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Annals of American Meritocracy II: The Ballad of Clipboard Jesus

[ 91 ] September 29, 2014 |

After endorsing Barnwell’s take on Marvin Lewis, let me proceed to this excellent description of the career of Charlie Whitehurst:

• Whitehurst grows to 6-foot-5.

• He spends four years at Clemson, during which he fails to complete 60 percent of his passes (ending at 59.7 percent) and throws nearly as many interceptions (46) as touchdowns (49). The Tigers go 30-19 during his time in school.

• The Chargers draft Whitehurst in the third round of the 2006 NFL draft.

• Whitehurst spends four years as the third-string quarterback in San Diego behind Philip Rivers and Billy Volek. He does not attempt a regular-season pass. His only experience comes during the 2006-09 preseasons, during which Whitehurst goes 104-of-197 (52.8 percent) for 1,031 yards (5.2 yards per attempt) with five touchdowns and seven interceptions.8

• Seattle’s new brain trust of Pete Carroll and John Schneider targets Whitehurst in a trade, getting their man by sending San Diego a future third-round pick and swapping Seattle’s second-round pick (40th) for San Diego’s (60th) in the 2010 draft.9 They also immediately give Whitehurst a two-year, $8 million contract extension.

• Whitehurst enters into a quarterback competition with 35-year-old incumbent Matt Hasselbeck.

• Whitehurst loses that quarterback competition.

• Whitehurst plays in nine regular-season games over two seasons with Seattle, starting four, most notably the division-clinching win over St. Louis in the fail-in game on Sunday Night Football in Week 17 of the 2010 season. He is benched in his last start after seven pass attempts for an already-injured Tarvaris Jackson. Over the two-year span, Whitehurst goes 84-of-155 (54.2 percent) for 805 yards (a terrifying 5.2 yards per attempt) while throwing three touchdowns and four picks.

• Returning to unrestricted free agency, Whitehurst signs a two-year, $3.05 million deal with the Chargers, including a $1 million signing bonus.

• Now 30 years old, Whitehurst spends 2012 and 2013 as the backup to Philip Rivers without throwing a regular-season pass. He takes 12 snaps during his stint with the Chargers, producing six handoffs and six kneel-downs for a total of minus-5 yards.

• Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt takes over as Tennessee’s head coach and brings Whitehurst along for the ride, giving the now 32-year-old a two-year, $4.3 million deal with $2 million guaranteed.

And it’s the first point that’s crucial here. He’s a tall white guy with a strong arm, so the fact that he’s never shown the slightest evidence of being an NFL quarterback can be overlooked. Coaches think they can teach non-prospects like this to play. They can’t, but they like to think they can. As I’ve said before, the Billy Beane outlook has never been about statistical analysis per se; in part, it’s about not letting your image of what a good player is supposed to look like cloud your talent evaluations.

The other striking thing here is that this isn’t just terrible organizations or obvious incompetents involved here. Wisenhunt isn’t a great coach but he did take an organization with virtually no history of success to within one play of the Super Bowl. Carroll and Schneider have built the best team in the league (granting that they’ve always been better identifying and developing defensive than offensive talent.) Perhaps one lesson here is that good organizations are ones that learn from their mistakes: Russell Wilson is the bizarro Charlie Whitehurst (short for an NFL QB, African-American, doesn’t have a cannon arm, has always been highly productive.)

[PC] See also.

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Deep Thoughts

[ 115 ] September 29, 2014 |

That the move toward more tobacco prohibition than anytime in U.S. history coincides with the move toward ending prohibition on marijuana is endlessly fascinating to me, and I suspect to anyone familiar with humanity’s complex relationship with body-altering substances.

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Crazy Time

[ 44 ] September 29, 2014 |

Your next batch of House Republicans–even crazier and more racist than this edition!

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[ 16 ] September 28, 2014 |

In order to avoid breaking my twenty-six year streak of attending at least one professional baseball game, this afternoon DJW and I made it to the Red’s final game of the season. The bulk of the drama was on Pittsburgh’s side, as the Pirates were trying to tie St. Louis and earn a playoff for the division title. For their part, the Reds were playing to give Johnny Cueto his twentieth victory of the season.

Cueto wasn’t dominant, but he pitched very well, pitching eight innings of one run ball and scattering six hits. In the bottom of the eighth, Jason Bourgeois tripled to lead off. Cozart lined out to third, bringing up the pitcher’s spot. To the deep surprise of nearly everyone in the stadium, Price sent Cueto to the plate. Cueto pushed it to a full count, then singled up the middle to score Bourgeois and take the lead. Price then lifted him for a pinch-runner. The Reds scored two more, then Chapman struck out the side in the top of the ninth to seal Cueto’s twentieth win.

I wonder about the clubhouse conversation; did Cueto insist on hitting, or was it Price’s idea? It was a nice bit of drama in an otherwise not-terribly-meaningful game.

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“But He Beat Southeastern Missouri!” Annals Of American Meritocracy I

[ 80 ] September 28, 2014 |


Charlie Weis was rewarded for failing catastrophically as not only a college head coach but as a college offensive coordinator by being given a cool $2.5 million a year to preside over unpaid employees in Lawrence.  Yesterday, KU decided to decline its decided schematic advantage.  Weis leaves the Sunflower state with many millions of dollars and a 1-18 conference record.

Speaking of which, a few years ago Chait wrote about the “negotiating” process behind the hiring of Brady Hoke.  Unlike Weis, Hoke was not a transparently stupid hire; he had a solid record at two lower-tier jobs and was a plausible candidate to step up to the Big 12.  But (to put it mildly) he was no proven major conference commodity like Nick Saban or Urban Meyer.  Despite the fact that he was desperate to come to Michigan and there were no other bidders for Hoke’s services, he was given a lavish contract with a guaranteed base pay of more than $18 million.  Hoke is, for some reason, still being employed as a head coach so that he can lose games and send badly injured unpaid players back on to the field.  The storied Wolverines were the 65th ranked team in the country before being curb-stomped by Minnesota (#56) in Ann Arbor.   I assume Paul will have more when the inevitable happens.

In conclusion, if a booster has taken a KU or Michigan player out for a Quarter Pounder, this would be the greatest scandal in known human history.  I will never stop being outraged by the attacks on this country’s most precious resource, its Noble and Consistently Adhered to By All Relevant Parties Ideals of Amateurism.

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Meaningful 162

[ 57 ] September 28, 2014 |

My consistent pessimism about the Mariners was certainly in full force after Austin Jackson lined a 5-0 3-2 pitch to right field in the bottom of the ninth, squandering a bases loaded-none out opportunity.  But with Jackson busting ass to beat out a double play in the bottom of the 11th, they somehow pulled it out.  As bad as the last 10 days went, if you had told me at the beginning of the year that they would be alive on the last Sunday of the year with King Felix on the mound, I would certainly have taken it and how.

And, yes, I can’t complain because As fans have been going through this for two months.  I’d be surprised if they lost to Texas today but evidently I didn’t expect them to go 9-20, either…

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Taking Dead Horses and Ketchup Rhode Island Wide

[ 65 ] September 26, 2014 |

I have long felt the decline in the newspaper industry is related to a lack of stories about me. Evidently, the Providence Phoenix agrees, which is why it is still in business. Thus, in a story about what professors do in its free time, it had me lead off. I cover many of the expected topics–silent film, dead horses, ketchup, the NRA. I thought about a vodka rant as well, but some of the students are under 21 and I wouldn’t want to be corrupting their pure minds and all.

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Mysteries of depression

[ 181 ] September 26, 2014 |

Four years ago, one of the best students I’ve had in 24 years of law teaching killed himself, a year to the day after graduating. This suicide, and what I eventually discovered about the events that led to it, played a key role in pushing me toward first educating myself regarding, and then trying to do something about, the law school crisis.

One thing I learned is that depression is apparently epidemic among both law students and lawyers. As I’ve written elsewhere:

(1) Law students are no more prone to depression than anyone else before starting law school. In the course of law school they develop both clinical and sub-clinical depression at extraordinarily high rates, so that by the time they are 3Ls they are roughly ten times more likely to be in these categories than they were prior to entering law school.

(2) Rates of depression among practicing attorneys are also very high. For instance, a 1990 Johns Hopkins study looked at depression in 104 occupational groups. Lawyers ranked first.

(3) These findings are remarkably consistent across studies, and have remained so for several decades.

(4) Although there is as of yet little work on what effect recent changes in the legal profession are having on these outcomes, the primary environmental cause of depression appears to be stress, which suggests an already serious problem is likely to be getting worse.

Why are law students and lawyers so prone to develop depression? The literature suggests numerous causes, most of which have something to do with the effects of an intensely hierarchical, competitive, emotionally cold, and high-stress environment, in which people are socialized to obsess on external status markers and to minimize or ignore things such as learning for its own sake, doing intrinsically valuable work, and maintaining healthy personal relationships.

Depression is a mysterious disease, and for me that mystery was if anything deepened by reading recently William Styron’s Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, his harrowing account of how an episode of deep depression took him to the brink of suicide. Styron’s account is both powerful and eloquent, but ultimately it left me with more questions than answers about this terrible illness. One very useful aspect of the book, for me, was that it conveyed what an inadequate and ultimately misleading word “depression” is to describe the phenomenon, at least in its more ferocious forms.

“Melancholia” would still appear to be a far more apt and evocative word for the blacker forms of the disorder, but it was usurped by a noun with a bland tonality and lacking any magisterial presence, used indifferently to describe an economic decline or a rut in the ground, a true wimp of a word for such a major illness. It may be that the scientist generally held responsible for its currency in modern times, a Johns Hopkins Medical School faculty member justly venerated–the Swiss-born psychiatrist Adolf Meyer- -had a tin ear for the finer rhythms of English and therefore was unaware of the semantic damage he had inflicted by offering”depression” as a descriptive noun for such a dreadful and raging disease. Nonetheless, for over seventy-five years
the word has slithered innocuously through the language like a slug, leaving little trace of its intrinsic malevolence and preventing, by its very insipidity, a general awareness of the horrible intensity of the disease when out of control.

As one who has suffered from the malady in extremis yet returned to tell the tale, I would lobby for a truly arresting designation.

“Brainstorm, ” for instance, has unfortunately been preempted to describe, somewhat jocularly, intellectual inspiration. But something along these lines is needed. Told that someone’s mood disorder has evolved into a storm- -a veritable howling tempest in the brain, which is indeed what a clinical depression resembles like nothing else-even the uninformed layman might display sympathy rather than the standard reaction that “depression” evokes, something akin to “So what?” or “You’ll pull out of it” or “We all have bad days.” The phrase “nervous
breakdown” seems to be on its way out, certainly deservedly so, owing to its insinuation of a vague spinelessness, but we still seem destined to be saddled with “depression” until a better, sturdier name is created.

For someone who, at least until now, has been lucky enough to ponder serious depression strictly from a distance, but who wants to understand it as best he can, Styron’s book was both of great value, and a spur to try to learn more. I’d appreciate any suggestions commenters might have regarding other resources for helping to encourage a qualitative, as opposed to a merely statistical, understanding of this illness.

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The Worst Person in the Universe Forever

[ 165 ] September 26, 2014 |

Debbie Schlussel, ladies and gentlemen.

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Circling the Wagons

[ 68 ] September 26, 2014 |

ESPN’s attempt to defend the Simmons suspension probably speaks for itself, but let’s try to disassemble the multiple layers of illogic anyway. The insults to the intelligence start right at the beginning:

Roger Goodell is the sports world’s villain du jour, but until the NFL’s elevator of investigation reaches the top — or ESPN delivers a smoking gun that proves when the NFL viewed the Ray Rice video — the commissioner is not a certified liar.

And Bill Simmons has no license to call him one without more justification than “I’m just saying it.”

It’s hard to even know where to begin with this:

  • Simmons had no basis for believing that Goodell is not being truthful about what he knew? Really?  Despite the public video of Rice dragging his unconscious fiancee out of the elevator like a sack of potatoes, despite the fact that this happened in a casino and hence on videotape,  and most importantly despite the fact that the NFL’s stenographers reported, when it was favorable to the NFL, that NFL management had seen the internal elevator video?  It’s theoretically possible, though highly implausible, that the league office was lying then rather than lying now, but to assert that Simmons’s charge has no justification beyond idle speculation is false.  There’s plenty of circumstantial evidence and Simmons’s assumption is at the very least plausible.
  • Note that Lipsyte is requiring evidence that goes beyond what would actually be necessary to prove Simmons’s charges.  He didn’t say that Goodell had seen the tape; he said Goodell knew “what was on that tape.”  There are plenty of ways Goodell could have known that without having personally seen the tape, including Ray Rice telling the truth during the hearing.
  • The idea that a sports podcast demands standards of evidence that would hold up before an independent tribunal before a host has a “license” to make claims is utterly risible.  What percentage of the claims made on Pardon the Interruption or The Skip Bayless Trolls America Hour would hold up to this made-up-in-bad-faith standard?  Obviously, Lipsyte’s consideration here must be limited to the present circumstances, or ESPN will be reduced to showing raw footage 24 hours a day.

Things don’t improve from here:

A case could be made that Simmons, who had done excellent work taking Goodell and the NFL to task up to this point, undermined ESPN’s solid journalistic efforts on the Rice story with some Grantland grandstanding.

I mean, you can make a case; it won’t stand up to any scrutiny, but you can make it. One obvious problem is that suspending Simmons has given his remarks far more traction that had they just remained in the B.S. Report archives, which is kind of a problem. I think Lipsyte does not have the “license” to engage in such implausible speculation without a smoking-gun evidence that what Bill Simmons said on a podcast undermined ESPN’s other reporting (how? And to which audience?)

After some general criticism of Simmons, dismissing the person who (whatever his faults as a writer) presides over ESPN’s two highest-quality journalistic products as “by no stretch a leading journalist,” we get this:

“I really hope somebody calls me or emails me and says I’m in trouble for anything I say about Roger Goodell,” Simmons said. “Because if one person says that to me, I’m going public. You leave me alone. The commissioner’s a liar, and I get to talk about that on my podcast. Thank you. … Please, call me and say I’m in trouble. I dare you.”

It sounded a little like Gary Hart’s nutty 1987 dare to the media to catch him in the act of adultery. That challenge eventually denied Hart a presidential bid. In Simmons’ case, the “dare” was widely interpreted as a challenge to ESPN President John Skipper, who just happens to be Simmons’ most important booster at the company. When asked, Simmons refused to comment on whether it was directed at Skipper.

But Skipper certainly thought it was, and that insubordination was one of the main two reasons for the severity of the suspension.

First of all, Lipsyte has once again violated his own standards by making assertions he has no “license” to make because of the lack of evidence. Just this week an obscure publication called the New York Times published a piece disproving the Gary Hart urban legend Lipsyte lazily recycles here. (“In truth, though, Hart never issued any challenge to The Miami Herald’s reporters, or to anybody else, really.”) Leaving that aside, this argument hasn’t become any less purely self-refuting. “Simmons suggested that his bosses were so in the tank for NFL management they’d sanction him for criticizing Roger Goodell. They decided to prove him right!” How this constitutes a defense of ESPN’s management is…unclear.

Finally, let me expand a bit on the point I made the day the suspension came down. Again, does anybody think that if Simmons was engaged in speculation that a player was lying about having used PEDs — even in the absence of a positive drug test — he would be suspended? We know the answer, because he has, and nothing happened. And while I strongly disagree with Simmons on the issue it would be ridiculous to say that he didn’t have the “license” to suggest that PED use is more widespread than tests reveal. For that matter, if you think Goodell is telling the truth than Ray Rice must have been lying — but apparently it’s OK to think that. It’s clear that this ad hoc standard is also a double standard — that the “license” ESPN personalities have to criticize players is much broader than the “license” they have to criticize management. Lipsyte’s feeble defense of management’s suspension of Simmons — the same length, it should be noted, as the initial Ray Rice suspension and the suspension Stephen A. Smith got for blaming the victim of Ray Rice’s assault combined — squares the circle.

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How to Succeed in War Without Really Having Airpower…

[ 13 ] September 26, 2014 |

My latest at the National Interest touches on some sources of ISIS’ military success:

ISIS has won by exploiting the vulnerabilities of its enemies, which take the form of Western military organizations, while lacking their fighting and communications discipline. This allows ISIS to identify, in both tactical and operational terms, weak points that can cause an entire enemy position to cave in upon itself. In essence, ISIS has an operational form that allows decentralized commanders to use their experienced fighters against the weakest points of its foes. At the same time, the center retains enough operational control to conduct medium-to-long term planning on how to allocate forces, logistics, and reinforcements.

I also have a piece at the Diplomat about the changing role of small navies:

Of course, in practice local conditions limited the advantages of large forces, and small forces sometimes won the day. Crafted appropriately, small forces could threaten larger fleets with platforms and weapons (such as submarines, torpedo boats, and missile boats) that could threaten large ships. This role, of deterring a much larger force, has been part of the mission-kit of small navies for a very long time.

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Next At Cato: Martin Luther King Was The Lester Maddox of the 60s

[ 19 ] September 26, 2014 |

What are conservertarians saying about the resignation of Eric Holder? I wonder. Let’s see:

Like a modern-day George Wallace, Holder has called for racial preference now, racial preferences tomorrow, racial preferences forever.

Yes, this is the same Ilya Shapiro you might remember from such arguments as “maybe the Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was authorized by the so-called “15th Amendment”, but it still violates the lesser-known clause of the Constitution declaring that Congress shall not pass policies that contradict Ilya Shapiro’s terrible policy preferences. It’s somewhere in the back.”


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