Exercises for New Parents

  • kidlifting (all muscle groups)
  • swaying/bouncing (quads, patience)
  • sex (imagination)
  • rageful clenching (jaw, glutes, adrenal glands)
  • spouse-shouting (abs, rectum [if neurotic])
  • door-slamming (anterior delts, lats, eardrums)
  • house-fleeing (right lower leg, right wrist and forearm [if manual transmission], teeth / inventiveness [when pulled over])
  • divorce paperwork (small muscles of the dominant hand)
  • loneliness (small muscles of the dominant hand)

On the Pride of Nittany Lions

So here we are: Jerry Sandusky has been found guilty and the Freeh report will surely yield further convictions. Punishing these monsters will bring a kind of closure for Sandusky’s victims, for their families, and maybe even for a society ill-at-ease with the child-rapes and the cover-up that we now know perpetuated them.

There may be a bigger question we need to address, however: whether the church of football—or even a narrower church of Penn State—helped Sandusky commit and cover up his crimes. We know that a pair of janitors were afraid to come forward because they feared for their jobs. We must also wonder to what pressures Sandusky’s accomplices—as we should now consider Paterno, Spanier, et al.—were subjected.

Among those living in regions well-populated with Penn State alumni, it has long been a staple of conversation that Penn Staters can be over-the-top in their displays of school pride. It was a matter of course that those of us who’d gone to other schools would roll our eyes at the exuberant pride of Nittany Lions—often, but not always, on gameday. What I want to suggest here is that we were onto something.

I used to work at a marketing company just a couple hours away from Penn State. It had four owners, three of whom were Penn State alumni. Alums also made up perhaps two-thirds of the firm’s workforce, nearly thirty people in all. At that place, the ongoing ribbing about the superiority of Penn State was pervasive and aggressive. To make a tenuous comparison, this aspect of the office’s culture closely mirrored the underlying structures of workplace sexual harassment.

There are many critical differences, again. Most importantly and most obviously, applying to Penn State is a choice; those of us who didn’t apply (or didn’t go) to PSU weren’t born that way.

There are also illuminating similarities, though. More than once, behind closed conference room doors, I heard non-Staters acknowledging a feeling that Penn State alumni got better jobs, promotions, and raises. (I always felt I had been treated fairly, but I had a non-standard trajectory at the company to begin with.)

It was almost always the case that returning fire had undesirable consequences: intensifying the aggression of the conversation, marking you as a hater, and in one case even leading to a public questioning of whether a non-alum could understand the culture well enough to work on a web project for the Penn State football program. The answer, it was determined, was “no.”

To be clear, no similar question had or would ever come up for another client. When one is hired to do work in the agency world, the presumption is that one can understand any client well enough to do the job. That flexibility underwrites the very existence of the marketing and advertising industries, where although a firm might have certain areas of specialization, rich experience in one vertical (say, non-profit marketing) is thought to be a sufficient platform for expansion into another.

The dynamic at my former company never escalated far enough to be addressed even informally, but that, too, is a trademark of the kind of talk that sexual harassment laws were put in place to eliminate. The idea wasn’t just to protect women (and men, gays, etc.) from the Clarence Thomases of the world, but to protect women in particular from the subtle and insidious effects of gender bias. I quote now from the website of the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission:

Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general. […] Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

Once again, I don’t mean to suggest that any laws were broken at my former place of employment, nor that what happened there was in any way as grave as sexual harassment, which is tied to broader and much more deeply troubling issues than school pride.

What I do mean to suggest is that the discourse of Penn State fervor could, in the years before the Sandusky scandal, closely reflect that of sexual harassment. If you replace “a person’s sex” and “a woman” in the paragraph above with “a person’s alma mater” and “somebody who didn’t go to Penn State,” then suddenly the power dynamics in place at my former company become painfully clear.

One pressing problem, in the wake of the scandal at PSU, is that it would be irresponsible not to wonder whether a culture of such zealotry had to exist in order for the cover-up to take place, to spread as deep and to last as long as it did.

To wonder that, though, is terrifying. For me at least, it means asking whether a great many close friends, colleagues, and family members are implicated, however indirectly, in what seems like it may become the most morally dissonant scandal the United States has ever seen on its own ground. It means asking whether the way “the rest of us” bristled at Penn State pride was more than just a general discomfort with what felt like an immature emotional display. It means asking whether we found the members of the Penn State brogeoisie who walked among us irritating not just because we weren’t a part of it, but because there was something inherently dangerous about their attitude.

I don’t mean to claim that Penn State is worse than the other schools with maximally feverish fans. Ohio State comes to mind as a close second—perhaps because of a regional bias I’m subject to—and I once knew a ‘Bama fan who was beaten into a coma after shouting “Roll Tide” in Auburn gameday traffic.

If Penn State is not the only school with its own parish in the church of football, though, then our problem is bigger than the crimes of one man, as atrocious as they were. It’s bigger, even, than the reprehensible lack of action on the part of revered figures like Sandusky’s late and former boss, Joe Paterno. In short, if what happened at Penn State could have happened elsewhere, then the kind of closure we will feel, those of us not directly affected by Sandusky and his accomplices, comes to seem like little more than an excuse once again to close our eyes.

Giving a Shit About Cheap Shots in the NFL

In response to Drew Magary’s assertion that “No One Gives a Shit About Cheap Shots”:

  1. Magary’s obviously wrong to think this was just one weekend of hits followed by some out-of-the-blue media shitstorm. Coverage has been steadily increasing for years, especially this past year, when I’ve read about the issue in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the New York Times, the fucking Post-Gazette, and in perhaps a half-dozen other places—and that was all before week six. Hell, I even wrote about it myself last year.
  2. Every time I post a link to some article about brain injury in the NFL on Facebook, I get a long thread and the odd private message from people who either aren’t watching football anymore or who are but really wish it were different. I think hard-core sports fans—like just about everybody Magary seems to be in touch with—don’t give a shit about the hits, but they’re not as much in the mainstream as they might like to think. I myself turned off the RedZone in week six (of all weeks!) in part to give myself a break from all the carnage. It’s honestly more than I want to see most Sundays, and it’s getting harder and harder to watch.
  3. NFL players have indeed been subject to shorter life spans for a long time, but they’re getting shorter and shorter with every passing decade. And the argument that people know what they’re getting into is horseshit. When you’re in college getting drafted, you know what you’re getting into. But when you’re a fucking nine-year-old running back whose NFL dreams are already changing the decisions you make in life, you are in no way capable of evaluating the consequences of your repeated head traumas. Frankly, even high-schoolers—who get some terrible concussions and subconcussive brain injuries playing football—simply don’t have fully-developed cognitive architectures yet, and in particular, they’re terrible (on average) at thinking about futures and consequences (which is obvious on the face of it, but also backed by plenty of good science). In short, once you’re in the NFL, it’s way too late to back out. People are simply not equipped to back off of a dozen years of attachment to a dream because suddenly some team lawyer is reading them a bunch of legalese about the risks of concussion. (And that’s to say nothing of the overwhelming majority of high-school players who never get to the NFL. Where’s the payoff for their brain damage?)
  4. This is a societal problem, not a sports problem. Magary’s not the only one to miss that point. On SportsCenter, Trent Dilfer defended the as-it-has-been NFL by using the word “gladiatorial.” But there’s a reason dogfighting is illegal, a reason certain kinds of bloodsporty mixed martial arts are illegal, a reason we don’t fucking bait bears anymore. As a civilized society, we understand the dangers of indulging human instincts that may well be natural. (Or at least, we did at the time of the release of The Running Man.) That football has become gladiatorial is an argument against its current role in our society, not for it.

For the Good of the Team: Football Coaches & Conscience

In his latest essay for the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell writes about one of the greatest dangers football players face: long-term brain damage from all the impact. It’s a grim, worthwhile read.

Gladwell doesn’t discuss the element that most disturbs me: the role of coaches in perpetuating the “programm[ing],” as one former NFL player calls it, that keeps players putting the team above their own well-being.

Gladwell looks to the testimony of Kyle Turley, who played in the NFL for nearly a decade, to show how players with recent head, neck, or spine injuries decide to put themselves back in harm’s way “on behalf of the team.”

I understand that players get caught up in the physicality and camaraderie of the game, and how those factors might contribute to their making certain dangerous choices. But how can a coach feel OK about sending recently-injured players back out onto the field? How can he hold the good of the team above the short- or long-term mental and physical health of the player?

As Phil Ochs put it:

It’s always the old to lead us to the war,
Always the young to fall.

Review: Tiger ’08 Demo for XBox 360

That’s right, I’m reviewing the demo of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2008 for XBox 360. Why? The last version of Tiger I played at any length was 2004 for PS2. I’m trying to figure out whether to buy, and I’m unwilling to pay Blockbuster—my least favorite franchise business—$8 for a decision I can make in 15 minutes.

Mainly, what I’m going to deal with here is a few new features, controls, and other gameplay differences—differences, that is, from a four-year-old version of the game for a different platform. My hope is that someone who has played the full game will read this and address my concerns…

Those concerns begin with this: Becoming a Tiger 2004 expert had less to do with applying one’s knowledge of golf and real-world physics than it did with learning to negotiate with the mischievous spirits who so obviously worked to make one fail.

For example, putting, famously, was not about reading realistic greens; it was instead a process of interpreting—à la kabbalistic or early Christian exegesis—your invisible caddy’s tip. A tip to aim three inches short of the hole could mean a foot long or six inches short, depending on the course, your putter, and whether the smoldering pile of sage next to your console had extinguished or not.

A 4 MPH tailwind, too, could mean different things to different people, let alone different courses, again, and the relative positions of Saturn and Mercury to the Sun on any particular day.

Some, to be sure, complained about these less-than consistent aspects of the game. But once you achieved mastery, playing Tiger was like using the Force: It gave one a sense of control over physical reality unparalleled in real life.

The right spin could rocket a ball into the hole at a 210° angle from its landing spot 30 feet away. A proper draw on a 600-yard dog-leg par 5 could get you on the green in one. Scores routinely came in under 45, given the right course and some easy settings—and I still can’t shoot 45 over nine holes in real life. In short, there was, truly, no spoon.

It seems that the new generation of Tiger games has gone some distance towards undoing these transcendent possibilities. As the King James Bible and its immediate predecessors codified and standardized the Christian belief system, so does this new Tiger game make everyone an expert in the aspects of play that used to be so mystical.

Putting Preview

In Tiger 2008, the overlay grids on the green are already much more informative than in years past. The Tron-esque spots of light that course through the grid and reveal its rolling grades are brighter and more true to the green’s actual post-putt behavior.

But a satisfied gamer is a gamer who will buy again next year, and in order to make putting even less potentially frustrating, Tiger now features a putting preview.

Once you’ve set up your shot, a tap of the Left Button shows you just how your ball will proceed towards its destiny. You can rotate the camera around the preview, zoom in and out, and take a good second read of your shot.

This takes that crucial first layer of trial-and-error out of play. Thankfully, it’s only available once per putt, but even so, I think a big part of the fun will be missing in the long term.

Draw and Fade Setup

Similarly, new options for planning one’s draw or fade all but eliminate guesswork. While zoomed to a target, one can use the Right and Left Triggers to move a targeting circle away from the ordinary targeting cursor.

The circle shows where your draw or fade will go, if you just hit the ball “straight.” In the old game, a draw or a fade was just a hook or a slice wearing a fancy jacket: To hit one, you had to adjust the trajectory of your thumb on a nanometric scale. A hair’s width too far, and you were bouncing from the cart path deep into the schmutz. “O.B.”, the game taunted, in smooth, white text.

Now, again, that guesswork is gone. If I want to shorten a dog-leg right, I can just aim straight into the woods and slide my fade circle fair. A straight shot later, I’m a Jedi master, even if it’s my first time playing.

Shot Feedback

And if you do mishit, not to worry: Before your follow-through is finished, feedback on your shot tells you how you hit the ball, from “perfect” to “pull” to “slice” to “use your turn signal.”

As you will have guessed, there was a time when you had to use your short-short-term memory to “feel” the path of your thumb on the stick. In an instant, you’d bet thinking, “Did I end at 12:00, or was it really more like 11:45? I think I’m gonna tail off here.” You’d adjust your spin accordingly. You’d also read the shot as it traveled through the air, watching for early confirmation of disconfirmation of those insights from your thumb-memory.

Now? Just read what the game tells you and follow your orders, soldier.

Three-Click Swing

One of the most surprising additions to the game—this one definitely new for 2008—is the option to use a conventional triple-tap to make one’s swing. Personally, I’ve always felt that the analog-stick control was one of the more impressive parts of the Tiger franchise, despite being a somewhat rough port of the Golden Tee swing (owing to the limited direction-sensing capabilities of a stick as compared to a big ball).

Still, a review from Yahoo! UK review notes criticism leveled at the game for the swing. I can say that because of the shape of the XBox 360 controller and the dimensions of its analog control stick, it is on first play much more difficult to get a straight swing than on the PS2.

What I’m hoping exists in the full game is the ability to disable the three-click swing, at least for matches on XBox Live. I have a bad feeling that mastering the three-masher is going to prove easier than using the analog stick. During online play, this could provide a cheap-ish advantage.

(It’s also possible that when an opponent uses the triple-click control, one would see it on-screen, which would at least create an honor system for those not interested in tap-tap-tap matches.)


Adding Power and Spin. The jerkier swing with the XBox stick is probably the reason for the new three-click option. I can also say that because of the narrow space between the left button and the left stick, trying to add power the PS2 way is a disaster. Happily, there’s now the option to use the A button instead, for both power and spin.

On the other hand, I know I’m not as fast with my thumb on my A button as I am when I shift my right hand up to the top of the controller and hammer the left button like I was trying to resuscitate a hummingbird. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but…maybe not?

One-Tap Zoom to Target. One small but brilliant addition (and oh, man, please tell me this really wasn’t there in 2004, or I’ll feel like a twit): tapping the X button extra-fast to zoom to the target of your swing. You can still hold X down to get a look at the terrain between your ball and its future, but if you just want to get a fast look at the green, for example, a single tap smoothly —but very quickly—delivers you. Less waiting = more playing.

No More Speeding Up Time? In Tiger ’04, one had the option of holding a button down after one’s shot to speed up time by about 100%, and see a shot play out faster. This could be something I’ll find in the full game, but I haven’t figured it out in the demo, and it really cuts down on waiting time. I’m hoping it’s in there somewhere.

Better Physics. There’s a more realistic treatment of spin now, especially when the ball lands on the green. Rather than momentum-defying, constant-velocity zips around the green, the ball takes a quick hop or two before accelerating gently in the direction of the spin.

The rough is also much more consistent and realistic. Maybe I’m just getting tricked by the improved sound and graphics as you hack through the thick stuff, but it seems like you can really count on 66% power meaning the same thing every time you see it. (Am I happy about this? Too soon to say.)

Finally, I’m not sure whether this counts as “physics,” but it’s worth noting that you can actually hit in folks the gallery with your ball. It’s not just that they hop up and down, clutching their feet and knees, and cursing your name that makes me like this one. It’s that bystanders getting in your way is a realistic part of contemporary professional golf.

The only thing I’m still waiting for is an extra-loud “GET IN THE HOLE!” from one of the surround speakers every time you tee off.