Let Them Major in Football

Heisman A+

Now that I’ve tackled Israel/Palestine and the Bible, let’s get to something important: college athletes.

The NCAA has been long criticized for the shocking discrepancy between the billions in profits taken in by universities for football and basketball and the lack of any monetary compensation to the players. Players may not be compensated for the use of their likeness on TV, advertising, or video games, and they may not accept gifts. Instead, Division I student athletes receive compensation in the form of full-ride scholarships and a “college education”. However, since many athletes come from very poor means and have little savings, many receive inadequate medical care, (kind of important for athletes) are unable to visit their families, and some even have difficulty feeding themselves.

Some of the most shocking problems are finally being addressed in that the “cost of attendance” is being expanded to cover $2000-$5000 for miscellaneous costs in addition to tuition, fees, books, room, and board. That is an extremely small stipend, but it’s a step in the right direction.

I fail to see how student athletes can’t be seen in the same light as students in the sciences. Grad students, and sometimes undergrads, are paid a reasonable stipend because we do research which brings clout and grant money to the university. Grad students in the humanities don’t get such a stipend. Student athletes also go above and beyond their academics to bring clout and money to the university. What’s wrong with giving them a legitimate stipend that you can live on?

That seems like an easy problem to solve, so what I really want to talk about is the more difficult problem concerning student athletes that few seem to be talking about. When it comes to the major sports like basketball and football, the “student” aspect is a joke.

Division I athletes spend over 40 hours per week in practices and training for their sport. It’s a full-time job that often conflicts with academics and serves as a major distraction. Because student athletes are not chosen for their academic prowess, they often struggle to maintain minimum eligibility. They often choose the easiest classes, and barely pass. Some can’t even read or write.

Then there are the double standards and cheating. No university wants its main moneymaker losing eligibility because of a stupid exam that no one cares about. Universities turn a blind eye to lax academic standards and reports of academic dishonesty. It’s nothing new. One of my professors told me that, when he was in grad school proctoring an exam, he caught a future Superbowl MVP blatantly copying off a cheat sheet. He reported the incident, and University did nothing. This is an obvious symptom of the status quo. Would you care, as a fan of college sports, if your favorite team’s best quarterback cheated on a math exam or didn’t attend biology class? I don’t, and I’m a smug academic with a stick up my ass.

So, what’s going on here? Student athletes are compensated in the form of a sham degree. If you consider college to be a mere transaction for which a degree is the goal, this may look like a good deal to you. However, if a former Division I athlete comes to me looking for a job, I ought to seriously question the validity of his Bachelor’s degree.

It’s sort of like hiring someone to help you load a truck in exchange for a letter of recommendation that testifies to their laboratory skills. They may have good lab skills, but the job has nothing to do with those skills, and it played no part their hiring. It is obviously more accurate and honest to give them a letter of recommendation that says they were good at loading the truck.

So, here’s my central thesis: Why not let student athletes major in their sport?

Let football players be football majors. Let basketball players be basketball majors. Let those majors be accredited. It sounds to me like a useful major with an obvious career track, which can’t be said for every major. Let them take classes in sports psychology, physical education, and sports history, but most of their course credit would come from games and practices. There’s no doubt that it could lead to a career in professional sports, not obviously more daunting than a career in music or art history. Furthermore, there are plenty of careers for coaches, personal trainers, and physical education instructors, which is an obvious tract for athletes to pursue already.

Division I teams will likely require that all players major in the sport. That’s fine. Great music programs usually stipulate that only music majors are eligible to audition. Coaches could then demand the same taxing practice schedules without cutting as drastically into academics. Students will therefore be less inclined to cheat. Most importantly, their degree accurately reflects how they spent their time in college and the scholarship that they earned in the first place.

The other tension that would be relieved is on the university academics. Colleges want their degrees to be meaningful, and they know as well as anyone that practicing 40hr per week significantly detracts from coursework. Universities may now, if they wish, set a time limit for university-sponsored extracurricular activities. If you want to play Division I basketball, then you’ll just have to make it your major. If your university is Division III, there’s no way that student athletes should be spending that much time practicing anyway. As a chemistry major, I certainly tried the patience of my chemistry professors with all the time I spent in music ensembles and political organizations. If I had committed >40hr per week to other organizations, my professors would have been right to demand a greater focus on my major, or insist that I change my major to music.

Football and Basketball majors would still be required to take liberal arts courses that the university requires for the same reason all student are required to do so. Perhaps that will take some creative course selection and extra tutoring, but certainly an athlete that can earn a full ride scholarship and bring in billions in revenue is worth the effort. Extra tutoring tends to be provided to any student willing to seek it out, and athletes will have more time to take advantage if their academic requirements are limited to the liberal arts. It’s not nothing, but it will be a dramatic shift toward lightening the load.

Finally, it frees the student athletes to enjoy college life. One of the most valuable parts of college is being part of the community, and I’m sure that being a Division I athlete confines you to practice and classes with little time in between. Even at a Division III school like my undergrad, athletes rarely participated in any other extracurriculars, and the ones that did found it very taxing.

What are the down sides? Many student athletes gain full-ride scholarships, or even just admission because of their athletic prowess, despite their lack of academic ability. These are people who don’t hope to become professional athletes, but earn a ticket to college that would have never been possible without their being an athlete.

If you require that Division I athletes be full-time athletes, you remove this free ride to college, at least in the form of a different degree. However, if you don’t have the grades to go to college for communications, I don’t think that you should be going to college in the first place. If someone was given a full ride scholarship to play the piano, wouldn’t it be odd if they accepted the scholarship and then majored in marketing? Sometimes that would cause the student to lose the scholarship, and that’s my point.

There certainly are college athletes who might be offended by this idea. These are students who sacrifice sleep and social life to commit fully to their team as well as their major. They are true student-athletes and admirable for their work ethic. However, we already have a name for these types of students: double majors. Calling them such would change nothing, and give them nothing but more recognition for their hard work.

It seems so simple, obvious, and honest, I’m amazed that I can’t find any good examples of it being discussed. Let me know if you have heard of such a thing, or if you have any objections that I didn’t think of.


A Tribute to Robin Williams

Growing up, he was my favorite actor and the epitome of comedy. I can think of no better tribute to the late artist than what I consider his best work, his appearance on Inside the Actors Studio. Legend has it that a member of the audience laughed so hard that she had to be taken to the ER. This appearance is even more appropriate since it represents the sort of improv, every day comedy he was best at. Enjoy.



The Not Good Book

There are plenty of bits about the 10 commandments, none less famous than George Carlin’s attempt to slim them down to size.

There is no shortage of atheists and liberal Christians who hold up the bible and its commandments as a work of great, secular moral teachings, while eager to defend or apologize for the parts of the bible that are… less good.

Let me take this a step farther than “the bible is imperfect, but valuable”. The commandments and central teachings of the bible are immoral. Let’s take them one by one.

First, each of the 10 commandments:

I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

First, no you’re not. At best, you are a person writing down stories that have been passed by word of mouth for hundreds of years. Your stories have negligible basis in natural history and lack evidentiary support. Even if such a god existed and literally wrote the copy of the bible that was in my hand, this would not be a moral proposition. I ought to hold all beings, god or mortal, in the esteem that they deserve. Thou art a jealous god, and according to your memoir, a dick.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

First, thou art wordy and paranoid. No being of any kind deserves worship or servitude. This is too absurd a commandment to warrant much of a response, but in short: We’ll make whatever art we want thank you very much. Furthermore, does anyone think that it’s moral to punish ones offspring for the crimes of their parents, let alone their great grandparents?

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Though art redundant. This is a goddamn commandment against free speech. Even the UN considers freedom of expression a natural right. So, Jesus Christ, get a grip!

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is…

Ok, ok we get it, I’ll save you from how long this one is. First of all, which day is the seventh day? The various sects can’t seem to agree. Furthermore, why is this commandment important? Rest is fine, and holidays that mark important occasions are fine. However, this commandment doesn’t say “chill out and rest once in a while”. The Old Testament actually prescribes punishment by death to those who dare to work on the unspecified Sabbath day. I fail to see how anyone’s wellbeing is incumbent on my staying home from the lab on each Friday… I mean, Saturday… Sunday?

Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

First of all, not all parents deserve honor or respect. Many were not given the choice to become parents. Many are incompetent and some are abusive. That being said, this is the first commandment to be less order-driven, suggesting that there are consequences for the extent for one’s respect for their parents. If there was any evidence to suggest that loving your parents made you live longer, this may be a decent bit of advice to take or leave, but it is immoral as a commandment.

Thou shalt not kill/murder.

Let’s take this commandment on its own despite the clear contradiction with the entirety of the bible. I believe that capital punishment is immoral, but you don’t have the choices on a battlefield that you have in the judicial system. Are there people who think that it would be immoral to murder Adolf Hitler or Osama Bin Laden? It is almost always preferable to imprison such people for life, but if bringing them in would result in the death of scores of special forces, isn’t a bunker-busting missile the most moral course? What if you are a sniper, and you have a suicide bomber in your sights, about to detonate himself in a crowd of children? Show him love and compassion? No. Murder the motherfucker.

Thou shalt not commit adultery.

I will again be generous and ignore the bible’s hypocrisy and the obviously immoral aspects of this commandment with respect to women, divorce, and rape. Let’s pretend that this commandment is ok with non-monogamous relationships, masturbation, and porn. (ha!) I am being quite generous.

Consider that you are in a monogamous marriage, and you have several young children with your partner. Your partner has no libido, and you have not has sex in years. He/she is unwilling to make accommodations. You could separate or divorce (if the bible allowed it) tearing apart your family. You could live on like this in a bitter household, a relationship doomed to fail, and a bitter day-to-day lifestyle that may do equal damage to the family as a divorce. On the other hand, you could have an occasional, discrete affair, continue to care for your family and companionate partner, and get your needs met elsewhere, saving your marriage. What is the most moral course to take? Is one of them clearly immoral? It’s not always an easy decision, but an iron age commandment is certainly of no help. Any commandments that require absolute, exception-free obedience are bound to be immoral in some contexts.

Thou shalt not steal.

The easy argument here is the same as the commandment against murder, as there are always extenuating circumstances one could imagine that require theft: Stealing medicine or food for a sick or starving child, stealing weapons or liberty from a dangerous individual, etc.

However, this commandment goes farther, infringing on the foundation for our civilization: Collective action. Taxes can be considered theft. The draft can be considered theft. As social creatures, a libertarian view of property is untenable.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

It’s a damn good thing that Anne Frank’s hosts knew this to be an immoral proposition.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, not his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbors.

Seriously, God, if you are going to be writing timeless laws for all human kind, take a technical writing class. Cut out the specifics if you are going to end with “any thing”.

Not only can I not steal, I can’t even desire. First, this is impossible. This is the classic “made sick, and ordered to be well” commandment against thought-crime. As George Carlin says so well, this is the foundation for capitalism, the sort of property-based economy that earlier commandments required. Thy neighbor would not own an ox, ass, or gendered servant if he had not already coveted those of his neighbor’s.

Moving on from the Old Testament to one of the most secularized commandments, the Golden Rule…

“Love thy neighbor as thyself”, or as it is better known,

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

Commandments of love are fine with me as long as they don’t prioritize that love or prescribe specific actions. The goal of this commandment is to make followers empathetic for others. It could be restated, “do good because you want people to do good to you”. The problem is, your personal interests are not good standards by which to measure the interests of others.

The obvious tarnish on the Golden Rule is that it fails for sadomasochists. I don’t want them following the Golden Rule around me. In a more general sense, this rule betrays the value of our neighbors’ diversity, a boon to humankind.

My neighbor doesn’t want to be treated the same way that I want to be treated, and we all intrinsically know that. However, flawed, unbending rules like this give us excuses to act in ways that we otherwise could not defend. “I like getting my ass grabbed by strangers, so why is Katy so mad when I do it?”

The sermon on the mount

This contains lots of immoral Christian mantras and pronouncements, but this could be a very long post if I started in on it here. You can check out Iron Chariots for a verse-by-verse breakdown

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

This is rarely claimed as a secular moral, but it is rarely challenged on moral grounds, only that it is factually flawed. Let me take the former here, clause by clause…

If we are all god’s children, and Adam was created by god… why is Jesus his only son? Also, couldn’t he make another if he wanted to? The verse hangs on the point that God gave his only son, and I fail to see why either “only” or “son” is significant in God’s case. This verse is artificially inflating God’s sacrifice.

Eternal life may not be the sort of reward that is implied here. An eternity of worshiping god doesn’t seem so great to me. An eternity of anything would trouble me, so I’m not sold on this reward. Furthermore, this verse doesn’t specify the type of eternal life I would have, and there’s far too much talk about hellfire in the new testament for me to be all that eager.

The main point of this verse, and modern Christianity, is commanded belief. This is both an impossible and immoral commandment. We cannot choose our beliefs without significant and harmful brainwashing, hypnosis, or torture. Our beliefs are the result of personal experience, argument, and evidence. Is there any reward that could motivate you to believe that your given name was “Jerry”? (assuming that it isn’t) I don’t mean professing that your name is Jerry, or being convinced by argument that your name is Jerry, but actually changing your belief, motivated merely by reward. Beliefs don’t work that way. Either God is looking for a dishonest declaration of belief, or he is only interested in followers that are subject to delusion.

We do, however, suffer from confirmation bias among our many cognitive biases. Compensation can skew our otherwise objective considerations of arguments and evidence. This is an immoral practice to engage in willingly. It takes advantage of credulity, a dishonest and cynical practice by a Machiavellian god. The only moral way to change one’s beliefs is to offer sufficient evidence and honest argument. Bribery is immoral.

John 8:7 – He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”

A secular version might be that only perfect people may judge others. The obvious implication is that no one is perfect, so no one is allowed to judge anyone else. We are social and interdependent creatures. This is a commandment that shuts down communication and ends conversations about morality before they begin. Humans require a social contract, laws, and enforcement of those laws. None of this is possible if we require perfection from everyone before anyone can be held accountable.

In reality, this is a transparent way around the immoral commandments of the old testament. Jesus cannot denounce the laws calling for the stoning of adulterers since it is this same law that gives him any authority as the messiah. He therefore upholds the laws, but refuses to enforce them, like the White House turning a blind eye to Marijuana sales where it is legalized while spending billions on an un-winnable drug war… sorry. I got carried away.

All in all, morality cannot be expressed in commandments. Life is complicated, and building a just society is difficult. The bible works in sound bites about right and wrong. No prescription for human wellbeing can be written, and trying to do so, by starting with conclusions, impedes moral progress.

Creationists betray their foolishness by concluding that the bible is Truth, and forcing all other data to fit that conclusion. Even the most liberal Christians betray the same foolishness in forcing biblical interpretations to fit the conclusion that the bible is Good.

Even if it was possible to prescribe human morals, the bible does a piss poor job of it. I wouldn’t  expect much more from an Iron-Age myth. I do, however, expect much more from my neighbors today, and shame on those who describe the bible as a moral guide of human values.

In a post where I quote a crackpot book, let me end with a quote from a crackpot, C.S. Lewis:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”



“Can You Solve These 5 Physics Phenomena”

I’ve been sick, knocked on my ass for the whole week, hence the lack of posts. However I saw this on IFLS, and wrote an explanation while I catch up on lab work. Science!!!

Watch the video first, or my explanations won’t make any sense…

1. Friction increases when a finger gets closer to the center of mass because more mass is supported by that finger. Hold your fingers at different angles, and it won’t work because the coefficient of friction for each finger is different.
2. Angular momentum is transferred to the shortest radius where the spin is more favored. If you think it’s because the mass is unbalanced, try something uniform. It will behave the same as the phone.
3. Water bending due to static charge is an example of diamagnetism, an induced magnetic attraction in the presence of a magnetic field. It’s sort of like high-fiving someone with an open hand, the force of which causes his hand to curl around yours. The negatively charged cup repels electrons to the opposite side of the water molecule just a tad, inducing a more polar, and hence, more attractive ;), water molecule. This is why the negative static charge works better than a regular old magnetic field. However, very strong magnets can also cause water to bend like this.
Unfortunately, his explanation of the polar water molecule is incorrect. He is incorrectly describing water like a salt with equal numbers of positive and negative charges. Water molecules are free to re-orient themselves in line with a magnetic field (and they do), but that is not the complete cause for the curvature.
4. Speaking of magnets, cereal contains iron, a lot of iron. Check the label. That’s not some exotic form of iron that is blended into your food. It’s small filings of iron metal. You can even extract the filings by blending the cereal into a paste and attracting the filings toward a powerful magnet.
5. You all know that hot air rises. Do you know why? Gas molecules at higher temperatures move more quickly, bumping into each other and spreading out like the most hyped up rockers in a mosh pit. That causes this high temperature area to be less dense than low temperature gasses, and the low temperature (higher density) gasses sink due to gravity and push the hot air upwards.
As the bag burns from the top, the hot gasses and air rise, while air remains cold underneath the flame. However, as soon as the flame reaches the bottom, the zone of hot air extends all the way to the plate, and cold air quickly rushes in to take it’s place. The small fragments of unburned bag are propelled by this rush of cold air. Remember, it’s not just that hot air rises, it’s that cold (denser) air sinks to take its place.


I’m not wild about science education videos that simply seek to induce an “isn’t that cool?” response without any follow up. That’s not to say that he should have given full explanations. However, he should have ended each segment with “what would happen if instead I…”. If the point is education rather than giving away the answer, thinking about problems in terms of experimental design is very effective. This video simply reinforces the perceived inaccessibility of counterintuitive phenomena.


So, Israel and Palestine eh?

The intractable conflict makes you want to cry, laugh, and punch through a wall all at the same time. The two sides seem completely irreconcilable, and it’s hard to believe that there will ever be peace. When reason has abandoned the conversation, despair sets in…

Wait, you thought I was talking about the Israeli and Palestinian leadership? Not this time. I’m talking about the real conflict here: people who are too nervous to broach the subject of Israel and Palestine, and people who launch themselves headlong into the conversation, demanding a precise framing of the conflict and demonizing anyone who might not wholeheartedly take their side with acceptable intensity.

The first group is your typical American. We follow the conflict and the periodic atrocities and negotiations in the media. At work, we listen politely while our activist friend blasts one side or the other, so unilaterally that you wouldn’t dare express an opinion or even ask a question. You smile and nod and try desperately to change the subject. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have fallen squarely in this camp for the past couple weeks:



Those videos are not just an example of what I’m talking about. It’s the totality of their coverage of Israel for the last two weeks.

Then there is the other side of this conflict, those who claim exclusive rights to the moral high ground. Half of these folks consider the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the blockade, and Israeli attacks on civilians to be war crimes committed against a defenseless people. Anyone who says otherwise is defending an illegitimate tyranny that supports the murder of children. How dare anyone criticize Palestine in the wake of such atrocities.

The rest assert that Israel is defending itself against terrorists who would kill their own children just to make Israel look bad. Anyone who says otherwise is anti-semitic and inviting a new holocaust. How dare anyone criticize Israel in the wake of such atrocities.

It’s far too easy and too depressing for me to hunt for examples of these demagogues, but it’s not just pundits or extremist militants. Here’s the example I heard most recently, featured on Mike Pesca’s podcast “The Gist“. (It’s a fabulous daily podcast, and you should all check it out) It features and interview with Diana Buttu, a Canadian who serves as a legal advisor. See if you can guess which side she’s on… If the stereotype of Canadians counts for anything, it’s depressing to imagine that she represents a polite version of those involved in the conflict.

The interview starts at 2:00…

There are so many quotes that I’d like to pull from the interview that it would be easier if you simply listened to it. I think that the most telling quote is how the interview ends: “If you’re so offended by the tactics [of Palestinians], you should be even more offended by the tactics that the Israelis are using.” So much for the moral high ground.

Take another example: A champion of reason with no stake in the conflict. Sam Harris recently wrote a piece called “Why I Don’t Criticize Israel“. I might lay out a full response to that piece in the future, but for now, I’ll sum up: Harris does criticize Israel, and says “there’s probably little question over the course of fighting multiple wars that the Israelis have done things that amount to war crimes.” However, he argues in various ways that what Hamas does with the use of human shields and suicide bombings that target civilians is much worse. He has since added notes that clarify he is not excusing war crimes by Israelis, but I don’t see how that’s possible given the overall tone of the piece. The title is “Why I Don’t Criticize Israel”, not “Why Israel is the Lesser of Two Evils”. He concedes fault in the Israelis, but so much so, I fail to see why he supports them in the final analysis, no matter how much evil he sees in their opponents.

When did it become so difficult to say “A plague on both your houses!”. Americans certainly have no problem doing that with Congress.

Hamas and the Israeli government have committed war crimes. So, let’s prosecute some of these motherfuckers! How is the only morally acceptable side not the persecution of those who commit or facilitate war crimes, whatever their side? Of course, that isn’t even an option at the moment, and the reason for this is politics and power. I’m not going to go there for now. All of that is way above my head, and tactics in international geopolitical warfare is not the subject of this post. Thank goodness.

Whatever issues I have with Harris’s tone, he does hit the central point that let’s most unbiased, reasonable people feel like they can be sure of one thing: A religious sect has no right to found a nation based on biblical warrant by ousting its previous inhabitants. No religion deserves a state of their own, let alone by taking over someone else’s territory.

If European jews wanted a place to live after the second world war, they could have immigrated to most places in the world. This business about being surrounded by muslims that want to drive them into the sea buys little sympathy from me because that’s what literally following their iron age myth got them. They life under threat, but they did pursue that threat.

Palestinians (and the muslim world in general) might have a leg to stand on if they focussed only on the Israeli occupation and western influence of Israel without resorting to terrorism, anti-semitism, and racism. Hamas didn’t seize power via force and it doesn’t operate as a terrorist cell. They were democratically elected.

This is a fight about religion without calling it a fight about religion.

Here is my solution: God didn’t promise you land, and none of it was ever holy to begin with. If we drop the religious nonsense, then sorting out the territories isn’t easy, but it’s very doable. Those who have committed war crimes should go to prison. Those who have profited from seizure of Palestinian territory should forfeit their gains. Palestinians must be granted a state of their own and the right of return as well as reparations from the Israeli government. Not every citizen of Israel has infringed on the rights of Palestinians, but neither has every white person in the United States infringed on the rights of African-Americans during Jim Crow. However, there is a deep cost associated with oppression of that magnitude and duration, and those debts must be repaid.

Yup, I just put reparations and Israel in the same blog post. I do NOT belong in the scared silent first camp, but nor do I think that either Israel or Palestine has a sliver of the moral high ground. Its time for some sane demagoguery to be directed at the religious demagogues.

If you’ll indulge me, let me make sure that my ass is at least a bit covered. I am by no means trying to be flipant about this war or minimizing the suffering on either side. I am by no means an expert on the conflict. I am barely even talking about the war, but instead commenting on the interesting form that conversations about that conflict take in the media and everyday life have taken.

My real recommendation for peace? Bacon. For god’s sake people, it’s delicious.

Finally, I’m so glad we have religion to keep us acting moral. If religion went away, we might start killing each other willy nilly!