February 10, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Bob Costas, unplugged: From NBC and broadcast icon to dropped from the Super Bowl (Mark Fainaru-Wada, 2/10/19, ESPN)

IN DECEMBER 2015, the movie "Concussion" was set for a Christmas Day release in nearly 3,000 theaters across America. The film told the story of the NFL's attempts to discredit research tying brain damage to football, and Bob Costas wanted to address it on national television.

Over the previous decade, Costas had become the face of football on NBC, hosting one of TV's most-watched programs, "Sunday Night Football." As part of every broadcast, Costas would take two minutes at halftime to speak directly to the program's 18 million viewers about the NFL issues of the day. Mostly, his commentaries were celebrations of the sport -- Brady vs. Manning, a tribute to Lambeau Field -- but, occasionally, he addressed subjects like gun control or the controversial name of the Washington, D.C., football team.

With his 28 Emmys and eight National Sportscaster of the Year awards, Costas had become the most-respected broadcaster of his generation -- a kind of Walter Cronkite for sports. He believed it was his responsibility to address uncomfortable truths, or "elephants in the room," as he often called them.

The release of "Concussion" seemed a natural topic given the nationwide awakening about head trauma in contact sports, especially the NFL. Costas believed it was important to have viewers confront football's existential crisis and consider their own moral dilemma as fans complicit to the sport's carnage.

Yet he recognized such a speech posed a challenge for his bosses and NBC. The network was paying the NFL billions to air games on Sunday nights. Even more, Costas knew NBC executives were hoping to expand the network's NFL package to Thursdays.

Costas sent the essay to his bosses for approval, something he typically did not do -- and waited.

What would ensue that week -- and in the years that followed -- reveals for the first time how a broadcasting icon went from fronting America's most popular sport to being excised from last year's Super Bowl and, ultimately, ending his nearly 40-year career with NBC.

Outside the Lines spoke with the 66-year-old Costas dozens of times over the course of the past year. Those conversations provide not only the never-before-told backstory of how he became an NFL outsider, but also deep insight into his personality: the intelligence and self-assurance that have driven his career; the years-long struggle as he reconciled the celebration of a sport that enriched him financially and helped make him a broadcasting icon, but also weighed so heavily on his conscience; and the insecurity and intense worry -- near agony -- about the possibility of betraying his colleagues and friends by sharing his story. All of it points to the all-encompassing influence of the NFL -- even over the most distinguished broadcaster of his era.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Forget The Crown, ITV's Endeavour is the period drama for our time (REBECCA RIDEAL, 2/08/19, New Statesman)

1960s Oxford looks magnificent - a cityscape of grey and gold, with blue skies, leafy country pubs and a milky brown River Thames. It is a place where the dangerous allure and terrible beauty of a city founded on privilege, hypocrisy, intellectual power and raw talent is overt. Against this backdrop, Endeavour is like an enlarged crossword puzzle - we have literature, class division, sandwiches, ambition, boating, excessive alcohol consumption, opera, mystery, greed, art, and murder. At its heart, however, is the most poignant fictional detective ever created: Endeavour Morse.

He is played as thoughtfully by Shaun Evans as he ever was by John Thaw. Indeed, the genius of Endeavour is the way the repositioning of the "Morse story" into a 1960s period drama has enabled a retrograde metamorphosis of its central character. He has become a tragic hero yearning for love and purpose, failing to realise that what he wants, and what he needs, are under his nose.

In this early incarnation, we see the roots of Morse's incredibly flawed view of women develop. He places those he admires on unattainably high and unrealistically romantic pedestals. Given these circumstances, it would be easy for female characters to become one-dimensional plot devices that propel the central character's narrative. It is testament to the consistently brilliant writing of Russell Lewis (the show's writer since 2012) that the series deftly navigates this toxic side to Morse's character and offers us some of the most interesting female characters onscreen. [...]

Running throughout the drama is an exploration of the generational pushback that often follows war. This is manifest in the relationship dynamics between Endeavour and his boss, the World War Two veteran DI Fred Thursday. Thursday (played brilliantly by Roger Allam) is of the generation to have seen things no human should endure. Much of his trauma is implied, but it reverberates loudly for younger characters who display a tacit guilt over failing to match the perceived heroism of the preceding generation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Trump Administration Rejects Study Showing Positive Impact of Refugees (Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Somini Sengupta, Sept. 18, 2017, NY Times)

Trump administration officials, under pressure from the White House to provide a rationale for reducing the number of refugees allowed into the United States next year, rejected a study by the Department of Health and Human Services that found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost.

The draft report, which was obtained by The New York Times, contradicts a central argument made by advocates of deep cuts in refugee totals as President Trump faces an Oct. 1 deadline to decide on an allowable number. 

It's always about racial hygiene, not what's good.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


On the Endlessness of the World Story (James V. Schall, S. J., 2/10/19, University Bookman)

[T]o grasp what Tolkien is driving at in "Note H," it is well first to recall the memorable lines at the end of the essay "On Fairy-Stories" itself. Few better lines have ever been written. "But in God's kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the 'happy ending'." It is the "happy ending" that is both the most hoped for and, in the light of so many of our actual human choices, the most dubious story ending of all.

Tolkien's last words of the essay are as follows: "All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the form that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen [man] that we know." We know the tales that take place amidst our fallenness. We sometimes blame God for creating a world in which we can fail and fall, as if to say that, in the end, we should prefer not to be free. Man "fully redeemed" will be like and unlike ourselves. If redeemed man were necessarily to turn out to be exactly as he was before, there would be no purpose in creating him. If he were absolutely different, he would not be the same person who once lived in this world.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


Jewish Americans reject Trump's theatrics  (Hailie Soifer, FEB 10, 2019, Times of Israel)

In 2016, Trump campaigned for president using anti-Semitic imagery and rhetoric. In 2017, after neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville chanting "Jews will not replace us," he publicly created a moral equivalence between those professing hate and those protesting it. Last year, Trump proudly identified himself as a "nationalist," embracing a term historically used in association with Nazism and white supremacy. He has espoused hate-filled rhetoric targeting Jews and other minority groups, while refusing to denounce white nationalism. Since becoming president, Trump has both inspired the unprecedented rise of anti-Semitism in our country and done little to combat it.

We deeply respect and honor survivors of the Holocaust, as well as those who liberated them, but will not forget that President Trump omitted any mention of Jews in his first Holocaust Remembrance Day statement. We will not forget that he delayed the appointment of a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism for more than two years, while appointing at least two senior White House advisers associated with the anti-Semitic alt-right movement his first weeks in office. We will not forget that he refused to denounce Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and has publicly repeated anti-Semitic dog whistles and conspiracy theories. These dangerous actions speak louder than scripted words, and expose the president for who he really is.

Trump has implemented a domestic agenda that goes against our core Jewish values. He has enacted a "zero-tolerance" immigration policy that has ripped away children from their parents and closed America's borders to those seeking refuge and asylum. He has completely ignored the crisis of gun violence in our schools and communities, denied the science of climate change and reversed environmental protections, and restricted access to affordable healthcare and public education. His insistence on fulfilling a campaign promise to build an unnecessary border wall has demonstrated that he is either unwilling or unable to recognize the best interests of our country.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


JOURNALISM ISN'T DYING. IT'S RETURNING TO ITS ROOTS (Antonio Garcia Martinez, 2/09/19, Wired)

[I]f you were to magically teleport the architects of our democracy--men like Ben Franklin or Samuel Adams (newspapermen, both of them)--to today, they'd find our journalistic ecosystem, with its fact-checked both-sides-ism and claims to "objectivity," completely unrecognizable. Franklin wrote under at least a dozen pseudonyms, including such gems as Silence Dogood and Alice Addertongue, and pioneered the placement of advertising next to content. Adams (aka Vindex the Avenger, Philo Patriae, et al.) was editor of the rabidly anti-British Boston Gazette and also helped organize the Boston Tea Party, when activists dumped tea into Boston Harbor rather than pay tax on it. Adams duly covered the big event the next day with absolute aplomb. They'd have no notion of journalistic "objectivity," and would find the entire undertaking futile (and likely unprofitable, but more on that soon).

If, however, you explained Twitter, the blogosphere, and newsy partisan outlets like Daily Kos or National Review to the Founding Fathers, they'd recognize them instantly. A resurrected Franklin wouldn't have a news job inside The Washington Post; he'd have an anonymous Twitter account with a huge following that he'd use to routinely troll political opponents, or a partisan vehicle built around himself like Ben Shapiro's Daily Wire, or an occasional columnist gig at a less partisan outlet like Politico, or a popular podcast where he'd shoot the political breeze with other Sons of Liberty, à la Chapo Trap House or Pod Save America. "Journalism dying, you say?" Ben Franklin v 2.0 might say. "It's absolutely blooming, as it was in my day."

What is dying, perhaps, is that flavor of "objective" journalism that purports to record an unbiased account of world events. We take journalistic objectivity to be as natural and immutable as the stars, but it's a relatively short-lived artifact of 20th-century America. Even now it's foreign to Europeans--cities such as London cultivate a rowdy passel of partisan scribblers who don't even pretend there's an impregnable wall between reportage and opinion. The US was much the same until the late 19th and early 20th century. Until 1900 or so, most newspapers were overtly political, and a name like The Press Democrat meant Democrat with a big D. Advertising was a minor concern, as party leaders encouraged members to subscribe to their local party organ, obviating the need for anything more than classifieds.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Technique creates objects using rays of light (PETER HOLLEY, 2/09/19, The Washington Post)

Though we remain a long way away from being able to transmogrify matter into a chocolate sundae on command, a team of real-life researchers has created a 3-D printer that can create entire objects simultaneously instead of creating them one painstaking layer at a time like most printing techniques. The new approach -- known as Computer Axial Lithography (CAL) -- carves an object out of a synthetic resin that solidifies when it comes into contact with particular patterns and intensities of light.

Using a device dubbed "the replicator," researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory used the technique to create tiny airplanes and bridges, copies of the human jaw, a screwdriver handle and minuscule copies of Rodin's Thinker.

The team's work was published last month in the academic journal Science.

"This is an exciting advancement to rapidly prototype fairly small and transparent parts," Joseph DeSimone, a chemist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Nature.

The CAL process involves more than just light and gooey resin. Researchers write that the printing begins with a computer model of a 3-D object, which is fed into a digital video projector. The machine beams the images into a rotating cylinder that is full of the synthetic resin, the article states.

The video projections are perfectly synchronized with the cylinder's rotation, the article states.

"As the container rotates, the pattern that's projected changes, so over time the amount of light that each point receives can be controlled," Hayden Taylor at the University of California at Berkeley told the Guardian. "Spots that receive a lot of light solidify, while those that do not remain liquid."

The CAL printing process requires only two minutes to complete, researchers said. Though still in its infancy, they said the technique could be used to create "patient-specific medical devices" and "aerospace components," according to the article published in Science.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Pitched battle between opposing 'yellow vests' in Lyon (The Local, 10 February 2019)

Opposing groups of yellow vest protestors -- believed to be from the far-right and from the far-left -- locked in a face-to-face battle in Lyon on Saturday, judging by videos posted on social media. [...]
Some commentators on Twitter argued that it was inevitable that there would be fractures in the unlikely coalition that makes up the protest movement, which has the blessing both Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party and Jean-Luc Mélénchon, leader of the far-left La France Insoumise movement. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


The Federal Reserve's Strange Case of Dr. Janet and Chairman Jay (Jeanna Smialek, February 8, 2019, Bloomberg)
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has just finished his first year on the job--marking the fifth year of what could be called the Yellen-Powell Fed. Together with predecessor Janet Yellen, Powell has presided over the slowest rate-hiking cycle the U.S. has ever seen. Their patience might just deliver that most elusive of goals of central bankers: bringing a hot economy into a "soft landing," tamping down nascent inflation while avoiding a recession.

Inheriting a Fed that still had key interest rates near zero, Yellen began to raise them when economic data was strengthening--then paused and pledged restraint at the first sign of trouble. Powell has largely followed her lead. So far, so good. Inflation is hovering at about the Fed's 2 percent goal, and 13 million Americans have joined the job market since Yellen took office in February 2014. The central bank has coaxed interest rates up to between 2.25 percent and 2.5 percent. And it's managed to shrink the massive balance sheet of bonds it built up after the financial crisis without sending markets into a tailspin. [...]

July will crown this U.S. economic expansion as the longest on record. If growth stays slow but positive, employees trickle back into jobs, and inflation remains contained, this could be the sort of cycle policymakers dream about. "There is a path to a soft landing, but it is a very narrow one," says Seth Carpenter, chief U.S. economist at UBS Securities and a former senior monetary affairs official at the Fed. "The recent change in tone increases the chances, because it is far better to hike too little, then have to do more later." The Fed will accomplish a rare feat if it stabilizes growth without major trouble. The central bank has stuck the landing exactly once in its 105 year history, in 1994 and 1995, under then-Chairman Alan Greenspan.

What's most impressive about the economy that W/Bernanke and the UR/Yellen handed to Donald is that it has been able to withstand the tariffs (taxes/regulations) and other attacks on free trade and the free movement of peoples so far.  If Donald cared about re-election more than he hates the other, he'd drop all the Nativism and let the economy boom its way through the next few years too. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Sunderland 'Til I Die, and the plight of the merely-very-good football player (Andrew Anthony, 10 Feb 2019, The Guardian)

[W]hat was most revealing was the plight of professional sportsmen a rung or, as it would turn out, two down from the elite. Sunderland, who in the documentary had been relegated to the Championship and were on their way to League One, had operated as a kind of transit hub for pros going in different directions. There was young talent on the way up (the England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford had moved to Everton), old talent on the way down (John O'Shea, five times a Premier League winner with Manchester United), players on loan who hadn't quite worked out elsewhere (the Wales midfielder Jonny Williams, borrowed from Crystal Palace), and players whose bright futures seemed suddenly behind them (the former Everton prodigy Jack Rodwell).

Watching the Premier League, you see footballers who, by and large, perform at a very high level week in, week out. It gives a deceptive picture of football, rather like seeing the tip of an iceberg peeking out of the sea and not realising there's a massive pyramid descending beneath. Sunderland had dropped below that waterline, not necessarily because their players lacked talent, but because they couldn't produce a consistent level of form. But why?

This is the mystery that hastens hair loss for coaches and managers. In the case of Williams, the answer seems clear. It was a mixture of bad luck with injuries (and luck is an underrated contributor to success) and a chronic lack of confidence. He tells a psychologist that he's "scared to lose the ball. Scared to miss. Scared of failure". Put like that, it's a wonder he manages to put his kit on. Obviously he knows he's good. He just doesn't know if he's good enough.

One of the finest pieces of journalism written on professional sport was the late David Foster Wallace's 1996 extended essay on Michael Joyce, then ranked the 79th-best tennis player in the world. Most of Foster Wallace's readers wouldn't have heard of Joyce, and yet he was a sublime player, devoted to the game and his improvement, and destined to be forgotten. As Foster Wallace coolly observes, Joyce could hit a winner at any angle. He just couldn't do it "quite as well as Agassi, or as often". That's the difference between the very good and the great.

Watching Williams on his magnificent slalom runs is to witness a highly accomplished sportsman at work. But there's the simultaneous recognition that he, like Michael Joyce, will never make it to the very top. Last month he joined Charlton Athletic in League One.

The question is, if success is all about wanting more, never settling for second-best and all the other cliches that haunt dressing rooms and training grounds, can a player ever find satisfaction in being in the third tier of his or her sport?

Sunderland are desperate to get out of League One (before Saturday's fixtures they were fourth with games in hand), and presumably their players are too. But will they be failures if they don't manage it?

Sunderland 'Til I Die shows all that is right and wrong in English football (Barry Glendenning, 12 Dec 2018, The Guardian)

It's the hope that kills them, Sunderland fans can handle the despair. And it is a prevailing sense of hope that percolates throughout all eight episodes of a behind-the-scenes documentary chronicling the club's relegation to the third tier of English football last season. Throughout a preposterously chaotic campaign, even by the standards of a club long considered utterly dysfunctional, Sunderland's fans remain surprisingly upbeat, despite having grown wearily accustomed to coping with apparently bottomless levels of crushing disappointment.

Commissioned by Netflix, Sunderland 'Til I Die is a love letter to a city on its knees and the conspicuously wayward child its citizens cannot bring themselves to disown. Despite its proclivity for repeatedly letting them down, even as tears and booze flow during a maudlin pub sing-song following relegation to League One, the mood among locals is one of hope things will ultimately get better because, well ... they cannot get much worse.

The series was produced by Fulwell 73, a company owned by Sunderland fans done good and named after a stand at Roker Park, the club's former ground, along with a nod to their famous FA Cup win. Having expressed an interest in buying the club before shelving their plans, they were invited to film a documentary by the since departed American owner Ellis Short in the hope of creating the kind of buzz that might generate interest among other prospective purchasers.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Loving the stranger (Mishpatim 5779): The Torah implies that the only counterweight to the powerful hatred of xenophobia is personal identification (Jonathan Sacks, JAN 31, 2019,Times of Israel)

There are commands that leap off the page by their sheer moral power. So it is in the case of the social legislation in Mishpatim. Amid the complex laws relating to the treatment of slaves, personal injury and property, one command in particular stands out, by virtue of its repetition (it appears twice in our parsha), and the historical-psychological reasoning that lies behind it:

Do not ill-treat a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in Egypt. (Exodus 22:20)

Do not oppress a stranger; you yourselves know how it feels to be a stranger [literally, "you know the soul of a stranger"], because you were strangers in Egypt. (Ex. 23:9)

Mishpatim contains many laws of social justice - against taking advantage of a widow or orphan, for example, or charging interest on a loan to a fellow member of the covenantal community, against bribery and injustice, and so on. The first and last of these laws, however, is the repeated command against harming a ger, a "stranger." Clearly something fundamental is at stake in the Torah's vision of a just and gracious social order. [...]

Whatever the precise number, the repetition throughout the Mosaic books is remarkable. Sometimes the stranger is mentioned along with the poor; at others, with the widow and orphan. On several occasions the Torah specifies: "You shall have the same law for the stranger as for the native-born."[2] Not only must the stranger not be wronged; he or she must be included in the positive welfare provisions of Israelite/ Jewish society. But the law goes beyond this; the stranger must be loved:

When a stranger lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The stranger living with you must be treated as one of your native- born. Love him as yourself, for you were strangers in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 19:33-34)

This provision appears in the same chapter as the command, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). Later, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses makes it clear that this is the attribute of God Himself:

"For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are strangers, for you yourselves were strangers in Egypt." (Deut. 10:17-19)

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


The Jewish realtor who helped keep Frank Robinson in Baltimore (RON KAMPEAS, 2/09/19, JTA) 

Those subsequent wins might not have happened had it not been for a Jewish realtor, Malcolm Sherman, who was known in the city for a commitment to integrating its neighborhoods.

Sherman's daughter, Wendy, writing Friday on Twitter, said her father was unable to get the outfielder the home he wanted in an integrated neighborhood when Robinson first came to the city.

A year later, Robinson threatened to leave the team if he couldn't move into an integrated neighborhood.

"Dad found a house in what then became an integrated neighborhood by promising signed bats and balls, meeting one by one with each family," and also agreeing to a hiked rental fee, Sherman wrote.

Last Rosh Hashanah, in a separate thread, Sherman described how in 1963 her father heeded a rabbi's call to champion civil rights and committed to never discriminating in his sales. It was a decision that eventually lost him his business.