Some random brain droppings…

1 The topic for our Philosophy Club meeting this Friday is, “To what extent should the personal character of a person determine his or her fitness to be President of the United States?”

Now, a lot of people would react by thinking that this is a direct shot being taken at our current president-elect. Perhaps, but the topic itself is much older than that. In fact, I used it first when teaching AP Government in the 1990’s, and the target then was Bill Clinton.

Our awareness of personal character in a president has grown significantly with each passing year. Had we known about the sexual behavior and the friends of Warren Harding, would he ever have been elected, much less retained? Over the years, the vast majority of my students hold that Jimmy Carter was the finest human being to hold the top executive office; he is rarely regarded as a successful president.

The final question is this: if you believe, even before he has taken office, that president-elect Trump should not be our president, based on what you know about his moral character, did you apply the same standard to President Carter. Is it a fair comparison?

2. A few posts ago, I posed the dilemma of why a college game that seemingly should have attracted a large audience instead had only 60% of the viewership of a less-significant professional game. Since then, someone has offered another hypothesis that may have future ramifications.

The hypothesis that, regardless of how anyone felt about relative strengths and weaknesses of the professional teams. They got where they are strictly on the basis of their W-L records. On the other hand, the competitors of college’s national championship were picked by a committee. The Daily Onion parodied this when it declared that Alabama was the National Champion, because the committee decided that it had a superior group of players to Clemson!

This year, the best example happened in deciding which Big Ten team should go to the Final Four (by the way, for those of you who have forgotten, the Big Ten is that league with 14 teams in it.) Ohio State was the team selected, despite the fact that Penn State had won the conference championship. This is not to single out Ohio State for scorn (goodness knows that I have many more personal connections to Ohio State than to Penn State), but it does show what every culture I know of feels: a team earns its way to its awards based on how it plays, period. It is very likely that there is a growing sense of cynicism in the U.S. and it has trickled down to the football audience. Sports journalists love it, because it gives them a built-in lead story to write about in the part of December during which there are fewer items to attract attention. Should the desires of the media outweigh the nearly-20 million viewer gap between the interest in college and professional football?

3. Computers keep becoming more and more sophisticated motivated, in theory, by the desire to make workers more productive. That is a good goal.

Frankly, though, I think most of us would like to see more creative energy devoted to ensuring that the computers we have work. A few years ago, there was a hysterically funny satire that compared our expectations for automobiles to those we have for computers. The conclusion, of course, was that consumers would never tolerate what they have to go through with computers and their peripherals if the same failure rates applied to their cars.

I work in a place in which our IT department is unexcelled. The men who work in it pull off one miracle after another to keep our faculty and staff productive. But why should these geniuses have to visit my room just because (on average) every other week, I cannot log in or I cannot get my projector to display the images on my computer? How would you feel if, every other week, your mechanic had to visit your house to start your car?


Shifts in American Football

Last night, ESPN radio broadcast a statistic that stunned its reporter. In comparing viewership of Monday’s National Collegiate Championship Game with that for the Wild Card playoff game between Green Bay and the New York Giants, he found that 25 million people watched the national championship game while nearly 40 million watched the NFL Wild Card game. He granted that, yes, New York is the country’s largest media market, but the Sunday game was not especially close or well-played, while the Monday game saw all of the networks showing reruns and other programming, since they suspected that most viewers would be glued to the most important college game of the year and one that turned out to be extraordinarily exciting. His question, then, was what happened?

It is a good question and one that I can’t pretend to know how to answer, but it points to a number of issues, some of them non-football related, that may be possibilities.

The College Championship game featured Alabama and Clemson. With no disrespect intended toward either university, we have to wonder whether Alabama’s sheer dominance in recent years has turned off potential viewers. We also have to wonder if, by having two schools from the same geographic area, viewers from other parts of the country simply decided they didn’t care much who won the game.

Perhaps…but the NFL had its largest market share during the years in which the Dallas Cowboys were dominant, and similar market share distributions have been the norm in other sports. Sociologists have hypothesized that having a “dynasty” team increased viewership because the public decides either to love or hate the team that wins all the time. Under that theory, viewership for Alabama versus Clemson should have reached an all-time high.

As for geographical bias, while it may be a more likely explanation, it still seems to fall short. It is difficult to determine with any certainty whether geography influences college sports viewership because the NCAA constantly changes its parameters for championship participation in its big-money sports on a regular basis. The best comparisons I can find have been when two teams from the same conference competed for the national championship in men’s basketball. In each case, there was no appreciable rise or decline in comparing those games to their counterparts in the years before and after.

One final hypothesis I have heard is that the United States has turned away from football, in general, because of drug allegations, other criminal accusations and, most critically, concerns about post-concussion syndrome. All of these issues appear in headlines far more often than in the past.

However, an examination of sports pages over the past three months shows that concerns over these issues, concerns that one might expect to drive away viewers, are  perceived as a much greater problem for professional football than for college football. If this hypothesis were true, we would expect that the college game would outdraw the NFL game by 60%, not the other way around.

So what is it? Less time to generate enthusiasm for a college team whose star players will likely leave after only three years? Too much attention paid to college coaches? I simply don’t know.

Dodgers vs. Giants deja vu

Oh, the anticipation! The NL’s best rivalry pitting one team that has baseball’s best five-tool player, depends on power for runs, and have two top starters in their rotation, versus the other team which has baseball’s best rotation and relies on speed and defense. I am of course, talking about the Giants and Dodgers of the early 1960’s…or the Dodgers and Giants of today.

I’m not going to go out of my way to draw ridiculous coincidental comparisons, but I am really struck by how much the current Giants remind me of the 1960’s Dodgers, and how comparing them today sounds like comparing the teams during the 60’s, only with the roles reversed. Of course, I really hope that one aspect of the comparison holds true: the Dodgers were the dominant NL team of the 1960’s!

Transitioning to another baseball topic involving the Dodgers:  Hanley Ramirez. I know that Marlins’ fans are thinking, “Here we go again, another fire sale.” Three years ago, I would have reacted the same way, but since then we have seen two things happen that have changed my mind. One is the precipitous drop in production, and the other is the number of rumors circulating that Ramirez is, shall we say, not the best teammate in the clubhouse. The Marlins probably won’t make the playoffs this year, but I predict that we are not going to see a massive dismantling of the team.

Reality creeping into my sports!

Sad to say, but reality is starting to creep into my sports. I love the SF Giants totally and irrationally, and my rooting is an escape from the real world (although the number of close games they play means that they are often greater torture than reality!)

They just started the last game of their series against Arizona and I realized that I really want the Giants to anhililate the Diamondbacks, embarrass them, humiliate them, run them out of the league. And it has little to do with baseball itself. But Jan Brewer and her jack-booted followers in state government piss me off so much that I have a big-time chip on my shoulder against the Phoenix metro area. You’ll notice that the sane, humane politicians in Arizona all seem to come from the Tucson area, and I suspect a much higher percentage of  their residents are multiple-generation Arizonans, compared to a high percentage of johnny-come-latelys in Phoenix who are there because they can’t stand the fact that “their” world was co-opted in whatever state they moved from.

So, thumbs up to Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, Tucson, etc., and any of my former students who happen to be in the Phoenix area. Otherwise, Phoenix can suck it.

Favorite sports teams

OK, let’s make something perfectly clear:  try as I might to be as rational as possible, there are two areas in which emotions trump rationality. Music is one (and I would argue that it should), and the other is sports.

I have lots of teams I support, but the ones I tend to be most irrationally in love with are the San Francisco Giants and Arsenal. I have followed both clubs for many years; I’ve rooted for SF for as long as I can remember and for Arsenal since I was in high school. So, slamming either one of these teams is going to provoke and Incredible Hulk-like response from me.

Close behind them would be the San Francisco 49ers. What all three share in common is that I happened to fall in love with them when they were in the midst of heartbreaking times, so no one can accuse me of being a fan who jumps on the bandwagon of a team just because they’re successful (like about 80% of Yankees, Cowboys, and Manchester United supporters.)

I also root for my own alma mater and, believe me, they really stunk when I went to college there. But lately, they have become a really popular cultural icon and I’ve lost some of my enthusiasm when I see everybody wearing my college’s replica jerseys, etc. It’s still hard for me to get past the days when winning four football games in a season and beating our biggest rival was a success. Now, I see people who never attended my school get all depressed if it loses a whopping two games in a season. Isn’t life interesting?

Just what the world needs: another blog.

It is traditional to start a blog by explaining why the author started it. Well, I have all kinds of interests that I want to share, and hope to hear from others how they feel.

My guess is more people want to know why the pseudonym “Publius17” was chosen. First, I have to use a pseudonym because I need to protect my privacy within my working world; the reasons for this will become apparent with time. Next, “Publius 17” was chosen (I couldn’t use just Publius since it was already claimed; the “17” has a personal motivation) for two reasons:  it was the choice of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison for publishing the Federalist Papers (perhaps the greatest collection of English language essays in existence) and because “Publius” means “the people” in Latin. Since my blog will be covering topics as serious as politics and religion and as whimsical as wine and baseball, I think that it will be a fairly representative display of how most of us are. Don’t most of us have issues about which we feel passionate, but also try to keep a balance of fun in our lives?