Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: moby-dick

Chris Bosh, -$28 Million Man; David Stern, Superstar

I guess Chris Bosh doesn’t need that $27 million summer house in Southampton. The now-former Raptors’ centerish dude has taken $28 million fewer dollars than he would have made playing (presumably) with LeBron James in Cleveland to play (presumably) with Dwyane Wade in Miami. And thus the free market system has told you something about the relative value of two American cities to one Christopher Wesson Bosh, of Dallas, Texas.

Of course, this wasn’t a perfect example of market forces working their magic. The Raptors could pay Bosh the most, and any other team looking to sign him could pay him $28 million less. The Raptors and Cavs had agreed for Bosh to sign the higher contract and then work out a trade. He didn’t, so they didn’t, and now he’s going to Miami.

All of this makes you wonder how much money would be flying around if there was no salary cap. The NBA system is designed to give superstars incentives to stay on their longtime teams, presumably because David Stern has found that it makes the league more marketable. He’s taken the Michael Jordan effect and spread it leaguewide: Have one recognizable great player on each team, and people will tune in even if they don’t know anyone else on the roster. Best of all, make the league such an enticing draw for advertisers that the best players—the ones whose pay is actually being capped by the limits on maximum contracts—don’t actively bark about their pay being limited, and instead work toward endorsement deals. The league’s increasingly squeaky-clean image—promoted by NBA Cares commercials and enforced by Stern & Co.’s zero-tolerance approach to physical nonsense, on or off the court—helps make these endorsements a reality. It’s the After Artest era, one in which Ron-Ron himself almost single-handedly wins Game 7 of the NBA finals and thanks his therapist on national television.

It’s almost impossible believe that with all the money that’s floating around now that the owners are threatening to lock out the players after next season, and it’s even worse when you know they’d be throwing out even more if they could. You don’t think LeBron would hold out for a contract bigger than Alex Rodriguez’s $300 million deal? LeBron has scheduled a prime-time hour on ESPN to announce his decision. Childhood vanity or innate vanity, it’s still vanity, and by the manner in which teams are falling all over LeBron to procure his services, there’s no reason to think someone wouldn’t nudged an offer at least into spitting distance of A-Rod’s deal. And yet the owners are going to tell you they’re losing money, which they may in fact be doing. There are rumors that they’ve spent so much this offseason because they know they won’t have to pay up, as they are expected to ask for an across-the-board salary cut, owing mostly to dwindling attendance. Knowing David Stern, they’re likely to get it. Mr. Stern doesn’t lose, even if the owners are making an embarrassingly poor case for themselves right now.

Their counterpoint could be that these are simply the costs of doing business, but they’re not. “Doing business” and building a championship team are not, unfortunately for sports fans, the same thing. Profitability has an easily identifiable blueprint: pay as little as possible for players, win as many games as possible and, whatever you do, make the playoffs. Exactly how far you make it in the playoffs doesn’t matter all that much to the bottom line. At some point you are going to run up against someone else’s vanity project, and to plan to beat that team (not the same as actually beating them), takes money out of your pocket at the height of your moneymaking powers. People don’t want to hear it, but if you follow that blueprint, you’ll make money.

Yet rich people continue to buy sports teams and pile money into them, and you don’t become rich enough to become an owner without being a shrewd moneysmith. At some point, owning a sports team could be classified as little more than a vanity project, which would explain owners’ inability to keep their public statements in line with the actions of their teams. They claim to not want to lose money, but most of them are already losing money when compared to how much they could be making if they were, for lack of a better term, “all business.” So what they’re really complaining about is a movement down a sliding scale on which they’ve willingly jumped. I’m not that sympathetic.

At the same time, the NBA’s system does, at least in theory, strike a nice balance between the rabidly free-market system of Major League Baseball and the proscribed, socialistic payout system of the NFL. Baseball embraced the “watch the money” ethos early on, content to sell as many Yankees hats as it can and crush the dreams of every Kansas City kid; the NFL has far too many players to pay to allow any one team or group to monopolize the talent pool. In the NBA, you can do it if you’re lucky, good and plan well. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh won’t be teaming up in Miami, but they could have. The resulting arrangement should leave title-contending teams in Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, Orlando and Boston… and that’s just in the East. Three of those teams are led by No. 1 overall draft picks, which shows how much you need the ball to bounce your way, but that’s no less capricious than, say, relying on Tom Brady to turn into a Hall of Famer. Sometimes it’s about money, sometimes it’s about skill, and sometimes it’s about luck.

So when looking at Chris Bosh’s decision to leave $28 million on the table and go to Cleveland, I wouldn’t sweat about the money. He’s not a good or bad person for doing what he did, he’s just a guy in search of something at the nexus of comfort, vanity, and fulfillment. Or to put it another way: “There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method.” That’s Moby-Dick; I’m still on that. LeBron’s the white whale, sure, but the only thing that comes up more in Moby-Dick than Moby Dick himself is God, created the system that led to the noble pursuit in which Ishmael was engaged and over which virtually everyone onboard obsessed.

I think Melville would have liked David Stern.

•••

Apropos of nothing, I was going to post a clip from last night’s Louie, featuring Ricky Gervais, that is in no way, shape or form safe for work. However, the still shot for the YouTube video is of Louis C.K.’s butt, so I’ll just post the link. If you want to watch it, go here. Do this.

The End of Men

Are men finished?

That’s the conclusion of the cover story of the most recent issue of The Atlantic, where Hanna Rosin documents “How women are taking control—of everything.” I can’t speak to “everything,” but I’ve certainly witnessed a major demographic shift toward women in my industry. I’m not saying my experience is representative—but The Atlantic is saying it.

I’ll get deeper into my observations in a second. The first thing I did after reading the article was reach out to tongue-in-cheek-self-described “feminazi” Katie L. of this great operation, who more or less declared herself an “ur-general” in the gender war per the clip below (If it never shows up, just click on the link if you’re into that kind of thing. I’m working on it.):

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Gloria Steinem
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Fox News

(I’ll say this: Colbert’s female replacement is going to be gooood.)

Back to my experience. I’ve had three real jobs in my adult life. The first one lasted nine months, during which the owner of the company purged two entire editorial staffs, myself and gender considerations excluded. I think we can call that one a wash in the gender war. It’s the next two jobs that have had undeniable trends toward hiring women merely as a matter of circumstances. In neither case was it a crusade; we were just hiring the most qualified people. It may be a tiny sample size, but it happened.

My next job was at the Queens Chronicle, which had an editorial staff of six, one of whom was a woman in her sixties who had basically earned the title of Managing Editor for life by dint of her extensive knowledge of certain parts of the borough and her house four blocks from our Rego Park offices. The remaining five editors were all in their twenties—and they were all men, if only in the technical sense. Sports party! I joined at a time of light staff turnover, but soon we locked into a four-man, two-woman rotation that lasted for about 18 months. I left when that arrangement fell apart, and when I did, I was the only male among the staff members—and they were replacing me with a woman.

When I joined the magazine at which I currently work (No link; Church and State, at least for now), I walked into the same arrangement into which I did at the Chronicle: six editors, one woman. Four years later, we’re down to four editors, and I’m again the only male.

Fun fact: all three of these companies were owned and operated by women.

So I found myself nodding along to the article as I read it, though as I’m sure some people found themselves shaking their own heads, disbelieving, based on their own experiences, Rosin’s conclusions. I’m just saying. And all of this was before I walked into a business lunch yesterday on the top floor of the Hearst Building, which was to be a 10-person roundtable discussing Hearst brands, and branding in general. I was the only male, and I hesitate to say it was a great meeting just to make the point of emphasis—it was a professional one, pure and simple. (Okay, it was pretty good too and the city views were, well, wow.)

To what does Rosin attribute this shift?

The working class, which has long defined our notions of masculinity, is slowly turning into a matriarchy, with men increasingly absent from the home and women making all the decisions.

[…]

The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male.

[…]

Researchers have started looking into the relationship between testosterone and excessive risk, and wondering if groups of men, in some basic hormonal way, spur each other to make reckless decisions. The picture emerging is a mirror image of the traditional gender map: men and markets on the side of the irrational and overemotional, and women on the side of the cool and levelheaded.

We don’t yet know with certainty whether testosterone strongly influences business decision-making. But the perception of the ideal business leader is starting to shift. The old model of command and control, with one leader holding all the decision-making power, is considered hidebound. The new model is sometimes called “post-heroic,” or “transformational” in the words of the historian and leadership expert James MacGregor Burns. The aim is to behave like a good coach, and channel your charisma to motivate others to be hardworking and creative.

Now let’s go back, as yesterday, to Moby-Dick:

The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung.

I couldn’t work with half a lung.

But, as we develop as a society and get smarter, companies are realizing that they don’t need to hire men based on invisible potential, machismo based in their invisible, “monomaniac” potential. The Internet has helped push analysis to new heights in an incredible number of areas—take baseball, for one—based on facts of productivity instead of promises. Gone are the days where a young, big baseball prospect is valued for what the scouts believe he has the potential to do; he is now inferior to the small, scrappy player who has proven he can, you know, play baseball. So much of being a professional anything involves listening and absorbing ideas that those who are caught up in “the malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them” aren’t going to get hired in the first place, especially in a reeling economy where financial recklessness cannot be tolerated.

It might be tempting to think that if the economy improves, there will be more risk-taking, and might more closely resemble the man-driven world of oh, all of time up until (and many would argue, including) now. But I don’t see us going backward. There may be more risk-taking in a thriving future, but they will be better calculated risks, and there’s no reason to think that women can’t make them. Thousands of years of free lunches for men might be coming to an end, and I’m fine with it.

Enjoy the weekend.

•••

Apropos of nothing, I’m wearing this shirt today:

Hell yeah, Biden.

Salt Water Tonic

I don’t know if this is a superstition, a home remedy, a theory, an axiom, a fact, bilged nonsense, hocus-pocus, or what, but I believe salt water cures almost everything. Poison Ivy, malaise, acne, you name it—if it’s not some sort of Major Medical Problem, I eschew the doctor’s office, and get to the beach. This is certainly related to my island upbringing. This doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Yesterday I went to Coney Island after work. It’s a straight shot from my office on 34th Street on the N or Q train, whichever comes first. I took the N. I wanted to get my feet in the water, and I knew if I stopped at my house to get shorts and a towel, I would never leave. Instead I would become a caricature: the businessman with the untucked shirt and rolled-up pant legs, falling downhill toward the ocean.

Some people get healed by the ocean just by looking at it. I’m finally reading Moby-Dick, which opens with scenes of “Manhattoes” eschewing the comforts of their homes to gaze longingly to sea:

Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries.

And why would they do that?

We see ourselves in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantasm of life; and this is the key to it all.

Well jeepers, when you put it like that.

So here I was, grasping at the phantasm, keeping a watchful eye of my laptop onshore hidden snugly under my shirt, paranoia over potential stolen goods fading as the minutes ticked by, the sun set, the beach cleared, and my skin absorbed enough Vitamin D (and eventually, my blood enough Pacifico) to slow my internal clock down to something resembling normal. I never slowed it down completely: this is still Brooklyn, after all. But the reason Brooklyn is Brooklyn and Manhattan is Manhattan is that you can survive in Brooklyn by maintaining just a touch of self-awareness. I did it, and I was fine, and I got to enjoy the show.

What show? Well, how about the state park workers shooing people out of the water after 6 p.m.? Spaced about 100 yards apart, these teams of sentinels were tasked with enforcing an impossible rule: “The water is closed.” They’d get everyone out, and everyone would immediately fall back in behind them. From above, it would have looked like a sine curve steadily meandering its way toward Montauk. The water is closed. Ha. Call me when that works. I’ll even leave the ringer on.

Later on, at an outdoor bar that I chose to watch the sunset—actually, I chose it to steel myself for the ride home, and ended up enjoying the sunset—I was, finding myself head-bobbing uncomfortably to early Billy Joel (I was in the merely slightly boozy, not belligerently drunk state in which this is actually possible), trying to distract myself by looking around and sending text messages to Yankees fans. At some point, a couple came into the sparsely-crowded area at around the same time as a group of six guys who posted up with some Popeyes and ordered some beers. The couple was a conspicuously older man with a younger woman with whom he had only recently made an acquaintance; they sat in the table next to me. I thought I was the only one to notice when, as the group began to leave, two of the guys approached the table and, nearly brushing old dude’s hand off girl’s leg, slapped two condoms on the table to the delight of their themselves, their four friends, the old dude, and even his now slightly embarrassed special lady. Then they left, and life continued as if it never happened (for the time being, anyway).

All of this is a way of saying that I was right about the salt water. Outside of the fogginess of my head—two beers can do it to me now—it was a tonic for what ailed me.