Weekly readings and other things

The usual list of things to be reading this week and watching this week:

  1. The This is America clip by Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover)
  2. One of the many takes on the above clip – this one in the New Yorker
  3. On the other artist in the news, Ta Nehisi Coates on Kanye – mixed in with his own experience of getting famous and how that impacted him
  4. Japan’s rent-a-family industry is not as weird as it sounds (recommended)
  5. How measuring economic success on GDP is bad and leads to relying on the immigration growth ponzi scheme (Australian context but relevant for all)
  6. Facebook and journalism continues to be a depressing mix
  7. another not great sign for democracy in the US – the attempts to influence Obama officials on the Iran deal
  8. Interesting piece from Ross Douthat about the distribution of sex, not necessarily agreeable, but though provoking
  9. YouTube trying to fix their problems, also pretty depressing it seems
  10. How the UK government uses administration to push immigrants out of the country
  11. Campbell Brown the head of news at Facebook – again, doesn’t fill one with confidence in the company’s ability to deal with news / media
  12. Ben Thompson on Apple and Amazon racing to be the first trillion dollar company
  13. Is the US becoming more like Japan? Relevant for a lot of western countries
  14. Tim Urban and Wait But Why tackle career decisions and trajectories in a way that encompasses old advice whilst adding some new helpful things
  15. A different take on the “you are the product” idea, apparently we are not the product necessarily if something is free (Facebook, Google etc)
  16. Some of the new features of Google’s technology in making phone calls and using a generated voice to make appointments and bookings and react in real time
  17. Inside the life of Lance Armstrong and his pretty staggering drug cheating methods and his general jerk like behaviour
  18. Brutal morning television in Australia aimed at white semi-racist peopleand the introduction of the great term “basic boomers”
  19. Zuckerberg continues not to learn – the WhatsApp founder is leaving the company because of Privacy concerns that Facebook are forcing on WhatsApp (getting rid of encryption so they can see peoples messages)
  20. I have been to Nicaragua a few times, and it is sad to see the political situation remains highly troubling and corrupt


Football (AFL) Nepotism

In the AFL there is a rule called the Father Son rule which has been around for a long time. This has allowed for players such as Tom Hawkins and Matthew Scarlet to come to clubs like Geelong for free in drafts where they otherwise would have gone much higher. The rule has been tweaked now so that clubs have to bid for players, so if a player is particularly great there is some compensation and lost draft picks – using the Tom Hawkins example, a club would have to say they were going to take Tom Hawkins first, and then Geelong would now have to act like they had the first draft pick and give up a whole bunch of picks to use their father son rights to get him. Confused? It is confusing (and what is the point of governing bodies other than to make things harder to follow?). But they could still get him in a context where any other player of the same talent they could not, purely because his dad played for Geelong back in the day. Football nepotism. This is a confusing state of affairs for a league that prides itself on fairness and even competition.

In my view there are issues with drafts in the first place, because we are forcing players onto teams they don’t (necessarily) want to go to and incentivising losing. I understand there is an argument here, and it’s hard to deny the AFL is relatively even competition with all clubs legitimately having the ability to one day win a premiership if they make the right decisions. So given that there is a draft and with the assumption that is here to stay, I will look at the father son rule more closely.

In a tightly controlled league, if there is one thing that is not tightly controlled it has the ability to distort the competition. As it currently stands, the system works to prioritise kids who want to play for the team their father played for. It gives the son a choice, they can activate the father-son rule, or they can not. If there are multiple clubs their father played for (provided he hit the eligibility mark of XX games with that club), they can choose which one they want to be picked by. I am relatively pro this part of it, as it actually gives the players some choice (who wouldn’t choose Hawthorn over Brisbane or the Gold Coast). But leaving that aside, is it an option that makes sense? The AFL has decided that we should not allow players to have choice based on the club they support, the town they grew up, the club with the best chance to win, the club with the best chance to get playing time, the club with the best support structure, the club that doesn’t have a lot of their players going off the rails. These are all elements that a young player is explicitly not allowed to make a choice on.

When you are a great player and you are 18 looking to enter the AFL, if you are lucky you might get a choice (I support choice). But the choice you are given is not based on any of the above factors, that seem to me to be reasonable factors in deciding where you want to spend potentially 10-15 years of your life. Instead, the one choice they might get, is to choose a club that the only connection they have is their dad played for them back in the day. They might not even like their dad – they certainly had no input into where the dad played and whether (20-30 years later) the club their dad played for back then is any good now. So we are banning choice, UNLESS your happen to have a dad that played for a team back in the day, in which case you can choose to go there if you want. Hmmm.

One of the problems here is the distortion of incentives. What on earth are the incentives of the Father Son rule? To pray that any player who plays enough games for your team finds a lovely partner and they happen to have a fertile partnership that results in some able bodied sons? I actually remember a good friend of mine being excited that a great player of their favourite team had produced 4 sons. Pretty absurd that the fertility of players is actually worth following.

The biggest problem this confronts is this nostalgia for “back in the day” times. I have specifically used that term, because it best describes the nostalgia for a time that was actually arse, it’s just that people look backwards with rose coloured glasses because it is nice to be able to do that. That time back then was when the stadiums were terrible, the football was never on TV, and players regularly fought with each other. Sure the biff was kind of funny, but given what we know about head injuries and brain damage, it wasn’t that great. What people always fail to recognise when they look back on these past era’s is that the quality of football was terrible. Guys that were unfit, slow, and relatively unskilled (they often had other jobs). The league has professionalised and it is for the better for everything. (The only thing it is for the worse – well there are many things but this is the main thing – is the clubs no longer feel like a community with all the corporate crap). The father son rule allows people to fantasize that this past was meaningful and related to the current game. It isn’t, it is a long way off and that is fine.

If we are going to keep this “no choice” mode the players, at least go the whole way. Don’t make the only choice based on their genes.

If big business hates unions, why do they have the BCA?

The coalition government and their big business backers supposedly have free market ideals. If everyone is allowed to be valued in a competitive environment, then the world will be a better place according to those ideals. Less regulation and more “freedom”. This ideology really takes its strength from the Cold War – the west “won” with their free markets, so therefore anything that is not free can be argued as a losing strategy. One place where right wing governments likes to really focus this strategy is unions.

Unions are designed to give collective voice to those who if speaking by themselves do not have enough power to make any changes. They are most known in the context of workplaces, particularly trades and mining. A big business or government can set the rules and an individual has little ability to dispute or complain. The big business can go on quite easily without the input of an individual, as there are plenty of other workers – but an individual is screwed if they don’t have their wage coming in. In this situation, the individual has no leverage, and conditions are likely to gradually deteriorate for workers. Thus unions exist. Without getting into a whole thing about the value of unions in contributing to the society we have, they allow individuals to pool their resources to get an outcome that is better for everyone. Big business likes to call this socialism, right wing governments likes to call this against free market principles. Both would prefer if individuals had less power.

One of the organisations pushing this agenda is the Business Council of Australia. They claims the unions are militant and screwing the workers – that the workers would be better off without them. BCA claims that workers would be better off dealing directly with big business. Notwithstanding that this is most likely a complete lie, what is more interesting is the structure of BCA. What is it? BCA (and other groups like it) is a representative body of which big business pays a hefty fee every year with the knowledge that they will represent their interest to the community and especially to the government in influencing legislation. Business realised that having a mechanism to provide a united front that could speak for all their interests would be much more effective than each company working individually.

Take lobbying. Big business want’s less taxes and less regulations (traditionally). They are against minimum wages. Set aside the bogus arguments they use for a moment, and look at how they argue. The government doesn’t have enough time to listen to each of them individually, and each business would likely have a difference idea of what those regulation should look like, and how much less tax they should be paying. The message would get lost. But if they combine their message and work together on a strategy they can all agree with, then the message has a strong chance of being heard. Having a single person who can represent all business is very powerful. It makes things more efficient and helps all big business achieve their goals.

The BCA is a union for big business. It is almost exactly the same. They pay fees, they have engagement form the BCA to decide what outcomes they want to achieve, and they rely on the BCA to represent their interests to the government and community. This is almost exactly what a union does. In fact, most lobbying has the same setup as a union. Big businesses are aware of how pointless it is to fight as individuals even though they are billion dollar organisations. Yet they complain about individuals with much less resources having their own representative bodys. The hypocriticism is incredible.

If big business really has an issue with unions then they should split up the BCA. They should be going after all those organisations, like the Australian Medical Association (AMA). Every industry has a body that works together to represent the groups interest. They all run on fees contributed by everyone. In sports there is a players union. It makes no sense for individuals to bargain with their employers alone, they will always get screwed.

Just like big business would get screwed if they didn’t have the BCA. Time for a Royal Commission into corporate unions and lobby groups?

Weekly Readings and other things

It has been more that a week since I updated my weekly readings, so here goes

  1. A positive piece about what is happening in the US, with lessons and ideas for how to improve any community (hint: get involved)
  2. Kanye West made some headlines this week around US politics and his red hat, Sean Fennessey wrote a good piece discussing Kayne
  3. The weekly Ben Thompson piece, this one about the trade off between openness and privacy
  4. Surveillance capitalism is a term now
  5. I finally read the New Yorker piece about a young girl kept of life support for years after a post operation complexity
  6. A reporter re-visits their experience covering the the democratization of eastern Europe, and how their hope and naivety let to them reporting fake news
  7. The problems with the hugely unregulated Facebook in countries with less resources and similar types of actors willing to (and able to) exploit the algorithm
  8. The world of Liberty University, the huge christian university making lots of money in Virginia, US
  9. How Trump uses Christian TV to get his message across
  10. A great essay about the myth of past America
  11. The New York magazines series on founders and early pioneers of the internet apologising for what it has become
  12. The culture of the Philadelphia 76ers and how they cultivated it
  13. Palantir, the scary data analysis company used by many government agencies (in Australian too)
  14. A positive story about the growth of the NBA compared to the NFL (in a “conservative” publication)
  15. A story on people renting families in Japan
  16. Michelle Wolf at the White House correspondents dinner (who knew it happened?) – maybe laughter isn’t the best medicine.
  17. The US Gov is not pretending to care about Palestine anymore. Unsurprising but still depressing.

Are athletes finally using their leverage?

In the NBA one of the major stories of the last year has been a player by the name of Kawhi Leonard who plays for the San Antonio Spurs. He has an injured quadriceps, which became apparent in a playoff game at the end of the last season where he landed on another players leg. He has played 9 games this season. It is weird for a guy to play only 9 games when recovering from a quadriceps injury, as it is not a broken leg or an effed knee. Because it’s weird, it has become a big story, his teammates have openly questioned why he is not back with the team, his coach suggested he was coming back soon but then quickly rescinded that. Whilst the Spurs have been playing in the playoffs, Kawhi continues to rehab in New York under the supervision of the Players Association. Traditionally an injured guy would be with the team cheering them on from the bench, like Steph Curry at the Warriors. So whats going on here?

The normal stuff

A lot of the things happening here are standard for professional athletes in a team setting. Injuries are complicated and there is a long history of team doctors favoring the outcome best for the team’s short term interest over the player’s long term interest. Encouraging players to play through pain, making injuries potentially worse. This is a constant. With players having more money, there is a great amount of them that have their own doctors, and get their own independent medical advice. The public stories like Tom Brady and his own health guru who has had a complicated relationship with the teams staff., are representative of a common trend. LeBron has a trainer that is allowed to be around, just not in team spaces, so he does his pre-game work in corridors. Kawhi trusts his own doctors, or Players Association doctors more than San Antonio team doctors. This makes a fair bit of sense. It’s a bit weird, but it is not wildly uncommon. It’s a symbol of players being more empowered and understanding that the team will not always look out for their best interests.

The other rumour bubbling below the surface appears to be an increasingly common one in NBA circles. Murmurings about a player who is one of the top players in the league (sometimes players are inflated in their own views, but not in this case) wanting more public profile are becoming increasingly common. LeBron went of Oprah and said he wanted to be a global icon, and everyone laughed (and said he wasn’t focused enough on basketball). The reality is that he is a global icon, and that other players notice that. Personal brand is a big deal. The bigger that is, the more cash you can command. It goes hand in hand with being good – or at least it can. The exceptions to this rule are rare, but it is more common for a player that is good to have a poor personal brand. Think a previous Spur – Tim Duncan. He was not a national figure in any context other than basketball. You never saw him on late night TV or in national commercials. It is widely understood that it was his choice. People thought Kawhi was making the same choice. But the rumblings are that he isn’t. And if he starts thinking about personal brand, he will start thinking about how best to cultivate that. He is with the Jordan brand, which is super cool, but they are not going to hype him to be his own brand. The brand is already named after someone else. He is in San Antonio, where the team culture is against individual brands and players putting themselves out there. It’s also not a huge city. There are a few more things but you get the idea. Metaphor.

Less normal stuff and future trends

The Kawhi situation is representative of more. There are other trends here that have been gradually showing themselves. While it is not rare for players to have their own medical staff and second opinions, in the Kawhi situation it is rare for him to be rehabbing completely outside of the teams facilities, and be completely disconnected from the team. This is so extreme that players are opening calling him out. His own teammates. This is more rare and demonstrates a rare situation. But the broader trend here is he devaluation of the team. And even though it sucks, because sports is becoming more like the rest of the world, it makes sense. For a long time owners have used “the team” as a way to keep players in the same place, playing for less money. Not just owners, coaches, fans, everyone. The skew of a player who wants more money, or more freedom or more global recognition has always been that they are selfish, and letting their team down. Even in this scenario there is the usual pieces about how Kawhi is being selfish, and should be with the team supporting them. Whilst it is nice and sounds true, it is actually another cover for the idea that the player should priorities the team over themselves. The society we live in, in every other context does not work like this. People leave workplaces all the time because it’s the wrong place for them, or the culture is wrong, or something else doesn’t feel right. It makes sense.

The other thing that has changed is the perception of team actions, and players realising the collective power they have to change this. Largely empowered by LeBron James, players are more likely to hold teams hostage and make decisions that are best for them. This is decried by old school analysts, fans and especially old school players. They used to hate their opponents and shudder at the idea of joining up with them. But in reality, that was a construct and made no sense. Why arbitrarily hate another team? It is just a made up team which you have no history with. There is no required loyalty to a city or to a franchise. That is why in the NBA offseason the Isaiah Thomas trade was such a change in mindset for the players within the league. Here was a guy who killed it for Boston all year, played through his hip injury in the playoffs at the detriment of his own body, only to be traded by Boston for a better player.  As a result, his new team (Cleveland) wanted him to prove he was worth paying a big contract. Isaiah knew this and rushed back from the hip injury, only to be underdone and blamed for the teams poor play. He was then traded again to Los Angeles. His $120 million contract is more likely to be $20 million now. That is a lot of money. The loyalty shown by Boston was 0. They treated it like a business decision, as they often do. Why should players be any different? Kawhi is just treating his injury like a business decision.

For Kawhi, in the new world, he can’t trust the team he works for and the culture they are trying to create. Sure it’s the Spurs, but there is no reason for Kawhi care about all that nice stuff. Is winning really the ultimate goal worth sacrificing agency and money for? Probably not. And in this season, the chance of beating Golden State of Houston is low. And even so, there are better places to win than San Antonio. So he has a sore quad, and the team isn’t quite good enough to win this year. He doesn’t trust their trainers, and he doesn’t trust himself not to get sucked into their loyalty pitch – after all he is a human, just like Isaiah Thomas, going up against a corporate machine, with fans that love him because he happened to put on the colours of silver and black. He also is one of the best players in the league and has a small shoe deal and no national commercials. It’s a combination of things. But there is no denying that part of that combination is new.

The players have the same playbook as the teams.

Recent readings and other things

Here is what I have been reading and doing this week:

  1. Trumps new economic adviser wrote about the state of the economy in 2007 (comical considering the GFC happened months later)
  2. Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammond and how far she can go in the NBA
  3. Journalism before fake news, when it was just America’s fake idealism
  4. A more realistic version of whats happening in the background at the New England Patriots
  5. A seemingly less hysterical version of what the Michael Cohen raids mean for DJT
  6. On that, I try to stay away from this stuff but I couldn’t help it – a summary of James Comey’s interview with ABC News – hard to believe some of the stuff covered
  7. Zach Lowe writes about his awards ballots in the NBA: Part 1 and Part 2
  8. A look at how season 2 of Atlanta is tracking and it’s narrative style
  9. Paul Ryan and conservatism
  10. Ross Douthat on abortion extremists as per Kevin Williamson’s short-lived tenure at the Atlantic’
  11. An oldie from Stratechery, but relevant in explaining how Zuckerberg seems so disconnected to reality
  12. Another episode of Exponent – Facebook fatigue. The last 30 mins really nails it in my view
  13. Why Facebook is not well placed to have good public relations
  14. Patagonia’s response to the disaster for the environment that is DJT

Happy Reading

Facebook goes to DC and Paul Ryan quits

I once had a dream about Paul Ryan. I landed in Wisconsin and we met for dinner at a diner. He was a nice guy with blue kind looking eyes. Then we argued for ages about cutting taxes for the rich and doing more to screw over poor people (he was in favor of both). I woke up feeling very depressed, far more than I should have been as an Australian with no stake in the game. He wasn’t even speaker by then, but the argument would prove to be a true representation of the type of rubbish he supported for his entire career. He announced his retirement from the House today to go spend time with his kids. His great achievements are seemingly being normalising the chaos of the Tea Party movement, supporting a racist that pissed on his party to get elected, helping that same racist by stalling the Mueller investigation, and getting big tax cuts through (adding trillions to debt). That he was once known for his supposed morals (lol) and his fiscal austerity (seriously) is obviously now lost.

He represented the normalisation of terrible ideas that should have been too extreme to get attention. He looked like a normal Republican and acted like one in public so fraudulently gave voters the comfort that he might legislate like one too (I guess his initials are PR). It is hard to know what is left of the normalised Republican movement (or worldwide, the normalised “conservative” movement). Who are the people in Congress that are centrist in any context? The end of Paul Ryan perhaps signals the end of that lie. But with only two parties, most people still vote with their party. The next Republican on the ticket in PR’s seat is an anti-semite who was kicked out of Breitbart. I guess we can no longer pretend we couldn’t see it coming. I used to think it was good if extreme people had a chance to get voted in, as we would prove their ideas would fail in the spotlight and they would never win. I am no longer so confident. Thanks to Paul for helping fascism to be normalised.

Facebook goes to DC

Meanwhile the other happenings of DC was the arrival of the cyborg and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg to get “interrogated” by Congress. This appears to be a largely symbolic event where he agrees to look intimidated in front of a lot of camera’s and allows members of Congress to pontificate and ask “hard” questions before he goes back to Silicon Valley and continues to do his thing. Facebook’s stock was up 4.5% on the performance, so any concept that it was troubling is probably a bit off. Nonetheless there were a few pieces written about it that nice covered the key takeaways of the day, particularly:

  1. Statechery with the best reality of the meaning of the performance by Zuckerberg
  2. New Yorker on the Dorm Room defence put up by Zuck
  3. NY Times on how we can protect ourselves against Facebook
  4. Bill Simmons Podcast on the topic (second half)

My thoughts are that nothing is going to happen quite yet, so we will be stuck with Facebook yielding a bunch of power over our data for a while. Obviously, the best way to get out of this is to stop using Facebook (and delete your data). Unfortunately Facebook also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, so best not to use those either. But as most of us are convenience driven and there is no alternative to Facebook for a lot of people in regards to keeping in touch with friends and family without having to actually speak to them, it’s likely people will keep using it (the convenience trap).

The long term view is starting to be less about whether Facebook will become regulated, but rather how Facebook will be regulated.  This seems mainly to be because Facebook has decided that the alternative to that is likely antitrust – which is breaking the company up because it is a monopoly. Zuck also begs for regulation because he wants the cash from the monopoly of Facebook but none of the responsibility in making meaningful decisions.

In this line, many even argue that regulation would help entrench their advantages so might be a positive for their business model. Needless to say, this is a complicated space, and the potential for ideologically driver 70 yr old white guys to come up with the right answer is pretty remote. Plus tech has so much money that regulation will likely be written by Facebook than imposed upon them. More likely a better answer comes in Europe where privacy is taken much more seriously.

A couple of other thoughts on the topic which I will expand on further at some point

  • Zuckerberg has too much power to be able to functionally run the company well (60% of voting rights – this is a monopoly with an authoritarian at it’s head). He is young and makes poor decisions over and over. This is guaranteed to get worse.
  • Along that line, “self regulation” (lol) of something with the potential to influence so many people is unlikely to improve anything (more likely for it to get worse in the near term)
  • Facebook has no idea what they are doing – they gave all their data away for free until recently, and continually earnestly deny their ability to influence in public, whilst directing a business model further towards convincing companies that advertising on Facebook can influence people. I actually can’t tell if they see the hypocritical nature of this or not. Silicon Valley drinks so much of it’s own kool-aid that they I think they believe both can be true. Troubling.
  • In 10 years (maybe less) we will look back and wonder how it was that we all gave so much information to a random company controlled by one person we don’t know at all for free.
  • So much for oversight, half of Congress just want’s some of Facebook’s money