Monday, March 31, 2014

If Erasmus Of Rotterdam Were Alive in 2014, He Would Write The Praise Of Nuttiness!

The world has gone mad in "a cauldron of crazy": missing airliner theories, craft store theology, creationist cant, and denial of climate change. Will sanity return? Stay tuned. If this is (fair & balanced) dread, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
The Thin Veil Of Rationality
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. Earlier this year, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning.]

Copyright © 2014 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

As This Blogger's Maternal Grandmother Would Say, "That Rumster Has More Nerve Than A Government Mule"

The DoD (Department of Defense came into existence after WWII on September 17, 1947, with James V. Forrestal as the first Secretary of Defense. Since then, and down through the current Secretary, Chuck Hagel, none have been as controversial as Robert McNamara (in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations) and Donald Rumsfeld ( in the Ford and Dubster administrations). Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris has captured both McNamara and Rumsfeld in his cameras: "The Fog of War" (2003) — McNamara and "The Unknown Known" (2013) — The Rumster. For a 4-part reflection on the Rumsfeld film by Errol Morris go here, here, here, and here. Unlike McNamara, who wept before Morris' cameras, when reflecting upon his roles in planning the firebombing of Tokyo in WWII and the lies told during the Vietnam conflict, The Rumster is brazen to the final fade to black. The Rumster, like his cronies: The Dubster and The Dickster, has no soul. That is the acid test for a war criminal. "Creepy" is too kind to The Rumster. "Disgusting," "repugnant," and "loathsome" belong to The Rumster for the ages. If this is (fair & blaanced) nausea at effrontery, so be it.

[x MoJo]
Donald Rumsfeld: Up Close And Creepy
By David Corn

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Not too long into Errol Morris' new documentary on Donald Rumsfeld, "The Unknown Known," the viewer learns almost all he or she needs to know about the former defense secretary who helped President George W. Bush lead the nation into war in Iraq. After a short recap of the initial US military action in Afghanistan following the horrific September 11 attacks, Morris notes that a "confusion" set in, with many Americans believing Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, was involved in 9/11. Morris puts this to Rumsfeld during the Q&A that makes up the spine of the film. Rumsfeld, in his familiar know-it-all way, dismisses the premise: "I don't think the American people were confused about that." Morris, who is not on screen, counters by citing a 2003 poll showing that 69 percent of Americans said it was "likely" that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the assault. Rumsfeld responds, "I don't remember anyone in the Bush administration saying anything like that, nor do I recall anyone believing that."

Really? Rumsfeld is not acknowledging a known known. Within hours of the Al Qaeda attack, according to now-public memos, Rumsfeld was asking if Saddam Hussein could be hit in response, and for weeks afterward, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, repeatedly said during administration meetings that the Iraqi leader might have been behind the 9/11 plot. As Michael Isikoff and I noted in Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (2007), Wolfowitz sent memos to Rumsfeld asserting that Saddam may have played a critical role.

Morris doesn't cover any of this, but he exposes Rumsfeld in a different and effective way—with Rumsfeld's own words. Immediately after Rumsfeld tells Morris he has no clue how any American got the impression Saddam was tied to 9/11, Morris inserts video from a Rumsfeld press conference at the Pentagon in early February 2003. Saddam had recently declared that he possessed no weapons of mass destruction and had no relationship with Al Qaeda. A reporter asks Rumsfeld to respond. "Abraham Lincoln was short," Rumsfeld says curtly—and no more. The reporter, not satisfied with this all-too-cute answer, presses Rumsfeld for more, and the secretary obliges: "How does one respond to that? It's a continuous pattern. It's the local liar.... He almost never, rarely tells the truth."

With this response, Rumsfeld was certainly bolstering the notion that Saddam was part of the 9/11 scheme. Yet now he plays dumb. And, thus, nothing else he says in the documentary can be taken at face value. This is a fellow who either is not as smart as he thinks or not perceptive enough to handle the hard truths.

Of course, after the invasion of Iraq—which Rumsfeld had sold on false pretenses—it was clear that Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush-Cheney crew had failed to prepare adequately for the occupation, in what was one of the dumbest moves in US military history. In this film, Rumsfeld hardly comes to terms with all that. (Ditto the 100,000-plus civilian Iraqi deaths caused by the war—though he does choke up while talking about one American soldier wounded in Iraq who pulled through.) That's no surprise. Neither is Rumsfeld's cocky attitude—which was often on full display during his matinee press conferences at the Pentagon. Yet throughout the engaging film, Rumsfeld, as he did during his decades in government, hides behind a creepy sort of profundity. At one point, Morris cites Rumsfeld's belief in the notion that "if you wish for peace, prepare for war" and notes that "you can use that to justify anything." Rumsfeld responds by citing one of his "Rumsfeld rules": "All generalizations are false—including this one." He then offers a thin smile, chuckles, and adds, "There it is."

Yes, the zen of Donald Rumsfeld, which is merely camouflage for stupid mistakes that caused mayhem and death. That much is certainly known. Ω

[David Corn became chief of the seven-person Washington bureau for Mother Jones in 2007. He is is the author of Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades (1994); Deep Background (1999); The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (2003); and (co-written with Michael Isikoff) Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (2006). Corn is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brown University.]

Copyright © 2014 Mother Jones and the Foundation for National Progress

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Today's Tribute To March Madness 2014: The Key To Sucess At UNC-Chapel Hill? The 146-Word Essay!!

Unlike Mary Willingham, the former writing tutor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this blogger witnessed academic dishonesty and turned his head and did nothing. 'Twas the end of the 1950s, and the blogger was a college freshman at a small state school in the Southwest. Early in the fall semester, the freshman football players were called to a meeting with a "tutor" (a grad student in the English department). At the end of the term, a teammate — also a freshman — bragged that he had aced the English final in his section of ENGL 101 (or whatever it was). This blogger asked, "How do you know that? The grades haven't been posted yet." The boastful teammate said that "Glen" (or whatever), the English tutor, had given him a copy of the final exam in that section a week prior to the exam. Further, the teammate went to his room in the athletic dorm and produced the copy of the exam. This blogger stewed on that overnight and the next day (a Friday) saw the A-student teammate get in his car to go home for the weekend. The A-student had left his door unlocked and this blogger went into the room and found the pilfered exam in a sock-drawer. At this point, the blogger started for the English department office with exam in hand. Somewhere along the way, the righteous blogger stopped in his tracks and turned around (and restored the pilfered exam where he had found it), End of story? Not quite: the A-student remained in school (and played football) for his remaining years and — and approximately 40 years after graduation, was named a distinguished alumnus by the school's alumni association. If this is (fair & balanced) proof that good does not triumph over evil, so be it.

[x Slate]
Here’s The Awful 146-Word “Essay” That Earned An A- For A UNC Jock
By Jordan Weissmann

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The University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill has already been embroiled in a scandal for allowing its athletes to enroll in fake courses for easy credit. Now, the whole controversy has a rather potent visual symbol to go along with it: a 146-word, ungrammatical essay on Rosa Parks that earned an A- for a real intro class.

Mary Willingham, who spent a decade tutoring and advising UNC’s jocks before turning into a whistleblower, unveiled the paper during an interview with ESPN. As the segment explains, academically troubled UNC athletes were encouraged to sign up for so-called “paper classes”—which were essentially no-work independent studies involving a single paper that allowed functionally illiterate football players to prop up their GPAs, thus satisfying the NCAA’s eligibility requirements. While viewers were not treated to any of the "work" produced in those courses, Willingham did show this paper she later clarified was written for an actual intro class [not a "paper class"], in which the athlete finished with an A-:

And here’s the text.

On the evening of December Rosa Parks decided that she was going to sit in the white people section on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. During this time blacks had to give up there seats to whites when more whites got on the bus. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Her and the bus driver began to talk and the conversation went like this. “Let me have those front seats” said the driver. She didn’t get up and told the driver that she was tired of giving her seat to white people. “I’m going to have you arrested,” said the driver. “You may do that,” Rosa Parks responded. Two white policemen came in and Rosa Parks asked them “why do you all push us around?” The police officer replied and said “I don’t know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.

It seems fitting that this image is making the rounds just one day after a National Labor Relations Board official ruled that football players at Northwestern University were not primarily students but rather employees of the school. That’s not to say Northwestern was running a similar scam (Disclosure: I’m an alum). But the point is that those who think that most big-time college athletes are at school first and foremost to be educated are fooling themselves. They're there to work and earn money and prestige for the school.

And really, what are the chances that other schools aren’t mimicking UNC? In 2010, before Willingham started feeding information to reporters, UNC’s football program, for instance, had a 75 percent graduation rate, lower than some far more competitive teams today. It’s possible that those schools simply try harder and find more scholarly candidates for their o-line. But I somehow doubt that. Ω

[Jordan Weissmann, formerly a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, is now Slate's senior business and economics correspondent (since February 2014). Weissman received a BSJ from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.]

Copyright © 2014 The Slate Group

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Today, This Blog Has A Motif

Tag Crowd is back from "fluffing their clouds" (site maintenance). That's the good news o'the day. The not-so-good news is that The Deadline Poet is back with more snark about Governor BigBoy (Chris Christie, R-NJ); will the next poem feature Bad Vlad, the Russian descamisado? It would seem that The Deadline Poet is in a loop with Governor BigBoy and Bad Vlad. It's like having a two-key piano. Perhaps a "Simple 4-Line" rhyme scheme is just right for this blog. If this is (fair & balanced) blogging with faint praise, so be it.

[x The Nation]
Case Closed
By The Deadline Poet (Calvin Trillin)

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Inquiry Is Said to Clear Christie, but That’s His Lawyers’ Verdict.
New York Times headline

His lawyers did a thorough job.
The governor has been absolved.
They’d interviewed all Christie aides,
Except, of course, the ones involved. Ω

[Calvin Trillin began his career as a writer for Time magazine. Since July 2, 1990, as a columnist at The Nation, Trillin has written his weekly "Deadline Poet" column: humorous poems about current events. Trillin has written considerably more pieces for The Nation than any other single person. A native of Kansas City, MO, Trillin received his BA from Yale College in 1957. He served in the army, and then joined Time.]

Copyright © 2014 The Nation

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

There Is Madness In The Air Everywhere!

Mr. Turtle (Senator Mitch McConnell — R-KY) has had a bad week or two in his campaign for reelection to the U.S. Senate. First, his campaign offered up a non-speaking video montage of Mr. Turtle in several settings: in his office, in a meeting, and out on the campaign trail. The lack of sound was intended to facilitate the use of the video spots for later insertion in Super-PAC ads. Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" staff put various rock, pop, funk, and rap music to the video and the result went viral. Then, because March Madness is in full swing and the University of Kentucky Wildcats are still alive, the hapless McConnell media team put together an ad that captured a bright shining moment in Kentucky basketball history. Oops! The video snippet was a celebration by Duke players after winning the national title in 2010. (See the snippet at the 1:09 mark.) Well, both schools wear blue and white uniforms. Mr. Turtle's media staffers, in an attempt to stop the bleeding, created a new ad that featured the Ketucky Wildcats. The new ad ran once on statewide stations and Mr. Turtle received a "cease and desist" letter from officials at the University of Kentucky for running the segment without prior permission. The McConnell campaign immediately deep-sixed the ad. However, Duke University does not get off easily, either. Josh Levin dishes some hot, steamin' snark on vaunted Blue Devils for losing in the opening round of Madness 2014 to the Mercer University Bears. If this is (fair & balanced) whistling past our national graveyard, so be it.

[x Slate]
Oh, Mercer!
By Josh Levin

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It’s a bittersweet moment when Duke loses in the NCAA tournament. Yes, it’s thrilling to see Mike Krzyzewski go down, but it also means we have to wait until November for the Blue Devils to lose again. While we wait for college basketball’s powers that be to invent a new March Madness structure, one that allows Duke to suffer a devastating defeat, advance to the next round, then lose again in a never-ending cycle of shame, this is the best we can hope for. For the second time in three years, the Durham, N.C., basketball factory/leadership institute has lost its opening tournament game to a little-known school from an indeterminate location. In 2012, they fell to tiny Lehigh. This year, it was the Mercer Bears who slew the Devils, pulling away late to earn a 78-71 victory.

The most surprising thing about the final score was that—in both a micro and a macro sense—it really wasn’t that surprising. Before the tournament began, Krzyzewski whined that the Atlantic Coast Conference should “get more respect” from the NCAA selection committee. He should’ve been stumping for the Atlantic Sun. The conference that brought us Florida Gulf Coast’s Sweet Sixteen-bound Dunk City squad in 2013 has now furnished us with this year’s excellent Mercer team. While FGCU turned basketball into performance art, Mercer—which is in Macon, Ga., by the way—doesn’t transcend the game in any way. Rather, the Bears are constructed in the small-school-ish fashion that’s traditionally led to tourney success: They shoot a high percentage from the field, and they’re very experienced, starting five seniors.

Duke’s weaknesses aligned perfectly with Mercer’s strengths. The Blue Devils had a moderately successful regular season, going 26-8, but their defense was consistently horrible, ranking 98th in the country in defensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy’s stats. (Earlier in the season, Coach K’s crew got shredded [sic — embarrassed] by Vermont. Vermont!) They’re also one of the nation’s most-callow teams, ranking 279th in on-court experience according to (By that measure, which looks at how much court time goes to players of various ages, Mercer ranks fifth nationally in experience.)

Friday’s game played out as the statistics predicted. Mercer shot 56 percent from the field, with seniors accounting for 65 of the team’s 78 points, and the Bears had just eight turnovers, taking care of the ball as veteran teams are inclined to do. More shocking than any of that was that even as Duke’s biggest faults were exploited, the Devils were mostly unable to capitalize on their biggest strength. The Duke offense, ranked second in the NCAA in efficiency, shot just 36 percent from the field against an average Mercer defense, with freshman star Jabari Parker going just 4-14 from the field. (Duke stayed in the game by shooting 15-37 on three-pointers, an excellent 41 percent.)

The bigger picture here is that college basketball has become bifurcated, with major-conference schools fielding more-talented, less-experienced rosters than their small-time brethren. Duke has succeeded in the one-and-done era by recruiting the kinds of not-quite-superstars who stick around college basketball for three or so years. But the Blue Devils program is more Calipari-ish in its reliance on young talent than you might think. Duke’s rankings in on-court experience since 2007: 331, 295, 161, 69, 199, 223, 158, 279.

Down in the bottom rungs of Division I, Mercer and its ilk spend years building a squad, then bring it to the NCAA tournament when it’s ready to flourish. According to, the 19 most-experienced teams in the country (six of which made the tournament) come from outside the sport’s power conferences. Among the country’s least-experienced rosters are schools with a combined 29 NCAA championships: UCLA, North Carolina, Arizona, Michigan, Texas, Kansas, and Kentucky.

Friday’s Mercer-Duke game was almost an exact replica of Thursday’s biggest upset, in which the North Dakota State Bison (20th in the country in offensive efficiency, 23rd in experience) beat the Oklahoma Sooners (84th in defensive efficiency, 305th in experience). These two victories don’t mean that the small-school approach is superior (or that all power conference schools play horrible defense). Both games were close enough that the outcome could’ve swung either way, which is kind of the point: a completely unequal system has created a perfect equilibrium, one in which David sees eye to eye with Goliath.

In the past 10 years, Duke has made the Final Four once and lost its first NCAA tournament game three times, with all three of those losses coming to schools outside the biggest leagues. (VCU and Eric Maynor took down the Devils in 2007.) Actually, that’s the perfect equilibrium: So long as Duke gets humiliated three times more often than it reigns victorious, I think we can all agree that college basketball is working beautifully. Ω

[Josh Levin is the senior editor at Slate magazine after he joined the staff in 2003. He received a BS (computer science) and a BA (history) from Brown University.]

Copyright © 2014 The Slate Group

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Moral Of This Story: One Man's Crap Is Another Man's 2-Buck Chuck!

Just when this blogger was mentally rubbing his hands together at the prospect of Two-Buck Chuck arriving in his 'hood with the soon-to-open second Trader Joe's outlet in Austin, this bit of neo-muckraking reportage about Trader Joe's popped up on his computer screen. The grabber line was that Trader Joe's has created "whole new categories of crap" in their store-brands. So, sometime after May 16, 2014, this blogger will purchase his first bottle of Two-Buck Chuck. If this is (fair & balanced) consumerist folly, so be it.

[x Outside]
Trader Woes
By Michael Behar

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Last month, on Valentine's Day, Trader Joe's held the grand opening for its first store in Boulder, Colorado, where I live. In fact, there were previously no stores anywhere in Colorado, and residents had long been begging the grocer to locate here via online petitions and Facebook fan pages. In early 2012, inklings emerged that TJ's was eyeing potential Colorado sites, including my town. The rumors headlined Boulder's Daily Camera, which would report on the $11-billion chain in some 70-plus articles over the next two years.

When opening day arrived, hundreds turned out. A jam band hammered on steel drums, while fist-pumping employees clad in Aloha shirts handed out plastic leis to swooning customers. To marshal traffic, police were on hand. So were Jim and Lisa Lucas, who ducked work to publicly profess their love to Trader Joe's in its parking lot. Elated, too, were Joe and Jennifer Boyte. The couple had been making pilgrimages to the nearest Trader Joe's, in Santa Fe, New Mexico—an 840-mile round-trip drive for items like Two Buck Chuck and dark-chocolate-and-sea-salt-covered butterscotch caramels.

Once our store opened, a trek to TJ's quickly became a right-of-passage in Boulder. "Have you been yet?" demanded my foodie friends, incessantly. Suddenly, Trader Joe's was bigger than legal weed. Resistance was futile. But I was wary. Our cookie-cutter supermarket, King Soopers, owned by the Kroger conglomerate, already carried enough organic food to feed a battalion. Our 40,000-square-foot Whole Foods is mobbed daily, like Mecca during the hajj. From what I had researched online about its offerings, I wondered how Trader Joe's expected to survive selling mostly over-processed garbage to throngs of kale-huggers.

Trader Joe's isn't hawking health food exclusively. Even so, its marketing certainly exudes an aura of clean livin' goodness. Plus, its website claims that its privately branded products—those with the TJ's label—contain "no artificial flavors or preservatives," and no "synthetic colors, MSG, trans fats, or genetically modified ingredients." They also tout vegan, kosher, gluten-free, low-sodium, and fat-free alternatives. Tantalizing! Upon arriving at the Boulder store, I grabbed a shopping cart, thinking I could fill it with actual food.

"You don't want to buy that," warned Melanie Warner, who I had asked to tag along. "But it's just dried peaches?" I pleaded before glancing at the second ingredient: sulfur dioxide. Warner wrote Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal, which The Huffington Post named one of the best food books of 2013. I trust Warner because not only can she pronounce "tert-butylhydroquinone," she also knows that it's a suspected carcinogen added to many fast foods, Cheez-Its, and Pop-Tarts.

According to the FDA, sulfur dioxide is not natural (though it is a common preservative, and also used by vintners in wine). We made a beeline to the customer service counter, where a "crew member" named Kerrie was happy to assist. How does sulfur dioxide reconcile with your "no artificial preservatives" policy, I asked? This kind of inquiry is hardly uncommon around our health-obsessed town. She was stumped and telephoned corporate. The answer: "It's 100-percent natural," insisted Kerrie. "Like the sulfur dioxide you get from volcanoes." So, like the crude oil you find underground? Warner said later, "Poor Kerrie. She's got her job cut out for her in Boulder."

Indeed, Kerrie tells me she's been with Trader Joe's for eight years at locations in Vancouver in Washington State, Portland, Oregon, and Rochester, Minnesota. "We're getting more questions from customers in Boulder than at any other store I've worked at. People are more conscious, and they're also skeptical because we're the new kids on the block. But we knew this was going to happen here."

I give Kerrie huge props for engaging us with patience and a smile. She wasn't defensive but appeared genuinely concerned that her company wasn't living up to its pledge. Scripted? Perhaps. Nonetheless, when I gave her a long list of Trader Joe's private label products that contained questionable preservatives—sodium phosphate (Pulled Beef Brisket), trisodium citrate (Bacon Cheddar Cheese), sodium lauryl sulfate (Bibimbap Bowl), sodium phosphate (Pork Roast Florentine)—Kerrie promised to investigate.

Three hours later, she called me at home. "I looked into sodium lauryl sulfate," she said. "It's used to control acidity. We've received a lot of concerns about it, so we're in the process of reevaluating it. And I'm still researching the rest of your list."

Kerrie rocked. But neither she nor Warner could help me fill my cart. "They're creating whole new categories of crap," declared Warner, palming a jar of Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter, made with "crushed biscuits," something called "raising agent," four different types of sugar, and margarine (people still use that?).

I spent nearly 90 minutes scouring the aisles with Warner, using our iPhones to Google the ingredients of dozens of products. Natural or artificial, the place is a preservative shit-show. The entire freezer section might as well be the poster-child for What's Wrong With the American Diet because boxed meals with 20-plus ingredients and scads of sodium aren't healthy—with or without the bonus mystery additives.

And if you're worried about GMOs, you're going to have to take TJ's word that they're absent because company executives won't reveal their outside vendors or allow for third-party verification. As for meat, a handful of shrink-wrapped steaks touted "all natural," while a "Go Texan" logo emblazoned packages of turkey cold cuts. My inquiry to an employee restocking the deli aisle got a polite and honest reply: "If it doesn't say organic, you can pretty much assume it's raised conventionally with antibiotics and hormones." Yikes.

We ventured to Trader Joe's at 11 a.m. on a blustery and frigid Tuesday morning in early March when we figured the place would be deserted. But the Cult of Trader Joe's is strong in these parts. It was packed with salivating Boulderites, who, like me, probably assumed there was something healthy to be found inside. At checkout, the clerk gave my forlorn cart the once-over. "Did you find everything you need?" Need? Well, no. But it wasn't a total loss: I scored some organic chicken breasts, a few cans of low-sodium organic black beans, and four tins of wild-caught sardines.

Now before you get all huffy and post vitriolic missives in the comments thread of this piece, know that I'm writing this in the context of Boulder, where even 7-Eleven stocks organic milk. This is not about Trader Joe's operating in urban food deserts, places like Atlanta or Memphis. And it doesn't concern Trader Joe's in Northern California, where a friend who lives in Marin County informed me his only alternative, Safeway, is a Soviet throwback. In these cities—assuming the abundance of cheap, prepackaged fare doesn't sucker you in—Trader Joe's is a godsend.

Trader Joe's old-schoolers whose dietary choices I respect advised this: Don't go for grocery shopping. Treat it like a flea market—a place to hunt for the few prized gems hidden amid mostly worthless junk. With any nascent retail endeavor in finicky Boulder, there is a learning curve. Though Trader Joe's appears to be a willing student, I won't be making another trip anytime soon. And yet with employees like Kerrie compiling customer wish lists and addressing complaints from sticklers like me, I'll never say never. Ω

[Outside magazine's Michael Behar has reported on wildfire fighting, marauding insects, kiteboarding in Brazil, the neuroscience of fear, uncontacted jungle tribes, big weather, warrior robots, selling the sun, mountain climbing in Costa Rica, science at the South Pole, rafting in Alaska, satellite gorilla tracking in Rwanda, trekking in Peru, the end of the dogfighters, Venezuelan hideaways, illegal cypress logging, remote private islands, pirate treasure hunting, the search for Steve Fossett, zero-gravity sex, Google Earth, and secured an exclusive interview with an electrical engineer about to implant a microchip in his forearm. Behar's articles have appeared in more than 25 national publications including Outside, Wired, Newsweek, OnEarth, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, Mother Jones, Best Life, Skiing, Popular Science, The Economist, Backpacker, National Geographic Adventure, Discover, Air & Space, and Smithsonian. He received a BA (writing and literature) from the University of Washington and an MA (journalism) from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.]

Copyright © 2014 Mariah Media Network

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Damning "Don't Worry, Be Happy" With Faint Praise

Stress must be measured by the rule of "Not Too Much" and "Not Too Little," according to Katie Roiphe. Stress is in plentiful supply in 2014: where is Malaysia Airline Flight MH370? What is happening in the Ukraine? Who will win the 2014 national championship in men's basketball? The list of things that can make you lose sleep is endless. National Stress Awareness Day is less than a month away. If this is (fair & balanced) social psychology, so be it.

[x FT]
The Joy Of Stress
By Katie Roiphe

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Do you know someone with insomnia who wakes up at 4am and ends up working and reading novels and cleaning closets and cycling through anxieties until the sky turns pink? I know her and sometimes I am her.

I often hear friends and acquaintances talking about being up in the middle of the night, worrying, whirring, working. It’s not a boast but there is, to a certain extent, a personal mythology being advanced. There is a sort of counter-intuitive esprit de corps these anxious friends are tapping into. There is a definite and possibly weird element of pride.

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Stress is pretty universally understood to be a bad thing, as in the most recent contribution to the conversation, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time (2014), by Brigid Schulte. But is it possible that in certain segments of urban life we thrive on anxiety, are comfortable in it? Do we actually, on some strange level, enjoy and revel in it? Take the common mystery of an already jittery person reaching for yet another cup of coffee: what do they crave? What is the nature of this particular form of energy? Speedy, unreal, sickening, powerful. The tremendous artifice of that energy. The reason they are sipping that second or third coffee is that they want to be jangly. They are seeking out jangly.

I am talking here about the speedy, high-strung form of anxiety, the mind racing through a million thoughts and worries and ambitions and fears. The New York Times had until recently a series on anxiety, the heading of which claimed “nearly one in five Americans suffer from anxiety”. Some of this widespread anxiety may be clinical, a serious crippling condition that prevents its sufferers from getting out of bed and putting on their shoes. But much of it is surely a cast of mind, an atmosphere, a style.

There is a particular vitality in anxiety, a sort of nervy power that one can’t say is fun, exactly, but is nonetheless slightly addictive. It can be productive, in a crashing way. It gives us a feeling of motion, of momentum, of wheels turning. One gets used to it, maybe seeks it out. One inhabits it, sets up camp.

The influential publisher Arianna Huffington launched a whole campaign against stress. She was so concerned about the ubiquity of this social ill that she vowed to include daily posts on un-stressing in all 13 lifestyle sections of her media behemoth The Huffington Post. She used as an inspiring example an employee who successfully battled stress by stopping to gaze at a tomato plant in the concrete, urban nightmare of his life.

But is there something vaguely bovine, dull, about the state of being unstressed? Is there something slow, unfruitful, stagnant or dense about calm? You, with your fruity cocktail under the palm trees, are you boring?
. . .

One day, someone took me to a big house on the ocean. There were many decks dangling over the white sand. The waves were just outside the window and they roared into my bedroom, with its painted wooden floors. Suddenly I could sleep — nine, 10, uninterrupted hours. The children were busy with sandcastles. My computer very agreeably crashed temporarily — I told myself it was the sea air – so there was no possibility of working or communicating. I was worried about nothing. I spent hours just gazing into the waves. It was superbly soothing. But who was I?

Anxiety, I came to understand a few weeks later — slipping back into normal life, where I dress my four-year-old while he is sleeping to get him to school on time — is my identity. Is anxiety good for me? Is it perverse to thrive on it?

I was completely unprepared for the best talk I ever gave — well, I had forgotten to write down the date and remembered at the very last minute. The subject was important to me but I had not yet talked about it in public. I had nothing prepared. I was quite sensibly nervous beforehand, which I am not usually, but as I stood up in front of the crowd, the nervousness turned into pure energy; I could feel it as greater-than-usual resourcefulness, as quickness on my feet.

Apparently this is normal. In 1908, Harvard psychologists invented a thing called the Yerkes Dodson Law, proving that a moderate level of stress can actually enhance one’s performance (too much is bad, but too little is also bad. You need stress to work well). This is pretty much what we know from experience: some stress, not overwhelming, crippling waves of it, spurs you on, makes you feel alert, alive. Stress is challenge and challenge is, well, kind of a good thing, though we might prefer a lazy day in the sun.

I’ve noticed that when I am writing something that makes me nervous or uncomfortable, where I have to walk away from the screen every now and then because it’s making me feel sick, it’s always better than when I am writing calmly. When I am typing away with cool, professional detachment, what I am writing is usually sort of blah.

Kierkegaard said: “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom,” which gets at the very particular counter-intuitive joy of it. It is the bone-deep experience of possibility. Another way to think about this is that if you are safe, you are bored. If you feel comfortable, you lack desire. We think of stress as an unfortunate side effect of busy modern urban life; we tend to imagine that if we were all shepherds lounging with flutes in emerald grass, we would be bucolically redeemed but, in fact, stress may be a sign of engaging life fully or at least intelligently apprehending it.

The aura of calm, of contentedness does not have the same frisson as anxiety; it does not draw in or seduce with the edginess of its charm. It’s not attractive in the way that anxiety is. A Canadian psychologist, Robin Alter, who has done research on children and anxiety, observed that in anxious children, “the imaginative capacity is often more highly developed than that of calmer children”. It’s true that the child who is envisioning hundreds of red eyes in the darkness watching him or giant moving statues with teeth out of his bedroom window, is more dynamic and better company than, let’s face it, the one who is tranquilly moving a train around a track. And when you think about people who are interesting, who compel, whose conversation is beyond averagely mesmerising, they are usually highly strung. In T S Eliot’s well-known words, “Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity.”

Do we fall a little bit in love with our anxiety, are we attached to it? It gives a kind of sharpness, a crisp focus to our days that might otherwise be passed in a haze. Communing with phantom terrors sharpens our pleasure; it lends drama or spark to routine. An overdeveloped sense of precariousness makes you appreciate some pretty basic things. If you have clocked a few rigorous post-midnight hours colourfully elaborating the various ways you might be dying, come morning you will be over the moon pouring cereal for a child.

The truth is that crisis in general, the sense of warding off calamities, of juggling many complicated things, of being harried and hectic and stressed out, can be perversely pleasurable. People hate insomnia but there is, for those who have a lot of it, often a kind of weird secret pleasure in it too. Even though you may hate the exhaustion, you find yourself sort of savouring it, like certain kinds of hangovers: it offers its own vividness. The rawness, the strung-out-ness, the oversensitivity to the world, the ache, they are all sort of pleasing in their own dark way. They make you feel like you are intensely experiencing the hours, not just slipping through.

Of course, the anxious or stressed out would generally rather not be anxious or stressed out. They would like the problems they intricately obsess over and cycle through at 3am to be solved — but if they were, what would they do with themselves?
. . .

Take Joan Didion, the patron saint of the stylishly anxious. She writes in a tone of near-constant neurotic jitteriness, and yet the world she so gorgeously, sensitively apprehends has its own incomparable charisma. She writes, “It will perhaps suggest the mood of those years if I tell you that during them, I could not visit my mother-in-law without averting my eyes from a framed verse, the ‘house blessing’ which hung on the walls of her home in West Hartford, CT. ‘God Bless this house, and be the lintels blessed/And bless the hearth, and bless the board/And bless each place of rest...’ This verse had on me the effect of a physical chill, so insistently did it seem the kind of ‘ironic’ detail the reporters would seize upon, the morning the bodies were found.”

A little twisted, yes. A little over-aware of fate’s dark possibilities. But imagine a slightly chubby, contented, becalmed Didion. The White Album (1979) would be a recipe book, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) a yoga guide. All the intensely creative, elegantly expressed, culturally evocative paranoia would be lost.

My mother, a prolific writer and inventive worrier, has a scene in one of her novels where a character is overflowing with happiness on a beach. She is purely and completely elated, with her husband and children and because she is so happy, she intuitively scans the horizon for sharks. I always vowed I would not be that person but I find myself, even in my most exultant moments, looking out on a grey, foggy dawn in the city streets for sharks. The sharks, I have come to understand only just now, are part of the happiness. Ω

[Katie Roiphe is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism as well as the Assistant Director of the Cultural Criticism and Reporting Program at New York University. Roiphe has written four books: The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism (1993), Last Night in Paradise: Sex and Morals at the Century's End (1997), Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939 (2007), and In Praise of Messy Lives (2012). She received a BA (literature) from Harvard University and a PhD (lieterature) from Princeton University.]

Copyright © 2014 The Financial Times

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Did Edward Snowden Ever Read 1984 Before He went To Work For The NSA?

George Orwell wrote about a dystopian world in 1984 (1949). The surveillance state in 1948 was nothing compared to the cyber-snooping of the national security agencies in addition to the CIA and NSA: NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) oversees all satellites launched by the U.S. government, NGA (National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency) oversees mapping and imaging, DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) provides military intelligence (oxymoron?), and the FBI is the granddaddy of them all and like most granddaddies — inept with IT (Information Technology). Today, Tom Tomorrow is focused on the NSA (National Security Agency), thanks to the leakage of snooping secrets by Edward Snowden, former NSA contract-employee. If this is a (fair & balanced) cyber-comedy of errors, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
The Surveillance Society: A Look Back
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. Earlier this year, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning.]

Copyright © 2014 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Before Hotmail Was An E-Mail Site, "Hot Mail" Meant Something Entirely Else

Ah, the intemperate letter or e-mail, this blogger has known 'em well. To his ultimate sorrow. Writing the words just felt so good. The consequence of public awareness, not so much. If this is (fair & balanced) epistolary etiquette, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
The Lost Art Of the Unsent Angry Letter
By Maria Konnikova

Tag Cloud by Wordle of the following piece of writing

Whenever Abraham Lincoln felt the urge to tell someone off, he would compose what he called a “hot letter.” He’d pile all of his anger into a note, “put it aside until his emotions cooled down,” Doris Kearns Goodwin once explained on NPR, “and then write: ‘Never sent. Never signed.’ ” Which meant that Gen. George G. Meade, for one, would never hear from his commander in chief that Lincoln blamed him for letting Robert E. Lee escape after Gettysburg.

Lincoln was hardly unique. Among public figures who need to think twice about their choice of words, the unsent angry letter has a venerable tradition. Its purpose is twofold. It serves as a type of emotional catharsis, a way to let it all out without the repercussions of true engagement. And it acts as a strategic catharsis, an exercise in saying what you really think, which Mark Twain (himself a notable non-sender of correspondence) believed provided “unallowable frankness & freedom.”

Harry S. Truman once almost informed the treasurer of the United States that “I don’t think that the financial advisor of God Himself would be able to understand what the financial position of the Government of the United States is, by reading your statement.” In 1922, Winston Churchill nearly warned Prime Minister David Lloyd George that when it came to Iraq, “we are paying eight millions a year for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano out of which we are in no circumstances to get anything worth having.” Mark Twain all but chastised Russians for being too passive when it came to the czar’s abuses, writing, “Apparently none of them can bear to think of losing the present hell entirely, they merely want the temperature cooled down a little.”

But while it may be the unsent mail of politicians and writers that is saved for posterity, that doesn’t mean that they somehow hold a monopoly on the practice. Lovers carry on impassioned correspondence that the beloved never sees; family members vent their mutual frustrations. We rail against the imbecile who elbowed past us on the subway platform.

Personally, when I’m working on an article with an editor, I have a habit of using the “track changes” feature in Microsoft Word for writing retorts to suggested editorial changes. I then cool off and promptly delete the comments — and, usually, make the changes. (As far as I know, the uncensored me hasn’t made it into a final version.)

In some ways, little has changed in the art of the unsent letter since Lincoln thought better of excoriating Meade. We may have switched the format from paper to screen, but the process is largely the same. You feel angry. And you construct a retort — only to find yourself thinking better of taking it any further. Emotions cooled, you proceed in a more reasonable, and reasoned, fashion. It’s the opposite of the glib rejoinder that you think of just a bit too late and never quite get to say.

But it strikes me that in other, perhaps more fundamental, respects, the art of the unsent angry letter has changed beyond recognition in the world of social media. For one thing, the Internet has made the enterprise far more public. Truman, Lincoln and Churchill would file away their unsent correspondence. No one outside their inner circle would read what they had written. Now we have the option of writing what should have been our unsent words for all the world to see. There are threads on reddit and many a website devoted to those notes you’d send if only you were braver, not to mention the habit of sites like Thought Catalog of phrasing entire articles as letters that were never sent.

Want to express your frustration with your ex? Just submit a piece called “An Open Letter to the Girl I Loved and Lost,” and hope that she sees it and recognize herself. You, of course, have taken none of the risk of sending it to her directly.

A tweet about “that person,” a post about “restaurant employees who should know better”; you put in just enough detail to make the insinuation fairly obvious, but not enough that, if caught, you couldn’t deny the whole thing. It’s public shaming with an escape hatch. Does knowing that we can expect a collective response to our indignation make it more satisfying?

Not really. Though we create a safety net, we may end up tangled all the same. We have more avenues to express immediate displeasure than ever before, and may thus find ourselves more likely to hit send or tweet when we would have done better to hit save or delete. The ease of venting drowns out the possibility of recanting, and the speed of it all prevents a deeper consideration of what exactly we should say and why, precisely, we should say it.

When Lincoln wanted to voice his displeasure, he had to find a secretary or, at the very least, a pen. That process alone was a way of exercising self-control — twice over. It allowed him not only to express his thoughts in private (so as not to express them by mistake in public), but also to determine which was which: the anger that should be voiced versus the anger that should be kept quiet.

Now we need only click a reply button to rattle off our displeasures. And in the heat of the moment, we find the line between an appropriate response and one that needs a cooling-off period blurring. We toss our reflexive anger out there, but we do it publicly, without the private buffer that once would have let us separate what needed to be said from what needed only to be felt. It’s especially true when we see similarly angry commentary coming from others. Our own fury begins to feel more socially appropriate.

We may also find ourselves feeling less satisfied. Because the angry email (or tweet or text or whatnot) takes so much less effort to compose than a pen-and-paper letter, it may in the end offer us a less cathartic experience, in just the same way that pressing the end call button on your cellphone will never be quite the same as slamming down an old-fashioned receiver.

Perhaps that’s why we see so much vitriol online, so many anonymous, bitter comments, so many imprudent tweets and messy posts. Because creating them is less cathartic, you feel the need to do it more often. When your emotions never quite cool, they keep coming out in other ways.

But even though a degree of depth and consideration may well have been lost along with the art of the unsent letter, something was also lost with those old letters that weren’t sent because their would-be sender overthought their appropriateness. I’d have loved for Truman to have actually sent this one off to the red-baiting Republican senator from Wisconsin, Joseph R. McCarthy: “You are not even fit to have a hand in the operation of the Government of the United States. I am very sure that the people of Wisconsin are extremely sorry that they are represented by a person who has as little sense of responsibility as you have.”

Truman may have ended up regretting lashing out, but at least he would have had the satisfaction of knowing that he’d told off one of the blights of the American political scene when so many kept quiet. What survived as a “hot letter” would have made for quite the viral email. Ω

[Maria Konnikova was born in Moscow and moved to the U.S. as a four-year-old. She graduated magna cum laude (BA, psychology) from Harvard University and received a PhD (psychology) from Columbia University. Her first book, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (2013), was a New York Times bestseller. More recently, Her second book, on the psychology of the confidence game, is scheduled for publication by Viking/Penguin next winter. Her writing has appeared online and in print in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Slate, The New Republic, The Paris Review, The Wall Street Journal, Salon, The Boston Globe, The Observer, Scientific American MIND, WIRED, and Scientific American.]

Copyright © 2014 The New York Times Company

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Coach One-And-Done Calipari Hoist By His Own Petard

Like a dog worrying a beloved bone, this blogger keeps coming back to March Madness. A significant 2014 understory is that the Kentucky Wildcats are an afterthought. Coach John Calipari provides an ample illustration that pride goeth before a fall. If this is a (fair & balanced) illustration of hubris, so be it.

[x TNR]
The Failure Of Kentucky Coach John Calipari's "Players First" Philosophy
By Jason Zengerle

Tag Cloud by Wordle of the following piece of writing

Who’s afraid of John Calipari? Two years ago, it was a long list. Calipari’s University of Kentucky team had just won the NCAA men’s college basketball championship—the school’s eighth but the coach’s first—and it looked like he and UK were on the verge of winning a whole lot more.

For years, it had been conventional wisdom in college basketball circles that a team of “one-and-doners” couldn’t win it all. Calipari had just destroyed that theory—three of the top six scorers on Kentucky’s national championship team were freshmen and two were sophomores—and, while all of those underclassmen would soon turn pro, Calipari had a new group of fantastic freshmen coming in the next season and was putting together another phenomenal recruiting class for the season after that. As one analyst wrote the morning after the 2012 national championship, the prospects of a Calipari dynasty loomed large “within the inner sanctums at the highest levels of college basketball. . . . There’s likely to be more because this program plugged up the biggest hole in its recruiting pitch. Now you can be the first pick in the draft and national champion.”

Except maybe you can’t. Although two of the freshmen on last year’s Kentucky team did become NBA first round picks, the team as a whole was a mere 21-12 and became the rare defending national champion to not even make the NCAA tournament. (To add insult to injury, Calipari’s squad then went on to lose in the first round of the also-ran tournament, the NIT.) And this year’s Kentucky team, which began the season ranked first in the nation by the top two polls, has struggled as well. Despite having six freshmen who were hailed by ESPN's Dick Vitale as "the best class ever assembled"—a talent haul so bountiful that Calipari speculated before the season that his team might go 40-0—Kentucky enters the NCAA tournament with a 24-10 record and an eighth seed, the definition of elite college basketball mediocrity. Although Kentucky’s a sexy upset pick this March Madness, the emphasis is on the word upset: No one really fears the team.

But Calipari’s recent struggles are about more than the travails of a basketball team. They’re about the undoing of an ideology. At his team’s first public practice last fall, Calipari stood on a stage and gave a political-convention-style speech in which he proclaimed, “We don’t just play college basketball, we are college basketball.” Indeed, since his arrival at Kentucky in 2009, Calipari hasn’t just tried to win games; he’s sought to change the long-established norms and verities of college basketball itself. He has cast himself as a coach-philosopher—one whose situational ethics are a better fit for today’s benighted college sports landscape than the higher-minded, some might say Pollyannaish ideals typically (and often hypocritically) preached by his coaching brethren. Alas, Calipari's philosophy is just as bankrupt as the one he seeks to tear down—if only because it's a philosophy that won't satisfy what's still the most basic requirement in college basketball: producing wins.

College basketball has always had its “black hats”—those coaches who refuse to follow the rules or mouth the pieties that uphold and testify to the supposed purity of the sport. These black hats may have achieved success on the court—UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian, for instance, won a national championship in 1990—but the off-the-court rewards that typically flow to their similarly successful colleagues eluded them. The black hats did not translate their winning records into motivational books or Harvard Business School case studies; they didn’t appear in American Express ads in which they were able to tout themselves “as a leader who happens to coach basketball.” Tarkanian couldn’t even land a towel endorsement deal.

Calipari, by his own admission, wears a black hat. He does not prostrate himself before the NCAA, which he deems “holier than thou.” He’s the only coach in the history of college basketball to have two Final Four appearances “vacated” by the NCAA for rules violations (although, in both instances, the sport’s governing body never directly pinned the blame on him). His 1996 University of Massachusetts team, which went 35-2, had its tournament victories erased from the record books because its star player, Marcus Camby, was later found to have been taking money (as well as hookers and jewelry) from an agent. His 2008 Memphis University team, which went 38-2 and was a three-pointer away from winning the national championship, was whitewashed from history because its star player, Derrick Rose, had allegedly gotten someone else to take the SAT for him. And, while there have been no NCAA violations uncovered during his five years in Lexington, Calipari’s unapologetic reliance on “one-and-done” players has infuriated the sport’s white-hatted traditionalists. “Is this really the image we want to project as an institution of higher education?” Stanford’s athletic director once asked of Calipari’s approach at Kentucky. “I don’t think so.”

And yet, thanks largely to the current climate in college sports, all of this has actually enabled Calipari to do what the rest of his black-hat brethren have failed to accomplish: achieve mainstream respectability. Highbrow sportswriters bow at his feet: Deadspin has deemed him “the only man who really understands college basketball”; The New Yorker has hailed him as “the most honest man in the sport.” He’s been invited to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative and received a thank-you phone call from President Barack Obama for his philanthropic work. And next month, in the ultimate sign of respectability, Penguin will publish Calipari’s leadership manifesto Players First (2014).

Written with Michael Sokolove (a New York Times Magazine contributing writer who once penned this paean to Calipari’s polar opposite, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski), Players First seeks to establish Calipari as a serious man, a person of substance. He discourses on the concept of “servant leadership.” He boasts that he’s usually reading three books at a time and that he attends Catholic Mass each morning. He got the idea for the latter after reading a book by Vince Lombardi, who himself went to Mass, and then discovering that Don Shula did as well. “I figured there must be something to this,” he writes.

The book’s biggest undertaking is to construct a philosophy out of Calipari’s mercenary mentality. It’s a commonplace among college coaches that the school—or, to put it in coachspeak, “the program”—comes before the individual: “We remind our players that the name on the front of the jersey (North Carolina) is more important than the one on the back (their own),” UNC coach Roy Williams likes to say. But Calipari doesn’t subscribe to such hokum. “My first priority isn’t the Commonwealth of Kentucky, or the university, or the legacy of the program, or the greater glory of Big Blue Nation,” he writes. “I coach for the names on the backs of the jerseys—not just the front. My players.”

It’s the “Players First philosophy” that enables Calipari to justify the fact that his teams have, as he writes, “the turnover rate of a fast-food restaurant.” He elaborates: “I want to recruit the very best players to Kentucky, as many of them as I can get. They are permitted to enter the NBA draft after one season with us, and if I do my job correctly, they will have that option.” It’s this approach that accounts for all this strange new respect for the coach. With big-time college sports drowning in hypocrisy—in which a multimillion dollar business wears the cloak of amateurism and the on-field entertainment are referred to as “student-athletes”—cynicism can pass for honesty.

Of course, Calipari himself isn’t immune to shading things. If he were truly a Players First coach, he might not have yanked the scholarships of those players he deemed unfit for his system when he was hired by Kentucky in 2009. If he was truly the tribune of honesty The New Yorker holds him up to be, he might allow that the nation’s best high-school hoopsters presumably come to play for him for reasons that go beyond Kentucky’s luxury basketball dorm or its chartered jets or even his record of placing kids in the NBA draft. (Nowhere in Players First, for instance, does the name William “World Wide Wes” Wesley appear.) But everyone, even a truth-teller, has to have his little hypocrisies.

Hypocrisy, though, won’t be what brings down Calipari. Rather, it will be his teams’ performances. Roy Williams wouldn’t get away with his hokey “name on the front of the jersey” spiel if his North Carolina teams didn’t win national championships. And Calipari won’t get away with his Players First philosophy unless his Kentucky teams start winning them again. Unfortunately for him, that seems unlikely.

What allowed Calipari’s 2012 Kentucky squad to win a national championship was the presence of two remarkable freshmen, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist—“alpha beasts,” as their coach called them—who were mature and possessed basketball IQ’s well beyond their years. In other words, Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t play like freshmen; they were once-in-a-generation players. But Calipari’s other freshmen-laden teams—no matter how talented they are—have constantly been undermined by their collective youth. Forget trying to teach them basic X’s and O’s; this season Calipari has even had to instruct his talented young charges to huddle up at the free-throw line before foul shots. After one late-season loss, he complained of his vaunted players, “They’re counting on me too much. And again, they’re immature. Things don’t go their way. They’re looking for excuses.”

Which isn’t a surprise. That’s why every other elite college basketball coach doesn’t recruit a slew of one-and-dones each year; they believe that their teams need a few experienced, maybe even less-talented upperclassmen to play alongside their freshmen tyros. But Calipari says he can’t abide by that philosophy. “There’s no way I’m intentionally recruiting a player because I know the NBA won’t want him after a year or two,” he writes.

And yet that approach is why, despite having what is undeniably the most talented team in the country this year, Kentucky is destined for an early-round exit in the NCAA. And that’s also why, if Calipari has a couple more seasons like these last two, his days may be numbered in Lexington. Yes, he’s only two years removed from a national championship, but Kentucky’s fan base—known as Big Blue Nation—is a notoriously demanding bunch. Just ask Tubby Smith, whose own national championship and more than 260 wins during his 10 years as Kentucky’s coach weren’t enough to stop him from being run out of the Commonwealth.

In Players First, Calipari ponders a hypothetical question that is supposed to highlight the tension at the heart of college basketball today. “Would I be happy if we won a national championship one season and nobody got drafted?” he writes. “I would be happy for the program but disappointed for the kids. I wouldn’t feel like I had done my job for them.” It’s a noble sentiment, but it’s a bogus one: Like every coach at a big-time college basketball program, Calipari was hired to win national championships, not just produce a half-dozen future NBA millionaires each year. He undoubtedly knows this, and for a while, it looked like he’d found a formula that allowed him to accomplish both goals. There’s a reason, after all, that Players First is slated to be published next month [April 15, 2014]: When it went to press, Calipari thought it would be coming out on the heels of, if not a 40-0 season, one that at least ended with a Final Four appearance. It was designed to put a philosophical exclamation point on an athletic achievement.

But the longstanding logic of college basketball—that three- and four-year players win more championships than one- and two-year ones—has proven surprisingly and stubbornly resilient. That’s not a triumph of high-mindedness: The senior player is oftentimes getting just as much, or as little, of an education as the one-and-doner. It’s just reality. And Calipari is in the process of discovering that no one puts much stock in a coach’s philosophizing off the court unless his teams are winning on it. Ω

[Jason Zengerle serves as Senior Editor of The New Republic. Zengerle writes about politics, culture, and (when his editors indulge him) college basketball. His work has also appeared in The Atlantic, GQ, New York, the New York Times Magazine, and other publications; and it has been anthologized in several books, including The Best American Political Writing and The Best American Medical Writing. He received a BA from Swarthmore College.]

Copyright © 2014 The New Republic

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