Monday, February 24, 2014

A Williams Soccer Player in Afghanistan

It is hardly news when a Williams alum takes a corporate job. It is news but not astounding to see a Williams alum play professional soccer. It is astounding news when just about any American not in the armed services takes a job in Afghanistan.

So it is especially amazing news to see the story of Nick Pugliese, a 2012 Williams grad who took a job in Afghanistan and then took advantage of the opportunity to play professional soccer for Ferozi FC of the Kabul Premier League. The telecommunications company for which he worked demanded that he choose between them and Ferozi FC. He chose to continue playing. You can see his story recounted here.  

Friday, January 31, 2014

Facebook Spammer: I Curse You

Ok, so I am the worlds worst Facebook friend. I almost never check my Facebook page, to the point where it always takes me a while to navigate the interface, especially since it is different between my laptop, iPad, and android phone. (Yeah, I have a Mac laptop, my campus office computer is a Mac desktop, I have an iPad, and my phone is an android -- what of it?) I take forever to respond to friend requests and messages. When I do check in, it's usually to announbce that I'm travelling someplace or to announce some accomplishment, and so basically my timeline is that of a narcissist. (On Facebook? The audacity!) Basically, I may as well not have a Facebook account.

So today I go in the respond to some friend requests. And I decide to keep scrolling down to send a few requests of my own, something I just about never do (again, that narcissism -- I don't request friends, I wait to be requested). And so I find folks from high school I'm still not Facebook friends with, and then start finding professional colleagues, college and grad school friends, that guy I met through that other guy who I know through that dude I met at a scholarly seminar.

And because people tend to keep Facebook open on a tab on their computer, some folks started responding right away, including one guy I sort of knew who was a year or two behind me in high school.

Minutes later, I get a message from him. "Hi." Then a vague inquiry about how I'm doing, to which I gave a nine word biography. Then the next post arrives: "I've been trying to reach you lately cause i have a great news to share with you." (Just assume "sic" from here on out.)

Um, ok, I have not seen you in 25 years and had not thought of you until I saw your name here today and sent the friend request, but ok.

Next message: "Did you hear the NEW YEAR good news about facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg?"

Um, nope.

"The New Month Promotion, it was made to some facebook user in other to benefit from them at large $150,00.00 did you get yours from them?" (Again, all "sic" up in here.)

Yeah, dude, not interested.

"oh really"

"when the UPS Company delivered the money to my door step. I saw your name on the list with the shipping company agent, so I thought I would see if you have gotten it."

And . . . Unfriended (something I have never done before, by the way, as since I don't go on regularly I can avoid most of the dumb stuff that many of the people with whom I went to high school -- and the crazy always comes from high school connections. Always -- tend to spew out.)

I am assuming that C*** B******* has simply had his Facebook page hacked or usurped. But whatever it is, screw you, "C*** B*******."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Atlantic Drops the Ball (And Hef Misses the Point)

There may be no more prestigious byline for a writer than to get published in The Atlantic. We could quibble -- The New Yorker certainly belongs in the conversation -- but the point is, those hallowed pages represent the pinnacle. And so when something like "The Accidental Spectator's Guide to Improving Sports" slips through the cracks as it did in the latest issue of the magazine it is infuriating.

The premise is simple: Juliet Lapidos is not a sports fan. But "since reaching adulthood" she has "watched, or rather been in the room while other people have watched, countless hours of throwing, catching, and flopping." From that vantage point she has suggestions to improve the experience of watching four sports (baseball, football, basketball and soccer) and boy is the dumb strong in this one. There is the possibility that this represents an attempt at humor, which would actually be better even though it is utterly witless.

I'm not going to parse the whole thing -- if you're even remotely a sports fan you can subject yourself to it. But the first one she goes after in baseball:
America’s pastime is always around and therefore easy to take for granted. Teams play 162 games each season—and that’s before the endless playoffs, whose monotonous best-of-fives lead up to the agonizing best-of-seven World Series.

Luckily, there’s a simple solution. Major League Baseball could inflate the value of each individual game by reducing the total number played each year. Chop the regular season down by 25 or 30 percent. Give the postseason a haircut, too: best-of-three is good enough for the earlier playoffs, and best-of-five is plenty for the World Series.
Well, she's right that she knows nothing about sports. The solution to deciding a champion is not to shorten postseason series. As it is the biggest problem with the postseason is that the sample size, far from being too big, is actually far too small. One of the central arguments in Moneyball is that for everything teams do to build a championship team that can compete in the regular season the postseason is hugely dependent on luck and outlier performances. Only the division rounds are five game series (which follow one-game play-in Wild Cards that are useless in determining the best team), after which the League Championship Series and the World Series are seven games long each.

Her suggestions for basketball, football, and soccer are no better. And what is frustrating is that I know two dozen people personally who would both love to get a page to write about sports in The Atlantic and who are far more qualified to do so both as writers and as people who actually know things about sports.

(And while I'm piling on, later in the same issue in a last-page feature called "The Big Question" a baker's dozen of famous people respond to the query "What party would you most like to have attended?" Hugh Hefner seems to have missed the point of one of the classic books in the American literature canon:

A party thrown by Jay Gatsby. I was born in 1926 and grew up during the Great Depression. I read The Great Gatsby in college, and it became my favorite book. It reflected a lifestyle that I identified with very much, so when I started Playboy, I tried to project a contemporary variation of the Roaring Twenties and Gatsby's lifestyle.
 Hef, baby, you're an icon for generations of men. But The Great Gatsby isn't really a celebration of the bitchin' West Egg parties. 

Thursday, January 09, 2014

2014 African Elections

In 2014 hundreds of millions of Africans will turn out in elections across the continent. At the Foreign Policy Association Africa Blog I have a preview of the continent's electoral landscape.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

A Quick Q and A, David Brooks as Fraud Division

Q: Is David Brooks a Fatuous Gasbag Who is Both Bad at Journalism and Bad at Social Science?

A: Yes.

Look, no one, including me, actually gives a good goddamn about this blog. It represents a painless way for me to maintain easy access to my own publications that are online and a lazy way to hold on to my online bookmarks.

Still, a new year's resolution: I'm going to try a post a week in 2014. I know that since I have not written 12 posts in the last four years combined that seems implausible. But I'm going to try it as much to provide a thought record for me as to provide anything publishable. Nonetheless: Every so often? I'll say something worthwhile.

And yes, David Brooks is just horrible.

My favorite part of the article I link to above is Brooks' shoddy efforts at big timing the journalist who has quite clearly revealed that Brooks ought to have zero credibility.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The 2013 Red Sox: Champions of Baseball and Beards

If you're reading this (and God knows few of you have endured) you know that I've said about as much as a fan can say about one team. I wrote a book about the 2004 Red Sox. A very, very poorly selling book. The worst selling book.

But the 2013 Red Sox really are fascinating. They were great, to be sure. But they were great in a  compelling, unexpected, way.

 They kind of had to earn our affection. The beards helped, but an overwhelmingly bearded team that ends up third in the AL East is just a bunch of hairy, ugly bastards.

But they started to win. And you know, the idea of chicken and beer in the clubhouse -- the horror! -- seems a lot less horrible when you're winning.

"Boston Strong" is a narrative hook that means something from the inside and probably grates from the outside, but I don't want to buy into some  simplistic causal relationship between the Red Sox title and the Marathon bombing. No team deserves a championship because of proximity to tragedy. A team deserves a title if it wins.The marathon tragedy, after all, did not help the Bruins win the Stanley Cup nor did it turn the Celtics into a playoff force.

Parades through Boston have become commonplace in a decade-and-change that has turned our fans ever more insufferable even if it has been glorious to be a part of. As a New England expatriate I get to avoid some of the worst of the obnoxiousness but also have missed out on the day-to-day enjoyment of being there, of enjoying the social elements of fandom, the rituals and totems and communal spirit.

There are children born in the 1990s who have no idea what a barren decade that was, and how for more than a generation only the Celtics carried the torch of Boston postseason success. But since then the Celtics won another title, the Bruins broke a  long Stanley Cup drought, the Patriots won three Super Bowls, and the Red Sox -- the RED SOX!!! -- have won three World Series titles.

It won't always be this good, kids. Enjoy it. But realize that this is not the way things have always been, and it is not the way things always will be.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

More (and Less) Hope in Zimbabwe

This past weekend South Africa's Sunday Independent published a lengthy (by op-ed standards) piece of mine on the Zim elections, which are taking place today. It continues one of my prevailing themes in the last few weeks, and indeed represents an attempt to synthesize my last month's writing on Zim. They titled the piece "Only thing left for Zim voters is hope," which, sadly, seems about right, though I am crossing my fingers that I'll be proven wrong as the votes are counted in the next few days.