Tag Archives: sports

What should the British do with their monarchy?

I think most American progressives would agree that a form of government that does not have a monarchy is better than one that does. So, it is not surprising that so many people see the death of the Queen of England* as a moment to consider ridding Great Britain and the United Kingdom of any vestige of monarchy. I mean, why not? Many Americans on the opposite of any known political spectrum from progressives saw the end of the Trump Presidency to be a moment to consider the end of democracy and installation of a fascist MAGA state!

But I wonder if monarchy-hate is fully appropriate, given some of the reactions I see from actual subjects of the Queen/King. Said subjects seem blind to the argument that the monarchy is a burden on the budget, has no practical use, and is linked to a history of colonialism and repression. Or are they?

Here is why these ideas may be misguided if not just wrong.

  1. The monarchy has not been the prime mover in colonialism and repression since well early in the 18the century. The monarchy is a part of, and an increasingly no-effective part of, the British government during the last 300 years of British colonial advancement, colonial retraction, and colonial separation. One could easily argue that the parliamentary part of the British government is more responsible for everything that happened than the monarchy. Not to let the monarchy off the hook. I’m just saying that if you have a small gang of thieves and get rid of one of them, you still better keep checking your pocket to see if your wallet is still there.
  2. The portion of GDP attributable to the monarchy is difficult to determine. The annual cash flow of the monarchy represents about one one-hundredths’ of a percent of the British GDP. The annual cost to taxpayers is about 3 one thousand’s of a percent of the British GDP. The total value of the monarchy (if you sold it off tomorrow) is between 2 and 3% of GTP. So, the monarchy is a low-maintenance very valuable asset, assuming that it produces some payback.
  3. Compare it to sports. In America, we have no monarchy, but we do have sports. Sports takes up more American cultural space and energy that the monarchy takes up British cultural space and energy, I would assert. Or at least, they are in the same ballpark, as it were. Sports value as a percentage of GDP is about 2 tenths of a percent in the US. Small nationwide, but huge compared to the equivalent annual cash flow of 1 one hundredths of a percent for the British Monarchy. American sports are a burden on the American budget (every time a city is asked to build a new stadium or bail out a team, or as a function of increased vandalism and criminality associated with sports culture) but with limited practical use, and linked to a history of segregation, racism, nurturing of violence and criminality, and overall stupid behavior. One could argue that sports has advantages, and one can argue that the monarchy has some value too.

I’m agnostic, and I prefer to follow the lead of British progressives. It is their monarchy, after all.

Americans tend to think we threw off the monarchy centuries ago because we did not like it. That is not what happened. America rebelled against unequal tax and representation by our government (we were part of Great Britain) as it applied to the Americas, and against home-country (UK) rules against killing Indians. Our government in London told us we had to stop grabbing land that wasn’t ours. The British government was on the verge of getting rid of slavery, which Brits in the Americas (our forefathers) did not want to do. Our revolution was not about being a democracy instead of a monarchy. It was about us being an out of control asshole on the world stage, not held back by certain British sensibilities. So fellow Americans, maybe lose the impertinence, OK? Not a good look coming from one of the very small number of countries that maintained slavery longer than everyone else, and then converted slavery into something as close to slavery as possible for the next rest of time.

Finally, I suspect most people who are down on the monarchy are not aware that the role of the British monarchy in the British government is not to rule, but to be dignified. Like this:

*I know I know, she is not the “Queen of England” except that she is, but also, Queen of some other things too. As an American I’m not into getting sidetracked by the whinging about the complex national identity associated with that which is British-ish and related.

Interesting Books Cheap

This will be useful for any writer: The Field Guide to Sports Metaphors: A Compendium of Competitive Words and Idioms, cheap right now on Kindle, but I think I’m going to get a print copy as a gift this year for my sports-loving cousin that it is so hard to find gifts for.

There are many metaphors we can quickly identify from the realm of sports: covering all the bases (baseball), game plan (football), and par for the course (golf). But the English language is also peppered with the not-so-obvious influence of sports and games, such as go-to guy (basketball) and dead ringer (horse racing). Filled with pithy entries on each idiom, plus quotes showing how big talkers from President Obama to rapper Ice-T use them, this quirky little handbook from former minor league ballplayer and award-winning journalist Josh Chetwynd is sure to be a conversation starter at tailgates, cocktail parties, and in the boardroom.

Originally published as “The Restless Sea,” Mapping the Deep: The Extraordinary Story of Ocean Science by Robert Kunzig is…

A vivid, up-to-date tour of the Earth’s last frontier, a remote and mysterious realm that nonetheless lies close to the heart of even the most land-locked reader.

The sea covers seven-tenths of the Earth, but we have mapped only a small percentage of it. The sea contains millions of species of animals and plants, but we have identified only a few thousand of them. The sea controls our planet’s climate, but we do not really understand how. The sea is still the frontier, and yet it seems so familiar that we sometimes forget how little we know about it. Just as we are poised on the verge of exploiting the sea on an unprecedented scale—mining it, fertilizing it, fishing it out—this book reminds us of how much we have yet to learn. More than that, it chronicles the knowledge explosion that has transformed our view of the sea in just the past few decades, and made it a far more interesting and accessible place. From the Big Bang to that far-off future time, two billion years from now, when our planet will be a waterless rock; from the lush crowds of life at seafloor hot springs to the invisible, jewel-like plants that float at the sea surface; from the restless shifting of the tectonic plates to the majestic sweep of the ocean currents, Kunzig’s clear and lyrical prose transports us to the ends of the Earth.

Bruce Levenson's Racism In Broader Context: We need to be smarter.

Donald Sterling appears to be a hard core racist, and this, appropriately, got him in trouble. Recently, Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson released an email he had written some time back, which discusses race related issues vis-a-vis the Hawks, and announced that he was bowing out of ownership from the team because of this racist email.

The media reaction to this has been fairly uniform, and includes an aspect that I think should be examined more closely. Bruce Levenson, and his statement, have been placed in the same category as Donald Sterling and his statements. But they should not be. Given the relatively high degree of personal and institutional racism found in professional sports in the US, one could argue that Levenson’s racism is mild. One could even go further and say that he indicates a disdain for racism, and this disdain is reflected in the offending email.

The reason this is important is that racism is important, and racism associated with a major American institution like sports is very important. A child who brings a switchblade to school is treated in the same way, by school regulations, as a child that brings a plastic knife to school to make it easier to eat his apple, in some districts, because both are seen as the same thing by an unthinking (or, worse, pre-thinking, let the rules do your thinking for you style thinking) policy. The equation of Levenson and Sterling is a similar phenomenon. The discussion about race and racism in America and in sports needs to be smarter than this.

To expand on this idea I’ve Fisked Levenson’s letter (leaving off the first part). My objective is to give Levenson something of a break in considering his written words, pointing out where he is actually being anti-racist. Having said that, it is true that the email is insufficiently critical of certain aspects of the Hawks’ situation, and makes some assumptions that are probably incorrect and essentially racist, by someone who is not a trained sociologist or anthropologist. But, it is just an internal memo expressing thoughts for consideration, so to some extent that can be understood.

I don’t want to say that Levenson should or should not own the Hawks. I do want to say, though, that equating and placing in the same narrow category Levenson and what he has said and done, and Sterling and what he has said and done dumbs down the conversation too much.

From: Bruce Levenson
To: Ferry, Danny
CC: Foreman, Todd (ucg.com); Peskowitz, Ed (ucg.com)
Sent: 8/25/2012 11:47:02 PM
Subject: Re: Business/Game ops

…4. Regarding game ops, i need to start with some background. for the first couple of years we owned the team, i didn’t much focus on game ops. then one day a light bulb went off. when digging into why our season ticket base is so small, i was told it is because we can’t get 35–55 white males and corporations to buy season tixs and they are the primary demo for season tickets around the league….

This is not a racist statement per se. It is probably true that wealthier white males and traditional corporations (owned and operated mainly by wealthier white males) are the market for season tickets for major professional sports. This reflects many aspects of how our society works, and therein certainly lies racism. But pointing it out as the guy trying to sell the tickets is a simple observation.

when i pushed further, folks generally shrugged their shoulders. then i start looking around our arena during games and notice the following:

– it’s 70 pct black
– the cheerleaders are black
– the music is hip hop
– at the bars it’s 90 pct black
– there are few fathers and sons at the games
– we are doing after game concerts to attract more fans and the concerts are either hip hop or gospel.

Then i start looking around at other arenas. It is completely different. Even DC with its affluent black community never has more than 15 pct black audience.

Before we bought the hawks and for those couple years immediately after in an effort to make the arena look full (at the nba’s urging) thousands and thousands of tickets were being giving away, predominantly in the black community, adding to the overwhelming black audience.

These statements can be taken as observation, not a judgement. One might ask for verification or more information, but the author of these observations has not said here if this is a good or a bad thing intrinsically, but rather, is simply pointing it out as background. The equation of various observations with a race-based trope is potentially problematic. Also, this is a laundry list of things to blame for bad sales, and that is more than a little uncomfortable. But this is a memo about bad sales.

My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant season ticket base. Please dont get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arean back then. i never felt uncomfortable, but i think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority. On fan sites i would read comments about how dangerous it is around philips yet in our 9 years, i don’t know of a mugging or even a pick pocket incident.

There is simply no way to interpret this analysis as blatantly racist. It is quite the opposite. Levenson is pointing out that there seems to be racism among the fans, and that a threshold of sorts has been crossed making racist white male potential fans less likely to go to the arena.

This was just racist garbage. When I hear some people saying the arena is in the wrong place I think it is code for there are too many blacks at the games.

This is a very important statement. He is expressing disdain for racist attitudes about the venue.

I have been open with our executive team about these concerns. I have told them I want some white cheerleaders and while i don’t care what the color of the artist is, i want the music to be music familiar to a 40 year old white guy if that’s our season tixs demo. i have also balked when every fan picked out of crowd to shoot shots in some time out contest is black. I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black.

One could argue over what the best approach to handling the lack of high price ticket sales is, but if that is the goal, appealing to a white audience by including among some of the amenities and concurrent events more white is the same as appealing to any effort at diversity.

The problem with this is the intent to undue what appears to be an overwhelming interest by African Americans in this particular team and venu. Saying that these components of the experience is “too black” certainly seems racist, but it is also couched in terms of the goal of “increasing diversity” (in this case white male country western listening potential ticket buyers, which is not the sort of diversity we are usually concerned with). A better statement might have been to express an interest in maintaining what appears to be a very successful inclusion of the African American community which is apparently predominant at the location of the venue while at the same time encouraging others to engage. In other words, it looks like the idea is to “undo” a shift towards a strong African American fan base.

Gradually things have changed. My unscientific guess is that our crowd is 40 pct black now, still four to five times all other teams. And my further guess is that 40 pct still feels like 70 pet to some whites at our games. Our bars are still overwhelmingly black.

This is obviously a sensitive topic, but sadly i think it is far and way the number one reason our season ticket base is so low.

This is a potentially important statement because it reveals Levenson’s feelings about the situation. He acknowledges the racist nature of the situation and the discussion, and expresses a dislike for the apparent fact that “too many” black people scares away white people.

And many of our black fans don’t have the spendable income which explains why our f&b and merchandise sales are so low. At all white thrasher games sales were nearly triple what they are at hawks games (the extra intermission explains some of that but not all).

Regardless of what time a game starts, we have the latest arriving crowd in the league. It often looks and sounds empty when the team takes the floor.

In the past two years, we have created a section of rowdy college students that has been a big plus. And we do a lot of very clever stuff during time outs to entertain the crowd. Our kiss cam is better done than any in the league.

We have all the same halftime acts that other arenas have but i question whether they make sense. people are on their cell phones during half time. i wonder if flashing on the scoreboard “$2 off on hot dogs during halftime tonight” just as the half ends would be a better use of our halftime dollars and make the fans happier.

We do all the usual giveways and the fans are usually their loudest when our spirit crew takes the floor to give away t-shirts. It pisses me off that they will yell louder for a t-shirt then for our players.

These are all context-free observations about how the games are sold together with an observation about late arriving fans and cell phone use. These issues may be generally true across sports, or the league, when a team is not generating enough excitement.

Our player intro is flat. We manufacture a lot of noise but because of the late arriving crowd and the fact that a lot of blacks dont seem to go as crazy cheering (another one of my theories) as whites, it is not great. Even when we have just returned from winnng four straight on the road, i am one of the few people in the arena standing and cheering when our team takes the floor. Bob has kicked around ideas like having the starters coming down aisles rather than off the bench during intros. Sounds cool but may highlight all the empty seats at the start of games.

This is more about the nature of the games and lack of excitement, but embedded within it is a statement about “blacks” behavior at games … less crazy cheering than white people. I have no idea what to make of that. This may be mainly an unexamined bias in observation or attribution of a lack of enthusiasm because the team does not generate it to being explained as a “black” trait. One gets the feeling more focus should be placed on the team and its ability to generate enthusiasm.

Not enough of our fans wear hawks jerseys to games. i have just begun to push for ideas like discount food lines for folks wearing jerseys, special entrances, etc. I think we need a committed and perhaps incentivized fan club. We need to realize atl is simply different than every other city. Just adopting nba best practices is not enough. we have to create our own.

If this team, this city, has a local culture, it would be just like a lot of other urban sports venues. Only Wisconsinites wear cheese on their heads. Saint’s fans (NFL) seem to like to watch their team beat up the other team. And so on. It is not unreasonable to address the local culture no matter what it is or how it might arise, though obviously a more careful analysis would be preferred.

I am rambling and could probably go on forever. If you have any specific areas you would like my thoughts on, let me know.


ps – I have cc’d todd and ed so they can chime in with additional or different thoughts.

Sent from my iPad

In the end, Levenson decided that he was too much like Donald Sterling to own the team and gave up ownership. He stated “If you’re angry about what I wrote, you should be. I’m angry at myself too."

That is a lot more than Donald Sterling ever did.

There is an entirely different perspective out there that has to do with Levenson’s motivations vis-a-vis his career and business. I don’t accept that as an alternative to the race-related narrative. Levenson’s memo exists and is a discussion of race in relation to business, regardless of whether he fabricated it from thin air or really thought these thoughts. Nonetheless, the it’s business viewpoint does have a ring of reality to it. So I’ll end by quoting Mo Ivory who is one of the commenters who has suggested this, and who lives in Atlanta (though she is originally from New York and is not a Hawks fan):

So, like all other non-Atlanta natives living in Atlanta long term, when the Hawks play the New York Knicks, this native New Yorker whips out her Carmelo Anthony jersey and heads to Phillips Arena. The reason Bruce Levenson could not make the Hawks profitable is not because black people don’t buy season tickets, or arrive at games late, or spend all their time at the bar, or black fathers don’t bring black sons to the games. It’s because the Hawks suck. They have no marquee players and they don’t win games!

The Fall Olympics #Sochi2014

Remember the Fall Olympics in Vancouver? That was the year that skaters … not the racing ones but the dancing ones … were falling all the time as if they had some kind of special extra slippery ice on the skating rink. Well, this year, at Sochi II, we are witnessing the Fall Olympics mainly on the snow slopes and half pipe, where lousy snow conditions, caused by warm conditions with some rain, have messed everything up.

But there is an interesting twist this year. According to a piece in the New York Times, women are being affected more than men:

…most of the injuries have been sustained by women.

Through Monday night, a review of the events at the Extreme Park counted at least 22 accidents that forced athletes out of the competition or, if on their final run, required medical attention. Of those, 16 involved women. The proportion of injuries to women is greater than it appears given that the men’s fields are generally larger.

Twenty-two falls, with 16 as women, is statistically significant (Chi squared = 4.545 with 1 degrees of freedom, two-tailed P=0.0330)


Generally, but not always, women and men have different rules or equipment when they play similar sports. In basketball, the rules seem about the same, and the court and the nets are the same, but for women’s basketball the ball is slightly smaller, I’m told. For hockey, as far as I know, the equipment is the same, but women are not allowed to body slam each other. But for many other sports, including a lot of summer and winter Olympic sports, there isn’t any difference as far as I know. Obviously, when there is no need for a different set of rules or alternate gear, there shouldn’t be any difference.

Women use a different downhill course than men, shorter and with, it appears, fewer jumps. That is a little hard to understand since there is no clear difference between what the two sexes are expected to do. On the other hand, I’m not a skier. Perhaps the body strength required to not buckle under the g-forces for so long is sufficiently different for men and women. On the other hand, isn’t this mostly lower body strength, and wouldn’t women have an offsetting advantage having less bulky upper body mass to work against? Any skiers out there want to comment on this?

It is interesting to watch the half pipe. The men and women have the same pipe, the same rules, the same judging, and in the end, produce the same array of spectacular gravity defying moves. In fact, given the standard half-pipe mode of attire, it is not easy to tell which gender is doing the deed. (That could just be me … maybe I need a bigger TV.) This applies to varying degrees across most of the fancy skiing events. But the suggestion has been made that this could be changed. From the same NYT piece:

“Most of the courses are built for the big show, for the men,” said Kim Lamarre of Canada, the bronze medalist in slopestyle skiing, where the competition was delayed a few times by spectacular falls. “I think they could do more to make it safer for women.”

Think back to the afore mentioned Fall Olympics in Vancouver. As I recall, a very large proportion of the ice-dancy people fell during their performances. But in previous Olympics, and during the current Olympics, this has not been the case. Aside from some physical explanation, i.e., that Canadian Ice is extra slippery (unlikely!), I would attribute this to a behavioral syndrome. Some sort of demand for a certain kind of extra jumpy move that would lead to more slippage may have emerged in the sport, peaking at the time of the Vancouver games, and since then either all the skaters learned how to handle this with additional training and experience, or as a group, they’ve shifted their expectations.

Something similar may be happening with the Sochi snow sports. One of the downhill women’s races had several bad runs in a row, and the coaches were able to pass information on to the skiers so they could avoid one particularly bad spot on the run, a jump that was often followed by an out of control spinning off the mountain effect, so the latter half, roughly, of the runs did not abort. A similar cultural, or training related, effect may be at work at Sochi’s slopestyle event for women. Check this out:

J. F. Cusson, ski slopestyle coach for Canada and a former X Games gold medalist, said that his women’s team usually did not practice on jumps as large as the ones the men use, for fear of injury.

“But when they compete, they have to jump on the same jumps, so they get hurt,” he said. “It’s a big concern of mine.”

It seems reasonable to assume that if the women trained for the setting they would be competing in, they would not have as much trouble. This vaguely reminds me of the early days of the Olympics (early 20th century, not Ancient Greek) when women were for the first time allowed to engage in a foot race, a 100 meter dash or something along those lines. It was hot, they were untrained, they wore petticoats. They all fainted. That was not because they were women unable to run. It was because they were women set up for failure, and expected to faint. I’m sure a lot of guys found that to be as hot as the weather was that day.

In a way, the Olympics are a slow and ponderous thing, since they happen only every four years. I suspect that the sex difference in wipe-out and injury rates we saw today will be attenuated in future games due not to adjustments in context or gear but rather to changes in training and preparation.

Photo Credit: jsmezak via Compfight cc

Social Networking is a wonderful new technology that will unleash human potential

But that isn’t always how it goes.

On today’s radio show, Steve Borsch was talking about the way in which social networking (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) is playing out — as an extension of social interaction more than as a new form of shopping mall or marketing environment — and an observation I made a couple of weeks ago during the Vikings game congealed like mucus in the back of your throat when you are getting over a cold (See Pandemonium Looms in Minneapolis). So, since I have a blog, I thought I’d hack it up for you.
Continue reading Social Networking is a wonderful new technology that will unleash human potential