Spring 2014

Well, pardon the latest unintended hiatus…

One year after the Boston bombings at the Boston Marathon, it was great to see that Patriot Day of 4/21/14 was such great marathon day, with people taking back that finish line.  A big plus: Meb Keflezighi as the men’s champion! I remembered rooting for  Meb back when he was close to winning the gold at the Athens Olympics (still silver – no slouch), and it was great when he won the 2009 NYC Marathon, getting to be the first American in years at the time to have done that, and how he has kept alive elite American long distance running/marathoning. If anyone was going to try to pull it off to be the first American in 30 odd years to win the Boston Marathon, it’s terrific that Meb did it (since he did it before in NYC).

See here for the post I had on Meb’s winning the NYC Marathon 2009.  I saw there that I had a link to the NY Times article on Meb’s 2009 victory – and how poignant that it still reverberates these years later – that a great American story of victory lifts an American event (if you can pardon my being patriotic about this).

Meb is that great American story – an immigrant who keeps persisting, a lesson we can all learn. Boston Strong, indeed. (and kudos to Rita Jeptoo of Kenya for winning again and breaking a new women’s record at the Boston Marathon, and everyone who ran and supported the efforts!).

NY Times’ art/architecture critic Michael Kimmelman on an idea (just an idea) of a modern streetcar through the waterfront of Brooklyn-Queens, making more mass transit. I like the idea (I’m someone who is not impressed by the lack of bus frequency, especially on weekend/weeknights), since this could be a great alternative. But again – just an idea…

I’m not sure what to make of the US S.Ct’s decision, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action et al. – a plurality,  it surely is – upholding Michigan’s ban against affirmative action in public universities. I suppose I’d have to dive into reading the opinions therein, but I still find troubling Chief Justice Roberts’ belief that the way to deal with discrimination is not think/do it (well, I’m paraphrasing); it’s a nice idea, but it’s hard to get people to be colorblind when they’re not actually colorblind (or certainly not there yet).  The majority decided to defer to the Michigan voters, so, ok, democracy wins; but I don’t necessarily think that voters always do the right thing.

Slate’s Emily Bazelon did a review of the decision, and comes to the conclusion that I couldn’t help having:

 

I can’t read this without noting that in previous cases, Roberts has expressed his preference for color-blindness. This is where the conservatives on the court lose me. Good faith or no, it is at odds with reality to imagine that race no longer matters. I hope the states that ban affirmative action continue to enroll more low-income students as they also find ways to admit black and Hispanic applicants. But we still live in a world of race and class considerations. Not either/or.

Emil Guillermo also breaks down the plurality, with the twist reflecting on the climate we are in concerning, say, campaign financing:
But it’s likely that we will see future electoral battles over state and local propositions, now unfettered by campaign finance limits from special interests.  But will people of color be affirmed or will we see the tyranny of the majority? If it’s the latter, then this will be the 6-2 decision that cleared the way.
(h/t AALDEF’s home of the Guillermo post).
So, what’s next?  NY Times’ Tamar Lewin covers the question of how to tackle diversity.  The anti-affirmative action crowd seems to have race stuck in the brain, when there is a way to define diversity as more than race and when it is actually about getting as much people (critical mass, one would think) together, even listening to opinions that are really disagreeable. The article closes with a clincher for me:

Kati Haycock, president of the liberal Education Trust, said she could not deny that most people who follow the Supreme Court believe the clock is running out on race-based admissions policies.

“I just keep wishing that the people who spend so much time trying to end racial preferences in higher ed would work to end the racial differences in the education we provide K-12, which is why we need the racial preferences,” she said

That’s a big issue: if primary and secondary education in this country weren’t of such varying qualities, college readiness and people’s jobs options would be a hell of a lot better. We could say that the American dream is there for us all, except for some reason, it isn’t.  If, say, NYC, weren’t so socially and demographically segregated (de facto, not de jure), maybe we wouldn’t wonder why discrimination (as a matter of social practice, forget as law) wouldn’t still be on our minds (at least for those of us who feel it’s still going on).  I’m rambling, but I feel kind of down about how diversity can still be a real thing (and I believe that it is a good thing, and that affirmative action as a remedy shouldn’t be gone yet).

Meanwhile, Above the Law‘s Elie Mystal seems to be optimistic, citing three reasons why there is still hope for affirmative action: (1) “It’s up to the voters” (i.e., this case was about process, not the substantive policy itself); (2) “College Admissions Committees are smarter than voters” (i.e., they’re looking for students who actually want to be in their schools and make their schools great places – so the holistic approaches are still around, and admissions processes are way more complicated than we think – and it’s not just GPA’s and SAT’s or ACT’s – we’d hope); and (3) “Private Colleges are still awesome” (because this case only affects pubic institutions; a voting initiative isn’t necessarily going to tell a private school what to do).  Elie Mystal says it with a lot of sense, closing:

Today’s decision was “bad” for supporters of affirmative action, but the program is going to continue in various forms.

You know why? Because it works. Affirmative action has been wildly successful, both at giving minorities opportunities and for creating a better, more diverse learning environment. Schools aren’t going to easily give up something that works so well, even if the Court says that they can.

Last but not least: the passing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but in some ways, because we still have his writings and the legacy that they have – well, he has become a little immortal, much like other great writers who have reached a pinnacle and have an impact. I liked listening to the NPR remembrance; in discussing Garcia Marquez’s work, it included actor Hector Elizondo’s reading an excerpt of a Garcia Marquez book.  It just sounded so good – good writing and a good voice actor. I read Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold earlier this spring – and while it wasn’t as much of magic realism, the (lack of) social justice and other questions made it quite a read.  I still have ways to go to read more of his work (One Hundred Days of Solitude is still on my perpetually long to read list), but I’m glad that I started an effort and maybe I should keep going with it.  It’s spring and it’s time for some renewal and re-energizing.

March Madness 2014 – Here we go!

Well, I had meant to do a post on the Winter Olympics, reflecting on how nice that it wasn’t dangerous and how nice that Team USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White won gold in ice dancing and that Bob Costas managed to pull through back on the anchor desk coverage.  And, how nice was that closing ceremony, even though I will never understand why NBC insisted on using (exploiting) the Olympics to promote its not very good new sitcoms.

But, then international realpolitick prevailed and kind of made my positive sentiment rather murky.  The Russia-Crimea-Ukraine situation is pretty mind-boggling, but the world is nuts, I think.

I kept looking for other things to distract me.  PBS NewsHour’s Miles O’Brien (the real one, although I’m sure he gets enough attention from Star Trek fans, since the Trek universe has its own Miles O’Brien) had quite a situation in losing his arm due to complications from compartment syndrome after his arm got banged up by his equipment.  He talked about the experience on the NewsHour, and I was so moved and wished him the best of luck.  Maybe his being a science journalist can bring some perspective to the situation.

Meanwhile, in time for the anniversary of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown of Japan, the NewsHour aired O’Brien’s three-part story on the status of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, with the meltdown’s consequences still ongoing,  Really fascinating exploration on the science and the policies, and I recommend watching the story.

The disappearance of Malaysian Airlines, Flight 370, is just capturing our imagination, with the endless speculation.  When or if we get actual evidence is a real question, which might lead to some kind of answer, even if still unsatisfactory.

Amid all the turmoil in the world, I look forward to March Madness as a nice distraction.  It feeds the economy to some extent (umm, all that junk food and cable tv and gambling, etc.).  We enter the delusion that scholar-athletes can bring a little glory, and maybe some money via the NCAA will get to flow to other, less high profile NCAA sports. At least, that’s what I keep hoping every year.

Of course, every year, I keep thinking that I’ll pay more attention to the regular season and I’m too casual a fan to really watch much.  My Alma Mater undergrad school’s men’s basketball team actually did pretty well this season (certainly tons better than our football team this past season), playing competitively outside and inside the Ivy League, until Harvard blew us away in a blow out.  I’m impressed that Alma Mater got invited to play some post-season tournament (notwithstanding that I never heard of CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT)).  I’ve heard of the NIT, and I don’t know what to make of the CIT, but hopefully people get some fun out of this.

Time.com has a good post on the five games to watch, among the 64 teams of the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball tournament.  I get the feeling that I’ll be too stuck at work to get to watch the games I’d like to watch.  Manhattan College has Louisville in (that’s what they call it these days) Round 2.  Hopefully Manhattan gets to be competitive.

I’m also hoping that Harvard gets a real shot against Cincinnati; hope springs eternal that the Ivy League can show that it can play with everyone else.  Then again, I picked them this time in my brackets so… eh, who knows?  Of course, I haven’t even done my brackets yet and it’s not like I followed any regular season games.  I’m also wishful about the Big East, but that’s old-fashioned local home region talking there.  Ah well…

I read this article in (dead tree edition) Sports Illustrated, about the Princetown v. Georgetown game, reputedly saving the NCAA.  Worthwhile read about that 1980′s era of college basketball and the personalities (the coaches, the players, the variety of issues/themes – race, class, the rise of Cinderella in the NCAA).

Meanwhile, President Obama has made his picks for his men’s brackets.  I guess he wants a distraction like the rest of us.

On with the rest of March.  Maybe we can some consistent spring temperatures already!

More Sochi Olympics 2014

This stuff has been addictive, as usual.  And, perhaps less mind-blowing, because Winter Olympics isn’t nearly as activity-filled as Summer Olympics.

But, really, who would have expected Bob Costas being away from the desk this long?  Meredith Vieira covered the desk on Friday and Saturday, giving Matt Lauer a break and reportedly becoming the 1st woman to do the prime-time slot for NBC.  (Mary Carillo, I believe, had hosted the late night coverage in the Olympics for NBC; they didn’t want to ask her to do prime time?).

Lauer was on Sunday night; the journey of Costas’ eyes became a bit of Internet fodder.  Fortunately, Costas will be back Monday night – finally!

I liked how this item from WBUR (Boston’s NPR) explained the difference between “Ladies’ Olympic sport” versus “Women Olympic Sport.” (which I found via NPR.org, I believe)  Really fascinating, how it turns out to be based on which international governing body governs which sport, and how the particular governing body wasn’t going to go change the name of the older sports to be “Women [whatever].”  Oh well.

“I had the whole country behind me…but I come away with nothing to show them and give back to them to say ‘thank you for following me and believing in me.’”—Shani Davis on his performance during the Sochi Olympics. Well, I still say “thank you” for your career, Shani Davis, even if I am disappointed. I just felt bad for the entire Team USA speedskaters. That look on Shani Davis’ face is just so sad, and who knows if he can be back in 4 years? Who knows if it was really the speed suit factor or sports psychology? (ex., the saga of Dan Jansen‘s Olympic speedskating was always one of those “Olympics does things to an athlete’s brain” to me – external tragedies and then internal pressure are just combustible).

Also – the Dutch are just doing ridiculously well in speedskating this time.

I thought it was just me, but apparently skeleton actually is less dangerous than luge, to the extent that luge is faster.  According to the Slate article I linked there, by Justin Peters, there is some issue of physics (i.e., the skeleton, as head first, loses speed due to the helmet of the athlete) and engineering (i.e., those luges are no joke as equipment).

People got really excited that US beat Russia in Men’s hockey on Saturday (see here and here).   I watched on Saturday night the highlights  and the rebroadcast of the overtime and shootout.  Not that I think that it reached “Miracle on Ice” level from 1980 (this wasn’t a medal contention game, after all, as thankfully even NPR remembered).  That the Russians’ goal got invalidated during the 3rd period was understandably  frustrating, but then neither team was winning during overtime, and then to take it to the shootout – well, that was just arresting television. T.J. Oshie’s winning shots made people happy. I mean, people were in bars at 7am to 10am (EST) to watch this game.

Then, Sunday, Team USA won with Phil Kessel’s hat trickThe Canadians are still in it, too.  (they are trying to win gold again, after all).  It’s like the NHL All-Star game with the excitement, only for a longer time period.

Jamaica’s two-man bobsled team didn’t do very well at all, but the point is that they tried.

Watching the Men’s individual Figure Skating was pretty brutal.  Sure, I saw the headlines and only caught the prime time edition on tv, but watching Jeremy Abbott fall early during his short program was still brutal.  But, the crowd gave support to get him up and go finish his program – that was Abbott courage right there, and an Olympic spirit: when you fall, you still get up, don’t give up, and finish anyway.

The pressure was intense during the long program on Friday.  I liked that Abbott redeemed himself (even though he really wasn’t in medal contention).   Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan won gold (trivia: he was coached by Canada’s Brian Orser and he was of Sendai - the city affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011).  Patrick Chan of Canada won silver.  Denis Ten of Kazhakstan won bronze (trivia: according to NBC, Ten is of the Korean ethnic minority of Kazhakstan).  Sure, this made Yuzuru Hanyu the first Japanese man to win gold ice skating, and probably made Denis Ten the first person from Kazhakstan to win an Olympic medal in figure skating (and Chan yet another Canadian man to win Olympic silver) – but I thought it was interesting that the podium had an all-ethnic Asian podium there.

And, thereafter, Chan is still dealing with the pressure of not getting gold for Canada (and nice of Orser to be pretty compassionate about it, since he had been in that position, notwithstanding that he was coaching the winning opponent).  Probably a good idea not to be too hasty about retiring while still processing what happened.

I finally got to watch some live Olympics, watching ice dancing’s short program live during the daytime today.  Comprehensive and fun (if only because I wasn’t watching everyone fall down over their quads or axles etc.).  Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skated so beautifully, practically in their top form again, but Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White were amazing; the long program on Monday will be a competitive one.  Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir are the it-commentators of ice skating, and they kept things nice and entertaining (I work during the day, so I couldn’t catch them for any live broadcast).

On the other hand: Scott Hamilton’s enthusiasm is kind of hard to replace (this gag showed how his commentary can work just about anywhere).

Also, the ice dancing short program was a fun opportunity to watch Maia and Alex Shibutani, a.k.a., “the Shib sibs” (per Deadspin), the second of three American ice dancer teams at the Olympics (h/t Angry Asian Man blog).  I thought that it was nice to see them, since Alex, at the least, was previously seen on tv being a cheerleader during the team event with Team USA (as seen in the photo/screencap via Deadspin).

I don’t get curling, but it’s kind of mesmerizing to watch.

Also, how come I haven’t discovered Deadspin before?  Their Olympic coverage is freaking hilarious, particularly the running gag about the mascot, deemed by Deadspin “The Nightmare Bear” (LOL).

More Olympics to watch, while we can do it…