NFL publishes price list for cheating

In a little-noticed move yesterday, the NFL published what can only be described as a price list for teams that want to get the rules waived during a game. All the team needs to do is inform the officials of the intended infraction and pay the designated amount (I’m guessing payments will be electronic?). The refs get payment confirmation and no flag will be thrown.

Word of this price list circulated quickly through the dark side of the Internet as players and teams fought to keep it secret. Of course, once something hits the Internet, it doesn’t remain secret for long.

Despite my efforts, I haven’t been able to get ahold of the actual price list, but based on the comments I’ve seen I can piece together some of its parts. Some were willing to chat with me online and share their thoughts. Out of respect, I won’t identify people making comments.

“This is great!” said one player. “If we need to interfere with a receiver, all we have to do is signal that the team will pay the $10,000. That’s a small price to pay for preventing your opponent from taking the lead in the fourth quarter.”

One coach noted that his club—one of the wealthiest—will have a distinct advantage. “We’ve had strong teams in recent years but just haven’t been able to get past the last hurdle. We’ve got plenty of cash, and I suspect we will use it to level the playing field against certain teams.”

I asked this coach if the NFL should just shred the rule book all together. “No,” he said. “Certain rules have to be there for safety reasons. That’s why grabbing a guy’s face mask will still get you a yardage penalty. But the rules designed to ensure fair competition, well, it’ll be nice to get them waived when needed.” When pressed to identify when a waiver might be needed, the coach said, “Say your offense has momentum. The last thing your guys need is some dunderhead getting himself declared an ineligible receiver and cutting the momentum off. For a lousy thousand bucks, we can ensure that a dumb mistake won’t kill us.”

With all of this coming on the heels of “Deflate-gate,” I had to ask the obvious question: does this price list include using under-inflated balls? One player would only say, “What do you think?” I asked what the named cost was, but he demurred. “It’s not a million bucks, I’ll say that.” He wouldn’t reveal anything more, which leads one to wonder: are there increased prices for playoff games, championship games, and even the Super Bowl? After asking the coach this question repeatedly, he simply signed off the chat.

The Nepal earthquake

511pyvWg3YLYears ago I read one of the most gripping books I’ve encountered: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. The story is a first-person account of the 1996 disaster that claimed a number of lives on Mt. Everest. Krakauer tells the story of how one even gets to the Mt. Everest region in the Kingdom of Nepal. He introduces you to the locals in Kathmandu as well as the sherpas who live in the mountains and earn a living by helping take climbers up and down the mountain.

Candidly, I can’t stand to look at the news any longer. I don’t want to see the death toll climb. The people who have suffered (and continue to suffer) are just a little too real to me because of Krakauer’s book. But I feel obligated to help and ask you to do the same.

Please donate to the American Red Cross’s relief efforts. If you’re not a fan of the ARC, please find some other way to help. The people of Nepal are amazing, and like all people of the world they deserve our help in this time of need.

In defense of science

In the last couple of days, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul made comments suggesting opposition to mandatory vaccines for children. While they are the butt of many jokes and the target of many snarky barbs since then, they are merely a symptom of a greater problem. People reject science.

Perhaps people do so because a lot of science is complicated, very complicated. We can observe the effects of gravity, but explaining gravity is not so easy. Scientists have expanded the size of the knowledge base to a point where we non-scientists can’t get our heads around it.

Let’s take evolution as an example. I, along with many others, have a hard time fathoming the idea that random genetic mutations over millions of years led to the organ we call the eye. It seems so outlandish, it’s easier to think that there must be some other force at work. And yet the science and the evidence prove otherwise. People can reject the conclusion, but the scientific method requires that they do so with some evidence—not just belief (whether in a deity or the simple “I just can’t believe it”).

If they have some evidence, then others can test the evidence against what we know thus far. If the new evidence proves evolution is wrong (after repeated study and experimentation or testing), then that’s how it’s supposed to work. Copernicus established a predictive model to prove the Earth orbits around the Sun. It was revolutionary, but it became established fact and accepted by everyone. Until something similar happens with evolution—or climate change or the safety of vaccinations—we have to rely on what scientists know at this point. We have to rely on the evidence.

The recent outbreak of measles at Disneyland illustrates that when enough people reject science and refuse to vaccinate their children, there are real consequences.

Let’s hope that we can persuade our friends and neighbors to wake up and begin to rely on those who study these issues as their life’s work rather than blindly accepting the anecdotal claims of others.

Why I subscribed to NYTimes.com

For years, I’ve been a freeloader. I’ve read the New York Times online (tech and opinion pages especially) and haven’t paid a dime. I was annoyed when the Times adopted a paywall that let me read only ten articles for free each month.

Recently I’ve been thinking about an important decision coming up for an organization to which I belong, and something occurred to me: the dues I pay to the organization do not benefit me so much as they benefit the larger purpose of the organization—making it possible to do its work that I support.

As a legal professional, it pains me when people in my community do not understand basic things about how the legal system works. As a citizen, it pains me when people in the nation do not understand the difference between facts and opinion (see, for example, the alleged debate over climate change).

We attorneys can’t clear up a lay person’s misunderstanding about how the legal system works in two minutes, nor can climate change scientists clear up misunderstandings related to that issue in a short time. Many things in our world today are more complicated than ideas explainable on a bumper sticker.

Good journalism helps explain some of these things. I’m not holding up the Times as the epitome of good journalism—there are plenty of editorial decisions it has made over the years that I disagree with. But, like other major newspapers (Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe) it does good work explaining complicated issues and separating facts from opinion. Our society needs this.

So, I decided that the Times digital subscription is not a matter of what I get out of it. It’s a matter of what my subscription—combined with others—allows the Times to do. Paper newspaper circulations may be dropping, but the work of those journalists is still desperately required. Without it, we cannot understand the issues we must confront or the problems we must solve.

The next time you encounter a paywall, consider whether you might want to pay a little bit of money to make it possible for the work of those behind the paywall to continue.

This principle, of course, also applies to software. The apps we use on our computers can often be easily pirated. We might be annoyed when we see an iOS or Android app that costs money to use. Somehow, we’ve come to believe that free is good (and, indeed, free beer is good) and therefore everything should be free.

As the Gershwins wrote in Porgy and Bess, it ain’t necessarily so.

“Reboot yourself”—U2

Blogging is hard work.

Anyone who writes anything—letters, contracts, thank you notes—knows that writing takes time. Writing blog posts also takes time. (The topic of finding time to write is an entirely different matter.)

What makes blogging into hard work is figuring out what to write about. What recent events, latest products, or new apps will be of interest to the readers of this blog?

I take my hat off to guys like Jeff Richardson of iPhone J.D. and David Sparks of MacSparky. They generate great content all the time. They have a gift. Writing their blogs is also fun for them.

In case this post sounds like a farewell, let me say it is definitely not that. I am, however, going to work on “rebooting” this blog and myself. The upcoming holidays are a good time to do that.

See you again in 2015 (unless I find something I absolutely must write about here)!