Yearly Archive: 2017

Binary thinking – the fuel of hyper-judgmentalism

One characteristic of hyper-judgmental people that is easy to discern is their liking for binary thinking. When somebody, at some point in a conversation, says to me something like “I am a blck and white person”, I have a pretty good idea of what I am about to hear. Usually some variant of “My In Group Good, Those Others Bad”.
Sex and gender are fruitful topics for the hyper-judgmentalists, who fondly imagine that those are binary constructs that They Know All About.
Alas, not quite. As this thread makes clear, human gender and sexuality are nowhere near that simple. As the thread notes, bigotry as a concept is fuelled by simplistic binary judgments about good and bad, right and wrong, projected onto individuals or groups.
A graduation along a scale makes it difficult for bigots to operate unless they publicly disavow facts and science. That, of course, makes them look stupid in addition to being hyper-judgmental, not that it ever stops them.


Narcissistic Personality Disorder – an analysis of Donald Trump

Twitter user The Hoarse Whisperer wrote a tweetstorm this Summer about Donald Trump’s Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I extracted it from Twitter and tidied it up because it is too old to be rolled up into a thread by online software.
Here we go…

People with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) seem erratic but they’re actually ultra-predictable. They are simple machines.
There are only two driving impulses:
1) Avoid shame
2) Collect adoration and esteem.
That’s it. There is no other priority or concern
Trump will do anything humanly possible to try to avoid being publicly shamed/diminished in others’ eyes. It’s an impulse he can’t control.
Take Russia/Putin. If Trump were to acknowledge Russia interfered, he’d be admitting he was less worthy of the presidency.
Donald Trump would literally sell out his entire family and the country as well to avoid acknowledging that he didn’t deserve the office.
He is pathologically incapable of doing anything which admits to the world his worst internal fear: he’s unworthy of being seen as special
Now, he has no choice on how he has to play this. He HAS to actually make Putin look worthy of partnership. He has to make the shameful thing, look unshameful somehow. He has to make shameful hacking and potential collusion somehow seem smart or purposeful or dignified.
It cannot be done. It makes no logical sense. It will fall apart and as it does, Trump’s behavior and lying will get more outlandish.
But make no mistake, Donald Trump is clinically incapable of doing anything other than what he is doing: trying to avoid the shame of being discovered to be illegitimate and unworthy of public respect. He has an uncontrollable compulsion to avoid that awful truth.
No matter how absurd each new action or lie sounds, he’ll throw even his own family under the bus until there is no way out, and then he will first explode on everyone and everything around him when he realizes there is no escape.
It will be the crazy tweetstorm to end all tweetstorms… and then he’ll either
a) implode in a miserable ball of self-loathing and flee
(b) concoct some attempt at a face-saving exit. Claiming he’s too good for the job or that he’s protesting the “deep state”…
It’ll be transparent bullshit that none but the most loco Trumpers believe but he will take it to the grave swearing it’s true.
The key thing to remember in watching Trump is that there are literally only two things going on in his mind at all times.
1) Fight to the death to avoid being seen as shameful or underserving of public adoration…
2/ Doing whatever it takes to make the people right in front of him think he’s powerful, important and special.
That’s it.
Donald Trump is an empty shell. You need do no more than ask “what shame is he trying to avoid?” and you’ll understand his every move.

Trump has no grasp of how other people feel or think. He just tries to manipulate the people right in front of him. Since he surrounds himself with awful people, pleasing the crowd means saying and doing horrible things. He is then shocked by the coverage.
Then, when called out, he can’t handle the criticism and behaves really, really badly. Doubles down, says ridiculous things, etc. It’s all impulse
Narcissists, like sociopaths, have no empathy. Understanding what other people think or feel is literally beyond their abilities. Other people are either:
1) sources of admiration (narcissistic supply); or
2) sources of criticism (narcissistic injury).
Narcissists live for more narcissistic supply to bolster their grandiose (albeit fragile) self-image, and live in fear of narcissistic injuries that would puncture it. They are often charming and charismatic (seeking that supply). They can be highly functional, channeling the need for supply into hard work. But when things go wrong, it is NEVER their fault. Other people are to blame AND have betrayed them.

Psychologists, by default, see few severe NPDs because they refuse to seek treatment. Living with one is a whole different kettle of fish.

P.S. my money is on Trump spiraling down into denials then trying to pull a face-saving exit when it is far too late to escape consequences


The Roy Moore campaign – pay attention people

Folks, a brief rant as my inner “Pay attention people” personality surfaces.
People are expressing amazement that the supporters of Roy Moore are capable of uttering nonsensical twaddle as they seek to promote him as a candidate.
This is logical, but it is irrelevant.
Roy Moore’s campaign is not a conventional political campaign. It is the campaign of a Christian Dominionist cult leader. As such, the campaign is immune to factual attack. By definition, most of Roy Moore’s supporters are not listening to or motivated by facts or reason.
The aim of sending out “advisors” and the likes of Steve Bannon to stump for Roy Moore, and to show up on major TV networks and utter jaw-dropping nonsense, is not to sway undecided voters. Those people are probably regarded by the Roy Moore supporters as useful idiots and/or heathen vermin, to be exterminated when Judgment Day comes.
The entire aim of the Roy Moore campaign right now is to get every single one of their supporters to vote on the day. They simply intend to out-turnout Doug Jones.
The election can be won by Doug Jones, but only if every one of his supporters shows up and casts a vote.
If Roy Moore wins, the commentary on Alabama will be withering and highly deserved. But his supporters will not care. They are building Jerusalem in Alabama, and they don’t give a rats ass about the modern USA or the Constitution or any of that other Secular Evil.


The tales of sexual harassment – 2 comments

You will have noticed an epidemic of exposure and punishment for sexual harassment unfolding in the USA, with the current focus being on Big Fish in the media, showbusiness and political spheres.
I have two comments:

1. Sooner or later, whether anybody realizes it at the time or bothers to do the investigation to prove it, a person or persons will be punished and driven out of their profession based on accusations that are false. There is a rather concerning willingness on many peoples’ behalf to abandon any semblance of due process in a stampeding eagerness (as they see it) to give male harassers a deserved comeuppance. This is going to lead to some bad mistakes sooner or later.
2. The focus on show business, media and politics obscures the reality that a lot of sexual harassment has occurred in corporate America. It is easier to hide bad behavior when a business basically operates out of the public eye. The situation may be worse in family-owned and run businesses, which are often private corporations, with little to no external stockholdings to provide any checks and balances.


The subtleties of a hostile work environment

There have been many books and articles published about toxic work environments. A lot of the discussion is around the tendency of corporations to tolerate bad behavior from employees who are (correctly or not) perceived as successful. Bob Sutton has attacked this tendency with his “No Asshole Rule” writings.
When one uses the phrase “toxic work environment”, the image portrayed is usually one of out-of-control dysfunctionality. There is a lot of writing about work environments being “dysfunctional”. However, that term by itself is imprecise, and absent any clarification, almost meaningless.
I prefer to adopt a more nuanced approach of dividing dysfunctional work environments into two main categories.

1. Toxic
2. Hostile

Toxic environments are those where activities are occurring that meet one or more of the following criteria:

– Illegal
– unethical
– Capricious wilful abuses of power (bullying, intimidation, denigration either publicly or privately)
– Sexual harrassment
– Discrimination based on protected classes (ethnicity/culture, sexual orientation, religion)

By the way, “unethical” need not necessarily involve an action that is prohibited by Ethics guidelines or other rule books. I tend towards the rule that if an action looks and/or sounds bad if you have to explain it later, it is probably (at the least) unethical.
The legally significant phrase “Hostile work environment” usually refers to environments that meet one or more of the criteria listed above. The activities listed above, in many jurisdictions, are legally actionable, and can result in punitive action by the courts against the corporation.
However, a work environment can still be toxic, for more subtle reasons which, while they do not meet the criteria for being legally actionable, still result in a poorly-functioning workplace.
Hostile Environments are environments where the culture and attitudes of the majority of leadership and team members are actively and consistently undermining the communicated aims and objectives of the organization, or change management efforts within the organization

– Overt sabotage (up to and including insubordination)
– Covert sabotage (lack of committment, enthusiasm, avoidance of activities that form part of a change project, instruction of teams to not collaborate)
– Lack of respect and attention directed towards leaders and team members in the organization perceived as agents of change (especially if those leaders or team members are new to the organization, or if they are from a different part of the organization)

Hostile environments are not generally described as such. Some people operating in those environments may recognize that the environment dysfunctionality is resulting in under-achievement. However, many people in the environment are in denial, since to them, the normal characteristics of the environments are features, not bugs.
A lot of hostile dysfunctionality is based on negative views and attitudes towards people or groups who are perceived as “Others”, or, as a memorable phrase once summed it up, “Not one of Us”. That may encompass one or more of the following:

– new employees and leaders
– groups that contain members who have poor social skills
– groups whose role is part of a “check and balance” process, such as quality assurance, auditing, financial management
– anybody from “head office”
– consultants and contract staff
– people perceived as agents of change

new employees and leaders
A common process with new employees and leaders is to require that they “prove themselves”. For leaders, that is usually spelled out by existing leadership if the new leader is from outside the organization.
There should be defined, agreed and measurable success criteria for all new employees. However, the impactful informal social criteria are never documented, even though these may comprise many of the organization’s expectations of the new employee.
There is a reason why they are never documented of course. Firstly, they are hopelessly subjective. Secondly, they provide a covert measurement mechanism, one which the incumbent group members control, which is un-moderated by leadership. “We don’t care what THEY think, this is what WE think” can become the prevailing ethos.
This implied measurement process can encompass anything from “does he laugh at our jokes”, through to the requirement that the new employee behave and operate exactly like other group members. (If the employee has been hired as a change agent, you can probably understand how stupidly unproductive that second requirement might be).
New leaders are often imposed on an organization to correct what leadership sees as a serious leadership or operational deficiency, so they immediately (to use an old Biblical saying) have the Mark Of Cain. what I have discovered is the most critical skill they can deploy is that of active listening. If a leader is seen to be actively trying to understand how the current organization functions, they will be much better regarded than if they are seen as not interested, and just there to immediately turn the whole place upside down. Leaders who consistently make uninformed decisions soon suffer a loss of credibility.
The “prove yourself” ethos is dangerous, since it amounts to the imposition of informal, undocumented and non-meeasurable social and behavioral expectations on the new employee. The new employee is expected to “fit in”, “understand how we work” etc. etc.
If the employee is seen to not be “one of us”, then there is a wide variety of tactics that the rest of the group can deploy to obstruct or impede the contributions and actions of that employee.
The actions are usually subtle. They include work-related actions such as not copying the person on emails or meeting invites, not attending meetings called by the person, not responding to requests for information or assistance, through to more overt social signalling actions such as not inviting the person to lunch, celebrations or other social events.
The inevitable conclusion, at least some of the time, is that several months down the line incumbent people and teams are whining that Joe or Mary “does not fit in”, or, in the classic Orwellian Doublespeak language that is prevalent, is “not a team player”.
This is where strong leadership needs to be able to politely but firmly challenge the conclusion, including asking whether the process being followed is even fair or equitable. Sometimes, in highly social environments, people may need to be reminded that the workplace is not an extension of the local bar or neighborhood association, and that feelings are not a substitute for facts.

groups with poor social skils
When I became embedded into software development in the early 1980s it became clear that a lot of software developers had poor social skills. They were introverts, who wanted to be left alone to code. They hated meetings, were uncomfortable dealing with customers, and sometimes showed all of the symptoms of social anxiety, even in 1:1 situations. Software development groups in many corporations were, for a while, stuffed full of those kinds of people.
The situation has changed over the last 20 years, as agile methods have converted previously isolated and siloed development teams into constant-interaction groups, where hiding in the corner behind multiple monitors is less of an option. However, a significant percentage of people in around IT are still poor in social situations, which makes them reluctant group members. Many highly creative people fall into this category, especially if they have brains that operate differently (such as people with Aspergers Syndrome, which can go undiagnosed for a long time).
Sensitive management is needed to avoid driving gifted people out of organizations. Note, however, that dickery and behaving like an asshole are not likely to be excused by rationalizations like “well, he is shy”.

“check and balance” groups
These groups are always likely to have assimilation and trust issues, since they often exist to ensure that members of an organization consistently perform activities that they don’t like doing. Classic examples are legal compliance, quality assurance and documentation, and, the bane of many IT delivery projects, the PMO.
Skilful, diplomatic leadership in these groups is vital to ensuring that the group is accepted, not just from a work management viewpoint, but also from a personal viewpoint. Bombastic, imperious and demanding leadership in these kinds of groups will tend to result in the group, its members and its work being avoided by the organization. After all, nobody wants to constantly be told “do this or I will report you”.

anybody from “head office”
Almost by default, anybody from a higher-level group in the organization, who shows up to work with team members, will be seen as one of the following:

– a spy
– an agent of (unwelcome) change

This instinctive emotional reaction can only be ameliorated by open, honest and truthful communication about why the person or group is there, and their role. The communication has to meet all of those criteria, and

    there must not be any divergence between rhetoric and reality

. If any divergence becomes apparent, the person or team will immediately be seen as an unwelcome outsider, and the organization will begin to organize to obstruct the perceived goals of the visitor(s).
For example, if a team from head office arrives to perform what is portrayed as a process audit, but it becomes clear that the team is actually identifying groups and individuals who can be dispensed with, that will most likely result in the organization rapidly withdrawing engagement and co-operation. Lower-level employees have a lot less tolerance for bullshit and duplicity than most corporate leaders. The reason why a lot of lower-level people stay at lower levels is often because they either found out (by hard experience) or decided that they were not going to be able to tolerate the levels of bullshit, mendacity and political manouvering that would be required for them to advance. That does not make them naive or stupid. Some of them are just as smart as senior leaders. They just have no tolerance for bullshit, and they have well developed bullshit detectors that can detect a rhetoric-reality gap a long way away.

consultants and contract staff
I have lost count of the number of times I have heard people say things like “doesn’t matter, he’s only a contractor”, usually when attempting to justify or rationalize a capricious or punitive action aimed at a contract or temporary resource.
I have worked in organizations that treated temporary workers and consultants as, quite literally, a lower form of life, putting them in small work areas with poor facilities, and denigrating or ignoring them.
Given that one of the best ways in which you can actually ensure that a person will be a good contributor to the organization is to hire them on a temporary contract, and then make them an employee, it should be obvious why this approach is counter-productive. In the UK, when I worked in IT, companies that treated contractors poorly had…wait for it…major problems not only attracting contract staff, but also tended to have poor quality employees.

agents of change
The idea that agents of change are bad actors is a pervasive one in organizations that are not prepared for or not committed to a change that is being implemented. The agents of change are seen as not having the interests of the organization at heart. This is particularly true if those change agents are consultants or third party organizations. Many people have learned over the years how to pretend to embrace change while actually doing nothing, “waiting out” the inevitable failure of the change management initiative and its replacement by a new initiative that is likely to also fail. Once several successive change management initiatives fail, the chances of any subsequent one failing are greatly increased.

All of the sub-optimal behaviors discussed above can be remediated by leadership. However, leaders need to be prepared and able to understand what is really happening on the ground in corporations, particularly when trying to change the overall culture of the organization. Flying visits are never a substitute for spending time observing behaviors.


The world of Scandinavian female percussionists

I went on a little musical journey this week over Thanksgiving.
As I often do, I explore the world of music by seeking out the work of musicians who have played with my favorite musicians. This is particularly useful for drummers and percusionists, who often move around.
This week, I began by journey by digging into the work of Marilyn Mazur. Born in the USA to Polish-African-American parents, Mazur has lived in Denmark since the age of 5, so she is for all intents and purposes European. She first came to prominence worldwide when she joined the touring band of Miles Davis after playing in the band for his 1984 Sonnings Award-winning concert, where he played a lengthy composition written for him by Palle Mikkelborg, The composition was finally recorded as “Aura” and released in 1989, after Davis had to get an NEA grant to cover recording costs, since his record company at the time refused to pay for the project.
Several years touring with Miles Davis were followed by a lengthy period as the percussionist in the Jan Garbarek Group. This incarnation of the group became the best-known internationally, a beautifully balanced ensemble with Garbarek on reeds, Eberhard Weber on bass, Rainer Bruninghaus on keyboards, and Mazur herself on percussion. All the time, Mazur was recording her own music, via a collection of ensembles that she uses to explore a wide variety of musical forms. Her CD “All The Birds”, culled mostly from live concerts in Scandinavia, is probably the best overview of her musical skills and sesibilities. Collaborators on it include Palle Mikkelborg.
One of the ensenbles that Mazur formed in the late 1990s was Marilyn Mazur’s Percussion Paradise. This occasional group comprised Mazur and whoever she could grab at the time from the ranks of local female percussionists.
Lisbeth Diers is another one of the established Danish percussionists. Adept at both kit drumming and percussion, she has been playing and recording in Scandinavia and Europe for a long time. Here she is holding her own against the great Airto Moreira and Triok Gurtu in 1999 . Here she is at the same festival playing with Mazur and Don Alias. Here she is trying to get gongs and suspended blocks made of ice to sound, well, percussionistic…
Benita Haastrup has been a member of the Mazur ensemble for a number of years. She is a percussionist and music educator, traveling through Scandinavia bringing live music to schools and colleges with her trio DrumDrum. Here is the trio in Copenhagen earlier this year. The trio has released a CD named “Going North”.
Birgit Lokke-Larsen is the fourth member of the ensemble, a percussionist, composer, singer and painter. She has recorded solo CDs “Forbidden Forest”, “Lid Digt”. She formed an occasional duo in 2012 with Jesper Silberg on trumpet and keyboards named Timeland. Like all true percussionists, she will hit anything that might make an interesting sound.
Diers, Haastrup and Lokke also have an occasional side project named Trigong, where they go outdoors and make percussive music using instruments and natural objects.
So here is Percussion Paradise – Mazur, Diers, Lokke and Haastrup, tearing up the Copenhagen Jazzhouse in 2006.
There is a free-wheeling experimental edge to Scandinavian jazz that always results in interesting sounds. Here is Lisbeth Diers playing a small venue with Staffan Svensson in 2012.
There is so much more interesting stuff being created under Mazur’s wing, including Marilyn Mazur’s Shamania, an all-female ensemble, including Lisbeth Diers and the singer Jennifer Cronhokm, with a rotating cast of characters, including dancers. Shamania is true world music, impossible to categorize.
Another Mazur ensemble is Spirit Cave, including Eivind Aarset and Nils Petter Molvaer. .
Here is another live video of Spirit Cave, with a Mazur percussion solo that shows her raw power and chops. She also seems to have brought just about every heavyweight percussion instrument on stage for that concert.
And here is another occasional ensemble, Future Song.
Marilyn Mazur is woven into the DNA of Scandinavian jazz so tightly, and is involved in just about every leading-edge ensemble in the region. Not only that, but her presence has led to an explosion of interest in percussion by women.


Brexit negotiations – posturing and threats to “walk away”

The current Brexit negotiations do not seem to be advancing well.
One of the recurring themes that rabid Brexit supporters keep coming back to is that the UK should just “walk away” from negotiations.
Leaving aside the utterly deluded ideas that many of them possess about what a “hard” Brexit entails, the idea that one should flounce out of a negotiation or threaten to do so in order to get what one wants is an idea promulgated by somebody with no clue whatsoever about how to negotiate.
The UK lawyer Sean Jones wrote a tweetstorm about this pathology recently. I am sharing it below, merged and edited.

A threat to walk away *can* be effective in negotiation, but it is rarely the *key* to a successful outcome.
Very broadly, that’s because most negotiations are not zero sum. An optimal outcome is achieved through co-operation and creative compromise.
First things first: like any threat it can only be at all useful if it is credible.
That has 2 aspects.
1. Your negotiation partner must believe you’ll carry it out;
2. It must be a sufficiently meaningful threat to their own interests (NOT THE COMFY CHAIR!!)
So if walking away is so disastrous that no rational person would contemplate it, your negotiating partner will conclude…
either (1) you don’t mean it;
(2) you do
If you state publicly that it is a negotiating tactic, that undermines the credibility of the threat as it puts sincerity in doubt.
Equally, If you open negotiations with it in the hope or expectation the negotiating partner will “crumble” you aren’t negotiating, you’re bullying. You may feel “strong” but saying “we can’t be precise about what we want but if we don’t get it, we’re off” is not a constructive or rational posture.
There’s a reason we refer to the tactic as an ultimatum. It‘s best used at what might be the *end* of a process; where positions have closed and each side has reached their respective red lines.
It causes each side to ask whether their “final position” should be sacrificed for a deal that is otherwise within touching distance.
My hope is that the UK’s negotiation team is less fixated on this tactic than the Press and the public appear to be.
It’s usually a sign of a failing negotiation and using it as principal leverage is much more likely to be self-defeating than people assume.


America, America – STOP

Stop. Stop Stop Failing US History.
For several years in the early 1950s, according your oral and written history, you were seduced by a demagogue US Senator named Joseph P. McCarthy, who had exaggerated his wartime record, gotten himself elected to the Senate, and then, in 1950, decided to start a campaign against Communists.
Every group in the USA except for one, that should have been acting as a check and balance on abuse of power, then proceeded to say and do next to nothing as McCarthy ran a full-bore persecution campaign using the House Un-American Activities Committee as his own personal kangaroo court forum,. The media swallowed his progressively more ludicrous statements like credulous nodding dogs. (Nothing much has changed). The Senate and the House of Representatives stood idly by. The President did not say anything of consequence (Eisenhower apparently disliked McCarthy and his methods, but, like many politicians of the era, preferred to say nothing of substance publicly).
McCarthy’s abusive power trip was finally ended in 1954 when he was called out by the US Army. Suddenly, nobody wanted to be associated with him, and he died a few years later, having seemingly drunk himself to death. But the damage that he caused to lives, careers and industries took a long time to heal.
Folks, we have McCarthyism unfolding right now, in the form of the backlash (long overdue, I will say) against endemic and pervasive inappropriate and abusive behavior by men in positions of power over women in workplace situations.
So far the main areas where the backlash is pervasive are the entertainment and media sectors, and politics. Bit let nobody be fooled. The level of bad treatment of women in corporations and government was been every bit as bad as those industry sectors. They wre merely shielded by a lower level of consistent public scrutiny.
This backlash has been a long time coming.
However, as those of us who have been on the plant know only too well, humans have a tendency to lurch from one non-optimal extreme to its polar opposite.
Along the way, we are watching the appearance of McCarthyism in front of our eyes. Unsourced or anonymous accusations are being made public against people. This is not good. We have a legal system based on due process for a damn good set of reasons. Mostly, this stems from the idea that maybe, just maybe, you don’t charge ahead and punish people without some verifiable, corroborated and substantive evidence.
What I am seeing unfolding right now is a rush to tar, feather and run men out of town on a rail. The level of vengeful enthusiasm is both salutary and frightening.
Now, I am a white male, so some people reading this will probably already be mouthing “who the **** does this misogynist enabler think he is, mansplaining to us about how to tolerate sexual misbehavior? ***k that”.
Sorry, you will be missing the point.
The point here is a simple one. If you want to run a society based on attempting to compensate overnight for decades of abuse of power by, in revenge, engaging in abuse of the power of publicity and the power of sanction, you are heading down a dangerous path. Vengeful behavior is what turns disagreement into demonization, persecution, skirmishes, fights and wars. This will not end well.
We are starting to head down a dangerous path, with media of all kinds feasting on any anonymous allegation or claim with cries of “See! I knew he was an asshole all along!”. This is not measured, sensible application of logic and careful analysis. This is mob-like behavior, the bayings of groups who seek revenge, not judgment.
Would you like to be put on trial by opinion poll?
Because that is what is happening now in the United States. We currently have all manner of people advising Senator Al Franken to resign because a majority of people asked about the allegations against him think he should resign. Ditto Roy Moore in Alabama.
That is not how politics works, folks Franken was elected by the electors of Minnesota. If those electors decide he is no longer fit to represent them, they can un-elect him. The electors in Alabama can also decide if they want to elect Roy Moore or not.
In the meantime, if the Senate wants to investigate Al Franken’s conduct they can do so. So can law enforcement. However, those latter activities will be based on due process, including the evaluation of evidence. That will require real people to provide evidence, and be prepared to testify in public. This may be difficult for them. However, that’s due process for you. It is not quick or simple.
Right now, the world of social media is full of people who are signing on to any number of cockamamie ideas and theories about just about everything. Many of these people seem to be quite happy to believe anything bad about people or groups based on little to no evidence. They are, individually and collectively, behaving like intellectually comatose credulous dimwits.
I have one question for those people: would they be OK if I showed up at their house and arrested them on suspicion of a felony based on evidence from anonymous sources that I am not going to reveal, and by the way, they are going to stay in jail because the internet social media discussion forums have already decided that they are guilty?
Yeah, I can see them not liking that process all of a sudden.
This is where we are and where we are headed. The destination is undefined, but it will not be a good place to be if we do not wise up and stop behaving like vengeful dimwits.


Professional negligence in the NFL

I am not watching any NFL games right now. I think you know why. At least, I already told you.
However, I can read numbers, and my Twitter feed is alive.
The numbers and Twitter told me that Nathan Peterman, promoted to the starting quarterback position today for the Buffalo Bills to replace Tyrod Taylor, who, in the age-old jargon of pro football, was benched, came into the game at the start today against the San Diego Chargers and proceeded to throw 5 interceptions in the first half. Whereupon, he was removed from the game, and Tyrod Taylor, the man he replaced, was re-instated as the quarterback.
The Bills were down 40-7 at halftime when Peterman was replaced. They ultimately lost the game 54-24.
In other words, with Peterman under center, the Bills were outscored by 33 points. With Tyrod Taylor under center, the Bills gained back 17 points on offense, but gave up another 14 on defense.
Peterman was a good college quarterback not playing on a title-winning team. The Bills had drafted him in the 5th Round this year, and he had won the number 2 spot on the quarterback chart in the pre-season. So, with the Bills seemingly no longer convinced that they could win with Tyrod Taylor, he was The Man when they decided to bench Taylor.
Now, I keep reading all of the time these days that the NFL is nothing like college on offense. Most college teams do not run NFL-style offenses any more, relying heavily on read-option-based offensive schemes that require limited check-downs by mobile quarterbacks. The lament I read is that many college quarterbacks are nowhere near ready to run an NFL-style offense out of college. This implies that many rookie quarterbacks are essentially “project” players, not expected to play for at least 2 seasons.
Peterman’s scouting reports out of college reveal a smart, fairly accurate passer, but one lacking the deep-throw arm strength prized by many NFL coaching teams.
So, I wonder: just what the hell were the Bills doing throwing a 5th round draft pick with limited pre-season game experience and only mop-up regular series experience into a game at a crucial point in the season, with the Bills’s season finely poised at 5-4?
What possible improvement could he provide over Tyrod Taylor?
He does not have a cannon for an arm, so the idea that the Bills could suddenly become a vertical passing team makes no sense. That is before you even look at the Bills’ receiving corps, which does not scream “deep threat”. In fact, it doesn’t even scream “receiving threat”. The Bills do not have a single top-drawer receiver, and their best current receiver, Jordan Matthews, was inactive for today’s game. So Peterman did not exactly have much in the way of likely downfield targets. He can scramble, but lacks the fleet-footed elusiveness of Taylor, who has excelled in the past at escaping from seemingly hopeless broken-play situations and making something happen, usually with his legs.
At this point some bright spark will say “but…Tom Brady!”.
OK Weisenheimer, let’s look at Tom Brady.
Brady was drafted in the 6th round out of Michigan. He was the number 3 quarterback for all of his first season, mostly inactive on game days. In his second season, he moved up to the number 2 spot on the quarterback chart. He was then promoted early to starter after Drew Bledsoe suffered a serious chest injury.
At the time of his promotion, Brady had already been in the Patriots’ system for over a season, and had played in 2 seasons’ worth of pre-season games. By any objective standards, he was far more experienced in the NFL than Peterman was when he ran out on the field today. As history shows, Brady was ready and able to assume the quarterback role for the Patriots at the time of his promotion. As today shows, Peterman was not.
But this is not just about Peterman.
It’s also about the team. Peterman was not expected to be the starter, so he had limited work with the first-team offense in the pre-season, and he and the team had 1 week to prepare for the game. Peterman is a fundamentally different player to Taylor – he is basically a pocket passer with some scrambling ability. Taylor is a scrambler first and foremost, and his pocket skills and check-down abilities are said to be weak, which is probably part of the reason that he was benched.
Most importantly, this decision is about leadership.
Bad leadership.
The decision to insert Nathan Peterman today was professionally negligent. If it was mid-December, with the Bills at 4-9 or similar and already eliminated from the playoffs, the decision would have made a lot of sense. With Taylor on an option year for his contract, it would be time to play the rookie and see what he can bring to the team. But, for crying out loud, the Bills were at 5-4, and still very much in the hunt for a playoff slot. Playing Peterman has resulted in a blowout loss, which leaves the Bills at 5-5, and in a much weaker playoff position.
Now…I can think of a reason why the decision was made to start Peterman today. The head coach for the San Diego Chargers, Anthony Lynn, had been the offensive co-ordinator for the Buffalo Bills the previous season, and the coaches may have decided that Lynn, experienced in the play and behavior of Tyrod Taylor, would create a game plan for the Chargers to disrupt a Taylor-led offense.
While this is all logical, swapping quarterbacks at the last minute only works if the team and the new quarterback are prepared to execute a different sort of game plan. As we saw today, that was not the case.
The decision and resulting loss has left the quarterbacks in a bad place. Taylor was benched last week, a signal (probably already received) that he has no real future in Buffalo. Peterman was thrown into the fire, and has been severely singed, with 5 interceptions in 30 minutes of play ringing in his brain. That will shake any quarterback, especially a rookie.
But the bigger negative message will have made its way to the team. By benching an established starter and experimenting with an unproven rookie, the Bills leadership has essentially told the team that they are quite prepared to throw away the season. That is a horrible message to send. It may actually cause the team to quit on the coaching staff.
No matter which way you analyze the decision to play Nathan Peterman, it was a terrible decision. The only saving grace is that the coaches realized that they had made a big mistake and re-inserted Tyrod Taylor for the second half, but with a leaky defense, and a second-rate offense, even Superman would have struggled to bring the Bills back from a 40-7 hole.
It would not surprise me if one or more heads roll in Buffalo next week. There was no saving grace, no visible upside from today’s events. There is nothing that the coaching staff can point to that was obviously good. They might argue from game tape that Peterman did X better than Taylor, but 54-24 as a box score will blow any of that pretty-pretty analysis to hell and back. If Twitter is any indication of fan reaction, the Bills fans were furious with the outcome, and they blame the coaching staff. Something may have to change.

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