The Victory Machine: The Making and Unmaking of the Warriors Dynasty

Here are some highlights from this 2020 book:

* On March 2, 2019, sports media impresario Bill Simmons conducted a news-making one-on-one panel with NBA commissioner Adam Silver at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Though Simmons is by nature loquacious, the conversation was dominated by the usually circumspect Silver. The commissioner had things on his mind, perhaps principally, that his game’s biggest stars were alienated and depressed. It’s rare to hear a commissioner speak like this, as commissioners are, in effect, PR officials for their respective leagues. The issues Silver broached had apparently metastasized to the point where there was simply no hiding it any longer.
When Simmons asked about player happiness and its impact on free agency, Silver responded, “One is a larger societal issue and I know you have a lot of young people who work for you at The Ringer. Obviously our players are young, we have young people in our office. I think we live a bit in the age of anxiety. I’ve read studies on this. I think part of it is a direct product of social media. I think those players we’re talking about, when I meet with them, what strikes me is that they are truly unhappy.” The placid commissioner’s eyes bulged a bit and his eyebrows bobbled on “truly unhappy.” There was an urgency in his tone.
“This is not some show that they’re putting on for the media, when I’m one on one with a lot of these guys I think, to the outside world, they see the fame, the money, all the trappings that go with it. They’re the best in the world at what they do. They say, ‘How is it possible they could even be complaining?’ I hear this on television all the time. A lot of these young men are genuinely unhappy. Some have come from very difficult circumstances, that doesn’t help. Some of them are amazingly isolated and you and I have talked about this.”
Silver then referenced an upcoming documentary on Michael Jordan’s last season with the Bulls, in which he saw a level of camaraderie currently absent from the spot.
“I mean the camaraderie was incredible. I mean, Michael, what people didn’t see was that he and Phil Jackson obviously as the coach deserves enormous credit. There was classic team building going on all the time. These guys were a band of brothers on the buses, on the planes, and all the attention only brought them closer. If you’re around a team this day and age, [they have their] headphones on, and they’re isolated and they’re head down. It used to be, Isaiah Thomas said to me, ‘Championships are won on the bus.’”

* On October 1, 2018, Bleacher Report posted an article by Tom Haberstroh titled “Is Social Media Addiction in the NBA Out of Control?” Haberstroh interviewed shooting guard JJ Redick on his decision to delete social media applications. “It’s a dark place,” Redick said of social media. “It’s not a healthy place. It’s not real. It’s not a healthy place for ego if we’re talking about some Freudian shit. It’s just this cycle of anger and validation and tribalism. It’s scary, man.”
Phones had become a problem in matters spiritual and practical. Teams were struggling to communicate with players whose heads were always tilted down. Haberstroh’s article details a coach desperately seeking outside help to curb his team’s habits.
When he arrived, he sat down with a behavior designer named Matthew Mayberry from Boundless Mind, an artificial-intelligence startup that works out of a one-car garage. The 10-employee tech company, launched by T. Dalton Combs and Ramsay Brown under its previous name Dopamine Labs, has been featured on a 60 Minutes report called “Brain Hacking” because of what its team of neuroscientists is working on. The coach and Mayberry talked about his team and, specifically, the phone addiction that had overtaken the locker room.
“How do I get players and staff to put down their damn phones in meetings?” the coach asked. “Can we turn phone addiction away from time sucks like Instagram and Twitter and toward productive tasks like watching film or studying scouting reports? Can we actually change these habits?”
Teams have tried certain reforms, “phone buckets” and “phone bags” during team meals, for instance. These attempts might be beneficial, but overall, there’s no wrenching back the clock’s hands to a more sane era. Throwing one phone in a bucket doesn’t change the reality of an entire society operating via phones. Even if players eschew social media for all the right reasons, it will still find a way to creep into their lives and cause complications.

* After the game, I ran into Andrew Bogut in the hall. He was also talking about Tim Kawakami, this time from a positive perspective. Tim, though politically liberal, had bucked against some reflexive fan criticism of the San Francisco 49ers’ drafting star defensive end Nick Bosa. Bosa had right-wing tweets in his past, more than a few of which he deleted in anticipation of joining a Bay Area team. Bosa had also ripped celebrated black artistry like Beyoncé’s music and The Black Panther movie. Perhaps these were fair opinions in isolation, but given the context of other tweets, they were bundled into an argument that Bosa was of a certain nefarious perspective. Was Bosa racist or unfairly maligned? Kawakami offered a realist perspective in an article:
I do not think social media activity from three or four years ago, assuming that Bosa did not outright state racist or homophobic thoughts himself, is an NFL disqualifier. I believe the 49ers locker room can and will accept him if he accepts the culture of the 49ers’ locker room.
Also, if Bosa is a great player, much of the locker room and the fan base will be quite ready to embrace him, anyway. That’s how football works—you want to play with the guys who help the team win.
In the end, athletic might makes right. What’s good for the team is what matters. The part Kawakami didn’t mention, but anyone who’d been around football could tell you: most white NFL players shared Bosa’s political leanings. “There are more Republicans than you’d think,” Bogut said with a wink, when I brought this up.

* If you’re around the game, you know of the racial split between Ops and roster, one very white, the other quite black. The reasons for the demography can be debated, but the reality of it can’t be. That’s not to say Ops is exclusively white and male; it’s just especially so, in a way that could be less noticeable in another field. The split might have louder critics if the power dynamics were clearer. As in, if Ops had clear authority over roster, the racial split might be more bemoaned by pundits. In this modern era, it was difficult to answer the question of whether that table or the locker room had more power. The locker room certainly earned more money, with Steph Curry alone claiming a $201 million contract. The locker room had more control of the future, with Durant putting these table suits on tilt at his whim, year after year. In the NBA, nobody was more powerful than a superstar, certainly not GMs and not even your average owner.
In contrast, the other, more replaceable players were beholden to the whims of the Ops men. The suits had to continually assess and analyze these players as though they were widgets, trading and cutting them according to whatever marginal advantage might arise. The term “assets” came into NBA world vogue around Sam Hinkie’s reign in Philadelphia. In media, players were increasingly discussed in the language of financial markets.
Naturally, some players started to resent this trend, combined with the racial dynamics involved, with a few ascribing it all to the “analytics” movement that had gotten so popular. In a New Yorker interview with Isaac Chotiner, former player and current ESPN TV analyst Jalen Rose said of the analytics movement,
There are many people that feel like it has a cultural overtone to it that basically suggests that, even though I may not have played and you did, I am smarter than you, and I know some things that you don’t know, and the numbers support me, not you. Two, you notice that, when it is a powerful job in sports—whether it is an owner, whether it is a president, whether it is a general manager, whether it is a coach—usually in football and basketball, sports that are primarily dominated by black Americans, it’s also an opportunity to funnel jobs to people by saying that, “I am smarter than you because the numbers back up what I say, and I am more read. I study more. I am able to take these numbers and manipulate my point.”

* Meanwhile, [Andre] Iguodala had been knocked down a peg within his ecosystem. He could still command interest as a helpful veteran player, but for how much longer? Andre might have been braced for this moment, having known the others would never lead to happiness. “Something Obama said stuck with me,” Iguodala had told me at his locker, late in the 2018–2019 season, when thinking back on the team’s first White House visit. “All these billionaires, none of them are happy.”
Months earlier I had asked Iguodala about the buzz that he might one day make the Hall of Fame. “I don’t care,” Iguodala responded. “None of it matters.”
Iguodala offered the following take on the future, one that’s either grim or liberating depending on your perspective. “See, here’s how it works. One day, you’re replaced. Then it’s some other motherfucker in there. And then there’s another motherfucker. And another after that. Nobody remembers anything. None of it matters!”
When asked about the importance of giving an emotional Hall of Fame speech, Iguodala said, “Does anyone remember any of those speeches other than Jordan’s?”
True, almost nobody echoes across multiple generations. Even in the case of Jordan, after all the success, he’s hardly a model of happiness. Jordan’s aforementioned Hall of Fame speech is mostly famous for unnerving the audience with a slew of aired resentments. The apotheosis of sports success does not appear to correlate with the apotheosis of happiness.
Jordan’s friend Charles Barkley, often mocked for never winning a championship, strikes a stark attitudinal contrast to His Airness. Barkley was a great player who perhaps never achieved ultimate glory because he enjoyed his work-life balance and meals on the road. Yet he’s contagiously, hilariously happy in most settings. He gets paid to pontificate and joke around with friends on television. Barkley never won a ring, but he won retirement. The latter might have something to do with the former. Life never ended up revealing the lie of winning to Chuck.

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Mrs. America

I enjoy watching this show but its main character, Phyllis Schlafly, is the only character you are consistently manipulated to loathe.

Comments at Steve Sailer:

* Steve: Cate Blanchett is playing conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly who defeated the Equal Rights Amendment in a miniseries entitled “Mrs. America” on Hulu, with Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan, who courageously tried to resist the lesbian takeover of feminism until finally capitulating to what she had long presciently denounced as the “lavender menace” in 1977. (Of course, the poor lesbians are now largely defeated by autogynephilic he-men claiming to be women, so what goes around comes around.)

* I wonder if the decline in real-world social interaction is increasing the number of people who can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality?

There may always have been people who confuse actors with the roles that they play, what is new about the last 60 or so years is the amount of acting that people watch compared to the amount of real life that they see or history that they hear about. Common tropes that are used over and over again in tv and film may seem more real than common patterns in everyday life or history.

* News item from 1985:

“Jessica Lange, Sissy Spacek and Jane Fonda are scheduled to testify Monday before the Democratic Party’s House farm task force on the emotional toll of the financial stress experienced by farm families, something akin to their roles in the movies ″Country,″ ″The River″ and ″The Dollmaker,″ respectively.”

So it’s not just morons who conflate roll with reality; semi-morons (Congressmen) do it too. And, at Harvards everywhere, faculty and supervisors pretend that playing the roll of proficient students and workers is the same as actually being one…or at least tolerably close.

* It is a well-known fact that women are far less capable of separating television/films from reality than men are. Hence, most of the people who think actors are really the characters are women.

This is because women tend to let emotion control what they see as reality or not. This is also why women are unreliable witnesses to a crime, since what their emotions want to believe to be true is what they will truly believe is true (i.e. in their mind, they have erased the facts with the new version of fact).

This is also why most women who make false accusations of rape or sexual assault have truly convinced themselves it has happened, and don’t think they are lying. Their memory has been overwritten by emotion.

* There is a rape scene between Cate and the On-Screen husband that is disparaging to Phyllis on a deeply insulting level…

Cate, as most white liberals, has made her bed with the wrong side and all the ill that comes to her is well-deserved.

* Watch the trailer. Blanchett plays Schlafly as sinister, smarmy, manipulative and privileged. The “antagonist” (actually protagonist) characters are all salt-of-the-earth women-of-the-people (and women of color of the people of color), vibrant and likable, coalescing in a rainbow coalition of the fringes to oppose Schlafly’s evil white oppression.

Anyhow, with creator Dahvi Waller and executive producer Stacey Sher, where did you think this thing was going? C’mon man, were ya born yesterday?

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Join Me On An Intellectual Adventure

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Bringing Souls Out Of Hiding

Ideas that give me energy:

* Pursuing excellence.
* Think about what I’ve done excellently
* Think about the look on the faces of people who appreciate me. Think about the pretty girls I’ve kissed and how they said wow afterward…
* Think about the most heartfelt things people have said to me
* Remember how I’ve helped people. 
* Connect with people I love
* A vision for how I can make a difference in the world, such as helping souls come out of hiding (a mission from a 12-step program).
* Thinking about places where I belong, where I am welcome, where people are glad to see me
* I had a therapist who had me list everything that was great about me and when I was done, she prompted me to add my good looks
* Anything that cracks me up 
* The states of God-seeking, faith-seeking, generosity and love
* Thinking about the homeless man who brought a dead raccoon into a McDonalds in San Francisco
* Connecting to things Australian (or whatever is bringing me energy in the moment)

Practices for energy:

* A diet soda, I don’t like them, but they change my state
* Watch an action movie
* Eat protein
* Cold shower
* Fave songs
* Drink some cold sugar-free crystal light
* A walk in the sun
* Listen to inspiring talks
* Developing new skills
* Holding things that mean something to me such as a cricket bat, didgeridoo, Aussie hat, 
* Playing characters, trying out different accents and attitudes
* Write about my feelings, the more shameful the better

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The End Of October

Here are some highlights from this new Lawrence Wright novel:

* The youthful prime minister was a nationalist, with his hair closely trimmed on the sides and long on top, the fashion for the neofascists taking over Europe. Predictably, he proposed mass expulsions of Muslims.

* WHO officials confronted China, which had hidden an epidemic of SARS in the south the year before and lied about the extent of a new outbreak in Beijing. There were reports that SARS patients were driven around in taxis to avoid detection by WHO officials who had arrived to inspect Chinese hospitals. Shaken by the severity of the epidemic and the worldwide outrage that accompanied the lack of transparency, Chinese officials turned about and imposed strict quarantines of hospital wards, enforced by armed guards and the threat of execution if anyone violated their procedures. Had the Chinese been more open about the disease when it first appeared, many people might have spared.

* Her reticence had been enforced by the stain on Russian Jews like herself, going back to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who betrayed the United States by handing over nuclear weapons designs to the Soviets. And not just the bomb. They also gave away the secrets to sonar, radar, and jet-propulsion engines—all the most important military secrets on which America still held a monopoly. For that they were sent to the electric chair. Ethel, less guilty than Julius, had to be shocked five times. Smoke rose from her head. The image was seared into Tildy’s imagination: that’s what happens to traitors—especially Jewish ones. And yet, from an early age, Tildy knew she too was capable of crossing the line. The difference between her and Ethel Rosenberg was that Ethel had harmed America, and Tildy wanted to save it.

* All the virtues—loyalty, patriotism, courage, honesty, faith, compassion, you name it—are just social constructs, patches to cover the naked barbarism that is at our core.

* Someone nominated “cheese pizza” as a code word for child pornography. John Podesta was a regular customer of Comet Ping Pong. It all followed from there. Even Trump’s national security adviser tweeted that John Podesta was drinking human blood in satanic rituals and Hillary Clinton was engaging in sex with children. All this in the basement of Comet Ping Pong.

* “Putin is a tightrope walker. He wants to draw the U.S. deeper into the Middle East without actually going to real war.”

* “Most of the Saudi oil is in the Eastern Province, which is largely Shiite. The Iranians want to annex that and take control of the Saudi resources. They’ve got lots of missiles and the coordinates for all the desalination and power plants in the kingdom. Without water and power, there won’t be much left of Saudi Arabia.”

* “[Russia has] much greater control over their infrastructure. It’s very strictly regulated. Probably they have a program to isolate their systems controls from the internet. So they would have a considerable competitive advantage in a cyberwar where the target is the infrastructure that supports civilization.”

* “That’s what they found in 1918, as you know. There were precursors. Milder, of course. And older people did have some immunity, suggesting that there must have been a similar strain circulating in the nineteenth century. But then the virus mutated and turned itself into a killer.”

“In this case, it was China,” said Marco. “Two outbreaks, one in Zhalong last October, and another in Poyang Lake a month later. We think there were seven fatalities, but the Chinese have still not published anything. WHO sent their vets up to check the water birds and yes, they found Kongoli in the cranes. There is a rumor of a serious outbreak in North Korea. Something is going on in the tribal areas of Pakistan, and there may be a bird die-off in northern Iran, and what do these all have in common besides the maddening lack of confirmation?”

“Migratory flyways,” Henry said.

“Exactly. So it looks like the birds may have picked up something in Siberia and gone to Poyang Lake, which is the largest body of freshwater in China and the meeting place for millions of wild birds of all kinds. They winter over, exchange infections, maybe one bird gets infected with two different influenza viruses at the same time, they reassort, sharing gene segments, and presto, you have Kongoli, one of nature’s deadliest creations.”

* “Biowarfare has always been a part of the arsenals of the great powers. We shouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to have been concocted in a laboratory. We know the Russians have tinkered with influenza. Good scientists. Maybe they wanted to see what could be done, if there was some way of collaborating with nature to build the ultimate weapon of war, one that can destroy the enemy without fingerprints.”

* “But, listen, Jill. This disease isn’t going to stay in Mecca. Even if we can keep the pilgrims locked up until this wave passes, the birds are carrying it. I don’t know how much longer it will be before it hits the U.S. Maybe a week, maybe a month. I want you to take the kids and stay at your sister’s farm. Take a couple month’s worth of groceries. Don’t see anybody. Don’t even touch the mail. Just hunker down and wait for me.”

“I know you’re concerned about us, but really, Henry, there’s a lot to be considered. I can’t just drop everything and crash at Maggie’s for however long.”

“Please, Jill, I know it looks safe for the time being. But this disease will move really fast. But I’m pleading with you. Get out. Go someplace remote, as far from other people as you can find. Shelter with the kids until the contagion dies out.”

Henry had never sounded so scared.

* By now the origin of the disease—in an Indonesian detention camp for Muslim homosexuals—was well known, and the conspiracists were inflaming fears that Kongoli was a plot. According to one theory, Muslims had created the disease to destroy Christian civilization. Another theory posited that Muslims were being targeted for elimination by neo-Nazi scientists. A third theory postulated a worldwide war against homosexuals. These fantasies were promulgated in social media, led by Russian bots and amplified by internet rumor-mongers, stirring strife by remote control, urging people to take to the streets when they had been warned repeatedly to shelter at home. The imam of Philadelphia’s main mosque urged his parishioners to ignore the conspiracy theories, but while he was speaking, two firebombs were thrown into the building.

* “Day after day we get the same report from you,” Tildy said, scolding Lieutenant Commander Bartlett, who had become an ominous fixture at the Deputies Committee meetings—like the Ghost of Christmas Future, with grim visions delivered in a laconic southern drawl. “No vaccine,” Tildy recited, counting on each finger. “No treatment. No cure. You have to tell us something positive! The American people are beside themselves with worry.”

Bartlett responded with a look that Tildy instantly recognized as pity. “We have plans, ma’am. We’ve had plans for years, at the CDC and NIH and Johns Hopkins and Walter Reed, we’ve had lots of plans. We just haven’t ever been given the resources and personnel to carry them out. Like ventilators. We figure that maybe 30 percent of hospital patients reporting severe influenza symptoms will need to be ventilated. Right now we can accommodate about one percent of patients who require them. Meantime, people are dying of other treatable diseases because we have no stockpile of essential medicines. They’re all made in India or China, which are also suffering this pandemic. We’re running out of syringes, diagnostic test kits, gloves, respirators, antiseptics, all the stuff we need to treat patients and protect ourselves.”

“Honey, I don’t think you understand.” A deep voice suddenly broke in. The vice president was a former governor and radio host known for his tough demeanor. The president had made him the official point person for the pandemic, and recently he had begun attending the Deputies Committee meetings. Once he started coming, the room filled up with staffers and note-takers jammed against the walls. “We need deliverables! And I mean today! The president wants action, and he wants it now!”

Bartlett stiffened. “I know what you people want me to say, but that’s not my job, is it? I am supposed to be giving you information. Real information. What you do with it is your job. Now, if you had been doing your job and providing us with the resources we asked for, maybe we wouldn’t be sitting here sucking our thumbs while people are suffering and the economy is going to hell and the graveyards are filling up and all because people like you didn’t care enough about public health to pay attention to our needs.”

The vice president looked like he’d been hit with a crowbar…

“Mainly, we have to give something to the president that will project a sense of calm,” Tildy said gently. “Of hope. Of progress. Like that soon people will be able to get a shot and they’ll be protected.”

Bartlett shook her head ever so slightly. The pity thing again. “Even if we had a vaccine, the question is, who gets the shot? It takes months to ramp up production, and it won’t even start unless the drug companies are protected against liability. I mean, we don’t have time to do standard human safety testing. And let’s say we get ten thousand doses the first week, and a hundred thousand the week after, and five hundred thousand the next week, and so on. It’ll still take months to scale up to the point where we’ll have enough material to create some kind of herd immunity. Even then, you may need two or three doses to be safe.”

* TILDY SETTLED ON THE COUCH with her elderly Pekingese, Baskin, to watch a historic moment in American history. She already knew what the president was going to say: Tomorrow there will be federal troops in American cities, protecting property and government offices. Health care will be nationalized. Tented infirmaries will be set up in shopping mall parking lots. The Red Cross will take charge of a massive volunteer program. And drug companies will be commandeered and made to focus exclusively on developing a vaccine—not just for Kongoli but for any strain of influenza, providing lifetime protection. The president will invoke the Allied victory in the Second World War and the elimination of smallpox as achievements that had also seemed impossible at the time. He will guarantee that the U.S. government will apply the full force of its mighty powers to protect its citizens and other peoples of the world against the greatest plague humanity has ever known.

* As the president was speaking, what appeared to be a tear spilled down his cheek. The president furtively wiped it away, but another tear followed, and just at the same moment Tildy and the president and the American people realized that it wasn’t tears, it was blood. The president’s eyes were bleeding. Before he could finish the sentence, the transmission cut off.

Twenty seconds later, Tildy’s secure phone rang. “We’re invoking COOP,” the voice said, referring to the Continuity of Operations Plan. The president was still alive, but deemed unable to govern, so the vice president assumed office. At that very moment, he and the senior cabinet members were being removed to Mount Weather. Buried in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains was a miniature city, with twenty underground office buildings, some three stories tall. In addition to its own sewage treatment and power plants, Mount Weather had a radio and television studio (part of the Emergency Alert System), a crematorium, and sleeping quarters for the president, cabinet members, and Supreme Court justices.

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