Taking On A Generational Talent Like Zion Williamson

Millions of kids across the country participate in high school athletics. Invariably, those high school athletes will compare themselves, or be compared, to the other players in their conference and state. Some will think they measure up pretty well. Others know they will not do more than earn their high school varsity letter. And then, every once in a while, a generational talent will show up and re-calibrate everything.

Zion Williamson, a rookie Power Forward on the New Orleans Pelicans, is two years removed from playing high school basketball in South Carolina. Every opponent during his high school career had his game marked – “The Zion Game” – and those opponents knew that they were in for a long, humbling evening:

The Zion Games didn’t feel real most of the time, more like some kind of fever dream. Just to see a dude that massive, yet somehow more athletic than everyone else on the court by a factor of about 10, is astonishing. I still remember watching him go up for an alley-oop and seeing him float in the air like he was made of helium or something. 

Even though these kids knew that they were in for a humbling beat down from one of the great players of their age – or any age – their appreciation and respect for Zion was what was most interesting to me.

All that said, Zion is genuinely one of the nicest dudes I’ve ever played against, just super positive and humble. He was a huge deal in high school, especially in South Carolina. We had an unofficial team policy that you weren’t allowed to take a picture with him after the games, just to maintain what little integrity we had. But that still didn’t stop a lot of the younger guys — and even some coaches — from doing it. To Zion’s credit, he was always willing to talk to anyone as well as always encouraging to the younger guys. Everyone should really be rooting for him to succeed. He’s a great guy, and he’s overcome a lot to get to where he’s at. 

Maybe current and future stars from across the sports spectrum can take a cue from the 20 year old rookie from New Orleans. Be humble and show respect to your opponents no matter how good your are and no matter what the outcome of the contest is.

Selling The US Down The River

John Bolton and 45

From Carl Bernstein (Yes, that Carl Bernstein) on CNN, an absolutely insane yet not at all surprising piece on 45’s phone calls with dictators and allies around the world:

One person familiar with almost all the conversations with the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Canada, Australia and western Europe described the calls cumulatively as ‘abominations’ so grievous to US national security interests that if members of Congress heard from witnesses to the actual conversations or read the texts and contemporaneous notes, even many senior Republican members would no longer be able to retain confidence in the President.

The insidious effect of the conversations comes from Trump’s tone, his raging outbursts at allies while fawning over authoritarian strongmen, his ignorance of history and lack of preparation as much as it does from the troubling substance, according to the sources. While in office, then- Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats expressed worry to subordinates that Trump’s telephone discussions were undermining the coherent conduct of foreign relations and American objectives around the globe, one of CNN’s sources said. And in recent weeks, former chief of staff Kelly has mentioned the damaging impact of the President’s calls on US national security to several individuals in private.

The most jaw dropping elements were saved for describing 45’s interactions with Putin and Turkey’s Erdogan

The calls with Putin and Erdogan were particularly egregious in terms of Trump almost never being prepared substantively and thus leaving him susceptible to being taken advantage of in various ways, according to the sources — in part because those conversations (as with most heads of state), were almost certainly recorded by the security services and other agencies of their countries.In his phone exchanges with Putin, the sources reported, the President talked mostly about himself, frequently in over-the-top, self-aggrandizing terms: touting his “unprecedented” success in building the US economy; asserting in derisive language how much smarter and “stronger” he is than “the imbeciles” and “weaklings” who came before him in the presidency (especially Obama); reveling in his experience running the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, and obsequiously courting Putin’s admiration and approval. Putin “just outplays” him, said a high-level administration official — comparing the Russian leader to a chess grandmaster and Trump to an occasional player of checkers. While Putin “destabilizes the West,” said this source, the President of the United States “sits there and thinks he can build himself up enough as a businessman and tough guy that Putin will respect him.” (At times, the Putin-Trump conversations sounded like “two guys in a steam bath,” a source added.)

Just as a reminder, a summary of how the Senate voted during the impeachment proceedings earlier this year. (Remember that?)

The Importance of Live Aid

Freddie Mercury at LiveAid

Live Aid was a seminal day and event in rock and roll history that has been discussed and analyzed numerous times over the 35 years since it took place. What is amazing to me about Live Aid is that it went from hair-brained idea to seminal, once in a lifetime event in just about a year.

Live Aid, which took place on July 13, 1985 for a global audience of 1.9 billion people, was a massive, bi-continental pop concert created to raise money for Ethiopian famine relief. It was the brainchild of Bob Geldof, leader of the Irish new wave band The Boomtown Rats. Geldof was spurred to philanthropic action after seeing a BBC report in October 1984 that featured footage of starving children. His first thought was to make a charity single.

Of course, Live Aid wasn’t just about fundraising. It also had to be a great show—or else why would people bother to watch it in the first place? As it happened, the day was filled with memorable performances on both sides of the Atlantic. The consensus pick for Live Aid MVP is Queen, whose 21-minute Wembley set included “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Will Rock You,” and “We are the Champions.” Mercury “strutted and preened, carrying his microphone on a metal pole that he treated as a vaudevillian’s cane, an air guitar, and, of course, a phallus,” The New York Times wrote of Mercury’s performance. “He was a rock star playing a rock star, leather-lunged and imperious but also grinning to let everyone share the joke … For 21 minutes, Freddie Mercury undeniably made the world his stadium.” In 2005, Queen’s Live Aid set was voted the greatest rock gig in history by a panel of music industry experts.

The diversity of the acts that performed during the Live Aid concerts in Philly and London was a downfall of the event, but it was not for a lack of trying. While it was an important day for artists like Run-DMC, other larger black artists such as Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, and Prince declined to participate. Hindsight is 20/20 and I am sure there were things that could have been done to get a more diverse palette of artists to perform. The impact that the event had on Run-DMC was real and was an important opportunity to expose a worldwide audience to the emerging ‘hip hop’ genre of music.

As a teenager in the middle of high school when this event took place, I will never forget spending that Saturday watching the concert unfold. It was an amazing thing to witness live and I only wish I could have been there in person in Philadelphia.

How The Virus Won

COVID-19 How It Happened - NY Times

The NY Times with a really amazing piece on their site that takes you step by step from the first two cases of COVID-19 in mid-February 2020 through to the disaster that is unfolding in front of our eyes.

We traced the hidden spread of the epidemic to explain why the United States failed to stop it. At every crucial moment, American officials were weeks or months behind the reality of the outbreak. Those delays likely cost tens of thousands of lives.

And then after that, our elected leaders encouraged people to travel around the country and in doing so, accelerated the spread of the disease.

Top federal health experts concluded by late February that the virus was likely to spread widely within the United States and that government officials would soon need to urge the public to embrace social distancing measures, such as avoiding crowds and staying home.

But Mr. Trump wanted to avoid disrupting the economy. So some of his health advisers, at Mr. Trump’s urging, told Americans at the end of February to continue to travel domestically and go on with their normal lives. And they did. Millions moved across the country, cellphone data shows. Some unknowingly carried the virus with them.

As people traveled into and out of the United States, cities like New York turned into a massive hot spot for the virus. Once the reality of the situation was acertained by government leaders, they tried to mitigate the situation by restricting travel.

By the time President Trump blocked travel from Europe on March 13, the restrictions were essentially pointless. The outbreak had already been spreading widely in most states for weeks.

Today, after we were starting to see serious progress towards gaining control over this public health crisis, we are now seeing a rapid increase in cases across the South and Southwest as the country has begun to open up. Who could have predicted that? While other developed countries in Europe have effectively brought their COVID situations under control, the United States is now seeing an alarming rise in cases. What an embarrassment.

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

McCandless “Magic Bus” Removed From Alaskan Wilderness

The abandoned 1946 Fairbanks Bus #142 (aka the “Magic Bus”) that was used by Christopher McCandless during his fateful Alaskan adventure, as popularized in Jon Krakaur’s book “Into The Wild” and the movie of the same name, was removed from the Alaskan wilderness yesterday. (Video of the removal)

The bus has long attracted adventurers to an area without cellphone service and marked by unpredictable weather and at-times swollen rivers. Some have had to be rescued or have died. Christopher McCandless, the subject of the book and movie, died there in 1992.

The rescue earlier this year of five Italian tourists and death last year of a woman from Belarus intensified calls from local officials for the bus, about 25 miles from the Parks Highway, to be removed.

The Alaska Army National Guard moved the bus as part of a training mission “at no cost to the public or additional cost to the state,” Feige said.

The Alaska National Guard, in a release, said the bus was removed using a heavy-lift helicopter. The crew ensured the safety of a suitcase with sentimental value to the McCandless family, the release states. It doesn’t describe that item further.

From the time I first read about Chris McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp) [PDF] and his fateful adventure into the Alaskan wilderness, I have always found the story both compelling and tragic. Maybe it was because he was almost my exact age (born only two months after me), or maybe I was somewhat jealous of the courage he had to just pick up after college and take off on an excursion to explore the country and to find his calling. I was drawn to the sense of adventure and exploration that came with the story. The tragedy, of course, was that his fate was avoidable had he not been as dismissive of the dangers of ‘living off the land’ and the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness.

There has been ample criticism of his story for just this reason – what is it about this story that compels us to “celebrate” the stupidity of a person who heads out into the Alaskan wilderness with not much more than a backpack? I don’t know the answer to that question.

As was noted in the article about the removal of the bus, it was a move that seems like it had to be done. Over the years, the “Magic Bus” had attracted tourists from all over the world, those in search of replicating his journey and others who were just drawn to make a pilgrimage to see the bus. But much like Chris himself, several of those people did not appreciate the danger of that part of the country, and that resulted in the need for Alaskan authorities to rescue people, or tragically, recover people who had met the same fate as Chris.

Hopefully, the fine folks in Alaska will find a spot for the “Magic Bus” in a museum, or in a part of the state that is far easier for people to visit than where it previously was.

UPDATE
Nice write up by Eva Holland at Outside Magazine providing more detail and context about people visiting the “Magic Bus” over the years and the danger that came with those visits. via @nextdraft.

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

The Excuses They Used Not To Sign Kaepernick

San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick (7) and Eric Reid (35) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, on Sunday, Sept. 18.(AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the singing of the National Anthem across the 2016 season, the NFL turned a cold shoulder and let him flap in the wind. The league has never admitted as much, yet it is so clear that is what happened as the fine folks at The Ringer have clearly articulated, down to the detail about his playing performance (which admittedly did tail off but was still better compared to other QBs signed in the past few years).

And so it took a course of inaction. The NFL never suspended Kaepernick; the quarterback simply never found his way onto a roster in 2017, 2018, or 2019. This inaction pissed just about everybody off. Kap’s supporters were convinced that he had been blackballed from the league, while President Donald Trump urged his base to stop watching NFL games and in 2017 called protesting players “sons of bitches.” Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke publicly about the importance of having “different viewpoints” while reportedly “looking for a way for the protests to end.” Last December, Goodell told media that the league had “moved on” from Kaepernick.

Fast forward four years to 2020, where a string of police brutality cases capped by the death of George Floyd led the NFL and their ‘silver spooned’ commissioner Roger Goodell to release an awkwardly crafted video that basically admitted that Kaepernick was right. Yet they didn’t have the guts to call him out by name.

There was just one error with the NFL’s approach: Kaepernick was right. The league seemed to think that it could ignore police brutality simply because it had “moved on” from Kaepernick, but police officers kept killing Black people. Hundreds of American cities have held Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and kneeling has become one of the international symbols of the movement. Public opinion has shifted. In 2016, Kaepernick was villainized for protesting during the anthem; in 2020, Drew Brees was villainized for saying he would “never agree with anybody” who protested in that way.

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

Photos From A Country On Edge

The death of George Floyd was the straw that broke the back of America this week, rapidly following the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, while our nation’s president hid behind his iPhone like the cowering 5 year old he is and tweeted racially insensitive messages that only fanned the flames of outrage. And all of this is happening as we are coming to grips with a global pandemic that has taken 100,000 American lives.

Across every state and most major cities in our great country, protests have taken to the streets to express their frustration and outrage from everything that has been taking place here over the past few weeks and months. Below are photos from various cities that really illustrate the rage that is permeating every corner of the nation, via NY Times, CNN and NPR.

via NY Times
via NPR
via NY Times
via NY Times
via CNN

A Decade Into Responsive Web Design

From Ethan Marcotte, the ‘inventor’ and person who established the concept of ‘responsive architecture’, on the process of how his epiphany came to be:

Around that time, my partner Elizabeth visited the High Line in New York City shortly after it opened. When she got back, she told me about these wheeled lounge chairs she saw in one section, and how people would move them apart for a bit of solitude, or push a few chairs together to sit closer to friends. We got to excitedly chatting about them. I thought there was something really compelling about that image: a space that could be controlled, reshaped, and redesigned by the people who moved through it.

I remember spending that evening reading more about those chairs and, from there, about more dynamic forms of architecture. I read about concepts for walls built with tensile materials and embedded sensors, and how those walls could bend and flex as people drew near to them. I read about glass walls that could become opaque at the flip of a switch, or when movement was detected. I even bought a rather wonderful book on the subject, Interactive Architecture, which described these new spaces as “a conversation” between physical objects or spaces, and the people who interacted with them.

After a few days of research, I found some articles that alternated between two different terms for the same concept. They’d call it interactive architecture, sure, but then they’d refer to it with a different name: responsive architecture.

A light went off in my head. Responsive felt right for what I was trying to describe: layouts that would just know the best way to fit on a user’s screen. A user wouldn’t have to tap or click on anything to get the best design for their laptop or smartphone; rather, the design could fluidly adapt to the space available. It’d just respond.

And to think that before this, the collective ‘we’ had to look at web pages that were the same size and did not adjust to the different screens or devices that were beginning to pop up out there in the wild. Like the animals we were.

Organizing A Big Lego Set

This is a real issue, especially if you have kids who LOVE Legos. How do you reign in a massive Lego set? Yes, it’s a ‘first world’ issue. But it is an issue.

Adam Savage’s Tested channel on YouTube focuses on ‘one day builds’ for small to medium sized projects, but for the task of taking on his Lego collection, he may have bitten off too much than he could chew. He does end up with a really nice custom built unit to hold ArtBin Super Satchels of various shapes and sizes, but it apparently took him 10 days to really get his full Lego collection under control. The issue, which I have observed with my son’s substantial Lego collection, is that there are just so many variations of Lego pieces. And the variation has accelerated over the past 10 to 15 years as all these unique, custom kits have been developed. Back in the 80’s, when I was a kid playing with my Lego collection, the variation of pieces was not nearly as wide as it is today.

I really like the ArtBin Super Satchel storage containers that he used for some of the smaller and ‘wide variety’ pieces and I may look into buying some of these bins to use. And it also appears that ArtBin has storage ‘cubes’ for the Satchels, which alleviates the need to build a custom unit the way Adam did above. We have already gone down this path to a degree by using the small plastic Gils storage units from Ikea. The one drawback of these for Lego storage is that they are a little deeper than the Super Satchels and not as big.

This may be another ‘quarantine’ project worth taking on.

What The Lost Generation Read

Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Co Paris 1936

Shakespeare and Company is a legendary bookstore located in the heart of Paris. It was founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919 and during the 1920s and 1930s, was the hub of a generation of legendary “expatriate” writers in Paris, known as “The Lost Generation”. This generation was depicted in the fictional Woody Allen movie “Midnight In Paris”. Shakespeare and Company came to prominence for this set of writers because she published James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in 1922.

Similar to other recent efforts from major museums around the world, Princeton University is taking the full collection of Beach’s Papers and digitizing them, opening up a fascinating window into the operations of Shakespeare and Company that includes the membership rolls of Shakespeare’s lending library. These records detail the books and literature that some of the most legendary authors themselves borrowed from the this iconic bookstore.

Through a large-scale digitization project of the Sylvia Beach papers at Princeton, the Shakespeare and Company Project will “recreate the world of the Lost Generation. The Project details what members of the lending library read and where they lived, and how expatriate life changed between the end of World War I and the German Occupation of France.” During the thirties, Beach began to cater more to French-speaking intellectuals. Among later logbooks we’ll find the names Aimé Césaire, Jacques Lacan, and Simone de Beauvoir. Beach closed the store for good in 1941, the story goes, rather than sell a Nazi officer a copy of Finnegans Wake.

Princeton’s “trove of materials reveals, among other things,” writes Lithub, “the reading preferences of some of the 20th century’s most famous writers,” it’s true. But not only are there many famous names; the library logs also record “less famous but no less interesting figures, too, from a respected French physicist to the woman who started the musicology program at the University of California.” Shakespeare and Company became the place to go for thousands of French and expat patrons in Paris during some of the city’s most legendarily literary years.

Josh Jones, Open Culture

This is such a unique window into the minds of some of the most influential people of that era (and history) and the types of literary work that influenced them. It is as well a view into a diverse cross section of individuals from around the world who were members of the Shakespeare Lending Library, many whom were not as famous. Not only can you see what books and literature they checked out of Shakespeare, but it also details where the thousands of members lived over the years that they were part of the Lending Library membership rolls.

Hemingway with Sylvia Beach (to his right). Photo: Collection Lausat/Keyston-France/Cam

For example, the Ernest Hemingway profile page details where he lived in Paris (three places including 6 rue Férou, 113 rue Notre Dame de Champs, and 69 rue Froidevaux) as well where he lived as Spain, Switzerland and Cuba. It details when he was a member (off and on between 1921 and 1938). Then, we get to the good stuff, as it also details what books Hemingway checked out, and we have to assume, he read. They include works by William Butler Yeats, Gertrude Stein, Upton Sinclair, George Orwell, and Eugene O’Neill to name a few. He even bought some of his own work from Shakespeare, which somehow seems ‘on brand’.

Hemingway’s “Lending Library” card from 1926-27

Other famous folks that were members include James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Just a tantalizing snapshot into one of the most interesting periods of time in Paris and the world!

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

Wall St. Is A Gambling Proxy

In mid March, when the US became woefully aware to the stark realization of the impact of the COVID-19 virus, we saw the major US stock markets take significant tumbles. The market took some significant dips in the days around St. Patrick’s Day, however they have since rebounded relatively steadily since. And what is interesting is what could be driving this investing activity, against the advise and wisdom of many a seasoned Economist:

In a…presentation to the Economic Club of New York, on Tuesday [May 12], Stanley Druckenmiller, a former hedge-fund manager who now invests his own money, said, “The risk-reward for equity”—that is, stocks—“is maybe as bad as I’ve seen it in my career.” And yet many small investors…do not seem fazed by warnings like these.

John Cassidy, The New Yorker

Over the past few years, many brokerage firms have substantially reduced, or outright eliminated, trading fees. While this has reduced the friction for any individual investor to enter the market and invest, the COVID-19 lockdown and the lack of sports may be having an unanticipated impact on market dynamics:

“It could be that it’s just a lot of people have a lot of time on their hands,” he said. “One friend suggested to me it is replacing gambling. The casinos are closed and there are no sports to bet on.”

For some active traders, this theory does seem to apply. “I like betting on sports,” Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports, told Business Insider. “Sports ended, and this was something that was still going that I could do during the day.” After the shutdowns began, Portnoy put three million dollars in an E-Trade account “to play around with.” He’s been busy sharing his exploits with his large Twitter following. (On Friday morning, he reported, “I’m up fifty grand.”)

John Cassidy, The New Yorker

The scary thing about what is happening to the Economy as a result of the tepid response by the US Government to the crisis is that few people really, truly understand the crippling effect the shut down dynamics are having on the greater US economy. With so many people’s investments and retirements tied up in the stock market, when the true scope of the damage slowly exposes itself like a slow motion car crash, you have to wonder if the damage will be accelerated by stocks crashing further and impacting individuals who entered the market to satisfy a gambling itch they could not scratch.

Escape The Room – Virtual Hogwarts Edition

“Escape the Room” games have been all the rage recently, especially in corporate circles looking for fun team building exercises. Now with the whole COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changing things, one has to wonder how the ‘escape’ trend will fair in the ‘pandemic world order’.

A librarian in Pennsylvania took matters into his own hands, using of all things Google Docs, to create a virtual Harry Potter ‘Escape the Room: Hogwarts Edition’. No confirmation if they got an approval from JK Rowling herself. :P

I went through some of the game and found it fun and entertaining. Will need to give it my full attention to see how it works through to the end. This also makes me think I may need to fire up the Harry Potter movies and/or books sometime soon as this is making me realize how much I miss the Wizarding World!