A Collection of Links to My Best Work (updating…)

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Hello and welcome to my personal blog.

I rarely use this to publish my thoughts any more, but I’ve hung onto it just in case there’s ever something I feel the need to say for which there is no other outlet, and also in case someone ever names a movie Uppercutting and there’s a chance for me to cash out by selling it.  A guy needs a retirement plan, right?

In the meantime, here are links to some of my favorite things I’ve written about elsewhere.  I hope you enjoy.

Floyd Mayweather:

Boxing, Generally:

Sports Media:

Sexual Violence in Sports:

Random Stuff

The Triumph of Ability: Ward-Kovalev Previewed

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On paper, tonight’s clash between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev is the sort of fight boxing desperately craves.  It pits two undefeated champions in their primes against one another.  It offers an intriguing clash of styles, the puncher versus the technician supreme.  It is, according to no less than The New Yorker, the Fight of the Year in boxing.  And yet there’s a pretty decent chance you may not have even noticed it was taking place tonight.

For that, there is plenty of blame to go around, much of which lies with the narrow favorite, Ward.  Ward, you see, is not terribly interesting in fighting.  Now 32, the downhill side of a career for most boxers, he has deigned to step in the ring only thrice in the past three years, all of which came against hopelessly outmatched foes.  Even worse, he’s not that interested in fighting even when he’s in the ring.  He doesn’t care a whit about knockouts, eye-catching exchanges, or anything else that casual fans might enjoy. His fights almost invariably lack drama and excitement. What Ward possesses in excess, however, is ring competence.  If one word summarizes Ward’s success, it is ability.

By contrast, Sergey Kovalev, a man quite justifiably nicknamed Krusher, is brutality personified.  He stalks his prey patiently, with the dedication and detachment of a professional hitman.  His heavy handed punches rarely produce one punch knockouts but instead, as his name suggests, crush bones, organs and flesh until his overmatched foe’s body crumbles from under him.  Sergey Kovalev is a wrecking ball.  If one word summarizes Kovalev’s succcess, it is talent.

Ability is a very different thing than talent.  I was reflecting on this recently as we watched perhaps the starkest contrast between these frequently-conflated qualities during our recent presidential campaign.  The political ability of Hillary Clinton – the most prepared and qualified candidate ever to seek the White House in the estimation of many – was never in question.  What was in short supply, however, was her political talent, a point only underscored by comparisons to her husband, among the most charismatic and talented politicians in history.  As Hillary herself recognized, her popularity plummeted each time she ran for office.  It was only when she assumed office, and her ability took over, that her popularity would gradually creep above the political Mendoza Line.  Her opponent, Donald Trump – now, somehow our President-Elect –  by contrast, is almost totally devoid of ability.  This is, after all, a man who somehow managed to bankrupt a casino, an outcome which even 7th grade math says should be impossible.  A man who invested in real estate in Manhattan 40 years ago, before the biggest run up in prices in its history, and somehow has been outperformed by the equivalent of a monkey throwing darts at the stock pages. And yet, for all his failures (and they are legion), Trump, nevertheless, inescapably possesses talent.  How else to explain his nine lives: the seemingly bottomless appetite the public has for his books, reality shows, and other spectacles, and the countless times he has bounced back from crippling disasters that would have destroyed mere mortals?

It was interesting then, that one of Trump’s first high profile meetings as President was with boxer Floyd Mayweather, the rarest of fighters who possessed both boxing talent and boxing ability in excess.  Mayweather’s physical gifts were never in dispute: he was blindingly fast, his reflexes may have been the best in the history of the sport, and his physical condition and proportions – with shockingly long arms for a man of his stature – were remarkable.  None of these qualities, however, would have made Mayweather into the all-time great he indisputably is, absent his remarkable ability to control his opponent in the ring.  His mind, more than his hands, arms, or legs, made Mayweather the dominant fighter of his era.  He established his position at precisely the right point to exploit the reach advantage he carried into almost every fight, his employed his quick trigger reflexes to dodge any punches his foolhardy foes would launch from their disadvantaged location, and finally used his blinding speed to counter punch and reset his position before his opponent even knew what had happened.  His opponents, even – perhaps especially – those with greater physical gifts, quickly became discouraged and, by the middle rounds, the fight inevitably shifted into the all-too-familiar dance of a hopelessly broken bull listlessly charging at a triumphant and unmarked matador.  It was a blueprint for success premised on Mayweather’s physical talents, but which depended on his unique ability to successfully execute it.

Ability is a very different thing than talent.  Andre Ward, the man who succeeded Mayweather as the number one Pound for Pound fighter in the world on many lists, possesses almost none of Floyd’s God-given talents.  He is not particularly fast, his punches are clean and effective but not particularly hard, his reflexes are good but unremarkable. Indeed, almost nothing he does elicits oohs or aahs from the crowd.  And yet, Andre Ward is nevertheless supremely able.  He didn’t lose a single match in his last six years as an amateur, culminating in an Olympic Gold medal in 2004.  In 2009, he entered Showtime’s “Super Six” tournament, featuring six of the best Super Middleweight (168 lbs) fighters in the world as a significant underdog, but hardly broke a sweat in winning each of his matches against a series of tremendously accomplished and dangerous foes.  And while his career has stagnated since then due to a petulant contractual dispute with his former promoter, the late Dan Goossen, and his frustrating decision to spend more time calling fights from ringside as a member of HBO’s crew than participating in them, he’s never had even a moment of doubt in any of his recent fights.  Andre Ward just wins.

How on earth has he achieved this record of success when his skill set is so visibly pedestrian? Because Andre Ward has the best intuition of any fighter alive today.  Andre Ward’s only super power is his almost telepathic ability to predict what his opponent will do next.  It is almost eerie if you know what to look for; Ward effortlessly and knowingly glides out of the way of punches and set up his own in return as if he exists a split second ahead in time of his rivals.  Like he’s a visitor from the future who has already watched this fight unfold on tape a dozen times; some kind of boxing Charles van Doren answering questions to which he’s already received the answer. He’s less a fighter than an in-ring radiologist, exposing even the most tiny hidden defects in his opponent’s game for all to see, and then calmly, professionally, clinically, progresses inexorably towards victory.

In recent memory, only one other fighter achieved so much success in the ring with so little physical talent: Evander Holyfield.  Like Ward, a devout Christian, like Ward, an Olympic gold medalist, Holyfield too had no physical attributes that stood out other than a remarkable chin (Holyfield was stopped only twice in nearly 60 professional fights spread over four decades, and in neither case was he actually out).  Holyfield – a blown up cruiserweight – possessed punching power that was below average for a heavyweight, and his speed and reflexes were merely average.  Like Ward, in spite of this lack of talent, Holyfield became a huge success, one of the greatest heavyweight champions in history.  Sure, Holyfield employed a very different style than has Ward.  Unlike the contact-averse Ward, Holyfield loved to mix it up, confident that his solid schooling and unmatched will to win would carry him to victory irrespective of his opponent’s edge in talent.  But, at the end of the day, the two men share a common path to success: both use their superior mental power and ability to overcome anything they gave away in terms of talent.

Ability is a very different thing than talent.  Sergey Kovalev possesses none of Ward’s ability.  He’s a jittery fighter with what appears to be a weak mind incapable of concepts like defense or strategy.  He’s a simpleton whose idea of playing head games with his opponent is to wear a shirt depicting one potential foe, a black man, as a gorilla (this after an already established history of making what can at best be described as racially insensitive comments).  He can also be easily shook; even pre-fight banter sometimes seems to leave him looking visibly nervous.

And yet, in spite of his glaring mental weakness, Kovalev’s talents make him an unstoppable force of nature in the ring.  “The most sinister presence … in boxing,” according to HBO’s Jim Lampley.  Never was this more clear than in his one-sided win over boxing’s elder statesman, the then-nearly-50 years old Bernard Hopkins, in which Kovalev did what no other fighter ever has and made The Executioner look downright amateurish. He batters foes with sledgehammer-like punches that reduce bone to dust, organs to mush, and flesh to a pulsing pate.  And not only can he dish punishment out, he can take it as well.  Kovalev has gone to war with some serious punchers, and eaten shots that should topple any man, seemingly without any ill effects.  Kovalev is a transubstantiated Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot.

If Ward can be analogized to Holyfield, it’s only natural to compare Kovalev to Holyfield’s great nemesis, Mike Tyson.  Tyson represents perhaps the greatest abundance of talent over ability in boxing history.  Blazing fast in terms of both his hands and feet, with a set of the most wicked, devastating punches in history, Tyson was an unchecked storm in the ring.  Arriving on the scene as a teenager, he blew over men twice his age and with twice his experience with the effortless ferocity of a tsunami bowling over a sand castle.  Foes cried, prayed, even attempted to flee the ring to avoid Tyson’s epic, almost biblical, rage.  It was easy for anyone in the mid-1980s to believe they were watching the greatest talent in boxing history.

And, yet, it was a mediocre talent named Buster Douglas who first exposed what Holyfield later proved: that for all his talent, Tyson was totally devoid of ability.  Push back on the bully just a bit and he would fold.  Step into the eye of the storm and the ferocity vanishes.  Tyson was, not to put too fine a point on it, a coward.  A supremely talented coward, sure, but a coward nevertheless.  And not only was he a coward, he was a particularly mentally weak one, a fighter who never was capable of developing a Plan B if Plan A – blitz your opponent into quick and total submission – failed to work.  Some people chalk up Tyson’s lack of development of a fighter to the loss of his childhood trainer, Cus d’Amato.  This is wishful thinking.  The forces that ultimately pulled Tyson into oblivion (or, Bolivia, as he would say) were as real, permanent and unrelenting as gravity.  Tyson was not able to control his fear, not able to control his emotions, not able to harness his physical gifts.  And, against a supremely able foe like Holyfield, Tyson’s nature twice was revealed: in the first fight, he was unable to cope with Holyfield’s relentlessness and slowly retreated into a posture of surrender; in their second fight, in a moment we shall never forget, Tyson’s continued inability to deal with Holyfield’s superior schooling and indomitable nature led him to quit the fight in the most cowardly way possible.

Ward is not Holyfield, nor is Kovalev Mike Tyson, but there are clues from those fights that may presage both men’s future.  For Ward, he can take heart in knowing that Holyfield’s David and Goliath-like conquest of Tyson propelled him into a level of superstardom he never could have achieved on his own.  Coming off a mediocre showing against Alexander Brand, just as Holyfield was coming off a mediocre showing against Bobby Czyz when he stepped into the ring versus Tyson, Ward has a chance to show the world that he too can play the role of dragon slayer.  If he succeeds tonight, perhaps finally, he will be ready to assume Mayweather’s mantle of pay per view king to go with his pound for pound crown.

For Kovalev, the lesson may be more dire.  Tyson was never the same after Holyfield.  He never won another fight of significance, fighters ceased fearing him, ceased to view him as an unbeatable force, and he gradually sank further and further into mediocrity, until he finished his career being stopped by an anonymous Irishman named Kevin McBride, a guy who went 2-6 against mediocre competition after being the last man to dispose of the former Kid Dynamite.  Fighters like Kovalev, fighters who depend on intimidation and brutality, age poorly once beaten.  Like the fictional Ivan Drago, once wounded, they never regain their air of invincibility.

Ability is a very different thing than talent.  And, in boxing, when the two are matched, it is ability that usually triumphs.  For that reason, I am picking Ward, and I am picking him by a wide margin, far wider than the close odds would suggest.  Kovalev is perhaps the most dangerous fighter that Ward has ever faced, but Kovalev has never faced anyone with even remotely the ability of Ward.  Even Hopkins, a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer who can still perform at a shockingly high level for a man of his vintage, couldn’t possibly compare to Ward at this stage in his career, if he ever could.  Andre Ward may be dull, he may lack what Kovalev has in god-given talent, but he is supremely, even historically, able.  I give Kovalev’s talent no more than one shot in ten to upset Ward’s ability.

In other words, about the same odds Donald Trump was given of upsetting Hillary Clinton.

 

 

Donald Trump is Not Hitler, He’s a Mountebank

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In recent weeks, a single idea seems to have united a shockingly diverse group of people.  From comedian and maybe-serial-sex-offender Louis CK to moderate Republican and former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman; from at-best-partially-sane talk show host Bill Maher to at-best-partially-sane talk show host, Glenn Beck; from former Mexican President Vicente Fox and current Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson; from the Huffington Post to The Times of Israel, everyone seems to agree: Donald Trump is like Adolf Hitler.  In particular, they draw an equivalence between Trump’s statements about the dangers of certain immigrants, particularly those of Latin America or Islamic backgrounds, and Hitler’s early xenophobic and racist statements directed towards Jews in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.  All these people are wrong, but not for the reason that you might think.

Comparisons to Hitler – the very paragon of evil in our contemporary imagination – are, as a rule, inflammatory, offensive, de rigueur and invariably inaccurate. It was back in June 2005, when Barack Obama was a newly seated Senator from Illinois, and Donald Trump was busy hosting Season 2 of the Apprentice, that Jon Stewart pleaded for bringing an end to the many Hitler comparisons in American politics, noting that such comparisons inevitably demean the speaker, the subject, and even Hitler, who Stewart said, “worked too many years, too hard, to be that evil, to have any Tom, Dick and Harry come along and say, ‘you’re being like Hitler.’”  But, in this case, the Trump and Hitler comparisons raise an interesting issue, one that is at the center of a continuing academic debate on Hitler, and one that actually underlies a critical distinction between Trump and Hitler.  But, first, a quick aside on the meaning of evil.

While an old proverb tells us that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” both our common sense and the law generally disagree.  To commit a crime, the legal equivalent of a sin, takes both an action causing some harmful effect (the actus reus, to use the needlessly complicated legal terminology) and a correspondingly bad state of mind (the mens rea).  Now that state of mind needn’t necessarily be a specific intention to harm someone else; reckless behavior and general awareness of the potential consequences of one’s actions can be sufficient in many cases.  But the point remains that the law generally does not penalize even the worst of actions, if they are caused by a person acting with innocent intentions.

An example will illustrate this: your friend is driving his car to work one morning.  He or she is behaving exactly as a good driver should, obeying the speed limit, checking his or her mirrors, looking both ways at intersections, and listening to The Life of Pablo at a reasonable volume.  When, suddenly, out of nowhere, a young child who has broken free of his mother’s grasp darts in front of the car.  Your friend does everything humanly possible to avoid the collision, but it’s impossible to do so.  Jeff Gordon couldn’t have avoided it.  The child, sadly, dies.

Your friend is, naturally, devastated and you wish to console him or her.  “There was nothing you could do,” you say.  “This was not your fault.” Do you believe what you’re saying, or do you believe your friend to now be evil? After all, his actions have led to the death of an innocent child, and there’s hardly an act that people or the law find more damnable than infanticide.  If you’re like me, the law, or the vast majority of people, however, you understand that your friend was a victim of circumstance.  He or she is no more an evil person after that accident than he or she was before it.

Consider a second, perhaps murkier, example.  You are walking alone in a bad part of town at night.  Crossing through a dark alley, you hear footsteps behind you.  Your heart races.  Slowly, a figure emerges from the shadow, a wild-eyed large man.  “You are going to die,” he intones ominously, as he reaches towards his pants pocket… With only a split second to react, you pull out a gun you carry for self-defense and fire a single shot.  The man falls, dead.  As a passing car illuminates the alley, you finally get a clear look at what is in his hand: not a gun, but a pamphlet: “We Are All Going to Die,” it reads, “So Make Sure You Get To Heaven.  Visit Your Local Church and Repent.”

Are you a murderer?  Most people would say no, and the law agrees.  If one has an actual and reasonable belief that his life is in imminent danger, he is entitled to defend himself with deadly force.  Even if that reasonable belief – reasonable, by the way, meaning that the typical person in your situation would have believed that his or her life was in jeopardy –  was wrong, as it was in the example above, the law would still exonerate you.  In fact, the law even recognizes a lesser version of self-defense, sometimes called “imperfect self-defense” where a person has an unreasonable but honest belief that their life is in jeopardy.  Imperfect self-defense is not a complete defense, but where it exists, it will reduce the crime from murder to the lesser offense of manslaughter.

The bottom line is this: our society as a general matter will not classify as evil that which is done with innocent intentions, even if those intentions are misguided.  Now, hold onto that thought as we turn to perhaps the most despised human being to have ever walked the Earth.

Adolf Hitler is likely responsible for human suffering on a level unmatched by any other single individual in history.  Not only did he preside over the Holocaust, but he almost single-handedly precipitated the deadliest conflict of all time.  Everything about him is so immediately offensive to our sensibilities that the mere sight of it triggers disgust and loathing.  His name; the swastika, the symbol of his regime; hell, even his signature mustache, are viscerally upsetting to decent people everywhere.  So one can easily understand why being compared to him, as Trump so frequently is, is a bad thing.

The question of how Hitler came to commit such evil has long been debated. Was Hitler truly the source of the Holocaust and World War II, or was he merely the individual whom circumstances chose to place there.  After all, anti-Semitism, German right wing nationalism, and resentment over the Treaty of Versailles, were widespread before Hitler capitalized on those feelings to launch himself into power.  Had Hitler not come along, would there have been another who simply took his place and rode these pre-existing currents to the same destiny?  In other words, was Hitler uniquely evil in history, or was Hitler unique only in that circumstances enabled him to exploit a set of widely held sentiments in a way that permitted them to have global implications?

To some, even confronting this question is offensive.  To search for a root cause for Hitler’s evil, they argue, is tantamount to searching for an excuse for his behavior.  And if his behavior can be explained, or traced to some root cause –  an event, a scapegoat, a mental disorder – is it, on some level, something less than pure, unadulterated and inexplicable evil (surely the classification that our minds prefer when faced with such a horrific crime against humanity)?  This is the subject of Ron Rosenbaum’s epic investigation, Explaining Hitler, in which the author speaks to many of the world’s authorities on Hitler to try to come to some understanding of his pathology.

One of the most challenging and controversial questions with which Rosenbaum wrestles is whether Hitler truly believed his own rhetoric.  Alan Bullock, author of the most important biography of Hitler, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, and eminent theologian Emil Fackenheim, thought not.  Hitler was, in their view, a “mountebank,” a con artist more concerned with accumulating power than a true believer in his philosophy.  Fackenheim believed that all of Hitler’s actions were those an actor giving a grand performance.  Fackenheim’s evidence for this claim is largely drawn by analogy to certain theatrical elements of Hitler’s public persona: the dramatic gestures that became so symbolic of Hitler’s speeches were carefully rehearsed in advance, as was Hitler’s habit of beginning his speech quietly, haltingly, and slowly working himself into an emotional frenzy that seemed almost possessed.  He also accords weight to numerous theatrical actions in Hitler’s life, none of which Fackenheim seems to ridicule more than his marriage to longtime mistress Eva Braun only hours before the two committed suicide.  In this view, Hitler was a performer who embraced anti-Semitism not because he was himself necessarily anti-Semitic, or because he believed the Jews to be the cause of Germany’s suffering, but because it was a useful tool for galvanizing his followers.

Other experts disagree.  Hugh Trevor-Roper, the Oxford historian whom British intelligence dispatched to Berlin to confirm reports of Hitler’s death, and one of the most accomplished biographers of Hitler believes that Hitler was “convinced of his own rectitude.”  In this belief, Rosenbaum notes, Trevor-Roper echoes that of Socrates in Protagoras, who argued that no one engages in evil intentionally – rather, that they are deluded or ignorant of the evil of their actions but believe in the moment that they are doing right.  More colorfully, Rosenbaum quotes Efraim Zuroff, “a big, tough, outspoken Brooklyn-born Israeli,” who served as the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter in Israel, and who vehemently shot down any question about Hitler’s anti-Semitic bona fides.

Hitler thought he was a doctor! Killing germs! That’s all Jews were to him! He believed he was doing good, not evil.

(emphasis in original).

While the debate continues, suffice it to say, the weight of evidence sides with Trevor-Roper and Zuroff.  Hitler’s political philosophy seems to have been more or less fixed by the time he became active in politics in the early 1920s.  He maintained the same hardline philosophy that he spouted in Munich beer halls as a political neophyte, through his failed Putsch attempt in 1923, even remaining unrepentant at his subsequent trial for treason, through his short time in Landsberg prison during which he codified his philosophy in Mein Kampf, through Germany’s economic recovery in the late 1920s that sapped the Nazis of all but a handful of their seats in the Reichstag, to his resurgence in popularity after the Great Depression plunged Germany back into a state of desperation and eventually through his ascension to Fuhrer.

Hitler’s actions as Fuhrer further cement this conclusion. Hitler’s repeated decisions to prioritize the slaughter of the Jews over the successful prosecution of the war, even diverting trains that could have carried troops to the collapsing front lines on the East to be used instead to carry Jews to death camps, make little sense if Hitler’s anti-Semitism was merely a theatrical device used to accumulate power.

Why this debate matters, and why it is so central to the comparisons to Trump, is the logical implication of Trevor-Roper and Zuroff’s position.  If Hitler thought he was doing the right thing, if Hitler’s intentions were not to do what he knew to be evil but rather to do what he believed was good, is he somehow less culpable than he would be if he knew that he was committing one of the worst crimes in human history but did so anyway to further his personal ambitions? In the course of his investigation, Rosenbaum discovered that even the most accomplished scholars on Hitler had a “pronounced reluctance” to simply label him evil.  If Hitler – demented as it may have been – believed he was a latter-day Jonas Salk, eradicating a disease that was devastating his people, would he not be classified more akin to someone who had engaged in imperfect self-defense than the unprecedentedly heartless serial killer of our popular conception?  It is a challenging thought, because of how monumentally evil Hitler’s crimes were, but it is nevertheless an idea that cannot casually be dismissed.

With Trump, however, we face no such dilemma, because Trump so clearly is the mountebank described by Bullock and Fackenheim.  While it’s easy enough to believe that Trump possesses the sort of xenophobia and casual indifference to the plight of others that is all too prevalent today, and which has underlain almost all of his campaign rhetoric, it’s equally easy to demonstrate that his rhetoric is not a reflection of his core beliefs, but rather a carefully calculated tactic to attract attention (of course, it’s possible that his rhetoric occasionally overlaps with what Trump actually believes but this would be, at best, a happy coincidence).  To do so, one need only review Trump’s entire life.

It’s no secret that Donald Trump has long thrown himself in front of any willing camera lens with the same sort of reckless enthusiasm with which Wile E. Coyote pursued the Road Runner.  It’s how he wound up the punchline in an Ali G bit (he later tried to salvage some dignity by claiming he caught on quicker than other celebrities), and with cameos on shows like Sabrina, The Teenage Witch and in movies like Ghosts Can’t Do It, a bizarre 1990 film with a wretched 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, in which the ghost of an elderly man (Anthony Quinn) possesses the body of a much better looking younger man in order to make love to his sexy, much younger, wife (played by Bo Derek, whose real life husband wrote and directed).  Even the movie can’t seem to believe Trump’s willingness to debase himself by appearing in it – the credits read “Yes, that really was Donald Trump.”

Moreover, he has slapped his name on anything and everything, whether or not it bore any connection to him, and with a reckless disregard for consistency.  He has endorsed competitors, like Pizza Hut and Dominos (although he took Sarah Palin to a third pizzeria when the two ate pizza with forks during her vice presidential campaign).  He launched Trump Vodka, even though he never drinks alcohol and advises others not to drink.  He has lent his name and imprimatur to countless real estate developments and then vanished when the project later went belly up, as he did when his casino empire folded in Atlantic City.  He is, as anyone following the election is surely aware, currently a defendant in a fraud class action lawsuit brought by the former “students” of Trump University, a group that was promised they would receive a bespoke educational course reflecting Trump’s insider knowledge, and instead were given a Wikipedia level introduction to real estate accompanied by a chance to have their photo taken with a cardboard cutout of Trump.

Trump is such an accomplished fabulist that he didn’t even realize when Vice Sports writer David Roth was mocking him by tweeting fictional quotes to non-existent books supposedly authored by Trump, and retweeted one of Roth’s most absurdly Trumpian quotes. Can you imagine Hitler failing to recognize a fake quote supposedly attributed to him from a sequel to Mein Kampf that he’d never even composed?

Perhaps the most telling example of Trump’s willingness to say anything to get attention, regardless of its obvious falsity, was Trump’s multi-year campaign as a “birther,” the fringe movement obsessed with proving that President Obama was actually born in Kenya.  From the outset, the claims were absurd and easily debunked.  Not only had Obama already released his official Hawaiian birth records, a Certificate of Live Birth, but his parents placed a birth announcement in the Honolulu Advertiser on August 13, 1961 (a week after his birth).  The claims were so ridiculous in 2008 that Factcheck.org, the widely-respected, non-partisan equivalent of Consumer Reports for political claims, suggested that anyone interested in pursuing them should “first equip themselves with a high-quality tinfoil hat.” Apparently, an obvious combover worked just as well, because it was long after that seemingly-dispositive report that Trump began his crusade.

Beginning in March 2011, and continuing for at least the next four years, Trump relentlessly flogged disproved claims about Obama’s origins.  He claimed to have done research (where, he did not say, as specifics are never a strength of Trump’s) that proved Obama was not born in the USA.  Later that year, in response to Trump’s campaign, Obama released his long form birth certificate. This was something of a non-event, the Certificate of Live Birth was after all the official document, but it was nevertheless a further and unimpeachable bit of evidence proving that Obama’s birth was unremarkable as he’d always claimed.  Trump, however, found a way to crow about it, claiming he’d “accomplished something that nobody else was able to accomplish,” even if that accomplishment had demolished his already-untenable hypothesis. Alas, Trump’s sense of satisfaction with the accomplishment was short lived.  As recently as last year, Trump made statements questioning where the President was born.

The important thing to take away from this is that Trump did not believe – could not have believed – that President Obama was born in Kenya.  By the time Trump claimed to have conducted research on Obama’s birth, every reputable news source of any political stripe had concluded, unequivocally, that Obama was born in Honolulu and that no other scenario was even remotely colorable.  Whatever else you may think about Trump, he is not a fool (just ask Merv Griffin, or if you’re under 30, ask your grandparents who Merv Griffin was).  But Trump was aware that, at a time when his Apprentice ratings were lagging, he had stumbled onto a formula that gained him consistent attention.  Perhaps more importantly, he’d been able to use that attention to manipulate the President into doing something, albeit a meaningless thing that only served to make Trump look like a buffoon.  Nevertheless, his willingness to loudly flog a false narrative had given him exactly the sort of power and influence he’d always sought.

Trump’s extreme rhetoric on immigration is merely the latest iteration of his continuing performance.  Having realized early in the campaign that his outrageous statements about Mexican immigrants were galvanizing his supporters and creating additional publicity for his self-funded-but-not-really campaign, he doubled down on them, and even walked back seemingly inconsistent statements he’d initially made about welcoming refugees from Syria.  Was he being sincere?  Had his position truly evolved, as he claimed it had done on abortion, where he’d once been vocally pro-choice but was now claiming to be ardently pro-life?  The answer, once again, is no.  And to so conclude one need not rely on Trump’s history of backtracking on positions that later became disadvantageous, or even his own history of hiring Mexican immigrants when it was financially advantageous, Trump apparently admitted it himself, in an off-the-record interview with the New York Times editorial board.  Faced with a team of journalists who were both politically liberal and also highly relevant to his own financial interests in New York City, Trump once again said the most expedient thing: that his campaign positions on immigration were bluster, typically political posturing, that might at best serve as the opening for negotiations on immigration reform.  It was, in sum, a performance.  Trump was, is, and will continue to be, a mountebank.

Perhaps that conclusion is a relief to those who fear he’d actually pursue those policies as President.  It shouldn’t be.  Trump has shown time and time again that he will do whatever furthers his ambitions, regardless of its morality or intellectual consistency.  And while it certainly is always a positive that one can distinguish him or herself from Hitler, don’t forget the earlier lesson about evil.  After all, who is more morally contemptible: a person who does wrong thinking he is doing right, or a person who knows what he’s doing is wrong but who carries on anyway?

 

 

The Best Stuff I Wrote Last Year

I’ve more or less abandoned this site in favor of my contributions Deadspin and SportsOnEarth, so if you happen to have wandered by here by mistake, here are links to some of my favorite pieces from the 2013-2014.

A Scorched Legend (June 27, 2014)

Still King (May 14, 2014)

Listen to me on The Will Leitch Experience (May 6, 2014)

Too High a Price: Victor Ortiz Embodies Boxing’s Ethical Dilemma (Jan 30, 2014)

Miniature Golf: A Coward Reflects on Caleb Hannan and all of our Small-Mindedness (Jan 18, 2014)

Man’s Life Changes Forever Following Retweet (Jan 13, 2014)

Requiem For The Heavyweights (Dec 31, 2013)

Boxing is Still a Goddamned Tragedy (Nov 3, 2013)

The Beastie Boys 25 Greatest Tracks, Ranked (Oct 26, 2013)

Boxing is a Goddamned Tragedy (Oct 22, 2013)

How To Drink Champagne Without Becoming Even More Broke Than Usual (Aug 14, 2013)

Aaron Hernandez: A Complete Timeline (Jul 4, 2013)

Bill Shaikin, LA Times Columnist and Head of the BBWAA, Cannot Distinguish Wins From Losses (Jun 6, 2013)

 

Bill Shaikin, LA Times Columnist and Head of the BBWAA, Cannot Distinguish Wins From Losses

As a lifelong A’s fan, I recently found myself flipping through the LA Times sports section on the eve of yet another delicious Angels loss, luxuriating in schadenfreude. I found what I was looking for, but not in the expected place.

Pop Quiz: See if you can spot the logical fallacy in the following direct quotation from Bill Shaikin’s column on the Angels’ sweep at the hands of the woeful Astros.

The Astros might be on pace to lose 103 games, but the Angels are on pace to lose 92. That’s $1.6 million per loss for the Angels — and $200,000 per loss for the Astros.

Did you catch it?  If not, you may be Bill Shaikin, especially since I sort of called it out in the title of this piece.

Teams do not pay for losses.  They pay for wins.  Calculating the price paid per loss is not only illogical on its face, it can produce absurd results if we extrapolate from Shaikin’s example.  For example, if my $60 million A’s team loses 60 games this year, they will have paid $1 million per loss (and of course, they’d be happier about that than the Astros and their $200,000 per loss figure).  Conversely, if they were to lose one game all season, they will have paid $60 million per loss.  According to Shaikin’s reasoning, this would be a bad thing.   But it gets worse: the 1972 Dolphins paid infinity dollars per loss.  No wonder Miami can’t afford to keep its sports stars: it will take a long time to dig themselves out of that hole.

Ordinarily, it might be petty, if not downright bitchy, to bring something like this up, but Shaikin – in addition to his day job as an “Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite” lookalike – is the head of the Baseball Writers Association of America.  And the BBWAA is the organization responsible for not only the inscrutable and illogical results we’ve witnessed in recent Hall of Fame elections, but also approximately 8 jillion articles on how advanced statistics are meaningless hokum.  Well, they certainly are if you have no idea how to use them.

As misguided as Shaikin’s methodology is, the underlying point he’s trying to make is valid.  The Angels are paying $2.1 million per win.  The Astros?  A mere $349,000.  And that brings me back to where I began: basking in the karmically justified misery that Arte Moreno has wrought.

Cross-Posted to Sidespin