Running Local

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Posts Tagged ‘society’

The Pursuit of Happiness, Michael Vick Style

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 24, 2009

The question of just what the NFL should do with Michael Vick has been hotly pursued in many places lately, not the least of which is my favorite forum website.

One of the fundamental issues I take with those who favor Vick’s being allowed back into the NFL is the concept that Michael Vick has paid his debt to society and thus should be able to pursue reinstatement to the Commissioner. Perhaps I should restate that– I don’t have an issue with Vick having paid his societal debt or asking to be reinstated; I have an issue with the assumption that he should be granted the object of his pursuit simply for having asked after having served his time in Federal prison. Roger Goodell appears this morning to be leaning towards forsaking that duty and allowing Vick back into the league with a short suspension to be serve dat the start of the 2009 season if he signs a contract. It’s a poor decision, if it comes to pass.

Many, many people have pursued a playing career and have failed, from walk-on tryout dreamers to insufficiently talented college players to ultra-talented losers like Art Schlister. Although they failed to succeed in their pursuit for disparate reasons, they all shared one commonality– the NFL rejected them. That’s the major danger in pursuing a career in playing football– there’s only one source of good jobs in the field, and if you do something to make yourself unattractive to that entity, you will fail to make a living playing football.

For an industry as image conscious as professional sports, profiting from the intentional infliction of cruelty upon animals is not something likely to endear you to your single source employer.

Let’s take this out of the realm of the NFL for a moment to illustrate the sole employer problem. Let’s make Mr. Vick an intelligence officer in the employ of the CIA, instead, and have him arrested for the same crime, running and hosting a dog fighting operation. Would the CIA immediately hire him back as he had served his time, paid his debt to society, and asked sweetly to be rehired? The answer, obviously, is of course not. That’s a bit of a problem for Mr. Vick, as the CIA is an intelligence organ of the sole major employer in his field– the government– and the government, for various reasons, is not going to give Mr. Vick another job in his field of expertise no matter how sweetly he asks as he is a felon and could do significant damage to the employer if they took him back. This is almost precisely the same situation he potentially faces in football– he is constrained to seeking work with a limited number of franchises, all under the direct control of a central authority that may well deem Mr. Vick to be deleterious to its image. In short, he could very well be screwed.

Sadly (ahem) for Vick, there’s no other employer to really pursue this career path with.

Second chances are all well and good, but to assume that Vick is owed one or that the NFL should mindlessly take it on the chin to offer him one is a bit naive. There is a real cost to the NFL for letting Vick back in after his conviction on animal cruelty charges; whichever team hires Vick, if any one did, would be subject to protests, potential boycotts, and the continuing bad press both for the club and the league of having to put up with that sort of thing.

Yes, the NFL, MLB, and other leagues have in the past allowed criminals back into their sports despite the cost to the league. In some cases that is warranted, in others it has shown a sorry lack of convictions by the various commissioners and leagues. While people who have committed worse crimes– domestic abuse, assaults, even manslaughter or vehicular homicides– have been allowed back in, that should serve as no guide in this case nor, indeed, in any case. Each situation must be base don the the individual circumstances and potential for damage to the overall entity, not just on the severity of the initial crime. Like it or not, morally wrong or not, what Vick did excites negative public opinion much more than a domestic abuse or drug charge does and that must be a consideration in the NFL’s decision on Vick.

Were I in the Commissioner’s chair, I would view this solely through the prism of business, and that means that damage control is my primary concern. In light of that, there is no way I could countenance the reinstatement of Mr. Vick, societal debt paid or not, and subject the brand identity of the NFL to the damage that allowing this felon back into the league would entail; the duty to protect the brand’s already marred image far outweighs in my mind the questionable compassion of allowing Vick to resume a playing career in the league.

Posted in Cultural Phenomena, NFL | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

A New Priesthood

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 26, 2009

The story of my academic life in middle & high school was my distaste inability to “show all work”. Arriving at a correct answer was never a problem for me, whether it was in algebra or trig, biology or the rudimentary computer science we studied back in the dark ages of the mid-Eighties. Showing all work though– there was nothing more frustrating than getting back a math exam with an 80 on it when every damned answer was correct but I had neglected to adequately translate my thought process in reaching that answer into a discernible, codifiable process. Actually there were a couple of young ladies who were considerably more frustrating, but that’s life as a teen-aged boy.

It’s that inability to show work, though, that intrigues me right now. I employed all of the standard dodges– what does it matter as long as I’m right, who will ever need this crap anyway (a mantra I recalled a couple of years back while trying to lay a triangular pattern of tile in my entryway), blah blah blah. The good Franciscan Brothers were, if you’ll pardon the phrase, hell bent on getting us to show all work.

They were, however, not quite so interested in process and practice in the humanities. Yes, there were papers to do in some of the Social Studies classes and essay questions on some of the Lit tests, but there were a surprising number of multiple choice, fill in the blank, true/false types of questions, too. For some reason the approach and execution of the thinker are less important in those topics, at least to the minds of some. The answer was adequate.

I’ve learned to appreciate, if not always execute, the description of systems over the intervening years. Its inherent value becomes apparent as one progresses through life, as the need to apply flexible process to rigid situations exerts and unveils itself. It is curious, then, that as we proceed further into an age in which we are told that mathematics and science are the raisons d’etre for education that very knowledge of process in falling by the wayside.

As computers run our algorithims and processors compute our runs, one can actually make the case that the display of work is an anachronism.  I play a game at a free site that requires deducing by eye the end results of a gravitational field– the math behind it is mind-boggling to me, but simple enough that whoever created the game gave away the result for free. Perhaps the time has come then when not only do we not need to show work, but we, the general populace, can not.

Why, then, is the Navy still teaching navigation by sextant at Annapolis? It’s an arcane and extraordinarily complex process involving taking sightings on the sun and stars. It is a technology surpassed what, five times over before we even reach GPS… yet it is still relevant. You must have the technical knowledge to navigate your ship if your systems are down, and, int he world of Academy graduates, the basic knowledge of taking a sighting and computing your position off of it underlies so many other integral processes that you need it to formulate the next generations of technology.

Those Middies with their deep knowledge are still a pace behind the diminution of process, however. There’s is a complex but approachingly ancient technology, whereas mathematical knowledge now proceeds into areas that support technologies beyond the understanding of most. Anyone can explain the construction of the internal combustion engine, even if you can’t build one yourself. Explain to me, however, how the computer you are reading this on is engineered and is working, or how the signals generated by the buttons I’m pressing are translating into the blog you’re reading somewhere else in the world right now. Yes, of course we all know the basics– integrated circuits, binary code, etc.– but the workings, the actual workings? Show all work with your answer.

It is very current to talk about societal divides– the digital divide, the economic divide, racial divides, education divides. I think they’re all about to be superseded.  We face a knowledge divide, a mathematical divide that can really only be described in the language of mathematics that itself forms the divide, thus becoming an intractable problem for the majority of the planet. While we all enjoy the fruits of mathematics– your Wii, your car, your bank account or the box you’re reading this on– we can’t describe its workings and have reached a point where it is both too complicated to do so for the majority of the planet… but also not necessary to do so either.

There are those in the world who can still show all work. Are they ascending to a different societal plane, a new priesthood that directly communes with the divine technology? The Maya priests were the leaders of their society because they understood the comings and goings of the sun and concocted a societal construct around that knowledge. Are we not doing the same with our technology?

Posted in American History, Autobiographical, Cultural Phenomena, education, History, Mathematics | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

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