Sunday, February 26, 2012

great debate

On Wednesday I was on the elliptical machine, flipping through the channels trying to find something that would take my mind off the exercise. Usually a sporting event can do the trick. Football is the best, and Red Sox baseball a close second. Basketball can keep my mind off the repetitive movement, but on this Wednesday whatever the game was, it did not gain my attention. Instead of watching with interest, I thought mostly about how much longer I needed to be on the machine.

But then I found the Republican debate between Paul, Santorum, Gingrich, and Romney. I found this engaging. Each of the candidates was trying to outconservative the other, with no candidate missing an opportunity to say something nasty about President Obama. I am a fan of Obama so it was not the nastiness I found engaging, but the competitiveness of each to try to outdo the other in terms of how much to the right they were, and how much in the wrong was Obama.

The most confounding part of the debate and most entertaining occurred when the four candidates were asked questions about contraception and their voting records on birth control legislation. The four vying to be the chief executive of the United States were all over each other accusing one adversary or the other of being soft on abortion, contraception and--my favorite--abstinence campaigns.

Each candidate (though I did note some reluctance from Gingrich) talked about how they were in favor of messages related to abstinence and abhorred planned parenthood because groups of that ilk introduced contraception to be used instead of abstinence.

The way these people talked about abstinence made me wonder who in the world they thought their audience was. It does not seem to me that people I know think wistfully about the times they abstained. When I get together with men, and women, who are friends I never hear them talk about how swell it was back in college when they dated A or B, and were able to hold off from their natural urges. On the contrary actually.

I am a subscriber to Sports Illustrated magazine.Coincidentally, the swimsuit issue was delivered to my post office box this week.For not the first time, I will guess the third, in the last several years, my copy of this particular issue of SI came in a clear plastic container. On the cover of the container was ink printed words apologizing that in transit they regret that my magazine was damaged. The cover had been torn off. I do not think the cover of a seductive woman was torn off by some post office employee determined to rid the world of risque photos. My guess, is that this issue is of interest to those who deliver the mail.

I also notice that this issue of SI is the fattest of all my SI issues. That is not because there are more photos in it. It is because there are more advertisements in it. There are more advertisements in it, because there are more readers for this issue and advertisers like to advertise in publications with large readership. There are more readers in this issue because, go figure, people like to think about and have sex.

Abstinence programs are foolish. Explaining to teenagers the hazards of promiscuity in terms of potential disease or unwanted pregnancies, does make sense. However, betting abstinence will be the result of some lectures, is like taking East Tennessee State against Duke. Not a safe bet. Sex is a natural drive.

Moreover, trying to convince people not to have sex is hypocritical. The only people who think abstinence is a good idea are those who are not abstaining. Those who are abstaining don't hop out of bed in the morning, saying "man, this abstaining thing is great" they are looking at personal ads, hoping to get into a position so that they will not be abstaining.

These four candidates who talked about the wonders of abstinence training, made me think that it is likely that a majority of citizens will abstain from voting for them.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I spent some time in Binghamton New York when I was in graduate school. Known then, primarily (and mistakenly) as Harpur College or just Harpur, SUNY Binghamton is in what is called the Southern tier of New York State, just north of the Pennsylvania border about an hour up I-81 from Scranton.

I was there in the early seventies. Since then the school has built a beautiful athletic center. Years ago I blogged on this site about attending the AmericaEast conference tournament in Binghamton as a member of the press corp. The building is impressive, very nice seats, good sight lines, and room for noisy student fans.

Tough to believe there would have been many noisy fans at the convocation center last night, but indeed there were. The Bearcats began last night's basketball game against first place University of Vermont with an unenviable record. The SUNY Binghamton Bearcats (now called Binghamton University Bearcats) were, prior to the game with the first place team, 0-26. That is not a typo. The Bearcats (called the Colonials when I was in school there) had not won a single game. And they had played some teams that are not burning up other opponents.

So, what are the chances that an 0-26 team will beat a first place team?

This is why they play the games. The Bearcats won last night. They were up by ten at halftime. Vermont got it to within two with about seven seconds left and launched a three. It missed. Binghamton was fouled and hit both foul shots, making it a four point game with 4.3 seconds left. The desperation heave from Vermont at the buzzer was insignificant.

You would have thought the Bearcats had won the national championship. The fans raced onto the court, the players jumped and hugged each other.

If you want to understand the appeal of sport, go to the web and check out the video from a handheld device of the last seconds of that game. 0-26, now 1-26, reacting as if they were going to the final four.

The coach after the game said, "You've heard of a monkey on your back. We had a zoo on our backs." The zoo is gone. The appeal of sport is in evidence.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Our renovation is nearly complete. After five months without a refrigerator or a stove, living in conditions that reminded me of when I was a camper living in a bunk, there now is a kitchen, most of the vestiges of carpentry are gone, and the downstairs at least looks finished.

It is not quite as there is a punch list of items that need to be done. We have been blessed to have had contractors who were efficient and as amiable as any people could be. I hear nightmares about contractors who are difficult to find when you need them and contrary when you dont need them to be. These guys we had were and are terrific.

Today, one of the contractors stopped by on Saturday morning to bring over some hardware that he will need to complete the punch list items some time next week. I asked him for his e-mail and he gave me the address which includes his name and his wife's. I asked him how they met.

He told me that he was in Boston staying for a couple of weeks before moving on with a crony to California where they were going to set up their business. While here, he and some friends got together for an evening out, and there he met a woman. When his friend called from California asking when he would be coming out, my contractor told him that he was not so sure he would be making it any time soon. His wife to be had mentioned that she had planned to go home to her family. However, soon she too made a call saying that her return home might be a few weeks away.

He told me that it was the American dream. You meet someone and you fall in love and then nothing else matters. Love is the cohesive and when you respect its importance nothing else matters. It is the only solid foundation upon which to build ones life. The other apparent planks are illusions. Money, job security, short term comfort--they are meaningless.

My contractor is one of the nicest people I have ever met. No need for renovations in his life. When he met his wife to be, he knew that there was no need to make changes to the edifice that was emerging as his foundation. And when his wife met him, she knew that there was no truer home than where she was standing with the man she had just met. Renovations, sure, are important to tune up and modernize now and again. However, one should never forget how important are the floorboards upon which you do the reconstruction.

sports bars?

Last night after a very long day at the office and a spell on the elliptical, I decided that I wanted to see how Jeremy Lin was playing.

Lin, the New York Knick sensation, had been at point guard for a streak of six straight wins--and except for highlights I'd not seen him play. Some 200 miles Northeast from "the city" Knick games are not regular fare on local stations. So, I figured I would go to one of several sports bars in the area and watch the second half of the game.

I first went to a place I frequent during football season. The bar on Sundays is packed with zealots or bettors. On Friday night the place had some buzz but few seemed to be paying attention to any of the twenty something televisions on the wall. And nearly all of the tvs were tuned into the Bruins hockey game. A few had on the espn offering, a basketball game between the mavericks and the sixers. I asked the helpful attendant if she could put the Knick game on. She took her remote control and went through what seemed like 200 offerings, but discovered that the package the Knick game was on, was unavailable in this tavern.

Well, no great disappointment. I would have liked to see the game but there are worse calamities one can endure. What I thought was interesting was that in this sports bar there were very few people watching anything that was on the screen. It was a night out which is fine, but the hockey game could have been playing infomercials for all the attraction it had.

I finished a beer and went on down the road to a new place that is called, The Stadium. The stadium is trying to look the part. When you walk in, attendants are wearing striped referee uniforms. There are televisions on top of televisions in this joint. Yet, despite the atmosphere every single set is tuned into the Bruins game. When I ask for the Knick game, the receptionist tells me "no problem." But there is, they cant get the game on because they don't get the particular package.

I look around the establishment. It is crowded, but it does not seem like sports fans who are in the booths. A crooner (in a Bruins shirt) is singing old rock and roll songs.

Lin's Knicks, I discovered when I got home, lost their first game since the sensation was inserted in the starting lineup. I wonder if they will be able to regain the momentum they had during the streak. My sense is that Lin's weaknesses will be identified by opponents and the Knicks will again become mediocre. I could mention this the next time I go into one of these sports bars, but I am not sure if any patrons there will know what I am talking about.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Jeremy Lin

A player named Jeremy Lin has become the Tebow of the NBA this past week. Lin played at Harvard as an undergraduate, was not drafted, but played a bit last year before being traded to the Knicks this season. He was a benchwarmer there until injuries and perhaps a losing record caused the Knick coach to give Lin a shot at starting.

Since he has started the Knicks have not lost. Lin is averaging over 20 points a game during this period and had 38 on Friday night leading the Knicks against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. What makes Lin's and the Knicks' achievements more surprising is the fact that during the streak, the best players on the Knicks--two all stars--have been unable to play.

In team sports, I have often thought that talent--in and of itself-is an asset that is attributed more value than it deserves. Carmelo Anthony is certainly a far more skilled player than Jeremy Lin. Amare Stoudemire is also far more skilled than Jeremy Lin. But when both of the superstars were in the line-up the Knicks could not win a game. Now that they are both out, the Knicks are not losing. How can that be?

It could only be if the assets that are most valuable in a team game relate less to individual talent, and more to the ability to make a team cohere. If you argue that the whole in team sports is, potentially, greater than the sum of its parts, then aggregating five superior athletes would naturally be less wise than composing a team with players who could, despite limited skill, increase the chance that the sum of the five would be greater than the accumulated value of the five superior athletes.

People in communication studies use the term "nonsummativity" to describe communication behavior in groups. What it means is that when a collection of people meet in organizations or elsewhere, the result of the meeting is not a sum (nonsummative) of the individual assets and wisdom of those in the group. The result is either greater or less than the sum of individual capabilities because when in a team setting, a host of variables can augment what any one person could bring to the table, or similarly reduce what that person can bring to the table. This is why you can have a meeting a work with three very bright people and come away as if you have completely wasted the time spent conversing. This happens so often that in my line of work, either as someone who participates in meetings, or someone who studies them--there is a common complaint about the frustration of these interactions.

This phenomena explains why Stoudemaire and Anthony's talents are limited in a team game. They are both great players, but Jeremy Lin may be better even though he might lose 21-2 in a game of one on one with either of them. Jeremy Lin apparently is able to get the group to have a positive nonsummative result on the court. Sure, it helps that he can shoot well and is quick to the hoop--some skills are essential, but those that help teams win are often not what wows scouts.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Giants 21 Patriots 17

Sometime after the conference championships, after the Giants and the Patriots were identified as the combatants, a fellow in the gym asked me if I was going to be conflicted.

This fellow knew I was originally from New York, but had become a Patriots fan in my thirty years in New England. I told him, without missing a beat, that no I was not conflicted. And I am not. Sometime after the Giants beat the Broncos in 87 and before the Giants beat the Buffalo Bills in the early 90s I had lost almost all of my affinity for the Giants. And I had been a rabid fan when I lived in various parts of NY including Albany, Buffalo, and Binghamton.

But now I am a Patriot fan and like so many Patriot fans took the defeat like zealots do. Today as I walked into work I did not even have my coat off when a colleague yelled down from her office--something she rarely does--and wanted to talk about the loss. The meetings I attended today, and several conversations in the hallways, began with moments replaying big plays and commiserating.

Last night I did not feel so bad. The Giants had played a great game and deserved the victory. Eli Manning, someone I always thought of as just okay, played like a champion and made more plays than the Patriots did. This morning I had the fan doldrums, but they were and are mitigated some because yesterday the better team won fair and square.

One thing you have to give the Patriots--since 2002 they have played in five superbowl games. Each one has been exciting. They won by three points three times. Lost by three points in 2007 and lost by four last night. Very exciting games especially compared to the early years of the super bowl which were frequently blowouts.

On another note entirely, gearing up for march madness, I went to Albany this past weekend to see Albany play against Stony Brook in an America East game. If you are looking for a team that is going to get a lot of lumber as a dog in March and has a chance to cover if not win, look at Stony Brook. Well coached, good athletes. If they get 20 points against a more powerful team that just relies on its athleticism, Stony Brook will be a winner. Also, the University of Miami will make some noise in the ACC tournament.

Wise prognostications from someone who thought the Patriots would win by twenty four last night.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

giants, patriots, and revenge

In 2007 the New England Patriots won 16 consecutive games in the regular season. They then won their first two games in the playoffs making the Patriots the only team ever to have a record of 18-0. The Patriots met the NY Giants in the superbowl and the Giants, to the surprise of almost everyone, defeated the Patriots in the championship game. The upset put the kibosh on what would have been a perfect season undermining all that the Patriots had accomplished during their previously remarkable year. It was a stunning loss.

Now four years later the Giants will play the Patriots again for the championship in the superbowl. A few nights ago some pundits were shmoozing on a local Boston tv broadcast and were discussing whether revenge would be a motivating factor in this game. The prevailing sentiment on the show and elsewhere has been that, no, revenge is not a factor because only a handful of Patriots in 2011 were on that team that lost the perfect season to the Giants in 2007.

The pundits don't get it.

Revenge will be a motivating factor in this game and it does not matter that there are only five or six players who will play on Sunday that were on the previous team.

The entity that is called the Patriots is more than the members of the current team. And this is the case for the Giants and every other team in every professional sport. A team carries with it, its history.

In organizational communication studies people examine what is called organizational identification. This refers to the extent to which members of an organization identify with the culture of that organization. A person joins and becomes socialized into the organization. At some point an employee, group or team member ceases to refer to the organization as "they" but starts to say "we". "This is the Patriot way. We do things this way here." Of course, people can reject the cultural values of an organization and then continue to talk with disdain about a group as they.

However, winners on football teams, (and successful companies) tend to have group members who have assimilated and enjoy identifying with pride. A new player on a team, once assimilated, assumes the passion of the team's fans, the cultural values of the squad, and the team's history.

Rest assured that when say, Danny Woodhead, a running back on the Patriots watches how Eli Manning in 2007 drove the Giants down the field for the winning touchdown, he feels that Manning scored on "us" even though Woodhead was still in college when that game was played. It might not be voiced by the Patriot players, but they want to win in part to rectify what occurred in 2007 in the same way that Patriot fanatics will want revenge when the game begins.

My father writes a bit about what he calls the collective subconscious that groups have and, of course, the members of that group have. Why do young Hatfields hate the McCoys when nobody recalls the reason for the original dispute? They do so because they have, certainly for worse not for better, become a Hatfield and, well, Hatfields hate the McCoys.

Sport rivalries are not analogous, of course, to ethnic or international conflicts.

Yet the point here is that people do not divorce themselves from the groups to which they feel, or may in fact be, naturally tied to.

I do not know who will win the game on Sunday, but if victorious Danny Woodhead and the 25 plus players who were not playing for the Patriots when the perfect season was punctured in 2007 will feel a sense of redemption. They will feel as if "we got them back."