I see that famous cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his racing titles for doping.  I also heard something about baseball players being suspended for steroids earlier this week.  [I don’t closely follow cycling or baseball, so I should mention that what follows is based on only cursory knowledge of the events in question.]

Athletes are competitive.  They will do anything to get an edge.  So, why is anyone surprised by this?  In a sense, what they’re doing is no different than experimenting with diets to enhance their performance.  It’s just that these substances are banned by the rules of competition.

Here’s the thing: it’s been seven years since Armstrong won these races.  Stripping him of them now may hurt his image a bit, (although I don’t think anyone can deny that his is a remarkable story anyway)  but he and everyone else knows that he won those races.  It happened.  You might say “he cheated”, but from what I have read, lots of other people in the sport at the time cheated too.  When everyone’s cheating everyone else, it’s hard to figure out who was victimized

There is not much point in punishing Armstrong after the fact, because he still got to be in those races, and win them.  To an athlete, I suspect that’s all that really matters.  They’re willing to take the risk to gain a competitive edge.  If that seems crazy to you, well, it does to me, too.  But I’m not a pro athlete.

I’m not defending Armstrong.  He broke the rules, and deserves to be punished accordingly.  I am just saying that the regulatory bodies need to either be able to prevent athletes who cheat this way from participating in the event beforehand, or else they need to throw up their hands and admit they can’t do anything.  If the most they can do is punish someone after the fact, I don’t think it will change anything.  Ultra-competitive athletes will take that chance every time.

My favorite part was the bit where the multitude of Mary Poppinses banished Voldemort and all the other villains.  (Incidentally, I thought some of the monster costumes looked a lot like the Ghost People from the Fallout add-on Dead Money.) The James Bond bit was also amusing, but sort of weird.

In general, though, I don’t like all that pageantry.  It makes the whole thing seems less about sport and more like a grand theater production, or a massive circus act.  I mean, theoretically, this is the big moment for sports; the opportunity to see who is really the best in all the world, but it all feels more like a show than a real competition.

This article says the ceremony cost $42 million to make.  I don’t know too much about London’s economic situation, but I can’t help wondering if that is a wise use of money.  Might be better to spend it on infrastructure or something.  Still, there should be a Keynesian stimulus effect from it, but probably nothing too major.

Image via Wikipedia

“Gentlemen, this is a football.”  Thus did the famous coach Vince Lombardi supposedly begin every first team meeting of the season, while holding up same.   The point being, you always start off with the basics. However, I don’t know about the AIFA; some of their players might be seeing a football for the first time.

The other day, somebody got to this blog by searching for the terms “how would max weber view american football”. I don’t know if he was even thinking of the same Max Weber I’m so fond of, but regardless, I thought to myself: “Heck, I would like to read that article.”  So, here is a cursory attempt at writing it.

Of course, it’s hard to figure out the answer without a Ouija board and some arcane black magic.  And even then, it would probably only be something simplistic like “the competitiveness reflects the Protestant ethic” or “the Browns are 6 and 10 this year, best case.”

I’m not too familiar with his most famous writings about religion; I’ve mostly studied Weber’s contributions to political thought. Long-time readers probably remember his three types of authority:

  1. Charismatic authority
  2. Traditional authority
  3. Legal authority

Well, I suppose he’d think that coaches like Rex Ryan and players like Tim Tebow have charismatic authority, whereas coaches like Belichick and players like Ray Lewis rely on a sort of traditional authority–they have enjoyed a lot of success, so people are supposed to automatically respect them.  The equivalent to Legal authority is, well, the referees and the commissioner. (As the Saints are discovering.)

But this doesn’t tell us anything about the broader social phenomenon of football. Maybe Weber would note the similarity of the sport to religion.  After all, some fans follow it with the same zeal that people follow religions. They even collect artifacts and relics relating to the heroes of the sport.  And then, of course, there’s the ubiquitous Mr. Tebow. (I know I’m breaking my vow here. I’m sorry. But I promise you one thing: you will never see another blogger try as hard not to mention him as I will try the rest of the off-season.)

I once saw an NFL Films show about the Pittsburgh Steelers championship run in 2005.  It started off with this quasi-hymn or chant-like music that sounded religious and very eerie all at once. Imagine “Duel of the Fates“, only way creepier.  It seemed pretty serious for a bunch of football highlights.  But there are people who definitely see football as nearly as important. (Another Lombardi line, of which there are some variations: “All that matters is your God, your family and the Green Bay Packers”.)

Still, Weber studied religions as a way of highlighting differences in cultures and people’s philosophies.  The superficial resemblance of sports fanatics to religious fanatics is obviously more about the features of fanaticism than religion.  So we’re still at a dead end.

Let’s approach this from a different direction: we know that American football, though wildly popular in the United States, is not the number one sport in any other country. Perhaps the reasons for this are tied to “American exceptionalism”.  But this is more Tocqueville than it is Weber. (Where is that Ouija board?) And unfortunately, I cannot find much that Weber had to say about America.

So once again, I am frustrated.  I leave it to you, blogosphere and distinguished commenters, to sort this problem out.  What would Max Weber think of American football?

For some bizarre reason, and in spite of some confusion, games three and four of the Stanley Cup Final aired on NBC Sports Network. The first two games had been on NBC. Lord only knows where game five will be. They like to keep their fans guessing.

I swear, pro hockey has some of the worst marketing… It’s one thing to air your championship on non-free TV. That’s a mistake, in my opinion, but it can be lucrative, so I get it. But at least be consistent! They can’t even manage that. Why would you put part of the series on one channel and the rest on another? It’s like they are actively trying to make the sport difficult to follow.

Hockey is a great sport, but the way it’s managed is highly questionable. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If I were in charge, I’d have a 20-game regular season, followed by a single-elimination tournament, televised either on one of the major over-the-air networks or ESPN. The tournament would begin the week after football season ends and be over by mid-March.

It will never happen, though, for obvious financial reasons. But I bet it would increase the popularity of the sport–and hence, the profitability–over the long-run.

I don’t follow pro basketball much.  But I do occasionally like to read about or even take in a game of the closely-related sport “Karma punishes LeBron James”.

I don’t hate him. “Hate” is such strong word.  No, it’s more like how you feel about a villain in a children’s cartoon: you don’t want to see anything really terrible happen to him, but it is funny to watch his arrogance come back to bite him over and over again.

Besides, he’s being paid millions of dollars to entertain people. The least he can do to earn his pay is continue to not win championships.  While Miami may pay him to win, I bet he’s worth far more to the league if he always falls just short.  Many people will quit following if he ever wins.

I’ve seen people saying on sports blogs that the Heat can’t win because they’re not a team, they’re a collection of superstars.  superstars, to be exact, and that they can’t win with just those three guys. They’re too predictable.

Well, I don’t know much about basketball, but the general logic seems sound.  I even said roughly the same thing about another disappointing team in another sport earlier this year.

At any rate, for all I know, the Heat might win the game tonight and all their remaining games and be crowned champions.  But I hope not.  I’m not a fan of basketball, but there is something oddly enjoyable about seeing him pay for his overconfidence.

My prediction of the demise of real-world sports might have one adverse impact on virtual counterparts: there is no longer the possibility for the thrill of changing the fortunes of a player or team. My Bills may not have enjoyed much real world success, but in video games, I can make them into a 19-0 juggernaut if I want. It’s kind of neat to see your favorite team win it all, especially if they’ve never actually done it. This trailer for MLB 12: The Show “makes its pitch” based on this feeling*:

If there were no more actual sports, this would be less exciting. People would eventually forget who the Chicago Cubs were.

The solution, I think, would be to let people choose backstories for their teams, much as they choose them for their characters in certain RPGs. You could have “reigning champs”, “fading band of superstars”, “up-and-coming”, “rebuilding” or “plucky underdogs”, just for a few examples.

*Hat Tip to Thingy for the video. She’s taken her blog down, so no link, unfortunately. (Come back!)

“Reck·on·ing: an itemized bill or statement of a sum due.”

That is the second definition at The Free Dictionary for the word “reckoning”. A dark bit of irony, given the fate of the game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning 

I’d been seeing ads for it on game sites and in stores for awhile, but I never paid any attention to them, because the whole fantasy/medieval setting has never done much for me. I’m still recovering from forcing myself through Neverwinter Nights 2.

But today, I saw that 38 Studios, the company that made it, is folding. It’s getting a lot of publicity because it was founded by Curt Schilling, a baseball player so famous that even I have heard of him. I’ll have more on the business aspects of this in a minute, but first a little more about the game itself.

Also of note to me was that the game’s lore was created by R.A. Salvatore. I’ve only read one book by him, the novelization of Attack of the Clones. I thought it was pretty bad, to be honest, but I know he’s a very widely-acclaimed fantasy author.

The plot of Kingdoms of Amalur sounded…. Well, let me show, not tell. From the Wikipedia page for Kingdoms:

“Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” follows the story of a mortal known as the “Fateless One”, who having died before the game’s outset, is revived in the experimental Well of Souls by the gnomish scientist Fomorous Hugues. The first and only success of the experiment, the Fateless One must escape the facility when it comes under attack… Having escaped the facility, the Fateless One – having no memory of his life before his death – learns of the intriacies [sic] of the world he has returned to by the Fateweaver Agarth…

For comparison, here’s a bit of the plot summary for Planescape: Torment a famous and almost universally beloved RPG from 1999:

“Planescape: Torment”‘s protagonist is “The Nameless One,” an immortal being who, if killed, will wake up later, sometimes with complete amnesia…

The game’s story begins when The Nameless One wakes up in a mortuary. He is immediately approached by a floating skull, Morte, who offers advice on how to escape…

Well, I guess it’s a nice tip of the hat to Torment… that’s good, I suppose. Not breaking a lot of new ground, though. Regardless, the general reception of the game was good, but not great.

Apparently, though, it needed to be great, because 38 Studios ran out of money and laid off all their employees. That’s sad. It’s always a shame when people lose their jobs.

And this is where the story gets really bad. Back in 2010, Rhode Island loaned the company $75 million dollars to move there, on the idea that it would generate “jobs” and “tax revenues”. The Governor of Rhode island is not at all happy about the situation, and Schilling has apparently run out of money to put into the company.

Another aspect to the whole thing is that Schilling is known for his support of Republican politicians. It seems, as Brian McGrory notes, rather hypocritical that a Republican should be taking money from the government to support his business. Doesn’t quite square with the whole “free market” thing, and all that. But then, I don’t know what kind of Republican Schilling is. Perhaps he has no deep philosophical or ideological ties to them; he merely recognizes–correctly–that as a wealthy person it is to his financial advantage for them to win.

What concerns me more is the black eye it gives to video gaming companies as business ventures–people will think twice before investing in a game company with the specter of it being “the next 38 Studios” hanging over it. I mean, if one that is backed by a wealthy celebrity and produces a reasonably well-liked game can’t succeed; that’s going to give everyone pause.

People are upset at the Boston Bruins goalie for skipping the team’s visit to the White House. He says he did it to protest the growth of the Federal government. Well, whatever. It’s a free country, and he can do that if he wants to. Though it’s hard to see how this helps further his cause, which, I have heard, is based largely upon the work of political philosopher and gold salesman Glenn Beck.

If I think about it, I guess the idea of sports teams that win championships visiting the White House seems kind of odd. I may be wrong, but I think there was also a practice of associating the gladiatorial games with the emperor in ancient Rome. Not good ancient Rome, but decadent ancient Rome. And that’s not the sort of historical parallel I like to see. (I may be wrong about this though–so any information that friend of the blog and Roman history expert P M Prescott can provide would be much appreciated.)

As I’ve said before, I love sports–three of my last four posts have been about sports–but sometimes they can get out of control, and it seems a little strange for the President to be both rewarding and congratulating people who–though skilled and accomplished performers–aren’t doing much in the way of improving the country, at least in their capacity as sportsmen. But maybe I’m being too fussy.

First, watch the video here of Rob Gronkowski’s touchdowns synchronized to the 1812 overture. (I can’t get it to embed on here without it being either too small or covering other content.)

I think that’s an excellent example of editing, and a great use of the music. Moreover, it’s pretty exciting just to watch.

I’ve always liked that sort of thing. I remember I used to watch replays of Pittsburgh’s last drive to beat Arizona a few years ago and sync it up with the “Ride of the Valkyries”. It worked quite well.

I don’t really follow other sports, but I wonder what music works with them. Hockey, I guess would require some sort of very fast-paced, classical music. Basketball seems like rock-and-roll or something else modern* would be more appropriate. I say this because there is very little “tension” except at the end of a basketball game, because of the constant scoring to go along with the action; whereas with hockey there is very little scoring and lots of action, thus a lot more tension is involved, because just one score is very significant.

For baseball, I personally would want some sort of dirge, but I don’t like baseball so my opinion is not the most useful. And lastly, I have always thought that professional golf would be more exciting if Tubular Bells (the theme from The Exorcist) were played constantly in the background, punctuated by random intervals of Heavy Metal music.

*I don’t listen to a lot of modern music, so I don’t even know what’s called what anymore.