Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Wars

The issue of Syrian refugees is really a moot one in the U.S. presidential election. They'll likely all be dead from coalition airstrikes soon enough.

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What sort of liberties does the U.S. military take in the world? Consider this hypothetical of the exact reverse of our policies: Turkey's president Tayyip Erdogan, as he actually does, blames an American cleric for inciting the coup attempt against him earlier this month, without evidence, so.... he orders a weaponized bomb dropped on the state of Pennsylvania, where the cleric lives. 

Aaron's Swartz and the St. Louis Cardinals

Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, it is illegal to access a computer without authorization. Within the scope of this sprawling, unfocused law, you have committed a felony if you download too much information even from a website that you are authorized to use. If you violate one of the rules on that online service agreement that you agreed to in the pop-up box, but didn’t actually read, that's a felony. If you lie about your age on an internet dating site, you have probably committed a felony because you have violated the service agreement of that site.

CFAA was passed by Congress in 1986, which, alone, should tell you much of what you need to know about its relevance to today’s world of computer crime. The only thing that’s changed about it during the three decades of advanced technology since is the increased size of the punishments for violating it. Misdemeanors have become felonies. This is the law that Reddit co-founder and member of the Internet Hall of Fame, Aaron Swartz, broke when he downloaded academic journal articles from the MIT network. He faced a million dollars in fines, 35 years in prison, and asset forfeiture when he committed suicide in 2013.

It’s also the law that former St. Louis Cardinals baseball scouting director Chris Correa broke when he accessed the password-encrypted Houston Astros’ player scouting records in 2013 and 2014, and now has been sentenced to 46 months in prison. That’s a staggering penalty for an online “assault” that was not malicious and apparently did not seek to harm the Astros, but then so was Swartz’s. The New Yorker has called the CFAA “the worst law in technology.”

Correa testified that he believed his predecessor, Jeff Luhnow, had absconded with the Cardinals’ proprietary scouting information when he accepted the Astros’ general manager position in 2012. Correa pled guilty and was fired by the Cardinals shortly after the story came to public light. A question I have is to the people that repeat the line that “the Cardinals hacked the Astros.” If that scouting information on Jeff Luhnow’s computer belonged to him, and not the Cardinals, how does it then belong to the Astros? Correa “hacked” Luhnow, not the Astros.

But aside from that, this story, as it stretches beyond the realm of sports, is about a law that carries oversized sentences, not distinguishing between cases in respect to intent, and about a Justice Department that seems to have no sense of the weight of its actions. (Or worse, it does.)

I could launch into a defense of Correa here that compares the severity of his punishment to the punishment that inexplicably escaped Hillary Clinton, and I’m going to. Clinton will not be charged by the FBI for operating the business of the U.S. Department of State from her family's private email server, one that was and is safe from Freedom of Information Act requests. Before she was out of office, she deleted emails, and then lied about it. The decision not to prosecute has left her free to continue her campaign for the highest office in the land. This was not the same message the Obama Administration sent when it vigorously pursued whistle blowers Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden. They both graduated to be charged under the 1917 Espionage Act. The Justice Department that pursued and punished Correa is not the one that let Wall Street bankers skate after they collapsed the global economy, nor the one that intimated that Hillary Clinton would not be charged, even though the FBI admitted it was "possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton's personal email account" and that she was "extremely careless" in her "handling of very sensitive, highly classified information."

No, Correa got the Justice treatment that found Manning, Snowden, and lest we forget, Correa’s Major League Baseball colleague, Barry Bonds, who was pursued to the warning track for supposedly lying under oath to a grand jury involving his use of performance-enhancing drugs. (His obstruction of justice conviction was later overturned by an 11-judge panel on a 10-1 vote.)

My problem with Correa’s case, and cases like it, is that the sentencing standards are so out-of-whack as to endanger justice. We see this phenomenon today in nearly all areas of U.S. civil and criminal law. Prosecutors are permitted to seek ridiculously oppressive punishments, and it forces defendants to accept plea arrangements that they otherwise would never consider taking in lieu of their day in court. Did the outsized threat of prison prevent information from coming to light in this case? Correa threw himself on the mercy of the court, saying that he was "overwhelmed with remorse and regret for his actions," but he seems to also have been claiming initially that he, or the Cardinals, were a wronged party.

The punishment has to fit the cybercrime. Was the discovery process sabotaged by Correa’s fear of receiving the maximum possible penalty? My employer has an internet usage policy that I have been guilty of violating in the past. Accessing any online site from your work computer-- whether it be weather-related or anything-- without the consent of your supervisor, is prohibited. This policy is violated by multiple agents on a daily basis. Was I ever under the impression that I had committed a felony by doing this unsanctioned surfing? I was not. But I did, technically, because I violated the agreed-upon terms. What Correa did is a step above a violation of a service agreement. He circumvented password requirements (guessing it based on previous passwords Luhnow used). But 46 months?

From a competitive advantage, I’m hard-pressed to see much damage done to the Astros. It would seem to be at least one step above sign-stealing, although with fewer direct results on the field. There needed to be a punishment, and Correa lost his job. The results of the FBI's investigation seems to suggest that no other Cardinals' front office personnel were involved. The commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred, gets to decide a punishment for the Cardinals organization, whether it be a fine, a loss of selections in the amateur draft, a combination of those two things or more. The Astros can have field manager Mike Matheny if they want him.

I suspect the organization will accept its punishment without fuss. But if it were me, I would fight the whole thing Tom Brady-style. The New England Patriots are actually a good comparison on this topic, and I’m not referring to Deflate-Gate, an issue that is an utter absurdity. Instead, I’m referring to the Patriots secretly videotaping the St. Louis Rams’ practice and run-through prior to Super Bowl 36 in 2002. That stunt put the Rams at a severe disadvantage in that game, yet no punishment was ever handed down after the Patriots employee that did the videotaping made a public admission, and I don’t recollect that the United States Justice Department ever got involved.

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It’s delicious. Too delicious. Yesterday, Iowa Congressman Steve King tells MSNBC that everything that was ever good in the world came from Western Civilization and white culture. That very day ends with Melania Trump lifting entire paragraphs of her speech to the GOP Convention from Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic Convention. It’s just too perfect, so circular it’s a croquet ball. I’m hyperventilating. As Melania’s speechwriter might say, you can’t write this stuff.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The WNBA and a one-man sports round table

An unfortunate strike against the WNBA is that it was originally owned by, still partly owned by, and rests entirely today in the shadow of the NBA.

The National Basketball Association clearly has had a pointed growth strategy, and it's one I question. They place their men's basketball franchises in North America’s largest markets, then, after that, seem to favor secondary cities that boast no other major professional sports teams. You will find no top-tier professional basketball in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, St. Louis, Baltimore, San Diego, or Cincinnati, collectively home of 13 sports franchises, but you will in Sacramento, Memphis, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, Orlando, Portland, and Oklahoma City. There’s no major football, baseball, or hockey in any of these latter seven towns, but because the NBA believed (and still believes, in the case of applicable cities) in pairing men’s and women’s pro teams together by city (and even by nickname-- i.e., the Timberwolves/Lynx of Minnesota, the Suns/Mercury of Phoenix), that leaves at least a dozen major American cities without top-of-the-line pro basketball of any kind. It also leaves the women’s game relegated to a summer activity, and to second-tier status seemingly by its construction. They have an NBA one-off logo, but they are Robin to the NBA's Batman.

Take St. Louis as the perfect example of a deprived city. This past winter, the National Football League’s Rams split for Los Angeles, where team owner Stan Kroenke can now shop more conveniently at Rodeo Drive toupee shops. That leaves MLB’s Cardinals and the NHL’s Blues as the two STL franchises. The Gateway City is 47% African-American, and the WNBA is predominately African-American, but between the two local sports teams, there is currently only one African-American athlete, and believe it or not, he’s a hockey player-- and also, technically, Canadian. We know the NBA holds a grudge against the city ever since the NBA/ABA merger of 1976, when it got swindled fair and square in a business deal by the Silna brothers, Ozzie and Daniel, who owned the ABA’s Spirits of St. Louis. In return for folding their ABA team, the league has paid the brothers a percentage of league TV revenue in perpetuity that has now surpassed $200 million.

St. Louis should be considered an extraordinary, untapped market for women’s basketball. Kansas City needs a team too. Taxpayers there foot the bill for the $276 million Sprint Center, hoping to lure either an NHL or NBA team. Eleven years later, they have neither. No major sports league has tapped adequately into the potential for a cross-state rivalry between nearly-equal-size Missouri cities that produced what was then the most-watched World Series (most total households) in baseball history in 1985. The Midwest has been hugely supportive of women’s college basketball. Not far up the road from Kansas City here in Des Moines, girls’ high school basketball draws even in attendance with boys’ at the state level. Popular and successful collegiate women’s programs dot the Big 12 Conference.

The WNBA might actually become profitable if the Association stopped treating it as simply an advertising extension of their priority product-- men's basketball, if they stop simply placing their teams in arenas that basketball fans too often can’t be troubled to return to for summer outings after the NBA season concludes. Now they even have a television deal that puts the men's summer league games on ESPN in seasonal competition with the WNBA. I have one of the games on right now in the background. It's between the junior Celtics and the junior Cavaliers.

It frustrates me personally when I see the powerful cultural impact the WNBA is capable of having. I want in! Minnesota Lynx players, an overwhelming majority of which are African-American, sported t-shirts during their pre-game warm-ups Monday night that displayed solidarity with recent police shooting victims Alton Sterling and Philando Castile-- as well as the Dallas Police Department, incidentally. Their collective statement caused four off-duty police officers on private security detail to walk off the job at Minneapolis' Target Center-- part of the bizarre ritual American police have now developed pitting supporters of the policies of law enforcement by fear, misinformation, and murder against supporters of actual policing.

If the NBA had any foresight, they would re-locate their less-than-lucrative women’s basketball teams to cities that are the most-starved for basketball. They've already folded teams in the following NBA cities: Salt Lake City, Cleveland, Houston, Sacramento, Detroit, Orlando, Miami, and Portland, but then they expand or relocate to more NBA cities: Chicago, San Antonio, Atlanta, Dallas, and Indianapolis.

Instead of offsetting the teams against NBA big brother franchises and forcing fans inside during North America's warm summer months, move the games into the winter, basketball’s natural habitat, and pair them instead, perhaps, with hockey teams in cities that don’t share their arenas with NBA teams-- the aforementioned Blues, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Ottawa Senators, the Montreal Canadians, the Vancouver Canucks. Drop teams in some of those towns that the NBA has abandoned-- Kansas City, Cincinnati, Baltimore. Put a team in San Diego so that year-round warm weather sports fans in that locale have something to do between the end of the Chargers season at New Years, and the Padres’ home opener in April. How in the world do multicultural, progressive cities like Kansas City and San Diego not have women’s basketball? Does this make any sense? Who’s running this league? The answer to that is: some of the same people that made the business deal with the Silna brothers.

I would buy an entirely-new wardrobe of clothing supporting a WNBA team in St. Louis. Let’s bring the ABA-inspired multi-colored basketball back to St. Louis, and bring back the ABA team name, as well-- The Spirits of St. Louis. The Spirits live again, but this time, featuring chicks.

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The National League loses the All-Star Game again. What is it about the "This Time it Counts"-World Series home field concept that NL field managers still don't understand after 13 years? Forty-two-year-old novelty Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon is named to the team by his own manager with a 7-4 record, 65 strikeouts, a 3.28 ERA, and a 1.22 WHIP. The Cardinals' Carlos "Tsunami" Martinez stays home with an 8-6 record, 91 strikeouts, a 2.85 ERA, and a 1.16 WHIP. Ye there's no controversy. Little Pedro is not even a choice as an injury replacement. San Diego's Will Myers gets the start at designated hitter (in a National League city, huh?), his manager admits, because the game is in San Diego. Good Lord. The fans make the dumb decision of making the .237-hitting Addison Russell the NL's starting shortstop. Fine, unfortunate that he has to bat once. But twice! Sluggers like Starling Marte and Jonathan Lucroy only batted once off the bench. Premier hitting shortstops Corey Seager and Almedys Diaz only batted once. And why isn't Bryce Harper playing the whole game. Or Paul Goldschmidt the entire game as the DH. Instead of one substituting for the other. Play to win next time!

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The National League batting title trophy will now be named for Tony Gwynn. I'm sure Stan Musial finished second again, as he must have when they decided to name the All-Star MVP award after Ted Williams. (I'll let you look up the lifetime All-Star game records for both Williams and Musial.) Of course, Gwynn's eight-batting-title swing produced 135 career home runs. Musial's seven-batting-title swing produced 475.

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New York and Boston still rule Major League Baseball. I guess we've collectively forgiven steroid cheats Colon and David Ortiz. They are the princes of the midsummer ball. Yet all-world players Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa, who played west of the Hudson, remain frozen out of the Hall of Fame.

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Serena Williams would already have more Grand Slam titles than anybody else if Margaret Court and Steffi Graf had sisters with the tennis talent of Venus Williams. The story arc of the Compton, California Williams sisters is, in my opinion, the third-most extraordinary/fascinating story in American sports history, and certainly #1 for the most positive. I would put only above them the O.J. Simpson rise-and-fall narrative and the saga of Steve Bartman.

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Kevin Durant had no choice but to sign with Golden State and create a new "super team." It was predestined. LeBron needs a new challenge.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The long knives

Add Micah Johnson's name to the list of American Snipers that once plied their trade in the United States military. We've also had Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, Kelly David Bangle, another Fort Hood shooter, Aaron Alexis, who killed 12 inside the Washington Navy Yard, Sergio Valencia del Toro, the Wisconsin bridge shooter, Robert Stewart, the Carthage, North Carolina nursing home shooter, and Bradley William Stone, the killer of six, including his family, in Philadelphia.

Among the few online articles I could find on the topic, Texas officials say that at least ten percent of their shooting perpetrators since 2003 are military veterans or active-duty service members, and that number has grown higher since 2013. A 2012 study by the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that nine percent of veterans nationally had been arrested since returning from a military tour, 23 percent among those that suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, of which there have been more than 260,000 diagnosed in the U.S. after serving in conflict. Add these to the long list of "legal" shooters employed by municipal police departments that learned their first tactics of violent engagement while serving in the U.S. military. (Wow, it's much harder to find background information online on police shooters than it is civilian shooters.)

Studies are not easy to come by because nobody wants to admit in an imperialist state that our soldiers and ex-soldiers are "all messed up," but they clearly are. The Pentagon reported last week that, in the year 2014 alone, more than 7,300 veterans committed suicide. That translates to more than 20 a day. Absolutely staggering, though actually down slightly from 2010, when there was an average of 22 a day. These direct-line victims of the American war machine, and those lives that they impact at home, are not included in the casualty counts of our foreign conflicts.

When we are engaged in violent action abroad, and I include our aid of weaponry to rogue theocratic states such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, violence manifests itself more extensively at home. It's that simple. The cause is not guns, specifically, or mental illness, specifically. It's the hyper-militarized police state that we live in, the one Dr. King labeled the most violent on the planet, the only one with more guns than citizens. We publicly execute our criminals, a reality which places us in the exclusive company of dictatorial and ayatollah states. When mass shootings take place at home, politicians name the solution as committing more violence abroad, as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both did in the aftermath of the Orlando shootings.

Today's killers on the home front are a mirrored reflection of ourselves. That's why their photographed images are so fascinating to look at. In 2016, we're seeing the commercialized, capitalistic acceleration of a racist, violent culture, but it isn't new to either the current century or the last one. Slavery was an institution of death and violence and slave labor built the Empire. The ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples is a stain on the flag that cannot be washed clean. Eighteen Medals of Honor were awarded to the Seventh Cavalry for murdering women and children in flight at Wounded Knee in 1890. Today, the disproportionate incarceration rates for Native Americans in western states mirrors that of African-Americans. The reality of modern slavery finds that more African-Americans were killed by police in extrajudicial killings in 2015 (258) than were killed by lynching during the most deadly year of Jim Crow (161 in 1892). In police departments coast to coast, racism is openly tolerated. In supposedly-progressive San Francisco, 14 different police officers were found to have sent numerous racist, sexist, homophobic text messages to each other in 2012 and 2013, texts with messages like "all niggers must fucking hang," and they all kept their jobs. In the United States, major cities like St. Louis and Baltimore still have separate police unions for white and black officers. If online Tweets can be trusted, the race is competitive between whether we have more black people or KKK members employed by our municipal police departments.

After Dallas this week, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch proclaimed that "the answer is never violence," but her employer, the United States government, clearly believes quite the opposite. The result of our ongoing global policing policy is more corpses piled up within our borders and without. Right wing critics are correct when they say that lawlessness is the problem, but that lawlessness is actually an imperialist state that answers to no international law enforcement or court for the actions of its government against foreign peoples or its own citizenry.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The major sex crimes that very definitely never happened

It’s an uncommon election season for sure. One of the duopoly’s presidential nominees is being sued in Manhattan federal court, accused of the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl at a 1994 orgy hosted by millionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein is a convicted sex offender accused of employing underage sex slaves at his private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. A court document alleges that Epstein pimped underage girls to "prominent American politicians, powerful business executives, foreign presidents, a well-known prime minister, and other world leaders."

The litigious Donald Trump finds himself the target of what may or may not be a right wing, not left wing, attack with this suit. As the linked article above attests, media outlets are struggling with how to deal with the story. Other wealthy men from New York’s financial world were guests at Epstein’s island compound, and Epstein is also accused of enabling these sex crimes at his separate residences in Palm Beach, Florida, and New York's Upper East Side.

Did Trump rape an underage sex slave? It seems that some patrons of Epstein may have, and Trump was accused of rape by a former wife, Ivana, during their divorce proceedings, though she later changed her story. Epstein's brother, Mark, testified in 2009 that Trump traveled on the financier's private jet, dubbed "the Lolita Express" by tabloids, at least one time, and according to VICE News, Epstein pled the Fifth in 2010 when asked by a lawyer if he had ever socialized with Trump in the presence of underage girls. Why isn’t the Democratic National Committee making more of the accusation? Because if they’re trying to avoid personal attacks against Trump in this race, they’re otherwise off to a bad start, and of course, vice versa. Is promoting an unproven rape accusation a bridge too far? Because Trump is being called a racist by DNC representatives on a daily basis, and of course, rightly so.

We’re told that a Trump presidency must be avoided at all costs. So where is the Clinton hatchet squad on this detail? The same SWAT team that gutted Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky? The one that birthed the entire Obama birther movement during the 2008 Democratic primaries? Might it be that the Clintons want nothing to do with this story because Bill Clinton is linked to Epstein as well? And it's a much stronger link? Epstein was a favorite political donor of America's most famous power couple, flight logs show that Bill traveled at least ten times on Epstein's private plane, and he's widely reported to have visited the island where Epstein's worst crimes are alleged to have been committed. One of Epstein's victims, Virginia Roberts, said during a 2011 interview that she was told by Epstein that he had "compromising" information on the former president, and that Clinton "owes me a favor."

This is just food for thought before our nation's Independence Day arrives. The wife and I will join dozens of other figurative Moeller family tree branches in Big Sky, Montana, and Yellowstone Park, USA over the Fourth. Here's hoping that the fireworks this year are equal to the ones we’ve seen in the presidential race.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brexit, OJ, and the cabal

One early tangible result of Great Britain leaving the European Union should be the granting of freedom to Julian Assange. The founder of WikiLeaks has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since the summer of 2012, facing trumped-up rape charges and believing that his extradition order to Sweden is part of a conspiracy to extradite him to the United States and be imprisoned on espionage charges.

Snowden's arrest warrant is only valid in member-states of the European Union.

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I watched and enjoyed the ABC/ESPN documentary OJ: Made in America, and it's evident that the officers that investigated the case in 1994 still don't get it. Retired detectives Tom Lange, Mike Albanese, and Mark Fuhrman were among those who appeared in the film to offer new (and old) perspective on the case. The disgraced Fuhrman says he watches video even today of the Rodney King beating and only sees officers doing what they are trained to do. Albanese refers to the Southern California residents that lined the freeway during the Bronco chase, and those that gathered at Rockingham Estate waiting for OJ on that bizarre summer day, as "losers." The irony is that the LAPD often gets credit for saving OJ's life by talking him through his surrender, but I contend that it was those people that watched the slow-speed chase in person-- and those of us who watched on television-- that saved OJ's life.

The LAPD and the LA county prosecutors were-- and still are-- embarrassed by the Bronco chase, but whether it be mishandling evidence, employing officers with racist pasts, or disregarding other possible suspects, notably OJ's son, Jason, the chase was one of the few elements of police work executed correctly in the case. What the blue liners don't like about it is precisely that people were watching. It's the only part of the murder investigation that the public isn't forced to just accept at face value based on police accounts. We are all probably well-aware of the fact that cops hate having people watch them while they do their jobs. The only thing they hate more is somebody recording them while they do it.

The OJ story is lacking a common element of many we hear regarding minority criminal suspects in the United States-- the part where the suspect attempts escape, or attacks an officer, or goes for an officer's gun. If the news helicopters had never spotted the 1993 white Ford Bronco on the Santa Ana and the 405, the surreal story that culminated in the driveway at Rockingham may very likely have had a different ending.

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Trump vs. Clinton: A man with a terrible set of answers versus a woman who doesn't acknowledge or recognize the questions.

Let's nip this in its infancy. Banging on the panic button of a Donald Trump presidency to get me to vote for Hillary is a dead end. If the economic elites in the Democratic Party really feared a Trump inauguration, they would have thrown in behind Senator Sanders, who bettered Trump in head-to-head polls by double the margins that Clinton does. After a disastrous June for Trump, the crypto-fascist still only trails Clinton by five percentage points in national polls.

For almost 20 years, Washington Democrats and Republicans have stood as one on both the issues of border security and neoliberal imperialism. President Bill Clinton made even legal immigrants ineligible for health care benefits. Their religion is already a severe handicap placed on Muslims immigrating to the United States from the "wrong country" and Trump is not yet in office. And when President Trump employs the Espionage Act to imprison anyone that contradicts or displeases him, which he has already vowed to do and has done nothing during the tenure of his private enterprise to make anybody think he's lying about this, we'll need to remember that it was President Barack Obama who brought back an almost-century dead law and used it as a blunt weapon against whistleblowers, journalists, and the freedom of the press.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Thoughts upon the NBA Finals

Congratulations to the city of Cleveland, and to the king of basketball on this particular planet, LeBron James. These Finals deserve to be remembered for a long time. I felt as if I was watching the most important sporting event I'd seen in about five years as Game 7 unfolded last night. This makes six trips in a row to the Finals for James between his time spent with two franchises. It’s his third championship.

This is clearly the crowning achievement of his career, not only for the importance of winning for a sad sack city, but because they beat the mighty Warriors, winners this year of 73 regular-season games against only 9 losses, an NBA record. It’s at least the equivalent of the New York football Giants defeating the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42, yet I’m not so sure Golden State was really the better team here. Indeed, the Cavaliers at full strength this year (James assisted by a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) overcoming a home-court disadvantage, plus a three-games-to-none deficit, makes one wonder whether Golden State would have won last year’s championship if James had had any supporting cast at all. It was certainly a colossal mismatch to have Steph Curry switched off into almost helplessly guarding LeBron in the closing moments of the game (and vice versa), and it makes at least this one observer question whether the MVP voters got it right. In their 93-89 Game 7 victory last nigh, the Cavaliers held Golden State scoreless for the final 4 minutes and 41 seconds of the game, which is a shocking thing to consider.

Michael Jordan’s fans are out in force last night and today defending his “best ever” rep against high-profile Tweeters like Chris Rock, who declared James the new champ. Of that debate, I have these following comments…

-LeBron has three championships, Jordan six, Bill Russell eleven.

-If any of the six Jordan championship teams in Chicago (from 1991 to 1998) were playing their game this year in the NBA, they would have all been home watching the Cavs play the Warriors. It goes without saying that the Bulls never met a team in the Finals as good as these Warriors. When Kyrie Irving hit the go-ahead three-pointer with under two minutes to play, I could practically hear Jordan’s supporters saying to themselves that Jordan was always the man called upon to take a shot like that, but LeBron has never been that kind of teammate. Contrary to popular thought, LeBron’s relocating to Miami years ago was a “team first” decision. He wanted to win, above all.

-Jordan never had a moment in his career on the defensive end of the floor to come remotely close in iconography to the chasedown shot-block off the glass that LeBron performed on Andre Iguodala during the Warriors' second-to-last possession of the season. (The image of such should be the NBA's new logo.) It was perfectly-timed, athletic, and it was a hustle play.

-These stats may not be well-trumpeted yet, but in this 2016 NBA Finals series, LeBron led both teams in scoring, rebounds, assists, blocked shots, and steals. That is insane.

-Let’s say that Jordan still has the more impressive career. I still take LeBron because of the social consciousness. He’s going to be the more transformative figure. When Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012, LeBron and his Miami teammates posed for a photo wearing “hoodies” in solidarity with the dead child, and that action was not an uncontroversial one at the time. It was criticized even by the likes of Jordan acolyte Kobe Bryant.

This sounds terrible to say, but I feel like, if the same situation had presented itself during Jordan’s career, we might have gotten a statement from him along the lines of “white people buy shoes too.” Am I saying that Jordan was a sell-out to black people? No, but during his own time he was incapable of seeing that the struggle of those engaged in slave labor in Southeast Asia, was the same struggle that engaged black people in the United States. African-Americans that can’t see their struggle in the context of the larger struggle of black and brown people globally have no currency to spend with me. Isn’t this the exact legacy of Muhammad Ali, who did see the parallel when his fame and fortune brushed up against the issue of violent struggle in Southeast Asia? Let's put it this way. The dedicatedly-apolitical Jordan may still have been the better player on the court, but I’m jealous of young people today that are growing up with James as a role model when my generation had Jordan.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

How life is like the war on terror

I had a classmate in school that participated in many of the same sports I did. He was the overly-dramatic sort and I remember he would get very angry at the players for the high school that was our chief rival. We were the Benton Community Bobcats, and they were the Vinton-Shellsburg Vikings. I mean he really took that rivalry to heart. I remember thinking at the time that if there was a guy like him going to school at Vinton, and there probably was, those two would hate each other. Their pride in their separate schools fated them to remain apart socially, but they were really the same guy. Couldn’t they see that?

My ego allowed me to believe that if there was a guy exactly like me at Vinton, the two of us would get along famously. I would love to chat the guy up at first base or while somebody shot free throws, maybe we'd compare hair care products. Everyone in the bleachers could see how gloriously chummy we were despite the fact we wore different colors. I still fancy myself as that person, and I’m now going to clumsily connect this concept to the mass shooting in Orlando early Sunday and to the “war on terror” in general.

Isn’t it weird how somebody can be raised to adulthood in, let’s say, Pakistan, under the rules and customs of a certain religion, and be precisely certain that his religious instruction is correct, believing as he does that it answers to the great uncertainties in life about right and wrong and moral purpose? And then a guy can be brought up the exact same way, but in a different religion, in, say, Oklahoma? The two men see themselves as exact opposites because each believes their own religion to be fundamentally correct and the other’s to be an apostasy.

It’s taken a couple days to decipher who the hell Omar Mateen was, but we know a lot more about him on Tuesday than we did on Sunday. Vital testimony has now been given by some of his acquaintances, yet it has, thus far, been strangely ignored by the media. We now know there are viable witness claims that the man was a closeted, shame-filled gay man. He had used a gay dating app on his phone, and had been present multiple times for the course of a year at the same club in Orlando that he would eventually riddle with automated bullets. One man claims he was asked out on a date several times by Mateen, and the ex-wife confirms the killer's homosexuality as well. His father does not, but then he’s likely a major player in establishing Mateen’s spiral of shame in regards to his sexual desires. I'm stereotyping his culture here, but I'm comfortable doing it.

Both major party presidential candidates have used Mateen's violent attack as an excuse to advocate escalating our war with ISIS, but the shooter had no operational links to ISIS as far as anyone can tell. He was inspired by them, but you can’t go to war with every entity that inspires violence. You can’t, right? Hillary and Donald, this question is for you.

We now see the profile developing of the man who despised himself for being gay, whose father’s first report of his son after the killing described a man set to violence by the sight of “two men kissing,” a man that drank heavily, violently assaulted his wives and partners, but was also frequenting, in the months leading up to the attack, this gay club that would become the target of his act of terror. He declared his allegiance to ISIS in a 9-1-1 call during his standoff with police, but he worked security for a major global security firm, G4S, and a “selfie” taken by Mateen features him wearing a New York Police Department t-shirt. Might this not be a man, a victim of bipolar disorder, and threatened to his core by sexual urges he believed to be perverse, attempting to re-establish his manhood in the eyes of the public during his act of suicide by lashing out against that which he fears most and claiming affiliation with a group of religious terrorists committed to restoring ancient law to the world.

Mateen had recently declared his allegiance to Islamic military organizations that are mortal enemies of ISIS-- Hezbollah in Lebanon and al Qaeda in Syria. So we've got some inconsistency as well. It would certainly be inaccurate to say that the attack wasn't connected to the man’s religious beliefs. Homophobia has a primary residence there. But you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that the impulses he was acting on are exclusive to his particular religion. Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal all attended an event in Des Moines last year sponsored by a "Kill the Gays" advocate. When one of their lunatics shoots up an abortion clinic, we don't bomb the Vatican. Mateen was motivated by the preservation of his own individual identity, not by service to any group agenda. He was a soldier for nobody but himself.

Our leaders, unfortunately, have reaffirmed that they are committed to continuing the U.S. military assaults that drive recruiting for extremist organizations. They apparently want for Syria what we have already delivered for Iraq and Libya. Curiously, they want to give ISIS leaders exactly what they most desire, even though this attack stumbled into their lap and they’ll probably want to distance themselves from Mateen as soon as they receive confirmation that he was a queer.

These killers are frighteningly capable of coming from almost any direction. The next mass killer, though, might claim his loyalty is to Operation Rescue, the Likud Party, or even the United States Central Intelligence Agency. These groups consider themselves enemies of militant Islam in the grand battle, but to many of us, they're the same. They promise to fight and destroy the other side on our behalf, but, in truth, we need protection from the lot of them. The rest of us can get along with each other just fine.