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Former 49er Chris Borland discusses why he retired from football at 26

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Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada report for ESPN:

ONE DAY IN April, the NFL asked Chris Borland to take a random drug test. The timing of this request was, in a word, bizarre, since Borland, a San Francisco 49ers linebacker, had retired a month earlier after a remarkable rookie season. He said he feared getting brain damage if he continued to play.

Borland had been amazed at the reaction to his decision, the implications of which many saw as a direct threat to the NFL. And now here was an email demanding that he pee in a cup before a league proctor within 24 hours or fail the test. “I figured if I said no, people would think I was on drugs,” he said recently. That, he believed, “would ruin my life.” As he thought about how to respond, Borland began to wonder how random this drug test really was.

What did the NFL still want with him? Nobody could have held out much hope that he’d change his mind. On Friday, March 13, when Borland retired via email, he attached a suggested press release, then reaffirmed his intentions in conversations with 49ers officials. Instead of announcing Borland’s retirement, the team sent him a bill — an unsubtle reminder that he’d have to return most of his $617,436 signing bonus if he followed through. That Monday, Borland, knowing he was forgoing at least $2.35 million, not to mention a promising career, made the announcement himself to Outside the Lines. He has since elaborated on the decision to everyone from Face the Nation to Charlie Rose to undergraduates at Wisconsin, where he was an All-American.

Borland has consistently described his retirement as a pre-emptive strike to (hopefully) preserve his mental health. “If there were no possibility of brain damage, I’d still be playing,” he says. But buried deeper in his message are ideas perhaps even more threatening to the NFL and our embattled national sport. It’s not just that Borland won’t play football anymore. He’s reluctant to even watch it, he now says, so disturbed is he by its inherent violence, the extreme measures that are required to stay on the field at the highest levels and the physical destruction 
he has witnessed to people he loves and admires — especially to their brains.

Borland has complicated, even tortured, feelings about football that grow deeper the more removed he is from the game. He still sees it as an exhilarating sport that cultivates discipline and teamwork and brings communities and families together. “I don’t dislike football,” he insists. “I love football.” At the same time, he has come to view it as a dehumanizing spectacle that debases both the people who play it and the people who watch it.

“Dehumanizing sounds so extreme, but when you’re fighting for a football at the bottom of the pile, it is kind of dehumanizing,” he said during a series of conversations over the spring and summer. “It’s like a spectacle of violence, for entertainment, and you’re the actors in it. You’re complicit in that: You put on the uniform. And it’s a trivial thing at its core. It’s make-believe, really. That’s the truth about it.”

How one person can reconcile such opposing views of football — as both cherished American tradition and trivial activity so violent that it strips away our humanity — is hard to see. Borland, 24, 
is still working it out. He wants to be respectful to friends who are still playing and former teammates and coaches, but he knows that, in many ways, he is the embodiment of the growing conflict over football, a role that he is improvising, sometimes painfully, as he goes along.

More than anything, Borland says he doesn’t want to tell anyone what to do. This is the central conflict of his post-football life. He rejected the sport, a shocking public act that still reverberates, in tremors, from the NFL to its vast pipeline of youth leagues. Yet he’s wary of becoming a symbol for all the people who want to end — or save — football.

We trailed Borland for five months as he embarked on a journey that drove him deeper into the NFL’s concussion crisis and forced him to confront the sport in ways he avoided while playing. One day in June, he returned to Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering, Ohio, to visit with his old coach, Ed Domsitz. “We’re in a period now where, for the next 10 or 15 years, many of us, we need to figure out a way to save this game,” said Domsitz, a southwest Ohio legend who has coached for 40 years.

Jovial and gray-haired, Domsitz was standing on the Alter practice field, a lake of synthetic green turf. He tried to recruit Borland to his cause.

“Why don’t you come back and coach the linebackers?” Domsitz asked. “We need to teach these kids the safe way to tackle.”

“Some of my best tackles were the most dangerous!” Borland responded, laughing.

“You’re exactly the kind of people we need,” the coach insisted.

Borland lowered his head, embarrassed. “I can’t do that,” he said, almost inaudibly. “Maybe I could be the kicking coach.”

Later, away from Domsitz, Borland explained: “I wouldn’t want to be charged with the task of making violence safer. I think that’s a really difficult thing to do.”

In the months following his retirement, Borland has offered himself up as a human guinea pig to the many researchers who want to scan and study his post-NFL brain. He has met with the former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army and with mental health experts at the Carter Center in Atlanta. He has literally shrunk, dropping 30 pounds from his 248-pound playing weight while training for the San Francisco Marathon, which he ran in late July.

As the Niners reported to training camp in July, Borland was examining the Book of Kells, a 1,200-year-old manuscript, at the Trinity College Library in Dublin, the start of a six-week European vacation.

In many ways, Borland is like any bright, ambitious recent college graduate who is trying to figure out the rest of his life. In other ways, he’s the most dangerous man in football.

On that day back in April, Borland stared hard at his iPhone, pondering what to do about the NFL’s summons to a post-retirement drug test. The league says it reserves the right to test players — even after they’ve retired — to ensure that they don’t dodge a test, then return. But given the stakes, and the NFL’s dubious history on concussions, it occurred to Borland that maybe, just maybe, he was being set up.

“I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist,” he says. “I just wanted to be sure.” Borland agreed to submit a urine sample to the NFL’s representative, who drove in from Green Bay and administered the test in the Wisconsin trainer’s room. Then he hired a private firm for $150 to test him independently. Both tests came back negative, according to Borland.

“I don’t really trust the NFL,” he says.


TOWARD THE END of his rookie season, Borland read League of Denial, our 2013 book chronicling the NFL’s efforts to bury the concussion problem. After his last game, he contacted us through former St. Louis Cardinals linebacker David Meggyesy, who also walked away from the NFL, in 1969. Meggyesy wrote a best-selling memoir, Out of Their League, in which he described football as “one of the most dehumanizing experiences a person can face.” Borland, a history major at Wisconsin, had met Meggyesy during his senior year, after hearing him give a guest lecture titled “Sports, Labor and Social Justice in the 21st Century.”

It’s tempting to draw parallels between Borland and Meggyesy, both of whom reject the NFL’s easy narrative of cartoon violence and heroic sacrifice. Late in his pro career, Meggyesy was benched for his political activism. At Wisconsin, in 2011, Borland was punished with extra conditioning for skipping class to protest Republican Gov. (and current presidential candidate) Scott Walker, who was trying to limit collective bargaining for public employees. Borland marched with three cousins, one a teacher, and carried a sign that read: recall walker.

But there are significant differences between the two men. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

Robert Stern [is] a neurology professor at Boston University, the leading institution for the study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Over the past decade, the disease has been found in the brains of 87 out of the 
91 dead NFL players who were examined. In late February, a BU-hosted “consensus conference” concluded that CTE is a distinct neurodegenerative disease found only in patients who experienced brain trauma. The NFL rejected its link to football for years.

And this:

Borland, somewhat derisively, calls “the overwhelming tide of marketing about how great and awesome football is.” Borland scoffs at the oft-repeated clichés about football’s unique ability to impart wisdom. “It’s too bad Gandhi never played football,” he said one afternoon. “Maybe he would have picked up some valuable lessons.”

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2015 at 2:29 pm

Your retirement plan and Wall Street

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A new book is out that takes a look at how Wall Street siphons money from US retirement plans. Pam Martens reviews it in Wall Street on Parade:

The riveting writer, Michael Hudson, has read our collective minds and the simmering anger in our hearts. Millions of American have long suspected that their inability to get financially ahead is an intentional construct of Wall Street’s central planners. Now Hudson, in an elegant but lethal indictment of the system, confirms that your ongoing struggle to make ends meet is not a reflection of your lack of talent or drive but the only possible outcome of having a blood-sucking financial leech affixed to your body, your retirement plan, and your economic future.

In his new book, “Killing the Host,” Hudson hones an exquisitely gripping journey from Wall Street’s original role as capital allocator to its present-day parasitism that has replaced U.S. capitalism as an entrenched, politically-enforced economic model across America.

This book is a must-read for anyone hoping to escape the most corrupt era in American history with a shirt still on his parasite-riddled back.

Hudson writes from his most powerful perch in chapters describing how these financial parasites have tricked our society into accepting them as a normal, productive part of our economy. (Since we write about these thousands of diabolical tricks four days a week at Wall Street On Parade, poignant examples came springing to mind with every turn of the page in “Killing the Host.” From the well-placed articles in the Wall Street Journal to a front group’s pleas for more Wall Street handouts in a New York Times OpEd, to the dirty backroom manner in which corporate speech was placed on a par with human speech in the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, to Wall Street’s private justice system and the Koch brothers’ multi-million dollar machinations to instill Ayn Rand’s brand of “greed is good” in university economic departments across America — America has become a finely tuned kleptocracy with a sprawling, sophisticated public relations base.

How else to explain, other than kleptocracy, the fact that Wall Street’s richest mega banks collect the life insurance proceeds and tax benefits on the untimely deaths of their workers – all codified into law by the U.S. Congress – making death a profit center on Wall Street. Or, as Frontline revealed, that two-thirds of your 401(k) plan over a working lifetime is likely to be lost to financial fees.

Hudson writes: “A parasite’s toolkit includes behavior-modifying enzymes to make the host protect and nurture it. Financial intruders into a host economy use Junk Economics to rationalize rentier parasitism as if it makes a productive contribution, as if the tumor they create is part of the host’s own body, not an overgrowth living off the economy. A harmony of interests is depicted between finance and industry, Wall Street and Main Street, and even between creditors and debtors, monopolists and their customers.”

What has evolved, says Hudson, is that Wall Street banks have “become the economy’s central planners, and their plan is for industry and labor to serve finance, not the other way around.”

To gloss over the collapse of this depraved economic model in 2008, Hudson says these Wall Street central planners simply depict “any adverse ‘disturbance’ as being self-correcting, not a structural defect leading economies to fall further out of balance. Any given development crisis is said to be a natural product of market forces, so that there is no need to regulate and tax the rentiers.”

Similarly, when citizens rise up en masse to demand a realignment of their economy, as happened with the Occupy Wall Street movement, first the public relations masterminds dismiss them as an unhinged gathering of smelly hippies, followed by their violent eviction in the middle of the night, with military precision, by the Praetorian Guard of the kleptocracy. In Manhattan, the Praetorian Guard (NYPD) has a high-tech surveillance center mutually staffed by cops and Wall Street personnel – andmainstream media find nothing unusual about this.

Hudson correctly calls 2008 a “dress rehearsal,” writing that “Wall Street convinced Congress that the economy could not survive without bailing out bankers and bondholders, whose solvency was deemed a precondition for the ‘real’ economy to function. The banks were saved, not the economy.” Hudson adds that the “debt tumor” was left in place. (This is the nightmare we are presently watching unfold.)

The result of the systemic disabling of regulations on Wall Street has resulted in the following, says Hudson: “…the wealthiest One Percent have captured nearly all the growth in income since the 2008 crash. Holding the rest of society in debt to themselves, they have used their wealth and creditor claims to gain control of the election process and governments by supporting lawmakers who un-tax them, and judges or court systems that refrain from prosecuting them. Obliterating the logic that led society to regulate and tax rentiers in the first place, think tanks and business schools favor economists who portray rentier takings as a contribution to the economy rather than as a subtrahend from it.” (But, of course, those business schools are financially incentivized to think that way.)

The outgrowth of these tricks to make parasites appear to be a natural appendage to a well-functioning economy results in a “veritable Stockholm Syndrome.” Hudson explains:

“Popular morality blames victims for going into debt – not only individuals, but also national governments. The trick in this ideological war is to convince debtors to imagine that general prosperity depends on paying bankers and making bondholders rich – a veritable Stockholm Syndrome in which debtors identify with their financial captors.”

Hudson has much to say on the perversity of corporations buying back their own stock. In one chapter, Hudson writes:

“In nature, parasites tend to kill hosts that are dying, using their substance as food for the intruder’s own progeny. The economic analogy takes hold when financial managers use depreciation allowances for stock buybacks or to pay out as dividends instead of replenishing and updating their plant and equipment. Tangible capital investment, research and development and employment are cut back to provide purely financial returns.”

On the timely debate over wealth and income inequality, Hudson writes that “Asset-price inflation is the primary dynamic explaining today’s polarization of wealth and income. Yet most newscasts applaud daily rises in the stock averages as if the wealth of the One Percent, who own the great bulk of stocks and other financial assets, is a proxy for how well the economy is doing. What actually occurs is that financing corporate buyouts on credit factors interest payments and fees into the prices that companies must charge for their products.”

Where this leads, says Hudson, is that “Paying these financial charges leaves less available to invest or hire more labor. Likewise for the overall economy, the effect of a debt-leveraged real estate bubble and asset-price inflation is that interest payments and fees to bankers and bondholders leave less available to spend on goods and services. The financial overhead rises, squeezing the ‘real’ economy and slowing new investment and hiring.”

Hudson is clearly on to something. The U.S. seems to be crashing like clockwork every 8 years with the crashes gaining in intensity. The 2000 dot.com crash wiped $4 trillion out of investment accounts while, 8 years later, the 2008 crash brought down the whole financial system, the U.S. and global economy, and it’s still producing a dead weight on economic growth. Next year will mark the eighth year since the 2008 crash and if last week’s market convulsions were any indication, we’re in for some very rough sledding.

Chapter 8 of “Killing the Host” begins with this quotation from John Maynard Keynes: “When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done.” Hudson expands further: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2015 at 12:53 pm

Shy v. bold at the colony level

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In the Guide I discuss two mindsets: explorers and settlers. Explorers are risk-tolerant and novelty seeking, looking for any excuse to try something new; settlers are risk-averse and prefer the familiar, looking for any excuse to stick with the status quo. I mention that the same differences are seen in the animal kingdom, where they are generally called “bold” and “shy” respectively.

Now it’s found that these different mindsets (if one can call it that) can even be observed in ant colonies at the colony level. (This is not so surprising if you think the difference is genetic, since the ants in a colony are offspring of the same mother.) In Science Claire Asher reports:

. . . Some [ant] colonies are full of adventurous risk-takers, whereas others are less aggressive about foraging for food and exploring the great outdoors. Researchers say that these group “personality types” are linked to food-collecting strategies, and they could alter our understanding of how social insects behave.

Personality—consistent patterns of individual behavior—was once considered a uniquely human trait. But studies since the 1990s have shown that animals from great tits to octopuses exhibit “personality.” Even insects have personalities. Groups of cockroaches have consistently shy and bold members, whereas damselflies have shown differences in risk tolerance that stay the same from grubhood to adulthood.

To determine how group behavior might vary between ant colonies, a team of researchers led by Raphaël Boulay, an entomologist at the University of Tours in France, tested the insects in a controlled laboratory environment. They collected 27 colonies of the funnel ant (Aphaenogaster senilis) and had queens rear new workers in the lab. This meant that all ants in the experiment were young and inexperienced—a clean slate to test for personality.

The researchers then observed how each colony foraged for food and explored new environments. They counted the number of ants foraging, exploring, or hiding during set periods of time, and then compared the numbers to measure the boldness, adventurousness, and foraging efforts of each group. They also measured risk tolerance by gradually increasing the temperature of the ants’ foraging area from 26°C to 60°C. Ants that stayed out at temperatures higher than 46°C, widely considered to be the upper limit of their tolerance, were considered risk-takers.

When they reviewed their data, . . .

Continue reading.

There’s quite a bit more, and it’s interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2015 at 8:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Science, Shaving

Decision algorithm from John Barth’s The End of the Road

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Quite a few years ago I read John Barth’s novel The End of the Road, whose protagonist was discovered in the Baltimore train station by the Doctor, immobilized—cataleptic, really—with being unable to decide on a destination.

The Doctor adopts him as a patient, and when they eventually part, gives him some final bits of advice:

At the end of my last session — it had been decided that I was to return to Baltimore experimentally, to see whether and how soon my immobility might recur — the Doctor gave me some parting instructions.

“It would not be well in your particular case to believe in God,” he said, “Religion will only make you despondent. But until we work out something for you it will be useful to subscribe to some philosophy. Why don’t you read Sartre and become an existentialist? It will keep you moving until we find something more suitable for you. Study the World Almanac: it is to be your breviary for a while. Take a day job, preferably factory work, but not so simple that you are able to think coherently while working. Something involving sequential operations would be nice. Go out in the evenings; play cards with people. I don’t recommend buying a television set just yet. If you read anything outside the Almanac, read nothing but plays — no novels or non-fiction. Exercise frequently. Take long walks, but always to a previously determined destination, and when you get there, walk right home again, briskly. And move out of your present quarters; the association is unhealthy for you. Don’t get married or have love affairs yet: if you aren’t courageous enough to hire prostitutes, then take up masturbation temporarily. Above all, act impulsively: don’t let yourself get stuck between alternatives, or you’re lost. You’re not that strong. If the alternatives are side by side, choose the one on the left; if they’re consecutive in time, choose the earlier. If neither of these applies, choose the alternative whose name begins with the earlier letter of the alphabet. These are the principles of Sinistrality, Antecedence, and Alphabetical Priority — there are others, and they’re arbitrary, but useful. Good-by.”

I continue to use those three rules when I can’t decide between two alternatives. Words to live by.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2015 at 11:25 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Impressive article on the Veterans Writing Project: Healing through writing and community

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I found this article, “A Common Language: Ron Capps served in Rwanda, Darfur, Kosovo, Eastern Congo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. When he got back, writing was the only thing that could truly bring him home again.” in Believer, by Kristina Shevory, to be extremely interesting (and very powerful). I was struck by this paragraph:

“Healing happens only in community, and it’s mainly a community of veterans, a circle of people you get to trust and understand your experience,” said Dr. Shay. “You can’t define what it means to be understood, but it sure as hell matters. The heavy lifting is done by and for the veterans. Time itself doesn’t heal.”

I was struck by the thought that one is healed by communication and a community. This struck with extra force because I just watched the (excellent) interview I blogged in this post, which talks about how efforts to go it alone do not work.

Shay is the author of two excellent books that I’ve read: Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming. Both are well worth reading. (Links are to inexpensive secondhand copies; new copies are, of course, readily available from on-line vendors such as Amazon.) These were early entries in a growing field: book written to deal with the reality of the terrible psychological, moral, and spiritual damage that war does to those involved. Some examples:

Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War
Warrior’s Return: Restoring the Soul After War
Killing from the Inside Out: Moral Injury and Just War
Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers

There are many others. I have not read these, but the Amazon reviews are 5-star or close to it (greater than 4-star).

The growing number of such books is some indication of the toll America’s non-stop wars have had on those who fought it, but course the damage and deaths from such wars goes far beyond the damage to the US: for example, look at Iraq today.

Why has the US constantly waged war in recent decades? Perhaps because those who make the decision to go to war do not fight in it and (of late) have never fought in any war and thus lack any read understanding of the costs of war. Similarly, the pundits and news analysts who comment on US decisions to wage war also lack war experience for the most part. When you think about how the Iraq war inaugurated by the Bush Administration, based on deliberate falsehoods, and about how the cost and consequences of that war continue to reverberate, it should make you question the wisdom of war.

The article is well worth reading.

UPDATE: From another article (also well worth reading) this chart hints at the suffering our wars cause our own troops.

Daniel-Wolfe-Image-2

Written by LeisureGuy

28 August 2015 at 1:22 pm

Comparing countries: Number of homicides by firearms per million people

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Australia is particularly interesting. They had little gun control until there were several mass shootings, whereupon they (quite sensibly) enforced rigorous gun control, though people can still own and use rifles, shotguns, and handguns—but they are controlled. More info in this post, including descriptions of the events that triggered the change, the key event being the Port Arthur massacre:

Gun laws in Australia became a political issue in the 1980s. Low levels of violent crime through much of the 20th century kept levels of public concern about firearms low. In the last two decades of the century, following several high profile multiple murders and a media campaign, the Australian government coordinated more restrictive firearms legislation with all state governments.

A common misconception is that firearms are illegal in Australia and that no individual may possess them. Although it is true that Australia has restrictive firearms laws, rifles and shotguns (both of which include semi-automatics), as well as handguns, are all legal within a narrow set of criteria. . .

The Port Arthur massacre in 1996 transformed gun control legislation in Australia. 35 people were killed and 23 wounded when a man with a history of violent and erratic behaviour beginning in early childhood[19] opened fire on shop owners and tourists with two semi-automatic rifles. Six weeks after the Dunblane massacre in Scotland,[14] this mass killing at the notorious former convict prison at Port Arthur horrified the Australian public and had powerful political consequences.

The Port Arthur perpetrator said he bought his firearms from a gun dealer without holding the required firearms licence.[20]

Prime Minister John Howard immediately took the gun law proposals developed from the report of the 1988 National Committee on Violence[21] and forced the states to adopt them under a National Firearms Agreement. This was necessary because the Australian Constitution does not give the Commonwealth power to enact gun laws. The proposals included a ban on all semi-automatic rifles and all semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, and a tightly restrictive system of licensing and ownership controls.

More at the link. And, as you can see below, the measures worked.

gun homicides per capita

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2015 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Guns

The Wisconsin water-fight reminds me of all those treaties we made with Indians “as long as grass shall grow and water run” and then broke

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When the going gets tough, the tough ignore what they had agreed to. Monica Davey has a very interesting report in the NY Times of an opening salvo in the war for fresh water.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2015 at 3:34 pm

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