All posts by Trevor Brookins

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The Socialist’s Journal: NBA Playoffs

Brookins Head Shot

Trevor Brookins

*I generally define conservatism as wanting to keep things the same or trying to get things back to how they once were. By contrast liberalism is an openness to new ways of doing things.

If these definitions sound like value judgments let me assure you that, while I am generally liberal, I don’t not think conservatism is necessarily bad. Looking at these definitions a different way, liberals think about a situation and believe the best is yet to come; conservatives believe the best is happening or already happened.

The thing about idolizing the past is that doing so ignores the fact that we as a global civilization are constantly making progress in various areas. Unless you are a very particular kind of person chances are you don’t sell your car and begin commuting by horseback. Hell, chances are you don’t sell you current car for an older model unless it’s something classic (think: 1970s Ford Mustang, not 1980s Datsun). In general we use the advances of society to overcome the hurdles that we are faced with. (We use planes and refrigeration to make it possible to have Kiwi in North America when that fruit has no business in the northern or western hemispheres.

Sports is really no different in how it progresses with society. But for some reason we don’t apply the same logic. For some reason the National Basketball Association (NBA) is continuing in the traditional playoff structure it established over half a century ago when the league was barely surviving. The idea of having an Eastern Conference and a Western Conference probably made a lot more sense when teams couldn’t afford to charter a plane to be used at their discretion and travel was a big deal. If that’s the case by all means play games close to your home city.

But in 2015 it makes no sense that travel would be such an issue. And if geography is the main reason that two and possibly three teams that couldn’t win more games than they lost are going to make the playoffs, something is wrong. Even though it is rare that one conference is bad enough that this is an issue, this happens to be the second year in a row that the Eastern Conference is letting teams with losing records have a chance at the championship. Nevertheless the rarity of this occurrence doesn’t mean that we should allow it. This way of doing things probably isn’t hurting anyone (unless you’re connected to the sports industry in Oklahoma City and will lose out on the revenue that playoff basketball produces). But it also wouldn’t hurt anyone to simply put the best sixteen teams in the playoffs regardless of geographic location (unless you’re connected to the sports industry in Boston, Indiana, or Brooklyn – in which case the team in your town doesn’t deserve the playoff bump as much as Oklahoma City anyway so stop complaining).

And if sports conservatism is the only justification for this, then someone (maybe a bunch of someones) should be relieved of their jobs. Because “this is the way it’s always been done” is code for laziness. Within the realm of sports there was always a college football bowl season where certain conferences were committed to certain bowl games and the best teams might never face one another – until this season when a playoff system was initiated. Within professional sports, major league baseball had two leagues with the winner of each league playing in the World Series, until they split the leagues into two divisions and added a round of playoffs, until they split the leagues into three divisions and added a wild card round of playoffs, until they added another wild card team and another playoff game.

Even with professional basketball the league recently admitted that it didn’t have to follow the same path that was laid out decades ago because of geographic and travel considerations. Up until last season the championship round always followed a specific schedule to minimize cross country flights, now the schedule is designed to make the series as competitive as possible.

The playoff format should be changed.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: The Problem with Theocracy

Brookins Head Shot*Last week I said to let me know when the issue with Indiana’s new religious freedom law had run its course.

Ultimately if no one spoke up about the law, it would stay on the books and could be used to discriminate so I’m glad that it is out in the open right now and the Indiana state legislature has been forced to alter it. On the other hand by shining a light on this law, religious conservatives have taken up the banner of being the persecuted group – which I don’t think is what anybody wanted.

Looking beyond this specific law for a second let’s consider the big picture. Five years ago I wrote about the difference between theology and theocracy. Here is an excerpt:

In its most basic form theology is about understanding the nature of God and answering basic question about human existences, two of which tremendously influence our interactions with others. The question of “how ought we behave?” is the part of any religion that outlines ethics and there are many commonalities between faiths; the question of “where are we going” address what happens after death and its answer contains fewer commonalities and therefore where the potential for conflict arises.

Given enough time a group of people will eventually make contact with another group of people who do not answer the afterlife question the way they do. When this contact is made these two groups can make the ethical question most important in which case they will attempt to live peacefully harmoniously alongside their new neighbors – this is the theological. Or the two groups can make the afterlife question most important in which case both groups perceive the other as heathen and attempt to eliminate the other religious perspective by converting their adversaries if not outright killing them – this is the theocratic response.

This latest controversy in Indiana is about conservative Christians adopting the theocratic stance; in other words the society should operate according to their interpretation of their sacred book. The problem is that theocratic societies inevitably involve intolerance and violence.

That is because of the variety of religions in the world. There are numerous indigenous and traditional religions practiced in South America, Africa, and Asia; there are over 100 million Buddhists; there are over a billion Hindus and Muslims; and of course there are over 2 billion Christians. To mandate which belief system will be followed is not a good idea and probably not possible anyway. Even within Christianity there are dozens of sects, each with different details emphasized. When a society (be it a city, county, state, or country) attempts to standardize things based on religion they are setting themselves up for failure. This is especially true in the United States where there is supposed to be the free exercise of religion.

Case in point: Indiana has also recently had a new religion attempt to be established. The First Church of Cannabis has a system of belief (effectively defining it as a religion), and is attempting to secure a location for meetings. It is already being funded. And of course it identifies marijuana as a sacred substance in the religion.

If you believe this is silly and there is no way Indiana should pay any attention to an upstart religious group, then you don’t understand the history of Christianity. If you think the First Church of Cannabis can co-exist with other religious perspectives, then you also think they should be able to discriminate against all those who think marijuana should be illegal (I don’t know that this is really a principle of theirs but you get the point) – and I don’t think anybody is willing to go along with that line of reasoning.

There is a reason that the church and state are separate. When they get entangled too many things go wrong.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

trevor brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Quick Hits 2015 Part 1

Brookins Head Shot*The fact that there is a coalition of countries from the Middle East preparing to deal with the situation in Yemen is the best news from that part of the world in quite a while. It is an indication that those countries are taking an interest in and responsibility for a situation that could directly affect them. But more importantly (from where I sit at least) is the fact that it means the United States will not be taking the lead and putting Americans in harm’s way in this instance.

Call me crazy but I think I would be OK disciplining a child with physical punishment for minutes. When those minutes start approaching an hour, it’s time to change methods of discipline. When one hour turns into multiple hours you, Joyce Garrard, have officially entered child abuse territory and you deserve whatever penalty comes your way.

I imagine John Calipari’s recruiting pitch goes something like this: “Hi. I’m John Calipari.” In fact Calipari admitted as much saying every recruit basically knows he can find someone else who wants to win a bunch of games and become an NBA lottery pick. I’m sure there is still some work involved to get the guys he wants but really, the only way his job of recruiting could be any easier is if his name was Geno Auriemma.

From the I thought we covered this already department: Indiana has passed a religious freedom bill which opens the door to discriminatory acts as long as the perpetrator of those acts can use religion to justify their action. Of course the obvious problem is that Indiana is in the middle of the Bible Belt and has legalized gay marriage so there is bound to be a conflict in which a devout Christian will be in a position to act in a biased way toward a homosexual. That isn’t the problem. The real issue here is how no one can see the bigger picture. While I’m sure this bill was supported by conservative Christians, they will all be up in arms when an atheist or a Muslim uses this bill to discriminate against them. Let me know when this one is repealed.

I’m sure there will be some mental health expert who can refute me on this, but until they do… There should be some safeguards in place to prevent a mentally ill person from being behind the controls of an airplane, and holding the lives of over a hundred people in their hands. I’m sure there are plenty of jobs that mentally unstable people are capable of doing. Airline pilot shouldn’t be on that list.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

trevor brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Paying College Athletes

Brookins Head Shot*With the NCAA Men’s Division I College Basketball Tournament in full swing, it is a good time to dust off my proposal (initially from 2011) for correcting the injustice of how some players will generate millions of dollars but cannot partake in the profits. The solution I propose corrects the situation without adding expenses for the schools and without equating future professional athletes with walk-on student athletes participating in Division III lacrosse.

I have argued in the past that big time collegiate athletes (primarily football and men’s basketball players) should be paid for their services. Yet even as I held this position I could not formulate a sustainable method of paying them.

And while the logistics of paying college athletes may have been tricky, the principle was solid and worth pursuing. The solution has now presented itself.

Some of the objections to paying college athletes are 1. The players are already being compensated in the form of their athletic scholarship. 2. Paying college football players would mean paying college bowlers. 3. All college athletes receive the same athletic scholarship so wouldn’t they all receive the same pay? 4. Using the revenue from football and basketball to pay the players would decrease the funds for other intercollegiate sports. My solution works around all of these issues.

Ironically enough, the most recent Ohio State improper benefits scandal revealed this resolution to me even as commentators across the country were condemning the players that were involved. Let players retain the use of their identity for profit making enterprises.

College athletics are using the players as a form of unpaid labor. For the majority of the athletes on any campus this is a great deal. But for some athletes this situation is terribly unfair. College football and basketball players are generating the billions of dollars that allow for the other sports to operate. By allowing the most prestigious collegiate athletes to use their names and likenesses they are able to benefit from their popularity while at the same time taking nothing away from their school’s or the NCAA’s profit margin.

At Ohio State the players would have maintained total eligibility for trading autographed memorabilia for tattoos. Technically it was their gear, and their autographs. The NCAA could allow for these transactions to take place. The beauty of such a setup is that all players, male or female, would be able to make money or trade goods and services off of their name. In other words the opportunity is open to basketball players going to the NBA as well as golfers destined to be local club pros.

If the NCAA adopted these guidelines for allowing players to make extra money, the universities would still profit from the ticket sales, parking, and any officially licensed merchandise (jerseys and video games). That is they would still be getting a return on their investment of the athletic scholarship. Furthermore they would be able to keep their revenue and therefore keep offering the other varsity sports that depend on that revenue.

If the NCAA adopted these guidelines only the most popular players would realistically have a chance to take advantage of the rule change. In other words there would be no worry about the inequality of pay for the volleyball players compared to the football players, or the inequality of the pay of the male basketball players compared to the female players. Essentially everyone is able to do what they will to make their name and likeness profitable.

In the United States socialism consistently gets equated with communism. But in fact the two philosophies have important differences. Communism is a system that advocates that all resources be pooled together. Socialism is a system that encourages individuality and profit, but does not allow them to dominate decision making.

The NCAA currently operates in a system that is extremely similar to communism and the most talented people are being exploited. If they were professionals with their wages being artificially held down, people would be aghast.

Allowing players to seek the best deals and then use whatever money they make to pay for college would be close to unrestrained capitalism. When such a solution is suggested most people find it distasteful. The solution for college football splits the difference much like socialism is a happy medium between capitalism and communism.

Under these rules the NCAA would be forfeiting nothing; there is no risk. So what reason will they give to justify their ongoing greed?

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

 

trevor brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: The Gift and the Curse Pt. 2 – American Imperialism

Trevor Brookins Head Shot

Trevor Brookins

*Last week I wrote about what I believed to be one of the defining traits of our country: allowing people to choose their destiny. American exceptionalism was (and is – if it still exists) based on freedom of choice.

This was evident in Washington refusing to become a dictator – he preserved the people’s ability to choose their leadership. The idea of freedom of choice was evident after the Civil War when the Union, with the notable exception slavery, generally allowed former Confederate states to choose how they would operate. This was true even though it was clear that the former Confederate states were largely re-creating a society that a war was just fought to eliminate.

The curse of American exceptionalism and this freedom of choice is that Americans are so enamored of their freedom of choice that we often assume everyone would love to choose, and further that other countries will make the same choices we as Americans would make. In reality the freedom to choose means the freedom to choose options that are the opposite of the American way. The story of the late 19th and 20th centuries and American interaction with other nations shows the United States forcing nations to choose America.

The United States begins its acquisition of Hawaii with business interests forcing the island kingdom to overthrow their monarch and adopt a pro-American constitution. The thought was that American businessmen knew better about what form of government Hawaiians wanted than Hawaiians. Certainly at some point the creation of the kingdom of Hawaii involved conquest. But by the 1890s a majority of Hawaiians were comfortable with their monarch. But even more problematic is that the United States was supposed to be anti-conquest.

Around the same time the United States was stirring things up in the Pacific, we got involved in the Spanish American War. At the end of that conflict the United States gained multiple colonies in Guam, Cuba, the Philippines and Puerto Rico. This episode in American history illustrates the curse of American exceptionalism very clearly. Despite obvious independence movements in at least the Philippines and Cuba, we could not comprehend that any territory would not want to associate with us. At the end of the Spanish-American War it was becoming clear that the freedom to choose was only valued by the United States so long as you chose us.

One point of commonality between Hawaii and the territories gained from Spain is that all of these territories are populated by people of color. So there is the temptation to assert that the racial element is the guiding factor. However the example of the Soviet Union is proof that Caucasians can also be deemed unworthy of choosing their destiny. The 1917 Russian Revolution saw the overthrow of the monarchy and eventually the establishment of a theoretically communist government. The United States supported counter revolutionaries to try to restore the monarchy for years and didn’t recognize the Soviet Union as a country until 1933. The fact that the USSR leadership was not going to associate with and mimic the United States meant more than the ethnicity of its citizens. Ultimately it meant that the choice of the leadership was invalid.

Lastly in the 1950s and 1960s in Vietnam the United States actively prevented free elections to stop someone from gaining power that would have undermined American interests. This was despite the fact that the Vietnamese quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their efforts to cast off colonial rule by the French; this was despite the fact that they appealed directly to the the United States because of the apparent American affinity for freedom of choice. But by the time Vietnam was making these overtures to the United States it was too late.

The idea of freedom of choice is what made the United States exceptional early in our history. Adherence to that idea made our country stand out in the past. Unfortunately the gift of this idea was so intoxicating that it turned into a curse because the United States would not accept that others would not adopt our version of this gift or our political and economic systems more generally. More recent events prove that the United States has become less and less exceptional in terms of allowing for choice.

Our rise as a global superpower has curtailed our promotion of choice and led to our promotion of American desires. This is not very surprising as it is generally the desire of those in power to stay in power.

It might also be pointed out that even when the country was promoting freedom of choice that it was hardly a perfect nation. For starters freedom of choice was not enjoyed by the entire population. But that concept was at least something the country could hang its hat on as the thing that made us different.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialists Journal: The Gift and the Curse Part 1: American Exceptionalism

Brookins Head Shot

Trevor Brookins

*The United States began with a significant departure from previous revolutions, previous statements from leadership, and previous statements about how politics would be handled.

The mission statement that is the Declaration of Independence explained the events of 1776 as not simply a power grab by the wealthy landowning class. Instead it showed that the United States would be about promoting equality among men based on inherent and universal rights. To be clear, this language very conveniently inspired the unwashed masses to fight and die for the wealth of others with the promise of the possibility of wealth for themselves.

But the great thing about the American Revolution is that the new ruling class actually fulfilled the promise of democratization. The American Republic was one of the first Western civilization where regular people (some restrictions may apply) had a chance to participate in the government.

The second instance in American history in which our exceptionalism is on display is the transfers of power from Washington to Addams and Addams to Jefferson.

The fact that Washington was willing to give up the power of the executive office and the power to command the army that came with it, particularly when many citizens and soldiers were willing (eager even) to support him keeping that power, confirmed that things would be different here. Previously those in power usually gave it up only upon their death. The power transfer within the United States from Addams to Jefferson was perhaps more significant because the change in ruling political party meant a change in perspective. In both cases the United States showed itself to be exceptionally disciplined while undergoing regime changes but keeping the basic society going.

The last example of American exceptionalism is that of Reconstruction after the Civil War. Most times when a country conquers a territory they dictate to the conquered area how things will be going forward. After the Civil War though, the Union allowed the Confederacy to keep all of their rules and ways of life with the exception of changing the classification of African Americans from slaves to citizens. But in reality, citizenship privileges (what we commonly think of as civil rights) were denied many African Americans during Reconstruction, and were denied to a majority of African Americans after Reconstruction. In fact the 14th Amendment combined with the disfranchisement of African Americans in the late 19th century meant a greater population and therefore greater legislative voice for those interested in a racially stratified society.

Even assuming that the Union perspective would not have granted civil equality among races, it must be said that there was no fundamental reordering of society according to the Union vision. But this is an example of American exceptionalism because of the lenient point of view taken by the Union with regard to its conquered territory. While there are more exemptions to this rule, throughout history it was more likely that defeated territories would be remade in the image of the conquerors. That did not happen after the Civil War.

These episodes in American history show our country as attempting to operate by a different set of rules than was commonly found in the world. Those values worked for our country when we were still striving for international power.

The problem came when we achieved a position of leadership in the world – and how closely we would follow those same ideals.

To be continued in Part 2.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.