Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Another One Bites the Dust

Professional athletes and those who manage them are interesting specimens. The NFL, like most professional sports leagues, represents the best of the best. Most people who make it to this level brim with self-confidence. Those who excel at this level exude a self-confidence so great that they feel they can succeed at virtually any goal they choose within their profession.

As someone who has grown up and lived in southeast Michigan my entire life, I've had a front row seat to the black hole that is the Detroit Lions.  This isn't a "dry spell". This isn't an incompetent management team. This is a sixty year tradition of failure and incompetence. Presidents, generations and eras have whizzed by like white lines on the highway, and through it all, the baton of ineptitude has been handed down from one regime to the next. True, the Lions did reach the NFC championship game in 1991, but I liken it to a football version of the Robin Williams movie Awakenings, where the Lions emerged from a decades-long fog, resembled an NFL team for a fleeting moment, and then all-too-quickly slipped back into the abyss.

Matt Millen, a man with a very respectable career as a player became arguably the worst general manager in U.S. pro-sports history. Steve Mariucci was a successful coach with the San Francisco 49ers. He didn't stand a chance. Marty Morninwheg, a highly touted offensive coordinator fell to pieces as the head coach of the Honolulu Blue and Silver but has since reclaimed respectability as an OC. The same fate befell Rod Marinelli on the other side of the ball.  These last two men escaped with their careers in tact. Most don't fare so well.

Time and again, men full of confidence and bravado have strode into town, blinded by their own sense of ability to the history of this organization and the plight of its fan base... utterly unaware of the magnitude of the force they were up against. Each left shaken, barely a shell of their former selves.

Last winter as the Philadelphia Eagles battled their way to a Super Bowl victory, the New England Patriot defense seemed to uncharacteristically stumble. The camera closed in on defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. I am sure Patricia was absolutely befuddled as to what was happening to his defense. It was no mystery to me. It was obvious. Patricia had already been tapped by the Detroit Lions to take the helm in the 2018-2019 season. How could Patricia have known that the curse of the Lions was already at work during Super Bowl LII? He couldn't have, but he would learn

Last night, September 10, 2018, the Lions faced off against the rebuilding New York Jets in the comfy confines of Ford Field. After an initial pick-six off rookie quarterback Same Darnold, the Jets never looked back. One touchdown after another, one interception after another, one special teams blunder after another and Patricia stood on the sideline, unable to move. This burly bear of a man, sporting a beard any Harley rider would envy, looked as if he'd been smacked between the eyes with an invisible baseball bat. By the end of the third quarter there must have been a terrible traffic jam surrounding Ford Field as fans with long faces filed up the stairs and out the doors.

One game is too small a sample size to write off Patricia, but maybe now he's aware that he's up against a force much bigger and more powerful than he ever dreamt. Maybe he will be the one to finally tame the beast and I am not alone in hoping that he is, but the chances are much higher that Matt Patricia will be merely end up the latest in a long line of coaches with promising careers cut tragically short by the unstoppable force that is the Detroit Lions'.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Gerasimov Doctrine

I don’t like golf. Let me rephrase: I don’t understand golf. Let me clarify again: I don’t understand the attraction to golf.  I can’t imagine what fascination lies in whacking a little white ball around a big green field or watching those who do. But guess what? That’s OK. A lot of people cannot understand how I can be such a big fan of IndyCar and other auto forms of racing. “A bunch of cars going in circles”, they say. It’s probably safe to say they’re not going to the Indianapolis 500 anytime soon nor am I going to attend The Masters.

I don’t use someone’s opinion of golf as a barometer for what kind of person I think they are. I am sure that most golf enthusiasts are law-abiding, decent, hard-working, friendly people. I would hope they would think the same of me given that I am <em>not</em> a golf-enthusiast and that I like automobile racing (not that the two are mutually exclusive).

While it may seem crazy to judge a person’s general character based on their affinity for golf or racing, it has unfortunately become the norm when it comes to politics. You’re a Republican? You must be for everybody owning a .50 caliber machine gun and the rich paying no tax at all. You’re a Democrat? You must advocate the abolishment of private property and support free food for everybody for life.

We can debate endlessly about whether the Russians specifically helped Donald Trump win the presidency. It may never be proven. What is not even debatable is that the Russians <em>are</em> using social media to sow the seeds of discontent… to divide Americans in any way they can.  It’s called <a href="https://www.politico.eu/article/new-battles-cyberwarfare-russia/">The Gerasimov Doctrine</a> and it started three full years before the 2016 election. The Russians cannot defeat us militarily, but they can create the spark that causes us to tear ourselves apart. That is exactly the strategy behind the Gerasimov Doctrine.

Yes, I think Donald Trump is an autocrat. Yes, I think the history books will eventually record him as the most corrupt president ever. But those are just my thoughts. There are people I know, people whom I respect, people who are decent and caring and law-abiding, who for reasons I will never understand, support the president. I will never convince them, and they will never convince me, but it doesn’t mean we need to play into General Gerasimov’s hands and tear each other apart.


Monday, August 6, 2018

Fake Wealth

I really try to avoid online readers' comments about any news story. It doesn't even have to be a political story, but as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, that doesn't stop people from making the most innocuous story into a political debate. On those days when I get sucked into reading them, I've seen a particular argument used repeatedely by the pro-Trump crowd. It goes something like this:

 Anti-Trump GuyThis president is an absolute dumpster fire. How the HELL did this guy ever get elected? 

Pro-Trump Guy: Yeah? Where are your billions? Donald Trump is a very successful businessman and the government would be a lot better off it were run like a business!

Actually, the very last part of Pro-Trump Guy's statement is a whole other blog post I've been meaning to write. But let's analyze the first part of what he said. "Yeah, where are your billions?"

Considering The Donald has told a whopping 4,000 lies (and change) in his first twenty months in office, forgive me for being skeptical about any claims he makes. I call "bullshit" on him being a billionaire. I can think of only two reasons that would possibly keep him from releasing his tax returns: 1) it would reveal he's not worth anything near what he claims, or 2) it would reveal how deeply he's in bed financially with the Russians (as in "money laundering"). Until, and unless he shows his cards, sorry, neither he nor his minions get to play the billionaire card. (Note: He probably <em>is</em> a billionaire (barely), but I just enjoy jerking that chain.)

The second part of Pro-Trump Guy's defense of Trump is "Donald Trump is a very successful businessman".  Where to begin? There are so many ways to skin this cat. Let's take a look at the many ways we can challenge how successful Trump actually is.

1. If Trump would have simply invested his inheritance, he would have made more money in the stock market than all of the many shyster scams and schemes he's been running over the decades. Don't believe me? Maybe you'll believe the  very conservative  financial publications. (yes he would have had to leverage his investments, but he's proven himself to be a lover of debt anyway).

2. In my <a href="http://www.joemeirow.com/index.php/2018/08/01/fake-flags/">last post</a>, I referenced a phrase that I learned in graduate school:  Free trade promotes world peace - you don't declare war on your customers.  I also took accounting during graduate school and learned gems like this: revenue - expenses = profit.  Now for many entrepreneurs, achieving that simple equation can be quite challenging. It's not always easy to earn more than your costs.

The Trump Organization has become quite adept at earning a profit with just one minor tweak to this formula:  

revenue = profit 

or stated another way: don't pay your bills! Just Google it. You'll find it everywhere, including Fox News, so you  know  it must be true. The Trump Organization stiffs vendors left and right.

3. By any objective standard, Donald Trump  has been successful at one thing: Selling Donald Trump -  more specifically,  licensing the name "Trump". In business after business that require actual managerial and executive skills, businesses such as running an airline, a mortgage company, selling steaks, and on and on, Trump has failed time and again.  After failing at multiple hotel or casino adventures, he finally figured out a business model where investors actually own the building, thus shifting the risk of construction to them, after which he licenses his name to the hotel and may or may not manage the property.  The inescapable truth is that Donald Trump is not a very skilled executive. He's reminiscent of those celebrities who are famous for being famous, not because they actually have any talent. He gets richer from licensing his name, which has recognition for being rich.

In absolute terms, Trump has a lot of dollars. All dollars spend the same so,  congrats, Donald, you're rich. In terms of being successful at building real things like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos (both of whom could buy and sell Trump like a bar of soap), he's rather incompetent.

Now, why bring this all up? Why pile on the poor, inept boob? Because.. as the winners of elections are fond of saying: elections have consequences. In this case, the consequences are not good. I am specifically thinking of the border situation where, at Trump's direction, children were separated from their families.

This particular conversation has nothing to do with the immigration debate and everything to do with Trump's ineptitude, his inclination to shift the burden to others and his stunning lack of understanding about the organization and abilities of the American government.

The immigrant families in this case are being represented in court by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and this past week, the Trump administration petitioned the judge in the case that the ACLU, given its "considerable resources" should take the lead in reuniting parents and children. The judge rejected that notion, replying the responsibility lies "one-hundred percent" with the administration.

The ACLU is an American organization. The American government has embassies, consulates and spies the world over. Surely the reach and resources of the American government are far more suited for finding these parents than is the ACLU. Trump demonstrates a shocking ignorance of the resources at his disposal.

Donald Trump, acting on emotion and the misguided belief that everything he touches turns to gold, ordered the families separated without ever considering how they would be reunited.  Now that his executive incompetence has created a humanitarian mess, he wants someone else to come in and clean up after him. Three cheers for the judge who slammed the door on this weasel move.

This president's overconfidence and under-preparation are not attributes that serve him well, to wit: the unmitigated disaster that was the Helsinki Summit. It's not the first time and sadly, it won't be the last.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Not so fast

When Charlotsville was in the news and the topic of the Confederacy was top of mind, it once again brought out the knuckle-draggers who love to claim "the Civil War wasn't about slavery, it was about state's rights!". Forgive us if a wall of empty Budweiser cans made it difficult for us to see the master's degree in American History hanging (crookedly) on the wall of your single-wide. Of course when you asked them "A state's right... to do what?". Why, legalized slavery, of course.

 This same sort of "good ol' boy scholarship" often rears its ugly head upon hearing the word "democracy". "America's not a democracy! It's a constitutionally limited republic!". There's often an implied "dumb ass!" clinging to the end of their spoken words. Well, my Backwater-U friends.... not so fast.

It is true that the founding documents of the country indeed do describe the ways in which the rights of both the government and the masses are limited. For example, just because a proposed law that says all people born with eleven fingers shall be put to death might pass 99.99% to 0.01%, the rights of the individual to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness triumph over the will of the collective. 

However, once a society grows beyond a few people, a direct democracy is not feasible. That is why we have a representative democracy: we vote for people to represent our interests at various levels of government. Once in office, those people vote on a majority rule-basis (democratically) to establish or not, various proposed laws. Both the act of electing our representatives and their votes once in office are both examples of democracy in action. Please make a note of it, Bubba.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

With Liberty and Justice For Some

Not long ago I took my trusty Honda Civic in for maintenance. The dealership graciously offers a shuttle service and so I was able to get a ride to work.

"Bob", the shuttle driver was probably in his late sixties and I was his only passenger this morning.

I don't recall how it happened, perhaps something was mentioned on the radio, but the topic of conversation turned to professional athletes who kneel as a form of protest during the playing of the national anthem.

It took only a few words for me to know where Bob stood on the issue.

"If they stopped and thought for just one minute about how many soldiers died for their.."

"for their what, Bob? Their freedom?" I interjected.

"Yes!"  The word was said with much conviction and energy.

In the very next second though, I saw a cloud of uncertainty wash over his face. Bob looked like a man certain he had been standing on solid rock only to discover it crumbling beneath his feet.

I could tell that the crumbling stone had been some cornerstone of Bob's belief system.  I threw him a lifeline....

"Bob, I served four years in the Marines. I trained for months on how to evacuate American embassies. We did not train to rescue only some Americans. We trained to rescue them all, regardless of their beliefs. I'm a veteran and I have no problem with these guys kneeling during the national anthem. If I don't, then why should people who never served?"

I have no way of knowing if Bob continues to understand the contradiction and logic errors in his old way of thinking and turned a corner in his life that day, or if he has slid back into the comfort of his old self.

Had I been quicker on my feet that morning, I would have given one more example to Bob. I would have said that if something similar to professional sports existed during Colonial times, I am sure Bob and his brethren would have had no problem with someone refusing to stand during "God Save the Queen". The only difference between then and now is the oppressor.

Monday, May 8, 2017

I Love Science (it's a fact!)

Because I know what I am about to say will be taken out of context any number of ways, let me start by saying:  Science is wonderful! Science is fantastic!  I love science!
I will stop short of the popular meme: "I <expletive> Love Science!" smugly worn as a badge of intellectual honor on the likes of Facebook.

What is science? I Googled around a bit and while there were any number of sources I could have used, I quite liked the explanation on NASA's website, some of which appears at the top of this post.
I acknowledge that I am forever indebted to science for the vaccines which have spared me from horrendous illness, for the clean drinking water that flows from taps because of the existence of water treatment facilities and for a million other marvels. Every day, all day, I am surrounded by the fruits of science and they make all our lives better. Hopefully I do not need write a "War and Peace" length treatise to demonstrate that I really do get "science" and that "it is good".

As much as I appreciate science, I am also aware of its limitations. Referring back to our definition we'll find the words "observing and recording".  Based on this we must concede that "observing and recording" requires an intellect, which can only mean a human is involved. Though we may be at the top of the totem-pole among all the creatures of the earth, human beings are still fallible and that includes scientists.

Ruh-Roh! Trouble In Paradise

To illustrate that scientists and their work are indeed fallible, take a look at this list of what were once accepted scientific theories but later superseded by better science. This does not even include the thousands of proclamations that never rise to the level of "accepted theory" but that you've no doubt heard or read about. You may have even adjusted your life because of them only to be told later "Oops! Sorry guys...."   Example:
"Wait! Now they're saying drinking two cups of coffee a day is bad for you? Two years ago it was bad for you too, but last year they reversed that and said it was good for you. Now they've changed their mind again!?"

Because humans are fallible, scientists are a smart enough lot to leverage that old adage "two heads are better than one" or "there's strength in numbers" and thus a couple of centuries ago the "peer review" was born. The crib-notes version of it goes like this:   
"Hey guys, I've had this thought for a while now....  I then formulated a hypothesis and I've conducted some experiments. The results seem to support my hypothesis. Here's my hypothesis and the data.Since you're all scientists in the same field of study as me...what do you think?"
No doubt this improved things, but not everything.... as several of the disproved theories on the list referenced above were accepted as scientific theories since the age of peer review.

Today's Theory is in Tomorrow's Trash Heap

You would think as time marches on, scientific rigor would always be on the increase and that the vast majority of those things finally declared to be scientific theory would stand the test of time, but...you would be wrong about that.In 2013, the U.K's "The Guardian" ran a piece entitled Not breaking news: many scientific studies are ultimately proved wrong! 
The subtitle of the piece was "Most theories are eventually consigned to the rubbish heap, but this is scientific business as usual" The article's author was Dr. Sylvia McLain. She runs a biophysics lab at a school named Oxford. You may have heard of it. In the piece, Dr. McLain asserts:
That most scientific studies are ultimately wrong is normal for science. There are more theories in the graveyard of science than theories that stand the test of time. Why? Because new data is always emerging and theories have to be adjusted. Theories are only as good as theories are, until new data comes along and ruins them.
This leads to my main point. Science is not static, it is not final and it certainly is not ever "settled". By its very nature science can never be irrevocably settled.

Science has not yet revealed all of reality

Even among the scientific theories that have stood the test of time, a mere glance at the timeline of scientific discoveries demonstrates very clearly that every scientific discovery is nothing more than marking the beginning of mankind's awareness of that which was already there.  I don't mean to dismiss the substantial education, training and intellect required to make these discoveries, but it doesn't change the fact that what was discovered was already there.With the understanding then, that science is simply the gradual awareness of what already exists, can't we say that there are most likely all sorts of realities that surround us that science simply hasn't "revealed" to us yet?

The Really Big Stuff

All of this then brings us to the question of God, of creation vs. evolution...and all that stuff, that really BIG stuff.

I did not write this post to prove to you that there is a God, or that mankind was divinely created. I cannot prove that and I admit it.

I took this time to demonstrate that not only are you misinformed, but embarrassingly so. You chant "science!" with righteous smugness, with the assuredness of one who holds but a single card, convinced it is the trump card. All the while, you don't even understand the limitations of your argument. Don't take it out on me when you realize the card you hold is the joker.

Science cannot, and will not ever be able to prove that God does not exist. It can only show that he has not been proven to exist,  yet.  This is not because of the greatness of God, though He is great, it is because of the limitations of science. Saying that "science has limitations" doesn't make me a hater, a denier or a religious zealot; it means that I am aware of how scientific theories rise and then collapse when faced with new information. Similarly, I am aware that scientific discovery is merely mankind's newfound awareness of what was already there. It is the essence and nature of science itself.  Hopefully this has been made abundantly clear by now.

With this background in place, I was about to start on the whole Darwin's Theory thing, but it's taken two hours just to get this far, so I'm going to leave that until the next post.  Peace, out.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Detroit is Awesome!

One of the biggest problems with the "word inflation" that permeates our culture is it makes it more difficult to explain the truly exceptional.  In an era when everything is "phenomenal" and everyone is "awesome", it makes it that much harder to describe something that really is extraordinary.

Having spent the last couple of months working in the midst of downtown Detroit, I can tell you that the transformation going on down there is nothing short of amazing. When I take walks before work or during my lunch break, I literally (yes, really "literally") have feelings of euphoria when I see all that is going on.

For the longest time, I've dwelled on the sad thought that Detroit was once the *fourth* largest city in the U.S. and a thriving center of both business and culture. All that was in decline just about the time I was born. I often hear Steve Wonder's "Up-Tight" in my head while imagining Woodward jammed with cars from the early 1960's. All the women look like Jackie Kennedy or Diana Ross. Some of the men wear hats and all of them are wearing ties whether they need to or not. It is a cool picture, but one I felt would always remain an image in my head and not reality before my eyes. Now, I feel as if I am going to be handed a chance to walk in the midst of what I once thought to be impossible - what it must have felt like to be my age now in the hustle and bustle of Detroit in the early 1960's.

The largest and most obvious sign of this revitalization is the construction on the M1 Rail , a 3.3 mile stretch which has Woodard in various stages of demolition/reconstruction. Though it will be another eighteen months or so until the street cars are rolling, just crossing Woodward and seeing fresh, new rail running off into the distance already gets me pumped up.

Even more exciting than the M1 Rail is the number of buildings, both on Woodward and elsewhere, that are undergoing *major* renovations. There are any number of buildings where construction workers are tearing away the exteriors of building, soon to be replaced with....I don't know yet! I'll have to wait and see. I've seen street-level businesses along Woodward with much of the store front missing as workers inside gut the interior and build it back up again, better, newer and wired for the 21st century.

As an unabashedly proud IT nerd, one of the most exciting things for me to see is the rise of the high-tech industry downtown. Just the other day I learned that Amazon.com actually has over a hundred software developers occupying an entire floor of 150 West Jefferson and that they're adding more. There is a sky-scraper right off Campus Martius that, according to the large painting on its side, is the home of Galaxie Solutions, a software staffing company, as is Strategic Staffing Solutions which has taken up residence in the historic Penabscot Building on Griswold. Back on Woodward there is Detroit Labs which makes mobile apps and I have to say that their workplace is uber-cool...I've been to some Ruby meet-ups there. It is difficult to not notice the employee shuttles for Quicken Loans coming and going from the Compuware Building.  The company was voted the #1 best large-company employer for IT workers in the country last year. At the north end of downtown near Cass, signs in the window promote "Coding Bootcamps" where people can acquire the skills to hop on to the IT bandwagon. Our own IT department is growing seemingly every day, so forgive us all if the downtown crowd looks a lot like the cast of "Office Space", with a dash of artists and a pinch of lawyers in suits tossed in for good measure.

I haven't for a moment forgotten that all of this is "downtown" and that "the neighborhoods" constitute about 98% of the land space of Detroit, but I think the M1 Rail is going to be a catalyst to spread the growth, much more so than I ever thought.

As rents for downtown apartments continue to rise, the M1 Rail opens up a tremendous number of new possibilities as the areas a quarter mile or more on either side of the rail all become candidates for residential redevelopment. Work downtown? Live near midtown or New Center and ride the rail to your job downtown. Personally, I am looking forward to the completion of the line so I can expand my lunchtime possibilities up to New Center as well as be able to stroll the Detroit Institute of Art for forty-five minutes during lunch, getting there and back on the rail.

And none of this even counts the 50+ block of development known as "The District" undertaken by the Ilitch family.

So, forgive me if I a seem a bit upbeat and optimistic about Detroit, but from what I see up close every day, it's gonna be "awesome".

Another One Bites the Dust

Professional athletes and those who manage them are interesting specimens. The NFL, like most professional sports leagues, represents the be...