Monthly Archive: May 2018

The screw tightens on the NFL over the Kaepernick and Reid collusion cases

The collusion cases filed by Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid against the NFL are moving through discovery. We have now reached the stage where parts of the testimony are being leaked. For a start, internal team communications show clearly that many teams viewed Colin Kaepernick as a starting quarterback. There is also a cunning trailer of yet more damaging testimony via the classic speculated “mystery witness”.
The leaks, unsurprisingly, are not good for the NFL.
However, they are even worse for President Trump. If correct, the testimony given by Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, shows that Donald Trump was threatening and pressuring the NFL and its teams to get them to change their business practices – in this case, the rules related to the playing of the National Anthem. This is a specific violation of the law, as explained here:

The NFL may be moving towards a point where they have to start seriously considering how to settle the collusion complaints. If the complaints move to a full hearing, even if collusion cannot be proved, the PR damage to the NFL will be immense, especially if (as is likely) all of the testimony is revealed. Worse still, the NFLPA, already under fire internally for not fully supporting the players over the anthem protests, may find itself forced by its members to announce how it will protest the new anthem policy (probably by keeping players in the locker room during the playing of the anthem). There is rumored to be a lot of player anger over the new anthem policy and the blackballing of Kaepernick and Reid. The NFL has over 70% black players, so player anger is a real potential issue. Rival football leagues are also starting operations.


Bullshit Argument Rules

Quickly thrown at this morning, here are my 10 Bullshit Argument Rules.

Bullshit Arguments Rule #1
An assertion is not an argument. Claiming that X is true without offering any evidence means that you have not made your case, and the burden of proof still rests with you. Claiming that the other person has to refute X shows that you have no understanding of the basis of logical argument, and you are probably going to have what is left of your ass handed back to you across the debating forum, and quickly.

Bullshit Argument Rule #2
If anybody claims that what they are about to say or support is “just common sense”, get ready to hear or read something that might superficially be logical, but in reality is more likely to be fallacious, nonsensical, bullshit, or a combination of all three.

Bullshit Argument Rule #3
If a person’s posting or argument begins with some variant of “all the people I know think X is true”, then that person is arguing from the fallacy of anecdotal evidence, and they most likely have no useful proof that their assertion or argument is in fact true.

Bullshit Arguments Rule #4
It is a really bad idea to claim that you are an expert on any topic before you start discussing it. This generally activates any smart person’s bullshit detector. Real experts have no need to boast, they are confident in their knowledge and skills and expect that people will soon notice this.

Bullshit Arguments Rule #5
Any assertion or argument that contains juvenile ad hominems is unlikely to positively impress anybody who thinks seriously about the subject. Most likely it will lead to the conclusion that the arguer is behaving like a juvenile. This tends to not yield positive results in discussion with adults.

Bullshit Arguments Rule #6
The assertion “you don’t know what you are talking about therefore I am not going to listen to you” is generally not going to be seen as a good faith attempt at discussion. Because it isn’t. It is normally an attempt to shut down discussion and walk away.

Bullshit Arguments Rule #7
Inviting somebody who disagrees with you to leave the country if they don’t like something is not an argument. It’s another rather bad attempt to end discussion, a juvenile dismissal, logically worthy only of dismissal and contempt.

Bullshit Arguments Rule #8
Arguing in slogans is not using your own voice. You are using somebody else’s voice, and you will not build any credibility in discussion or debate. You are essentially signalling that you are good at mimicry and not much else. A skilled debater is going to fillet you like a supermarket tilapia, and you probably won’t even notice.

Bullshit Argument Rule #9
Memes are somebody else’s voice, mangled quotations or soundbites recycled visually. They are quite often nonsensically wrong, and they merely reveal you as lazy and unwilling to actually do the hard work of constructing and defending a position.

Bullshit Arguments Rule #10
Any assertion or argument that is ridiculous, by logical definition, can be ridiculed, and probably will be.

Bullshit Argument Rule #11
If you want me to respect your arguments, have good ones, and be prepared to discuss and debate.


Saturday Thoughts – 19th May

1. Outsourcing and the British royal family
The British government is an excellent example of the pioneering of outsourcing. The Royal Family hived off the messy business of governing to the current government hundreds of years ago in exchange for annual payments. With the current Brexit mess, they are probably sitting in the palaces sipping tea thinking “Thank God this mess is their mess to solve”…

2. Brexit shenanigans – packing the House Of Lords
Over the decades, many governments have been thwarted by the ability of the House Of Lords to delay or modify legislation passed in the House of Commons. This is actually a deliberate feature of the UK political system. The idea was that the Lords would operate as a check and balance on the government of the day.
The current government, not liking that the Lords has been steadily and persistently voting down government legislation related to Brexit, is now doing something that previous governments often threatened to do, in shows of public bluster, but never actually did. They are asking the Queen to create a number of new Life Peers who will be able to outvote opposition on the Brexit legislation package.
Leaving aside that there may be one or more total scumbags in the list of peers (which is full of DUP leaders, because of the Conservative Party alliance with the DUP), this sets a dangerous precedent. In an ideal world, the Queen would send the list back to 10 Downing Street with “nice try – NO” scrawled across it. Since the Queen is not supposed to get involved in politics, this is unlikely to happen, but it should.
Once the Conservative Party is replaced by a different party in government, we can expect to see this “packing” tactic used by the next government. This is, at its heart, banana republic politics coming to the UK.

3. The phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs
David Graeber first wrote about this concept in 2013. He has now expanded it into a book.
We all know that such jobs exist. What Graeber asserts is that a very significant percentage of the world’s jobs, especially in highly evolved Western countries, are bullshit jobs. As he points out in this interview, the idea that humans, devoid of an 8-to-5 job, would end up as directionless depressed drones is just not true. This is his answer to one of the obvious questions.

Q. What do you think people would do all day?
DG: Well, first of all, we’d go back to having a local hang out. Most societies have that — a place where people go during the day to be sociable beings. Maybe in the Middle East it’s a tea house, if you’re in France or Spain maybe it’s the cafe. The point isn’t what you do there, it’s the sociability. I made a joke about what people would be doing if they had basic income, they’d be at the cafe arguing about their politics and their much more complex polyamorous love affairs. Because they have more time to make for more interesting gossip.

4. Ask Feynman
As was quite often the case, Richard Feynman said it all:


Sunday thoughts before I head back to work…

1. The Trump decision to help out ZTE
People on the internets are to varying degrees stunned by the decision of Donald Trump to suddenly decide to work with China to get failed Telco ZTE back into business.
This is no suprise.
Donald Trump wants a summit with North Korea.
North Korea is a client state of China, which supports it economically, and is seen by China as a buffer state between itself and South Korea.
There is no way that North Korea will attend a summit with the United States without the tacit approval of China.
China is playing a beautiful game of quid pro quo. Trump wants the prestige of a summit (and by the way, apart from releasing 3 US citizens, 2 of whom were detained since Donald Trump became POTUS, North Korea has made NO concessions whatsoever to the United States so far), but in order to get a summit, he has to give China something in return. China, as it tends to do, has driven a hard bargain, and is attempting to humiliate Trump along the way, to put him in a still weaker position where he needs a Big Win from the summit, and will make further concessions to North Korea and China to get that Big Win.
This is China playing chess while Donald Trump golfs.

2. Yet more Trump support buyer’s remorse
So, once again, we hear whiny businesspeople lamenting “when I voted for Donald Trump, I expected him to screw over The Undeserving Folks. Not good honest Deserving folks like me and my buddies”. This time, Maryland crab fishermen are discovering that when you start to look like a country stuffed full of assholes who don’t want to accept or hire immigrants to do dirty low-wage jobs..well, you have a shortage of people willing to do those jobs.

This should be, to those of us not blinded by partisan mind-distortion, blindingly obvious. Yet the Trump supporters suddenly sound like all of their critical evaluation faculties went AWOL at voting time, and now they are only just realizing that Donald Trump is a venal, self-interested asshole who doesn’t on a human level give a damn about anybody else.
Well, congratulations guys, but you’re a bit slow on the up-take. Now you need to start eating some crow. Right now I have empathy for these folks, but absolutely no sympathy. They should have known what and who they were voting for, and if they did not, well, time to wise up and learn how to engage in due diligence next time round.

3. The bizarre lack of personal responsibility of snowflake authoritarians
Bari Weiss is being dragged on the internets over an article that she wrote that essentially claims that abuse of self-identified conservatives by liberals resulted in a number of them deciding to become Trump supporters.
This idea is intellectually risible. If somebody freely and voluntarily decides to support an asshole, they don’t get to blame other people for making them vote for the asshole. This is a total negation of the entire dictum of personal responsibility that I constantly have to read and listen to from conservatives
Weiss may well be correct that some Trump supporters decided to support Trump because those mean Liberals hurt their feelings. However, as one commenter said, if “abuse” from liberals made them vote for Trump, they were most of the way towards that decision anyway. It’s also not a good look for people when they can be that easily persuaded to vote for an asshole. It makes them look weak, gullible and easily led. So Weiss’s article, which might be read as a logical explanation by some, is in fact a tacit admission that many conservatives are indeed, as I suspected, thin-skinned credulous fools.

4. Another Texas school district scandal (surprise, surprise)
The Katy ISD has a scandal with its superintendent, who was accused (among other things) of bullying.
The school district, unsurprisingly, has decided to get rid of the superintendent, but, lacking the willingness or ability to terminate for cause, it instead has negotiated that he will leave in January 2019 with a payoff of $750k.
At the same time, the district, not content with throwing good money at a departing employee, is also funding lawyers to see if critics of the school district can be charged with defamation.
Apart from the reality that, as a practical matter, it is extremely difficult to prove defamation in the USA, Katy ISD may end up spending a lot more money than it intended. Texas has a robust anti-SLAPP statute, and any defendants may not only apply for dismissal, but may also file under that anti-SLAPP statute to recover costs and lawyers fees.
I have no idea why Katy ISD thinks this sort of officially-sanctioned chickenshit move is a good idea.

5. Mooslems? Antifa? Nope, just another collection of Very Fine People
Another day, another SovCit conviction…the biggest threat from domestic terrorism is angry, twisted white folks.


Watergate vs. Iran-Contra and what it tells us about American attitudes to malfeasance

When we are faced with the obvious signs of malfeasance by high elected officials in the USA, people often assert that ultimately the malfeasance will be ended and the bad actors punished. The normal approach is some variant of “well, Nixon lost his job over Watergate, so the system corrects itself”.
This is all fine and uplifting, but the reality is somewhat different. For every Watergate, there are multiple scandals where perpetrators not only go unpunished, but they are actually rewarded for their bad behavior.
Like Iran-Contra.
The story is well-known by now. Oliver North, working in the Reagan administration, discovered that on one side of the world were a group of people with missiles but no money. On the other side of the globe were another group of people with money but no missiles. They wanted to buy missiles.
So, in the grand tradition of American entrepreneuralism, North brought the two sides together (totally covertly) and SHAZAM! a deal was done, and both parties were happy.
The fact that North should not even have been dealing with either group, since it was official US policy to not deal with them, was ignored totally. Plus the deal was illegal on multiple different levels.
Oliver North testified (or more correctly, gave limited testimony and then invoked his 5th Amendment right to non-self-incrimination dozens of times) to Congress, under an immunity deal. He was subsequently charged with felonies, tried and found guilty. However, since he had been granted a level of immunity in negotiations with the government over his testimony on the affair, his felony conviction was overturned on appeal.
North then ran for the Senate in 1994 as a GOP candidate for Virginia. Not only did the party eagerly embrace him, he came close to winning the election.
Were it not for the presence of a moderate Republican candidate on the ballot, who won 11% of the vote, North might well have won the election. North was, and still is, seen by many GOP partisans as a hero, penalized by spineless wimps and liberals for Doing What Was Best For America. The fact that, by his own admission, he broke the law and was unrepentant, is seen as a feature, not a bug. Most of the money he raised in his 1994 campaign came from small donors, a powerful illustration that the appeal of authoritarians to the GOP base is a long-standing one, not just a recent affectation.
Now, just in the last couple of days, North has been appointed to be the Chairman of the National Rifle Association. His status as a hero of illegal covert operations has once again catapulted him to a top public role.
Time and time again we see perpetrators of malfeasance suffering either no negative consequences, or at best suffering temporary negative consequences. This is important, since is a significant contributor to a pervasive cynicism about societal and political leaders. This cynicism in turn results in two negative behaviors (1) withdrawal from the political process and voting (2) a willingness to embrace any political candidate who is able to plausibly and superficially pass as an “insurgent” or “outsider” (which, in most cases is on a par with saying “I’m telling the truth, you can trust me”) and who promises to “turn the place upside down”, “drain the swamp” etc. Both of those behaviors, added together, resulted in the election of Donald Trump.


The NFL’s anthem kneeling controversy escalates

In the beginning…Colin Kaepernick knelt when the National Anthem was played.
Then other players joined him, not only on the 49ers, but players from other teams also joined in.
Then the President of the United States had a hissy-fit and made a lot of noise about the protests, and was joined in the condemnation by lots of people with no understanding of the law, the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, or the Constitution.
Then Colin Kaepernick found himself unable to get a job in the NFL. Eventually he filed a collusion complaint.
Then Eric Reid, who had also kneeled for the anthem, found himself also unable to get a job, and also filed a collusion complaint with the support of the NFLPA.
The blackballing of Reid and Kaepernick (whether this rises to the level of collusion is still to be determined) has pissed off the NFLPA. Remember that 70% of the NFL’s players are African-American.
The NFLPA has now filed two complaints of its own. The complaints are the first time that the NFLPA has become involved in complaints that are broader in scope than one specific player. The players are now beginning to push back collectively in one of the few ways that they can legally do so, via the grievance processes built into the Collective Bargaining Agreement. One thing to realize is that there is an underlying resentment of the current CBA on behalf of the players, who feel that the owners got too large a share of league revenues, and who believe that the Commissioner has abused his powers in the areas of player discipline. (Remember that the owners opted out of the previous CBA, and then took a very tough line in negotiating the current CBA).
The NFL owners, many of whom are used to getting their own way in business, having run privately held businesses for most of their lives, have spent too much time and effort in recent months listening to the President, and not enough time listening to their employees. This may be about to backfire on the NFL.


University sports coach firing scandals

When I arrived in the USA in 1994, I soon discovered that in Texas, just about every school district sooner or later has a scandal break out. (In the case of the Dallas Independent School District, a scandal has appeared like clockwork every 2 or 3 years. Like this one from 2017).
Browsing on the Internets the other day, I found that this might also be true in college sports coaching. There are literally dozens of Google entries documenting how fired coaches all over the country have been suing colleges for being dismissed.
Some of the lawsuits are whistleblower/retaliation lawsuits, basically alleging that the university or college was guilty of Title XI violations, and retaliated against coaches for identifying the violations. A number of female coaches in sports such as softball and basketball also sued colleges for sexual discrimination and/or harassment.
Needless to say, in the grand tradition of civil lawsuiting, nearly all of the cases were settled out of court, with the colleges in question paying sums of money (in some cases, large sums of money) but admitting to no wrongdoing or malfeasance.
One lawsuit that caught my eye was a settlement announced recently between San Diego State University and Beth Burns, who had been the university’s female basketball coach until she was terminated in 2013. Burns was forced at the time to retire with 4 years and $880k left on her contract. The college claimed she was effectively dismissed because of workplace violence, and was given the option to retire, which she accepted. Burns claimed in turn that she had been forced to retire mainly because she had been vocally complaining about the under-funding of female sports at SDSU compared to male sports.
The final settlement announcement was bizarre, for this line from the university’s statement:

“This is a situation where, although we are very confident of our chances on appeal, we decided to reach a settlement and move on. It’s a compromise. It’s something where clearly coach Burns is ready to put this behind her and we’re ready to move forward as well.”

The use of the word compromise is the side-splitter. Burns originally sued the college to be awarded $880k, the amount still owed under her contract, plus lawyers fees. The university low-balled her, so Burns filed a whistleblower lawsuit which went to a jury trial, where she was awarded $3.2m plus costs and fees in 2016.
The final bill to the university is therefore in excess of $4m. That is a compromise? Somebody at SDSU should have been terminated for incompetence for agreeing to actions and tactics that converted a liability that could have been less than $1m into a final cost of more than $4m.
Just to add insult to injury, the university also had to pay over $150k in damages to the assistant coach who was alleged to be the victim of the incident that led to Burns’ leaving SDSU.
However, this may be part of a pattern. This is at least the third lawsuit settled by SDSU in the last 12 years involving female coaches who sued the university. This article documents 2 previous lawsuits filed by departed coaches, both settled by the university. One starts to wonder if SDSU has a systemic problem in this area.
For sure, problem or no problem, it is costing the university and its insurers a lot of money.


The emotional appeal of past glory – Grimsby, UK

This interesting article in the New York Times does a good job of explaining why and how nostalgia for a past phase of the UK’s achievements came to dominate decision-making by local electors at the expense of an understanding of current reality.
This problem is endemic when extractive and exploitative land and sea-based industries decline due to the exhaustion of resources, or the Tragedy Of the Commons. Local and regional economies built on those industries have trouble dealing with the decline, partly because it is often dramatic and sudden, and it impacts such a high percentage of local employment. The decline in steel manufacturing, followed by coal mining in parts of the UK that began in the 1960s left large areas of the UK in severe economic distress, which in turn fuelled resentment and antagonism towards governments (who were perceived to not give a damn) and experts, whose exhortations about “technology” and “re-training” were unlikely to be received well by workers who left school at 16 precisely because they hated the school system.
The underlying reality is that the image of Grimsby as a fishing port that electors want to restore is totally out of touch with present-day reality. The Golden Age Fallacy won out over reality when it came time for the electors to vote. These kinds of situations never end well. Reality tends to win when it collides with fantasy.
The fantasy of the UK as a present-day Great Imperial Power, the stuff of history textbooks, is still fixed in the minds of many UK residents, as exemplified by this piece of bluster from a Grimsby resident:

“Europe needs the U.K. more than the other way around,” said Ian Thompson, a Grimsby resident and former merchant marine, having a drink under one of those sepia-toned photographs. “We will prevail.”


Enablement of abuse by churches

I know several women who have been the victims of abuse (both mental and physical) in relationships.
My tentative conclusion from conversations with those women, and their friends, is that abuse, once entrenched in the relationship, will continue until the abused party walks a long distance away from the entire relationship, or the abuser suffers a painful epiphany (as in, jail time).
The saddest part of viewing abusive relationships from outside is that, in addition to the abuse, the abused person is often not supported by their extended family. In addition, abusers are enabled in the continuation by the value systems of those they associate with and respect.
One of the most pernicious and long-lived enabling bodies for marital abuse are churches, who are mostly governed by patriarchs whose attitude to women is that they are useful as submissive chattels and child production units.
This church leader exemplifies the problem. Not only is he an enabler, and therefore an asshole, he also seems to think that he has said and done nothing wrong. For him, Denial is definitely the place to be.


Saturday thoughts – Cinco de Mayo

1. Poor decisions made by electorates
I have to listen to and read pissing and moaning by electors on a daily basis about how most politicians are “con-men”, “hucksters”, “snake-oil salesman”, along with other words that my mother would not approve of.
The fact that those politicians were elected (and in many cases, re-elected) by electors somehow never makes it into the conversation. My cynical side says that this is because it requires electors to face up to the reality that they were persuaded to vote for those defective representative, thus the joke is on them, and that would require humility, self-awareness and reflection that they do not possess the capability to engage in.
In the meantime, jerks like this guy get elected even though they engage in arsehole smack talk on social media, and because the political party that this guy belongs to is dominated by power-hungry jerks with no scruples, he has been magically un-suspended by the party so that he can be seated.
So…the electorate has, once again, enabled bad behavior. This is a pretty good illustration of why I have limited patience for whining by electorates about their elected representatives. A lot of the time, they voted for these human dumpster-fires.

2. And…talking about human dumpster-fires…
Ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a living monument to the collective inability of an electorate to understand how not to vote for a fascist dickwad. The voters of Maricopa County in Arizona re-elected him for decades, and he has cost the county untold tens of millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements in the last 10 or so years.
Arpaio has be pardoned by Donald Trump for criminal contempt after failing to own up to Bad Stuff done on his watch. However, there is other even worse stuff that he was involved in that he has managed to weasel out of accountability for. Like this horrendous abuse of the judicial process:

Note to electors in Maricopa County; don’t even try to convince me that you had a damn clue what you were doing when you voted for this guy. You didn’t, you didn’t learn despite all of the accumulating evidence, and now Maricopa County appears in Google for a lot of wrong reasons. Your bad.

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