was suspended from school for drug paraphernalia possession, had recently assaulted a bus driver and apparently beat George Zimmerman severely before being shot (this last point is, of course, the most salient).

The media, complicit in all of this, has only shown photographs of Trayvon Martin from 5 to 6 years ago – a young and innocent looking boy, while withholding more recent photographs where Trayvon looks a bit more streetwise. Meanwhile, the photographs of George Zimmerman are apparently from years ago and he has since lost 40 pounds. The effect of this is obvious – George Zimmerman is meant to look dangerous while Trayvon appears entirely non-threatening. The media wants these characters to stay true to its preferred storyline.

The point is not that George Zimmerman should or shouldn’t be arrested. The point is a narrative has been forced upon the public by the media, and by opportunists like Jackson and Sharpton, that may not reflect reality. Let the facts come out.

2. The Broader Narrative.

Assume for a moment that George Zimmerman is guilty of everything the media has assumed about him. In that case, I would still object to the broader narrative presented by the Trayvon Martin uproar – that white on black racism and crime is a major social issue. In 2012, that is simply not the case.

One would think, based on the media coverage, that white people shooting black people in hoodies is a national epidemic. It turns out that this is not the case. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of black murder victims are killed by other black people. Why no outrage there? Where are the marches? Where are the calls for change?

The marches aren’t there because protesting black on black crime is not a comfortable or familiar narrative. In the United States, we are comfortable with certain storylines – in this case, the storyline that informs is black victimization at the hands of white oppressors. Of course, this narrative is an accurate representation of what went on in this country until the 1950s and 60s. Fueled largely by this historical baseline (as well as lingering guilt and fear of being called a racist), white people are hesitant to note that the treatment of black Americans has greatly improved over the last 50 years and that white on black racism is no longer a major social issue. Are there individual racists? Sure. No matter how civilized we become, we will never entirely eradicate humankind of all evil. However, individual instances of racism do not necessarily indicate that there exists a broader systemic problem. It boggles the mind that a society could exert such energy on this anomalous event while ignoring true systemic issues.

In conclusion, don’t rush to judgment…After all, a rush to judgment is exactly what you are accusing George Zimmerman of doing in the first place.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Politics Ombudsman: Sarah Palin

Apologies for the time in between posts, TWO has been summering on his yacht in Hvar (pictured above), and life is slow. And sensual.

But its time for a talk about politics.

I am thinking of a American female politician. She comes from a working class family, was active in the local school system prior to beginning her political career and attained national notoriety at a young age. She is a polarizing figure, a lightening rod for criticism and is loved by some and hated by others... even those in her own party can't always agree as to whether she is helping or hurting her party's cause.

I am speaking, of course, about rogue, lunatic politician Cynthia McKinney (here looking a bit like ODB).

Moving on, Sarah Palin is "still very popular" according to FoxNews. And this should be very troubling to the Republican Party.

Palin, as a leader, has some positives in her makeup: she has a blue collar background, is religious, tough, self-made politically and is not a career politician in the traditional sense. She has met with success as a Governor and is a physically attractive person - in fact she is probably the only American politician to win a pageant since Dennis Kucinich's 1958 Boy's Beauty Pageant victory.

But the driving force behind Palin's popularity has little to do with her own substance, rather its the result of a reflexive movement by Republicans to support her in response to Democratic attacks. Palin, as a Vice Presidential candidate was quite clearly attacked and treated far differently than a similarly situated Democratic candidate would have been. The treatment of her and her family by the media, particularly when juxtaposed against that of President Obama's and VP Biden's, was truly shameful. The wagon circling began almost immediately and her popularity skyrocketed as a result. In short, Republicans were supporting Palin to show their distaste towards what they perceived to be unfair media treatment.

And this can be very dangerous. While the vigor with which the liberal media attacked Palin's intelligence and experience may have been disproportionate and condescending, it doesn't mean that the liberal media was wrong. Frankly, an intelligent person doesn't answer a question like this. And a person with a working knowledge of national politics and economic theory doesn't sound like this. I actually cannot watch that clip - I get too uncomfortable, and TWO is rarely uncomfortable. Jack Cafferty is a liberal hack, but he is 100% correct when he says that "...that is one of the most pathetic pieces of tape I've ever seen for someone aspiring to one of the highest offices in this country." TWO has nothing personally against Sarah Palin (in fact she seems like a wonderful person), but no honest analysis can conclude that she is fit to be a high ranking politician on the national stage.

A related but broader theme (and one equally troubling) is the anti-intellectual movement among mainstream Republicans. Conservatism has a long history of intellectualism - from David Hume to David Brooks. But recently there has been a backlash against "liberal elites" such that a Republican with an elite pedigree suddenly risks no longer being an authentic Republican. Not only is this an obvious recipe for disaster for the future, but, in fact, it has already hurt the Republican Party: A Romney ticket (TWO was hoping for Romney- Kay Bailey Hutchison) easily beats Obama-Biden last November. But the Republican Party was scared by Romney's elite background and Mormon faith, so gave the country McCain-Palin -- and effectively Obama-Biden -- instead.

A large base of the Republican Party views themselves as thoughtful, intelligent conservatives and has no interest in aligning themselves with garbled words and muddled thoughts. And that puts Palin, and her popularity, at the fault line of the Republican Party. If the Republican Party goes in the direction of Palins and Bushes (as opposed to Romneys and Giulianis), I see poor results and possibly huge fractures within the party.

Palin has unfortunately become a 1 woman sideshow. She threatens the health of the party, and there is very little upside to her as a politician as she has demonstrated only a moderate understanding of national politics and an average intelligence. Palin's everywoman background and Republicans' resentment of Democratic attacks on her should not compensate for those huge deficiencies. Cynthia McKinney had blue collar roots and was attacked by Republicans, but Democrats weren't considering pushing her to the forefront of their party. Is Sarah Palin the Republican Cynthia McKinney? Not yet, but we are probably only a few crazy interviews and conspiracy theories away.

In conclusion, sometimes the criticism is right.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Environmental Ombudsman: Climate Change

Hubris and Folly.

This Washington Post article explains that the average consumer will pay $175 per year as a part of the new "climate bill," an act of legislation by the US Congress meant to combat global warming. Some believe that the costs per household could be as high as $4,300 per year. The problem? There are several, with the legislation and the climate change movement as a whole.

This legislation, as described, only makes sense if you believe each of the following things:

1) Global warming exists.
2) Global warming is caused by humans.
3) Global warming is bad.
4) Humans can take steps to reverse the effects of global warming.
5) The benefits of those steps outweigh the costs

Lets look at each.

1) There is a general consensus that global warming exists on a macro level. There was a little ice age believed to have ended around 1850, and a general warming over the last 150 years. However, two things bear mentioning. First, there has not been a global warming trend over the last 10 years. While still a warmer than average decade, there has actually been a cooling trend since 1998. Second, it was just 30 years ago when Lowell Ponte, backed by the vast majority of the scientific community wrote "It is a cold fact: the Global Cooling presents humankind with the most important social, political, and adaptive challenge we have had to deal with for ten thousand years. Your stake in the decisions we make concerning it is of ultimate importance; the survival of ourselves, our children, our species..."Fast forward to January of this year, and Al Gore, in front of Congress, averred that global warming "would bring a screeching halt to human civilization and threaten the fabric of life everywhere on the Earth" within this century. The point? Analysis of weather trends, mapping global temperatures and the predicting of future climates is an undertaking still in its nascency. Everything should be taken with a grain of salt.

“...the phenomena fall within the natural range of environmental change on our planet. [Nor is there] evidence that the climate during the 20th century departed discernibly from its historical pattern of constant change." - Marine Geologist Robert M. Carter of James Cook University in Australia.

2) Lets assume that there is a global warming trend. Is it caused by humans? The UN's IPCC suggests that man-made increases in greenhouse gas levels are responsible for upwards of 90% of the temperature increases over the last 150 years. There are two logical barriers here.

First, day 1 of logic class teaches you that correlation doesn't imply causation. The IPCC states that human carbon dioxide emissions are the primary cause of world temperature changes while failing to show that a change of a certain amount of carbon will result in a corresponding change in temperature, all else held constant. The IPCC's paper, linked above, takes the following logical progression: 1) it notes that man made carbon dioxide has increased by .01% (100 parts per 1 million) over the last 150 years, 2) lists observations of increased temperatures and then 3) states that humans are most likely responsible for most temperature changes. Of course, this skips over the most important step - How is it determined that a 100 part per million increase in carbon dioxide will increase temperatures? Answer - its not! No one knows whether that 100 part per million increase in carbon would raise temperatures by 1 degree or by 1 trillionth of one degree, and no one cares. The IPCC sees one thing increase, and another thing increase, and says, the first thing causes the second! Debate over. It remains unclear to TWO how the IPCC linked global warming to carbon dioxide and not, say, the popularity of reggaeton music or number of west coast girls wearing Ed Hardy hats, both of which have also experienced notable (and at times troubling) increases over the past few years.

“The IPCC has actually become a closed circuit; it doesn’t listen to others. It doesn’t have open minds… I am really amazed that the Nobel Peace Prize has been given on scientifically incorrect conclusions by people who are not geologists,” - Indian geologist Dr. Arun D. Ahluwalia at Punjab University and a board member of the UN-supported International Year of the Planet.

The second logical barrier is the failure to take into consideration outside forces. For the sake of argument, lets assume that human carbon dioxide increases have a measurable effect on temperature, all else held constant. Lets now take a deeper look. 95% of greenhouse gases are water vapor. Carbon dioxide accounts for about 4% of the greenhouse gases, and human contributions to carbon dioxide levels account for about 3% of that - in other words, about 0.1% of greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide from humans. Presumably, there could be variances and changes in the make up of the other 99.9% of the greenhouse gases that might have some effect on the atmosphere.

Even doubling or tripling the amount of carbon dioxide will virtually have little impact, as water vapour and water condensed on particles as clouds dominate the worldwide scene and always will.”
– . Geoffrey G. Duffy, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering of the University of Auckland, NZ.

Lets forget about the atmosphere. There are other things to consider. Ocean currents like El Nino and El Nina cause temperature change -- explaining 2008's lower temperatures, according to the IPCC (this admission, on its own, would seem to support a more tempered position on the effect of humans on climate). Solar activity, totally ignored by the IPCC, is thought by many climatologists to be the single most important factor in temperature fluctuations. When one considers the fact that Mars' ice caps have been melting and that there's presumably been no human carbon dioxide increases there, it would seem like a factor that reasonable people would at least include in the climate change discussion. However none of these other factors - atmospheric, land-based and solar - are given any credence by the IPCC.

“The models and forecasts of the UN IPCC "are incorrect because they only are based on mathematical models and presented results at scenarios that do not include, for example, solar activity.” - Victor Manuel Velasco Herrera, a researcher at the Institute of Geophysics of the National Autonomous University of Mexico

3) Whats so bad about the world getting warmer? A fascinating social aspect of the global warming crisis is the unspoken assumption that climate conditions are perfect only as they are right now. Any variance up or down, we are told, will result in total catastrophe. TWO would propound that if human beings are effecting the climate, we are far better off slightly increasing temperatures (creating more water, more vegetation and more farmable land) then slightly decreasing temperatures (which would decrease water, vegetation and agriculture).

4) Can humans take steps to reverse global warming? Assuming that you believe that 1) global warming exists, 2) its caused by humans and 3) its bad -- you still have to think that human beings can reverse it to even consider supporting this bill. The climate change bill looks to reduce carbon emissions by 17% from 2005 levels over the next 10 years, by 42% by 2030 and by 83% by 2050. The problem? The IPCC says that even if carbon emissions were to be stabilized now, global warming would continue on for centuries (centuries!) because of lag times in our atmosphere's reaction. Now, TWO sees no reason to believe that the IPCC knows what its doing, but would assume that it would lean towards empowering and encouraging green legislation if possible.

“Creating an ideology pegged to carbon dioxide is a dangerous nonsense...The present alarm on climate change is an instrument of social control, a pretext for major businesses and political battle. It became an ideology, which is concerning." - Environmental Scientist Professor Delgado Domingos of Portugal, the founder of the Numerical Weather Forecast group.

5) When one factors in the unintended, but likely, consequences of such legislation - including increased costs to ordinary citizens (estimates of $175 per year to consumers and as much as $4,300 to households in bills), onerous restrictions on businesses and a loss of American jobs - along with the nebulous state of climate change science, one wonders if the benefits (if any) of such a bill could possibly outweigh the costs.

“The [global warming] scare mongering has its justification in the fact that it is something that generates funds." - Award-winning Paleontologist Dr. Eduardo Tonni of the Committee for Scientific Research in Buenos Aires and head of the Paleontology Department at the University of La Plata.

TWO has said it before, and he will say it again: TWO is an environmentalist. Corporations should internalize their costs on society, we should push safe emissions where possible, and we should take the steps necessary to protect our resources. We should move to smarter modes of transportation and shift away from foreign oil as much as practicable.

What we should not accept is alarmism, rushed and hazy logic and unscientific thought. I have long privately believed that the global warming crisis resembled a large scale street hustle. If you've ever seen a street hustler sell, he brings together a crowd, waives some goods in front of their face, quickly explains what they are without any opportunity for discussion, and then has a couple of cronies in the audience, acting like ordinary pedestrians, who then rush up to frantically try to buy all of it. If done correctly, this sets off a frenzy, and everyone wants to buy.

Applied here, green political leaders and organizations are trying to sell the public on the threat of global warming. Scientists, funded in many cases by green organizations, rush to support the position, reports are waived around and the public is stirred into a frenzy. Before anyone can question it, the debate is over and anyone who questions the position is quieted.

“Since I am no longer affiliated with any organization nor receiving any funding, I can speak quite frankly....As a scientist I remain skeptical." - Atmospheric Scientist Dr. Joanne Simpson, formerly of NASA and who has been called "among the most preeminent scientists of the last 100 years."

The reason why you don't declare that a debate is over or quiet skeptics is because discourse in our society is structured around the belief that an open and free market place for debate is the best way to judge the merits of different ideas. Ironically, this bill is being proposed just as we are moving in on a tipping point in the global warming discussion. A record high of 41% of Americans believe that the global warming threat is exaggerated. Whereas 5 years ago no one would EVER have questioned global warming in a mainstream publication, highly regarded conservative columnists like George Will and Charles Krauthammer have recently expressed their skepticism and even liberal institutions like the New York Times have tempered their support.

“Many [scientists] are now searching for a way to back out quietly (from promoting warming fears), without having their professional careers ruined." - Atmospheric physicist James A. Peden, formerly of the Space Research and Coordination Center in Pittsburgh.

I can't predict whether this bill will pass, but I think that it is difficult to defend its passage based on the above. I can predict that at some point in the future, possibly within our lifetimes, civilization will look back on this "global warming crisis" as the pinnacle of human hubris and folly.

In conclusion:

Warming fears are the “worst scientific scandal [in history]…When people come to know what the truth is, they will feel deceived by science and scientists.” - UN IPCC Japanese Scientist Dr. Kiminori Itoh, an award-winning PhD environmental physical chemist.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hackery Ombudsman: Paul Krugman

There are many different kinds of hacks.

But before we get into that - lets address my whereabouts recently. Some of you became a bit concerned with my absence, wondering where the column was, wondering what I was doing.

To all of that I say shhh shhh shhhh. Everythings ok. Lets see if you can guess what I was doing. Was TWO

A) Pausing before his next column, like a basketball player sinking a three pointer holding his arm aloft as he runs down court, simply to impress upon the readers how incredibly correct he was about Lebron and the Cavs


B) Lounging at his estate in Santorini (pictured above), sipping marula fruit cream liqueur and disburdening himself of musings on Bismark's Germany

Trick question. BOTH! Because TWO is both always right and has a Pan-European accent.

A brief moment on Lebron... in addition to the posturing and grimacing and limping around (which was on display almost constantly)... did you notice the Lebron-Headwhip? Here is a man who is 6-8, 275 pounds, who knocks people around like bowling pins when he flies through the lane. However, should he be caught in the face or upper chest with a flailing hand or an errant basketball, he whips his head backwards, rotates his arms in huge concentric circles and usually rolls around on the ground for a while. Did Shaquille O'Neal do this during the hack-a-shaq days where he was hacked acrossed the shoulders, face and arms 20 times a game? No.

Look, Lebron will be the best player in the NBA if he isn't already. He is young and has time to mature. In his defense, he has been told he is the greatest from the time he was 12 -- that sort of things leads to arrogance which may, in time, be tempered. TWO can admit that he would be just as bad if he had attained success at such a young age. As it is, I am older than Lebron and whenever my column has over 1000 hits in a day I spray champagne out of the window onto unsuspecting pedestrians below. They hate that. But thats how I celebrate. Anyway, I continue to find it disheartening that the basketball commentators are typically too hacky to call out Lebron on his antics.

Moving on to a different kind of hack, can we have a moment on Paul Krugman? Krugman might be the hackiest journalist to ever attain acclaim in American history. Krugman's most recent opus was this article, blaming Ronald Reagan (who is dead) for the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Am I oversimplifying? Is TWO using hyperbole? The title of the article is "Reagan Did It." Like its the last utterance of a victim at a murder scene.

How did Reagan commit this crime 5 years after his death? Well, with the passing of the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of course! This bill, passed 26 years before the 2008-2009 financial crisis, deregulated the savings and loan industry. One of the consequences was that it allowed lenders to lend more freely to potential home purchasers. Krugman's thesis is that this Act was the main cause of our current economic downturn.

Before we just accept this argument and move on with our lives, TWO would like to examine facts. TWO loves facts. The Garn - St. Germain Act was a bi-partisan bill sponsored by Congressman Ferdinand St. Germain (D-RI) (who sounds like the sort of person who I would invite to my property in Santorini, but I digress) and Senator Jake Garn (R-Utah) (who sounds like the sort of person who would be re-caulking bathroom tiles at my property in Santorini, but I digress again). It passed the House and, with some amendments, the Senate overwhelmingly. Co-sponsors included current Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and current Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer. The Act allowed savings and loans to increase commercial lending to up to 10% of its assets, national banks to lend 15% of assets (up from 10%) and similar other slight increases. There's a savings and loan debacle a few years later, but essentially 10 years go by without any sort of substantial change in American home ownership and 25 years go by without any sort of housing related financial crisis.

Fast forward to 1993. Home ownership is at 63%. At the urging of the Clinton administration, bank regulators reform the Community Reinvestment Act requiring banks to show they were lending to a set number of lower-income buyers. By 2000, home ownership has suddenly jumped to 68%. Meanwhile, GSEs like Fannie Mae are being pressured to provide more and more mortgages to high-credit-risk purchasers. How outrageous were the rates? In 1997 Fannie Mae was offering 97% loan to value mortgages. The Bush administration was no better. Attempting to rebound from the dot com bubble, Alan Greenspan advocated refinancing and borrowing against speculative home values and Bush tirelessly pushed for more home ownership for more low-income buyers. By 2001, Fannie Mae was actually offering 100% loan to value mortgages -- in other words, allowing people to buy homes without putting any money down! As pressure mounted to lend, the number of dangerous loans increased. During a three year period between 2003-2006, sub-prime and Alt-A loans jumped from making up about 1/10 of all mortgages to making up nearly 1/3. By 2008, US consumers were spending almost $1.1 trillion more than they were earning in spendable income.* When the values of homes fell, homeowners who had refinanced often had almost no equity value in their homes and often just didn't pay. Others couldn't afford their mortgages after the downturn. Financial institutions, many of whom held massive amounts of mortgage-backed-securities (Bear Stearns collapsed under a 35:1 leverage ratio) found that the underlying assets were greatly, greatly overvalued and illiquid. All the while, government officials (the Fed, the Clinton and Bush administrations and members of Congress) were asleep at the wheel, as we've discussed before.

To summarize, although there has been a general trend towards open markets and free lending over the past 30 years, the events proximately causing this financial crisis undeniably took place throughout the past 10 to 15 years. No serious thinker would call President Reagan, of all people, "the prime villain" of this financial crisis.

And that is really the point. Paul Krugman is capable of being a serious thinker, but he chooses not to be. He instead chooses to be a hack. A economics professor, skilled writer and (somehow) Nobel Prize winner, he has relegated himself to the journalistic equivalent of a drunk heckler at a basketball game, yelling inflammatory things to anyone who will listen. As people tune him out or change seats, he has to yell louder and more obscenely to get noticed. By the end of his career Krugman will be writing articles like "George Bush - Sarah Palin Love Child Is Wolf Boy" for the National Enquirer.

Politically, there are two types of people: People who treat their political party like its their favorite college football team and people who just want the government to get things right. The former will trace back the roots of any problem to a misstep by their rival and make any argument, no matter how convoluted, to show that their "team" is blameless. The latter would prefer that elected officials who get things right be given proper credit, and those who get things wrong be held accountable, no matter the letter after their name.

In conclusion, don't be a hack.

*We don't really cite sources in any organized way here at TWO, but, for those interested, I relied heavily on financial figures from this article by Peter J. Wallison and this speech by Robert Rodriguez

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bama Ombudsman: The Cleveland Cavaliers


The noun bama is a common term in Washington DC. Like all colloquial terms it lacks a set definition, but basically defines someone who is garish, posturing and egomaniacal to a clownish degree while at the same time essentially insincere and likely insecure. A list of bamas or bamafied behavior might be helpful, but in the interest of time, TWO will just point out that about 90% of celebrities are bamas. About 75% of people living in Los Angeles are bamas, as TWO estimates that three quarters of the population of LA are OPALC (Ordinary People Acting Like Celebrities). 100% of white people speaking in a blaccent are bamas. Dylan McKay was a bama.

Which brings us to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The most bamafied sports team of all time.

1) Lebron James.

a) Easily the King Bama. He is essentially a cross between Brian Bosworth and early 90s Shaquille O'Neal with just a sprinkle of Chuck Bass. The pregame ritual where he sprays powder over his head like hes some sort of wizard (or a genius) is arrogant, ridiculous and a slap in the face to the other players on the court. Yet it has been celebrated as some incredible pop-culture event. He poses and postures after nearly every big shot and dunk. After hitting that half-court shot in the playoffs, he said his range was "limitless."

Also from Lebron's mouth? The following quotes:

- "Ask me to play. I'll play. Ask me to shoot. I'll shoot. Ask me to pass. I'll pass. Ask me to steal, block out, sacrifice, lead, dominate. Anything. But it's not what you ask of me. It's what I ask of myself."

- "I’m like a superhero. Call me Basketball Man."

- "Jesus Christ needed 12 disciples, but I only have 5 teammates who really get minutes."

Just kidding about the last one. But still, has an athlete ever guzzled their own kool-aid to this extent?

And the media (fueled by the NBA's marketing department) loves it! You will never hear anything bad about Lebron James in the mainstream media. But ask someone from Cleveland who has had, or knows someone who's had, any interaction with Lebron James and ask them how he's acted. You might be surprised.

b) Fake Injuries. There is a recent trend in the NBA that I've noticed this season, and that is the fake injury. For some reason, in a sport otherwise known for its hip-hop machismo and emphasis on street cred, it has become cool to grimace and hobble around like an old man whenever mild contact takes place. Whether its to show how tough you are or to get attention (or both), it happens constantly. Here are a few notable examples:

- In March, Lebron James bumps into a a 47 year old, 150 pound referee and rolls around on the floor like he is semi-conscious. The referee gets up immediately.

- In the first round of the playoffs, Rajon Rondo is carried from the court and then acts with surprise when a reporter asks if he's ok. Hes totally fine! Why would you even ask that question?

- The best, of course, is Paul Pierce. A few months ago, Paul Pierce was carried off the court in a heap and then rolled into the lockerroom on a wheelchair. A wheelchair! I'm surprised there weren't visible signs of slobber dripping from his mouth. Anyway, he returned, showing no ill-effects, LATER IN THE SAME GAME! Amazing.

Watch for Lebron's fake grimace throughout the rest of the playoffs.

2) The Cavaliers. There have been team-wide celebrations and groups of players with choreographed routines for years. But never has a team had so many idiotic, choregraphed routines going on at once, every single game. While not roundly applauded, it again has received a reasonably warm reception as just a bunch of zany guys having fun. Wrong-Side-Of-Every-Argument-Bill Simmons' shared his sentiment that watching Lebron & the Cavaliers is "like watching a more animated/funny/bombastic version of Duncan's Spurs.....I really get a kick out of them."

Now why is this a problem? TWO certainly isn't losing sleep over what dances other people like to do. But a couple of things are troubling. First, the behavior is disrespectful to the opponents and makes a mockery of the sport. This is an event watched by millions and your opponents are professional athletes...and you are posing for fake pictures and saluting your teammates before the game? Second, the quasi-acceptance of this foolishness sends a message to kids that this sort of behavior is okay. We'll see how hilarious and bombastic it is when before every Little League game players engage in elaborate miming routines involving somersaults, fist pounds and butterfly kisses. "Why is Billy rubbing pinetar all over himself?" "Shhhh pregame ritual."

A drunk who mouths off too much needs only to get punched in the teeth once before he changes his ways. The best thing for all of us is that the Cavs get beaten down by either the Magic or (more likely) the Lakers in the next two rounds. Lets do it for the children.

In conclusion, TWO has nothing against butterfly kisses.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Common Sense Ombudsman: Vaccines for a Real Epidemic

Sometimes, there is hysteria.

There has been chaos and gnashing of teeth over the past few weeks over swine flu. Its a pandemic!!!!!! Well, maybe not...but its going to be! There have been HUNDREDS killed in Mexico... or maybe just 16.

Putting aside the media's interest in stirring the public into a frenzy (could this be just like Pandemic or Quarantine - or - even better - I Am Legend?!) ...what are the facts?

There have been 61 deaths worldwide, including 3 in the United States. There have been only 40 confirmed swine flu cases in the US, more than half occurring in one New York school. Only 4 other states have had a single person test positive for swine flu. For a country with 300 million people, those figures aren't too bad. And they certainly don't seem to warrant the panicked coverage given by our media. When you consider that the normal influenza killed 83 children in 2008, the hysteria is even more puzzling.

But what if I told you that every year, around 40,000 otherwise healthy Americans are killed from one particular cause? Before I could even finish the sentence, Sanjay Gupta would reflexively gear up his hazmat suit, pack a few Ensures and prepare himself for 18 hour shifts on CNN. Fox News would create a special music intro with drums and electric guitars for reports on the topic.

Can you imagine their disappointment when I tell them that the cause was traffic accidents?

Over the past few years, deaths have ranged from the low 40,000s to a near-record low of 37,000 in 2008. But no one really cares. Why?

First, its old news. Traffic accidents might go slightly up, or might go slightly down - but no one is going to make a horror movie out of traffic accidents (although Duel was a great old school film) and the media knows its not going to be able to frighten the bejesus out of the masses with the reports. If it won't increase ratings, then why report on it?

Second - and this is related to the first - people, rationally or irrationally, internalize certain dangers, treating them as a fixed cost of living. We like driving, we like living in the suburbs, we like getting places fast, trucks deliver things to us - its a shame that people also die, but overall the benefits outweigh the costs. Over time, people just begin accepting the fact that there are going to be a lot of deaths from traffic accidents and stop asking why.

Not TWO.

When one considers that a quarter of a million people marched on Washington to oppose abortion, that 2,000 people protested the execution of a convicted killer in Texas, that New York spends roughly $50 million per year to prevent disease and premature death due to cigarette smoking, that the entire nation - including both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court - fiercely debated the life or death of a single woman, the only inference is that our culture places a high degree of value on life and its protection.

From afar, then, it must look quite odd that we allow nearly anyone to drive 3,000 pound vehicles at high rates of speed in opposite directions, separated by just a few feet and a painted line.

Some simple steps, in addition to wearing a seat belt, to reduce the likelihood of accident deaths:

1) Substantial dividers or spacial separation on highways. Crashes at high speeds are always dangerous, but head on collisions are far more deadly. There is no reason why any road should be built where cars travel over 50 mph in opposite directions with just a double yellow line separating them.

2) Stricter driving tests for teenagers. Driving should not be considered a right of passage. Lack of coordination or lack of maturity are great reasons to keep kids off of the road unless they are with a parent or a driving instructor.

3) Stricter rules for kids under 21. Inexperienced drivers cause a disproportionate amount of damage. As such, laws should be geared to address this segment of the population. At the risk of sounding over the top, I think that governors on engines, restrictions on driving with friends and at night, and limitations on highway driving are all reasonable steps to take. If a driver under 21 goes a period of time without incident, then some of these rules can be eased. Immaturity and distraction can be deadly.

4) Stricter rules for people over 70. As people lose their motor skills/concentration, they become a liability on the road. Requiring a test every 5 years or after any driving related incident would help weed out potentially dangerous drivers.

5) Revoke people's licenses for egregious behavior. For some reason, we are willing to sentence babbling meth-heads and cocaine peddlers to 30 years, but allow drunks to get DUI after DUI with mere slaps on the wrist. Why should this ever happen? Look, minor traffic accidents and speeding tickets are understandable. But people should only be allowed to endanger other peoples' lives a couple of times before they get moved to the passenger's seat.

In conclusion, "We are in the midst of a national epidemic....if this many people were to die from any one disease in a single year, Americans would demand a vaccine."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Midweek Ombudsman: Some Admin

Midweek update, mostly to push WHTNEP and my own facebook popularity:

1) TWO's friend WHTNEP wants you to help Jessica Alba. See this. We're not sure of the reason, but we think that WHTNEP briefly dated Jessica Alba in middle school. The relationship was ruined by an unfortunate incident at a school dance involving golf cleats, Vicks vapo-rub and two packs of Baja California Fruit Starbursts. Don't ask him about it.

2) Become TWO's facebook friend. Search World's Ombudsman and add! I have an esteemed, elite and somewhat sensual group of friends. About half speak English, and an oddly large portion are from Indonesia. Fact.

In conclusion, TWO honors Oddibe McDowell once a year by driving to his birthplace, Hollywood, Florida, and throwing baseball cards into the ocean.