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The Reid Drug Emporium

With Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid’s sons in jail, and with media folks of all stripes throwing him a giant pity party, Kansas City Star and Fox Sports commentator Jason Whitlock hits the nail on the head with this column that eviscerates Reid & his wife, the “drug emporium” that became of their house, the sports media, and the War on Drugs.

America’s morally bankrupt war on drugs, a cause that has killed and destroyed more lives than Vietnam and Iraq combined, has finally put Andy Reid’s kids on the front lines (incarceration), and Andy Reid doesn’t have a damn meaningful thing to say about it.

That’s unacceptable. It’s cowardly.

Andy Reid knows my pain, and he’s too worried about a freaking football game to verbalize it. He could make Middle America and the power structure understand the helplessness and the pain you feel when people you love get caught up in America’s political ploy called a “war on drugs.”

Echoing Whitlock’s sentiment, is a piece in the Ed/Op section of today’s Philadelphia Inquirer by Douglas Marlowe.

For too long in this country, the approach toward substance-abusing offenders wavered between incarceration without treatment and treatment without supervision – one or the other, rarely both. The incarceration-without-treatment approach is an outgrowth of our “war on drugs,” a nationwide response to the scourge of drug addiction that failed miserably on a number of levels, not the least of which being the flawed assumption that jails are an effective response to the problem of drug-related crime.

Marlowe applauds the judges use of the combination of treatment and monitoring with small jail sentences. It’s time for Andy Reid to step up, do the same, and insist that it the norm for everyone, not just for the affluent.

But, oh yeah, he’s got a game to prepare for.

In Soviet Russia, Football Watches You!

The New England Patriots have been caught videotaping the New York Jets’ coaches giving defensive signals, and, as expected, we have the the flurry of questions about whether or not the Pats’ victories over the last 6 years have been on the level. A little level-headedness is needed here to separate the emotional responses, like former running back Terrell Davis suggesting that the Patriots be banned from the playoffs for two years, from those of the people who have permanent residence in Bill Belichick’s reality distortion field. It’s hard for myself to maintain level-headedness because I’m a fan of the Patriots and have been since I was 4.

While there’s no evidence that the Patriots have successfully recorded and deciphered every team’s defensive signals, it’s probably helped them a learn a little about teams’ preferences and various coaches’ tendencies. However, I don’t see how it helps you during a game. The only time one can look at the tape and decode everything is at half time. You have to load up the tape and sync it with your photos and videos of the opponents defense. You have to come up with some sort of pattern involved, notify your staff of what it is and then execute: all that in the span of a 20 minute half time. Plus, all of that effort goes to naught if the opposing team switches up the signals at half time. It doesn’t make sense logistically, and seems to be more of a distraction rather than studying photos and making normal adjustments.

Looking at a video tape of a team’s signs to later prepare for a rematch is of little value if the team changes the signs or formations. It’s not a guarantee of success, and it may be a hinderance if you, as an offensive coach, see the signals, put out a play to maximize potential yardage, and the resulting defense isn’t what you expected. I think that all football teams do too much practice and preparation for videotaped signals to be the deciding factor on what play to run or what strategy to take. Plus, all the strategies and preparation and knowledge in the world won’t do a darn thing if your team doesn’t execute. The best thing to do is have a guy with a photographic memory and a knack for stealing signals in the press box watch the other team with a pair of binoculars and quickly devise some way of decoding what the other team is doing.

Videotaping your opponents is akin to corking a bat in baseball. It doesn’t give you any real advantage, but it’s against the rules. It is because they blatantly broke the rules, that I think the punishment of the loss of a 1st round draft pick and a fines totalling $750,000 (half a million for Bellichick, 250K for the team) is fair. Don’t let’s jump to the inane conclusion that all of the Patriots’ wins over the last 6 years aren’t the result of a good football team armed with smart veterans who study and execute well. I don’t want to come across as a stupid homer Patriots fan, but if you’re going to call me that so be it.

Although, I have to ask: Why is that considered cheating? There’s video of every play. The coaches are mic’ed up, and there are shotgun microphones all over the field. There are assistant coaches and staff in the press boxes with cameras, taking pictures of formations and faxing them down to the quarterback. The cameras at the top of the stadium record everything. There are players on the field and on the side lines watching everything and trying to interpret the other team’s signs. There are 70,000+ people in every stadium, watching everything, and possibly recording this.

Because there are all of these cameras around and all of these eyes on them, teams take precautions to mitigate the risk of their signs being stolen. Coaches and coordinators hold play cards up to their mouths and are surrounded by taller people. Making taping against the rules when it’s already being watched, photographed and filmed is kind of silly. Teams are already expecting this kind of “psychological warfare,” and they are preparing for it.

Notice that you’re not hearing too many coaches and team officials publicly comment on this. To whit, King Kauffman at Salon writes “…it’s worth noting that this accusation came from the league, not the Jets, and that the Jets don’t seem to be using it as an excuse for having their hats handed to them on Sunday. I don’t think the Jets have a signal, after all, for ‘let Ellis Hobbs run a kickoff back 108 yards.'” It’s because that everyone has a group of guys on their team that do exactly what the Patriots were doing. Only they’re smart and less obvious about it.

Taping the other team in plain view doesn’t make you a cheater. It makes you an arrogant S.O.B., which doesn’t surprise me when Bill Belichick is involved.

The No Fun League

As in, “this offseason has not been fun for the league.”

In one of the more macabre offseasons in recent memory, we’ve seen one player suspended for an entire season, one suspended for half a season, and another kicked out of football indefinitely. Despite the frequency and/or severity of the players arrests and crimes committed, Pac-Man Jones, Chris Henry, and Michael Vick have their defenders. These people state “Innocent until proven guilty” as if those involved are appearing before a judge and jury and not the NFL commissioner’s office. The Atlanta NAACP came out in defense of Michael Vick, saying first (paraphrased) “Innocent until proven guilty,” and then “Let him have his job back when he gets out of prison.” J A Adande, a columnist whom I admire and respect, writes “I would wait for guilty verdicts before I suspended NFL players. When you set the standard at merely ‘bad decisions’ for a league filled with young, rich men, you might reach the point that it’s hard to field teams for a game on Sunday.”

On the other side of the issue, the “Mad Dog” half of WFAN’s “Mike and the Mad Dog Show” Chris Russo delivered a classic rant after Pac Man Jones was arrested in Las Vegas. Yelling and screaming aside, Russo makes a good point – if he was arrested in a situation like that or as often as Mr Jones has, WFAN would put him on unpaid leave or fire him. Mr Russo is a public representative of WFAN and, if he had a penchant for getting arrested, having him on the air not only damages WFAN’s reputation but hurts them financially.

Fair or not, NFL players are public representatives of their respective teams and of the league as a whole, and all sports must maintain an image that is friendly to the people consuming the product- the viewing public. The NFL is smart to take its image and, therefore, the behavior of its participants seriously, lest it slip to the second-rate status that the NBA finds itself.

To go further with a comparison to the NBA, that league is currently suffering a gambling scandal involving one of its referees. Already amidst an image problem due to shoddy and uninspiring play as well as boorish behavior by its players, they find the integrity of their league questioned. We’ve been bombarded with stories of the horror of dog fighting and accounts of Michael Vick and his associates killing dogs, but the gambling aspect of this has been under-reported. It’s the fact that he was running a gambling ring that not only brings further damage to the NFL’s reputation, but impugns the integrity of the game.

Vick’s defenders are wrong to insist that he get his job back when his prison sentence is over.

Jim Gerlach & Transportation

Jim Gerlach (R-PA) is the representative for Pennsylvania’s 6th district. He came to speak at my place of employment today, addressing his adventures in the 100th Congress and how things are going to get nasty when the budget appropriations starts under the new Democratic majority. He spoke at length about his duties on the transportation subcommittee and some of Pennsylvania’s transportation woes.

A quick aside: He was a co-sponsor of a proposed 2005 bill to force social security taxes to be used for the sole purpose of social security. When someone asked about that bill and how it was forced to the side, Gerlach interjected, saying “You can call it dead.” So much for social security reform.

Now, on to transportation. Pennsylvania’s roads and highways are notoriously bad, and with the population drain from Philadelphia to the suburbs and beyond, the roads can get jammed at the first sign of trouble. Our mass transit system, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority continuously claims it is underfunded and threatens to scale back service and raise rates – it’s already the most expensive subway system in the US – every year.

When asked about some of the state’s transportation woes, he explained that unlike other states which require that infrastructure such as utilities and roads grow with population, Pennsylvania has no such doctrine. He added that there were some programs he was trying to get off the ground, such as the Schuylkill Valley Metro, which would run trains from Reading to Philadelphia, as well as his desire to secure more funds for major area roadways, such as US-30 and US-202. However, he did mention that one thing he was against was raising the federal gas tax. He said that, while it may be tempting to raise the gas tax to get more money for transportation projects, there is a large risk that Pennsylvania wouldn’t see any of the extra money.

Unfortunately, the lack of transportation funds from the feds will result in Ed Rendell’s state-based solutions. This will more likely result in a tax on oil companies’ profits, aka a gas tax. Another solution that has been floated before Rendell is the privatization of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. While I’m generally in favor of private toll roads, I hope that the revenue from that is earmarked solely for transportation rather than expenditures like his cockamamie socialized health care scheme and the next time a sports team threatens to leave.

On a personal note, I want to thank Sebastian for giving me the opportunity to guest blog for him while he was away. I hope that you at least found my viewpoints interesting, even if you didn’t agree with me.

The Silence of John Street

is deafening.

This week, students assaulted at least four teachers in district schools, and there were seven attacks at West Philadelphia High alone over the last 10 school days. The issue has dominated nightly newscasts and appeared on newspaper front pages.

The mayor’s relative silence on the issue of battered teachers stands in stark contrast to the badgering he gave schools chief Paul Vallas late last year over the district’s $73.3 million budget deficit.

Then, Street spent nearly 14 hours over four days sitting in the front row during public hearings on the fiscal problems, interjecting his criticisms. He also testified before City Council on the issue.

The article goes on to say that getting out and front of the media to rant and rave just isn’t John Street’s style, and that’s fine. However, his silence on the issue when there have been such a rash of school incidences isn’t doing anyone any favors. He’s coming across as either vindictive towards School District CEO Paul Vallas or an aloof lame duck.

The article also contains a passage I find laughable:

The Street administration has launched a $3 million program to hire more truancy officers and also is establishing 12 curfew centers that will give youths safe havens from the streets. Education Secretary Jacqueline Barnett also participated in a March 6 meeting with Vallas and Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson that spelled out a tough new security policy for schools.

“The mayor takes a systems approach,” Barnett said. “For him it’s how do you get at the root of the chronic social issues we have. He’s absolutely passionate about it.”

Systems approach! To steal a quote from Dr. Evil, “I haven’t laughed that hard since I was a little girl.” Curfew Centers and truancy officers is a system’s approach? No, it’s still component tinkering, which as I’ve said before, might work for fixing cars but isn’t going to do anything when it comes to the social fabric. The inner cities have become bereft of opportunity and hope, and no amount of tweaking is going to fix that.

Pitt-for-Brains

The Pittsburgh Penguins have become the latest sports franchise to hold the state of PA hostage so they wouldn’t have to get their own financing for a new arena. Today, Gov. Ed Rendell announced a deal that would keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh. The Penguins had threatened to leave to Kansas City, MO if they could not secure a new arena when their lease with the 40 year old Melon Center expires at the end of this hockey season. In this new deal, the Penguins will get help from PA slot parlor revenue.

A Pennsylvania law signed last year allowed for a certain number of slot parlors to be built in the state. A percentage of the revenue from the slot machines will go towards reducing property taxes. Another portion of the revenue is slated for other economic stimulus projects. However, there is absolutely no evidence that a stadium provides any sort of economic boost. In fact, studies have shown that, on average, they reduce workers’ incomes by $47 per year. Further more, a 2004 study showed that teams never need help in financing the stadiums. The stadium generate enough revenue to cover construction costs and more.

People can try to spin this, saying that it’s slot machine money and not taxes that will go towards financing the arena. I contend that with Pennsylvanians looking down the barrell of a 1% increase in the state sales tax and other ills such as our crumbling transportation infrastructure and our awful inner city crime rate, the slot machine revenue could be put to better use than helping to keep hockey, a second-rate sport, in Pittsburgh. I also contend that slot machines are just another tax, one that disproportionately affects the poor – you don’t see people with a lot of money habitually gambling at slot parlors.

Lastly, Mario Lemieux completely disrespected the people who paid money to watch him play for the Penguins during his career. The Penguins have some of the best attendance figures in hockey, and it’s a sham that he would even consider giving up standing room only crowds 17,000 strong to play rent free in front of 7,000 “fans”.

At Least There’s the NIT

Normally, I don’t like to go on “We wuz robbed!” rants about something silly like the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. But since Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim has gone on a two-day rant about how his team isn’t in the field of 64 this year, I think that I can take a few paragraphs to say this: Syracuse wasn’t robbed, Drexel was.

Drexel beat Syracuse. They also beat tournament invitees Villanova and Creighton. They beat major Philadelphia basketball programs at Temple and St. Joseph’s, too. They did all of this away from their home court, as no program of any significance is going to agree to play Drexel at the bingo hall that is the Daskalakis Athletic Center. Yes, Drexel does play in a middle-tier athletic conference, and their in-conference record was decent. However, small programs like Drexel have to schedule games on the road at big-time basketball powerhouses in order to make a case for an invite, and this year, they played great.

If there’s one thing that George Mason University showed us last year, it’s that middle-tier schools are worthy of getting invites to the tournament even if they don’t win their conference. Last year, teams from minor conferences got 8 of the 34 invites available. This year, they got six. The number of invites from minor conferences has gone down every year for the last 4 years. The NCAA Selection Committee is showing elitism and favoritism towards big schools at power conferences.

This is complete folly. There’s a reason why there’s a 13 seed upsetting a 4 seed every year: a good team from an OK conference is better than an OK team from a good conference. Do we really need to see Boston College lose to North Carolina again? No, let’s give a team like Drexel a chance to play UNC. I bet they’d at least make it interesting.

In the interest of disclosure, I am a Drexel alumnus.

Time for Louis Gosset, Jr?

West Philadelphia High gets evacuated again. I expect that Mayor Street will finally cave to Paul Vallas’ wishes to have police patrol the school.

That might be a good short-term solution just to make it through the rest of the school year. In the long term though, instead of thinking large-scale about systems, they’ll just shove a “Crazy Joe” Clark principal into West Philadelphia High and hope that the rest will fall in line.

Welcome to The Jungle

This Sunday Inquirer piece sums up what’s been a bad year and a bad week for Philadelphia teachers. Teachers and aides have been attacked, assaulted, and threatened by students. Things got so bad at West Philadelphia High school that the principal was removed earlier this week. And then things got even worse by last Friday, so the school district decided to split the school up four ways to reduce the number of students.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is pointing the finger at the school district for under-reporting the incidences. Also, even though incidences may get reported, violent students may just get shuffled around to different schools. Most of the time, the student stays at their current school: according to one study, 19 out of 100 of the worst cases of assault (called Level-2) result in the student getting moved. While the Philadelphia Schools CEO Paul Vallas said that students who assault teachers will get an immediate 10 day suspension and possibly get sent to an “Alternative School”, he is facing a surprise $36 million deficit. It is this hole in the budget which forced the district to cut back on hall monitors.

While the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ head Ted Kirsch can clamor for the district to “Put money in the schools,” he is failing to mention that two years ago, he had nearly twice the number of hall monitors than this year, and there were still 897 reported cases of students assaulting teachers. There were 791 reported incidents last year. This school year, to date, there have been 409.

When dealing with problems in a system, you isolate the component that’s causing the problems, fix it, and the system works like it’s supposed to. This is true if you’re fixing cars or writing computer software, but it’s different when it comes to the social fabric. Change one part of the social fabric, and every other component reacts, changes, and possibly disrupts other parts. The struggle in Philadelphia schools may actually have nothing to do with the amount of funding it receives, whoever is principal at West Philadelphia High, or how many bouncers you have roaming the halls.

Philadelphia is a hostile business environment with its wage tax on those working in the city regardless of where they live and those who live in the city, regardless of where they work. There also exists a business privilege tax. Philadelphia is the second most heavily taxed city in the country. Over the past 30 years, Philadelphia has hemorrhaged population and business have gone with them. So even if these students settle down and get a modicum of education, where are they going to work?

David Simon, who wrote the book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and is a producer and writer for HBO’s The Wire, summed this up perfectly in an interview with Reason Magazine.

For 35 years, you’ve systematically deindustrialized these cities. You’ve rendered them inhospitable to the working class, economically. You have marginalized a certain percentage of your population, most of them minority, and placed them in a situation where the only viable economic engine in their hypersegregated neighborhoods is the drug trade. Then you’ve alienated them further by fighting this draconian war in their neighborhoods…The solution is to undo the last 35 years, brick by brick. How long is that going to take? I don’t know, but until you start it’s only going to get worse.

While Philadelphia can’t and won’t just up-and-end the war on drugs, which is a good chunk of Mr. Simon’s solution, they can do something about the business climate in Philadelphia. And by demolishing the wage tax and the business privilege tax, they will experience some truly delightful un-intended consequences when the students actually start giving a damn.

Deja Vu All Over Again

In an earlier post, Sebastian described the story of a Philadelphia restaurant owner who shot two would-be robbers, killing one of them.

This follow up in the Philadelphia Inquirer describes a very similar story in 1993 involving the same man with the same results: two robbers shot, one dead and the other facing attempted robbery and aggravated assault charges.

The first confrontation was on Aug. 15, 1993, when two men walked into a grocery run by Lee’s family at 68th Avenue and Broad Street in East Oak Lane.

Police said at that time that the robbery took place about 8:30 a.m., and that Lee pulled his handgun and fired when he emerged from a back room and saw that one of the men had grabbed his wife by the throat.

A 30-year-old man was pronounced dead at the scene from three gunshot wounds, including one to the head. The second man was found nearby with bullet wounds to the chest and thigh.

The best part is that the law never came down on Mr. Lee for doing the city of Philadelphia a favor. And they’re not doing so again.

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