football

Americans accept losing wars and mediocrity at the highest levels

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The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.~ Thucydides

Weakness provokes insult and injury, while a condition to punish, often prevents them.~Thomas Jefferson

I have complained often and loudly about the caustic culture inside the US Army. It is a witch’s brew of arrogance, ridiculous regulation, and inept leadership. There are good leaders to be sure–but there is a disturbing number of bad ones, marred by a lack of basic common sense in fighting wars, and an arrogance that would shock Commodus.

My favourite essayist, Ralph Peters wrote a scathing article in the New York Post about the ethical collapse in the Army’s officer corps. There are more frightening stories than Peters talks about in his piece.

And here’s the biggest problem with all of this: These generals could not even  advocate for the proper execution of our wars for the last 10 years.  If a Soldier gets shot while on guard duty and was found to have not worn his helmet–he’ll get in more trouble than the insurgent who did the shooting, because it’s likely no effort will be made to pursue the attacker. In every other era of American war, the command’s initial response to a Soldier being shot at the front gate would be :” The enemy is able to maneuver very closely to our base–we need to find him and kill him.” Now, the command goes for the easy target–the American trooper. I assure everyone, that insurgents move and gather quite closely to American bases in Afghanistan and never have a shot fired at them in anger. Never have terrorist had it so good.  A full-bird colonel may smile and shake the hand of a villager that is helping kill his troops, but ruthlessly belittle the American privates on his base for being out of uniform.

It’s easy to fight a foe that can’t fight back.

The US Army has loads of support troops who don’t know how to use radios properly, how to use weapons optics like the ACOG, and the US is getting its ass handed to it by a growing Afghan insurgency which actually knows how to shoot, move and communicate. But the new Army’s mantra is “Right time, right place, right uniform.”  What is this, a Wal-Mart corporate meeting? Left out of any messaging is the fact that the Army has one overriding mission: To kill dead the enemies of the United States. Period.

Meanwhile, our West Point educated generals and colonels, whom the illiterate Taliban are running circles around, are committing acts of sexual assault, bigamy, and outright theft of government finances.  Generals reduced to cutpurses.

Then there is the absolute tide of political correctness to which our generals are beholden. Every time I hear an interview with a general, I walk away not feeling inspired, but depressed. Wooden, and reading from a memorized slate approved for press release, these folks would make Patton vomit.  Make no mistake about it. Today, Patton would be arrested. He admitted Americans like a good fight. Why? Because to win a fight, you have to like it, at least a little. But our current military is so risk averse, that only a fool would look for the enemy on a regular basis.

It’s really too bad that these generals are being investigated for sexual indiscretion and petty thievery  but not for their performance in our wars.  Where is the vaunted moral courage and intellectual honesty in the officer’s corp? I should like to see many more canned for not doing their job: Stacking enemy bodies.  Sound harsh? It is. That’s war. The current counterinsurgency model is so “counter-intuitive” ( term often used to mask the insanity of a bad idea), that only an intellectual could believe it.

It’s time we take a long hard look at ourselves. Frankly, I’m embarrassed.  Back in the homeland, we now accept losing. We shouldn’t. A good loser is a loser.  The personalities that used to be our generals are now our college and professional football coaches. They went where the money is and where they can tell the truth.

Les Miles would have won wars:

As Lombardi said, winning is a habit. I reached a turning point in my life when I no longer accepted defeat. When mediocre academic performance was not acceptable, when age was not an excuse for physical decline, when a bad childhood was not justification for failure in every endeavor. I don’t want a participation trophy–I want the trophy that labels me the winner. It is a sad thing to me, where we have come as a people. Looking back at my youth, I wish there were something that could have made me care, something that could have made me try. I didn’t see difficulty as a challenge, but something to be avoided, so I ran away from life.

This is where relativism, as it must, has led us. If all things are equal, winning is neither good nor bad. If all behavior is the same, then we can accept the same from a 4-star general as from a 15 year old.  The engine of our nation–its people–are in decline. I have no recipe to fix the problem. Perhaps it as Oswald Spengler believed, inevitable  like the seasons.

Our flaccid response to the humiliation in Benghazi is illustrative of the current American acceptance of defeat. I’m with Ralph Peters on this one (as usual). Our response should have been devastating. Instead, our government wrung its hands, and tweaked “talking points”. We haven’t made the world a safer place with our rhetoric. No one this side of Mother Theresa respects weakness, least of all Islamic extremists. Our collegiate theorems have not trumped the reality of war: You must kill the enemy until he stops fighting. Rest assured he’s trying to do the same thing.

How important is speed for an NFL wide receiver?

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We hear all the time about a prospective NFL players 40 yard dash at the combine.  Did he run a sub 4.5? Wide receivers who don’t run a sub 4.6 almost never end up starting in the NFL. I think that’s a shame.

Obviously there is a point where slow is too slow for the game of pro football. But why is speed important? It’s not only important for break away long plays, it’s also critical because getting open is a fundamental aspect of playing receiver and speed can help a player to get open.  My own experience in football tells me that a player’s straight-line speed is not that critical.  More important is his quickness. I would define quickness as the measurement of a player’s ability to accelerate,  stop suddenly and change direction., in a say, a 10×10 yard box. Actually, there are several skills that are more important to a receiver than his 40 yard dash time, and yet it is his 40 time that always receives the most attention.  A player can have fantastic hands and great quickness but it is a invariably a blazing 40 time that will get the most talk.

In my own experience in sandlot ball, the fastest player was almost never the best receiver.  As QB for my Army office team, I’ve noticed the attributes that make a good receiver and can quickly identify the player that I was to throw the ball.

1) Good receivers are aggressive.  They want the ball, run to it, and fight to get it.  They do not let defensive backs make the first move to the ball, either vertically, or down the field.  With a good receiver, the QB must throw the ball to an area; with a poor receiver, the QB must throw the ball much more accurately. Poor receivers drift.  They may look up at the ball then back at the defensive back while the ball is in the air.  They cede the initiative of playing the ball to the defender.

2) Good receivers know how to get open and when they are open. They quickly identify weaknesses in the defenses’ setup and make small adjustments in their routes to maximize the distance between themselves and the defender.  Tactics employed include, head and body fakes and changes in acceleration and angles. They are quick in and out of their cuts Moreover, good receivers know when they have achieved a sufficient level of separation and they look back for the ball quickly. Bad pass catchers stare at defensive backs as they make their cuts and are late looking for the ball.  Bad receivers do not possess a large bag of tricks to fool defensive backs and often fail to properly analyze what the defense is doing to shut them down and they round their patters, providing time to defensive backs to break on the ball.

3) Good receivers catch the ball. Nothing will break a QB’s confidence more than a receiver who drops passes. A receiver’s job is first to catch the ball, then to run. Good receivers make receptions on balls thrown that should have been incomplete passes.  Poor receivers stop drives by dropping balls that should have been easy completions.

One reason for the stress placed on 40 time is because it is easily measurable. Just as in the world of military intelligence analysis, it is easier to present data than it is to interpret what that data means in the bigger picture.  It is easy and safe in the current football culture for a scout or general manager to wow owners and coaches with a number. And speed is difficult to improve; people are mostly born with it or without it, and many of the other football skills, it is thought, can be taught. And of course, speed can result in scores in quick, spectacular scores.

Receivers that do not possess incredible speed but produce good numbers in the NFL, are often referred to as “over-achievers” or “hard workers”. But it’s time to consider the vast range of skills great receivers possess, and realize that speed is only one of them–and probably not the most import one at that.

Run and Shoot

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In a Democratic society, few things are more important than trust.  We have to trust our neighbors, our co-workers, and our government.  This is what makes a free and open society work.  But trust must be earned.  If trust is given to those whom are untrustworthy, systems fail just as rapidly, perhaps more rapidly, than if no trust is granted at all. Everything works better in a high trust society. 

Trust is why America works.  America doesn’t work because of Democracy. Democracy works because of trust.  Certain systems can engender trust in our fellow man, mostly because those systems enable individuals to fulfill their personal needs without ripping off other people.  When systems break down, people tend to circle the wagons, hoarding as much for themselves as possible.  But beyond systems, are the values and capabilities of the people that work in those systems.

Recently at my job, the office I worked in experienced some difficulties in one of the sections. The job was not getting done to my supervisor’s liking.  The historic way that my supervisor tried to fix problems was by changing systems; more Excel spreadsheets, more trackers, more redundant systems. But to me, the problem was the people.  No system can cover  every problem–there’s always a loophole. Success comes when you put the best people in the right positions.  So we made a personnel change.  It wasn’t easy explaining to the soldier why he was removed from the position, but I had to tell him that his attention to detail was lacking so that he could fix the problem in the future.

On Friday, my office usually plays touch football against another section.  I play quarterback. One thing I quickly identify is whom I can trust when I throw the ball to them. Who drops the ball? Who can’t get open? Who doesn’t know how to run patterns?  After a few dropped passes, I don’t want to throw the ball to certain receivers.  One soldier in particular on my team is an excellent athlete and football player. He catches the ball when I throw it to him, knows the game, and has good speed.  I end up looking to him first on most plays and we win often.  I do try to spread the ball around just so that other people have fun. But if our team really needs a score, I know who I’m looking for.  I trust that player.  It is not so much about a system that guarantees or maximizes the chances of our success–it’s about knowing who the most capable person is. One person on the team is an advocate of designing plays so that each player has an assignment. While this would be fine if we had lots of time to practice it doesn’t work very well for our situation. The only direction that is usually given is deciding who blocks, who throws and who receives.  Once in a while I’ll tell a receiver to run a certain pattern, but mostly it’s just “get open.” We were actually less successful when we tried to assign each receiver a pattern.  He could not make the small adjustments needed to get away from defenders, since his assigned pattern may take him towards a safety or linebacker and not away. So we run our offense like the old Run and Shoot.

These two anecdotes reinforce my politics: That nations are not made by regulation, but by the capabilities and attitudes of millions of individuals.  Only individuals can make on the ground assessments and quick changes to make sure things get done the way they should. We are guided by principles, but a rule cannot guarantee success, and we can see by looking at the IRS’ tax code that millions of pages of regulation still leaves loopholes.

For me, it’s never going to be about regulations. It’s always about trust and people.

NFL Week 8 predictions

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Well, last week was one of my worst prediction weeks ever.  A number of the games that most people agreed would be close calls didn’t go my way and there were a number of upsets.  But I have to stay with my formula; one week is a small sample and I have all of last season to prove that my formula works.  So on to week 8.

Week 8 winners:

Baltimore

Carolina

Houston

NY Giants

New Orleans

Tennesee

Detroit

Buffalo

Cincinatti

San Francisco

Pittsburgh

Philadelphia

San Diego

NFL Week 7 predictions

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Using the same formula that I used to win approximately 50% of last years football pool weeks, here are my predictions for week 7 of the 2011 NFL season.  I’ll put my record at the end of this season against any of the analysts on ESPN.

Winners:

Detroit

Tennessee

Miami

San Diego

Chicago

Washington

Oakland

Pittsburgh

Dallas

Green Bay

New Orleans

Baltimore

Cleveland

NFL teams are losing their discipline

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Several things are occurring during this NFL season that make me believe that a lack of discipline is turning into badly played football games.

First off, anecdotally speaking, the number of penalties is astounding me. It seems in almost every game, one of the teams, has double-digit penalties. It’s not unusual to see a team with over 100 yards in penalty yards.

Then there’s the atrocious special teams play. I can’t remember a year in which more games have been decided by poor play on special teams. Not astounding returns so much as embarrassing, bone-headed, carelessness.

The game is turning into a personality based circus. I don’t remember many personalities on the great champions of yesteryear. Actually, there aren’t many personalities on today’s good teams either, except maybe the head coaches which is as it should be. No Randy Mosses, Terrell Owenses, Chad Ochocincos. All cancerous tumors that travel around making every one of the their teams’ games all about themselves. And their lack of discipline is infectious to teammates. Witness what’s happened in Minnesota after the Randy Moss carnival of idiocy. It’s not just off-field issues though; Coaches such as Chuck Noll and Bill walsh were well known for the exacting attention to detail they expected during practice. Don Shula’s teams were almost always the least penalized teams during his years as coach. It’s difficult to believe that this is a coincidence, and shows that coaches have a significant impact in on-field discipline of players.

Every year the best teams are not the “flashy” teams. They are the teams that are like efficient machines. They are so efficient in their execution as to be absolutely frustrating to their opponents. Because every player is drilled to respond a certain way in a certain situation, they minimize free-lance mistakes. Penalties, sacks allowed, turnovers, special teams. Want to find the measure of good coaching? Look for those four statistics in the box score and you’ll be able tell who won the game without looking at the score. Success in those areas is mostly determined by execution, not raw talent or speed. They are the result of a team mindset which the coach is primarily responsible for forming–or allowing.

I think of the great coaches–they were all Lords of Discipline. Lombardi, Noll, Shula, Ditka,Levy, Landry, Walsh. They required professionalism from their players. As Mike Ditka once said: “You get from people what you allow.” And certainly we see this on many teams today. The inmates are running the asylum.

There are still teams that show they have discipline. That machine-like quality that makes their opponents grind their teeth. I watched the Packers play last night. They did everything right, while the Vikings looked liked confused college players. The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots, too. In the age of NFL parity, coaches may, more than ever, be the key to NFL dynasties.

Intelligence Analysis, Or: How to win your office’s football pool.

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Recently, I got talked into joining my unit’s football pool here in Afghanistan. Historically, I’ve always done pretty well in these things, so I figured I give it a shot. I knew I’d be going up against a bunch of smart people who also happened to like football. Combine Army-types with nerds and you get what we have here.

My first week, I joined the pool approximately 10 minutes before all picks were do–Sunday morning in US time. I had no chance to do any real analysis, but placed my picks quickly. I didn’t do any better than average. However, the next week, I had time to go through my usual checklist when making my picks. I won the prize hands down and hope to do so again this week. I also hope that no one in my unit reads this page; I don’t want to help people in denying me my weekly prize.

I apply some techniques in intelligence analysis when I make my football picks. Here’s things to consider and an ad hoc checklist that may help you pick up some beer money in your office pool.

  1. Mitigate the emotional pick: While discussing the week’s picks with a very intelligent intel analyst, I had to keep reminding him to avoid the emotional pick. He’s a Redskins fan, so of course he feels the urge to pick the Redskins every week. He also feels the need to pick against the Cowboys every week. Now in the instance of the Cowboys, it’s worked out well for him. However, emotion, in the long run, will severely hamper your chances of victory. Now I’m no stoic. Emotion has its place. When I arm-wrestle, I get fired up. but when I’m making my picks, I’m as cool as a cucumber. Don’t pick the team you like–pick the team that’s most likely to win. It’s not as easy as it sounds. It requires an extraordinary amount of introspection, a monitoring of your own intentions. But it’ll go a long way in helping you win.
  2. Stats don’t lie as much as politicians want us to believe. Barack Obama’s voting history while in the senate proved he was the most liberal person who voted. Yet, somehow the American people ignored this in their hope that Obama’s mere wish to do good would overcome his proven track record. But the trend continues. Statistics can deceive people. But they usually only deceive when other statistics are not known or are ignored. For instance, the San Diego Chargers are off to a bad start. Their win/loss record is very poor for a team that many predicted would go to the Super Bowl this year. However, a close look at their statistics shows something incredible: They are ranked #1 in defense and #1 in offense! Ok, so their special teams have been pretty awful. But a team who’s #1 in both defense and offense is unlikely to have to rely on their special teams to win over a 16 game season. I predict they’ll go on a winning streak soon. I picked the Chargers last week. Few others did. They won. Before my pick, I go through each team’s rankings running and passing, offence and defence. I compare each team’s strength to their opponents weaknesses and so on.
  3. Singular incidents mean little: They mean something–but not very much. We must look for trends when it comes to picking NFL winners. Personally I define a trend as 3 games for an individual player and 5 games for a team. By game 5, I have a much better idea of what a team’s capabilities are then after 2 games. Don’t pick a winner because of a spectacular performance the previous week and conversely, don’t pick a winner because their opponent didn’t perform well (uncharacteristically) last week.
  4. Don’t believe the hype. Watching highlights of a team’s big win can move our emotions. We may want pick a team to win because we keep seeing stories about them on ESPN, or we may vote against them because the media wants to talk about how poorly the coach and QB are getting along. This may matter–or it may not. What really tells us if a team is likely to win is the trending performance on a field, not the regularity of reporting on a team.
  5. Home Field is more often than not, the winning field. I don’t know the stats, but the home field advantage is a worth a few points, historically speaking. When in doubt, pick the home team.
  6. All things being equal, go with the team with the best QB. If you look at a game and can’t decide, after all the above considerations, who’s going to win, go with the team with the best QB. How you decide who’s best is up to you, but most of us know instinctively who the better QB is in a game. While generally unscientific, my reasoning is that since the QB handles the ball on nearly every down, he has a greater impact on the outcome than anyone else.

Unfortunately for me, no matter how I twist my methodology, the 49ers come out to be a mediocre team this year….