Commentary Magazine


Topic: National Football League

The NFL and the Sum of our Sins

It’s open season on the National Football League this week as politicians, pundits, activists, and celebrities are venting their outrage about the misdeeds of some of its athletes. All of this anger about the behavior of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson is justified. But as this wave of indignation flows over the NFL and its embattled commissioner Roger Goodell, it’s worth pondering just how much good will come of an effort to pin responsibility for all the evils of society on a sports business that is being excoriated all over the dial for only wishing to make money rather than doing good. But as much as the sport deserves a good beating, this is a moment when cooler heads might do well to observe that the sudden willingness to see football as synonymous with domestic violence makes no more sense than the league’s pretense to stand for all that’s good in American culture.

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It’s open season on the National Football League this week as politicians, pundits, activists, and celebrities are venting their outrage about the misdeeds of some of its athletes. All of this anger about the behavior of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson is justified. But as this wave of indignation flows over the NFL and its embattled commissioner Roger Goodell, it’s worth pondering just how much good will come of an effort to pin responsibility for all the evils of society on a sports business that is being excoriated all over the dial for only wishing to make money rather than doing good. But as much as the sport deserves a good beating, this is a moment when cooler heads might do well to observe that the sudden willingness to see football as synonymous with domestic violence makes no more sense than the league’s pretense to stand for all that’s good in American culture.

Let me confess that I find the NFL’s present discomfiture somewhat amusing. As much as I like to watch football (and have wasted countless hours every autumn of my adolescence and adult life being disappointed and infuriated by the New York Jets, a team that can always be counted on to invent new ways to humiliate itself and its faithful fans) the league’s smug, corporate conceit of itself as “America’s Game” is insufferable. The elevation of the Super Bowl to an endless and boring secular rite of winter that all of us, even those of us that despise the teams that are playing in the championship, feel compelled to watch so as to be able to comment on the commercials lest we appear out of touch with the zeitgeist, is similarly obnoxious.

The NFL surpassed baseball in terms of television ratings and general popularity (as opposed to actual attendance) largely on the basis of the fact that it is the perfect sport to watch on television (as the small minority of fans who attend games can attest, you can actually see more of the game at home than at the stadium) and the popularity of the largely illegal gambling on the point spreads on each week’s schedule of games. That has given the league and its teams an income stream that has allowed it to do pretty much anything it liked.

The conundrum about the NFL is that the more violent the game has become and the more atrocious the injuries that are inflicted on a regular basis on its players (a function in part of the fact that those who now play in the NFL are far bigger, stronger, and faster than those who strapped on leather helmets in the sport’s pre-World War Two ice age), the more the league has tried to present itself as the embodiment of community service do-gooding. The league’s ubiquitous United Way commercials were just the tip of an iceberg of public-relations baloney intended to portray a game predicated on, in George Will’s memorable quip, “violence punctuated by committee meetings,” as something more public spirited if not elevated.

The point is, you can love football without buying into the NFL’s conception of itself. But having foisted this airbrushed NFL Films image on the country, neither Goodell nor any of its teams are in any position to ask that their players be judged by the same standards as anyone else. If you ask people to treat you as gods, you can’t complain when they find out you have feet of clay and start talking about tearing down the altars where false deities are worshipped.

But even though there’s something slightly satisfying about watching NFL owners squirm, the notion that this league is uniquely responsible for domestic violence or abuse of children is a bit much.

Goodell opened himself up to this sort of treatment when he gave Rice a mere slap on the wrist with a team game suspension after he was found to have knocked his then fiancée unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator. When the surveillance tape of the events was publicized months later, the world got to see just how tough the Ravens running back could be when facing up against a defenseless woman. Goodell’s problems grew when it became clear he might not have told the truth when he claimed not to have seen the video before his initial ruling.

That was made even worse when news broke about Peterson’s indictment for child abuse in Texas after he was observed beating and injuring his son with a tree branch. Peterson was held out of this past Sunday’s game but, since he is innocent until proven guilty, will apparently be allowed to play until his case his decided. The same is true for some other football players accused or found guilty of a violent crime. Like the initial lenient treatment accorded Rice, this is all seen as further evidence of the NFL’s whitewashing of a record of violence for which it should be held accountable and justification for pontifications about how the violence of the game is somehow responsible for the private behavior of its players.

But though it’s hard to sympathize with Goodell or any of the other rich people that arrogantly preside over the sport, the rage against the league is as disproportionate as the league’s swaggering image. Like other industries, including other forms of popular entertainment, the NFL employs its share of thugs. But contrary to the pop psychology being spouted on the networks about football and domestic violence, this might be a good moment to point out that criminal louts were beating their wives, girlfriends, and children, long before Yale’s Walter Camp sketched out some of the key rules that differentiated American football from rugby and Princeton played the sport’s first college game against Rutgers.

I’m entirely sympathetic to the notion that an entertainment business should not employ or help glorify criminals. No one, and especially not someone who has become notorious for violent behavior, has a right to play professional football so if Rice, Peterson, and anyone else labeled as a bad actor never play again, so much the better. And it sends a good message to the nation that such behavior is disqualifying for inclusion in the country’s top sports TV shows. But banning them or firing Goodell won’t fix this country’s social pathologies to which football has only the most tenuous connection. Nor will any amount of soul searching by the game’s leaders or hearings at which members of Congress might grandstand on the issue (the next, almost inevitable step). Football is, after all, a game, albeit a rough one, and not, contrary to the invocations of countless coaches, a metaphor for life, the embodiment of the American way, or any other such superannuated nonsense. The NFL is not the sum of our sins any more than it is the embodiment of our virtues as a nation.

The intense focus on the NFL is just another symptom of the 24/7 news cycle which will move on to something else once there are no more developments or something else comes along. But as much as that shouldn’t mean less attention should be paid to domestic violence, no one should be under the illusion that the current anger at Goodell or any of his players is anything more elevated than any other pop culture feeding frenzies.

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Cuomo’s Shoddy Stadium Socialism

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has more than his share of troubles lately. The U.S. attorney’s investigation into his scandalous decision to shut down an ethics commission that got too close to one of his favorite firms raises the specter of possible legal peril and probably signals the end of his presidential ambitions. But Cuomo seems in no danger of losing his race for reelection this year. And, as he demonstrated last week, it is clear that there is no limit to his willingness to spend taxpayer dollars in an effort to bribe voters.

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has more than his share of troubles lately. The U.S. attorney’s investigation into his scandalous decision to shut down an ethics commission that got too close to one of his favorite firms raises the specter of possible legal peril and probably signals the end of his presidential ambitions. But Cuomo seems in no danger of losing his race for reelection this year. And, as he demonstrated last week, it is clear that there is no limit to his willingness to spend taxpayer dollars in an effort to bribe voters.

Cuomo’s pledge last week to consider building a new football stadium for Buffalo barely raised a ripple of protest across the state. The Buffalo Bills are the Empire State’s only entrant in the National Football League (New York’s Jets and Giants actually play across the river in New Jersey) and Cuomo’s lip service paid to the effort to ensure that the team stays in Western New York is bound to be popular in the Buffalo region and doesn’t seem to bother the rest of the state. But it should.

Let’s specify that the Bills are a beloved institution in Buffalo and important to the city’s civic pride. The fact that the most lucrative sports enterprise in the country—the National Football League—maintains franchises in at least a couple of small markets like Buffalo and Green Bay is a charming reminder of the sport’s origins. I fully sympathize with the team’s fans who rightly worry that the impending sale of the team will cause it to be moved some place where the new owners could make more money than they could in the Bills’ current home.

But the idea that states and municipalities benefit from building sports stadiums is a myth that ought to have been put to rest a long time ago. While popular with some sectors of the electorate—like those of us who like to attend games or watch them on television—the expenditure of massive amounts of taxpayer dollars on these edifices does little to boost local economies. They are, instead, nothing more or less than a direct transfer of wealth from ordinary taxpayers to the wealthy individuals who own the teams. In this case, such an “investment” by Cuomo would be nothing less than a gift in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars filched either from the already leaking Albany budget or money wrung from the state’s bondholders to the next owner of the Bills whether it is Jon Bon Jovi (rumored to be a favorite) or some other rich person who is lucky enough to be invited to join the exclusive NFL owners club.

The equation in Buffalo is the same as it has been in many other places where states and cities were blackmailed into bankrolling new stadiums even as their schools and other basic infrastructure are in bad shape. Though Bon Jovi and others who wish to buy the Bills are going through the ritual of promising to keep them in Buffalo, there will be nothing keeping the singer or anyone else from moving them some other place if they can make more money by doing so.

Though that would be a sad day for the citizens of Buffalo, that is what happens in a market economy and there is nothing illegal about it. But as bad as that would be, allowing Cuomo to raid the treasury in an effort to win favor among Bills fans would be far worse.

As in just about every other instance of new stadium building where the state paid the bill, the losers would be the taxpayers. They would pay a heavy burden in new taxes and fees to pay for a new stadium whose only purpose is to allow the Bills’ ownership to make more money on suites, tickets, concessions and parking. Even in those areas where stadiums played a part in revitalizing a neighborhood—such as Camden Yards in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor—the math doesn’t add up. The citizens won’t get so much as a hot dog out of the transaction while Bon Jovi or whoever it is that winds up getting the Bills will be made immeasurably richer.

What Cuomo is proposing is nothing less than socialism for rich people and the fact that it has been done many times before elsewhere doesn’t make it any more defensible. It is bad enough when states and cities are asked to spend massively to provide new infrastructure to neighborhoods where team owners build stadiums, as was the case with the New York Yankees’ new home that opened in 2009. The Steinbrenner family put up their own cash to erect a new home for their team but it did so with the help of the state and city, which together paid for a new train station and other expensive structures. But in many other instances, such as the two baseball and two football stadiums build in Pennsylvania a decade ago, the owners of the Phillies, Pirates, Eagles, and Steelers got more or less a free ride from the Commonwealth.

Real economic development in New York would require Cuomo to ignore the Luddite environmentalist left wing of his party and approve fracking. Instead, the embattled liberal prefers a scheme that won’t offend his party base even if it will do little or nothing to help Western New York survive the Obama recovery.

This ought not to be allowed to happen again anywhere, but especially not in a state as hard up as the one misgoverned by Cuomo. Bribing voters with their own money is a basic form of corruption that is as old as the hills. But the expiration date on this particular sort of scam should have been reached a long time ago. While we may hope that the Bills stay in Buffalo, that shouldn’t be accomplished on the backs of New York taxpayers, most of which couldn’t care less about the NFL team.

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Congress Should Leave the NFL Alone

You may have thought the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has its hands full right now investigating the Internal Revenue Service scandal as well as a host of other pressing issues. But never underestimate the craving of politicians on both sides of the aisle to grandstand on television. Republicans and Democrats may disagree about what to think about the IRS or how closely to press the administration about questions of official misconduct. Yet they are united when it comes to their desire to divert scarce time and energy from their actual responsibilities in order to hold hearings at which they can drag officials of the National Football League and perhaps even some famous players in front of the cameras where members of Congress can lecture them about their need to set a good example for America’s youth.

That’s right. The same Congress that can’t pass a budget, deal with the debt, cope with an impending entitlements crisis or even be counted on to investigate government scandals impartially is preparing to focus like a laser beam on the question of whether professional football players are being tested for every possible performance enhancing drug. As Politico reports, Oversight Committee chair Republican Darrell Issa and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings—last seen sparring over how to frame the issue of the IRS scandal—are working together to use the threat of a hearing on Human Growth Hormone testing to force the NFL to alter its policies. Whatever one may think of the use of HGH, the league’s testing policies or even of football, this bipartisan decision to involve Congress in what is a non-government business negotiation between the NFL and the NFL player’s union is an unconscionable interference in private commerce. For Issa and Cummings to waste a moment of the federal government’s time on this issue is yet another example of how a naked lust for publicity drives congressional action more than principle, let alone the urgent needs of citizens.

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You may have thought the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has its hands full right now investigating the Internal Revenue Service scandal as well as a host of other pressing issues. But never underestimate the craving of politicians on both sides of the aisle to grandstand on television. Republicans and Democrats may disagree about what to think about the IRS or how closely to press the administration about questions of official misconduct. Yet they are united when it comes to their desire to divert scarce time and energy from their actual responsibilities in order to hold hearings at which they can drag officials of the National Football League and perhaps even some famous players in front of the cameras where members of Congress can lecture them about their need to set a good example for America’s youth.

That’s right. The same Congress that can’t pass a budget, deal with the debt, cope with an impending entitlements crisis or even be counted on to investigate government scandals impartially is preparing to focus like a laser beam on the question of whether professional football players are being tested for every possible performance enhancing drug. As Politico reports, Oversight Committee chair Republican Darrell Issa and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings—last seen sparring over how to frame the issue of the IRS scandal—are working together to use the threat of a hearing on Human Growth Hormone testing to force the NFL to alter its policies. Whatever one may think of the use of HGH, the league’s testing policies or even of football, this bipartisan decision to involve Congress in what is a non-government business negotiation between the NFL and the NFL player’s union is an unconscionable interference in private commerce. For Issa and Cummings to waste a moment of the federal government’s time on this issue is yet another example of how a naked lust for publicity drives congressional action more than principle, let alone the urgent needs of citizens.

Let’s concede that the use of PEDs is not a good thing and that all sports are better off when the participants aren’t cheating or potentially endangering their health to gain an edge on their opponents.

But the question that neither Issa nor Cummings can honestly answer is how any of this is remotely the business of Congress. Like its previous excursion into the issue of the use of steroids by baseball players, any congressional pressure or hearings are strictly a matter of House members seeking some extra moments in the limelight. While they will spout off about fair play and their wish to prevent kids from emulating the dirty practices of their heroes, what will really be going on is an effort to cash in on the celebrity of players and league officials while posing as the guardians of what is now the country’s most popular—at least in terms of television ratings—sport, even though none of this is any of the government’s business.

Defenders of the committee will say that without their grandstanding on baseball, the sport might not have instituted tough new rules to prevent steroid use. That may be so. But just because something is desirable or the public is interested in it doesn’t make it a congressional responsibility. Lots of private matters might be cleaned up if they were subjected to the bright lights of congressional scrutiny. But the only reason Congress involved itself in baseball or seeks to do so in football has to do with camera time for the members, not an intrinsic government interest.

As for the other excuse for this travesty—the need to protect kids from steroids or HGH—it is a thin reed to support such an endeavor. On the list of dangers to American teenagers, the threat from steroid use on the part of young athletes is so remote that it barely registers in statistics. There are scores of other, more pressing problems for kids that might be worth the Congress’ time. But few other issues bring the alluring prospect of allowing Issa, Cummings and the rest of their publicity-hungry colleagues to talk down to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or any players the committee might be able to drag into a hearing room.

There are serious issues around the question of HGH use, especially since it is legal to use it in many instances. This particular drug highlights an issue that is largely overlooked amid all the preaching about steroids. HGH shows just how thin the line is between legal and proper medical care that can enable athletes to recover more quickly or completely from injury and substances that are considered beyond the pale.

But its doubtful that such nuanced arguments would be discussed in such a hearing since the whole point of it will be to force the league to enact more stringent testing in order to avoid being shamed by Congress on national television.

The basic purpose of government is to protect our freedom and to provide for the common defense as well as the common good. It is not to ensure that either the National Football League, Major League Baseball or any other sport conform to specific ideas of fairness or what drugs may be used and which must be banned. No matter what happens as a result of these threats to the NFL and the hearings that may ensue, the entire endeavor is an illegitimate use of congressional power.

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Why Did Barack Obama Endorse Dog-Killing QB?

The New York Times’ pro football blog informed us today that reporter Peter King told a national audience on NBC’s “Football Night in America” yesterday that President Barack Obama recently called Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to congratulate him on hiring convicted dog killer Michael Vick. Apparently Obama thinks that Lurie did the right thing by offering Vick a second chance in spite of the heinous nature of his crimes.

Given the intense controversy over Vick’s crimes, punishment, and apparent redemption of a sort this season, as he has led the Eagles to victories with a performance that has made him a legitimate contender for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, you might think Obama would have been wise to stay out of this fight. After all, a great many Americans love their pets and many will never forgive or forget Vick’s abominable and heartless behavior as a promoter of dog fighting.

But there is, apparently, another angle to this story that may explain Obama’s willingness to step into a nasty controversy that you might think would do him little good. As the Times’ notes, some writers have been asserting that Vick has been treated unfairly both on the field and off it since they think he is a victim of prejudice against African-Americans who have served time in prison. It’s hard to fathom how an understandable revulsion against a person who personally tortured and killed dogs can be twisted into being a form of racism. But in a liberal media culture where even the most villainous behavior can be rationalized by turning it into an issue of race, I suppose it was inevitable that Vick, rather than the dogs he murdered, would become the victim of the story. Nor should it be any surprise that someone like President Obama, whose leftist sensibilities are always on display, would embrace that dubious narrative.

Nor is it likely that Obama will suffer for endorsing Vick. While there are some animal-rights or pet-lover votes that might be affected by this bizarre presidential endorsement, they are probably outnumbered by those pro football fans who are impatient with any attempt to inject moral issues into the discussion of their favorite sport. It should also be remembered that there are probably a lot more votes in the battleground state of Pennsylvania to be won by pandering to Eagles fans than there are by catering to the feelings of animal-rights activists.

The New York Times’ pro football blog informed us today that reporter Peter King told a national audience on NBC’s “Football Night in America” yesterday that President Barack Obama recently called Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to congratulate him on hiring convicted dog killer Michael Vick. Apparently Obama thinks that Lurie did the right thing by offering Vick a second chance in spite of the heinous nature of his crimes.

Given the intense controversy over Vick’s crimes, punishment, and apparent redemption of a sort this season, as he has led the Eagles to victories with a performance that has made him a legitimate contender for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, you might think Obama would have been wise to stay out of this fight. After all, a great many Americans love their pets and many will never forgive or forget Vick’s abominable and heartless behavior as a promoter of dog fighting.

But there is, apparently, another angle to this story that may explain Obama’s willingness to step into a nasty controversy that you might think would do him little good. As the Times’ notes, some writers have been asserting that Vick has been treated unfairly both on the field and off it since they think he is a victim of prejudice against African-Americans who have served time in prison. It’s hard to fathom how an understandable revulsion against a person who personally tortured and killed dogs can be twisted into being a form of racism. But in a liberal media culture where even the most villainous behavior can be rationalized by turning it into an issue of race, I suppose it was inevitable that Vick, rather than the dogs he murdered, would become the victim of the story. Nor should it be any surprise that someone like President Obama, whose leftist sensibilities are always on display, would embrace that dubious narrative.

Nor is it likely that Obama will suffer for endorsing Vick. While there are some animal-rights or pet-lover votes that might be affected by this bizarre presidential endorsement, they are probably outnumbered by those pro football fans who are impatient with any attempt to inject moral issues into the discussion of their favorite sport. It should also be remembered that there are probably a lot more votes in the battleground state of Pennsylvania to be won by pandering to Eagles fans than there are by catering to the feelings of animal-rights activists.

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Friendly Fire

A Special Forces friend of mine once vowed that, if he were killed by “friendly fire,” he would come back from the grave and haunt any family members who dared to complain about the manner of his death. His point was that battle involves the risk of getting killed, and it doesn’t much matter whether the bullet was fired by your side or by the enemy. He didn’t want the kind of spectacle made of his death that has occurred over Pat Tillman, the former NFL player who, while serving as a Ranger in Afghanistan, was accidentally killed by fellow Rangers.

I thought of his comments as I read about the growing brouhaha over the tragic death of British aid worker Linda Norgrove in Afghanistan. There are now rumors circulating that she may have been killed by a grenade tossed by a member of the American hostage-rescue force — presumably a Navy SEAL — and not by her captors. The British prime minister says that he finds this development to be “deeply distressing.” I can understand him being distressed by the fact that this selfless aid worker was kidnapped by brutal fanatics and that she died as a result. But does it make her death any worse if it was caused inadvertently by a rescuer than deliberately by a kidnapper? As far as I am concerned, whatever the case, moral culpability rests with the heartless fanatics who grabbed her. Period. End of story.

A Special Forces friend of mine once vowed that, if he were killed by “friendly fire,” he would come back from the grave and haunt any family members who dared to complain about the manner of his death. His point was that battle involves the risk of getting killed, and it doesn’t much matter whether the bullet was fired by your side or by the enemy. He didn’t want the kind of spectacle made of his death that has occurred over Pat Tillman, the former NFL player who, while serving as a Ranger in Afghanistan, was accidentally killed by fellow Rangers.

I thought of his comments as I read about the growing brouhaha over the tragic death of British aid worker Linda Norgrove in Afghanistan. There are now rumors circulating that she may have been killed by a grenade tossed by a member of the American hostage-rescue force — presumably a Navy SEAL — and not by her captors. The British prime minister says that he finds this development to be “deeply distressing.” I can understand him being distressed by the fact that this selfless aid worker was kidnapped by brutal fanatics and that she died as a result. But does it make her death any worse if it was caused inadvertently by a rescuer than deliberately by a kidnapper? As far as I am concerned, whatever the case, moral culpability rests with the heartless fanatics who grabbed her. Period. End of story.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

So much for the idea that the Democrats’ political fortunes are improving. New polls show Republicans ahead in Senate races in Nevada, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Colorado. Carly Fiorina has again pulled close to Barbara Boxer in California.

So much for the Democrats’ core message. Greg Sargent warns, “If Dems are going to avert a major bloodbath in November, they need independents to embrace two core Dem messages that seem particularly geared towards those voters: The claim that a vote for the GOP is a vote to return to Bush policies; and the assertion that the GOP has been hijacked by whackjob Tea Party extremists. But it appears that indy voters are not yet buying either of these messages in the numbers Dems need.” Think for a moment: that’s the best “message” the Dems can come up with — false accusations against their opponents. Sometimes a party deserves what it gets.

So much for Obama’s ability to gin up the base. “A new poll finds that Latinos — a key bloc in Democrats’ electoral coalition — are less enthusiastic than voters overall about the looming midterm elections.”

So much for excising the name of our enemy. “Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square on a crowded Saturday night, was sentenced to life in federal prison today. Before she pronounced sentence, Judge Miriam Cedarbaum said, ‘Mr. Shahzad, I think you should get up.’ Shahzad said ‘Allahu Akbar’ after hearing the sentence, and said he would ‘sacrifice a thousand lives for Allah.’ ‘War with Muslims has just begun,’ said Shahzad, who then predicted that ‘the defeat of the US is imminent, god willing.'”

So much for cowering to those who holler “Islamophobia!”: “As reports about an alleged al-Qaeda plot in Europe emerge, it is beginning to look as though a mosque in Hamburg where members of the 9/11 plot against the United States gathered once again has served as a crucial al-Qaeda recruiting ground. That raises an obvious question: Have Germany’s security services learned nothing in the last decade?” Have we? The FBI has likewise been cowed into forgoing undercover operations involving mosques here in the U.S.

So much for Obama rethinking his Afghanistan-war troop deadline. “US President Barack Obama has told congressional leaders he has no plans for any major changes in his Afghanistan war strategy for now, a letter released by the White House showed on Monday.”

So much for the campaign-reform maven: “Senator Russ Feingold, a leading voice for tight regulations on campaigns and elections, has been contacted by the National Football League today for using NFL footage without permission for a new campaign ad.”

So much for Obama’s pleading. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forum of senior ministers met Tuesday but did not discuss negotiations with the Palestinians, despite expectations that the forum would discuss a proposal to extend the settlement freeze in exchange for American guarantees.”

So much for “change.” Megan McArdle on “New GM, Same Old UAW?”: “The UAW just voted to allow an old GM stamping plant in Indianapolis to be shut down, rather than offer wage concessions necessary to attract a new owner. … Labor trouble has flared up at the plant where the new Chevy Cruze is being made. The Cruze is one of the things that is supposed to save the new GM: a high quality small car. If they can’t get this right without clashing with the union, what hope for the rest of GM?”

So much for the idea that the Democrats’ political fortunes are improving. New polls show Republicans ahead in Senate races in Nevada, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Colorado. Carly Fiorina has again pulled close to Barbara Boxer in California.

So much for the Democrats’ core message. Greg Sargent warns, “If Dems are going to avert a major bloodbath in November, they need independents to embrace two core Dem messages that seem particularly geared towards those voters: The claim that a vote for the GOP is a vote to return to Bush policies; and the assertion that the GOP has been hijacked by whackjob Tea Party extremists. But it appears that indy voters are not yet buying either of these messages in the numbers Dems need.” Think for a moment: that’s the best “message” the Dems can come up with — false accusations against their opponents. Sometimes a party deserves what it gets.

So much for Obama’s ability to gin up the base. “A new poll finds that Latinos — a key bloc in Democrats’ electoral coalition — are less enthusiastic than voters overall about the looming midterm elections.”

So much for excising the name of our enemy. “Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square on a crowded Saturday night, was sentenced to life in federal prison today. Before she pronounced sentence, Judge Miriam Cedarbaum said, ‘Mr. Shahzad, I think you should get up.’ Shahzad said ‘Allahu Akbar’ after hearing the sentence, and said he would ‘sacrifice a thousand lives for Allah.’ ‘War with Muslims has just begun,’ said Shahzad, who then predicted that ‘the defeat of the US is imminent, god willing.'”

So much for cowering to those who holler “Islamophobia!”: “As reports about an alleged al-Qaeda plot in Europe emerge, it is beginning to look as though a mosque in Hamburg where members of the 9/11 plot against the United States gathered once again has served as a crucial al-Qaeda recruiting ground. That raises an obvious question: Have Germany’s security services learned nothing in the last decade?” Have we? The FBI has likewise been cowed into forgoing undercover operations involving mosques here in the U.S.

So much for Obama rethinking his Afghanistan-war troop deadline. “US President Barack Obama has told congressional leaders he has no plans for any major changes in his Afghanistan war strategy for now, a letter released by the White House showed on Monday.”

So much for the campaign-reform maven: “Senator Russ Feingold, a leading voice for tight regulations on campaigns and elections, has been contacted by the National Football League today for using NFL footage without permission for a new campaign ad.”

So much for Obama’s pleading. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forum of senior ministers met Tuesday but did not discuss negotiations with the Palestinians, despite expectations that the forum would discuss a proposal to extend the settlement freeze in exchange for American guarantees.”

So much for “change.” Megan McArdle on “New GM, Same Old UAW?”: “The UAW just voted to allow an old GM stamping plant in Indianapolis to be shut down, rather than offer wage concessions necessary to attract a new owner. … Labor trouble has flared up at the plant where the new Chevy Cruze is being made. The Cruze is one of the things that is supposed to save the new GM: a high quality small car. If they can’t get this right without clashing with the union, what hope for the rest of GM?”

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NFL Action: Goodell on Roethlisberger

According to ESPN:

Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games on Wednesday for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, the NFL announced. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback also was ordered to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation. Commissioner Roger Goodell will evaluate Roethlisberger’s progress before the season and might consider reducing the suspension to four games. However, a failure to comply with the NFL’s ruling might lead to a longer suspension.

In his letter to Roethlisberger, Goodell said:

I recognize that the allegations [of sexual assault] in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you. My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.

Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare.

I believe it is essential that you take full advantage of the resources available to you. My ultimate disposition in this matter will be influenced by the extent to which you do so, what you learn as a result, and a demonstrated commitment to making positive change in your life.

In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people. I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get your life and career back on track.

Good for Roger Goodell — and good for the Steeler organization and the city of Pittsburgh, which is not standing behind Roethlisberger. The disappointment and anger directed at Roethlisberger, who has found himself in trouble before, is hard to overstate. In fact, ESPN reports that the Steelers are entertaining trade offers from other clubs (such a trade would surprise me).

Goodell has made it clear in the past, and with this latest action, that he takes the phrase “integrity of the game” seriously. He understands that athletes, whether they want to or not, are role models, and they should be held to some minimal standards of conduct. And he knows that as commissioner, he has a “brand” — the best in sports — to protect.

I have no idea whether Roethlisberger is going to finally get his life under control, but what Goodell has done will increase the possibility that he will.

What Goodell did was impressive. Ben Roethlisberger is down to his last chance. He can’t say he hasn’t been warned.

According to ESPN:

Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games on Wednesday for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, the NFL announced. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback also was ordered to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation. Commissioner Roger Goodell will evaluate Roethlisberger’s progress before the season and might consider reducing the suspension to four games. However, a failure to comply with the NFL’s ruling might lead to a longer suspension.

In his letter to Roethlisberger, Goodell said:

I recognize that the allegations [of sexual assault] in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you. My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.

Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare.

I believe it is essential that you take full advantage of the resources available to you. My ultimate disposition in this matter will be influenced by the extent to which you do so, what you learn as a result, and a demonstrated commitment to making positive change in your life.

In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people. I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get your life and career back on track.

Good for Roger Goodell — and good for the Steeler organization and the city of Pittsburgh, which is not standing behind Roethlisberger. The disappointment and anger directed at Roethlisberger, who has found himself in trouble before, is hard to overstate. In fact, ESPN reports that the Steelers are entertaining trade offers from other clubs (such a trade would surprise me).

Goodell has made it clear in the past, and with this latest action, that he takes the phrase “integrity of the game” seriously. He understands that athletes, whether they want to or not, are role models, and they should be held to some minimal standards of conduct. And he knows that as commissioner, he has a “brand” — the best in sports — to protect.

I have no idea whether Roethlisberger is going to finally get his life under control, but what Goodell has done will increase the possibility that he will.

What Goodell did was impressive. Ben Roethlisberger is down to his last chance. He can’t say he hasn’t been warned.

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Re: Big Bang Machine Felled by Frenchman from the Future

Anthony, we cannot rule out your theory that some Frenchman from the Future may have been behind the halt to the quixotic quest to find the “God particle” — even if you got the information from CNN. The scientist in the video you cited says $10 billion has been spent so far to find that particle, before the Large Hadron Collider up and (to use your quasi-scientific terminology) “went phfffff.”

My own theory is there may be an invisible soccer ball and an invisible ref, who may have called “time” on this particular game (although not the entire season).

The invisible soccer ball (although not necessarily the invisible ref) is the metaphor used by Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi in their 1993 book The God Particle, which sought to explain particle physics’ search for the ultimate explanation. They asked readers to imagine superintelligent visitors from another planet, able to see everything except black and white — and for whom zebras, NFL refs, and soccer balls are all invisible. They watch a soccer game and cannot understand it. People run back and forth and in circles, kicking the air every so often and falling down, and once in a while the person at one end or another of the field dives, the crowd cheers, and a point goes up on the board.

Totally inexplicable, completely meaningless — until one of them comes up with a theory: assume a ball. By positing a ball, all of a sudden everything works, the game makes sense, and it can be appreciated by the human mind — although another lesson may be that we should be respectful of what we don’t know, and may never know, even as we continue to seek it.

That ball is the equal possession of both religion and science: both posit a set of laws that govern the universe, even though the critical part of the game is invisible and not totally explicable. Both share a faith (since there is no actual proof) that the sun will come up tomorrow.

The book ends with a scene from an imagined movie. A scientist is standing on the beach at night, shouting at the universe that is the product of his mind: “It is I who provide you with reason, with purpose, with beauty. Of what use are you but for my consciousness and my constructions, which have revealed you?”  At that point:

A fuzzy swirling light appears in the sky, and a beam of radiance illuminates our man-on-the-beach. To the solemn and climactic chords of the Bach B Minor Mass, or perhaps the piccolo solo of Stravinsky’s “Rites,” the light in the sky slowly configures itself into Her Face, smiling, but with an expression of infinite sweet sadness.

It is unfortunate that so many years, and so much money, have been spent chasing a particle that has now apparently hidden itself (if CNN and a scientist we can barely understand are correct). But perhaps we should have mixed, even contradictory, emotions about this.  The proper response to this news may be a feeling of infinite sweet sadness.

Anthony, we cannot rule out your theory that some Frenchman from the Future may have been behind the halt to the quixotic quest to find the “God particle” — even if you got the information from CNN. The scientist in the video you cited says $10 billion has been spent so far to find that particle, before the Large Hadron Collider up and (to use your quasi-scientific terminology) “went phfffff.”

My own theory is there may be an invisible soccer ball and an invisible ref, who may have called “time” on this particular game (although not the entire season).

The invisible soccer ball (although not necessarily the invisible ref) is the metaphor used by Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi in their 1993 book The God Particle, which sought to explain particle physics’ search for the ultimate explanation. They asked readers to imagine superintelligent visitors from another planet, able to see everything except black and white — and for whom zebras, NFL refs, and soccer balls are all invisible. They watch a soccer game and cannot understand it. People run back and forth and in circles, kicking the air every so often and falling down, and once in a while the person at one end or another of the field dives, the crowd cheers, and a point goes up on the board.

Totally inexplicable, completely meaningless — until one of them comes up with a theory: assume a ball. By positing a ball, all of a sudden everything works, the game makes sense, and it can be appreciated by the human mind — although another lesson may be that we should be respectful of what we don’t know, and may never know, even as we continue to seek it.

That ball is the equal possession of both religion and science: both posit a set of laws that govern the universe, even though the critical part of the game is invisible and not totally explicable. Both share a faith (since there is no actual proof) that the sun will come up tomorrow.

The book ends with a scene from an imagined movie. A scientist is standing on the beach at night, shouting at the universe that is the product of his mind: “It is I who provide you with reason, with purpose, with beauty. Of what use are you but for my consciousness and my constructions, which have revealed you?”  At that point:

A fuzzy swirling light appears in the sky, and a beam of radiance illuminates our man-on-the-beach. To the solemn and climactic chords of the Bach B Minor Mass, or perhaps the piccolo solo of Stravinsky’s “Rites,” the light in the sky slowly configures itself into Her Face, smiling, but with an expression of infinite sweet sadness.

It is unfortunate that so many years, and so much money, have been spent chasing a particle that has now apparently hidden itself (if CNN and a scientist we can barely understand are correct). But perhaps we should have mixed, even contradictory, emotions about this.  The proper response to this news may be a feeling of infinite sweet sadness.

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Shuler Misses

Congressman Heath Shuler of North Carolina, a former NFL quarterback, has just backed Hillary Clinton.  This means that Shuler is about as good at picking his endorsements as he was at finding his receivers.

Congressman Heath Shuler of North Carolina, a former NFL quarterback, has just backed Hillary Clinton.  This means that Shuler is about as good at picking his endorsements as he was at finding his receivers.

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Je Ne Regrette Rien

The New York Times has a bittersweet piece today about a smoking ban in France which has been expanded to include cafés: “Even France, Haven of Smokers, Is Clearing the Air.” The ban, “following the spread of Starbucks and the election of pro-American, fitness-friendly President Nicolas Sarkozy,” has occasioned a small identity-crisis for café-wallflowers and everyday French (there are 12 million French smokers). To many, the coffee-and-cigarette combo is an important communal ritual, the way NFL Sunday and religion are for Americans. The Times piece is accompanied by a terrific, five-minute video showing café-owners and patrons decrying the nanny-state—“we want to live, we want to have fun . . . they’re taking that pleasure away from us,”—while engaging in another French pastime: nostalgic self-regard. Like I said, it’s bittersweet.

The New York Times has a bittersweet piece today about a smoking ban in France which has been expanded to include cafés: “Even France, Haven of Smokers, Is Clearing the Air.” The ban, “following the spread of Starbucks and the election of pro-American, fitness-friendly President Nicolas Sarkozy,” has occasioned a small identity-crisis for café-wallflowers and everyday French (there are 12 million French smokers). To many, the coffee-and-cigarette combo is an important communal ritual, the way NFL Sunday and religion are for Americans. The Times piece is accompanied by a terrific, five-minute video showing café-owners and patrons decrying the nanny-state—“we want to live, we want to have fun . . . they’re taking that pleasure away from us,”—while engaging in another French pastime: nostalgic self-regard. Like I said, it’s bittersweet.

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Frank Rich’s Minstrels

In his most recent New York Times column excoriating Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Frank Rich wrote:

The “compassionate conservative” [President Bush] who turned the 2000 GOP convention into a minstrel show to prove his love of diversity will exit the political stage as the man who tilted American jurisprudence against Brown v. Board of Education. He leaves no black Republican behind him in either the House or Senate.

That there are so few black Republicans is hardly for President Bush’s—or the Republican Party’s—lack of trying. In 2006, the GOP ran several black candidates for major office. Former NFL star Lynn Swann ran unsuccessfully for governor of Pennsylvania, and is now running for Congress. Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio Secretary of State, also ran for governor but lost (perhaps this is the reason why Rich only makes mention of the House and Senate, and not state-level offices). And in Maryland, former lieutenant governor Michael Steele ran for Senate and lost. At a 2002 gubernatorial debate, audience members allegedly rolled Oreo cookies on the floor to signify their disgust with a black man who would dare join the Republican Party. Granted, two of these three men ran for state, and not federal offices, but Rich’s point is to impute racism and “tokenism” onto Bush and the GOP.

To those who truly believe in the principles of the Civil Rights movement, the skin color of candidates should not matter. But this is something that obviously matters very much to Frank Rich—except, (or, perhaps, especially), when those black candidates are Republicans, and thus need to be defeated.

In his most recent New York Times column excoriating Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Frank Rich wrote:

The “compassionate conservative” [President Bush] who turned the 2000 GOP convention into a minstrel show to prove his love of diversity will exit the political stage as the man who tilted American jurisprudence against Brown v. Board of Education. He leaves no black Republican behind him in either the House or Senate.

That there are so few black Republicans is hardly for President Bush’s—or the Republican Party’s—lack of trying. In 2006, the GOP ran several black candidates for major office. Former NFL star Lynn Swann ran unsuccessfully for governor of Pennsylvania, and is now running for Congress. Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio Secretary of State, also ran for governor but lost (perhaps this is the reason why Rich only makes mention of the House and Senate, and not state-level offices). And in Maryland, former lieutenant governor Michael Steele ran for Senate and lost. At a 2002 gubernatorial debate, audience members allegedly rolled Oreo cookies on the floor to signify their disgust with a black man who would dare join the Republican Party. Granted, two of these three men ran for state, and not federal offices, but Rich’s point is to impute racism and “tokenism” onto Bush and the GOP.

To those who truly believe in the principles of the Civil Rights movement, the skin color of candidates should not matter. But this is something that obviously matters very much to Frank Rich—except, (or, perhaps, especially), when those black candidates are Republicans, and thus need to be defeated.

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