Category: Sports

Commercial silence about China, what is the equilibrium?

OK, the NBA and its players won’t much exercise their free speech rights, nor will university presidents, so how will this all look in the longer term?  Surely India and other nations are learning from the Chinese experience, and so here is one excerpt from my Bloomberg column:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India is an avowed student of the Chinese experiment. Is it so far-fetched to imagine that he would help to create comparable pressures on speech for institutions doing business with India? The more China’s strategy succeeds, the more likely it is to spread. Modi has not shied away from controversy in making Indian policy, so the domestic pressure to follow the Chinese model could be quite strong.

Imagine a world, not so far off, where Indonesia is a business’s fifth-largest customer or a university’s seventh-largest supplier of students. Will it really be so safe to criticize the government of Indonesia, even for employees of those institutions on their social media accounts? U.S. businesses today are quite reluctant to criticize their customers at all, regardless of how much they collectively or individually account for revenue.

The world is evolving into a place where countries and regimes are exempt from all significant public criticism from any entity (or its employees) with substantial interests overseas — whether commercial or academic. That scenario may sound dystopian, but in fact it would not be a major shift from the status quo.

It is also easy to imagine a norm evolving where major customers, say China and India, become offended if a business or its employees criticize a much smaller nation. The theory might be that if any criticism is allowed at all, eventually it will reach the larger (and more controversial) nations. Or perhaps the smaller nation is an ally or friend of the larger, more powerful one. So you had better not criticize Kiribati, either.

And my parenthetical:

(Paradoxically, China’s concern for speech over actions shows a respect for the power of discourse — and free speech — that contemporary America could learn from.)

Recommended, and here is India already flexing its muscle over Bezos and WaPo (NYT).

My look back at the last decade

Via Bloomberg, here is one bit:

Consider the 10 best-selling books of the decade. All have female protagonists, and the top seven are authored by women. (“Fifty Shades of Grey” and its sequels take the top three spots, with three others having the word “Girl” in the title.)

The feminization of our culture is for me trend number one.  Next in line is screens:

They simply convey more interesting narratives than most of the other spaces in our lives.

There is much more at the link.

Sierra Canyon High School

15-year-old Lebron James Jr. goes there, and his games will be on ESPN 15 times this year, even though he is mainly a role player and not a star.  Here is more:

What Sierra Canyon strives to provide is controlled madness, controlled chaos. It’s a school not just familiar with athletic fame but celebrity, which has complexities beyond what even LeBron [Sr.] had faced.

For example, Sierra Canyon doesn’t attempt to restrict players’ social media. Players are put through a four-week course to educate them about its benefits and dangers. But Bronny is permitted to say whatever he wishes to his 3.7 million Instagram followers. Stanley and Pippen Jr. had hundreds of thousands of followers themselves.

“We don’t want to stop any of our players from building their brands,” Chevalier says. “They may be able to use that later in life, whether they make it as basketball players or something else.”

LeBron James Jr., by the way, plays on the same team as Zaire Wade, son of Dwayne Wade, LeBron’s former star teammate from the Miami Heat.

Here is the ESPN article, here is a related NYT piece.

“Let’s Play Two!”

It is always difficult to figure out what influenced you as a child, but I commonly think back on this saying of baseball great Ernie Banks.  When a doubleheader was coming up, he said “It’s a great day for a ball game — let’s play two!”  This became a very well known phrase in baseball lingo.

It always seemed to me like a very good attitude.

If, ever in life, there was a chance to do more, or take on a new project, I would always think “Let’s Play Two!”

Here is an earlier Robin Hanson post on stamina.

When can companies force change by standing up to foreign governments

From Jason Miklian, John E. Katsos, Benedicte Bull:

It’s easy to condemn firms for meek apologies — and to criticize the NBA and others as willing tools of the Chinese regime, “submitting to authoritarianism” to make a buck. However, our research suggests even when companies want to support global democracy and human rights, they find it much harder than anticipated and trap themselves in unenviable choices…

Our research has shown, time and again, how companies fail to live up to these lofty expectations [improving liberties and human rights]. It’s not for lack of trying. Instead, companies find the problems governments want them to solve are incredibly hard — and companies themselves suffer the political fallout when they can’t get things right.

And this:

Companies are most likely to deliver benefits when the measures they take are concrete, focused on specific goals and build on existing corporate expertise. These measures are more likely to affect change when companies join in collective actions by the business community that complement international political campaigns.

There is much more at the link, including discussions of China and South Africa.

How many NBA players have tweeted in support of Hong Kong?

As I am writing this post, zero (perhaps someone has done so by the time this pops up, but it won’t have been much).  And yet there are about 300 players on opening day NBA rosters, more in the preseason of course, maybe 450?

Presumably the league has, either directly or indirectly, told them not to run off at the mouth on this topic.

I don’t feel I am trafficking in unjust stereotypes to note that many of these guys are pretty big, pretty tough, and not so used to being pushed around.  They come from a wide variety of backgrounds and also countries and income classes.

One hypothesis is that all three hundred of these individuals are craven cowards, worthy of our scorn.  Maybe.

Another hypothesis, closer to my view, is that it has turned out sports leagues (and players) are neither the most efficient nor the most just way to combat social and political problems related to China.

There is plenty of worthwhile China-related legislation and regulation on tap, including expanding the role for CFIUS, discouraging our allies from using Huawei 5G, and protesting against American companies working in Xinjiang (and yes that does include the NBA training camp there).  Human rights legislation related to Xinjiang is another plausible option, though I have not studied the details of those proposals.

It is fine to favor those and other measures — in conjunction with our allies as much as possible — while simultaneously thinking this is not the NBA’s fight.  Trump himself is far more “anti-China” than any other U.S. president in recent times, and he too decided to push this issue aside.

Should you really feel so much better about “the NBA standing up to China” if they are doing it because the U.S. Congress has intimidated them into this new form of “free speech”?

What I observe happening is that many people have been “dropping the ball” on China for years.  A highly visible issue comes up, and one where they also can take a potshot at multinational corporations.  So they take an isolated stand on an isolated case, mood affiliating on two different issues at once, namely “stand up to China,” and “criticize corporations for their craven corruptness.”

I say think through the problem in the broadest possible terms.  The approach of “sound coordinated measures through our government and its allies, while retaining commercial friendliness and political neutrality for MNCs” is in fact a pretty good one.  It could be much worse, and most likely it soon will be so.

Daryl Morey vs. ESPN

Daryl Morey wrote a pro-Hong Kong tweet and had to retract it, and then both the Rockets and the NBA had to eat crow.  ESPN — part of the Disney empire I might add — has given only tiny, tiny coverage to the whole episode, even though it is a huge story on non-basketball sites.  I’ve been checking the espn/nba site regularly over the last 24 hours, and there is one small link in the upper corner, no featured story at all.

The ESPN pieces I’ve seen seem to be studiously carefully worded and non-incendiary.

Disney of course sells a lot of movies in China and presumably would love to sell more.

Everyone is upset about Morey, I haven’t seen anyone attack ESPN or even mention this.

Should we be so captive of the “endowment effect,” namely that deleting a tweet is more a form of visible “kowtowing” than is downplaying the story in the first place?

Didn’t Bastiat teach us about the seen vs. the unseen?  Right now people are overreacting with respect to the seen.

If you let your emotions be so whiplashed by “the seen,” you will find it harder and harder to understand the unseen.  Do not be a lap dog to the seen!

Addendum, from the comments: “The ESPN story that is on the top-right corner doesn’t even have a byline. It appears to be a reproduced AP story. So ESPN has not assigned a single reporter to produce a story about an NBA event that is on A1 of the NYT.”

And this: “ESPN forbids discussion of Chinese politics…

The NBA, Daryl Morey, and China

I changed my mind on this issue after pondering it for a while, here is my Bloomberg column on the topic.  Here is one bit:

True to form, I find myself in disagreement with the consensus: Morey committed a blunder, and deleting the tweet was the correct thing to do.

And more:

American politicians and leaders should offer greater support for the more liberal sides of the Hong Kong protest movement. But not all businesspeople are in the same position, especially if they are actively involved with China or other countries whose behavior is under consideration.

To provide a slightly more neutral example, the NBA is currently trying to market its product to India. In the meantime, I don’t think NBA executives should be tweeting or commenting about the status of Kashmir. Those strictures should hold even if the tweets or remarks are entirely correct.

There is simply too much tension between the fiduciary obligations of the potential speakers and the issues under consideration. For better or worse, the NBA is committed to a major expansion in China, and it is entirely normal for the association — like any other business — to demand that its executives do not conduct diplomacy, engage in negotiations or make political commentary on the side. The NBA’s mistake was simply to insist on this in far too clumsy and public a manner.

What they should do is simply pull the training camp out of Xinjiang, no squawking required.  By the way, here are much better American corporate targets than the NBA.  And the close:

As for the practical question of where things go from here, I’ll be watching to see what NBA players — most of all the stars, many of whom have contracts with Chinese companies — say next.

Finally:

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

There is much more at the link, more than usual.  Many of you love the doux commerce thesis, namely that trade ties encourage peace among nations.  Yes that is usually true, but sometimes the role of the corporations is to promote lies, or at least not speak the truth too loudly.  That is part of the Montesquieu bargain, whether one likes it or not.  You are installing an intermediary with incentives for cooperation and good will, not an arbiter of truth.

We are overreacting on this one because it is our main geopolitical rival — China — forcing a major American institution, namely the NBA, to eat crow, because of the sequencing of events.  But in reality, there is nothing wrong with a sports league that steers its major executives away from commenting on external politics and that is very often the norm in the corporate world, in countries both nasty and nice.

The college football surveillance culture that is Alabama

Saban, the Alabama football coach, has long been peeved that the student section at Bryant-Denny Stadium empties early. So this season, the university is rewarding students who attend games — and stay until the fourth quarter — with an alluring prize: improved access to tickets to the SEC championship game and to the College Football Playoff semifinals and championship game, which Alabama is trying to reach for the fifth consecutive season.

But to do this, Alabama is taking an extraordinary, Orwellian step: using location-tracking technology from students’ phones to see who skips out and who stays.

“It’s kind of like Big Brother,” said Allison Isidore, a graduate student in religious studies from Montclair, N.J…

Greg Byrne, Alabama’s athletic director, said privacy concerns rarely came up when the program was being discussed with other departments and student groups. Students who download the Tide Loyalty Points app will be tracked only inside the stadium, he said, and they can close the app — or delete it — once they leave the stadium. “If anybody has a phone, unless you’re in airplane mode or have it off, the cellular companies know where you are,” he said.

Here is the full NYT piece, via Anecdotal.

My Conversation with Samantha Power

Samantha Power has a new and excellent book out, The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir, which I very much enjoyed.  And so a Conversation with Tyler was in order, here is the audio and transcript, here is one bit:

COWEN: For a final closing segment, I just have some super simple questions about foreign policy again. Over the course of the last summer, Iran apparently seized two British tankers. There’ve been other incidents in the Strait of Hormuz in some way connected with Iran. From a game-theoretic point of view, why would they do this? Why does this make sense?

POWER: Well, the one thing that they would know that would give them some point of leverage is the extreme war fatigue within the United States, and really within the Western world. So, by upping the stakes, arguably — I mean, who knows why the hell they’re doing what they’re doing?

But by upping the stakes, they arguably could be sending a signal like, “You want to get in this game? It’s not as if we’re an island and you can just break the deal, penalize us gratuitously, penalize the people who are still trying to maintain the terms of the deal, and that there won’t be collateral consequences outside the nuclear space.”

Because the nuclear consequences, as they begin to enrich and violate the terms of the deal — having legitimately argued that we had violated the terms of the deal — the effects of those are not day-to-day effects in the news world. It’s a bit abstract for the public and even for policymakers. It’s an incremental abrogation.

But acts like this show that they have leverage, that they are active militarily in parts of the world where we have a vested interest in maintaining freedom of navigation. So I think they’re showing that they can hit in domains outside the nuclear domain. I think that is probably what they’re doing.

Here is another segment:

COWEN: In which ways do you feel your thought is in some manner still Irish in orientation in a way that would distinguish you from, say, American-born individuals?

POWER: It’s hard to know because I can’t run the counterfactual, so I don’t know what’s just because my mother is a physician and very empathetic toward her patients, and do I learn from that? Or am I moved by having come from a small country, at that time a poor country, that was sending —

COWEN: With a history of oppression, right?

POWER: With a history of oppression, with a history of the dignity of its people being trampled. Is that why I care so much about individual dignity? Again, I can’t run the history a different way.

And finally:

COWEN: Very simple — are baseball games too long? Why not make it 7 innings?

POWER: Why not make it 12?

COWEN: It’s boring, right?

POWER: For you and, as it turns out, for others.

COWEN: For me. So many games are over 3 hours. Shouldn’t the game be 2 hours, 17 minutes?

We also cover her first impressions of America, being a wartime correspondent, China and Iraq, Star Wars vs. Star Trek, van Morrison vs. Bob Dylan, robot empires vs. robot umpires, her favorite novel, how personal one should get in a memoir and why, and German defense spending, among other topics.

Definitely recommended.

My Conversation with Masha Gessen

Here is the transcript and audio, here is the summary:

Masha joined Tyler in New York City to answer his many questions about Russia: why was Soviet mathematics so good? What was it like meeting with Putin? Why are Russian friendships so intense? Are Russian women as strong as the stereotype suggests — and why do they all have the same few names? Is Russia more hostile to LGBT rights than other autocracies? Why did Garry Kasparov fail to make a dent in Russian politics? What did The Americans get right that Chernobyl missed? And what’s a good place to eat Russian food in Manhattan?

Here is excerpt:

COWEN: Why has Russia basically never been a free country?

GESSEN: Most countries have a history of never having been free countries until they become free countries.

[laughter]

COWEN: But Russia has been next to some semifree countries. It’s a European nation, right? It’s been a part of European intellectual life for many centuries, and yet, with the possible exception of parts of the ’90s, it seems it’s never come very close to being an ongoing democracy with some version of free speech. Why isn’t it like, say, Sweden?

GESSEN: [laughs] Why isn’t Russia like . . . I tend to read Russian history a little bit differently in the sense that I don’t think it’s a continuous history of unfreedom. I think that Russia was like a lot of other countries, a lot of empires, in being a tyranny up until the early 20th century. Then Russia had something that no other country has had, which is the longest totalitarian experiment in history. That’s a 20th-century phenomenon that has a very specific set of conditions.

I don’t read Russian history as this history of Russians always want a strong hand, which is a very traditional way of looking at it. I think that Russia, at breaking points when it could have developed a democracy or a semidemocracy, actually started this totalitarian experiment. And what we’re looking at now is the aftermath of the totalitarian experiment.

And:

GESSEN: …I thought Americans were absurd. They will say hello to you in the street for no reason. Yeah, I found them very unreasonably friendly.

I think that there’s a kind of grumpy and dark culture in Russia. Russians certainly have a lot of discernment in the fine shades of misery. If you ask a Russian how they are, they will not cheerfully respond by saying they’re great. If they’re miserable, they might actually share that with you in some detail.

There’s no shame in being miserable in Russia. There’s, in fact, a lot of validation. Read a Russian novel. You’ll find it all in there. We really are connoisseurs of depression.

Finally there was the segment starting with this:

COWEN: I have so many questions about Russia proper. Let me start with one. Why is it that Russians seem to purge their own friends so often? The standing joke being the Russian word for “friend” is “future enemy.” There’s a sense of loyalty cycles, where you have to reach a certain bar of being loyal or otherwise you’re purged.

Highly recommended.

What is an optimal number of Pamplona bull gorings?

Two or more each year?:

Longtime runners voiced their frustration that the event had been “totally adulterated” and said it was time to “say enough to the distortion of the run”.

The problem for purists is not just that the run, known as the encierro, has become too safe — with only two gorings last year, the least since 1984 — but that the bulls are unable to break free from the highly trained steers that accompany them. This makes the adrenaline-fuelled race less dangerous but also less exciting.

“For the runners, this is the end of the encierro as they know it,” said Joe Distler, a semi-retired American who ran the bulls for 50 years and took part in the protest in solidarity.

For regular runners, a good day is when the bulls break free from the cabestros — the castrated steers that accompany them over the 875-metre course to the city bullring — and one can feel the adrenaline-drenched thrill of running half a block directly in the front of a bull’s horns before letting it pass.

Here is more from Ian Mount at the FT.  As you wish folks, but I for one am content to live “inside the algorithm.”

Learn like an athlete, knowledge workers should train

LeBron James didn’t always have thick calves, a raging six-pack, and arms like the Incredible Hulk.

Ask LeBron about his off-season training regimen, and he’ll share a detailed run-down of his workout plan and on-the-court practice routine. When he entered the NBA, LeBron wasn’t a strong shooter. I’d bet the house that early in his career, LeBron built his off-season training regimen around his weak jump shot and disappointing 42% field goal percentage during his rookie season. As his Instagram posts reveal, LeBron worked for his strength, agility, impeccable history of injury avoidance, and an outstanding 54% field goal percentage during his 14th NBA season.

Athletes train. Musicians train. Performers train. But knowledge workers don’t.

Knowledge workers should train like LeBron, and implement strict “learning plans.” To be sure, intellectual life is different from basketball. Success is harder to measure and the metrics for improvement aren’t quite as clear. Even then, there’s a lot to learn from the way top athletes train. They are clear in their objectives and deliberate in their pursuit of improvement.

Knowledge workers should imitate them.

That is from David Perell, more at the link.  Recently, one of my favorite questions to bug people with has been “What is it you do to train that is comparable to a pianist practicing scales?”  If you don’t know the answer to that one, maybe you are doing something wrong or not doing enough. Or maybe you are (optimally?) not very ambitious?