- Gregg Easterbrook
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Suspended coaches, defamation claims, thousands of former players suing the NFL, sickening crimes and a cover-up at highest levels at Penn State, retired NFL stars saying they wouldn't let their own sons play football -- it's been a tumultuous offseason. Football generates more news than some entire nations.
But football's really important offseason development occurred on the field behind your local elementary school. The Pop Warner organization decided to limit contact in practice.
As evidence continues to mount of the long-term danger of concussions -- both from big hits and from the accumulated impact of lesser blows to the head -- anything that makes football safer trumps all other concerns about the sport combined. And less contact in practice, beginning at the youth level, will make football safer.
Obviously football will never be risk-free. As in many aspects of life, risk must be balanced against benefits, and football generates many benefits to players, communities and schools. But if concussion research shows that significant neurological harm is being done not just to professionals but to the millions of youth and high school players, whether football should be played at all becomes a fair question. Making the sport as safe as possible is essential not just because this is ethically right, but to preserve the game.
As TMQ laid out a year ago, more injuries happen in practice than on game days, because more hours of contact occur in practice than in games. Practice harm is invisible to the public, but terrible for players. Two years ago, the Ivy League restricted football to two days per week of full-pads contact. Last year the NFL and NFLPA agreed to a major reduction in the amount of contact allowed during practice.
This is the right trend and in June, the Pop Warner organization, noting that more concussions occur in practice than in games, cut back on the amount of contact allowed in practice, while banning the Oklahoma-style drill in which players run toward each other and smash helmets. The competing USA Football youth organization, sponsored by the NFL and the NFLPA, immediately matched the move and cut back on practice contact. The must-read new book "Concussions and Our Kids," due out next month from Robert Cantu and Mark Hyman (Cantu is a leading neurologist), lays out in detail the importance of such reforms in football practice standards.
A decade ago, there were no laws regarding youth and prep football safety. Now most states mandate proper care for concussed athletes. If you live in Arkansas or Montana, ask your local legislator why your state is sitting on its hands on this issue.
A decade ago, the National Athletic Trainers Association began to advise high school coaches to take it slow in August, practicing without pads for the first five days while players become accustomed to heat, then having contact only in the mornings of two-a-days, with afternoon sessions confined to walk-throughs. These rules have begun to gather momentum. Georgia, where two high school players died from heat stroke in 2011, just imposed the NATA regime on public high schools, as did Maryland, where your columnist lives. Every state should adopt the NATA rules -- the sooner the better.
Won't limiting contact turn football into a wimpy sport? Aren't two-a-days and Oklahoma drills how players prove their manhood? Traditionalists are saying this. Traditionalists once opposed the forward pass; traditionalists once said football players should be forbidden to drink water in heat. Traditionalists have said a lot of really stupid things.
Football will always be a fierce, aggressive sport. Football can remain hard-hitting and aggressive within a context of reforms that reduce head injuries and heat stroke. Football must achieve such reforms both to take better care of players -- the vast majority of whom play at the youth and high school levels, where there are no scholarships or bonus checks -- and to remain acceptable in the public eye.
As Tuesday Morning Quarterback endlessly reminds, there is no law of nature that says football must be popular. If large numbers of Americans become disgusted by neurological harm caused by the sport, the popularity of football could wane.
Consider as well: There is no law of nature that says football must be legal. Congress could be moved to outlaw the sport, or to impose restrictions. If high schools begin losing liability suits regarding concussions, public school districts may have little choice but to drop football, for money reasons. Awareness of this possibility is one reason the NFL began funding USA Football as a reform organization -- one focused on making the game safer, and thus keeping football socially acceptable.
Will the NFL lose concussion litigation? Numerous lawsuits involving more than 2,700 former players are tracked here. Some former players likely suffered neurological harm that was improperly treated, or could have been avoided if the player was kept off the field after showing symptoms of head trauma. Some former NFL players may have conditions associated with improper orthopedic care or overuse of injected or oral painkillers supplied by their teams. Some former players may have degenerative conditions associated with aging -- problems that would have happened regardless of athletics. Some former players may simply be hoping for one last payday from the NFL. There's an air of billboard hucksterism to the eagerness of lawyers to cash in. Practically everyone has "long-term health issues."
If the sudden binge of litigation were to show that the NFL knew concussions could lead to later-life neurological harm and withheld that information from players -- or provided inadequate medical care, knowing better care was needed -- the NFL might be assessed huge damage awards. If on the other hand the evidence shows NFL trainers and coaches did not know how terrible concussions can be, then a litigation defeat for the league becomes less likely. After all, players assumed a risk of their own free will, in order to enjoy the benefits of playing what they knew was a dangerous sport.
Medical understanding of the long-term consequences of concussions is fairly recent; a generation ago, a conscientious football coach might not have known that a player should not return to a game after "getting his bell rung." Chronic traumatic encephalopathy has been a concern of researchers only for a short time, and the condition is poorly understood -- it's possible lots of people suffer CTE that has nothing do with athletics. Points like these might favor the NFL position.
But even if the concussion litigation ends well from the NFL's standpoint, evolving knowledge of the risk of head harm caused by football makes it imperative that contact be reduced at all levels of the sport, while game-day enforcement of unnecessary roughness and other rules continues to become more strict. If you love football and want the sport to be around for generations to come -- then you want youth players to hit less, you want the Oklahoma drill banned and you want officials cracking down on vicious hits. This is the future.
As for Tuesday Morning Quarterback, I'm back and I'm bad! Well, I'm back. To kick off the return of the football artificial universe, below is TMQ's annual review of offseason lowlights.
"We'll Have Fun, Fun, Fun 'Til the Assisted-Living Director Takes the T-Bird Away:" Brian Wilson, founder of the Beach Boys, a band that celebrated endless summer, turned 70.
In Kyrgyzstan, a Weekend Is an Eternity: The "eternal" flame in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, went out.
Few Know the "S" in ESPN Stands for Sciences: Three times as many Americans watched the Super Bowl as watched the Academy Awards. Possible explanations:
The Super Bowl ended before dawn, Zulu time.
The Super Bowl is presented by the NFL, not by the Academy of Gridiron Arts and Sciences. The Oscar organization still insists on calling itself the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Sciences!
The Super Bowl was entertaining.
A generation ago, viewers found the Oscars a thrill because glimpses of celebrities were rare. Now, with the Web and 24-hour celebrity TV, by the time the Academy Awards roll around, we're sick of many of the faces on the stage.
Plus the self-flattery has become gag-inducing. When Sally Field gushed "you like me" in 1985, this possessed a goofy charm. Today, winners elaborately praise themselves, while pretending they have been involved in the production of great art. A few movies rise to the level of art. At the Oscars, all winners pretend to be artists, which is as fake as the computer-generated special effects Hollywood churns out.
"Awk! Grandmother Doesn't Realize Her Own Nephew Is Stealing Her Diamonds! They'll Never Catch Me! Awk!" In Japan, a lost parakeet was returned when the bird recited his home address to police.
The Sales Tax on $120 Million Could Make You Scream: "The Scream" sold for $120 million. Here is TMQ's 2006 item on what the painting depicts, which is not existential dread.
Obviously This Item Exists to Justify the Picture: Congratulations to Olivia Culpo of Rhode Island, new Miss USA. During the pageant, Culpo played the kazoo.
Facebook to Buy Buckeyes Football Ohio State University leased its 35,000 parking spots for $483 million over 50 years. Since parking fees currently bring OSU $28 million annually, the lease price represents 17 years of revenue. A 17-year payback is awfully long for an investment, even at a time when T-bills yield 2 percent. Ohio State students should expect parking to become a lot more expensive. That's the only way the investment will make sense.
Annual revenue for the Buckeyes' football program is $60 million to $100 million, depending on how one does the accounting. This suggests that if OSU sold a 50-year lease on its football program for the same multiple as the parking lots, Ohio State football would sell for $1 billion to $1.7 billion -- eerily close to what Forbes thinks the Dallas Cowboys are worth. The Cowboys enjoy more revenue than the Buckeyes, but OSU expenses are much lower since players are unpaid -- seeming to leave the Dallas NFL and Ohio State NCAA football programs at roughly the same level of profitability.
Spice Girls OK at Olympics, But No Suggestive Advertising for Chaise Lounges: England cracked down on suggestive furniture advertising.
Rachael Ray Missed Her Calling: The governor of Virginia was found to have a corrupt chef.
Knicks Management Has Taken Prompt, Decisive Steps to Ensure the Playoff Appearance Is Not Repeated: The Knicks got their first playoff win in 11 years. Will the Bills, New York state's only NFL team, get their first playoff appearance in 11 years?
Unified Field Theory of Creep: Queen Elizabeth celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, which means 75th year as sovereign, in her 60th year. Back in 2002, Elizabeth elaborately celebrated her Golden Jubilee, which means 50 years as sovereign. So 10 years passed between elaborate celebrations, though 25 were supposed to.
Royal creep has been British policy since 1897, when Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee after 60 years. Considering Diamond until then meant 75 years, and that lifespans have extended, shouldn't this event come later rather than sooner?
This means in 2017, Queen Elizabeth may claim a Platinum Jubilee, which once came in the 80th year, but now comes in the 65th year by British reckoning. If Elizabeth makes it to her 75th year on the throne, perhaps the celebration could be her Plutonium Jubilee. Should Charles become king, look for him to celebrate his Diamond Jubilee the day after his inauguration, before Parliament can vote him into exile.
Next January, TMQ and the Official Wife celebrate 25 years of marriage. Traditionally this is the Silver Jubilee. Nan says the upcoming event will be the Pavement Jubilee, since our house needs a new driveway.
TMQ Wants a Fact-Finding Trip to the Riviera: Last year, this column offered numerous examples of "TMQ's contention that the reason fantastic sums are being spent by government, yet nothing's getting done, is that much of the money vanishes to corruption or luxurious living for officials." During the offseason top officials of the General Services Administration, which operates federal buildings, were revealed to have blown nearly $1 million of taxpayers' money on a weeklong "retreat" in Las Vegas, including a $2,000 room service tab for a single government official.
Almost two years passed between the lavish spending and the Inspector General's report that revealed the scandal. So not only did top federal officials make irresponsible decisions with public money, they covered up their actions.
Some of the money for resort vacations was paid via phony invoices. What the General Services Administration does all day long is enforce government spending rules. If the agency that enforces spending rules uses fake invoices to cheat on spending, is anything in the federal government honest? Top GSA officials took EIGHT taxpayer-paid trips to Las Vegas in advance of the convention, these trips justified as "fact-finding missions." In government travel, the phrase "fact-finding mission" -- beloved of senators and governors who seek facts in Paris -- is synonymous with waste.
Sci-Fi Line of the Offseason: "The man I loved wouldn't destroy the entire universe. That just doesn't sound like William."
One of the worst aspects of Hollywood is when dead characters suddenly are alive again, with little or no explanation. On "Fringe," William Bell is a mad scientist played by Leonard Nimoy, who was Mr. Spock in the original "Star Trek." The recently concluded fourth season brought Nimoy back from the dead for the second time.
Nimoy is the Big Bad of "Fringe": He keeps unleashing mass-murder biological weapons, triggering natural disasters and loosing evil shape-shifters, all for unclear reasons. Perhaps now that "Fringe" has been renewed for a fifth and final season, viewers finally will find out what the Nimoy character is up to. First, the writers have to find out.
Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars to Search for "John Carter" Greenlight Memos: "John Carter," the most expensive motion picture ever made -- despite no location shooting on Mars! -- was a bust at the box office. TMQ thinks computer-generated special effects are ruining the movies, because when extended portions of films are obviously fake, the Hollywood magic is gone. Consider 2012's "Red Tails," whose CG action scenes were so fake they didn't vaguely resemble flying. Compare to the 1927 flick "Wings," which had flying scenes that are still thrilling because they were done in the air with real planes.
You've guessed by now that TMQ thinks "John Carter" was a good movie. The Edgar Rice Burroughs books about Mars depict multiple civilizations: "John Carter" included too many, making initial sequences hard to follow. The trailers were incoherent, and the title was a dud. Still, "John Carter" was a movie well worth seeing -- haunting and exotic. If you skipped this flick in theaters, rent it.
Maybe the reason "John Carter" went bust was the Mars Movie Curse. "Red Planet," released in 2000, was a commercial bomb despite Val Kilmer. "Mission to Mars," released the same year, did poorly. Last year's "Mars Needs Moms" lost buckets of money. "Ghosts of Mars," a 2001 John Carpenter flick, vanished so quickly even film buffs may not know the movie exists. For this summer's remake of "Total Recall," the Mars voyage -- essence of the first movie and of the Philip K. Dick book on which it was based -- was eliminated, perhaps to avoid the Mars Movie Curse. (If you haven't seen the "Total Recall" remake yet, spoiler alert: In the future, everything will be derivative.)
Failed Mars movies have company -- failed Mars probes. Your columnist has noted most of the probes launched toward the red planet have been cursed. Curiosity, which touched down smoothly last week, is a pleasant exception to the rule that probes sent to Mars tend to explode or vanish. Movies about Mars are busts at the box office, probes crash: Don't tell me this is some coincidence. An alien starcruiser buried on Mars obviously is manipulating Earth history.
Actor Taylor Kitsch -- Riggins on "Friday Night Lights" -- saved Mars in "John Carter," then two months later, saved Earth in "Battleship." He's having quite a year.
Rush Limbaugh and Nancy Pelosi Have a Codependent Relationship Talk radio's Rush Limbaugh made a fool of himself the same way talk radio's Don Imus made a fool of himself in 2007, by impugning the honor of college women. TMQ thinks it no coincidence both leveled the same insult toward the same group.
Graying male commentators imagine today's higher-education landscape is populated by insatiable college girls gone wild -- on campuses run by the liberals! It's not just Limbaugh and Imus; Tom Wolfe's novel "I Am Charlotte Simmons" depicts the contemporary college scene as 99 percent hot sex, 1 percent studying in the library. Limbaugh is 61 years old and attended college only briefly; Imus is 71 and never attended college; Wolfe, who published that novel at age 73, graduated from Washington & Lee at a time when the school did not admit women.
Graying commentators may get their ideas from news-organization claims that "hooking up" has taken over colleges. Hooking up sounds racy and unsettling, thereby appealing to headline writers, but the expression is studiously vague. I've not heard any coherent explanation of how hooking up differs from meeting people at parties, as the young long have done. I teach a semiannual seminar at my beloved alma mater, Colorado College, and when I've asked class members to describe the school's social life, what they've said sounds like social life at Colorado College a generation ago, except for the arrival of digital communication.
The current generation may hold a more laissez-faire attitude toward sex than did its parents, but that does not necessarily translate into increased sexual activity. Amy Schalet, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, sees evidence of an evolving take-your-time attitude about sex among those of high school and college age. The National Center for Health Statistics recently found that in 1988, 51 percent of girls and women aged 19 or below were sexually experienced; the fraction has steadily declined, to 43 percent in 2010. Sexual experience for boys and men aged 19 or below declined from 60 percent in 1988 to 42 percent in 2010. The study also determined that over the past decade, the share of college-aged women who had sex in the previous month has declined by a small amount.
Aging, grumpy guys like Limbaugh assume out-of-control carnality on the modern college campus, feel mad that they missed the party, and so accuse college girls of easy virtue. Or perhaps aging male commentators are jealous that undergraduate enrollment on American campuses is now 56 percent female, shifting the Saturday night odds in favor of guys. That certainly makes me jealous!
Rush note 1: When advertisers canceled because of his use of misogynistic language, Limbaugh complained bitterly. But that's the free market in action! After all, businesses want to sell to women. Limbaugh said a boycott of his advertisers was "terrorism." Isn't refusal to purchase a free-market choice? Like many, Rush extols the free market when it favors him, then wants special exemptions when the market's verdict is negative.
Rush note 2: Repeatedly calling a woman he had never met "a slut" put Limbaugh into the national conversation, including at the White House level. Thus he was rewarded with publicity for foul manners. Had Limbaugh made exactly the same points about contraception and federal policy using civil language, no one would have paid attention. This doesn't say much for the national conversation, does it?
Freeze! Keep Your Three Toes Where I Can See Them! A federal judge authorized an arrest warrant for a dinosaur skeleton.
The SAT Needs a Question on Quarterback Rating Formulas: For the June 2 SAT, one essay topic was a paragraph from my book "The Progress Paradox." Had I known in advance, I could have marketed the book to huge numbers of nervous high school kids and their parents. Here is what an ESPN SAT question would be like:
Complete the following analogy. You must answer before the 24-second clock expires.
Poker is to sports as:
(a) Jonathan Vilma is to Zen instructor
(b) Danica Patrick is to wallflower
(c) Bill Belichick is to evil sinister mastermind
(d) Jeremy Lin is to New York Knicks
Let's Hope the Marriage Works! One zillion people watched the YouTube video of world history's single most charming event.
Mondeleezza Rice Was Hired as Spokeswoman: Kraft Foods changed the name of its snack food division to Mondelez, and presumably in a few years will spend millions of dollars going back to the name Kraft.
TMQ Still Means Something: Dartmouth president Jim Kim, a great guy, was chosen as the next head of the World Bank. Just as Texas Christian University now is only TCU, Dartmouth now is neither Dartmouth College nor Dartmouth University. It's just Dartmouth.
Plus, Trees Are Happier The Encyclopedia Britannica ended its printed edition after 244 years -- a very long time for any communication medium to be in continuous production. The end of the printed Britannica is sentimental, but also shows progress -- disc- or Web-based encyclopedias serve readers better than the printed versions, which strong men could barely lift. Wikipedia, essentially free to readers (donors support it), already has a larger database than Britannica. Britannica's Web product is excellent.
Consider that Britannica now has 500,000 Web subscribers at $70 annum, plus about $25 million annually from wide-license buyers such as libraries. That's about $60 million in revenue, below the company's revenue for 1990, peak year for the physical edition with 120,000 sets sold. But the company's costs are far lower without heavy paper editions to print and distribute, while Web subscriptions have the potential to reach far more customers than a 50-pound bookshelf product. If a large number of people can access the Encyclopedia Britannica relatively cheaply via the Web, compared with a small number owning the print edition, then both the Britannica company and the reader will be better off.
TMQ's Annual Swimsuit Issue Count: This year's edition of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit number contained: 134 photographs of models in bikinis, 16 photos of topless women with hands strategically placed, 14 models in naught but body paint, 11 women whose bikini bottoms were unhooked, 10 models in traditional one-piece suits (how did that get past the photo editor?), seven women in G-strings (including Kate Upton on the cover in a G-string) and five nude women, including two nudes posing with lion cubs.
TMQ thought the sexiest pics in the swimsuit issue and in ESPN's competing Body Issue were of fit, strong women -- soccer star Alex Morgan in body paint in Sports Illustrated, kickboxer Ronda Rousey wearing nothing in ESPN The Magazine (Published on Earth The Planet). The Body Issue offered a lot of athletic beefcake, while the swimsuit issue had only a couple of shirtless men. At this point many of the attractive women in athletics -- Morgan, Dominika Cibulkova, Brittany Jackson, Lolo Jones, Anna Kournikova, Candace Parker, Danica Patrick, Maria Sharapova, Lindsey Vonn and others -- have done seductive posing in bikinis or less. Yet hunk male athletes posing with their shirts off remains rare. Why?
NBA Personnel Move of the Offseason: On Dec. 14, 2011, the Denver Nuggets signed Nene to a $67 million contract. Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri praised Nene as the top free agent in basketball. Just 91 days later on March 15, the Nuggets traded Nene for a minor player plus someone they waived immediately. Ujiri said the team needed to unload Nene's contract.
Oregon to Institute 24-Minute Shot Clock: Oregon's 5A girls' basketball state title game ended 16-7.
As the KGB Knew, the Ideal Person to Corrupt Is the One Who Watches for Corruption: Peter Gleick, a prominent scientist, admitted stealing documents, then resigned his position with the American Geophysical Union. What was his position? Running the task force on scientific ethics and integrity.
More Proof of the Decline of Civilization: When Peyton Manning visited the Denver Broncos during free agency, a local news station helicopter followed the car that took him from the airport to the training facility. NFL Network and ESPNU both telecast the pro days of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin; pro days are desultory events where pudgy middle-aged men watch guys in shorts jog around. (This should be the soundtrack of any pro day.) More than 100 reporters attended the news conference for Tim Tebow's arrival in New Jersey.
Looks Like They Found Some: The chief of staff of the governor of Florida resigned when it was revealed he had awarded no-bid state consulting contracts to friends. One no-bid contract went to a crony who "leads a task force charged with rooting out government waste."
Not Another Ph.D. Thesis on Willow! Slate determined the pop-culture manifestation to have received the most serious-sounding academic study is not "Star Trek," not "Ozzie and Harriet," but "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". Buffy is treated in the academy as a post-feminist manifesto, though the brains behind the show was a guy (Joss Whedon) and Buffy spent most of her time kickboxing the undead, which just doesn't seem to have all that much to do with contemporary female experience.
Hunter Went on "Good Morning America" to Complain About Getting Attention: A week after publishing a 256-page kiss-and-tell about her sex life, Rielle Hunter objected to "media scrutiny."
Pretending Nuclear Waste Isn't There Does Not Solve the Problem: During the offseason Gregory Jaczko, chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, resigned. He was "one step ahead of the posse," as was said in the Wild West, submitting his resignation just before release of an Inspector General's report accusing him of verbal abuse of women. Maybe Jaczko is a rotten guy or maybe, as some maintain, the nuclear industry wanted him out. What troubled your columnist was that the chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was a Luddite on nuclear power.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima power reactor failure, Jaczko gave a five-alarm doomsday warning that screamed science illiteracy. That year he was the sole NRC commissioner to vote against the first new U.S. nuclear power plant proposal in 30 years -- other Democrats on the commission voted yea. Jaczko cited Fukushima as the reason for his nay, which again seems science illiteracy, since the proposed reactors, for Georgia, not only will use fundamentally different engineering from the four-decade-old Japanese facility -- the proposed reactors will replace aging reactors, netting a big improvement in safety.
Jaczko's appointment to the NRC was backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who desperately wanted to end the Yucca Mountain, Nev., reactor waste repository plan. Jaczko worked hard to undermine Yucca Mountain, which Barack Obama canceled. This may go down as among the mistakes of the Obama presidency.
Billions of dollars had already been spent to prepare the Yucca Mountain facility, which was elaborately vetted by the National Academy of Sciences. Granted, many in Nevada did not want the plan to advance, but if Nimby opposition were the sole consideration, nothing would ever be built. With Yucca Mountain canceled, rather than radioactive materials buried deep underground in a guarded facility, where do you think nuclear waste is now? It's being held at power plants, often in antiquated water pools like the ones that failed at Fukushima.
The whole point of Yucca Mountain was to get nuclear waste out of rusting pools and into a specially engineered facility. Because of Jaczko's efforts and Obama's decision, U.S. nuclear waste continues to sit in Fukushima-like circumstances, sometimes in "dry cask" storage in reactor parking lots. The Yucca Mountain facility is ready to go: Reviving Yucca Mountain makes far more sense than the current White House plan, which is to kick the can down the road by spending years discussing new locations that, once announced, are certain to be opposed too.
In March 2011, when Jaczko and nearly all commentators and news organizations were depicting Fukushima as a calamity -- a page-one banner headline in The Washington Post read FULL-BLOWN NUCLEAR DISASTER -- your columnist wrote on Reuters, "The odds are that any harm to public health will be minor, if public health is harmed at all." I took a lot of heat for that column, which turned out to be correct. In March 2012 Kathryn Higley, a specialist in radiation at Oregon State University, told The Wall Street Journal that the radiological effect of the Japanese reactor failure was "really, really minor." Yuka Hayashi wrote for the Journal from Japan that one year after the reactor failure, "its impact on physical health and the environment appears to be far less severe than initially feared."
My March 2011 statement was not a lucky guess, rather, based on a perspective -- with the awful exception of Chernobyl in 1986, nuclear power has been safe. Since the Chernobyl meltdown, a quarter century has passed in which nuclear power has done no harm to human health or the environment. In the same 25 years, oil and coal use worldwide have killed thousands of people, while triggering global warming. Why is it so hard for the political and media establishments to see that coal and oil are dangerous while nuclear power is not? Scare tactics regarding nuclear power not only keep society addicted to fossil fuel, they discourage replacement of obsolete reactors (the Fukushima station was built 45 years ago) with new reactors that possess advanced safety features.
Bert and Ernie Expected Envelopes of Rupees: In Pakistan, there was corruption at a puppet theater.
Offseason Football-Like Substance: In the Stampeders-Argonauts contest, Larry Taylor scored a 125-yard touchdown.
You Couldn't Pay Me to Jump Out of a Helicopter With a Parachute: A stuntman jumped out of a helicopter without a parachute.
Give That Man a Round of Applause: The New York Times ran a page-one article asserting there are too many standing ovations, and that by standing, Broadway audiences essentially are clapping for themselves. TMQ had this point more than a year before the Times.
Penn State -- How Much Worse Can It Get? Last fall when the Penn State scandal broke, this column said, "Either the accusations are false or they are true. If false, then Penn State, Joe Paterno and all others implicated deserve their honor back. If true, we have barely scratched the surface of Penn State's disgrace. If the charges are true, not only did the Penn State football program allow its facilities to be used for the abuse of children, Penn State athletic officials and academic administrators were more concerned with preserving their money and power than with stopping future molestation." The Freeh report makes clear in excruciating detail that "Penn State athletic officials and academic administrators were more concerned with preserving their money and power" than with moral behavior.
Having, sadly, been right in my first forecast about Penn State, I now make my second: This is far from over. Penn State football will be fine, but athletics is incredibly trivial compared with other issues at stake. From the standpoint of the shame Penn State has wrapped itself in as an institution, rock bottom has not yet been reached.
Most Penn State students, alumni and supporters are fine people. They must do their share for the school's recovery by being clear with each other, and with the nation, that there is nothing that can be said in defense of Penn State's administration. There is also nothing that can be said in defense of Joe Paterno. Children were raped -- and we're supposed to care how many wins a coach gets credit for?
Penn State is shamed and Paterno's previous standing as a man of honor is dust. The school's students, alumni and supporters must accept this. Nothing can be said for how Penn State and Paterno behaved.
The Freeh report is full of disturbing revelations about the university. The money trail may be the most disturbing revelation regarding Paterno. Perhaps in 1998 or 2001, Paterno thought he had raised proper alarms about Jerry Sandusky. This is extremely hard to believe, but suppose it should be considered the benefit of doubt. Then in January 2011, Paterno learned of the grand jury investigation -- meaning he could no longer tell himself the problem had been taken care of. In January 2011, Paterno knew with certainty the program he was running, for which he had final authority, was a sewer of ignominy. Did Paterno come clean, admit error, ask forgiveness? What Paterno, a rich man, did was go behind the scenes at Penn State to demand bonus payments and special favors, before the scandal became public.
That Paterno responded to the Penn State horror by asking for extra money and gifts for himself means he died in a state of disgrace. This is not a judgment on his soul: To use the language of my faith, we have all sinned and fallen short. With the perspective of time, it may be accepted that Paterno had a mix of admirable qualities and hubris. Perhaps he can be remembered with fondness for his emphasis on graduating players. But the mythology of Paterno as an honorable man lies exposed as a calculated, self-serving lie. The statue should be melted down. Statues are for heroes, and Paterno was no hero.
And what to make of the Paterno family? The Paternos do not appear to know the meaning of the word "shameless." Children were raped, and the Paternos seem a thousand times more concerned that people have stopped bowing low to them!
The Paterno family denounced the Freeh report, preposterously calling for an investigation of the motives of Louis Freeh, a former federal judge. The Paterno family denounced the NCAA decision, because the NCAA dared not to bow low to Paternos!
The Paterno family's objection to the NCAA sanctions is deeply strange. The Paternos say the sanctions "defame the legacy and contributions of a great coach and educator without any input from our family." That Paterno's heirs expected to be consulted by the NCAA on a decision that had nothing to do with them shows a repulsive level of vanity. Not only is the Paterno family's defamation assertion unsophisticated -- since legally, the dead cannot be defamed. More important, to defame means to harm reputation "by uttering or publishing maliciously or falsely" information the speaker, in this case the NCAA, knows to be untrue. Truth cannot be defamation.
If the Paternos want to defend the honor of a departed father, they'd do a better job by exhibiting a little dignity, rather than endlessly lashing out. Or is it simply that Paterno's estate inherited the marketing value of his image, and all his heirs care about is their ability to cash in?
Hopefully, They Will Come to Their Senses: AP Stylebook, an affiliate of The Associated Press, announced, at the annual meeting of the American Copy Editors Society, that formal writing may now misuse the word "hopefully." All but begging readers to wince, AP Stylebook said, "Hopefully, you will appreciate this update."
Common constructions such as "hopefully, I will be at the picnic" do not mean "I hope to be at the picnic." They mean, "I will be at the picnic in a hopeful manner." Grammar shortcuts are inevitable in extemporaneous speech; edited formal prose should be another matter. Yet rather than stand by disciplined use of words, The Associated Press now endorses sloppiness.
People in old-media organizations -- newspapers, publishing, the American Copy Editors Society -- complain nonstop that contemporary trends are making the printed word less important. Your columnist thinks it is the old-media organizations that are making themselves less important. If people with the title "copy editor" don't care whether words are misused, why should anyone care about copy editors?
But Global Warming Is a Left-Wing Scare Story: An airliner got stuck at Reagan National Airport when its wheel sank into melted tarmac during a heat wave.
Clang! Clang! Clang! In January, the Washington Wizards missed 58 shots -- more than a miss a minute -- in losing 78-64 to the Chicago Bulls. Just to prove it was no fluke, in April the Wizards missed 57 shots in losing 103-65 to the Knicks. During the latter contest, John Wall and Jan Vesely, recent high No. 1 draft choices, combined to shoot 2-for-16.
Is Apple the New Exxon/Mobil? High-profile literary frauds have become annual events, as TMQ noted in 2010 and in in 2008, work presented as a "shocking true story" has a better chance of success than work presented as fiction. Too many writers, editors and artists think the way to get attention is simply lie.
This offseason's literary fraud was the monologist Mike Daisey traveling around the country presenting a show in which he claimed, in hushed tones, to have uncovered shocking true stories of Apple mistreating workers in China. The claims were made up. Daisey told his lies with such conviction that NPR granted him a full hour of airtime; NPR later retracted the show.
Art may express truths that transcend facts, but this can happen only if the artist is honest with the audience. Daisey is unrepentant. He seems pleased that unethical behavior made him a celebrity, in the same way James Frey, author of the fabricated "nonfiction" book "A Million Little Pieces," seemed delighted that lies brought him wealth.
Not only did Daisey deceive, he made worker abuse in China seem a fake concern, thus harming the cause he claimed to care about, while diverting attention from sins by Apple. Timothy Cook, CEO of Apple, received $378 million in compensation for 2011. This is appalling avarice: Cook could have paid himself half as much and still been the highest-paid CEO in the United States! Cook pulled down $126,000 per hour, more per hour than the typical American family makes in a year. Recently The Wall Street Journal reported that Hon Hai Precision Industry, manufacturer of the iPad, pays workers about $345 per month. So if Cook had merely taken half as much, the money saved could have been used to double the wages of 46,000 Chinese workers. So which is more important, a better life for 46,000 people or greed for Apple's CEO?
Workers in China are not the sole issue. Apple's U.S. retail workers are much more productive than Costco or Best Buy workers, yet earn significantly less. Cook might say his extremely high pay is based on his being productive. But Apple's U.S. employees are productive, and are shafted on pay.
Apple products are cool and offer value. But when the social equation is taken into account, Apple becomes disturbing. How did this happen to what was once a progressive firm?
"Say It Ain't So, Xiaoli": A match-fixing scandal hit Olympic badminton. If badminton players are such jokers they don't even try -- why is there Olympic badminton?
Your Honor, the State Will Show the Director Was Armed With a Loaded Script: A jury heard a two-week trial over the "killing off" of a character on a television show.
Smith Was Not Privy to the Fact That Dr. Bunsen Honeydew Runs Goldman Sachs Research: Goldman Sachs was embarrassed when executive director Greg Smith accused the company of systematically "ripping off" clients. Smith alleged that the sole topic of discussion at Goldman Sachs was how the firm can trick its clients into deals that channel client funds into the pockets of Goldman executives. Smith also disclosed that Goldman officials refer to their firm's investors as "the Muppets."
In the spin war that followed, Goldman Sachs depicted Smith as a midlevel officer not privy to the firm's larger plan, saying the company has almost 12,000 people with the title "executive director." That itself sounds like deceptive behavior -- make the Muppets think they are dealing with senior people! If the U.S. government had the same ratio of vice presidents to employees as Goldman Sachs has executive directors to employees, Joe Biden would be one of 840,000 vice presidents.
Smith's statements brought to mind a 2010 civil action by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which essentially accused Goldman Sachs of tricking clients into buying securities Goldman expected would fail; fine print meant Goldman would profit if the deals tanked. What did the accused assert in reply? Goldman's defense boiled down to that it is acceptable to hoodwink your own clients so long as they are warned they might be hoodwinked. Talk about Disclaimer of the Week!
SEC rules stipulate that only "sophisticated" (sometimes "accredited") investors should deal with firms such as Goldman. A sophisticated investor is one who can lose $1 million and not be materially harmed. The theory is that any person or entity in a position to lose $1 million must be pretty savvy or wouldn't have that kind of bucks to begin with. It is assumed the sophisticated investor would never do anything so phenomenally stupid as putting retirement savings into a super-risky hedge fund -- which is what some Bernard Madoff clients did.
Sophisticated investors are expected to understand that Wall Street managers are as ethical as sharks circling. Do business with Wall Street types for mutual gain, but don't ever trust them! William Cohan, author of the fascinating 2011 book "Money and Power," details some of the instances in which the elegantly dressed, Ivy-educated executives at Goldman Sachs pickpocketed their own clients. On the assumption that sophisticated investors know they should never trust a company like Goldman Sachs, federal regulators long have allowed hedge funds, private-equity firms and investment banks considerable leeway.
The punch line is that "sophisticated" investors may be the best marks. They want to believe the snake-oil claim of secret money-making formulas known only to the uber-elite. Madoff had his marks sign waivers attesting they were accredited investors putting up only what they could afford to lose. Madoff knew many of his investors were fools -- after all, they'd come to him! But Madoff appealed to the desire of those with money to believe that secret formulas can advance them from merely well-off to rich. Smith maintained that Goldman Sachs sometimes works the same way.
There are no secret investing formulas! Or if there were, Goldman Sachs would not share them. If there really were mysterious known-only-to-a-few money management techniques that ensure outsized returns without risk, Goldman Sachs would use these techniques to obtain vast wealth on its own, and not bother with clients. Madoff would have done the same -- if his secret investing formula was real, why did he need clients? That Madoff or Goldman seeks fees from clients is, itself, proof the boys in pinstripes don't have any super-advanced insight into financial markets.
Goldman Sachs settled the Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit for $550 million, neither admitting nor denying wrongdoing. Details are in this congressional report. The case received substantial publicity -- no "sophisticated" investor could be unaware of it. Yet if Smith is to be believed, investors have continued to bring large sums to Goldman, practically daring the firm to fleece them.
Resigning from Goldman, Greg Smith presented himself as motivated solely by altruism. Then he signed a $1.5 million deal to write a tell-all, converting the misfortune of others to his personal gain -- pretty much what he accused Goldman Sachs of.
Get the Kids Away From Brahms and Into Something Wholesome: There was a fistfight at a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert.
Don't You Feel Safer Already? Google introduced glasses that allow the wearer to see the Internet while walking or driving. The 1992 cult novel "Snow Crash" envisioned a late 21st century United States where people called "gargoyles" would wear computers. The wearable computers are large and bulky, like campers' backpacks. Writing a mere 20 years ago, author Neal Stephenson did not anticipate how small and powerful silicon chips would become. And Stephenson is a futurist!
Stephenson's book trailed the first big work of cyberpunk, "Neuromancer," a 1984 cult novel by William Gibson. In a key scene, a sinister artificial intelligence is trying to get a secret agent to do its bidding. As the agent runs through an airport, the AI demonstrates its power by causing every pay phone the man passes to ring. Pay phones, which Gibson thought would be around another century, have already vanished. And Gibson is a futurist!
Dueling Headlines of the Offseason: OBAMA'S BUDGET SEEKS TO TAME DEBT – Washington Post, Feb. 11. OBAMA BUDGET LESSENS FOCUS ON DEBT – New York Times, same day. CHINA INCREASES MILITARY SPENDING – New York Times, March 5. CHINA TEMPERS MILITARY INCREASES – Wall Street Journal, same day.
Of course two people can look at the same set of facts and come to opposite conclusions. What's reflected in the first dueling headlines is that the latest White House budget request contained grand promises of fiscal discipline in the future ("seeks to tame debt") coupled to more giveaways in the current year ("lessens focus on debt"). The promises for future years are vague, the borrowing in the current year quite concrete. In the second pair of dueling headlines, China's defense budget for 2012 will be higher than in 2011 ("China increases military spending") but lower than in other recent years ("China tempers military increases").
As for China's military, across the blue water the United States Navy sails 11 nuclear supercarrier strike groups -- 11 more than possessed by the rest of the world combined -- and asserts this overwhelming force threatens no nation. So why do Washington pundits say it is a provocation for Beijing to project a small fraction of such power into its nearby waters?
As for federal spending, taming the debt monster does not require drastic reductions in important programs: merely, discipline. Stanford University economist Edward Lazear calculates that limiting government budgets to inflation minus 1 percent would bring the federal deficit to heel in about a decade.
Budget discipline is standard at corporations, foundations, colleges, liberal think tanks -- any place managers worry about going out of business if they spend more than they take in. Because governments spend without accountability, and because no matter how poorly government managers perform they never lose their paychecks, mild restraint of the type Lazear proposes is anathema to Washington. To twist on a Ronald Reagan phrase, government spending is not the problem: Government spending without discipline is the problem.
EXCL OPPTY TO DENY YR EMPLOYER: The CIA ran help-wanted ads.
Next Week: TMQ's AFC preview. And the envelope is in: TMQ reveals his favorite Batman movie.
In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback for Page 2, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "Sonic Boom" and six other books. He writes a politics column for Reuters, and is a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly. His website can be found here, and you can follow TMQ on Twitter.
11hEthan Sherwood Strauss