Saturday, April 7, 2012

Howard just an example of the NBA’s problem

By Daniel B. Kline

Dwight Howard, a talented player who has yet to win anything, wants Stan Van Gundy, his coach, fired. And, since NBA superstars are a rare commodity who must be coddled by management, he will get his wish at the close of the season if not sooner.

Because the NBA is a star-driven league with not enough stars to go around and salary cap limitations that make it impossible to overbid for a top player’s services, teams who have a superstar under contract must bend to his will. Instead of leaving the decision of who coaches the team up to management, Howard can demand that Van Gundy be fired either because he thinks it’s the right call or simply to show how powerful he is.

Had Howard said nothing and simply played basketball one of two things would have happened. Either Orlando would have made an unlikely playoff run past the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat, at least making it to The Finals, or Van Gundy would be fired anyway.

Howard, after pouting, posturing and being the subject of near-constant trade rumors signed a one-year extension. As he did this, he made it clear that he was not so much committed to his team as he was committed to keeping up the “what will Dwight do” intrigue for another year.

Howard’s act, which has grown tired now that his on-court performance has become erratic, simply marks the latest chapter in the ongoing soap opera featuring the divas of the NBA. Whether it’s Lebron James and “The Decision,” Chris Paul whining his way out of New Orleans or Carmelo Anthony tanking his way to the Knicks, the players have all the power.

These situations are happening because David Stern and the NBA’s owners were unwilling to give up a season in order to actually fix the league. The NFL – pretty much the model for success these days – has addressed the issue of signature superstars with its franchise tag.

The NFL’s rule allows teams to hold onto players it deems absolutely essential. Using the franchise tag comes with a cost (both in dollars and player goodwill), but its existence brings stability and allows teams to make long-term plans for their franchises.

In the NBA, long-term plans usually involve shedding as much salary as possible while losing a lot so you can beg a superstar to sign with your team. For most teams, this generally means getting rejected by one of the very few available superstars and instead having to overpay whoever is left on the free agent pile (and still being not a title contender).

Going into any NBA season you can make a case that as few as four, but no more than eight, teams have a legitimate shot at the title. To get to eight this year you have to include unlikely possibilities like aging Boston making one last run and the Los Angeles Clippers somehow gelling with Paul improbably quickly.

Even if fans in eight cities actually believe their team has a chance to win, that leaves 22 cities knowing they won’t. And while the NFL certainly has favorites, very few teams are counted out from day one (sorry Cleveland).

If the NBA enacted a franchise rule then Lebron James would be in Cleveland, Chris Paul would be in New Orleans and Carmelo Anthony might not be a Nugget, but he also might not be a Knick. More teams would be competitive and fans would actually have something to cheer for.

Instead, we get divas like Howard demanding their coaches be fired in order for them to maybe possibly consider staying or at least playing hard sometimes.

Reach Daniel B. Kline at dan@notastep.com, subscribe to his Worst Ideas Ever podcast on iTunes or listen at dbkline.com. Follow him on Faceook at facebook.com/dankline.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New Podcast Live

Jason and I lament getting older and agree to stop talking about the NBA lockout. I think we tell some jokes as well.
www.worstideasever.com

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's the end of the world as we know it

By Daniel B. Kline

For a time, in my formative years, REM was my favorite band without question. They were my introduction to music that fell outside the mainstream (though they did not stay semi-known for more than a few months after I discovered them) and they were my personal soundtrack to my last two years of high school.

At a time when U2 was the accepted “alternative” mega-band, I felt, when I discovered REM (through their early-career greatest hits record Eponymous) like I was literally the only person in my high school class who knew who they were. That was likely not true, but I delighted in sharing their music with my small circle of friends.

This was 1989 and though they had had a radio hit with “The One I Love,” the real commercial breakthrough did not occur until Automatic For The People in 1992. So, in some ways, their early records including the stunning Life's Rich Pageant, were still a secret shared lovingly with people I remain close to to this day.

One of my happiest memories from that time involved an awkward bus ride to Quebec City as part of a school trip. I was more than a little nervous about the trip as I had few friends at the time and those that I did have were not on the trip.

Because of that, I sat alone wearing a too-big-for-me REM T-shirt with hair that would eventually be long, but was then cut like Ernie from Sesame Street listening to Eponymous on a yellow Sony Walkman (a tape player for those of you who don't remember a time before iTunes). Not precisely shy, but certainly not the type of young fellow who just randomly talked to pretty girls, the joyous revelation that was REM empowered me to start chatting with the girl sitting across from me whom I had never seen before (a rare thing in a school of about 600).

Jennifer would go on to become my first girlfriend and one of my closest friends to this day. It was an REM song that was my first “our song,” (with her) and it was even a line from the “It's The End Of The World As We Know It,” that provided the name for my first newspaper column (a column in which I wrote about my first date with my wife Celine).

Certainly there were other bands playing from the jury-rigged CD player in my 1982 Chevy Malibu Classic station wagon (which blew a fuse if you honked the horn while playing a CD) but REM meant more to me than the Replacements, the Pixies and countless other bands I love.

As I got older, I liked their new output less and less and they faded as my favorite band (replaced by Boston alt-rock legends Buffalo Tom). That, however, doesn't make me any less sad to hear that REM has disbanded and that I will likely never see them on-stage again and that they will never make that “return-to-glory” album that I expected each time a new record came out.

Still, that does not change that at a time when I needed something to grab onto, REM provided a path that led to me discovering a new world of music. They led to me wanting to be a music critic and meeting my best friend in the newsroom of The Chronicle at Hofstra University whose first assignment for me as a music critic was Buffalo Tom's Let Me Come Over. That was the same newsroom where I met my wife and where, for better of worse, pushed me on the path of writing and journalism that I still walk today.

I suppose I'll never again be a heartbroken teenager listening to “Country Feedback” over and over any more than I'll ever get to experience the joy of discovering something entirely new. But as REM walks quietly away, I'll know that had Bill Berry, Mike Mills, Peter Buck and Michael Stipe never played music together then my life may have been utterly worse for it.

Daniel B. Kline's work appears in over 100 papers weekly. He can be reached at dan@notastep.com or you can see his archive at dbkline.com. You can listen to his podcast or buy his book, Worst Ideas Ever, at Worstideasever.com.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Candidates should leave religion at home

By Daniel B. Kline

In general, I prefer my presidential candidates not mention their religious affiliation. I'd actually prefer they not have a religious affiliation, but, in this country, that's essentially impossible because too many voters place whatever faith they've been brainwashed into ahead of any other voting criteria.

And, before you start sending me emails about the last line, what else would you call it when we indoctrinate children from birth into a group with rigid rules where you aren't allowed to question anything? In my mind, anyone devoutly devoted to any particular religion should not be a candidate for president as it's impossible for them to be impartial when their indoctrination contradicts common sense.

Take abortion – the hottest of hot button topics – Christian religions are anti-abortion, no matter the circumstances. That flies in the face of common sense as the United States simply has more children than we can care for and bringing more unwanted children in the system represents a bad use of resources.

Because of that, a president, must support abortion remaining legal even if he or she finds it morally reprehensible. First off, we should not dictate morals to other people and second, on a practical basis we can't afford more unwanted children.

Morality has no place in public debate. It's a moving target and a definition we can't all agree on, which should not be decided by politicians. You consider abortion immoral, I consider bringing unwanted children into the world immoral.

Bringing god into politics, also allows candidates to to make arguments that sensible people – those of us who don't believe any sort of higher power micromanages daily events – can't argue with because it's rude to question religion no matter how wacky its application may be. This can perhaps best be illustrated in the actions of presidential candidate Michelle Bachman who moved from a little cuckoo to downright deranged last week when she more or less said that God had sent the earthquake and hurricane that hit the East Coast last week due to overspending by government.

"I don't know how much god has to do to get the attention of the politicians," Bachman told a crowd of Floridians over the weekend, according to the St. Petersburg Times. "We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending."

If Bachman truly believes that god sent an earthquake and a hurricane to send politicians a message about spending, perhaps she can explain exactly what he/she meant during every other natural disaster? We just had a rain storm where I live, perhaps that one was about overcrowding in the public schools?

When politicians start making decisions based on their belief in a magical man in the sky then they forfeit their right to speak for those of us who deal in reality. I know that much of the country believes – or at least pretends to believe – deeply in their religion, but facts, not faith should drive our political decisions.

Presidents, congresspeople, governors and even mayors need to make decisions they find distasteful because it's what's right for their constituents. That might mean handing out condoms in public schools, letting gay people in the military or supporting equal pay for for equal work for women. If your faith – and your inability to waver from that faith for the good of those you serve – makes it impossible to do your job, then you should not run for that job.

We're heading for an election where our woefully incompetent president runs against a Republican (take your pick of which one) whose only election platform involves religion. As a country, we'll get to pick between a guy who has no answers for our dying economy and a guy (or gal) whose first allegiance is to the fairy tales he was fed before he knew how to read.

Daniel B. Kline's work appears in over 100 papers weekly. He can be reached at dan@notastep.com or you can see his archive at dbkline.com. You can listen to his podcast or buy his book, Worst Ideas Ever, at Worstideasever.com.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Patching local news together won't work

By Daniel B. Kline

Good news amateur writers with an inflated sense of your own talent, your local news Web site that nobody reads wants your contributions. Never mind that you have no actual talent – two friends and your mom (who doesn't actually read what you write) told you how much they love your work, so that should clearly result in a mass audience.

Often called “crowdsourcing,” the idea is that the idea that there are lots of local voices just dying to be heard, that people actually want to hear. This concept of turning over your “pages” to amateurs is part of the latest thoughts as to how the newspaper business will be saved/reinvented.

This bit of wishful thinking makes financial sense because actual reporters and professional opinion writers (present company excluded) actually cost money. So, if we can get the public to report and opine for free, then we won't need actual journalists.

Logically, this could work just fine except it's extremely rare to find any actual writing talent willing to participate in this particular scam. Yes, Huffington Post pulls this off, but somehow that site manged to trick celebrities and actual writers to give their work away for free.

When you try this model in hundreds of town across the country, you end up with Web sites populated by amateurs who can't write or tell an interesting story. Basically, this would be like running an upscale restaurant and realizing that the chefs really drive costs up, so you get rid of them and hand customers a pile of ingredients and a stove.

This has not stopped AOL, owners of Huffington Post, from pushing this model on its local Patch sites. In general, these local news sites have one editor who writes, assigns and handles everything else. Some Patch sites have good journalists doing good work, but most feature either overworked, burned out pros or inexperienced kids.

Now, of course, sourcing material from the community has its place. It's not impossible to find or train local talent, but aside from the occasional lucky discovery, doing this requires resources and training. The local news prototype I run has a 16-year-old intern this summer who ranks just a slight tick below my professional staff in quality and vastly exceeds them in output.

To get that intern, however, we made a significant investment in a school program where we teach teenagers how to shoot and edit video. We didn't just hand her a camera and say go report the news, we taught her the skills and then were delighted to find someone with talent who has become a significant contributor.

Simply going on the notion that because a lot of people blog on a local level that there is a log of great, or even marginally acceptable, content which news Web sites can have for free is silly. The “crowd” can enhance your reporting and it can most certainly direct you as to what to cover. But, the idea that the news bus won't be driven by paid professionals will likely end with hundreds of dead local web sites – killed because they thought that just because people are saying something that others would want to read it.

The new newspaper world will feature less walls and more contributions from the audience. Story selection and placement will largely be audience driven and the public will have unprecedented access and control of the what news gets reported. The days of crusty old editors making decisions like J. Jonah Jameson from Spiderman are over, but the day of the professional reporter has just begun.

You can't crowdsource reporting and storytelling anymore than you can crowdsource brain surgery or root canals. Sure, there might be some genius who read a book who can handle either of those, but if I need a brain surgeon or dentist – much like if I need a reporter – I'll stick with the pros.

Daniel B. Kline's work appears in over 100 papers weekly. He can be reached at dan@notastep.com or you can see his archive at dbkline.com. You can listen to his podcast or buy his book, Worst Ideas Ever, at Worstideasever.com.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Stop talking about jobs and start creating them

By Daniel B. Kline

Given the current economy, every politician in the nation likes to give speeches about jobs. They talk about jobs, go on “job tours,” write legislation about jobs and do everything short of writing a Broadway musical about jobs, but, of course, very few actually create any jobs.

Our president also likes talking about jobs and he does seem to understand that it's hard to have a thriving economy with 10% unemployment, but he too has a fundamental lack of understanding as to how jobs get created. Obama plans to create jobs by taking more money away from the public through increasing taxes. (I'm pretty sure he also thinks he can create jobs by being charming and telegenic, but he has not said that out loud).

He, of course, only plans to tax the wealthy – you know, the people who pay nearly all the taxes now; the same people who buy stuff and hire people with their money. He also seems completely unaware that taking money from the public and giving it to the government has multiple negative effects on the economy.

First, government never spends our money as well as we do. Second, when you raise taxes, you remove incentive. Why would a person who already has money risk that cash in attempt to make even more if Uncle Sam will just take the lion's share of the profits?

President Barack Obama isn't interested in creating jobs any more than the blowhards in the Tea Party are. Instead, the extreme left and the extreme right want to demonize each other. The president says we don't have jobs because rich people take all the money while the Tea Partiers say we don't have jobs because the federal government wastes money on entitlement programs.

None of this rhetoric creates a single job – unless you count the talk radio hosts who live off this sort of nonsense. Then, of course, we have the ridiculous debate about the debt ceiling, which has about as much uncertainty as the NFL lockout. We don;t how they will agree or exactly when they will agree, but we all know that at some point an agreement will be reached.

Creating jobs requires that both sides of the political debate drop their rhetoric. Obama has to stop blaming the rich and the Republicans have to stop blaming the poor. We won't create jobs by raising taxes and more than we will create jobs by eliminating food stamps or other needed social programs.

Instead, the right must acknowledge that there are too many loopholes that allow those with the most to escape paying anything – let alone their fair share. The left must accept that government has an awful lot of waste and while some programs can remain, others must go.

To create jobs, we need politicians who actually want to do that instead of ones who just like talking about it. Since we don't have that, it's hard to see an end to our economic downturn. Sadly, to create jobs we need leaders and that appears to be a job opening for which nobody qualified has applied.

Daniel B. Kline's work appears in over 100 papers weekly. He can be reached at dan@notastep.com or you can see his archive at dbkline.com. You can listen to his podcast or buy his book, Worst Ideas Ever, at Worstideasever.com.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Lower taxes, fix the economy

By Daniel B. Kline

While the nation struggles with unemployment and economic problems, our delusional president clings to the idea that raising taxes will solve the problem. President Barack Obama refuses to back away from the idea that it's okay to raise taxes on “millionaires,” a word he not so subtly uses as a swear – as if success happens by accident and anyone with money does not deserve it.

Raising taxes takes money out of the economy. Whether you raise taxes on rich people, poor people or anyone in between, you take dollars out of the economy and put them into a government sinkhole.

Obama preaches the notion that rich people don't pay their fair share. Never mind that we have a graduated tax code and the more you make, the more you pay, our president wants those of us who are not millionaires to believe that our problems can be solved by confiscating more from those who have been fortunate enough to get wealthy.

Of course, we should close loopholes in the tax code that allow businesses and certain people to avoid being taxed. Everyone should pay their fair share, but nobody should pay more than that.

Our president would be better off preaching lower taxes for everyone. Historically, lower taxes equal higher revenues for the government. That's because if we put more dollars into the hands of the people who actually earn them, those people find a way to spend them.

At the bottom level that might mean some small luxury spending – maybe a movie ticket or modest meal out. As we climb up the economic chain, though, more dollars in pocket means increased spending. Perhaps a middle class couple will finish their basement or maybe they will start a small business. At the the top of the chain, we might see luxury goods purchases or larger companies being started.

Put more dollars into the our wallets and the economy cures itself. Raise taxes to fund misguided federal programs (more bailout money anyone?) and nothing improves. To fix the economy we need less government, not more.

Instead of raising taxes, how about trying something different and lowering all taxes by 10%? Cut income taxes, sales taxes, capital gains taxes, taxity taxes, the tax on taxes and any other taxes I might be forgetting.

I, for one, promise that if you put more of the money that I earn – with absolutely no help from the federal government – I will spend it. Put 10% more cash in my pocket and I'll go out to dinner more and I'll just buy more stuff.

If everyone does that (what a surprise) that money creates jobs and brings in tax revenue. Doesn't that make more sense than more confiscatory taxes where the money disappears into Washington?

If what we're doing doesn't work, why wouldn't we try something different?

Daniel B. Kline's work appears in over 100 papers weekly. He can be reached at dan@notastep.com or you can see his archive at dbkline.com. You can listen to his podcast or buy his book, Worst Ideas Ever, at Worstideasever.com.