Redux on Unintended Consequences Of The Ray Rice Rule

With Ray Rice still in the public eye, blog-favorite Eugene Volokh at the Washington Post discusses a risk posed by punishment that is too strict, too rigid, or otherwise more an expression of disapproval than a proper method of reducing bad behavior. You’ll remember wrote about this several days ago, and Volokh and I essentially agree:

Sixteen female Senators have called on the NFL to impose a “zero tolerance” policy for domestic violence by players. “If you violently assault a woman, you shouldn’t get a second chance to play football in the NFL.”

I sympathize with the sentiment behind the letter, and — if I were a football fan — I would find it hard to feel any connection as a fan with a player who I knew was guilty of violent assault; it might make good business sense for the NFL to fire such players.

But where would it put football players’ wives who are being beaten? If they call the police, and the player is prosecuted, that doesn’t just mean the end of the player’s career; it likely means a loss of millions of dollars to the wife as well as to the husband. They call the police, and their husband is out of a job, they can’t pay their mortgage, and they and their children are potentially headed for poverty.


More On The Ray Rice Fallout

So Ray Rice has been released by the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL after video of his assault on his then-fiancee/now-wife Janay was released by TMZ. You’ve seen the video, surely, and if not, you can find it. I won’t link to it here because it’s very unpleasant. The developments don’t reflect well on the NFL because, as several Ravens and NFL individuals have said, the video shows exactly what both Ray and Janay described in their testimony. If that’s true, the Ravens/NFL cut ties with Rice solely as a PR move – “we have zero tolerance for videotaped domestic violence” – which is hardly a particularly strong moral stance. There’s also evidence that the NFL had seen the video of the assault months ago, which further damages both their credibility and their claim to any sort of non-amoral existence.

I’m still not particularly sure I like the idea of employers serving as justice systems in their own right – that’s fine for Ray Rice, perhaps, but at some point an assistant store manager with no savings and three children will get fired for this, too, with worse consequences. I’m more inclined to leave it to the criminal justice system (although a jail term will probably cost your job, too). Drafting employers as quasi-enforcers is dangerous, because it’ll make punishment even more wildly inconsistent than it already is. If the goal is to have a fair criminal justice system, punishments should be similar for similar offenses. Instead, Ray Rice – and Janay – are losing millions where a lower-income person would not.

I understand the argument for not allowing an abuser to be rich and famous – it offends our sense of fairness. Of course, I also don’t think anyone should look to the NFL as their moral guidance, so perhaps we should focus our energies on real problems like the ones from a few weeks ago that involved another black man and another video tape.

Book Review: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., by Adelle Waldman

If you’ve ever looked at the “About The Author” page of this blog, you know that one of the things I hate is when people who should not feel good about themselves feel good about themselves. This book is full of such people.

Waldman’s debut novel is an excellent skewering of a very particular kind of man: the modern, sensitive, literary, intellectual man, the one who is above the petty concerns of everyday life and cares only about ideas. This man, of course, is a douche bag. I don’t say this lightly, for a couple of the chapters covering Nate’s youth and college years remind me, in a few ways, of myself. A son of immigrants at an Ivy League school with the typical adolescent drives and no clear idea what to do with all of that – well, that hits home. (Also: “[He] had not always been the kind of guy women call an asshole. Only recently had he been popular enough to inspire such ill will.”)  I like to think that I turned out different from Nate P. who eventually ends up in Brooklyn determined to be a writer.

In his role as an aspiring writer bordering on success, Nate embodies a lot of things I truly hate: superiority, arrogance, condescension, each covering some deep insecurities. Waldman nails some of the thought processes of men like that: compulsions to pursue women, a need for conquest, and immediate panic when things progress beyond that stage. She also shows the more subtle and more universal: the internal conflicts when an initial enthusiasm wanes, the latent guilt for not feeling today the way you felt then.

The women Nate meets are maddening in their own ways, the worst of which is their low self-esteem. Several times you’ll want to shake one of them and tell her to get it together and go talk to normal people.  Alas, these men and women in some sense deserve each other, except that nobody deserves Nate.

The politics and philosophy discussed at parties provide a fun backdrop to the sort of people you’re dealing with here. Nate, and people like him, are in some sense torn by their own liberal ideology and political correctness. Sure it’s important to improve the lot of the poor, but it’s also really nice to get rich and famous. Of course men and women are equal, though it’s hard to pretend that they’re not very different in their natures.*  There is a big space between what Nate and his friends tell themselves everyone should care about and what they actually care about. (Unlike me, they beat themselves up over it.)

*Nate’s views on women aren’t inaccurate per se, but they’re hateful: because women are different from him but should be the same, they’re wrong and somehow lesser. (“They were as capable of rational thought; they just didn’t appear to be as interested in it.”; “the fact that something made her feel bad was reason enough to reject it.”) Only late does Waldman let us know that she realizes that men and women don’t need to be the same. It’s subtle, and I wonder how many pick up on it.

The book is a very quick read with efficient prose. There is a lot of telling rather than showing, though it’s not until the last couple of chapters that this becomes a problem. (I found the wrap-up too rushed with a lot of exposition.) Worth a read if you’re familiar with these kinds of people.

Blog Note

Apologies for the long silence – it appears that, thanks to a coding error, the backlog of posts I had released into the queue hasn’t been posting, and I haven’t been writing many new things because work has expanded to fill all available time and space.

It appears the world has become slightly worse since my last note of this kind, so I’ll remind you again to do nice things for other people to offset the recent unpleasantness. It’ll make you feel better, too.

In the meantime, I’ll release all those old blog posts that you’ve undoubtedly been waiting for. Apologies to those who signed up via email, for you’re about to get flooded.

NFC Season Preview & Predictions 2014

NFC East

Eagles 11-5
The defense will be slightly better, and the offense should hold steady. I don’t predict the big improvements – Sproles should offset Jackson, and Foles’ development will offset worse luck – but they will win this division.

Cowboys 7-9
No defense and Romo with a back injury. There’s a limit to how far they can go.

Giants 7-9
Probably will end up three wins better, but this team is unimpressive across the board.

Redskins 7-9
RGIII hasn’t looked well, adjusting to a new coach and system. Defense also needs more physical players.

NFC North

Packers 10-6
Some questions on defense and the offensive line and an important question surrounding Aaron Rodgers (specifically, “How many fingers am I holding up?”), but this is a powerful offense.

Bears 9-7
Could very well get 2 or 3 more wins, but a fragile Cutler and a young defense put a cap on what this team can accomplish.

Lions 6-10
A very powerful offense and an undisciplined defense. They’re basically the Cowboys.

Vikings 5-11
Should go to Teddy Bridgewater – in my opinion the best QB who will come out of this year’s draft – with the associated growing pains. Secondary very suspect.

NFC South

Saints 12-4
The offense is typically unstoppable, and the defense actually has lots of talent this time around. They can still be run on, but they are in good shape.

Falcons 9-7
Losing their starting tackle hurts, because this is a team on the rebound. Jake Matthews will help, but there are still holes here.

Panthers 8-8
I feel like I’m missing something here. This team made little effort to add receivers at a time that their QB is hitting his prime and his RBs are on the decline. The defense is solid – this would have been a good time to go for it.

Buccaneers 7-9
Lovie Smith and a great draft. I think McCown does well but I also think Glennon can win this job for the next few years.

NFC West

Seahawks 11-5
They’ve taken more hits than people realize, but Wilson is a year better. Defense lacks last year’s depth but is still very good.

49ers 10-6
I love how this team built its roster, but between injuries and suspensions, their impressive depth has taken a hit. A lot will hinge on Kaepernick’s development as a passer.

Cardinals 7-9
The defense impressed last year but it’s lost quite a bit of talent. The passing offense should hold up but this team is taking a step back.

Rams 5-11
Bradford out, Zac Stacy unproven, receivers young. This offense has lots of questions that a stout defensive line cannot overcome.



Packers over 49ers
Seahawks over Bears

Saints over Packers
Seahawks over Eagles

Saints over Seahawks

Super Bowl: Patriots over Saints



AFC Season Preview & Predictions 2014

Once again, I dedicate some thought and space to a sport I care less and less about.

AFC East

Patriots 13-3
Improved defense and receivers that can’t be less healthy than last year. Even with an older Brady, this is a good team.

Bills 7-9
I’m a believer for no real reason. Manuel struggled, Watkins is hurt already, and the secondary is struggling. Yet here we are.

Dolphins 6-10
On paper this team should be much better, but a tough schedule and lack of offensive playmakers makes me wonder where the wins will come from.

Jets 5-11
Predicting a bit of a collapse. The Jets were the luckiest team in the NFL last year and I doubt that repeats.

AFC North

Bengals 10-6
This team probably isn’t as good as they were last year, but the run game should be effective and they’ve developed bona fide pass catchers beyond AJ Green. I believe.

Steelers 9-7
Should have made the playoffs last year, and will contend this year. Expecting Wheaton and Shazier to make an immediate impact.

Ravens 8-8
Could win three more games than this if everything breaks right, but luck averages out so I’ll have them be average, too.

Browns 6-10
This team is better than this but their QB situation is unsettled and their receivers aren’t impressive. The defense is very good, but it won’t be enough. This team can surprise, but it can’t contend.

AFC South

Colts 9-7
The defense won’t be as lucky as last year, and the lack of a run game will be an issue. I also wonder if Luck will keep improving – he’s already playing well.

Titans 7-9
Counting on Locker to be healthy and accurate is risky, but this team has quietly built a great offensive line, a decent receiver corps, and good platoon pieces at TE and RB. The secondary is shallow which will be a problem all year.

Jaguars 6-10
An improving team but I think they’re a year away from threatening. Very young roster that will be better and deeper next year.

Houston 6-10
They’re not as bad as their 2-14 record last year, and the defense can be downright scary, but QB is unsettled and all skill positions are shallower than last year. I say the struggle big time.

AFC West

Broncos 12-4
Counting on Montee Ball and lacking Wes Welker for a while, the Broncos can probably still run away with this division.

Chargers 9-7
A very good offense and very good defense and a tough schedule. They could go a couple of wins both ways.

Chiefs 9-7
They need more playmakers in the passing game to threaten, but with Charles and that defense, they’ll contend.

Raiders 3-13
Looks like another tough year for the Raiders. They’re still early in the talent cycle and it’ll show.


Chargers over Steelers
Bengals over Colts

Patriots over Chargers
Broncos over Bengals

Patriots over Broncos

Super Bowl: tomorrow, with the NFC preview.

Restaurant Review: Detroit

Slows Bar-B-Q
2138 Michigan Avenue, Detroit, MI
(313) 962-9828

Recommended by virtually everyone in Detroit, Slows is a very good barbecue joint. My fear with such places is that they’re coasting off their reputation, but I didn’t find that to be the case here. The brisket, sausage, and most of the vegetable sides are all very good, and Slows also boasts an extensive and excellent beer list.

Highly recommended. After, stop by next door at Sugar House for a cocktail.

Joe Muer Seafood
400 Renaissance Center, Suite 1404, Detroit, MI
(313) 567-6837

Joe Muer’s reminds me quite a bit of McCormick & Schmick’s (which I usually enjoy): the large paper menus, the heavy fish emphasis, the slightly classy bar. They’re similar in food quality, too – good fish selection, particularly if you try the specials. Salads also work well – JM sources from Michigan farms. The gazpacho is recommended on a hot day. Beer list is nothing special, though there are decent wines.

The NFL’s Domestic Violence Policy And Unintended Consequences

NFL commissioner and all-around asshat Roger Goodell, after catching lots of public hell for his two-game suspension of Baltimore running back Ray Rice after the latter was caught on tape punching his fiancee unconscious, announced a new NFL policy regarding domestic violence. (He’s against it.) To wit:

Goodell sent a letter to the NFL owners … outlining the stiffer penalties: a six-game suspension without pay for the first offense and a lifetime ban for a second offense. Goodell specified that these rules will apply to all NFL personnel, including executives and owners, not just players. A player who receives a lifetime ban can petition for reinstatement after one year.

The question I ask about this transparent and blatant PR move: is it actually going to reduce the incidence of domestic violence? I’m skeptical for a few reasons. While obviously a greater punishment – this case a costly loss of income or entire livelihood – provides a greater incentive  to behave, there is another important effect here. Lengthy suspensions reduce player earnings, and a lifetime ban obviously destroys them, which also punishes the player’s family – including perhaps the person he assaulted. This could drive victims of domestic violence not to report incidents. Ray Rice’s fiancee is now his wife and defends him – I imagine more women would find themselves protecting their provider from costly punishment. This is probably already happening, and I bet it’ll happen more often now that a seemingly inflexible policy is in place.

Obviously the hope is that the first effect outweighs the second. I wouldn’t be so sure.

Restaurant Review: More Chicago

Sun Wah BBQ
5039 N Broadway, Chicago, IL
(773) 769-1254

A Chicago classic that gets shut down periodically by health inspectors (and reopens quickly), Sun Wah is way uptown but usually worth the trip. Bring a group and share a whole duck or two. They’re delicious and well above average. The menu also features usual Chinese fare, but if you’ve made it this far, stick to the duck. Service is solid and it’s cheap enough for the quality. Make sure they’re open when you go and don’t think about cockroaches. BYOB.

Highly recommended.

Piece Pizza
1927 W North Ave, Chicago, IL
(773) 772-4422

Near my old Wicker park apartment, Peace Pizza is a brewpub worth going to but not necessarily a regular haunt. At its best, the pizza is delicious, but not all of them are that good. The white pizza in particular is disappointing, while the red is very good across the board. The beer selection isn’t extensive but it’s very good, especially the Golden Arm (Kolsch), the Anniversary Ale (IPA), and Dysfunctionale (pale ale).


Netflix Review: Dan Cummins, Colin Quinn

Dan Cummins: Crazy With A Capital F

Dan Cummins had a decent Comedy Central special almost a decade ago, and his style hasn’t changed one bit in the interim. Short, well-constructed jokes told by a part-time sociopath. (“I hate pet sympathy cards. I wanna write one. ‘I hear you’re torn up about your dead cat. At least you’re not literally torn up like your dead cat.”) Cummins loves to construct crazy scenarios and take them to their conclusions, like getting a thousand garden gnomes into your yard and letting neighbors wonder (“I can’t control those bastards forever!”), or giving the finger to the elderly (“Once. Well, twice. She deserved it once.”)

A solid hour of comedy. Recommended for a rainy day.

Colin Quinn: Long Story Short

A good friend of mine once called Colin Quinn “tragically unfunny,” an assessment I don’t generally disagree with. In this special, Quinn seems to have overcome this obstacle for an hour of competent if not surprising comedy. Taking an Eddie Izzard approach, Quinn walks us through the history of Western Civilization and jokes along the way. The historical take is surprisingly insightful, and the jokes are well above “tragically unfunny.” They require a little too much context for me to repeat them here, but it’s a watchable one-man show.



Thoughts on law, economics, sports, food, and pop culture. Not necessarily in that order.