Monday, November 30, 2015

Where does Kobe Bryant rank among the all-time greats?

ESPN reports that Kobe Bryant, who is in his 20th season with the Los Angeles Lakers, has announced his intention to retire at the end of the 2015-16 season:

Kobe Bryant, who has helped the Lakers win five NBA championships over a 20-year career spent entirely in Los Angeles, announced Sunday on The Players' Tribune website that he will retire after this season, writing that "this season is all I have left to give.”

"I've known for a while," Bryant said. "A decision like this, you can't make that decision based on outside circumstances. It has to be an internal decision, and finally I've decided to accept that I can't actually do this anymore, and I'm OK with that. It takes a weight off my shoulders and everybody else's."

This morning, I heard a sports bloviator, Stephen A. Smith, declare that Kobe Bryant is “clearly” one of the top 10 players of all time. I am not sure. I think he is close.

Kobe is presently 19th all-time in games played. The 2-14 Lakers still have 66 games left on their schedule. If Kobe plays in 50 of them — considering his injury history it is likely he won’t play in that many games — he will finish 12th in the games played category.

Although Kobe was a 17-time all-star in his career, he won only one MVP (2007-08). Most impressively, 11 times he was voted on the All-NBA first team; and another 9 times he was picked for the defensive first team All-NBA.

It is good that he is 6th all time in career field goals made. However, Kobe is 1st all time in career field goals missed.

What makes me wonder most as to whether he truly belongs in the top 10 players all-time is his career PER, which places him 21st all-time. He is also somewhat low, 50th best, in career Win Shares per 48 minutes, despite playing on many great teams. Additionally, his Box Plus/Minus (31st best) and his career VORP (16th) place Kobe outside the top 10.

He gets a lot of credit for having won 5 rings. However, it must be said that for the first 3 of those, Shaquille O’Neal was at least as important as Kobe, if not more.

Having gone over all the relevant numbers, here is the list of my top 10 players all-time:

  1. Michael Jordan;
  2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar;
  3. LeBron James;
  4. Bill Russell;
  5. Magic Johnson;
  6. Tim Duncan;
  7. Wilt Chamberlain;
  8. Shaquille O’Neal;
  9. Kobe Bryant;
  10. Larry Bird.

So Stephen A. Smith is in accord: Kobe is a top-10 all-time player. However, at No. 9, it is not entirely obvious.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Leading Figures in the Art World Support Palestinian Artist Sentenced to Death for Apostasy

In the wake of the Islamist terrorist attacks against civilians in Paris on November 13, various Muslim clerics and scholars have condemned that violence as “un-Islamic.”

Yet more important than condemning acts of terrorism committed by Muslims is they condemn the aspects of Islamic culture which produce terrorists. No single component of that culture is more deserving of condemnation than its unenlightened views on freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and tolerance for so-called heresy.

This Islamic backwardness comes into focus this week because a Saudi court sentenced an artist, Ashraf Fayadh, to death on November 17 “after he allegedly made blasphemous comments.”

“The General Court of Abha, a court in the south of Saudi Arabia, says that Fayadh made comments about God, the Prophet Muhammad, and the Saudi state during a group discussion in a cafĂ©, according to trial documents reviewed by non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Global artists have condemned a Saudi court’s decision to sentence Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death.

“Artists and poets across the the U.K., North America and Africa—including British poet Carol Ann Duffy, Syrian poet Adonis and Saudi artist Ahmed Mater—have denounced the ruling by a court in Saudi Arabia on November 17 to sentence Fayadh to death, after he allegedly renounced the Islamic faith.”

The last sentence is key: The court wants him dead because he allegedly renounced the Islamic faith. Yet no Muslim clerics or scholars have spoken up to denounce this barbarity. Their silence is deafening.

It has been roughly 400 years since Christians gave up this sort of unenlightened practice. As far as I know, no Jew has ever been sentenced to death by a Jewish court for apostasy. Yet in Saudi Arabia and virtually every Muslim society, the idea that an individual has the right to make up his own mind regarding what he believes and what he does not is presently unthinkable.

If Muslim clerics and scholars would stand up and speak out and wholeheartedly endorse the notion that Muslim-born individuals have the absolute human right to choose their faith or to choose to have no faith at all, the culture within the Muslim world would change dramatically. It would create for the first time ever tolerance among the Arabs and other majority Islamic societies. 

That enlightenment would itself put out all the fires which are creating thousands if not millions of Muslim terrorists. Terror groups are all in their own way motivated by intolerance and religious hatred. But if Muslim clerics taught them to love thy neighbor, even if he has a different religion or even if he has renounced Islam, groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS would disappear overnight.

“Members of Saudi Arabia’s religious police—the Committee on the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice—originally arrested Fayadh on August 6, 2013, following a complaint made by a citizen. The court subsequently sentenced the artist in May last year to four years in prison and submitted him to 800 lashes.

“The court retried Fayadh earlier this month, after his appeal was dismissed by a new panel of judges in May 2014. The poet continues to deny making the remarks and says that another man attending the group, in fact, said it.

“Since the court handed the death sentence to the Palestinian artist, leading individuals from the world’s art scene have spoken out in condemnation against the charges.”

A second interesting aspect of this story is the notion that Ashraf Fayadh, the condemned artist, is a Palestinian. He was not born in Palestine or Israel. He was not raised there. He has not, as far as I can tell, ever lived there. His parents, or perhaps his grandparents, moved to Saudi Arabia before he was born. And so Mr. Fayadh was born in Saudi and raised in Saudi, but is not allowed to be a citizen of Saudi Arabia. 

This same story would be true if Fayadh had been born and raised in Kuwait, Jordan, the UAE, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq or any other Arab country. These are all places which claim their undying affinity for the Palestinian people. Yet none of them ever allows Palestinians—second, third or even fourth generation Palestinians—born in those countries to be citizens. They are permanently banished to second class status. And that makes plain the lie that they love the Palestinians. If they did, they would allow them first-class status as full citizens of their countries. Instead, they hold them down and often force them to live in refugee camps for 40, 50 and 60 years—with no end in sight. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

"Outrage Mounts Over Trump’s Ridicule of Disabled Reporter"

From day one, political pundits have been predicting the demise of the Donald Trump presidential candidacy. Yet he not only seems to be doing well, leading in all of the polls of Republican primary voters, but each time he says or does something outrageous, he moves ahead of his GOP competitors even more.

Donald Trump might quote Mark Twain: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

The Donald’s latest offense was making fun of a handicapped New York Times reporter “who failed to corroborate the Republican presidential candidate's claim that Muslims in New Jersey cheered the toppling of the World Trade Center,” according to a report on

“… Trump … jerked his arms while imitating Serge Kovaleski, a journalist who suffers from arthrogryposis, a chronic condition that affects his movements.”

A spokesman for the NY Times is quoted as saying, "We're outraged that Donald Trump would ridicule the physical appearance of one of our reporters.”

Trump’s behavior fits his own pattern: He acts and talks like a typical 6-year-old child on the playground. He never really considers the other person’s feelings. He just sees something which strikes him as funny or wrong and he reacts without thinking. 

Psychologists say Trump has no filter, just like a little boy. Mature adults normally filter themselves. They learned to think before they speak when they grew up. Trump never had to grow up.

A widespread and well-earned criticism of most professional politicians is that they are overly filtered. Everything they do or say comes across as phony because they have lost the ability to give an honest answer to a question.

I think that is a good part of the reason Trump seems so attractive to so many voters: Whether you like what he says or not, he says what he thinks. He is genuine. The others are or appear to be frauds.

Jay Ruderman, who runs his family’s foundation which “works to promote more inclusive policies for people with disabilities,” condenmed Trump’s childishness for mocking the disabled reporter:

"It is unacceptable for a child to mock another child's disability on the playground, never mind a presidential candidate mocking someone's disability as part of a national political discourse. Our presidential candidates should be moral examples for all Americans and not disparage people with disabilities, who make up twenty percent of the American population.”

Yet really, would you expect a 6-year-old boy to set a moral example for all Americans? If so, you won’t vote for Trump.

Friday, November 20, 2015

All you really need to know about Bernie Sanders

In an article in The Atlantic titled, "How Bernie Sanders Explains Democratic Socialism," all you really need to know about Sen. Sanders is found in this sentence:

"Again and again, Sanders returned to his core message: In America the rich are too rich and opportunities for the middle class are few and far between." 

The basic idea is that the rich are not rich because they earned their money. Sanders's socialist ideology tells him they don't deserve it. The effectively stole it from those with less. And his message to those with less is just as clear: Elect me, and I will steal your money back from the rich and give it to you, because you deserve it.

Of course some rich people--mostly those who are connected to the government--are the beneficiaries of ill-gotten gains. But most rich people earned their money the old-fashioned way: They had talent; they looked for opportunities in the free market; they took risks; and they worked, and worked, and worked some more. Most often, they failed several times along the way, learning from their mistakes, before finally striking it rich, by providing a product or a service that others liked, wanted, needed or enjoyed.

That path is really open to anyone. However, insofar as the Sanders ideology takes hold, it will harm our society and make all of us poorer. It teaches those without that they are only poor because some rich guy is cheating them; and that there is no reason to work hard. After all, if you work hard and make a lot of money, you are a bad person and Bernie is going to take your money from you and give it to those who chose not to put in the same effort.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

How to defeat ISIS?

Frankly, I am not sure there is a way for the West to defeat ISIS which is worth the price in lives and treasure it probably would take. However, I am curious to know what other bloviators think our strategy ought to be. I found several online. Quite a large number of them call for an all-out ground war against ISIS. I chose three pieces to consider:

In Esquire magazine, Charles P. Pierce thinks the answer is to cut off their funds, particularly that coming from people who run countries, like Saudi Arabia, with which we are in league:

It's time for this to stop. It's time to be pitiless against the bankers and against the people who invest in murder to assure their own survival in power. Assets from these states should be frozen, all over the west. Money trails should be followed, wherever they lead. People should go to jail, in every country in the world. It should be done state-to-state. Stop funding the murder of our citizens and you can have your money back. Maybe. If we're satisfied that you'll stop doing it. And, it goes without saying, but we'll say it anyway – not another bullet will be sold to you, let alone advanced warplanes, until this act gets cleaned up to our satisfaction. If that endangers your political position back home, that's your problem, not ours. You are no longer trusted allies. Complain, and your diplomats will be going home. Complain more loudly, and your diplomats will be investigated and, if necessary, detained. Retaliate, and you do not want to know what will happen, but it will done with cold, reasoned and, yes, pitiless calculation. It will not be a blind punch. You will not see it coming. It will not be an attack on your faith. It will be an attack on how you conduct your business as sovereign states in a world full of sovereign states.

I suspect Mr. Pierce is completely wrong. In a sense, his analysis is Marxian: that everything comes down to money. ISIS does not require a lot of money. And almost all of the money it has now has been won on the fields of battle in Iraq and Syria by looting treasures and selling them. They are not dependent on Qatari bankers or Saudi financiers. Even if they lose their territory in Iraq and Syria, where they also control some oil and can turn that into cash, it just does not take much money at all to do most of the terrorism they are doing. In Paris, it took 8 men armed with automatic weapons. They probably spent less than $25 for every person they killed.

The “act of war” (by ISIS) … demands of all NATO states a collective response under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. … The only adequate measure, after the killing of at least 129 people in Paris, is military, and the only objective commensurate with the ongoing threat is the crushing of ISIS and the elimination of its stronghold in Syria and Iraq. … To defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq will require NATO forces on the ground.

While I think Mr. Cohen is probably correct, there are some problems. Foremost is that, as a consequence of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, the most important NATO country, the United States, does not want to get into any more wars of that nature at the moment. Additionally, it’s probably true that a great number of other NATO allies will not be willing to put their men and materiel in harms way to defeat ISIS.

Secondarily, crushing ISIS on the ground won’t solve the larger problem of unpopular and illegitimate and inadequate governance in Syria and Iraq. In order to truly stabilize those nations in a way that does not just lead to more, violent uprisings by unhappy ethnic or religious groups the NATO countries would have to impose order and put in place a constitutional framework which functions for all the people in those areas. And as we have found in Afghanistan, that is much easier said than done. It was one thing to impose constitutional order on our much more civilized enemies at the end of WWII. But the cultures in Iraq and Syria are not nearly so civil. And if the deal looks bad for say, the pro-Iranian Shiites or Alawites in Syria, Iran and Russia are likely to aid them in a fight against the order we establish. Likewise, if the Kurds get a deal they can live with, look for the Turks to make a mess of things. Or if it the Sunnis don’t get what they want, they will either rise up on their own or turn to their allies in the Arabian peninsula.

Finally, even if NATO unanimously decides to take on this fight and is willing to stay long enough to impose order, it is improbable that ordinary Americans, Germans, Dutch, Italians, Spaniards and so on want to die for this cause and pay the vast amount of money it will take to do so.

Writing on, Peter Bergen puts together 10 ideas to defeat ISIS. His list amounts to using propaganda against them and doing more of what we are doing now: 

Here is an example of Mr. Bergen’s propaganda campaign:

Educate Muslim parents about the seductive messages that ISIS is propagating online. … Relentlessly hammer home the message that ISIS positions itself as the defender of Muslims, but its victims are overwhelmingly fellow Muslims.

And here is an example of where he thinks we need to be doing more of the same:

Keep up the military campaign against ISIS. The less the ISIS "caliphate" exists as a physical entity, the less the group can claim it is the "Islamic State" that it purports to be. … Applaud the work that the Turks have already done to tamp down the foreign fighter flow through their country to ISIS in neighboring Syria, and get them to do more.

While there is nothing to object to in Mr. Bergen’s “ideas,” they are all terribly uncreative and unpersuasive in terms of actually defeating this band of terrorists. What we are doing is clearly failing. Doing more of the same won’t work.

As far as propaganda goes, I think depending on the Western, Judeo-Christian leaders to direct this effort is pointless. What has to happen is for Muslim leaders the world over to join the cause against ISIS and other radical Islamists. Those leaders need to preach loudly and publicly against radical Islam. They need to change the cultures among their followers. They need to oppose violent jihad. When attacks like the one in Paris happen, they need to do even more: they need to lead public marches against radical Islamism.

For 50 or more years, Muslim clerics all over the world have been preaching in favor of violence against the West, against Israel and against those they deemed to be symbols of Western imperialism. That preaching has bred the culture of victimhood and intolerance which now produces terrorists in all Muslim countries and in all countries where large numbers of Muslims have moved. Unless Muslim preachers all over the Muslim and non-Muslim world start preaching agains violence by Muslims—including by Palestinians against Israel—their culture is going to include a substantial minority who are willing to kill, rape, maim and die in the name of Islam.