Monday, February 27, 2012

Can Russell Wilson be the "answer" for the Seahawks?

Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson has piqued the interests of a few people, including Brock and Salk, as being a “potential” quarterback for the Seahawks. He certainly has potential, having set an NCAA Division 1 record for passing efficiency this past season. He did show “heart” in the losses against conference foes Michigan State and Ohio State, having engineered two fourth quarter comebacks from double-digit deficits before the Badger defense stood around to amaze at “Hail Mary” passes in the final seconds. Against Oregon in the Rose Bowl, Wilson surprised some observers by directing an offense that played toe-to-toe with the Ducks; only the wastage of two time outs in the third quarter and a fumbled pass inside the Ducks thirty-yard line late in the game prevented a different outcome.

But who is this guy? Like Robert Griffin III, he seemed to emerge in the national conscience out of nowhere. When he signed on with Wisconsin, people seemed to be excited about the development, without exactly knowing why. The problem was that Wilson wasn’t some five-star recruit out of high school, but a not highly regarded NFL prospect out of North Carolina State, despite the team finishing 25th in the final AP poll in 2010, with wins over at the time 16th-ranked Florida State and 22nd-ranked West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl. In his (unofficial) senior season, Wilson was among the nation’s leaders in pass attempts (527), but his completion percentage of 58 percent and 6.6 yards-per-pass against questionable competition in the ACC led many to doubt his potential, particularly in consideration of his short stature. Wilson, who also played baseball at NC State, signed a minor league contract with the Colorado Rockies, and appeared set for a baseball career. But after compiling disappointing numbers, he decided to use his remaining year of eligibility to return to college football. He was given his release by NC State, partly because the football coach thought it was unfair to disappoint the aspirations of Wilson’s replacement. There have been complaints that players like Wilson were able to take advantage of a loophole in NCAA regulations, which allows a player who has graduated from college but still has a year of eligibility to transfer to another school without sitting out a year. In any case, he put out his resume, and the Badgers came calling. Why is not readily obvious, but the Badgers may have been fascinated by having an athletic pure passer on the team, rather than a game manager.

Wilson performed to inflated expectation, flourishing with a Wisconsin team loaded with playmakers like Montee Ball and Nick Toon, and a perennially rock-solid offensive line. Besides setting a new quarterback efficiency mark, Wilson broke many Wisconsin single-season records, including yards passing (3,175), TD passes (33), completions (225) and total offense (3,513). His 72.8 completion percentage is not a team record, however; Scott Tolzien completed 72.9 percent of his passes a year earlier. Still, what the future holds for Wilson is uncertain; the only thing certain is that his profile was enhanced by playing for a Big Ten power. Wilson’s stock has improved enough to convince him to tell the Rockies that he will not be reporting to the minors, although Colorado still holds the baseball rights to him for several more years, and management has said he is welcome to return to that fold if he decides that he has no future in the NFL. The Badgers have not exactly been a quarterback mill; Randy Wright is the only Badger quarterback to start an entire season in recent memory, for the 1986 Green Bay Packers. The much lampooned Brooks Bollinger started just nine games for the New York Jets, but there were worse quarterbacks in this league. Wilson certainly has the requisite skills necessary to perform in the NFL; the question is whether his 5-11 frame will limit his "potential." To be certain, if Wilson does prove to be an adequate NFL starter, he will be the first Badger quarterback to do so.

Wilson, by the way, was not Wisconsin’s first black starting quarterback. In fact, Sidney Williams became the first such quarterback in Big Ten history when he started for the Badgers in 1957 and 1958, leading the team to a 7-1-1 record his senior year.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

It's more than just a game

I recently used part of my income tax refund check to purchase a netbook, so that I could have something lightweight to tote around whenever I felt the urge to record a thought. Usually when I record a large volume of material I insure against disaster by backing it up to a flash drive. But you should at least expect a brand new device not two weeks in use not to be of immediate concern, shouldn’t you? Wrong, wrong, wrong. There I was, typing away when the system inexplicably froze, and up came the dreaded blue screen. The device automatically rebooted into system repair mode, where it hung for two hours before I decided to do a forced reboot into Safe Mode, except that it hung at classpnp.sys. Then I tried to reboot using the “last known good boot.” But instead of doing that, it went into checkdisk mode. After nearly three hours slogging through 76 unreadable file record segments, it dumped two “orphan” segments, and then spent another two hours processing “bad file records.” When it finally finished that, it started deleting about a hundred or so index entries. Then I was told that first it was recovering orphaned files, and then insufficient disk space to recover the files. Then it rebooted. Fixed? It just hung forever on Starting Windows before at last the desktop appeared. First thing I did was back-up my document files. Verdict: Lesson learned.

Hard as it is to believe, there are also lessons to be learned from the engagement in sports; there is indeed some slight resemblance to reality, in that those who participate perform a service in return for a salary, which in turn is either recycled into the economy--and if prudence is present--invested for post-sports life. Unfortunately, during this process some athletes lose sight of the fact that a lot of money brings great temptation and “friends” willing to exploit them. Now, depending upon how someone was raised and the posse they ran with, it is quite easy to fall into the trap of living the life of an irresponsible gangster Peter Pan, never understanding that the acquisition of money and fame gives one an opportunity to escape that cycle, instead of bankrolling it and then allowing that lifestyle to spin further and further out of control. Verdict: Lesson not leaned.

But some of our “heroes” can disappoint us without resort to thuggery. I grew-up a Milwaukee Brewers fan, but after Robin Yount’s retirement, the revolving door method of stocking the roster--that virtually guaranteed mediocrity--left me disinterested and dispirited. That may change, after the Brewer organization decided that Ryan Braun was that “franchise,” Hall of Fame player who had the talent and personality that fans could viscerally connect to, and thus fill seats—worthy of an investment in a long contract (stretching to 2020). But when the reigning NL MVP tested positive for an extraordinarily high level of PEDs, fans were crestfallen over the apparent evidence that their new hero was a fraud. Braun claimed innocence from the start, based upon the “improbability” of elevations three times that ever recorded. Now, it is possible (and a more likely scenario) that Braun had never taken PEDs before (he had never tested positive previously), but wanting to perform his best to give the team a shot at the World Series that might not come again (it was almost 30 years since the last—and only time—the Brewers played in the Series), he foolishly decided to use something without first reading Lance Armstrong’s instruction manual; it is also likely that he never expected to be tested immediately after the regular season was over. Fortunately for Braun, the courier who handled his sample bungled the delivery just enough to give the arbitrator of his appeal just enough wiggle room to squirm through the door of “reasonable doubt.” Upon listening to his press conference after his “vindication,” I suspect that Braun may be an exception to the rule: A player implicated in a PED scandal who escaped with his reputation largely unscathed. Verdict: Lesson learned.

At the NFL combine over the weekend, John Clayton spoke to former Colts president Bill Polian. Polian, who admitted he hadn’t seen Peyton Manning throw since the end of December when he was still limiting his throws to 25-30 yards—and was visibly exhausted after throwing just 30 passes—nonetheless expressed endless enthusiasm for Manning’s return to the NFL. This shouldn’t come as surprise; after all, Polian and his son were fired by team owner Jim Irsay, and of course Polian had a motivation to put Irsay in the worst possible light by inflating Manning to god-like status. Nevertheless, Polian—and those who expressed the same opinion—stretched credibility when he suggested that Manning’s elevation of team play was the difference between a two-win team and a 12-win team. The fact of the matter is that it was evident that Manning’s performance was in decline last year. During a three-game stretch he threw eleven interceptions, and the team fell to 6-6; although the Colts won their final four games to edge into the playoffs, each of these games were decided by a touchdown or less. The outcomes could easily have been in the Colts disfavor. Had Manning played this year with his nerve degeneration, his play—and the team’s—would have declined together; a losing record would not only have been possible, but probable. And for these who seem to believe that Manning’s presence is a guarantee to a Super Bowl run, let us remember that Manning’s Super Bowl record is the same as the much maligned Brett Favre: 1-1, and his playoff record is worse—9-10 compared to 13-11. Many “lesser” quarterbacks—like the Raiders’ Jim Plunkett—have more Super Bowl rings than he has. Local sports personalities like Brock and Salk seem to think that Manning will re-emerge as the Six Million Dollar Man; the reality is that his decline may become even more precipitate than Favre’s. Verdict: A seat after school in detention.


Meanwhile, my opinion on Matt Flynn has not shifted one iota after the Packers signed Jermichael Finley to a two-year deal, freeing the franchise tag for possible use on Flynn. I had to work the Sunday he played, but I managed to obtain the complete telecast, and I’ve watched it from start to finish several times, and not just because of its historical significance in Packer lore. Flynn came into the game cold, having thrown 3 passes all season. Despite early adversity, Flynn never looked anything but in control of the situation. Green Bay was resting some of their starters, including three of their best defensive players, and Mathew Stafford was having an easy time of it. It was clear from the Lions body language that they wanted to win this game badly, having lost 20 straight on the road against the Packers. But Flynn never flinched, matching Stafford throw for throw, and you saw him throw a perfect long ball to Jones with a minute left on third down, and Flynn acting as if it was no sweat; he remained cool and confident from start to finish. You can say that he had all these weapons, but you have to put the ball in their hands first. He completed 21 of his last 24 passes for 380 yards and 5 TDs. I think that because he threw a softer ball it made it easier to catch; in subfreezing weather against the Giants, Rodgers zipping a rock-hard ball at receivers was one reason why there were so many dropped passes. Flynn’s performance demonstrated talent, not luck. None of those quarterbacks he is compared to, like Kevin Kolb, Matt Cassell or Rob Johnson, has done anything even remotely similar. If you hope that T-Jack can do that, well I feel your pain. If you think that Manning will still be capable of that, go ahead and fantasize. If you want to do a Ricky Williams deal for RG3 (Mike Ditka traded the entire 1999 draft plus the first and the third picks in 2000 for Williams) be prepared for the consequences if it goes bad. If you want to draft someone else, you only have the Seahawks past QB draft history to go on.

I don’t know if Flynn should be bartered for this year's first round pick, but if the Seahawks made that deal I wouldn’t feel any angst over it. I’d probably go for lower picks or perhaps a player on the roster, but regardless I think Flynn is the Seahawks best option. General Manager John Schneider has been mum about the specifics of what direction the team is looking to in acquiring a quarterback, and in a story in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, in response to a question concerning obtaining a quarterback through a trade, Schneider said “You better be really sure he’s the guy. Otherwise it’s a double whammy: It’s draft choices and it’s cash.” Schneider has also said that the team would not be “pressured” by media and the fans in regard to who they would target, and this would certainly include Peyton Manning. Schneider did let slip the following comment about Flynn, according to Eric Williams of the News-Tribune: “We all liked him as a player. Ted (Thompson) had gone there (to LSU to scout him) and he really liked the competitor. We’d actually drafted (Brian) Brohm in the second round. He (Flynn) was just a guy that came in on Day 1 with a swagger.” The Dolphin’s new coach, Joe Philbin, was mum on Flynn but the description of what he was looking for in a quarterback seemed to fit Flynn’s skill set. Flynn may not be the physical specimen of some other quarterbacks, but there is no doubt in my mind that he has the position down cold.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Where will Seattle's "wheel of fortune" land this time?

I admit that I have only marginal interest in the Seattle sports scene despite having lived here longer than in any other location in my lifetime—although that might change if the Seahawks sign Matt Flynn. The only football game I attended here was when the Packers played at the King Dome in 1996, the year they won the Super Bowl; the Packers won 31-10, but the principle thing I remember about it was how bored I was waiting for the brief action that occasionally interrupted the standing around. In 1992 I attended a Mariners game when the Brewers were in town, because Robin Yount was chasing 3,000 hits that year; it also happened to be Harold Reynolds Night, and his family was sitting close by to my location. I remember that they looked at me with curiosity whenever I cheered wildly when the Brewers scored a run. I attended one Sonic game when my brother, who was living in Sacramento, paid for the tickets; his principle motivation was a chance to heckle the Kings’ Chris Webber. I also attended several Mariners games when I was employed by the sports apparel company, because of the free food.

The reality is that I my principle interest in sports derives from the teams I cheered for in youth, and these old loyalties seem so imprinted in my mind that I can’t imagine feeling any other way. It’s hard for me to take the local sports scene seriously anyways, because everything about the professional teams seemed second-division and destined to failure. There were no Lombardis or Abdul-Jabbars to remind one of former greatness, no long-time fixtures like Yount or Favre who were recognized superstars. Seattle is a town where great players either leave as soon as they have a chance, or came to lay down in the bone yard because nobody else was foolish enough to pay more than they were worth. You can ask an outsider what athlete personifies Seattle sports, and they might remember that Ken Griffey Jr., but it just seemed that he was wasted here, like Ernie Banks was in Chicago. Sometimes proven winners like Lou Pinella and Mike Holmgren arrived to fan hope, but there was only so much that they could do to make people sit up and take notice. Like all outlying markets, Seattle’s teams are almost lifeless appendages attached to the thriving organism, like the tiny male perpetually attached to the female Angler fish; the teams are merely tolerated as occasional annoyances biting at the heels of the successful franchises.

But a city with delusions of grandeur needs its professional sports franchises, and Seattle—somewhat foolishly having built two completely incompatible stadiums right next to each other for baseball and football when one would have sufficed—now hopes to build a third facility for basketball and perhaps hockey. State and city politicians—who were just as guilty as David Stern for running the Supersonics out of town—will welcome a team back provided it costs it nothing. Private investor Chris Hansen and his partners promise to put up most of the money, with taxes generated by the operation of the facility to pay the remainder. The mayor and the county executive are arranging for an “Arena Advisory Panel” to review “the financing and other details of the proposal to ensure that the proposal is in the best interest of the public.” The proposed panel is a curious mix of people for sure, six of the ten of whom are women, and only Lenny Wilkens has at least a vague connection to the local sports scene. I wouldn’t put much faith in its deliberations.

The Seattle sports media is of course ecstatic, but the Seattle Times news coverage is less than completely supportive. Headlines such as “Arena plan looks solid, but is it?” “Arena proposal may get held up by traffic” “OK, there's an arena plan. Now all Seattle needs are NBA, NHL teams” “Seattle must scrupulously vet details around new arena partnership” “Seattle NBA arena no slam dunk: Teams, money required” and “(Mayor) McGinn's vow to be transparent looks thin” are self-indicting. The latter headline topped an opinion piece by Nicole Brodeur, who actually gets paid for expressing obsessive narcissism and misandry. Who can blame Hansen (or the mayor) for wanting to make certain that the stars were aligned before going public in the face of these ninnies? Having been forced to prematurely reveal the extent of their machinations, the media has dug its claws into perceived “weaknesses” of the plan, sowing the seeds of doubt. The fact is that Hansen has displayed far more in civic values than the Times has, which seems to spend most of its time mired in gender and immigration politics, sex crimes and opposing needed tax reforms to keep the state’s educational and health care system afloat.

In the meantime, there is much enthusiasm about the Sacramento Kings relocating to Seattle to replace the Sonics, about as reality-based as Peyton Manning coming to town. NBA commissioner David Stern recently appointed Clay Bennett as chair of the league’s team relocation committee. We all remember who Bennett is, don’t we? Fans in Sacramento have reason to be disturbed by this development, since Bennett is a master at relocation manipulation; he knows how it is done. Although the NBA doesn’t officially control where teams move, it certainly can influence events, such as when the league stepped-in to buy the New Orleans franchise when no local buyer seemed interested. Bennett probably would have bought the team himself, having given the franchise a temporary haven in Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina. But Stern wasn’t going to be held responsible for abandoning New Orleans, but to him Seattle was just a piece of fruit waiting to be picked. Stern could have made a personal plea to recalcitrant state officials, but the Seattle franchise was his gift to Bennett; he was certainly aware of the Bennett group’s intention to move the team to Oklahoma, although he was embarrassed by the release of incriminating emails that forced him to levy a token fine on one of the group’s lead hoods.

Stern has since seemed lukewarm to the possibility of revisiting Seattle. Should he be trusted? Why? Last year, Stan Van Gundy took his measure of the man when he denounced the lack of accountability by the league office:

"I certainly can't have an opinion because David Stern, like a lot of leaders we've seen in this world lately, don't really tolerate other people's opinions or free speech or anything. So I'm not really allowed to have an opinion, so it's up to him. He decides. And he likes the system that he has. He does not tolerate freedom of speech when it comes to NBA issues. He's the only opinion."

It’s hard to figure Stern, because sometimes he supports or opposes team relocation for business considerations, and other times apparently motivated by personal whim. The Hornets already moved once from Charlotte, which was once a thriving market before owner George Shinn ran the team into the ground, and there is no reason save pure sentimentality that it should stay in New Orleans. But stay it will, and perhaps the hope is long enough for Seattle to get its act together and build an arena. In the meantime, some fans here are dismissive of the idea that the Sacramento Kings would prefer to move to Anaheim instead of Seattle if their arena deal falls through; but Howard Stern lookalike Ailene Voison of the Sacramento Bee—who seems to have a cow town’s self-conscious disdain over the perceived “assumption” by some in Seattle that “her” team is ripe for the taking—continues to do her best to throw water on that idea. Of course, the Kings used to be other cities team as well: The Rochester Royals, the Cincinnati Royals, and the Kansas City Kings; but Voison is right for the wrong reasons about why it seems more likely that the Kings would prefer to move to Anaheim: The Maloof brothers, who own the Kings, have been promised a loan guarantee to cover their massive debts—as well as the relocation fee paid for, subsidized rent, and an arena that will be renovated with public money. The Maloofs say they are not selling, so how could Seattle with its current political climate possibly be an alternative they would consider?

As I’ve said before, Seattle is a snake-bit sports town, and I feel fortunate that I have no particular vicarious connection to what happens here. But looking from the outside, I can’t help but feel a certain contempt for the way the city trips over its own feet seemingly out of spite.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Armed goons Bank of America's latest way of saying "thanks" to customers

I have observed that at least two branches of Bank of America in Kent are patrolled by security guards dressed in black uniforms and combat boots. They also appeared to be armed with handguns, although it isn’t clear if these are tasers, or use real bullets. One of these goons apparently takes his business seriously, attempting to inspire fear and intimidation. This week I was withdrawing money from an ATM; I had noticed that I was being eyeballed by the blackshirt, but did my best to ignore him. After I completed my business and turned up the sidewalk, behind the building out of his line of sight. But after walking about fifty yards, my suspicions were such that I turned around, and I observed that he was peering at me from the corner of the building. I gave him the Heil, and he waved at me, which of course confirmed my suspicion that he was just some bigot with stereotypical attitudes; it also indicated that some of these guys are either stupid or is indicative of why people who are ignorant of history are bound to repeat it.

Why was BoA employing these armed, jack-booted goons? Perhaps the bank is concerned about the angst amongst people who have accounts at BoA? Like, say about the various “surprise” fees they charge for various services, some of them more annoying than others? While some of these fees pass unnoticed because they just “show-up” on your quarterly statements and the bank seems to think that the amounts are so “trivial” that you’ll just scratch your head and move on, others seem to be unnecessary gouging—like the $5 fee on a money order, no matter how small. Last year there was an uproar over charging $5 a month for using a debit card, which I think is less offensive than the money order charge, but BoA was obliged to dropped it. Yet no one is pointing out that the bank is still charging a $5 “maintenance” fee for savings accounts. I used to have a “savings” account with BoA, but I used it like a checking account. When I started using it to pay for online purchases, I got carried away and the FDIC froze the account because I passed the allowed limit per month. So I transferred all my funds to a new checking account, save for putting $20 in a different savings account, just because I had to put something in it. I thought that now everything was in order with no further concerns. I forgot, of course, that this was Bank of America.

I never looked at the bank statements I received in the mail, but my lack of attention to detail ended when I opened an online banking account, which allowed me to view my transactions in real time. In doing so I made some disturbing discoveries. For example, today my new saving account has $15 in it, and by the end of the month I expect it to be $10, because of the “maintenance” fee. I probably should close it and keep just the checking account; but then again I thought that my old savings account was closed. For some reason my old savings account was still “active,” because merely implying that the account is closed isn’t the same as saying it is, you see. You have to make it Perfectly Understood. Not only was it still active, but it wasn’t even empty any more. It had $5 in it—or did it? Upon closer inspection I realized that it was a debit, not a credit: BoA had applied a “maintenance” fee for an account I had assumed that had been closed. I spoke to customer service to “discuss” the issue, and with a little outraged persuasion, the account was “officially” closed and the fee reversed. One should also be aware of the fact thay BoA will reactivate closed accounts without informing you, if some annoying entity your trying shake makes a request for funds. You may think “If I can’t get these thieves to acknowledge my request to cancel this subscription, I’ll just close that account and get a new one, and the bank will not honor their next payment “request.” But no; BoA will honor that “request” rather than yours. If you don’t happen to notice these payments because you thought you closed the account, you may find your other accounts inexplicably shorter than you thought.

Naturally, you may believe that you are doing the bank a favor by depositing your money in their particularly institution; the reality is that they treat you like they are doing you the “favor.” The desperation of banks to steal your money can be traced back to the abandonment of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall bank regulation law in 1998—more than the Lewinsky scandal the blackest mark on the Clinton administration. Banks soon got into trouble gambling with depositors’ money, especially in the home mortgage and derivatives “business.” Despite receiving billions in taxpayer bailout money, somebody still had to pay for their mistakes. Who would that be? The CEOs and money “managers” who used depositors money to play the tables? Somebody had to lose in their schemes, and in the case of derivatives, financial institutions who bet wrong lost massively. But they didn’t “pay” in the end—it is millions of small account holders who are being nickel and dimed to the hilt.

In 2010, BoA was extorting $5-$6 billion for deposit fees, and about $10 billion in fees from credit and debit cards. Recently passed consumer protection regulations reduced this practice of extortion, especially the outrageously high overlimit fees that banks—rather than refuse payments over account limits—allow to go through in order to make it so difficult for people to reduce their balances that that overlimit fees merely continue to pile up month after month. Banks, of course, have complained about the loss of this lucrative trade, which is why they tried to make up the loss with more fees that went against the spirit of the law.

And now, the two branches that I patronize are patrolled by these armed thugs that treat account holders like "threats." It's just another way that BoA expresses its "appreciation" for its customers.

Monday, February 13, 2012

For Whitney, excess overcame success

I grew-up listening to the music of the 1970s, for which I feel fortunate because that was a period when record sales tended to reflect the amount of effort put into reproducing symphonic sounds, and record companies spared no expense in providing recording artists with all the resources they wanted. But as record sales started to stagnate and costs escalated in the 1980s, production became leaner and more reliant on synthesized sound to fill in the gaps (still better than most of today’s music, which sounds weak and dull to my ears). Nevertheless the Eighties were, however, the period when my level of music appreciation increased, since I finally had money to buy records and CDs of the music I grew-up listening to. But I didn’t completely ignore contemporary music, especially since many of the stars of the Seventies (and sometimes even of the Sixties) were still plying their trade. But by 1985, I discovered that there were perhaps ten songs in the top 40 at any one time that I liked, and as time went on that number was reduced near to the zero. Only an occasional Katy Perry song reminds me of the lush productions that were “music” to my ears. I’m not saying that she is “better” than Adele, but frankly no matter how much the double-chinned Adele dolls herself up, her song “Rolling in the Deep” remains a misandrist anthem for unappealing women searching for someone else to blame. I figure she won all those Grammy awards because voters wanted to make a political statement—much as they did in 1996, when Alanis Morissette’s revenge fantasy opus Jagged Little Pill won album of the year.

Anyways, by 1985, the hangover from the Seventies was nearing its end. One day I heard a voice on the radio that gave me pause; I couldn’t decide of this signaled an end or a beginning, or if I liked what I was hearing, or not. Whitney Houston may have had a hit before “Saving All My Love For You,” although if she did, I hadn’t noticed before. But oh did I now. She had a BIG voice that stayed all day on one note, overwhelming the slight melody. At first blush, she seemed to follow in the same tradition of piped-up “divas” like Diana Ross and Donna Summer before her, and Mariah Carey afterwards. But Ross and Summer were capable of moving a song in a wide emotive arc (Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Love Hangover” are prime examples), while Houston and Carey were vocal “technicians” for whom conveying emotion was less important than impressing listeners with their prowess at vocal gymnastics. This may or may not be because Ross and Summer had the benefit of having better material to work with, but there was no mistaking the fact that singers like Houston brought immediate attention to themselves because their voices, rather than to the songs or production.

As I recall, critics were impressed by Houston’s voice, although not necessarily by the way it was used. Some people couldn’t help but point out that she was a fashion model, and this supposedly was proof that she had no artistic credibility. It certainly did seem that because of her lack of formal training, someone had to reign-in her penchant for bombast, and was just barely successful. Most of Houston’s hits are catchy enough, and I don’t find them irritating at all (except “I’ll Always Love You,” which sounds as if Houston is trying to mimic Carey); still, I find it telling that the only Houston song that I like enough to put on my mp3 player is her duet with Teddy Pendergrass, “Hold Me”; Pendergrass’ subtle, passionate vocal seems to force Houston to match it. I kind of laugh when I hear contemporary singers claim that they were “influenced” by Houston, but that is only because their taste in songs is so poor; otherwise, what I hear from her “disciples” is Houston run amok.

I know I am being unkind, given Houston’s unfortunate passing at the age of 48, apparently from drowning in a bathtub after losing consciousness. But she left us with a certain set of memories, ones that overwhelmed her talents through no one’s fault but her own. Many people have blamed her ex-husband Bobby Brown for her turn from glory to carnival oddity; prior to the airing of her 2009 interview with Houston, Oprah Winfrey said that contrary to her own uber-feminist belief, what Houston had to say for herself "will leave you gasping. She does not blame her ex-husband Bobby Brown and she takes full responsibility for her engagement in drugs." Why should we have been “shocked” by this? In a 2002 interview with “shock jock” Wendy Williams, Houston responded to questions about her drug use with a steady stream of expletives and suggestions that if Williams had “insulted” her in this way in her pre-stardom days in Newark, they’d be settling this disagreement with their fists. In another interview with Diane Sawyer, Houston surprised listeners by making light about the supposed dysfunction of her life, including her drug use. In fact, she seemed mystified and angry about people making judgments about her and her marriage to Brown; when the subject of domestic violence arose, Houston suggested that she could give as good as she got. In the infamous “Being Bobby Brown” reality TV series, Houston was the “star,” and it was clear that the carefully-controlled image of her, courtesy of Arista Records exec Clive Davis, was a contrivance; we were seeing the real Whitney unmasked. Her most memorable line was “Kiss my ass,” while dressed-up like a gangster staring at the camera. In another episode, she is seen at a picnic in a park, suggesting that she and Brown go behind a tree down by the river--to do the dirty deed.

Yet Winfrey still had the conceit to suggest that Houston had to “lower her standards” to live with Brown. "The thing most shocking to me is that Whitney tried to make herself smaller to fit in a marriage so the man could be bigger. How many women have done that? I deeply felt for her.” But the reality was that Houston was only being herself, not the record company-created image of her. And Houston’s behavior did not markedly improve after her 2007 divorce from Brown; in fact Brown seemed to benefit more from their separation. Her voice was shot, continued drug use led to physical breakdowns that caused her to miss performances, and bizarre and aggressive behavior, such as that which disconcerted observers in the days and hours leading up to her death, bespoke of a life going further out of control with help of her enablers.

But what of the music, which is what should really matter when we consider Whitney Houston. I will grant that her bombastic singing style set her apart from virtually anyone else on the radio until Carey came along. I did think that some of her songs were catchy pop fodder (it really annoyed me to discover that the original versions of “So Emotional” and “I Wanna To Dance With Somebody” on her latest hits compilations were replaced by execrable remixes). Her time in the limelight should have naturally ended by the mid-90s, because of the onrush of hip-hop and rap. But she stayed in it for reasons that perhaps were better left unscrutinized. Other music icons like Elvis Presley, Jimmy Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin are remembered for their successes rather than their excesses. Houston should have left us with memories of her pop successes, but in this hyped media age, it is her personal excesses that particularly stick.

Body and Mind

Sometimes reality and illusion are difficult to distinguish. The mind can insist that the body do things that are beyond its capacity, while the body can enforce its will on a mind that should know better not to. The mind can imagine the body doing certain things that it has not done before, and assert that they are fact.
Or the body can act upon capacities that may have had a reality in the past, but they now reside in the part of memory where dreams hold sway. Here are two stories which have led me to muse this muddle:

It is interesting to note that Peyton Manning’s recovery has been shrouded in such secrecy that one cannot help but wonder what is being hidden, and why. I’m actually “glad” that Chris Mortensen used Chris Weinke as an example to inflate the arguments in favor of Manning, because it in fact does the opposite. I’m not referring to Weinke’s Manning-less NFL career stats--62.2 rating, 15-26 TD-to-INT, and 2-18 as a starter—but the fact that his neck injury was differed from Manning’s in that it was an injury, and not what Manning is suffering from: A disease—the degeneration of his cervical spine, or so I have read. His surgeries have merely delayed, not cured, further complications.

One reason why people would be taking a risk on Manning is because he would have to continuously work his arm, because extended “rest” will only lead to a reversal of arm strength. In reality, Manning’s injury has more in common with the degenerative hip disease that ended Bo Jackson’s career prematurely. Also, Weinke only sat out two games at the end of his sophomore year; he didn’t miss an entire season before he was even cleared to move his arm.


I was listening to NPR last concerning the Pentagon’s decision to open up “thousands” of new jobs closer (as opposed to close) to combat lines. According to a AP story, this reflects “the realities of the last decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” although the women interviewed by radio commentator and by the BBC chose to put a political spin on it, suggesting that “sexism” and “good old boy” cronyism was keeping down women who were “stronger” than their male counterparts. I suppose that the women in this category are the ones who look more male in appearance and mannerism than female. Female officers are the main element pushing this, because they feel that the lack of combat “cred” stunts their career advancement.

Now, I agree that people regardless of gender (or race) can do a lot more than they think they can if they put their mind to it. As far as women in the military are concerned, I can only go by what I observed in my seven years in the Army. I am on the short side, and being small-boned I barely topped 110 pounds while I was in the service, and I suppose that I would be one of those some egotistical white or (Hispanic) female would claim to be physically more able than. I recall with fondness my time at in basic training at Fort Jackson, but the drill sergeants always seemed to be concerned about whether I could “make it” through. I never stumbled once on any of the requirements, even though I had to go through one last hoop when the head instructor called me into his office and asked me I wanted him to “graduate” me. The “mental” part wasn’t the problem; I was in the 94 percentile on my ASVAB test, but my “slightness” seemed to be a constant issue. Maybe there was an incentive to “prove” myself, but I could do and did everything that was expected physically to do that my colleagues—and certainly more than what officers were expected to do. The curious thing was that female enlisted soldiers also were “expected” to look on when physical labor was required (putting up tents and camouflage nets, loading and unloading trucks, digging trenches and foxholes, etc); apparently they more than willing to accept the idea that were not expected to do any physical labor. Female officers are the ones most pushing the idea, because it “hurts” their advancement—and they damn sure are too "superior" to do any physical labor themselves.

The military does in fact have a separate measurement of the comparative physical skills between male and female soldiers in order to pass the physical training requirement. Of the three components of the PT test regimen, which in my day required a score of 60 on each of the following: The 2-mile run, the push-up and sit-up. Only the sit-up had the same numerical requirement, probably taking into consideration that females has less upper body mass to move. Despite the fact I was small of stature, I achieved the maximum score of 300 on several occasions. For males at my age at the time, this meant 13 minutes or less in the two mile run (11:45 was my personal best), 75 push-ups and 80 sit-ups. For a female soldier in my age group, 80 sit-ups were also required for a score of 100, but for the 2-mile run a time of 15:36 or less was required, and for push-ups, only 46. For male soldiers in my age group, those numbers were just barely above the passing threshold. A female soldier in my age group only had to do a laughable 17 push-ups to pass, and run in 19:36; which considering a brisk walk would cover 2 miles in 30 minutes (at least for me), that is barely a fitful jog.

These numbers didn’t come out of thin air; they are based on years of statistical analysis. Now some people will say big deal, or the PT requirements are “sexist,” that upper body strength is over-rated. But the fact that a more physically imposing female soldier (say, an officer) still has a much lower requirement than I would doesn’t inspire confidence or respect, and I so I was frankly offended by these egotistical gender activists who use the device of denigration to further their aim without the employment of verifiable observation; I saw too many male employees at the sports apparel business I once worked for run into the ground by strokes to heart attacks because the female employees were not expected to be discomfited by physical labor.

The bottom line is that it isn’t “sexism” that has kept women at bay; it is a matter of trust. It is also a matter of whether in the field—that is not going out on patrol during the day and returning to the barracks at night, like a “regular” job—male soldiers can trust female soldiers to carry their fair share of the burden under fire, or must they be constantly mindful of the “sensitivities” of the female soldiers, or have to be worried if female soldiers have their backs. Or do they feel they need to spend too much worrying about their own backs when bullets are flying? As we recall, the media made Jessica Lynch out to be some Rambo character, when in fact she was knocked unconscious almost immediately without ever firing her weapon; at least she had the honesty to express embarrassment about this before a Congressional committee.

Illusion has no place when lives are on the line.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Manning's hidden cost, and Forbes readers reveal themselves

For some reason, while I was listening to Brock and Salk salivating over the possibility (however remote) of persuading his Royal Highness Peyton Manning to grant his pity upon the desperate souls of Seattle, I was reminded of the scene in “Zoolander” where Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson were trying to figure out how to extract secret information from an iMac. No one really knows what Manning is going to reemerge, but Brock and Salk continue to flail about the Idea without actually considering how it is all going to work out in reality. In a conversation with The Professor, Salk seemed particularly frustrated that his latest anyone-but-Matt-Flynn whimsy was receiving little support from outside his sound booth. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that an ad hoc survey conducted by Bob and Groz revealed that Flynn was out-polling Manning by a 62-38 margin. Perhaps some voters were given pause by Mike Lombardi’s assessment of Manning’s progress:

“He can’t throw the ball. I’ve talked to people who’ve caught the ball for him. He can’t throw the ball to his left. He can’t throw the ball across his body, because he doesn’t feel it. People that catch the ball for him say he doesn’t really have velocity on the ball yet.”

Manning’s fitness will likely improve over time, although whether it will be sufficient to play at typical game speed by opening day is a legitimate question. There has been suggestions that it doesn’t matter if Manning isn’t ready to play at the time he is released by the Colts; he will just be that more of a “bargain.” But it still would carry significant risk, since it means that the team defaulted out of the Flynn sweepstakes, and if Manning physically falters—as very well may be the case—and Flynn blossoms with another team, it will just be another example of how snake-bit this town is (like drafting Dan McGuire over Brett Favre).

Manning’s ultimate “cost” might end up much higher for other reasons. Being an immobile quarterback and a still young offensive line, it wouldn’t surprise that Manning suffers repeated blows to his head and neck, causing re-injury that persuades him to retire after a year. Knowing Manning’s habit of being mum about injuries, he might tough it out for an entire season, playing well enough to lead the team to 10 wins and a playoff berth. If Manning decides he can’t risk further injury and retires, what did the Seahawks gain? One season of national notoriety. What did they lose? Not just Flynn, but any hope that they will be able to draft a top quarterback, and further seasons of disappointment.


Forbes Magazine just came out with its Top Ten most hated athletes of 2011:

1. Michael Vick
2. Tiger Woods
3. Plaxico Burress
4. Ndamukong Suh
5. Kris Humphries
6. LeBron James
7. Kobe Bryant
8. Terrell Owens
9. Alex Rodriguez
10. Kurt Busch

After noting that two of these characters were actually judged guilty of a crime and served time, this list actually tells us more about the people who voted in this poll than the athletes on the list. First off, Forbes readers are more likely to be upscale, well-off white people who don’t like to pay taxes, have minimal contact with minority types and are offended if these overpaid gladiators act too “uppity” for their station. Further, some of them apparently identify with pampered, emotionally immature dim-bulbs like Kim Kardashian, who would probably be making a living around a stripper pole if her father didn’t have lots and lots of money for she and sisters to make a “living” being utterly useless. It is useful to note that two white athletes who were recently involved in high-profile inappropriate behavior of sexual natures have been already forgiven (or forgotten): Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Favre. This is easily explained on a societal level: Forbes’ white clientele is much more willing to give their own “kind” the benefit of the doubt than they are toward minorities and their “strange” ways. All they know about the top nine athletes on this list is what the media and the covers of supermarket tabloids have told them; they can’t identify with them as human beings like themselves.

Kurt Busch is the only Caucasian on the list, probably because the compilers of this list fudged the numbers so that an accusation of racism on the part of Forbes clientele could be “plausibly” denied. But Busch’s inclusion is itself an indictment—the only people who know or care about Busch and his antics would be redneck NASCAR fans, like the ones who were so unchivalrous as to jeer Michelle Obama before a race late last year.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Brock and Salk's fantasy reel

The “Brock and Salk” sports talk show on the local ESPN radio affiliate is nothing if not a model of head-scratching inconsistency. What sets them apart from their competitors, who maintain a predictability and clear-headed assessment of events, is that it’s almost impossible to predict where their flights of fancy will take them—like children speculating what presents they are going to get for Christmas. Mike Salk in particular can open a show bemoaning a particular development in the sports world, but his views “evolve” over the course of a half-hour to the point where he is belittling a caller for merely reiterating the same view he had enunciated seemingly only moments earlier. Brock Huard the other day wrote an “open letter” to Peyton Manning, suggesting reasons why Seattle would be his best “fit” if he is released by Indianapolis. There was the suggestion that Brock would try to find a way to email this plea to Manning. I can easily imagine how this fantasy would play out: “Brock? Brock who? I’ve got to talk to my agent about letting stuff like this get through the pores. I’m not completely without a sense of humor, but this isn’t even funny.”

Any team with Tarvaris Jackson as its “best” option at starting quarterback is bound to have a fan base that fantasizes about the alternatives. Before Brett Favre entered the scene in 2009, most Minnesota fans expected (or hoped) that journeyman Sage Rosenfels that would win the starting quarterback job over T-Jack. Despite the fact that Seahawk’s coach Pete Carroll has implied that T-Jack will be the starter for at least another season, and most local commentators have accepted the limited nature of the team’s choices, Brock and Salk have courted listeners’ incredulity for months. First they dreamed about what it would take to get Andrew Luck. Once reality on that score settled in, Salk fixated on Robert Griffin III like a kid in a candy store; that lasted for about week or two. There was the possibility of Mark Sanchez coming to Seattle, before that was laughed off, although it was just as funny as the previous notions entertained.

Salk’s musical chairs then landed on Russell Wilson; I’m a Wisconsin Badgers fan, so I knew who he was, but I wasn’t so sure he was better than many quarterbacks the Badgers produced who played well in college but never panned out on the professional level. After the 1963 Rose Bowl and then in leading an upset win over the Green Bay Packers in the College All-Star Game, Ron VanderKellen seemed poised for substantive NFL career, but he didn’t survive long, and little has changed since. Randy Wright, Darrell Bevell, Brooks Bollinger, John Stocco and Jim Sorgi all followed him; good college quarterbacks, no better than back-ups in the NFL. Last year, Scott Tolzien also had a productive season, even though the Badgers were a few yards short of having 3 1,000-yard rushers. This past season, Montee Ball was the focus of the running attack, and Wilson—who had a reputation as a quarterback who liked throwing the ball, was provided more opportunities to do so than Badger quarterbacks were generally allowed to do. But whether with his small stature he is more likely to translate in the NFL than his predecessors is another question altogether.

On and on, yada, yada, yada. Now the fantasy involves Manning. It’s highly ironic that these two personalities, who regularly find some reason to deride Favre, don’t recognize the fact that all this Manning talk sounds a lot like the talk surrounding the Jets and Vikings acquisition of the old gray-beard. They believed that Favre still had something in the tank, and that he was better than the options they had at hand. And now, the belief that even an 85 percent healthy (assuming he will still be healthy the first time his head hits the turf after a hard sack) Manning is a miracle waiting to happen for seven teams, according to Brock—to include Seattle. They are teams that want to win it all now, and they—like the Jets and the Vikings—are only a quarterback “away.” Seattle fans, we are now told, are willing to forgo a long-term solution for a one-shot at glory—which may in fact turn out to be a long shot of Manning isn’t as healthy as pretended.

Of course you might observe that Matt Flynn has not been mentioned; that is because he isn’t a “fantasy.” Over at Bleacher Report, Matt Miller gave his opinion about where the Seahawks are and how they should fill their principle need:

"It's incredible to think the Seattle Seahawks nearly made the playoffs with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback. That goes to show the type of team Pete Carroll has built—strong on defense with a powerful running game to back it up."


"Step one this spring will be finding a quarterback. That may come through the draft, although it's unlikely, and it could come in free agency if they can lure Matt Flynn with a big contract. Flynn would be a perfect fit for the offensive stylings in Seattle, and combined with a young offensive line on the upswing, Seattle would be in great shape with Flynn leading the corps in 2012."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Super Bowl to forget

I have to confess I was not looking forward to Super Bowl Sunday. There were too many variables involved that excited my loathing. First there were the two teams on the field that I felt a long-standing animosity toward, in particular the New York Giants. Unlike the Green Bay Packers last season—the team that was many people’s pre-season pick to win the Super Bowl and had courageously battled through injury after injury and finally jelled as a team with mix-and-match parts—the Giants just sloughed-off during the season, only backing into the playoffs because Dallas played like they were scared of their own shadows. A lazy team like the Giants that was beaten at home by the Seattle Seahawks didn’t deserve to be “rewarded” with playing in the Super Bowl by upstaging teams who played hard all year.

There were others that I didn’t care about, like Kelly Clarkson singing the national anthem, and Madonna as the halftime “entertainment.” The increasingly rotund Clarkson is a country “artist” whose songs imbue revenge fantasies, self-pity and endless grievances against men, even though she admits she has never had a “real” boyfriend and has suggested she has a greater affection for females anyways. Clarkson also recently opined that she is a fan of Ron Paul, apparently because he is into freedom kind of stuff; when it was pointed out to her that Paul’s “newsletters” are full of “contributions” from neo-fascist and white supremacist types, she defended herself by claiming ignorance, and that she was all for civil rights kind of stuff, and wasn’t prejudiced at all. In regard to Madonna, I’ve already discussed my feelings about her a few times. I read a story about her on-going feud with Elton John, who apparently has little appreciation for Madonna’s efforts to become a fake Brit, fake accent and all. When Sir Elton heard that Madonna was going to “sing” at the Super Bowl, he sarcastically mused about how well she would lip synch her songs.

But before all of that, there was the pre-game festivities, much of it surrounding Peyton Manning and his future. ESPN’s Steven A. Smith, who is the human equivalent of finger nails scraping across a chalk board, vociferated about how Manning was being “disrespected” by Colts owner Jim Irsay. Smith complained that Irsay was trying to force Manning into retirement when he could still play. This all somehow had a familiar “ring” to it. There was a video of this conversation on ESPN’s website, and I wrote the following in the comments section:

“I seem to remember that Steven A. Smith bashed Brett Favre for wanting to come back after having one of his best seasons. What a hypocrite. Everyone knew that Ted Thompson wanted to force Favre into retiring so that they could start their ‘new era.’"

Almost immediately a person who had been glorifying Manning as the Second Coming took offense:

“sorry, but anything that uses Favre as an example is auto fail in my eyes - at least the last 4-5 years of his career.”

Now those are fighting words. Being a die-hard Favre “supporter,” I was up to the challenge:

“You got to be kidding or one of those Favre haters. He had a 107.2 passer rating at the age of 40. No one has ever done that.”

Of course, when you bring-up such uncomfortable facts, you are likely to excite frothing at the mouth:

“its not his playing im talking about - his wishy washy BS and antics soured the game in my opinion - dont hold teams hostage because you cant make up your own f'n mind.”

I wondered if injecting some reality to the proceedings would change his perspective:

“Well, we are just going to have to disagree rather strongly. In order to play after taking a beating and countless injuries over 297 straight starts, Favre's "game" was to avoid mini camps and OTAs in those last five years. His teammates understood that, even if some commentators or the likes of you don't understand that.”

He obviously didn’t understand the wink and a nod aspects of how teams keep their star quarterbacks ready to play:

“then stipulate that in your contract any of the teams he signed with would have agreed to anything for him to ink the contract.”


“so yes we will simply have to disagree strongly and thank you for your hinting at me being ignorant.”

Well, I hadn’t said that, but if that is the case, then it shouldn’t pain him too much if I threw in this little zinger before I signed-off:

“Well, at least we can say that Favre never took $26 million in cold cash for never playing a down.”

And then there was “The Game.” I didn’t hear Clarkson’s rendition of the National Anthem, but given the current tendency to goofy vocal gymnastics that passes for “singing” these days, I’m sure I didn’t miss anything of artistic value. The game started off just like the divisional playoff game between Green Bay and the Giants, with the Patriots looking completely lost as Bill Belichick and his offensive coordinator were squabbling about the offense’s ineffectiveness—which allowed the Giants to dominate time of possession at a 2-1 clip. But down 9-0, the Patriots finally showed some life, taking a one-point lead at halftime. Then She arrived, like some Egyptian queen carried aloft by her male slaves. Madonna then sang three songs familiar to the previous generation. It was hard to tell if she was lip synching or not (the consensus is that she did), but in any case it was only the words to three or four songs she had to remember. Although "Vogue" and "Like a Prayer" are among her best remembered, but are still not “classics” that justified her hype; you never hear Madonna on the local 80’s “oldies” radio station. I will give Madonna credit for staging a eye-catching show, but otherwise the whole thing was ultimately as forgettable as the Black Eyed Peas last year. Even that female rapper who tried to "spice" things up by flipping the bird only proved that she was a rude idiot.

Initially the second half of the game lifted my spirits considerably; the Patriots waltzed right down the field and scored, suddenly up 17-9 and the Giants seemingly on the ropes. But that would turn out to be the last gasp for the Patriots on offense; they had their opportunities, but sacks, failure to convert on third down at midfield and a costly interception in the Giants’ territory allowed the Giants to creep back in with two field goals, and after another Patriots’ drive stalled near mid-field the Giants had the ball on their own 12 with less than four minutes play. I actually thought that the Patriots defense would step-up like the Packers did last year, but I was horribly wrong. The Giants, who all season relied on one or two giant plays to stick a knife in the hearts of opponents who had immobilized them for 90 percent of the game, had none until Eli Manning connected with Mario Manningham for a 38-yard pass play on that drive. I knew then it was over, and time wasn’t on the side of the Patriots. It appeared that Belichick “allowed” the Giants to score a touchdown in the hopes that there would be just enough seconds to drive the ball down field to match that score, just as Mike Holmgren thought to do against Denver in the 1997 Super Bowl. But like then, it was a hollow fantasy; after he completed a Super Bowl record 16 straight passes, the Giants defensive front hounded Brady into his initial ineffectiveness, completing only 7 of his last 18 passes.

In the end, the 21-17 score did little to mask the extent to which the Patriots were out-manned and even out-coached: The Belichick-Brady Era is effectively over. And now we have to tolerate Eli Manning and his hang-dog face that laughs at our indignation about what is right and fair, and once again cheating the fate that his team rightly deserved.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Manhattan Institute segregation "study" makes an ideological point, but little sense

The Seattle Times reprinted a New York Times story on its front page the other day, proclaiming that neighborhood segregation along racial lines was “over.” This fascinating bit of knowledge was imparted by the Manhattan Institute, which only happens to be a right-wing think tank, so naturally we assume it doesn’t have a political agenda—like opposition to fair housing and desegregation laws. All of its conclusions can be disputed by common sense reasoning, but let’s look at some of highlights of the report, quoted verbatim:

•The most standard segregation measure shows that American cities are now more integrated than they’ve been since 1910. Segregation rose dramatically with black migration to cities in the mid-twentieth century. On average, this rise has been entirely erased by integration since the 1960s.

•All-white neighborhoods are effectively extinct. A half-century ago, one-fifth of America’s urban neighborhoods had exactly zero black residents. Today, African-American residents can be found in 199 out of every 200 neighborhoods nationwide. The remaining neighborhoods are mostly in remote rural areas or in cities with very little black population.

•Gentrification and immigration have made a dent in segregation. While these phenomena are clearly important in some areas, the rise of black suburbanization explains much more of the decline in segregation.

•Ghetto neighborhoods persist, but most are in decline. For every diversifying ghetto neighborhood, many more house a dwindling population of black residents.

The decline in segregation carries with it several lessons relevant to public policy debates:

• The end of segregation has not caused the end of racial inequality. Only a few decades ago, conventional wisdom held that segregation was the driving force behind socioeconomic inequality. The persistence of inequality, even as segregation has receded, suggests that inequality is a far more complex phenomenon.

•Access to credit has fostered mobility. At a time when proposed regulations threaten to eliminate the market for lending to marginal borrowers, it is important to recognize that there are costs and benefits associated with tightening credit standards.

•The freedom to choose one’s location has helped reduce segregation. Segregation has declined in part because African-Americans left older, more segregated, cities and moved to less segregated Sun Belt cities and suburbs. This process occurred despite some public attempts to keep people in these older areas.

The Institute reaches these conclusions using Census data and an admittedly imperfect methodology called the dissimilarity index, which measures the “proportion of individuals of either group that would have to change neighborhoods in order to achieve perfect integration.” It also employs something called the isolation index, which “measures the tendency for members of one group to live in neighborhoods where their share of the population is above the citywide average.” Most cities with large black populations saw significant supposed decreases in segregation measures in the past forty years. Some cities, like Boise, Idaho and Ann Arbor, Michigan saw increases in the segregation indexes. Cities and metro areas like Chicago and Milwaukee continued to have high levels of segregation. Communities with Asian and Latino populations tended to be less segregated than black communities, but more so than white.

Although the Institute “study” acknowledged that “more freedom” in housing is “good” on one hand, it saw little else that was positive, since mingling with whites didn’t change “achievement and employment gaps between blacks and whites…far too many Americans lack the opportunity to achieve meaningful success” the authors conclude.

Now, the problem with this report is that it is not actually a “study,” but a compilation of Census numbers that it uses to justify its right-wing ideological points; there is no attempt to actually understanding what the numbers mean (Does having one black resident in an otherwise all-white neighborhood actually mean it is “integrated?”). It is also curiously at odds with a 2009 story the Institute posted, complaining that the apparent hyper-segregation in Westchester County, New York was being skewed by HUD without regard to income disparities; naturally blacks and Latinos lived in segregated communities because they couldn’t afford to live in better-off white communities. At that time it seemed that the Institutes’ “mission” was to excuse segregation; not it is claiming that if it still exists at all, it isn’t really as “bad” as all that. Nevertheless, merely providing a list of numbers does little to illuminate. All of its “conclusions” on what the numbers supposedly signify can be refuted with a little observation and common sense reasoning.

For example, a major driver of neighborhood “integration” has nothing at all to do racial harmony, although certain dynamics make “mixing” more tolerable. Take the recent gentrification phenomenon, such as is occurring in Seattle. It is easy to see how divided Seattle is now along racial and economic lines, by observing who is standing on what side of street at downtown bus stops. On southbound routes, there is a large—and depending on the time of day, a mostly—minority presence, while on the northbound routes you see a largely white presence. But things are changing, slowly, principally because North Seattle is congested and expensive. White people (and Asians) with money who want to live in Seattle suddenly see largely minority South Seattle, with its lower property values, as “attractive” places to live. Of course, they don’t necessarily want to move in next to the present inhabitants; investment companies and developers must persuade lower-income property owners to sell out, and then build condominiums and high-rent properties.

The city allegedly provides for tax incentives to developers if 20 percent of their construction is for “affordable” housing; how does the city define “affordable,” you may ask? According to the Office of Housing, anything a “moderate wage-earner” can afford, which likely does not describe a large number of the current residents of South Seattle. A “cheap” studio rental unit, for example, must be affordable to a household which earns 65 percent of the city’s median income. The median household income is currently $46,000—meaning that a studio apartment must be affordable for someone who earns $30,000 a year. Presumably this means at least $1,000 a month in rent. For people like me who make considerably less than the median, it is well out of range. For home ownership rather than rental, a “studio” or one-bedroom dwelling requires 100 percent of the median income. Not surprisingly, developers’ definition of “affordable” tends to keep to a minimum or exclude the less expensive options, and in any case, what passes for “affordable” housing certainly would not be defined as such by the present residents.

So what about the original residents of those properties? Most likely they can’t find other housing in Seattle, so they move to outlying cities like Tukwila, Renton, Federal Way or Kent. Some of these communities, like Kent, were bastions of white flight; their “desegregation” is less a function of deracination, but of simple necessity. The loss of working-class jobs in Seattle, and the location of jobs in industrial parks in outlying areas, made it a matter of moving to where the housing was cheaper and closer to where the jobs were. And despite their influx of minorities, these communities still remain divided along racial lines—and like Kent, along political lines. Despite being 37 percent minority, the white majority there remains what they were before—a Republican enclave, mostly east of Central Avenue. There are no minorities on the city council, or ever were; the presence of the minority population is hardly acknowledged, except as an school district and law enforcement “issue.”

There are other factors, such as low minority populations in small towns fostering a “complacency” among white residents who because they come into very limited contact with minorities, they are “tolerated” because they are not viewed as a “threat”—more of a curiosity. This attitude is not entirely consistent, of course. Idaho has a very small black population, but the large presence of white supremacist groups and their sympathizers is such that the state is on the 1965 Voting Rights Act watch list, and as mentioned before, Boise is one of a number of cities that has actually seen an increase in segregation in the past ten years. Census data indicates that whites are also still more likely to live in communities with few or no blacks; in cities where there is a heavy concentration of black residents, like Detroit and Atlanta, gentrification is nonexistent—whites don’t want to live in majority black communities where there influence is minimal. According to Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey, even those previously all-white communities that have seen increased “integration,” it is largely a result of an influx of Latinos and Asians rather than blacks; the process of black/white integration remains an intractable problem. It should also be pointed out that so-called “desegregation” and racism are not mutually exclusive; the influx of Latinos has in fact led to an increase of racial hostility, not just among whites but blacks.

There also continues to be subtle mechanisms in many white communities to bar unwanted “elements” and maintain de facto segregation. Exclusionary zoning rules exclude lower-income people (i.e. minorities) by banning high density housing, like rental apartments. Exclusionary rules were used last year to prevent a disabled black Iraq war veteran and his family from moving into an Evans, Georgia housing development call Knob Hill; the Georgia Homeowners Association halted construction of a house being built on his behalf by Homes For Troops, a charity organization helping disabled veterans. Apparently, the association found that the disable person ramp used to facilitate entry into the house violated some obscure code.

The upshot is that there are ways to explain the Manhattan Institute’s “findings” in ways that show a picture that is less one of “progress” but one that reflects a different reality rather than a deliberate "choice." The widening income gap and loss of middle-class jobs may in fact make social class distinctions less obvious for those below the median income, black or white--especially as reflected in more recent residency patterns. But a more insidious pattern is the so-called gentrification process--which on first blush may appear to be an effort at conscious integration by whites, but in fact is nothing of the kind: It is a measure of whites “taking over” property formerly owned by low-to-middle income minorities. Its long-run effect may be that in a few decades low-income minorities will be completely driven out of their former communities, to reside in suburban or metro “enclaves” that are as segregated as the inner-city neighborhoods they left.