Thursday, June 30, 2011

there are very few great baseball players in the minors

This is going to largely rehash a comment I put up there, but I wanted to respond to this piece on education reform from Matt Yglesias. He uses a baseball analogy:
Baseball teams don’t pay a premium to guys who hit lots of home runs in order to create “incentives” for people to hit home runs. If that worked, we’d all be major league sluggers! Baseball teams pay a premium to guys who lots of home runs because home run hitters are valuable contributors to baseball teams. Hitters who perform worse are less valuable. And hitters who perform very poorly are drummed out of MLB. That’s not really about incentives; it’s about attracting and retaining high performers to your organization.
This is more telling than he knows: baseball players who are cut or sent down to the minors tend to be replaced by other marginal baseball players. It's a truism in baseball: most prospects don't pan out, and even those regarded as can't miss fail constantly. I think it's really a generative analogy! We have a tremendously well resourced structure to "attract and retain high performers" in baseball. They are the highest paid athletes in sports, generally speaking. Stars are celebrities and can make millions more in endorsement deals. Great players are showered with praise, adulation, and attention. Even non-stars live lavish lifestyles, and the benefits in the sexual and romantic realms are legendary. We have a system, in other words, that should attract just about everyone qualified to play baseball. There's almost no other job that such a person could do that would reward him equally.

And yet, somehow, Julio Lugo-- he of the .580 OPS-- played in 93 major league games in 2010. Despite terrible-bordering-on-putrid production, he was highly employable in the major leagues. All of those incentives still didn't mean that we suddenly had better baseball players than Julio Lugo leaping ahead and taking his spot. Ah, but he's barely playing in 2011! Who is getting his starts for the Atlanta Braves, his team? Why, Alex Gonzalez, he of the still-quite-awful .639 OPS. And there are teams that don't have any shortstops as good as Alex Gonzalez! This phenomenon is seen again and again in sports: players who are objectively bad at their jobs enjoy long and lucrative careers, because the amount of people who can effectively play baseball is limited independent of our desire to find more. It turns out that the sincere desire to find great baseball players, backed by tremendous resources used towards that end, is not a fool proof prescription for actually finding them. Human beings are in fact constrained by reality, after all.

Now, you could very reasonably point out that the collection of traits necessary to be a good teacher are likely far less rare than the collection of traits necessary to be a good baseball player. But I would suggest  that this is significantly balanced by the fact that we need vastly more teachers than we need professional baseball players in our society. And I think that the essential logic is the same: there's this weird implicit assumption in education reform circles that if you fire a bunch of teachers you're going to get a bunch of better teachers. Even before we talk about the vastly complicated issues of how to fairly evaluate teachers and how to separate student-dependent variables from teacher-dependent variables, there's the fact that many fired teachers are likely to be replaced by other marginal teachers.

I chose my examples carefully: Alex Gonzalez is indeed a better baseball player than Julio Lugo. (I could very easily have found poor baseball players that were replaced by even worse baseball players.) A .059 improvement in OPS isn't nearly enough to make Gonzalez a quality hitter but it isn't nothing. I'm not a fatalist, and I don't think teaching quality doesn't matter at all, nor do I think that there is no room for improved outcomes. It's just a lot harder to gauge than in baseball. There's no teacher OPS, and I must point out that it is not written in the sky that humanity is entitled to find effective teaching metrics. There's every reason to continue to seek improvement and I intend to. But modesty of expectations seems to me to be the only rational response to decades of discouraging data and failed experiments, and the "we can do something because we should" attitude is so dominant within the discourse of reform that I find it almost impossible to discuss with passionate reformers. Should still implies can. Otherwise sober and empirically-minded people become daydream believers on the topic of education reform.

It's the same old saw from me, at the end of the day: education reform is a subject where the large majority of participants seem to be interested only in desire and intent, not reality. What is possible comes first.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

typical sentiment re: college educated employment

I wrote a new piece for Balloon Juice, again about the value of college. A commenter uses perfectly typical language when he or she says, "there’s almost certainly no job waiting out there for a new graduate."

This is a novel use of the words "almost certainly." In 2010, the unemployment rate for those with a college education was 5.4%-- too high, certainly. For those with only a high school diploma it was 10.3%. Not quite double, but close. More to the point, these figures mean that better than 94% of work-seeking college educated Americans were employed in 2010. "Almost certainly" has meaning, and it doesn't mean that. I'm not picking on that one commenter; this is perfectly standard rhetoric when it comes to this question.

Monday, June 27, 2011

no matter how many times you say it, it's not hypocrisy, and it wouldn't matter if it was

One more thing. The favorite argument of the pro-voucher movement gets amplified again, this time courtesy of Andrew Sullivan:
If Christie were acting in such a way as to limit the opportunities of other children while his own children were enjoying benefits not available to others, then where his kids go to school would be the business of the public. The fact President Obama sends his children to an elite private school while seeking to kill opportunity scholarship vouchers for poor kids is just such an example of hypocrisy that is very much the business of all Americans.

Look, guys. This is what Obama is doing: he's a) paying for his children to attend an expensive private school and b) opposing public subsidies of other people doing the same. In other words, he is defending the right to pay for something with private funds while opposing using public funds to pay for the same. You can agree or disagree with that on the merits, but that is hypocrisy? Huh:? Is everyone who has health insurance but is opposed to socialized medicine guilty of hypocrisy? Is everyone who owns a car but doesn't want to pay taxes for public transportation guilty of hypocrisy? Isn't supporting the right to pay for something yourself while not supporting government paying for it a perfectly common argument in American politics?

We already pay for other students to go to school! It's called the public school system. There is literally no other issue where this thinking is ever applied. I am not allowed to take my "share" of the taxes I pay that go to the FDA to have my meat inspected privately. I'm not allowed to take my "share" of the taxes that go to water filtration and use it to buy bottled water. I'm not allowed to take my "share" of parks department taxes and use it to landscape my lawn. And on and on. And if someone has supplemental health insurance, and opposes providing access to similar coverage publicly, I might not agree with it, but I don't mistake it for hypocrisy. Saying "don't pay publicly for what I pay privately" is not the same as saying "don't do what I do," particularly when there is already a publicly funded alternative to what is being privately paid for.

Oh, and by the way, even if there were hypocrisy, it would say nothing about the merits of school vouchers. And the merits are bad! Vouchers don't work! The evidence that exists is profoundly negative!

How does this stuff persist?

note and an important link

So I've learned my lesson about ever saying that I'm on hiatus or retiring or whatever-- you've heard it from me before and it's never true!-- and I'll certainly be back. I have not been posting much for a few reasons. The first is that I happen to be in love, with a wonderful and accomplished woman, and that happily takes up a lot of my time, and more to the point a lot of the emotional energy that I have always needed to write anything remotely political. The other is that I'm moving on to a new university this fall, and I'm excited and exhilarated and, at the moment, compelled to devote my mental energy to scholarship, which is after all my passion, my purpose, and my future. I'd never say that there's something inherently more noble about the path that academics pursue than other endeavors, but for those of us who are compelled towards it, nothing comes close.

The third reason is that it's summer, and in summer it is right to rest. But I'll be back before you know it.

Now, if you please, I've written a post about the value of college for Balloon Juice, and it contains a lot of my thoughts on college and society as we move forward. Check it out.

Friday, June 10, 2011

the way stuff lives on in the Internet

One of the first things I ever put up on the Internet that wasn't a comment on somebody's site was this guest post on The American Scene where I complained about Dana Stevens, who was then quite new as Slate's movie reviewer. I suppose it satisfied my only rule when it comes to my writing; I was myself in it. Unfortunately, I wasn't all of myself, or I hope I wasn't. Looking back I wish I could have summoned more understanding, particularly for someone trying a new venture, and trying to fill big shoes. I guess I understand why I wrote quite as cuttingly as I did, beyond the fact that it was fun. Stevens used to write with a kind of forced snark, and it's always hard to resist the temptation to be snotty towards them who have been snotty first. But of course, that's when it's most important to be kind. Most people won't ever understand that.

I've been thinking about it because I've been thinking about online reputation. It's a subject that has been written about endlessly, so I won't belabor it. But it's interesting. To my dismay, for quite awhile there if you Googled "Dana Stevens" I believe that post was the first thing to pop up, which probably tells you more about errors in Google's search algorithms than anything else. As a bit of Internet karma, it was eventually replaced by this post, attacking it. And, I believe, that post showed up in the first page when you searched my name, as well. The post isn't so much an argument as a statement of different tastes, but like I said. Internet karma. Anyway-- I realized that the post was out there to stay, and that as much as it probably wouldn't be read, ever, it had something to do with me as long as it was.

What makes this hard is that I don't really think what I said was wrong, or entirely wrong, and I think many of my criticisms from then were true, and I think a few hold. It is, though, certainly overheated and certainly overcritical. I overshot the mark and in doing so made my criticism less accurate. I've said many very wrong things on the Internet, and what I try very hard to do is to apologize for mistakes and apologize for them for real. A real apology, a principled one, to me contains three elements: it contains the words "I'm sorry," free from qualification; it expresses that what was said was incorrect, without qualification; and it admits that I shouldn't have said it, without qualification. It was wrong, I shouldn't have said it, I'm sorry-- that, to me, is how to apologize. But as I said, I don't think that the post was all wrong, and I certainly have written things I regret more. On balance this is a little issue, mean but not disqualifyingly mean, snotty but not cruel. I don't have some great regret about it. I just wish I was a little more understanding, a little more restrained, a little more grown up. That's all.

Not that Stevens would care either way. But I made my statement, and now I'm making this one, and it's enough.

Incidentally, and again, to the interest of no one, I do think Stevens has gotten better with time. I thought then and I think now that she had Edelstein too much on her mind at first. This is similar to what is (still) the most controversial opinion I've ever expressed online, at least in terms of volume and vitriol of email, which is that Ta-Nehisi Coates was "called up" too quickly to the Atlantic in his blogging career, that as much as he was an experienced journalist, his blog was too new and that would inevitably color his early work at the next level. Despite all the discord that causes, I believe I was right. In any event, Stevens has gotten better. I have serious general concerns with Internet movie criticism. I think, broadly speaking, it is too negative, animated by resentment, and concerned too much with how critical statements stand in relation to those of other online writers. But Stevens has her own voice now, and while I do suspect that she "arranges" her opinions-- judges, that is, to build a corpus of perspectives on movies and filmmakers that makes a statement, rather than just reacting to the work-- that's mostly just my baggage. I've always read her reviews but now I admire them more and more.

To my dismay, Edelstein, I think, has gotten far worse. It seems to me that he read too much of his own good press, and worse, fell pray to Film Critic Weariness Syndrome, where every critical or middling review demonstrates that the reviewer approaches his or her job with a showy exhaustion. (I'd tell any movie critic suffering from the disorder: you can just retire.) It's too bad.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

reax, updated

Here's E.D. Kain's response to my latest screed on education reform.

And here's Conor P. Williams.

Here's Adam Ozimek at Modeled Behavior. Incidentally, to Ozimek I would merely say-- resources can be redistributed. Education cannot.

If I see more I'll link 'em up.

the only necessary argument against routine infant circumcision

I have been working for some time on a comprehensive argument against routine infant circumcision, which (as it is indeed comprehensive, or an attempt at such) is taking a long time. It includes, among other things, a look at how the very limited medical benefits that are argued by circumcision advocates are unsupportable by medical evidence (in the case of the already vanishingly rare case of penile cancer), insufficient in sub-Saharan Africa (which, epidemiologically speaking, is unique when it comes to HIV and AIDS), and irrelevant in America and the developed world (where the demographic populations that contract HIV and AIDS, if we aren't being PC, combined with what types of transmission are reduced in risk make the public health benefits of circumcision nil). I hope to publish the post sometime this month.

But I feel like I can't wait to point out the only argument that ultimately matters: individuals have the right to control their own bodies in a free society. No other arguments are necessary, and no convincing needs to take place, if we believe in personal choice and individual sovereignty.

Consider Adam Serwer.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about what I thought were the ridiculous comparisons between male circumcision as practiced by Jews and Muslims in the U.S. and genital mutilation as practiced elsewhere. While I didn't say this at the time, at least one of the major backers of San Francisco's proposed ban on circumcision turned out to be clearly motivated by anti-Semitism, having created a comic featuring a superhero named "Foreskin Man" and a supervillain named "Monster Mohel." San Francisco is going to vote on the ban in November, but proponents failed to get a similar measure on the ballot in Santa Monica. Frankly, the ban would make more sense if its proponents were all motivated by anti-Semitism, since otherwise I'm not really sure someone would have such strong feelings about this in the first place, but I assume some people just have odd priorities.
I can't pick on Serwer too much, because this is the elementary argument, such as it is, for people in favor of routine infant circumcision: I personally cannot understand resistance to circumcision, therefore there is no reasonable argument against it. It seems odd to Serwer (that's exactly what he says, after all) that people could resist circumcision, so therefore, there is no rational reason that they might, except for hatred of Jews. And the same breezy, showily disrespectful attitude towards those who care about this issue that Serwer takes is the attitude that people looking to enforce the American norm of circumcision adopt everywhere in this debate. Skepticism towards routine circumcision isn't merely wrong, it is unspeakable enough to deny the elementary extension of a discourse of respect.

In a free society, individuals are free to make their own choices. And they should particularly be free to make their own choices about their bodies. Any adult man is fully free to go get a circumcision if he wants one. (The fact that none do, outside of the coercion involved in religious conversion in order to get married, should tell you something.) Men who were circumcised as infants are denied that right. One position in this debate increases human autonomy and human liberty, and one restricts it. To oppose routine infant circumcision, you don't need to be convinced by the arguments against circumcision! You only need to recognize the right of the individual to make his own choice and to have sovereign control over his own body. That is the very bedrock of a free society: that people of vastly different values and ideas can coexist and recognize the right of others to make their own decisions. I don't need to understand the reasons that others make the decisions that they do. I only have to respect their right to a decision making process that is their own.

The anti-Semitism canard is an obvious instance of borrowing the power of accusations of anti-Semitism to push an unrelated political point. Yes, I'm sure there are people involved with the anti-circumcision effort that are anti-Semitic, just like I am sure that there are people in favor of reforming Wall Street because they want to attack Jewish bankers. So what? If that is the whole of your argument, then we are truly in "Hitler was a vegetarian" territory here. The idea that opposing circumcision must be a product of anti-Semitism is ludicrous. Circumcision is practiced by Muslims. It is practiced in many central Asian cultures and has been for centuries. It is practiced by many cultures in sub-Saharan Africa and has been for centuries. It is practiced in Pacific Island and Australian aboriginal cultures and has been for centuries. Maybe most importantly for this debate, millions of gentiles in America are circumcised. If your interest is in hating Jews, this is an awfully broad target to be shooting at. It's like demonstrating anti-Semitism by arguing against monotheism, like attacking orthodox Jews by arguing against the fedora, like insulting Judaism by arguing against wearing robes in religious practice. The attack is so broad-- it hits so many more non-Jews than Jews-- that the accusation is absurd.

Look, I try to have equanimity as an atheist. But God is not real, and religious practice strikes me as an anachronism. It doesn't really matter, though, that I think that. People can practice their religion all they want, as long as they are not trampling the rights of others in doing so. That is a settled question in this democracy. Your religion does not permit you to force your daughter to wear a headscarf-- and a headscarf, at least, can be removed. Few things are odder to me than the spectacle of atheist liberals arguing to continue a strange religious ceremony that is forced upon people who are completely unable to resist or understand it, and which has permanently altering consequences.

I defy anyone to rationally argue that circumcision persists for reasons other than tradition and the inertia of history. And it is enforced, ultimately, because here in America, it is the norm. It's uncircumcised kids who are made to feel weird in America, and it's the constant assertion that nobody could or should care about whether they are circumcised that is the orthodoxy.

Belief in individual sovereignty over the body is incompatible with infant circumcision. If you want your child to be circumcised, wait until he is old enough to understand the procedure and the choice, present the evidence, and let him choose. If he says no, he can always change his mind. Making the decision to circumcise in his infancy ensures that he will never have a choice at all.

Update: Yes, of course, the "Monster Mohel" guy is an odious individual with a clear history of disqualifying attitudes. I am not and would never defend him or similar rhetoric. Bad people sometimes hold correct views for wrong reasons.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

the tendency towards grotesque in TV

Via Alyssa Rosenberg, Barney Frank on Seinfeld and Kramer:
I don't care for Seinfeld. I'm bothered by the character of Kramer. I find it hard to watch shows where there is one character that is so obnoxious that no one would hang out with him. That's also my problem with Will & Grace. I don't understand why Jack was his best friend. He's unpleasant and dishonest. Why would anyone want to put up with a Jack or a Kramer? It's discordant for me to think about.
While I can't say that this is particularly true of Kramer, this reminds me of one of my consistent annoyances with scripted television: characters are written with a particular set of traits, which are the key to the character's personality, but over time those traits get exaggerated and exaggerated until the character can't be recognized as anything remotely like an actual human. (I say scripted TV shows, but actually I think reality "stars" are often guilty of exaggerating the qualities that they are known for, in order to strengthen the brand, or whatever the fuck.)

The best example I can think of this is kind of embarrassing. In the recent Disney Channel show the Suite Life of Zach and Cody (I have nieces, alright?), the character of London Tipton, an obvious Paris Hilton knockoff, started off as a generally ditzy but still sweet and connectible character. (You can imagine how disturbing it was to see the actress who played her sucking off Mark Zuckerberg in the Social Network.) But as the show petered on for season after season, and into the execrable spin-off the Suite Life On Deck, every other element of her character was ground out in the efforts to make her more and more stupid and unaware. By the last few episodes I saw, she was a complete grotesque; no human could behave the way she behaved on the show, unless he or she suffered a massive brain injury. I think this is the general tendency of long-lived shows. New writers can't think outside of the narrow constraints of the character as already presented, and long running series believe that they are giving the people what they want in doing so.

That's not an example likely to resonate with many of you but I'm sure you can think of your own. I shudder to think of what has become of Homer, once one of the great characters in television history, as the Simpsons has destroyed its own legacy more and more in the last decade and a half. This gets back to my old jam about why I'll never be into TV and why I was constantly frustrated when I read comic books. No dramatic setup can exist in perpetuity and remain high quality. Stories require arc. I know it's a perfectly common middlebrow sentiment, but I really wish we had more of the British, short series model. Perpetual narrative doesn't work.

Update: Commenter Jack Crow points out that the TV Tropes crew has the money on this phenomenon.

wishing doesn't make it so

One of the things that interests me about Matt Yglesias's writing on education is that he is the man who coined the term "Green Lantern Theory"of geopolitics, where pundits and politicians insist that our foreign policy problems are the result of a lack of will, that if only we cared enough, were committed enough, etc., our problems will be solved. It's a classic post, and you should read it if you haven't. What is so interesting to me is that Yglesias's attitude towards education perfectly represents Green Lantern thinking: educational problems are bad, and we need to fix them, therefore solutions must exist. (And, as corollary, people who oppose whatever educational reform scheme that is currently en vogue are likely shills for unions or mere obstructionists.) We can because we ought to.

To my great dismay, Yglesias has deepened his rhetoric in recent months. Now, essentially anyone who does not believe in the maximal power of good intentions is an "edunihilist" and doesn't believe that teaching inputs matter at all. Personally, I find his conclusions on what the consequences should be of edunihilism ("If it’s true that we don’t need to shake up the K-12 school system because what happens inside K-12 schools doesn’t alter socioeconomically determined achievement gaps, then the policy remedy is random across-the-board cuts in K-12 school spending")  to be inadequately defended, but ultimately that's irrelevant, because as far as I can tell edunihilists don't exist. Matt is writing about Kevin Drum here, who I don't think can justifiably be called an edunihilist by the post Yglesias links to, but he has written about this issue time and again without credibly citing who, exactly, is an edunihilist.

I certainly am not. I am incredibly skeptical about the efficacy of constantly banded-about educational reform efforts. I am, for obvious reasons, deeply suspicious of the motivations of many involved in education reform, whether conservatives who hate unions, Democratic constituencies, and government efforts like public schooling, or corporate interests who seek to make money by destroying public education and replacing it with their own, accountability-free private surrogates. I do believe that poverty matters, that race matters, that the presence of a stable home life matters, that parent's education level matters, and that community matters. I believe these things for the sensible reason that I am empirically justified in believing them. But do I believe that school quality means nothing? That teacher quality means nothing? That there is no room for positive impacts on education because uncontrollable variables are too powerfully determinative? I do not. Nobody I know in the academy does. Nobody I know of, at all, does.

The fact of the matter is that you can at once believe that socioeconomic factors and other input-level factors are hugely determinative of student outcomes, and that we should be cognizant of that fact when considering teacher quality, AND that education quality is a meaningful variable in arriving at student outcomes, and we should continue to subsidize public education as a society. And if I can speak broadly, this is the attitude that I have encountered as I work towards my PhD in an area of education and pedagogy. Teachers work under the constraints of reality, which greatly limit their capability to improve outcomes for students, but that doesn't mean you burn the schools down. It does mean that efforts to improve educational outcomes through harsh penalties for teachers-- by making a difficult and relatively low-paying job worse-- will likely be undermined by the vexing power of confounding variables in evaluating educational inputs and educational outputs. I'm sorry that this is so inconvenient, but you can ask anyone who has ever gotten a PhD in education and struggled to come up with dissertation research; it's really, really hard to sort variables when you're looking at student outputs as a function of student inputs.

One shouldn't, and I don't, blame Matt solely. You can find a lot of cheery belief in the power of good intentions in education from Reihan Salam, too. (With the usual Reihan nice/mean thing going on.) Or take Good's education editor, Liz Dwyer, who I enjoy reading but who far too often treats empirical vetting of new ideas-- that is, checking out the reality of educational reform efforts-- as parenthetical, rather than
central. Take this post, where she finishes with "if models like the one in D.C. actually do result in increased student achievement, districts nationwide would be smart to adopt their methods." Well, yeah. The point is that we don't know that yet, and it may be premature to call that particular idea superb, however excited we may be about it. Educational policy is the graveyard of superb ideas. This Green Lantern theory of education is the default mode of the educational reform movement, and most clearly and disruptively when it comes to pundits and journalists and writers, outside commentators who are (to their great credit) deeply passionate about this issue but lack the kind of day-in, day-out relationship to a) discouraging data and b) actual student interaction that inevitably breeds a tough realism when confronting educational issues.

shifting state university funding from taxation to loan debt is deeply regressive

I'm working on a long post about the rising costs of college, but I want to point out a small bore but important point now. It's crucial to remember that we're talking about broad trends and aggregates when we talk about the rising cost of college, and I want particularly to point out that the situation is quite different in private and public colleges writ large. It's certainly true that public university tuition is growing beyond what is healthy or in keeping with the ideals of affordable public education, and I further think that part of the rise is from unhealthy administrative and infrastructural growth, as I have described in the past. However, it is also the case that public university tuition is rising because state funding has plummeted. State colleges are attempting to cope with state legislatures which are abandoning our long commitment to cheap, quality postsecondary education.

I find this, frankly, awful from a position of an equitable society and social justice. While I'm a committed skeptic of the idea that college education for everyone is desirable or just, broad access to college education is an entirely righteous development and something we should all be proud of. I think it's really important to point out that shifting the burden of public education from taxation to students (and their parents)-- from state aid to tuition paid for by student loans-- is in effect a deeply regressive change. It takes the shared sacrifice of all taxpayers, with a progressive scheme of taxation that ensures that those who are able to pay more do, and shifts the burden to the students and their future selves. (If you'd like to hear an argument for progressive taxation generally, you should check your favorite economists, including flaming lefties like Hayek, Friedman, or Smith.) This is particularly unfortunate because obtaining a college education is seen as one of the primary mechanisms through which people can improve their socioeconomic standing. (And, as I will continue to insist against all of the panicky rhetoric, the college wage premium is real, large, and growing.)

Incidentally, this dynamic is not only regressive, it also seems to me to be uniquely anti-stimulative. People who graduate with tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt can't spend and stimulate the economy even after they get a high paying job. So much of our gradual collapse into a stagnated and massively unequal economy is a choice.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Dear writer of whatever stripe,

Look. If you want to root for the Miami Heat and Lebron James, go right ahead. If you want to pretend that a man worth hundreds of millions of dollars who receives untold adulation and material compensation beyond the wildest dreams of Craesus because of his affinity for putting an inflated bit of leather through a metal hoop is somehow worthy of pitying, party on. If it's important to your purpose in life to act as though a fanbase that won a championship all of five years ago and can't be bothered to consistently fill the arena is somehow long suffering, gravy. Do it up, buttercup.

But this is simply true: you are nothing like the only person rooting for the Miami Heat or Lebron James! I don't even believe you're in the minority by rooting for the Miami Heat or Lebron James. This constant pose, from literally hundreds (hundreds!) of sports writers, bloggers, pundits, and talking heads that they are the only people in the world rooting for the Heat or Lebron James is the most asinine, self-serving, demonstrably untrue stance I can imagine. I get it: you want to be an iconoclast. I get it: you want to show your independence and that you're better than the average basketball fan. I get it: it is always easier to argue that Straw Man X is bad than to prosecute an actual affirmative argument of your own. But surely the idea that you are the only person arguing in favor of the Heat or Lebron is undone by all the other people arguing that they are the only person arguing in favor of the Heat or Lebron. I'm inspired to write this by this Slate piece by Robert Weintraub, which is the nadir of this pathetic little subgenre-- yes, Robert, we get it, you are so much more advanced than everyone else, because you are celebrating the success of tall men running back and forth on hardwood-- but really, I could pick any of dozens, hundreds of identical arguments.

Does Google not exist?  Do you all write in total ignorance of the broader context? Is there no time when you think to yourself, perhaps I should check and see if anyone else is voicing this argument that I am insisting no one else is voicing? Did you not think to perform a reality check? Are there no standards anymore?

Just look at ESPN and you will find a host of writers and analysts who have defended and rationalized the Heat, Lebron, and "The Decision" since the very day it aired. Who was ESPN's chief analyst and reporter on all of this? Chris Broussard, a paid-in-full member of the athlete worship school of journalism and devout Heat defender. The airwaves were filled from day one with analysts taking the side of Miami. There's no way to be sure, but I'm quite convinced that there have been more on-air personalities supporting Lebron and the Heat than criticizing them on ESPN. The website is just as bad, where the Daily Dime Live crew never misses an opportunity to root for whatever team is the most filled with celebrity, the most generative of spectacle, and the most conducive to hype. And ESPN has found in Henry Abbot (TrueHoop) a one stop apology shop for Lebron James and the Heat, as Abbot has taken defending them to previously unseen levels of hectoring and bullying, as he rails piously from his position of power at the dominant sports media company. Look around before you write.

Like Lebron and the Heat? Cool. Say so all you want. But please, recognize that you are one of literally millions of people who share that condition. Stop the phony contrarianism. It's so tiring.

cordially yours,