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

Bill Simmons-ing

Any US sports fan that grew up in the 2000s would have read Bill Simmons at some point. He pioneered internet sports writing in a lot of ways, and made us all think that we could do it to (sadly it’s actually pretty hard). I am one of the people who always enjoyed and appreciated what he did, even if it was sometimes annoying – I guess I have learnt that creative stuff is never always good so appreciate the highs more than I think about the lows, like remembering a holiday you were on or a past relationship one pines for.

Like anyone successful, plenty of people resent the prominence he has been able to achieve, and criticise some of his views.  But it is hard to argue that he hasn’t worked super hard and continued to try different ways of getting his views out there. He didn’t take no for an answer like a lot of us do. And he paved the way for people to become writers about a topic of which they are passively observing, and ti use one platform to branch into others. Sports writers before him were all in locker rooms interviewing players and coaches, making interesting angles and detached views difficult. They stuck to sports. Simmons began as a non locker room guy writing as a fan, and turned writing into interviews, producing and broader content management.

No matter what you think of his views, Simmons has also done a better job than any writer I know at giving other people chances. Who else has given anyone an obvious chance? I am sure there are plenty of people behind the scenes (David Carr springs to mind), but to leverage his popularity to hire a bunch of people no one had mostly heard of to create a cool website that made people feel like the web could be hipster too and the corporate conglomerates could produce niche content. People called it a vanity project, but who even cares if it was?

Anyway, I like Simmons (obviously). Because his documentary Andre the Giant is coming out now, he has done a bunch of interviews, which is relatively rare (people asking him question that is). But they are worth watching or listening to for the insights he gives into the creative process, or how he ended up becoming what he is now. Like with most people who make it, it’s a bit of luck, but there is always a lot of working harder than everyone else (sadly). So as follows..

  1. Simmons on a random Callaway golf show (does everyone have a show now?) talking The Ringer and other things for 30 mins
  2. Joining Marc Maron on the WTF to talk the life trajectory, ESPN and other things
  3. A little interview with ESPN about the Andre the Giant doc and how it came to be

Not a huge list, but still a list.

Recent reading and other things

Lot’s going on in the world, here is a list of my latest reading material and other interesting things:

  1. Let’s Talk About Why So Many Young Women Are Convinced Motherhood Is Going To Suck – why women don’t want to me mothers
  2. Beyond #DeleteFacebook: More Thoughts on Embracing the Social Internet Over Social Media – Cal Newport – a more strategic view of how to live in an internet age without being destroyed by social media ‘s hold on our attention
  3. Will HBO Stay in the Bill Simmons Business? – What Bill Simmons is doing for HBO and whether it makes sense for him to stay with them long term
  4. On Bill Simmons, an interview he did with some random guy from Callaway golf that is not much about golf and actually intesting
  5. Getting Rich: from Zero to Hero in One Blog Post – an old but great piece by Mr Money Moustache about how to live differently and have more control over your life and you time
  6. At Uber, a New C.E.O. Shifts Gears – Dara Khosrowshahi took over from Travis Kalanick when the organisation was in chaos which leads to an interesting New Yorker profile
  7. The End of Windows – from the Stratechery website and Ben Thompson, detailing the changes at Microsoft under their CEO Satya Nadella
  8. The Last Conversation You’ll Ever Need to Have About Eating Right – there is too much confusion out there about what to eat to be healthy, this is an entertaining conversation that doesn’t give quick fixes and points us in the right direction (more beans)
  9. Homo Orbánicus – I have no idea what is going on in Hungary, but I remember seeing in the news that they are pretty authoritarian these days, which is trending over in Europe as much as anywhere. This looks at how it happened.
  10. Two American Power Centers Are About to Clash – a good angle on an interesting trend in the US, the growth of DC and Silicon Valley as power centers and how they clash – from Tyler Cowen
  11. Thus Spoke Jordan Peterson – who knows why even Foreign Policy is writing about Jordan Peterson, but they are, and this sums up my feelings pretty well (the conclusion is a little extreme, but the process is right on)
  12. ‘Being Charlie’ – the sexual revolution of the 80s and 90s was hailed as a new era, and people like Bill Clinton were leading it. How does that look in the midst of the #metoo movement? Not that great.
  13. End of an Idea – this is a piece I want to read, but it is very long (my reading app tells my 87 minutes). It’s on the National Health Service in the UK, a service that has been the jewel of their political system that is being slowly gutted from the inside.
  14. For the Australia section – Batman: how it went wrong for the Greens – a look inside why the Greens lost the inner Melbourne seat they should have won (not a pretty scene)
  15. The fundamental operating model of Australian politics is breaking down – the trends of partisan voting in Australia (gradually voters are moving from the center to the sides) and what it means.

Excitingly, almost none of those mention Donald Trump. Happy reading.

What is going on in Saudi Arabia

Not the hottest topic in the world, but there is specific change happening in Saudi Arabia, and whilst oil is less important and the Middle East is less important to global stability that once in the past, significant changes in Saudi Arabia, an ongoing alley of western countries in the region has the potential to be significant. The changes centre around the new “leadership” of Mohammad bin Salmon, more commonly referred to as MBS. The nickname makes him sound cooler than he is and probably makes us cognitively take him less seriously.Meanwhile, he just purged the Kingdom of competitors to the crown (more difficult than it sounds) and become one of the closest allies of the Trump administration (as stupid as it sounds).

To  learn about MBS, some good pieces to read are

  1. London review of books on Saudi Arabian royal family changes within the context of the Trump administration
  2. Major profile of MBS by the most plugged in journalist in the Middle East – Dexter Filkens of the New Yorker
  3. A piece from Prospect magazine in the UK wondering if MBS will save Saudi Arabia

Royal families and oil money. The “Keffiyeh” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “The Crown”, and the definitive Netflix drama may never be made, but money and power and strange family relationships have their intrigue. You never know when the Middle East might be back in the thick of it again.