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December 10, 2022

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No one will know for a few years, but I'm thinking that UCLA and USC joining the Big 10 is going to turn out badly in many ways. Having all (but one) of the conference away games two or three time zones away will be bad for UCLA and USC, especially for the small sports. I think everyone is going to be disappointed in the long run over the long run in how the television revenues work out. I suspect that the recruiting impacts on the Big 10 and the two LA schools will be bad. And the US Olympic Committee will be proven right, that damaging the Pac-12 is going to have detrimental effects on development of athletes in many Olympic sports.

My sense is (and I admittedly pay little attention to this specific case) that the move of USC and UCLA is basically about football. Specifically, about the big money that colleges make from it.

That makes me twitchy. Sports traditionally are about healthy athletic activity. However football is anything but. The rate of brain injury, at every level from high school to the NFL, is substantial. And it seems like we keep getting evidence that it is worse than we thought. We would all be better off if it disappeared altogether.

For those outside the US, that goes for your football, too. Banging your head into a ball has the same negative effects (I heroically resist saying "impacts") on the brain as getting banged around by blocking and tackling.

There are lots of sports -- baseball, basketball, track, swimming -- which don't involve serious risk of long-term damage to the participants. We should stick to those.

The long term changes and consequences are tbd, but I am glad that all the cant about “tradition” and “purity of amateurism” is finally being dispensed with as excuses for the exploitation of (especially) D-1 football and basketball players, and the primacy of money not hand-waved away.

wj, concussions, that's another log on the fire.

The point about a drop off in Olympic sports development is interesting, because my sense is that if the US doesn't have a compelling storyline in a sport, it generally gets ignored in the US and because the bulk of the money is driven by US sponsorship (I think), it will have a downstream influence.

In this context, I've never seen a game of Jai-alai, but apparently, the sport is dying
https://www.sbnation.com/longform/2013/2/28/4036934/jai-alai-sport-in-america-miami

and it seems like a lot of the same forces are acting on other sports.

I submit that you Americans don't understand an Englishman's feelings about football. We don't discuss who's the GOAT*, that's a US concept. We know that the England team is not as good as we'd like it to be, we know that FIFA is deeply corrupt, we know that foreign referees don't like us and we get bad rulings, and we're still hurt when England lose.

*If we did discuss it, it would be Matt Le Tissier

I submit that you Americans don't understand an Englishman's feelings about football.

Quite possible. From this distance, it seems like cricket** could provide a focus for national feelings at least as well. But I certainly yield to those closer to the scene.

** Which I understand even less well than soccer, impossible as that seems.

*If we did discuss it, it would be Matt Le Tissier

This made me chuckle out loud (although I've no idea who he is).

I'm also coming to the conclusion that sports talk is really a covert way of expressing male toxicity. Debates about who is the GOAT, who are the 25 greatest in the sport, lends itself to the expression of opinion that is fraught with aggressive, take no prisoners posturing.

As I think I've said before, I am completely uninterested in most sport, except tennis. But in my experience, some sports-mad people (or families) can discuss finer points of technique, or GOATs, without male toxicity or aggression. Baddiel and Skinner's Fantasy Football League which I occasionally caught snippets of was a good example of something I think still goes on: wry conversations displaying (perhaps soi-disant) expertise and connoisseurship, liberally mixed with despair at the participants' own favourites' bad luck, bad judgement or other shortcomings.

...and it seems like a lot of the same forces are acting on other sports.

When the PAC got a new commissioner, who said that the focus would be on football and men's basketball, and the Stanford AD said in response that they would be cutting minor sports in order to do that, the Stanford students held protests and the athletic dept reversed its decision.

The PAC-whatever sponsors a ridiculous number of sports. Which says something about why all of Stanford, UCLA, and USC have more than double the number of NCAA Div 1 team championships than the fourth-place team on that list.

Pro Bono, that's a good point, I think Americans have always had an urge to quantify sporting success, and the whole GOAT/best team/ yada yada yada has led to a lot of this.

This made me chuckle out loud (although I've no idea who he is).

Watch this.

And, as a partial illustration of my point, I have just read this tweet by the lovely Richard Coles, ex-Communard and now a retired CofE vicar:

Oh this is bitter, and some of the decisions lacked Solomonic circumspection, but no shame in that performance, and I couldn’t love Harry Kane more #ENGFRA

Just after he tweeted:

Oi M Frenchie!

LEAVE
SAKA
ALONE

Pro Bono: amazing. Great skill is great skill, no matter how uninterested I generally am.

The context of the whole thing in Qatar is, of course, sickening, but I did watch the last two England matches, only to take part in what felt like a national event (a bit like the Queen's funeral). Which means that, rather surprisingly, I completely understood Rev Coles's two tweets.

Sports traditionally are about healthy athletic activity.

By no means not always: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nationalism_and_sport

I've soured a great deal on pro sports as well, for the same reasons that lj outlines, but also because I'm really disillusioned with sports as a media spectacle. I am still enthralled by sports in general, but the commercial media presentation of it has really led to its detriment.

I think women's sports are healthier, generally speaking, than men's precisely because there is no money and limited media exposure. I think if we could learn to love women's sports as is without all of the toxic garbage soup of the manufactured tribal media spectacle, then we'd be much better able to sort through the rest of what is wrong with sports.

And also, go FC St. Pauli!

I think women's sports are healthier, generally speaking, than men's precisely because there is no money and limited media exposure.

Still the ladies have to put up with a lot, e.g. clothing regulations that have nothing to do with sports but with male spectators (=customers). Only recently (over here in Europe) female sports teams tried to refuse to wear designated revealing outfits and got informed that they had to either wear it or be disqualified. And it was pretty open that this was about "if there is not enough exposed flesh, fewer guys will watch and this cuts into the bottom line which is the #1 priority.".
And then there was the Olympic ski jumping farce a few years ago (no females allowed since it could endanger their fertility).

But in my experience, some sports-mad people (or families) can discuss finer points of technique, or GOATs, without male toxicity or aggression.

I should add, I don't think that sports fandom/following automatically has to be linked to male toxicity, but a lot of it ends up there. Nous mentions the media spectacle, which might have that as a pillar and certainly, nationalism is intertwined with male toxicity.

I don't think that sports fandom/following automatically has to be linked to male toxicity, but a lot of it ends up there.

lj, I think you may have this the wrong way around. It's not that sports fandom leads to male toxicity. It's that male toxicity manifests itself, in part, as sports fandom. Especially, no surprise, the more extreme fanaticism variety.

In short, it's extreme sports fandom that is the effect, not male toxicity.

I'm skeptical of definitive cause-and-effect assignments when it comes to complex, diffuse phenomena like the ones under discussion. The causality can go in both directions. We're not talking about a cue ball hitting an eight ball. We're talking about something more like millions of balls colliding at various angles and moving in many directions over time. Any given ball might do the hitting or be hit at a given time. There's no clear direction of causality for the system as a whole.

No question there is a feedback loop there.

I spent a lot of time in my 30s driving as part of my job, and listening to talk radio and sports radio. There is a particular brand of edgelord tribalist trash talk that bled over between them, and then spilled out into regular media coverage and social media from there. That became the model for the modern 24 hour sports channel and rw edgelord entertainment in general. The horrible love child of Limbaugh and Jim Rome.

It's not that the behavior was always there. Those two people in particular modeled the behavior to the rest of the anxious masculine world and spread a way of being. I watched my friends pick up and parrot that behavior and teach it to each other.

There is less of this in soccer, but soccer has its own brand of toxic fan behavior and faustian political pacts. And oh so much corruption at the association level.

What hsh said. I'm not saying that one begets the other, I'm just saying that co-occurrence is pretty striking. So striking that it's one of the reasons I've been turned off from sports

Edgelord: another excellent new word.

Not sports, but toxic masculinity: I'm just watching a program on C4 where a female journalist goes undercover in the nightlife area of Liverpool, acts drunk and separated from her friends, and records everything that happens. Luckily, she is followed by a whole crew, with lots of hidden cameras, and the hotel room where she is staying is all miked up, and with cameras etc.

Before she shows what happens, she interviews a whole class of schoolgirls of about 14. About 70% of them describe how they have been sexually harassed on the street or on public transport, many of them when they were about 10 or 11. She searches the internet for school uniforms for girls: all are sexualised images (think Britney and Hit Me Baby). She searches for school uniforms for boys: plenty of pictures of blazers, and satchels.

She puts pictures of herself at 18 on a dating site, and records and shows what starts happening almost immediately. Innumerable dick pics, some videos of men masturbating etc, and this goes on for days without her ever responding.

Then she shows what happens in Liverpool. Within a short time, less than half an hour, a man starts following her and talking to her. She, acting drunk, keeps saying she just needs to find her friends. He keeps saying he likes her and will go with her, she keeps saying she’s fine, no thanks. He follows her back to her hotel, and into her hotel room. Only because she immediately stops acting drunk, and starts questioning him, does he eventually go, after first trying to say they went in together, and asking her for sex.

She does the same thing the night after, in the west end of London. Two men (pretending not to be together) start following her within 15 minutes, and she texts her team to say she wasn’t prepared for this scenario and has to stop for a while.

After retreating to the hotel, she goes out again, and the exact same thing which happened in Liverpool happens again, only this time the man leaves when she goes into the hotel.

The last part of the program shows her, with a panel of about 12 men, of various ages, chosen from around the country, watching all the footage with her. They are extremely shocked, and all discuss how if she really had been drunk it would obviously have ended in rape, and if this happens each night in every city, what the consequences are and how many predators there must be out there.

I am prepared to believe that none of the men who participate on this blog are capable of this kind of behaviour, and nor do I want to stop discussion about sport, male behaviour around it etc. But I am inclined to think that when we talk about toxic masculinity, and its mechanisms in the culture, this entitlement and misogyny is what needs the attention. The way some men talk when arguing about sports is, at the very most, a side issue.

There is a deep link between the sort of behavior you describe there, GftNC, and the behavior of many star athletes. The key link between them is power, and it's the toxicity around power imbalances and glorying in it - performative dominance, that I'm highlighting. One of the people I have read as part of my martial arts training calls the dynamics the "group monkey dance" and "status seeking display."

It's not the fault of sports. Sports is just a primary group activity for socializing boys into this behavior and spreading it from one generation to the next.

I don't want to claim that stopping sports talk is going to solve misogyny. It's just that I find that sports talk, especially through the internet, is one place where it resides and it is enough to have me avoid it. I don't want to call out people or other commentariats for it, though when I read thru comments of places that end up debating sports, I feel like it becomes part and parcel of the give and take.

I've obviously not seen the program, but I wonder how many of the men who end up following the woman are wearing some sort of sports kit. We take wearing a jersey for granted, and lots of people wear jerseys, but it does act as a marker.

I'm trying to (and failing) to remember some sort of kerfluffle where someone expressed some really toxic sentiments and someone else defended it as the 'normal thrust and parry of debate' (it was either the UK or Aussie parliament)

How one roots this out is an open question. A volunteer group that I used to work with has gone all in on a code of conduct which allows members to report behavior that they feel is inappropriate. Which is good because male privilege continues to be a problem. Unfortunately, it doesn't work, the whole system is burdened with the opposing pulls of trying to be transparent and allowing people to make complaints anonymously and it seems to me that people are using it to settle scores that are unrelated to the problematic behavior.

Forgot to include this link to a review of the program GftNC talks about

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2022/dec/12/undercover-sexual-harassment-the-truth-review-so-upsetting-it-should-come-with-a-trigger-warning

There is a deep link between the sort of behavior you describe there, GftNC, and the behavior of many star athletes.

This is absolutely true, nous. But it is totally unconnected, in the majority of cases, to "power" (if you mean wealth, or fame), unless you are including the fact that men are more physically powerful than women. Whatever part the strength issue plays in this behaviour, the fact that it (the behaviour) is so common as to have happened to some extent to most girls or women shows that what it is about is what is now called "male privilege" (which is of course a kind of power). These men do it, because they can, and there is something in our culture which makes them feel entitled to do it. The two men filmed following her to her hotels were not wearing sports clothes, but they both had non-English accents. I draw no conclusions from this, although I imagine racists and/or xenophobes would. As a woman, I am perfectly aware that these could just as easily have been Englishmen.

Thanks for that link, lj. Yes, as that piece makes clear, it was a pretty harrowing, although to a woman unsurprising, watch.

By power I mean simply the social need to dominate someone else and be able to exert your will over them.

That so much privilege accrues to people who display these traits on the sports field is just another public facet of the underlying dynamic.

the social need to dominate someone else and be able to exert your will over them

Oh right, nous, got it. And it is a pretty good definition of toxic masculinity, as well as other brands of oppression.

There can be a lot of social pressure put on the non-predators by the predators as well. There were a couple of times when I was much younger, in a relatively closed social group of both men and women, and word would leak that I was on the women's list of men it was safe to ask to get them home when they were under the influence. I took a lot of crap from other men over that.

The two men filmed following her to her hotels were not wearing sports clothes, but they both had non-English accents. I draw no conclusions from this, although I imagine racists and/or xenophobes would.

I keep hearing there's a problem in England of supposedly middle-eastern men grooming and otherwise mistreating young women. And the police are reluctant to do much about it because they don't want to be accused of being racist and/or xenophobic.

CharlesWT, that's a right-wing trope - and wrong:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/dec/19/home-office-report-grooming-gangs-not-muslim

Speaking of the right-wing, I wonder when Musk will actually get someone killed:

First Fauci / Trans people:

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2022/12/elon-musk-twitter-far-right-activist/672436/?utm_source=pocket_reader

Now former Twitter head of safety / gay people:

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/12/elon-musk-smears-former-twitter-executive-yoel-roth.html

that's a right-wing trope - and wrong

The Guardian article greatly overrepresents what the Home Office report says (see the section on Ethnicity).

That Home Office report is into Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) which is what most of the understandable moral panic relating to Muslim "grooming gangs" was about, and where (as Charles WT suggests) fear of appearing racist stopped some authorities in the past from intervening.

The program on C4 was mainly about the sexual harassment of adult women - a phenomenon so frequent as to be commonplace to most women. Of course (as the schoolgirl segment showed) it starts early, and there is no doubt the whole subject, age immaterial, is because of culturally baked-in misogyny and male entitlement.

I see tiny green shoots of public engagement with this issue. There are ads on TV showing boys standing up to their catcalling pals, and I was encouraged to watch a recent Gogglebox where the participants (who are, both male and female, assembled from a wide range of regional and class backgrounds) all unanimously reacted to a rape storyline in a soap opera they were watching by rejecting the victim's self-blame (what she was wearing etc) and concentrating on the fault being the man's, etc etc.

But let there be no misunderstanding: fending off the kind of stuff shown in the program, or lesser (but not micro) aggressions, is the stuff of daily life for most women.

when I was much younger, in a relatively closed social group of both men and women, and word would leak that I was on the women's list of men it was safe to ask to get them home when they were under the influence. I took a lot of crap from other men over that.

I am just so glad that my social circle was nothing like that!

fear of appearing racist stopped some authorities in the past from intervening.

This is a reductionist reading of the events. Cf. e.g:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotherham_child_sexual_exploitation_scandal

These are complex sociological matters, yet it often ends up as something ljke "political correctness gone mad enabled brown people culturally disposed to sexual abuse."

They certainly are complex sociological matters, and the sentence you have in quotes is far from my view. One of the contributory factors, for example, was that the police treated the accounts of young girls (of 12 or 13) from deprived backgrounds or in care as coming from girls who were "promiscuous", badly behaved, or in some way trashy, and therefore negligible or responsible for their own abuse. And these classist, misogynist attitudes were a tremendous element in preventing the girls' or their mothers' accounts from being acted on. But certainly, some of the councillors were (as I recall) quoted as talking about having been worried about being accused of racism. And, to add to the complications, as your link makes clear there were many girls in the same communities as the perpetrators who were also abused, and did not report it because of cultural shame. This was a horrible, toxic brew of factors, and "political correctness gone mad" is almost never a satisfactory explanation for anything.

the sentence you have in quotes is far from my view.

That's what I thought.

the police treated the accounts of young girls (of 12 or 13) from deprived backgrounds or in care as coming from girls who were "promiscuous", badly behaved, or in some way trashy, and therefore negligible or responsible for their own abuse. And these classist, misogynist attitudes were a tremendous element in preventing the girls' or their mothers' accounts from being acted on.

This reminded me of the recent Netflix doc "The Ripper", which cleary showed the classism of the police - they only started investigating seriously once a 'respectable' woman was murdered (incidentally this also happened in Yorkshire).

https://www.vox.com/22258961/netflix-the-ripper-review-yorkshire-ripper-documentary

This isn't, strictly speaking, sports related. But since we spent some time on misogyny, I'll push the limits a bit.

I found this simply fascinating:
https://www.ft.com/content/741772c0-ee76-4d3d-bfcd-4fabc1fb405d
Clearly James Bond has little to do with what actually happens in MI6.

I was particularly taken by this little gem:

KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky was exfiltrated from the Soviet Union in 1985 by two British diplomats and their wives, one of whom had brought her baby. (While this has been widely reported, MI6 has never confirmed that Gordievsky was their agent.) When sniffer dogs gathered around the car at the border with Finland, the baby’s mother, concerned that they would detect the agent hidden in the boot, began a nappy change directly above where he was concealed. As she dropped the soiled bundle to the ground, the dogs fled in horror,
Picture any film spy pulling that off.

Yes, sorry to have derailed the sports thread to misogyny - it was the "toxic masculinity" aspect that got me going! As you were.

Sad to say, Le Tissier appears to have gone down some unfortunate rabbit holes recently.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Le_Tissier#Post-retirement

Before we wander back to the sportswashing side of things (if ever we go back to this) I want to draw attention to this story about FC Viktoria Berlin Frauen. Theirs and Angel City FC's stories seem like very positive developments for the future of women's football and women's professional sports in general. It suggests that maybe we are seeing a shift away from superstar capitalism towards something more in line with the positive communal qualities we ascribe to team sports:

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2022/dec/14/like-a-rocket-how-viktoria-berlin-are-trying-to-change-german-football

I've also been heartened to see how US and England fans are embracing the women's national teams and treating them as worthy champions rather than as a lesser sibling to the men.

Back to my original comment, yesterday the UC regents approved UCLA's move to the Big 10. The approval came with a large "Berkeley tax" attached, something between two and ten million dollars per year paid to UC-Berkeley to compensate for revenue losses with UCLA out of the schedule. The regents also required UCLA to spend about $12M per year (to start with) on upgraded travel, nutrition, lodging, and other arrangements to offset some of the effects of the much longer travel time athletes will have to put in. Back of the envelope, the regents have tied down something between half and two-thirds of UCLA's anticipated revenue increase in the tax and travel upgrades.

The LA Times reports that the Big 10 has agreed to sponsor more neutral-site events in the Olympic sports at locations that will spread the travel pain more evenly across the conference members.

And speaking of sportswashing...

The UC regents faced a lot of excitement at that meeting, too, as the UAW and labor allies showed up in force to demonstrate over the ongoing labor negotiations with the TAs and Academic Student Workers, who are still out of contract and facing ever worse living conditions. The UC really needs to reexamine its priorities and stop running itself as if it were a business. Its business is the betterment of society, period, and that is worth more investment in the broader educational mission at all levels.

with the TAs and Academic Student Workers, who are still out of contract and facing ever worse living conditions.

Which ties in nicely with the current discussion in the other thread about the cost of houses, and housing generally. When I was in school, housing was overwhelmingly my largest expense. I suspect that, even with the ridiculous tuition levels** these days, it is still a major factor.

** If schools are going to keep making insane levels of income from sports, the very least they could do is fold most of that back into cutting the cost of attending.

If schools are going to keep making insane levels of income from sports, the very least they could do is fold most of that back into cutting the cost of attending.

Also staggering expenses. I'm not an expert, but the conventional wisdom is that only a small number of schools have athletic programs that are cash-flow positive. The figure that gets tossed around a lot is that on average, a Div 1 athletic program loses $12M per year.

My undergraduate school (public) is one of the few that makes money. To make it easier to conform to state law, the athletic dept is a separate-but-related legal entity, so the accounting is quite likely above board. The dept has a positive cash flow from operations of about $3M per year. Most of the excess goes into a reserve fund used in bad years or for special projects. Eg, if the football stadium requires a $5M chunk of maintenance work, the dept pays for it out of the reserve.

WRT my undergraduate school, might be worth noting that its "endowment" may be unique in the US. Long ago, an alumni who wanted to leave a sizeable sum didn't trust the board of regents. So he created a non-profit foundation with a charter to "raise and spend money for the benefit of the university". Today the foundation controls a much larger amount of money than the university itself does. From time to time the foundation and the regents disagree on priorities. The foundation tends to spend on students/faculty; the regents tend to want to spend on bright shiny infrastructure. The relative size of the two endowments suggest the donors agree with the foundation.

For what it's worth, I think that the regents at most universities end up siding with the sports spending because they believe that students will choose to go to a school with a top rated team. It's part of that "selling the experience" mindset that treats the school like a resort, or a theme park, with the students as visitors. Educational value rarely counts as an attraction unless it is something that can be put in a catalog.

A school that joined the Big 10 relatively recently:

Rutgers athletics spends big — and builds big debt — to stay competitive in the Big Ten

https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/watchdog/2022/07/07/rutgers-athletics-spends-big-builds-debt-big-ten-conference/65367819007/

Making money? Not so much.

Back to the sportswashing theme... Messi is making it really hard for me to root for him getting that last win he's been craving for his legacy, and a winning Saudi Arabian bid for 2030 would put paid to any lingering respect I have for the World Cup.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/dec/16/messi-business-how-sportswashing-could-land-saudi-arabia-the-2030-world-cup

Off topic, but the article hsh pointed at is an example of the kind of deeper investigative reporting Gannett is having USA Today and its various local papers do more of. They seem to be the only sizeable media group trying to produce enough content to make a subscription worthwhile. Note that they have expanded coverage so that a subscription to any of the locals gives full access to USA Today and all the other locals.

A lot of the newspapers no longer have enough newsroom to do their own investigative reporting.

My go-to sites for investigative work these days are the Guardian and (especially) Pro Publica. Pro Publica is always digging and making an actual difference, but the weight of that can get a bit much. I actually have to ration my reading at Pro Publica to shepherd my outrage so as to not get burned out. (Which looms much closer than it used to thanks to all of the work I've done with our union trying to fight against the constant managerial malfeasance of a hostile university administration.)

I don't read Pro Publica or any other single source very often, but this isn't complimentary. No one's perfect, I guess, but the doubling down in the face of criticism is worrisome. For the record, I do think a lot of Fallows, though I don't follow him faithfully either.

My go-to sites for investigative work these days are the Guardian...

It's amusing at some level that a British paper does better investigative work across most of the US than our "papers of record". Or perhaps not. For all that the NYTimes and WaPo want to be the dominant national papers they still have to put considerable effort into being local papers as well.

I'd treat that story about the virus research with skepticism as well, and I think that Pro Publica is being somewhat defensive in their update and trying to save face.

My reading of their update is: "take the translation with a grain of salt, but a) it's clear that the labs are under political pressure and budget constraints that make safety difficult and b) we did not violate journalistic ethics in publishing that translation because the translation did contain ambiguities."

I think Pro Publica would have been less defensive had the underlying conclusion not been such a hot button issue, with them lending credibility to a Republican investigation. It's politically awkward for them all around.

As JanieM's link points out, I think ProPublica first got hung up because they were dealing with the Chinese language. Considering the linguistic and cultural differences, it is far too easy to end up pushing a reading that you are more sympathetic with than what actually might be there, even if you are careful.

There's also the problem that when you want to be the voice that is holding out against the common wisdom, it is easy to justify stories based on how much everyone will disagree. You see that with the trajectory of a number of people who I won't name, but that movement from darling of the left to trusted source of the far right has happened enough to make it a pretty well-worn path. The reverse is also possible, but I assume it is the prospect of moving away from penury rather than towards it is what makes it attractive.

Their refusal to engage with Fallows compounds the errors in relation to the piece.
It's uncharacteristically poor journalism from them.

I think Pro Publica would have been less defensive had the underlying conclusion not been such a hot button issue, with them lending credibility to a Republican investigation. It's politically awkward for them all around.

Which is why it's so weird. You'd think some skepticism would have been deployed there.

But there are many layers of weird stuff here.

Like, I'm not entirely sure a simple case of "inscrutable middle kingdom" fever entirely explains the editorial choices. One of the authors on the original piece, Jeff Kao, has done previous work on Chinese social media disinformation. I don't know if he actually speaks Chinese himself (though his bio describes him as a "language nerd", and this piece is under his byline), but either way, it seems like he should have been able to spot this obvious sucker-job, or at least been immune to being flummoxed by the slight novelty of a white guy who knows a little Mandarin. I can only guess that perhaps his background in investigating Chinese govt. misinformation predisposed him to be a little too suspicious of CCP propaganda, with no antibodies for the GOP kind.

But, then, layers. Because I'm also not sure why you'd turn a "computational journalist" with a primarily data science background loose on what is basically a sleezy Capitol Hill partisan propaganda beat. 'Cuz PDFs? Internet? VPNs? That didn't really set anyone up for success. Of course that's not an excuse, especially for the other author -- who appears to be a more seasoned investigative journalist. Certainly an editor or someone should have stepped in somewhere here and asked why they're just swallowing a story from some Republican operatives hook line and sinker.

I think it's interesting how closely this entire affair resembles a lot those earlier "lab leak" stories. The breathless recounting of "daring exploits" by pseudonymous, basement-dwelling Reddit posters, and "the smoking guns" they were finding by boldly applying Google translate to innocuous, publicly available, term papers from Chinese medical students. I think those guys might have called their lairs "bat caves" too.

Indeed, substantively, none of this is two iotas different from how creationists or flat earthers like to pluck some unassuming sentence from a NASA press release or whatever and turn it into a sinister conspiracy. Yet, somehow those kind of claims (usually) don't make it into the pages of Vanity Fair or Propublica.

But, then, layers. Because I'm also not sure why you'd turn a "computational journalist" with a primarily data science background loose on what is basically a sleezy Capitol Hill partisan propaganda beat.

I think it's interesting how closely this entire affair resembles a lot those earlier "lab leak" stories.

Maybe I'm wrong about the timing, and this is my usual level of spitballing, but it seems like the distinctions between data science people and people with various other fields of expertise started to get extremely blurred when Covid-19 came along.

I remember in the early months getting into some fairly intense discussions about articles and essays by "big data" people who made huge claims based on nothing but piles of numbers that they were manipulating. It didn't smell right to me, and for most of them it turned out that there was a reason for that. People who didn't know a thing about epidemiology, viruses, or anything but crunching numbers thought they could predict the world from bare numbers.

I know someone like that in real life -- he loves numbers, can quote statistics about all sorts of things that you would never imagine he knew anything about, and then he just makes shit up to fit the patterns he sees (and his own presuppositions and prejudices). It drives me a little crazy.

As I said earlier, I don't follow ProPublica so I have no ideas at all about why they handled this lab leak story this way. It does seem strange, though.

Jeff Kao:

Kao previously worked as a machine learning engineer at Atrium LTS, where he developed natural language processing systems for legal services. He holds a law degree from Columbia Law School, where he was the editor in chief of the Columbia Science and Technology Law Review, and a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Waterloo.

A man of many parts. Perhaps, as jack says, with a blind spot (or two). Who knows, certainly not me.

I don't know how I missed it (I guess my brain was doing some cherry-picking of my own), but it looks like Kao was also one of the people who uncovered the net-neutrality FCC astro-turfing campaign a few years back, and more recently he did a bunch of (presumably) useful analysis on Jan 6 social media stuff. So it's not like US disinfo was a novel phenomenon.

So who knows indeed.

I don't even know why it bugs me -- I guess because the whole story seems like such unusually transparent BS, its publication is an actual mystery to me.

Maybe I'm wrong about the timing, and this is my usual level of spitballing, but it seems like the distinctions between data science people and people with various other fields of expertise started to get extremely blurred when Covid-19 came along.

That sounds about right. "Big Data" was obviously already in vogue, but the pandemic provided an opportunity for certain enthusiasts to "test" their techniques on something with a lot of public prominence.

The general phenomenon of people with the wrong expertise trying to butt in isn't new, of course. Ask a physicist how much they think they know about biology. Then ask a biologist how much physicists actually know...

The general phenomenon of people with the wrong expertise trying to butt in isn't new, of course. Ask a physicist how much they think they know about biology. Then ask a biologist how much physicists actually know...

Another stock character is the person in any field whatsoever who says, "If I could get six months off I'd write my first novel....." ;-)

I don't even know why it bugs me -- I guess because the whole story seems like such unusually transparent BS, its publication is an actual mystery to me.

I think part of why it bugs me, even if I don't read ProPublic as a regular thing, is that it would be nice to think there are *some* sources of information that we can rely upon to sift the BS for us.

From time to time during my technical career I was asked questions with deadlines that required me to become an "instant expert" on a topic, and often to provide mathematical models. That gives me a certain (small) amount of sympathy for the people working outside their area of expertise.

OTOH, there are good ways to approach such an undertaking, and bad ways. It's absolutely true that many things were published wrt the pandemic that are outstanding examples of the bad ways to do it. The question I kept finding myself asking was, "You're predicting a time series. Why are you using methods that have absolutely nothing to do with time series?"

The question I kept finding myself asking was, "You're predicting a time series. Why are you using methods that have absolutely nothing to do with time series?"

In short, what is the merit of doing Big Data if you don't take an actual Big Data approach? There is, after all, more than just the label that's important here.

That gives me a certain (small) amount of sympathy for the people working outside their area of expertise.

That makes sense, and I have at least some sense of what you're talking about, having had to learn enough about a couple of fields to be able to write useful programs.

But that's not what I was talking about. I was talking about the kind of thing jack lecou illustrated with his physicist/biologist example. Lots of people who think they know everything about everything because they do in fact know a lot about one or two things can get big platforms these days, and they often sound incrediby plausible to people who don't know much at all.

We had a discussion here early in the pandemic about a couple of examples of this phenomenon; sadly, I don't have time to track them down right now. One of them, though, got a lot of press in part because the people involved included some with impressive credentials (Stanford IIRC). Only trouble was, their credentials weren't in relevant fields and/or they were only peripherally involved in the research that was being reported.

Wikipedia has made it much, MUCH too easy to become an "instant expert" in a field.

The result is a thin, fragile shell of factoids* over a large volume of ignorance.

*factoid: appears to be a fact, but isn't.

Wikipedia has made it much, MUCH too easy to become an "instant expert" in a field.

Also made it much easier to do a good job. Eg, Google Scholar (and Library Genesis) make it feasible to find and read a couple of highly-cited overview papers on a particular topic without even a trip to a university library. There is no reason that a Big Data/applied mathematician person should say, "I have no idea what sort of models epidemiologists use." And on the days when I'm an arrogant asshole, there's no reason they should say, "Yes, it's probably a logistic curve, but I don't know how to fit one."

As a starting point wikipedia can be very useful, if one knows to be critical. A general overview with some sources given has often been the base from where to go in-depth by other means. The problem often is to find the first thread to follow since there is such an abundance of material out there of very different quality and complexity. All too often I find (in the university online catalogue) far too many hits with the search terms, the tools for whittling those down are very blunt (worse than google) and my time is very limited these days. So, I often use wikipedia to find the first sources to look at, then try to get my hands on those that seem useful. From there I can branch out to the degree necessary.
Apart from that: The more I know about something the less I am inclined to see myself as an expert.
I even know the official term for that. ;-)
---
Another stock character is the person in any field whatsoever who says, "If I could get six months off I'd write my first novel....." ;-)

Hey, I do not take time off for that, I do that in-between other tasks. A lot is done while commuting to or from work or other places. I just do not suffer from the illusion that anoyne but a vanity press would publish the stuff.

I just do not suffer from the illusion that anoyne but a vanity press would publish the stuff.

Then you can list it on Amazon and see if there's an audience somewhere in the world. Maybe in a place you (or anyone you know) would never have thought to advertise.

Then you can list it on Amazon and see if there's an audience somewhere in the world. Maybe in a place you (or anyone you know) would never have thought to advertise.

Listing on Amazon does not replace advertising. It absolutely ensures that you need to spend more time figuring out how to make yourself visible than you spend writing.

I'm the volunteer copy editor (among other things) to an indie author who publishes mainly on Amazon. When I started this gig 11 years ago, it was a relatively new world. I thought it was a nice idea -- get rid of the gatekeepers and let authors and readers find each other.

Trouble is, when there are hundreds of thousands (probably more like millions) of people self-publishing this way, there's no easy mechanism to *link* authors and readers. So, among other interesting side effects, Amazon jumps into the gap and charges authors (like any other vendors) to have "Sponsored" links to their products.

Never mind all the other objections I have to sponsored links (I WOULD NEVER CLICK ON ONE; even if I'm going to buy the product, I find an unsponsored copy of the product link -- the vendor pays for every click), this system means that authors (vendors) are paying Amazon to cut each other out of the game. Nice for Amazon's shareholders, right? .........

Also, you can't play this game without more or less recreating the functions of a publishing house. You need a copy editor, or at least a proofreader. You need a cover -- the only person my author pays is a cover artist. You need to figure out a way to advertise. You probably have to have several social media accounts.

Or you could just write your book, format it legibly yourself, make a plain text cover (which will catch no eyeballs whatsoever), and throw it up onto KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) -- where it's likely that no one will ever see it.

This is a cold bath of reality thrown on wj's trademark optimism (sorry wj!), but it's most definitely not a commentary on hartmut's novel-writing. As to that, I say: keep it up!!! Especially if you have no illusions about it.

I myself, in partnership with the person whose books I edit, have written 1 1/2 mystery novels that are now sitting on my (metaphorical and literal) shelf. I did it to see if I could, and because it was fun, and I don't regret the time I spent at all. I learned a lot along the way.

But I left the finished novel on the shelf instead of publishing it on KDP because I can't bring myself to care about the marketing side of the enterprise. And if there's no marketing, there are no readers. (Trying to get the book seen by an agent and going the conventional route is even more uninteresting to me. I'm old, and lazy....)

This is a cold bath of reality thrown on wj's trademark optimism (sorry wj!),

Hey, not saying it's a great option. Just that it's a step up from having a few boxes of vanity press stuff sitting in the back of the closet for ages. And I speak from experience here.

wj -- heh. I'm not sure if you just mean you've got some vanity press volumes sitting in your closet, or you've tried Amazon, or both. If you've got anything available on Amazon, you should tell us!

As for the writing, do it the easy way... :)

Write the first chapter of a novel.

"The sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon as Emma stepped out of her car and onto the deserted streets of downtown Boston. She had always been an early riser, but today was different. Today was the day that she was going to start her new life.

Emma had spent the past year working as a paralegal at a large law firm, but she had always dreamed of being a writer. And so, with a leap of faith and a lot of saved-up money, she quit her job and moved to Boston to pursue her dream.

She walked down the empty streets, taking in the sights and sounds of the city as it slowly came to life. The smell of freshly baked pastries wafted through the air as she passed by a small bakery, and the sound of car tires on the wet pavement echoed off the tall buildings surrounding her.

As she approached her new apartment building, she couldn't help but feel excited and nervous. This was her chance to finally live the life she had always wanted.

..."
ChatGPT

Can it also write verse in classical metres?
It has been some time since the last serious attempt at "finishing" the Aeneid for example.

Or what about some extra chapters to "Atlanta Nights"?
I translated that into German (localizing it in Frankfurt). My project of translating it into Latin has yet to come to fruition. One advantage: the more errors I make the more appropriate and in spirit of the original. I love that book.

If you've got anything available on Amazon, you should tell us!

Not sure it counts, since I'm Executive Producer**, rather that screenwriter, director, actor, etc. But two independent films from Paw Print Studios are on Amazon (links to the IMDB entry, because I'm not sure of the Amazon links, even though I can find them there):
Far From the Sea
Valley of Fear

Also (although not on Amazon):
Letters to My Grandchildren

As may be obvious, Sales & Marketing -- not my strong suit. (Probably why my career as an IT consultant never went anywhere.)

** I'm told that upwards of 95% of all independent films never get finished. So perhaps it is noteworthy that we managed to finish three....

Write a poem using classical metres.

"Here is a poem using the classical metre of iambic pentameter:

The winter winds do blow and chill the air,
As frost upon the ground doth softly creep.
The fireside's warmth doth comfort and repair
The body and the soul, while logs do leap
And crackle in the hearth, a merry sound.
But winter's icy grip doth not confine
The hearts of those who love, for they are bound
By bonds that cannot break, no matter the time
Or season. Love doth warm the coldest night,
And brings us joy and hope, a guiding light
Through all the trials and sorrows that we fight.
So let the winter winds do as they might,
For love doth conquer all, a flame that's bright
And shining, through all days, both dark and bright."

AI always produces anodyne and generic texts. I can see how it would appeal to marginal students in need of a passing grade, or marketers looking for minimally informative, but positive sounding content for their website about pages.

It's satisficing, but not satisfying.

Write a poem in Latin using classical metres.

"Huc, o Melpomene, flecte modos,
Et mecum noctem longam pangamus.
Nox est, quae multos vexit gradus,
Et morbos curat medicina fessis.
Tu, diva tragoediae, mea lyra
Pervolvat tua formidolosa carmina,
Donec membra quiescant, et pectus
Aegrotum requiescat a dolore.
Nunc tenebras, nunc lucis facem
Praebe, ut nocturna silentia
Nectareis spargantur modis.
Huc, o Melpomene, flecte modos,
Et mecum noctem longam pangamus.

Translation:

Come, O Melpomene, turn your melodies here,
And let us sing a long night together.
It is night, which has carried many steps,
And medicine that cures the weary of their ailments.
You, goddess of tragedy, let my lyre
Entwine your fearsome songs,
Until my limbs rest, and my sickly breast
Finds rest from its pain.
Now offer the light of darkness, now the torch of light,
So that the nocturnal silence
May be sprinkled with delightful melodies.
Come, O Melpomene, turn your melodies here,
And let us sing a long night together."

Link for wj's Far from the Sea.

Thanks. Fixed them both. So picky to insist on = rather than - after the href....

So, I didn't see this until today and have not read all the comments. One opinion, I find I can't really watch college sports anymore. The concept that giving someone a full scholarship(+) to college so they would go to your school rather than another is pretty awesome for the student. That it is somehow taking advantage of the player is ludicrous.

The problem is that college sports don't even pretend to support education of the athletes anymore. They are a Rrevenue source for the school that helps fund other activities, that perhaps aid in education.

But if the college education isn't what the athlete is there for they should not be allowed to take a slot, if it is then they are being fairly compensated.

NIL should always be the property of the individual, that's another story.

Ultimately, I'm old and think all this is just a symptom of our crumbling crony capitalist culture and misplaced value system.

Happy New Year!

"all this is just a symptom of our crumbling crony capitalist culture and misplaced value system."

Spot on. There are plenty of students for whom involvement in sports is part of their life and motivations (the 'well rounded' chestnut). But those are sports like 'lacrosse', 'rowing', 'fencing'...not moneymakers.

The problem is a sequence of
(advertisers) -> $$$$ (networks) -> $$ (colleges) -> $/100 (athletes)

Corrupting at every stage.

That it is somehow taking advantage of the player is ludicrous.

So I am a talented American Football player*. The only path into the pro game is via college, so I get a scholarship to the college of my choice. When I get there I find that I'm expected to spend most of my time on the game, but not to worry, they'll coach me in the minimum I need to know to pass sufficient courses to graduate.

In the end, I don't make it as a pro. Perhaps I got injured, perhaps I just wasn't quite good enough.

I end up with a degree which doesn't encompass having learned much of anything. The college ends up with millions of dollars of revenue.

How is this not exploitative?

*hypothetically.

Serfs of the Turf

The concept that giving someone a full scholarship(+) to college so they would go to your school rather than another is pretty awesome for the student. That it is somehow taking advantage of the player is ludicrous.

In addition to the point Pro Bono makes, I have to ask: How much of this supposedly fair compensation image depends on the ludicrously high levels of tuition these days? When you drop that (basically just internal bookkeeping for the college) dollar amount out, what the athlete is working for amounts to room and board. Not so impressive when looked at that way.

Ultimately, I'm old and think all this is just a symptom of our crumbling crony capitalist culture and misplaced value system.

I, too, am old, and I am crestfallen. I have been admonished for decades that capitalism is the best of all possible worlds.

This leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

/sarcasm

So, I didn't see this until today and have not read all the comments. One opinion, I find I can't really watch college sports anymore. The concept that giving someone a full scholarship(+) to college so they would go to your school rather than another is pretty awesome for the student. That it is somehow taking advantage of the player is ludicrous.

The problem is that college sports don't even pretend to support education of the athletes anymore. They are a Rrevenue source for the school that helps fund other activities, that perhaps aid in education.

But if the college education isn't what the athlete is there for they should not be allowed to take a slot, if it is then they are being fairly compensated.

I'm not disagreeing with this, but I would like to interject with some perspective.

The NCAA does not give any sports scholarships to students. Those scholarships belong to the athletic program and can be moved around however the program sees fit, so if the student athlete gets injured, or if someone else shows more promise after a season or two, or if the student decides to focus on their classes when the coaches want them focused on an upcoming competition, that scholarship gets taken away and given to someone else.

I've had a few scholarship athletes over the years. Many of them get into difficulties in the class because they miss too many classes and because they end up having too many demands on their time when they are on campus. Too many of the coaches are focused on winning and too few actually have any regard for the education their athletes are supposed to be getting. (Some of the AD staff and coaches are wonderful, but not nearly enough of them.)

I always keep this in mind when working with my student athletes and when reading about college sports. Theres a lot of institutional pressure put on the students to prioritize their studies lower than the student might wish to if the scholarship were actually theirs and not subject to the priorities of their coaches. And this is especially true of the students from marginal backgrounds who are in sports without as much financial upside for star athletes who can turn pro.

This pressure from coaches (and some parents) to prioritize sports over everything else starts long before college.

When my kids were young and I was somewhat involved (my kids played sports even though they were mostly homeschooled), the local school's non-sports activity leaders tried to get one day a week reserved for after-school activities that weren't sports (i.e. the coaches could only own 4 days, not all 5). That way, kids who played sports might also attend rehearsals for chorus or the school play, or be active in chess club or speech and debate.

But no. If a student wanted to do anything besides sports, it could only happen if that activity took place at some other time, because after-school belonged to the coaches. (IIRC, this was an issue in the middle school as well as the high school. So, 11+ year olds.)

If a student athlete went on vacation with the family for spring break, that student could count on being docked playing time after the break. Unless, of course, it was the big star, in which case the double standard ruled.

That's at a non-descript rural school in Maine. Imagine what it's like in LA or NY. Kids who are talented athletes live different lives, dominated by year-round leagues, summer camps, competition, and often heartbreak. Many such kids are also one-sport athletes, not only not well-rounded in life but not even well-rounded in sports, from very young ages.

At least, that's my summary from 25 years ago. Maybe the world is more enlightened now, but I'm not placing any bets on it.

Btw, It's not that I believe well-roundedness is the be-all and the end-all of life. I admire and in a way envy people who know what they want early, and go for it. (Speaking as a confirmed dilettante.) But I'm pretty sure that for most kids, being exposed to a lot of fields of activity and study when they're young is healthier than early specialization.

As for sports per se, I've read that playing only one sport from an early age makes kids more prone to injuries. It's an interesting choice: play basketball twelve months a year and nothing else, or play two or three school sports in their seasons, and at the same time play in off-season leagues in other sports.

Plus: I know the US-ian way of linking kids' sports and schooling isn't universal.

My impression from afar is that a lot of kids live overly structured lives with their every move being supervised and judged by adults. Adults need to leave them alone and let them be kids.

I admire and in a way envy people who know what they want early, and go for it. (Speaking as a confirmed dilettante.)

The, to me blindingly obvious, problem with someone deciding way early what they want is this: when you are very young, your awareness of what the possibilities are is extremely limited. The love of your life (careerwise) at 35 might well be something that you had never even heard of at 15. Let alone earlier.

What Charles said. Let kids be kids. And not just an image of their parents' (frustrated) ambitions.

Two general observations.

1) It is a problem that, once given, scholarships can be taken away. It is reality though and understandable. Lots of scholarships and grants can be taken away based on failed academic achievement.You have to hold up your end of the bargain.

2) If a kid wants to be a professional anything they mostly have to get through college. Sports is the only place it's somehow ok to opt out or not graduate with little consequence. I don't think that's a good thing.


Lots of good points, many I wouldn't dispute. Lots of coaches suck, school is worth working hard to get through.

Here's my thought...if the scholarships belonged to individual students, and could only be lost for either quitting the team or for lack of academic progress, then coaches would have a bigger commitment to both the health and the academic progress of the students in their charge. No more taking them away from injured students or from students who skipped extra morning workouts because they had to study or write a paper.

I also think that there needs to be more to "holding up your end of the bargain" than GPA. The window of success for students from marginal backgrounds is too narrow and there should be more resources available for helping them when they run into difficulties. A lot of struggling students would, for example, not struggle nearly as much if they were allowed to drop to half-time or part-time, or take a term or two off to deal with life complications.

2) If a kid wants to be a professional anything they mostly have to get through college. Sports is the only place it's somehow ok to opt out or not graduate with little consequence. I don't think that's a good thing.

Are you suggesting that professional leagues should require that athletes have degrees to play professional sports? If so, that's weird.

It's also something that applies to a vanishingly small percentage of college athletes. The vast majority don't go into the pros, even among those who play sports that have major professional leagues in the first place.

if the scholarships belonged to individual students, and could only be lost for either quitting the team or for lack of academic progress, then coaches would have a bigger commitment to both the health and the academic progress of the students in their charge. [Emphasis added]

Very much agree. Although in a perfect world that academic progress would be in something actually academic. That is, we get rid of "courses of study" (not sure it's honest to call them "majors") which only exist to allow athletes** to give the illusion of actually attending an academic institution, without having to learn much of anything.

** and, of course, frat boys with rich parents. (Not to name any names, of course.) Which inclusion probably reflects my prejudices, but there it is.

It seems that there are a few main points being discussed here:

1. The issue of college sports being used as a revenue source for universities, rather than a way to support the education of student-athletes.

2. The idea that student-athletes may not be receiving fair compensation for their time and effort, especially considering the demands placed on them by their coaches and the pressure to prioritize sports over their education.

3. The fact that NCAA scholarships are not given to individual students, but rather to the athletic program, which has the power to take them away at any time.

Overall, it seems that there is a concern that the current system of college sports is exploitative, prioritizing the financial interests of universities and advertisers over the well-being and education of student-athletes. There is also a belief that the high cost of tuition may be contributing to this issue, as it makes it difficult for student-athletes to fully understand the true value of their scholarship and the sacrifices they may be making for it.

Was that last comment generated by AI similar to the one that Charles posted poetry from?

Same one.

Starting with Marty's comment, I gave all the comments to ChatGPT and told it to summarize them.

1. Unlink competitive sports from schooling at all levels.

2. Provide public education beyond childhood, whether for academics, training, or retraining (there would obviously have to be many qualifiers and constraints)

*****

Are you suggesting that professional leagues should require that athletes have degrees to play professional sports? If so, that's weird.

I agree that it's weird; an academic degree is irrelevant to a lot of things people do for their jobs -- you don't have to have a degree to be a plumber or an electrician, for example, though you do need the requisite training. You probably don't need a degree to be a concert pianist, either, though a lot of pianists probably have them.

Also, within my living memory as an adult fan, freshmen couldn't play on college basketball teams (and I assume football as well, though I never followed football). Also:

Haywood v. National Basketball Association, 401 U.S. 1204 (1971), was a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled against the NBA's requirement that a player could not be drafted by an NBA team until four years after graduating from high school.

I think it changed the college game a lot to have all the good players leaving for the NBA as soon as they could. Maybe not as much as the addition of the 3-point shot, but that's a whole different topic.

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