Getting it right but missing the whole picture: the coverage of NBA Los Angeles Clippers owner Don Sterling’s racist remarks

Yes, we can say with near-certainty that Los Angeles Clippers basketball team owner Don Sterling is a racist. You don’t even have to believe that the audio tape published by TMZ is in fact Sterling talking (but it sure does sound like him); there have been other lawsuits alleging discrimination, such as the 2009 wrongful termination lawsuit by the Clippers’ general manager, African-American Elgin Baylor, who claimed that Sterling said he wanted the team to be composed of “poor black boys from the South and a white head coach” (the suit was later dropped), and, that same year, the settlement of a Justice Department lawsuit alleging discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (this article provides a good picture of the Slumlord Billionaire), which was the largest housing discrimination settlement ever obtained by the Justice Department. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But this latest example has had the effect of focusing attention on Sterling’s entire racist oeuvre, along with the question of the scope of legal and moral responsibility to the public that a sports team and a league might have.

Predictably, politics has entered it, with some Republican pundits trying to confuse and defuse the Cliven Bundy issues by tying the two racists together to cancel them out, shouting that Democrats are keeping quiet about Sterling’s racism because he’s a Democrat! Democrat pundits shout: no, wait, Sterling’s a Republican! Others chime in: no, wait, he contributes to both parties!

This issue has nothing to do with partisan politics or Continue reading

The Miracle O’ Nice: Seattle Seahawks win Super Bowl XLVIII 43-8

In an earlier post on the importance of organizational fit to being successful, I wrote about Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll:

Pete Carroll, the head coach and executive vice-president of the Seattle Seahawks, has for the past several years been implementing his dream of fundamentally changing the team environment by changing the way players are coached. He’s adopting a people-positive approach: “I wanted to find out if we went to the NFL and really took care of guys, really cared about each and every individual, what would happen?” His strategy includes an interesting mix of sports psychology, brain performance testing, meditation and visualization, yoga, and an overall focus on the mental as well as physical well-being of the players. It’s an unorthodox, Moneyball-style fresh-thinking approach that I’m betting will have a big payoff.

Many had doubted that Carroll’s approach would pay off. Some thought it was coddling the players – that successful teams were fueled by fear, anger, and aggression.

But here we are, at the end of Super Bowl XLVIII, and it’s pretty damn near a blowout: the Seahawks beat the famed Denver Broncos, 43-8.

During the Winter Olympics in 1980, coach Herb Brooks led a team of amateur and collegiate hockey players to an upset victory over the Soviet team that came to be known as the Miracle On Ice. Brooks did rely heavily on aggressive challenges and confrontation to toughen the team, but also worked to unite them into a cohesive yet flexible team “that could grab whatever opportunities came its way”. Carroll’s positive approach to getting the best out of people and uniting them under his vision has achieved a similar miracle.

Let’s call it the Miracle O’ Nice.

Fork you, America: political chess move attacking Obamacare & budget creates win-win for Republicans, big business

In chess, a fork is a tactic whereby a single piece makes two or more direct attacks simultaneously. It’s typically difficult or impossible to defend both attacked pieces.

A core group of conservative Republicans created the political equivalent of a fork: defund or delay Obamacare or we’ll shut down the government. Democrats, and much of the pundit class, have been shaking their heads, wringing their hands, verily clutching their pearls in aghast shock. They have applied all sorts of mannered logical arguments against the tactic, which can be summarized as:

  • Implementation of Obamacare will not be affected by a government shutdown
  • Obama will not give up his “signature achievement”
  • Shutting down the government actually costs money, and thus is wasteful
  • This could hurt the recovery

They tried to reason with those Republicans in much the same way that a parent might use their sing-song “adult” voice when trying to reason with a child in full throttle temper tantrum. And they were about as effective as that parent, which is to say not very.

The Democrats and the pundits are all missing the point, though. The Republicans DON’T CARE what happens, because to them either outcome is a win.

“We have a number of Republican senators and lots of Republican House members who don’t believe in government,” [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid said on the Senate floor. “They want to get rid of it, and they’re doing everything they can to get rid of it.”

It’s obvious that delaying or defunding Obamacare would be a win for those Republicans. (It would also set a dangerous precedent: the child would realize that all they have to do is throw a hard enough tantrum, and they will get their way.) What is not immediately obvious – but should be once you Continue reading

SCOTUS decisions and the Wayback Machine: a cure for decision “link rot”?

In SCOTUS Opinions, Web Links to Nowhere http://nyti.ms/1fbtHYU  via @NYTimes

The Supreme Court is increasingly citing in its opinions and decisions hyperlinks to information obtained on the internet. But link rot has become a problem for lawyers and legal scholars accessing them: currently almost half of the hyperlinks in SCOTUS decisions no longer work. Citations and footnotes provide essential background and precedent, and allow lawyers and scholars to drill deeper to understand and assess the court’s evidence and reasoning. In addition to missing cited webpages, there’s also the problem of not having access to the precise content used for the decision, since the web source may have been updated after an opinion has been published. Even its in-house website is inconsistent: many of the links to SCOTUS’s own website no longer work.

We’ve all at some point felt the frustration of getting a 404 message. Ultimately, it would be nice if there were some way that broken or changed links left forwarding information, similar to a forwarding address or new phone number message. But bad links are often a result of content management errors at the website level, and thus – except for its own website – aren’t within the Supreme Court’s control.

If the actual content can’t be mirrored on the Supreme Court’s own website (“retrieved on mm/dd/yyyy”), I’d suggest linking to the page as it is captured on the Internet Archive. That might even be more useful for scholars than content stored on the Supreme Court’s website, because they could see if and how the information had changed before and after the date of retrieval.

It’s not enough to do what you love: Russell Wilson, Keith Olbermann, and the importance of organizational fit

Last night in his interview of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on ESPN’s new sports show ‘Olbermann’, Keith Olbermann noted admiringly that Wilson went in last year as a rookie and, before playing a single game, provided a list of goals to his coaches, including a goal of winning multiple Super Bowls. “Where,” Olbermann asked, “does the confidence come from to do that, before you’ve played a game in the NFL, and did you give them a new list this year?” Wilson’s response:

“Well, I think, for me, I’m a self-motivator. At the end of the day, you have to be a self-motivator if you want to do something great and, I’ve got a long ways to go. You just take one day at a time, you take those steps, and just continue to climb and continue to grow. And so, I think, you know, I definitely want to win multiple Super Bowls, but to do that you have to win the first one first and…to do that too you have to win the first game, the second game, and keep going on from there, and when you get those opportunities, when you have those game-altering plays – I call them GAP plays – when you have those GAP plays, you’ve gotta capitalize on them and when you have those game-altering situations throughout the season, you have to, you know, do the best that you can to be successful and that gives you a chance, and that’s where I’ve started, that’s where our football team starts.” (The full interview can be heard here starting at 31:30.)

Break your goals down into shorter goals, and break those down into action steps. Develop discipline. Motivate yourself. Plan your work, work your plan. Capitalize on opportunities. It’s all true. Hearing the words, you know he’s right. He’s an inspiration. You want to believe. **I** want to believe. But many of us – Olbermann included – have the career scars to demonstrate that talent and discipline are not always enough to carry the day. As it turns out, there’s more to Wilson’s story.

It goes without saying that talent – or at least decent competence – is the first requirement for any amount of success at what you do. (Note that I said success. Let’s set aside for now any snarky discussions of people who get jobs solely based on connections or favors; by definition, they’re not performing well.) And discipline and motivation are the oil and gas that get the engine running. But there is a third critical factor: the work environment. If there is a mismatch Continue reading

Texas: where the government hamstrings itself with laws that prevent laws.

The article headline: “Texas lawmakers following up on the deadly April explosion in West hesitated Monday to support new regulations for storing, moving and insuring ammonium nitrate in the state.”

Judging from this example, the laws in Texas – such as they are – seem to be more in the business interest rather than in the interest of voters. I was amazed to learn that, although the state has a fire marshal, it has no fire code. Now, I suppose I could say “Although the state has no fire code, it has a fire marshal” if I wanted to try to make some sarcastic point about overbloated gummint bureaucracies, but this isn’t about that. The serious issue is about ensuring some level of public safety, which one would think would be an inherently governmental function.

By statute, only Texas counties with populations more than 250,000, or ones that share a border with such a county, can adopt their own fire code. (Apparently, the rule of law defaults to the state code otherwise – and there is none). But, they don’t have to, and McLennan county, which is where the West facility is located, could have but has not. The other counties – that would be over 70% of the counties in Texas – are thus effectively prevented by law from enacting their own fire code.

The legislative committee looking into the matter cannot propose any bills that might address this issue because the legislature is not currently in regular session. The Texas legislature only meets in regular session in odd-numbered years (and only for 140 days at that). The next session won’t be until January 2015.

Texas: where the government hamstrings itself with laws that prevent laws.