Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Everyone But Football Coaches Exaggerates How Many Hours They Work

Last month David Yanofsky had a great post on a study showing how people tend to inflate how many hours they actually work. Matt Yglesias summarizes it nicely here.
The main point is there's a cultural expectation in many fields where working a lot of hours is encouraged, even admired. Yglesias notes:
Researchers think this reflects a "social desirability" effect where it's considered good to be working really long hours.
This got me thinking about how this relates to the NFL and how it reflects our society's views toward working long hours. Football coaches, like business executives and tech CEOs are lionized for working ridiculously long hours. It's viewed as some sort of character flaw if you don't work yourself to near exhaustion every single season. The old saying "no one on their death bed wishes they had spent more time at work" probably doesn't apply to football coaches.

And then San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was hospitalized last week and needed surgery to repair a problem with an irregular heartbeat. Of course it was described as a "minor procedure." I mean it's just a MINOR routine HEART surgery.

49ers star linebacker Patrick Willis added:
"Coach Harbaugh, like he always tells us, he's tougher than a two-dollar steak," Willis said. "We know he's going to be alright. We've got a bunch or great coaches here that are going to keep everything on track, and we're going to practice today as if he was here."
See, no need to worry, everyone. He's tough! If you're tough and work hard, you can overcome a heart ailment. Man-up! Tough guys don't let heart problems bring them down, you weak-hearted wussies!  Then again this is the culture of the NFL. Until the recent CYA law-suit prevention incentive to emphasize the reduction of head injuries, players were expected to play through every kind of injury or ailment short of a loss of limb.

And I guess cancer. Yeah, loss of limb and cancer. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this year and took a leave of absence while he underwent treatment. And then we heard story after story about how "this really puts life in perspective" and "football isn't really that important." And that lasted a few weeks and then football became the most important thing in the world to everyone again.

Being married to a football coach must be like being married to a combat veteran in a war that never ends. A combat veteran who, mind you, volunteers for this duty year after year after year, apparently because he has a sociopathic obsession, like the lead character the in The Hurt Locker. During the 6-7 month season they are basically absent. They may be around occasionally, but are always mentally checked out, focusing on their next opponent. And then in the offseason they are still working what most of us consider a normal somewhat grueling work week. Drew Magary had a great anecdote in his weekly Jamboroo column recently about Alabama head coach Nick Saban. This was the reaction just after winning a national championship in January 2010:
Saban reminded us that those best equipped to win championships are often the least equipped to celebrate them.

"I guarantee you," said a smiling Terry Saban, as she watched her spouse of 38 years, "he's already thinking about next week."

Did the couple have plans? "He said he'll give me two days," Terry said, "and then he has to meet with some of the players about going out for the [NFL] draft."

Two days? "Two days," she repeated. "And I'll take it."

Oh, and just for good measure Nick Saban forgot his own birthday a few weeks ago.  With the lack of joy that winning seems to bring, it starts to look like big time football coaches are mainly coaching to get away from something or trying to fill some void in their lives. Sorry, no amount of success or hours of film study now is going to make daddy want to have a catch with you when you were 10 years old.

I always had a soft spot for Steve Spurrier (even though he kind of seems like a jerk), mainly because of the refreshing outlook he brought with him to be head coach of the Washington Redskins when he left the University of Florida in 2002. His philosophy was something close to 'I’m not going to sleep in my office reviewing game film until 4am every night.'  Spurrier was essentially saying, "I'm going to work smarter, not harder", which is the same bullshit business cliche we've been hearing for nearly 20 years. Yet, Spurrier was roundly mocked by almost everyone in the NFL for apparently not having the same mental disorder, er work ethic, everyone else in his field has. And people took great satisfaction seeing Spurrier fall flat on his face.

Spurrier didn’t have much success in the NFL in two seasons (12-20), but in my opinion that had much more to do with him not having enough talent and his Fun-'n'-gun offense not being an effective NFL system, than it had to do with him not buying into the peer pressure to work 120+ hours a week. And after a certain point it's counterproductive, kind of like rewriting a term paper for the 20th time and it likely being no better than the 5th rewrite.

Imagine the positive work-life balance precedent this would have set if Spurrier had had better players and his offense actually worked in the NFL. He'd have been winning, while working about half the number of hours as the other coaches. We'd have been reading stories in the Style section of the Washington Post about how Spurrier's philosophy keeps coaches fresher, prevents burnout, and that's they key to success in the modern NFL. Instead, we got a bunch of stories about him being ill-prepared and mailing it in for the big payday.

As a young Philadelphia Eagles fan I lived through Dick Vermeil's infamous "burnout" retirement after the 1982 season. And as an adult for the last 14 seasons I've watched Andy Reid seemingly put in his diligent 20-hour work days while winning a lot of games. I'm fairly certain Reid didn't put in any more time game-planning when the Eagles were contending for Super Bowl titles than he is now when they are among the league's worst teams. Talent, good fortune, and preparation are the keys to victory and when you don't have the former two ingredients, the latter doesn't really matter.

And while Reid has spent the last 14 seasons putting in 20+hour work weeks, his two eldest sons have had run-ins with the law and battled drug addiction. His oldest, Garrett, died of a heroin overdose at the training camp facility this past summer. Reid of course, being the consummate football coach, just took off a few days in early August and then went right back to work. And knowing how coaches operate, this decision surprised no one.

Reid will likely be fired at the end of the season and if he takes some time away from football to focus on his family and maybe help his other son, Britt, it will have been a blessing in disguise.

As a big fan of pro football, I'm torn on this. One one hand, I want my team to have a surly, emotionally-distant taskmaster as a coach if it means my team will have a chance to win a Super Bowl. On the other hand, this is an unhealthy standard for our society to place so much emphasis on leisure time entertainment and the ensuing pressure on individuals involved to work so many hours.

NFL head coaches essentially have the same schedule the President of the United States has. Yet instead of solving real problems and dealing with foreign and domestic policy issues, they are spending all this time and effort trying to win football games. They aren't figuring out how to resolve international conflicts, fiscal problems, or how to get more people access to health care. They are studying film trying to figure out how to get the tight end open on a skinny post route in the red zone.

When you take a step back and think of it that way, you have to ask how we got here.

And now due to downsizing, not just severely Type-A executives with daddy issues, but your average employees are expected to work long hours to fill in the gaps created by layoffs. And then how can we complain to our corporate overlords when NFL coaches are working twice as many hours every week!

So as we celebrate another Thanksgiving holiday this year, it's always important to be thankful for what we have. But maybe we should all start thinking about what we can do to get the lifestyles we really want to have. What are the tradeoffs? Are they really worth it? Will it take long-term societal change to create the environment where we all have the ability to achieve the lifestyles we want, without as many tradeoffs? Is the European model really the ideal?  And football coaches...stop working so many hours!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Final Thoughts on the Election

Here are some longer thoughts on this election:

1. The Electoral College map figures to remain very tough for Republicans for at least the next few Presidential cycles. Currently, the six states with the most electoral votes are all getting more Democratic every year. California (55), Texas (38), Florida (29), New York (29), Illinois (20), and Pennsylvania (20) are all much more Democratic that they were 20 or even 10 years ago. California, New York, and Illinois remain safe deep blue states. Pennsylvania is a swing state in name-only, and is leaning Democratic now. As long as the Republican party keeps their extreme positions on social issues, they've lost the Philadelphia suburbs for good, and thus any chance of winning the state. Florida remains a true toss-up. So Texas is the only large state that is currently solidly Republican. And with the projected demographic trends, in 10 years Texas will likely become a swing state.

Even other fairly large states are becoming more Democratic. Virginia  (13) and North Carolina (15) were solid Republican states just 10 years ago and now are toss-up states, while Georgia (16) is approaching swing state status with the last two Presidential elections decided by just 5 and 8 points, respectively. And the Democrats still remain strong in New England and the upper Midwest.

In short, it appears unless there are drastic changes, the Republicans will have a narrow path to winning the Electoral College in the foreseeable future. Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina will be must-win states for the Republicans in every election, while the Democrats will start off with something like 220 electoral votes safely in hand.

2. Republicans aren't going to win in the majority of big cities any time soon, but they can't continue to get killed in cities and expect to win elections. Of the 25 largest cities in the country, Mitt Romney only won the majority of the votes in three: Phoenix (55-43), Jacksonville (51-47), and Fort Worth (57-41). The cities are where the voters are and in most big cities Democrats are winning 2/3 or more of the votes. The New Republic has more on this.

3. The Republicans and Tea Party marriage was mutually beneficial at first and now has really harmed Republicans. They used each other to get something in the short term. Republicans needed to re-brand themselves and needed grass roots energy to win back power. And the Tea Party apparently was really just made up of a lot of social conservatives pretending to care about the deficit in order to have more influence on social policy. Rachel Maddow was one of the first pundits to point out that the Tea Party kept insisting they were mainly concerned about the economy and the deficit, but if you actually paid attention to the people showing up at the rallies or how they spoke about abortion and marriage equality, you could tell this was just another iteration of the very extreme social conservative base of the party.

This was very apparent in 2010 when the Republicans lost what should have been three easy Senate seat pickups in NV (Harry Reid), CO (Michael Bennet), and DE (Chris Coons), by nominating the less electable Tea Party favorites in the primaries - Sharon Angle, Ken Buck, and Christine O'Donnell. All three of these candidates were favorites of the social conservatives and two ran on the "I will make abortion illegal, no exceptions" platform and were rejected by voters even in a Republican wave year.

Then the Republicans took back the House and decided to focus on passing a lot of bills (67 by last count as of August) to restrict access to abortion and contraception, because you, jobs, jobs. So 67 bills directly or indirectly about restricting access to abortion or contraception and not one bill to create jobs.

4. In the 2012 cycle, the Tea Party still not deterred, cost the Republicans a chance at Senate seats in Missouri (Claire McCaskill). The more extreme Tea Party candidate won in the primary, so McCaskill ended up facing off against Todd "you can't pregnant from rape" Akin, while Indiana Republican incumbent Dick Lugar was defeated by Richard "rape is a gift from god" Mourdock in the primary. These candidates were a gift from god to the Democrats who won both seats easily.

We kept wondering why Republicans couldn't get the Tea Party coalition in line so they could win. But as the old proverb goes, "he who rides the tiger must beware lest he end up inside."

And arguably the Tea Party forcing the Republicans to adopt more extreme positions on abortion is what helped the Democrats turnout more women voters and win this group by such a big margin. This no doubt tipped other close House and Senate races to the Democrats and was a key factor in President Obama's victory in swing states.

5. When women voters vote in big numbers, Democrats win. Period. This election the Democrats won single women by a 67-31 margin and won women overall 55-44. The single women/married women gap was very large - 49 points! - as married women backed Republicans 56-43. The difference is there are a lot more single women voters now than there were years ago. This demographic trend is also helping the Democrats. Women are putting off getting married until later in life and thus the "marriage gap" is more of a factor every election.

6. I was offended by the dismissive talk in conservative circles about Obama winning by huge margins among the "non-white" vote, as if those voters don't really count. The argument boiled down to, "Obama won but he didn't win the majority of votes of real Americans." Republicans are still trying to comfort themselves that they didn't lose on the actual issues, since minority voters obviously don't vote on issues or anything. As if only white people concern themselves with abortion restrictions or tax cuts for the rich or Medicare cuts.

And actually a similar thing happened with how FDR's coalition came together in 1930's, but then it was the European immigrants of that time. If there were cable news and talk radio shows back then, I'm sure the Republican WASPs and the Rush Limbaughs of their time would have been saying similar things about how FDR just won with a coalition of unwashed masses like Irish, Italian, Jewish, and German immigrants who just wanted handouts from the government, taking from the people "who built this country." The more things change, the more they stay the same. That coalition of Northern ethnics and Southern whites mostly held for the Democrats for 40 years. It'll be interesting to see how long-lasting this new Democratic coalition is.

7. It was a solid win for the Democrats and the demographic trends are definitely in their favor, but perhaps a better Republican candidate and a flip of a total of a few million votes in a handful of states and we could be having a very different discussion at the moment. So I caution Democrats not to get too cocky and assume a semi-permanent new majority coalition is here to stay. It is going to take a lot of work to hold it together. Obama is a once in a generation politician who has the ability to motivate and inspire these voters. In four years there could a less-inspiring figure at the top of the ticket and this coalition could easily be fractured if Republicans make some savvy political decisions.

Marco Rubio could be running at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016 after having helped pass immigration reform. It's not hard to imagine the Republicans winning back similar levels of Latino support that Bush won, which would probably be enough to flip enough states to win the Presidency. So sadly the GOP could very well win again in 2016 without having to do much differently on the policy front. I figure the party will first try running on the same tired Bush/Romney agenda like they always do, but try it with a Latino guy at the top of the ticket and see how that goes. Only if that ticket is rejected will they moderate on other issues. So tokenism before substance most likely.

8. And finally, let's face it, Democrats don't just win over huge majorities of Latino and black voters because they have a lot of Latino and black officeholders. It's more the other way around - the big melting pot coalition of voters they already have, help elect the Latino and black officeholders. And the reason they have so much support from such a diverse group of voters is because of the results of the policies Democrats support. Clinton, Gore, and Kerry received close to the same percentage of the black vote nationally that Obama did because of policies not tribalism.

If Republicans wonder why 95% of black voters side with the Democrats, maybe it has something to do with the opposition to Civil Rights laws in the 1960's. Maybe it has something to do with the party passing state laws every cycle to try to keep many in this group from voting in elections. It's difficult for black voters to perceive the Republicans are treating them as equals when they are constantly trying to make voting more difficult.

Shockingly to some Republican pundits, black voters may not want to support a party who has people who attend rallies and consort and agree with people who carry signs like this

Or this:

Yes, surprisingly black voters who might even agree with you on taxes and social issues may not support your party if it includes a lot of people who think like this.

And of course who can forget this guy from a Romney rally in Ohio:

 (Source: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Think of the comfort level these people at rallies must have to express such blatantly racist views in public. It's obvious they aren't scorned by other politically like-minded people and don't get a lot of negative feedback about it. And that's part of the problem with living in the bubble.

Maybe it has something to do with the conservative media that drives the party's agenda using code words or signals to attempt to make every issue into a "Hey, white people look at what black people are saying or doing now!" issue. Republicans, these are your friends in the media. You never say a bad word about Limbaugh or the people on Fox. If you want to appeal to black voters, maybe don't have so many racist friends or friends who are willing to play on white people's racial fears in order to get ratings.

The same thing applies to Latino voters. If you want to win over more Latino voters, maybe you need more candidates and talk show hosts who don't flex their muscles over how fast they can deport illegal immigrants, without giving any thought to the consequences of these policies on people and communities. The Arizona "papers please" law and near unanimous national Republican support of this did not help when it came time to run for President.

It may shock some Republicans, but if a significant portion of your base views Latinos as "invaders", then you might have trouble wooing Latino voters. (source AP/Chris Pizzelle)

If you are a Latino voter, do you want to vote for the guy who hangs out with the guy who views having too many Latinos in this country as a problem in and of itself?

In short, until the Republican party leaders stand up to and call-out blatant racists and xenophobes, instead of just ignoring them publicly while keeping them in the fold with dog-whistles, black and Latino voters simply won't trust that any outreach is sincere. Republicans have a big choice to make and they can't honestly court minority voters without alienating part of their base, and vice versa.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Rewarding Achievement and Punishing Obstruction

Obama became the first Democrat since FDR to win 2 terms with 50+% of the popular vote both times.

I've been tired and busy since Tuesday night and haven't had time to post my thoughts on the election until now.

As a liberal, obviously I'm pleased with Tuesday's election results. Four years ago I was a lot more excited, whereas this time around I'm just more relieved that President Obama will be able to continue the progress he's made in the last four years.

He admittedly underestimated just how fierce the opposition and obstruction would be after winning a landslide election in 2008. With the country facing huge problems, it's natural to expect at least some cooperation from the party that was just soundly rejected at the polls.

I imagine the President's outlook has changed and since he will now have the leverage, both politically and policy-wise, in most of the big upcoming negotiations, he will use it like a club.

This was really the first Presidential election the Democrats have won since LBJ without needing either a booming economy to run on (Clinton '96) or a having the opposing party be presiding over recession or a recent scandal ('76, '92, '08). They were able to win with just good old-fashioned politics: messaging, voter outreach, ground game, and last and most importantly, the better candidate.

Besides my policy preferences, I think it was very important that Obama was re-elected for two main reasons:

First, for voters to reward the out-party for four years of obstruction and economic sabotage would have been a terrible precedent for our democracy. And it likely would have made that cycle continue for the near future. The Democrats would have then responded by mostly obstructing the Republican president out of revenge. Wash, rinse, repeat. Our democracy has a much better chance of functioning properly now that Obama was re-elected by a solid margin and holds leverage over the Republicans on taxes, the deficit, spending, and immigration. Voters have justly punished the Republicans for their obstruction, inaction, and extremism of the past four years. The incentives for both sides now, at least for this year, point toward cooperation and compromise.

And secondly, given our country's historical scars of slavery, Jim Crow, and race relations in general, it was very important that Obama was re-elected, maybe even more important than electing him in the first place. Otherwise, the first black President, who was came into office facing the biggest challenges in 80 years would have been rejected just four years later for not fixing everything immediately. The confusing demoralizing message to minority voters would have been, "well we tried the black guy and that didn't work out well enough, so we're going back to the white guy with the same policies that caused this mess." Objectively, there would be no other way to read that result without attributing the worst motives to many of the people who voted against Obama.

So, I'm proud of our country for achieving this result for these two very important reasons.

I'll be posting some other takeaways from this election later. 

A Tale of Two Candidates

To me these videos will forever define the choice between the two candidates in this race. Both videos were recorded in private. The first one, you already know about. It's Romney's 47% video. The second one, was Barack Obama stopping by his Chicago campaign headquarters to thank the staff that has worked tirelessly for two election cycles now to help him get elected.

Both candidates sound as at ease and as comfortable as we've ever seen them.

For Romney that is talking to a bunch of other rich guys, and crapping on poor and middle class people, while also laying out his cynical strategy to win the election. Romney is speaking from the heart with his kind of people.

For Obama, it's talking about his roots as a community organizer and how he got involved to make a difference in people's lives. And then he breaks down when talking about how proud he is of those who worked so hard, because he sees himself in them. Obama is speaking from the heart with his kind of people.

The contrast couldn't be any more drastic. Thankfully, America made the right choice.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Romney will not become President "Moderate Mitt"

David Frum believes Romney is lying and that's the reason to support him

David Brooks and David Frum, my favorite conservative pundit, both endorsed Mitt Romney in the last week, both seemingly supporting him in hopes that he is really lying and would really govern as "Moderate Mitt."

I understand this impulse. If you are one of the few prominent moderate Republicans remaining, you must convince yourself that the Presidential candidate would govern more to your liking or else there would be little reason to remain a Republican at this point. At the Congressional level, moderate Republicans are practically extinct. The last chance for a moderate Republican to have any impact on the party is at the Presidential level and he/she will have a really tough time making it through a primary. Romney, to his credit, did win the primary rather easily. But his path isn't likely to be repeated by future moderates. They just don't make many as shameless as Romney, and only someone lacking in any conviction could reinvent himself on virtually every issue in such a short period of time.

Here's the thing though, history shows us Presidents try to keep campaign promises. Frum, at least circles this square, but pointing out that with the Democrats likely to retain control of the Senate, Romney won't be able to follow through on a lot of the crazy misguided stuff he promised his base during the campaign. It's not a very comforting thought to a liberal like myself that the future of ObamaCare, Dodd-Frank, etc, may hinge on a handful of Senate Democrats not caving and voting with the Republicans.

So the argument seems to go: vote for Romney because he's really been lying to us and will govern as a moderate....oh and if he wasn't lying, well the Democrats in the Senate will save us from "Severely Conservative Mitt."

I admire the hope that Romney is secretly running to stick it to the majority of his party and will govern as a moderate. It just seems extremely unlikely. I seem to remember a lot of moderates making the same case about George W. Bush in 2000. And while Bush was more moderate when it came to immigration, since his party was more moderate on that issue at the time, he governed as advertised or even more extreme than how he campaigned on virtually every other issue. As former President Bush said, "Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."