Monday, December 30, 2013

Post-mortem on UFC 168

Here's my longer analysis of UFC 168 other than, "Whoa, Chris Weidman is a badass."

Dustin Poirier looked great when he clobbered Diego Brandao.  I like Poirier quite a bit as a fighter, he's the kind of quirky guy that I visualize I'd be if, y'know, I was a savage killing machine.

Dan Miller pulled off a great submission against Fabricio Camoes but I can't help think that he's past his prime.  Despite Joe Rogan saying that Miller gets better after every loss, I don't think that's true.  Miller has got a good skill set, he's a tough fighter and I like watching him fight . . . but I don't see him getting to the top of the heap.  Whenever he's had that big fight that might put him into title contention, he's lost it.  Unlike Martin Kampmann, I don't think this is because he chokes, but because he fights at lightweight and it's the toughest division in the UFC.  You've got to be razor sharp to make it . . . and a little luck doesn't hurt, either.  Miller keeps coming up short against top five fighters and this performance doesn't change my opinion.

Uriah Hall played a very good counterstriking game against Chris Leben.  Hall didn't throw very much, but when he did, ouch.  I'm still not sure if Hall has the kind of toughness it takes to be a mixed martial artist.  He's clearly got the skills and oodles of physical ability, but you've got to be a really tough guy to succeed in the sport and I'm still not sure he has it.

As for Chris Leben . . . man, we love you, Chris, but you've lost four straight.  You're slow and you aren't hitting with the power you once had.  Your chin is going, too.  Your take a shot to deliver a bigger shot style only lasts as long as your chin does and it's going, if not gone.   Please, Chris, retire.  Go to your gym in Hawaii and train dudes and hang out on the beach.  It's that time.

I wasn't sure if Travis Browne was the real deal.  He is.  He's murdered Gabriel Gonzaga, Alistair Overeem and now Josh Barnett.  He's going to get a shot against Fabricio Werdum for a title shot against Cain Velasquez - if he beats Werdum, he richly deserves it.  Good luck, Travis.

Miesha Tate . . . you should have stuck to the gameplan.  But time and again you dove head first at Ronda Rousey.  Unsurprisingly, Rousey then dumped you on your head and tried to break your arm while punching you in the face.  Surprisingly, it took more than two rounds for Rousey to sink in that armbar.  Had you not been so intent on grappling and tried to strike from the outside, not giving Rousey nearly so many changes to break your arm . . . well, you didn't do that and you lost.  You're probably not going to get another title shot as long as Rousey is champ.

But, damn, Ronda, I've said in the past how you're a creep, but you still are.  You have no concept at all of how human beings act.  Here's a brief lesson, again.

People you train with for six weeks on a reality TV show aren't your family.  Even if they were, Tate didn't say anything bad about them.  If you were referring to her pranking you and your coach, that's humor, not a personal, hateful insult.  You're a creep and I really, really hope that Holly Holm comes into the UFC or that Sara McMann with her Olympic caliber wrestling can beat you just to wipe the smug smile off your face.

I mean, here's the thing with Rousey's dominance - she's currently a big fish in a small pond.  Rousey is the first really world class athlete to get into women's mixed martial arts (with the exception of Cris Cyborg, who is in another weight class and promotion).  You look at the credentials of a fighter like Miesha Tate, and almost all of the women in that generation of women's MMA fighters, none of them have world class athletic achievements.  So, Rousey came in from judo with world class physical prowess and is steam rolling the older school of fighters who don't have her athleticism.  

We saw the same thing with MMA, too, when guys like Mark Kerr got into MMA - he was this world class athlete and he just messed up dudes until other world class athletes came into the field.  Ronda Rousey is the Mark Kerr of women's MMA.  Kerr won his first eleven fights, dominated the UFC 14 and 15 tournaments and the early Pride FC fights.  There's a lesson here, I think.  Unless Rousey gets out of the game, soon, she could well be remembered with all the fondness of Mark Kerr, if Kerr was a giant asshole.

It's changing fast, too.  Holly Holm is in MMA, now, and before she was in MMA, she proved herself as a boxer with multiple world championships to her credit.  You can see the same thing with Sara McMann - a silver medalist at the 2004 Olympics, so clearly a top notch athlete.

It is quite possible that Rousey's dominance will be contexutalized in the ongoing professionalization of women's mixed martial arts.  Or, at least, I'll provide that contextualization, with some snark because I don't like Rousey.

The best is last!  Weidman and Silva.

Weidman is a monster.  There's a growing narrative out there that Weidman got lucky, again, against Silva.  This is bullshit.  Weidman checked Silva's kicks hard enough to break Silva's leg.  This is a technique people can learn and use - it doesn't often result in a break, but it can.  Ernesto Hoost was very good at it during his stint as the greatest kickboxer in the cosmos.  It was a technique that Weidman studied because Silva's leg kicks hurt him in their first fight.  Not luck.

I mean, seriously.  Weidman has fought Silva twice, now.  Both fights went to the second round, but in both first rounds, Weidman dominated Silva.  In both fights, in the second round, Weidman conclusively finished the fight.  There was no point in either fight when Weidman was in any trouble!  Neither victory was luck.  In both cases, Weidman was the dominant fighter and in both cases he finished the fight.  He didn't "get lucky".  He won.  In both cases, he beat Silva on the ground and standing.  Face it, Chris Weidman is a beastly fighter.  He's got great timing, a lot of power, and an excellent all-around game - he's got great takedowns, submissions, ground and pound along with excellent striking.

Anderson . . . you might want to retire.  You didn't look bad against Weidman.  The guy's an animal, right?  But he shattered your leg.  You're 38 years old and now you've got a pin in your leg.  Sure, in six or nine months you'll be able to start training, again, but it will be a long time before your leg is as strong as it was before Chris broke it.  It could take years, years of your fighting on a weakened leg.  

I know a lot of professional fighters don't know when to quit and their last several fights are an increasingly miserable lot as they slip down the rankings, being decisively beaten by increasingly irrelevant fighters.  I don't think any of us want to see that.  So, please, retire.  Go join Georges St-Pierre on a beach.  Get a belly.

For my part, I'll be looking forward to being able to talk about Anderson Silva without the hype machine of the UFC going full blast all the time, too.  While Silva has a fantastic legacy regardless of what happens moving forward, I think in the future we're going to acknowledge that he beat a lot of second rate fighters - it's easy to look good when you're crushing cans and all the best dudes at your weight class refuse to fight you because of a convenient network of personal relationships . . . so guys like Lyoto Machida and Shogun Rua stayed up at light heavyweight rather than fight their friend.  So, instead, Silva fought losers like Thales Leites and Patrick Cote and Travis fucking Lutter.  Yes, he beat them but let's be honest . . . it's nothing to brag about.  I look forward to this day when Silva has been reassembled as a human being in the same way guys like Fedor Emelianenko and Mike Tyson have been reassembled as human beings.

So, that's my recap.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Stanislaw Lem and the the possibility of communicating with aliens - a brief critique

I suspect everyone finds some writers to be beyond serious reproach.  I suppose for some people, that's quite a lot of writers.  For me, there are only a few.  Stanislaw Lem is one of them.  Lem is the writer I sometimes want to be - but only sometimes.  There is a bleak cynicism to his writing that I don't care to emulate and I know that he became a technophobe - I have a feeling that his life in some ways mirrored his fiction with the impossibility of real communication between people.  In Solaris, he wrote, "If man had more of a sense of humor, things might have turned out differently."  I believe that could be adapted.  "If Lem had more of a sense of humor, his books might have turned out differently."  Even where his books are funny, they're not fun.  He wasn't that kind of writer.  I don't hold this against him, not by any means, however.  Fun wasn't important to him as a writer.

He is almost unique in sci-fi writers in having come up with an idea that actually bears scrutiny.  Unlike almost all sci-fi writers, who are generally an ideal of the moment kind of guys, writing about whatever techno-philosophical idea is in vogue at the moment, Lem really has legs.  He writes about the difficulties in communication between humans and aliens.  In his books, first contact fails.  We just don't have anything to say to one another, nor a vocabulary to describe it.  I have no idea if Lem was influenced by Wittgenstein, but all of his characters violate the final words of The Tractacus Logico-Philosophicus - "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."  The characters speak, but there is no content, because of the lack of shared experiences between species.

Moreover, I find in his work this very Orwellian idea that communication between humans is fraught with peril.  Between people who don't mean what they say because they're lying, people who don't say what they mean because they're ignorant, and people who don't say what they mean because they're incompetent . . . how do we talk to each other, again? 

I also find all of this a backhanded critique of Master Kong's assertion that the first question is always the rectification of names.  Before we speak, we've got to be sure our words mean the same thing.  In Lem, they often do not.

In other words, what Lem addresses is well-worn ground.  People from the ancient days to our own have questioned the efficacy of communication and the uses of communication.  And we think we can talk to aliens?  It is to laugh.

That said, I think I found a weakness in Lem's work and it is in the rectification of names.  What do we mean by communication?  I think it's possible that we will never share stories around a campfire, but I don't see the impossibility of successful feedback driven modes of informational exchange.  I think it's possible that we'll do something and, based on what we do, the aliens will do something and we'll be able to learn about the aliens thereby - if nothing else, what they do when we do what we do.

I think, furthermore, that we have a fair bit of experience dealing with things that have non-human forms of communication - like fire.  No, hear me out.  Fire has many of the characteristics of life.  It can grow, it eats, it produces waste, it can expand itself, diminish, all kinds of very life-like traits.  It is not sentient but we can engage fire.  We can lessen it's fuel and see what it does, change its fuel, cut it off altogether or rekindle it.  This kind of engagement is not considered communication merely because we have a predisposition to imagine that fire isn't alive because it doesn't bear sufficient similarity to ourselves.

I admit, this is Marxist inspired.  We learn about things according to what we can do with them - but I will add as we shape them, they shape us.  

For instance, the domestication of dogs.  The current theory holds that humans and dogs sorta . . . grew together.  Unlike almost any other animal, humans didn't decide to tame wolves and turn them into dogs.  A symbiotic, language-less relationship developed between wolves and humans - humans followed wolves to find game, the wolves fed off of our leavings, and this became a successful mode of behavior that created a positive feedback loop.  It was a kind of communication, wordless and inhuman, but substantial and real - each side learned from the other, though they certainly learned different lessons.

I don't see why this isn't possible with even very alien aliens.  (Though I will hold that it could be extraordinarily dangerous.  Wolves don't have planet destroying technologies and there's a fifty-fifty chance that the first aliens we meet will have such technologies, I feel.)  Through our mutual interactions, no matter what they are, because what we do effects the aliens and what they do effects us, that is a kind of communication.  Even if, as in Solaris, there is no set pattern of repetition - if we do A, B does not follow - even that teaches us.

I also reject the idea that we can't think non-human thoughts - or at least approximations of non-human thoughts.  This came to me, specifically, today.  I was laying down, thinking, and I started thinking about the way that computers use fuzzy logic.

To a human, fuzzy logic is, well, fuzzy.  It involves the participation of a set in multiple values.  In many ways, it is the native human method of thinking.  We understand that a person with an average height is somewhere between short and tall, that a thousand dollars is somewhere between being broke and being rich, in a unity of thought.

Computers, on the other hand, can't really do this.  By their design, all computers do nothing more than boolean operations.  Our native understanding of in-between states is not boolean.  Most people don't have any real experience with boolean algebra, after all!  Likewise, the specific interactions of human brains do not appear to be boolean logic gates.  There is simply no reason to imagine that human brains operate according to the mechanisms of boolean operations.

Yet, computers can approximate this knowing-ness that we humans possess organically through fuzzy logic databases interpreted by those boolean operations.  The process contextless data according to the programmed dictates of logic gates.  That's it.  Yet . . . there is communication.

It is fair, at this point, to point out that computers are human tools invented by humans for humans.  Absolutely.  I'm not saying that talking to an alien will be so simple, but use this to illustrate the point that naive human intuition can in some ways be understood by the quite non-human reasoning of boolean operations.  While admitting it's an approximation, and admitting all language is an approximation, I continue to assert it's better than nothing.  Which is, I think, the point of divergence from Lem.  

In short, I think that the people studying Solaris learned quite a bit.

However, this is a very . . . nuanced criticism of Lem's work.  Mostly the guy just blows me out of the water. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Steroid use vs. weight cutting - let's talk hypocrisy

Today,'s Ben Fowlkes said that we have to make up our mind about steroids in MMA.  In the question about steroids, for me there's an interesting artifact that already exists inside MMA - and all combat sports that are divided into weight classes - and that's weight cutting.

The problem people have with steroids, I find, is often vague.  It's cheating.  In the sense of the term that there are rules against steroids, this is absolutely true, of course.  But let us be clear, in most jurisdictions, cutting weight is illegal.  Let's look at New Jersey, for instance!  Here's what New Jersey law says about weight cutting from the New Jersey Administrative Code 13:46-1A.3 Weighing of Boxers (which also applies to MMA as per the NJAC):
(a) Weighing of all boxers for all shows must take place not later than one o'clock on the day of the show in which said boxers are to take part.
(b) Weights must be determined by a representative of the Commissioner with the matchmaker concerned present.
(c) Opponents should be weighed in the presence of each other.
(d) Members of the press, in addition to the responsible handlers of the boxers, shall be permitted to attend the weighing of principals.
(e) All weights stripped.
(f) No boxer shall be permitted to lose more than one percent of his body weight on the day of the boxing contest in an attempt to make the weight required by his boxing contract and by N.J.A.C. 13:46-1A.3.
To me, this is pretty clear.  There are no provisions in the law for doing weight cuts on any day other than the fight, the law clearly expects weigh-ins to be on the day of the fight, though they can't be later than 1pm, and fighters have a one percent leeway.  I suspect, in practice, is that if your weight at the fight is more than one percent over the maximum weight of the class, you'd be cheating.

Regardless, in New Jersey law, weight cutting is illegal.  It's clearly, definitely and I think unambiguously cheating.  And, yet, in no MMA contest I've seen held in New Jersey has this law been followed.  Weight cutting, by which I mean cheating, is absolutely ubitquitous in MMA and boxing, everyone knows it and no one is doing anything about it.

Weight cutting is also dangerous.  People die from it.  And even when they don't die, it's brutal on your body.  It saps them of health and vigor - of strength and endurance - right before a rigorous athletic contest.

How is this permitted?  Why do we ignore this one rule that is easy to enforce and good for the fighters while freaking the fuck out whenever anyone's testosterone ratios are out of whack?

The only defense is . . . everyone does it.  Everyone does this unhealthy thing to cheat, so it's okay.  This is so legally and morally vapid that it doesn't deserve comment.

But we have a problem with steroids.  I think that all this fuss about steroid is looking for a speck in your neighbor's eye while ignoring the plank in your own.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Stopped watching Falling Skies

I'm near the end of the third season of Falling Skies, a TV show about an alien invasion.  I'm not sure why I'm quitting thirty episodes in, but quitting I am.  It's just bad science fiction.

It's awful in basically three ways - the aliens, the social interactions between the humans and an honest assessment of effects of an alien invasion on human beings.

First off, the aliens.  They're done very poorly.  They're supposed to be this species that goes around the universe conquering planets.  BUT their primarily foot soldiers are unarmed.  Sure, they're physically impressive, but they're unarmed.  They also have no vehicles, they march everywhere on their feet.  They have mechs, but it takes them literally five seconds to target someone, which means if a person moves from cover to cover the mechs can't hit them at close range.  The mechs have missiles, but their destructive abilities are very limited - maybe a three meter blast radius, maybe two, not big at all.  The aliens have air superiority, but the planes on the show all move slowly and their bombs have a very limited blast radius.  Also, aircraft is rarely employed.  The aliens, in theory, possess nuclear weapons in abundance but don't use them - even though their latest plan is to build a planetary force field that will irradiate the planet, so in my eyes any hesitation to use nuclear weapons is . . . weird, to say the least.

The aliens also have lousy sensors.  Human sensors can detect people in the open from space.  Despite the fact that these aliens were able to find a habitable planet from at least trillions of miles away, they can't detect where large concentrations of humans are located.

The aliens do have some interesting technology, particularly in the realm of mind control, but they seem unwilling or unable to use it on a large scale.  So their mind controlled sleeper agents don't spend all their time spreading around the tiny mind control devices.  They also have rat-sized vermin-like weapons capable of chewing through concrete and steel that were used once, despite them being quite effective in their one appearance.

So, despite coming from the depths of space, they don't look high tech, really.  Their mechs are not particularly impressive by the standards of armored vehicles - they're slow, don't have that much firepower and have poor accuracy with their weapons.  They are routinely defeated by machine guns on civilian trucks, which is sort of like a World War 2 tank being defeated by a charging knight.

They have air superiority, but their planes are rare, slow, fly low to the ground and are underarmed.  I mean, even if the aliens hesitation to keep using nuclear weapons has a point, there are far more powerful bombs than the ones the aliens use - we have all manner of quite powerful, non-nuclear bombs.  Where are the alien thermobaric bombs?  The totally unarmed nature of their infantry is also simply baffling, as is their total lack of even trucks.

I understand the two big reasons for doing this - the first is money.  Animating planes with incredible firepower, badass mechs, the aliens with mindblowing weapons, so forth and so on, would be incredibly expensive.  Pacific Rim cost $190 million to make, after all.  This is a TV show.

But I don't think that's the real reason.  I think the real reason is the general problem with all alien-invasion fiction - giving the aliens the gear that they would actually have would make human resistance preposterous.  If the alien infantry were not only tough, fast and agile, but also armed with rapid fire, accurate weapons that could penetrate all cover, the idea of fighting them would be preposterous.  If a single enemy mech could destroy an armored battalion, fighting them would be silly.  If the alien aircraft could do hypersonic flybys dropping thermobaric weapons that could level the countryside, fighting them would be impossible.  If you're going to make a TV show about an alien invasion, you've got to make it possible to fight the aliens - giving them the actual technology that you'd need to travel the stars would make this narratively impossible.  They putting lasers in space that zap every human they see, with ground penetrating sensors and equally outlandish devices, while plausible, wouldn't be very narratively interesting.

So this kind of media always goes the other way.  What you do is make the aliens absurd, you give them this superficial gloss of having advanced technology but they always end up having inferior technology.

Another way the show fails, for me, is the social end of things.  The human rebels are . . . curiously tolerant of serious crimes.  Even taking away the instances of alien mind control, one of the characters is a murderer and a thief who had betrayed the human rebel group more than once.  Why isn't he executed?  Sure, he's brave and hates the aliens, but he's scum.  It is common emergency situation practice to execute looters and murderers.  So where's the tribunal and bit of rope?

It's not just that one dude, either.  At one point, they confronted a group of humans collaborating with the enemy that was giving human children to the aliens to be enslaved. I actually tried for a few minutes to imagine a worse crime, but came up with nothing.  What's worse than that kind of treachery fused with enslaving children to alien overlords?  Jesus.  That's horrible.  But for some reason, these traitors and slavers weren't given the rope.  It's baffling.

Most recently, some characters were robbed by a bandits and . . . the bandits were given a pass.  Because these bandits had been robbed and one of their number killed by other bandits, it somehow rationalized their banditry?  Where I come from, two wrongs STILL do not make a right.

I suspect this one is just because they don't want to show how awful this sort of thing gets.  I understand that.  A show about humans executing other humans for their crimes would be pretty dark.  But there's a way around it - don't tell those kinds of stories!  As it is, the idea that the traitorous slavers should get a pass is insane.  It makes no sense.  But that sort of thing happens over and over, again, in the show.  There is nothing that anyone can do, it seems, that merits serious punishment, but they keep making shows about people doing things that are just beyond the pale.  But they don't have to make those kinds of characters and situations.

The other thing that drives me a little crazy is the parochial nature of the human resistance.  They talk about the United States as though it is the world.  They make almost no references to other countries, much less the idea that they might have their own highly effective resistance groups.  So, when the show starts out in Boston, the idea that there might be Canadian rebels never occurred to anyone.  They have made great effort to talk to human groups in California, but not the Caribbean.  Ugh.  They say how they're fighting for the human species, but it's all America, really.  Once again, the world needs us to save them!

While I understand the reason for this - Americans are highly nationalist so a TV show made in the US is going to reflect that nationalism; we mostly do believe we exist to save the world - but I don't like it.  It's childish.

The third area the show sorta sucks is the way the humans react to their conquest.  They are very plucky!  This is the least sin of the show, but when so much of the rest of it stinks this is like salt on a wound.  I understand that a show about the psychic effects of conquests would be very dark, regardless of how plausible those effects would be - and media tends to go too far, one way or the other, with this.  So in Falling Skies, the crushing weight of conquest and the murder of over ninety percent of the human species and the effects on the human psyche are generally ignored.  It is depressing subject.  But in something like The Walking Dead, everyone is just so awful to everyone because they believe its the end of the world, to an equally absurd extent.  No one grapples with these demons in TV shows - they either defeat them easily or are overwhelmed by them altogether.

Again, I understand why media does this - the shows exist to tell stories.  Falling Skies isn't about the psychological trauma of conquest and the existential futility of fighting an enemy you can't beat; The Walking Dead is only about these things.  But when combined with the other issues with Falling Skies, like I said, it is like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Are there good things about the show?  I've seen 28 of them and . . . well, uh, not really?  A few of the performances are good, but with a cast this large it's hard not to get at least a FEW such performances (Ben and Maggie are my favorites).  But Noah Wyle as Tom Mason, history professor turned rebel leader, is pretty flat (and the character arc is the heights of silly - how many times does a dude need to get captured, really?) and I don't know if it's her name or performance but . . . Moon Bloodgood?  Tom Mason's eldest boy, Hal, is such a vapid pretty boy that my soul hurts - so when the show treats him like he has character it sorta makes me die inside, a little.  (Also, he played lacrosse at his snobby private school, which . . . not only has Archer associations but, uh, let's face it, that's the sport that snobby private schools keep so spoiled rich white brats can feel athletic even when they can't make the cut for the football or basketball teams - who are filled with poor kids given scholarships to boost up the team's chances to make state with athletes who would otherwise never be seen in a private schools.)  The effects would be considered amazing twenty years ago, but are "meh", now, and it isn't like the music is going to win any awards.  

Which begs the question of why I watched the show.  I think I want to like sci-fi more than I do, sometimes.  I want there to be a good alien invasion show.  The guy who comes closest to what I want is David Gerrold, but I find his books altogether unreadable.  (He is a sci-fi writer of the pedant school - he spends entirely too much of his time, writer-wise, having characters confidently give long-winded explanations about The Way the World Is and then uses his narrative authority to insure the grandiose pronouncements are True.  I don't like this kind of writing when I agree with what the person is saying; it is sloppy and lazy, I feel.  I prize the ability for an author to have the characters and situations of the work demonstrate whatever it is the author wishes to say.  If you are just going to tell me, write a goddamn essay.  It is, unsurprisingly, even worse when I disagree with the author, as I do with Gerrold.)  But the narrative opportunities of alien invasion literature seem, to me, to be a fertile field for so many reasons that I want to like such media, even though I'm nearly uniformly disappointed by it.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

On the death of Nelson Mandela

I think that Mandela was one of the greatest politicians of the 20th century and a real hero.  He saw the end of the apartheid state in South Africa with very little violence.  His life is a testament to the power of peace and the strength of peace.  While I am saddened by his death, I am amazed and by the wonder of his life.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Further thoughts on UFC 167

While we're on the subject of UFC 167 . . .

It's been a while since I've been impressed with Rory MacDonald. The last time I remember liking him was when he suplexed Nate Diaz through the mat three times. But since then?

I mean, I know that MMA guys are going to, as a group, have some tough guy nicknames. How many are called something-something assassin? But the moment I cooled on MacDonald was when he started calling himself “Ares”.

I find it hard to say that MMA fighters oughtta research their silly superhero nicknames, but Ares . . . ? Really?

The Greeks had a number of war gods . . . well, almost all of them, including Aphrodite, had a war aspect. But the least respected of the Olympians was, without a doubt, Ares. Generally, when he appeared at all in Greek mythology, it was to be humiliated. But if you were serious about war, you were probably going to be into Zeus and Athena, maybe Apollo or Hermes. Ares was a pig, brutal and stupid, a bully who ran away if people confronted him. One of his ceremonies was, and I kid you not, involved puppy killing. It's kind of hard to get into a dude whose actual religious ceremonies involved raising a puppy for a year and then killing it. What a asshole.

So, anyone so arrogant to want to call themselves literally a god and then so ignorant as to choose
Arex is going to rub me the wrong way. Then he started walking around in suits and thinking he deserved a title because he was all but crowned long before he got a title shot. He started to come off as a used car salesman, superficially nice but coated in a thin film of slime.

Which is to say, thank you, Ruthless Robbie Lawler. It is good to see you returned to top contention. ATT has been good to you, clearly, balancing your aggression with better control and technique. I totally want to see a title eliminator between Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown. I'm not sure I'd be on Lawler's side because I have something of a man crush on Matt Brown, but it would probably be a hell of a fight.

On the other side of things, I'm still pretty neutral about Johny Hendricks. Sometimes he comes off as really down-to-earth and humble. Other times? Not so much. He recently said that if GSP couldn't handle the pressure of being champion that he should retire and give up the belt.

Well, duh. This whole business with GSP people have been saying he can't quit fighting and keep the belt. It is interesting to note that at no point did GSP say that's what he intended. He said, instead, that he was having a hard time and was stepping back from fighting. Clearly, if he stays away too long, yes, he should be stripped of the belt. We should also bear in mind that Dominick Cruz was out two years and didn't have his belt taken from him. (FWIW, I'm against that. I more or less feel that any champion who doesn't fight for more than a year, whatever the cause, should have the belt taken.)

At the same time, everyone has been casting what's wrong with GSP in psychological terms, which is weird since GSP hasn't said exactly what is going on, except that it's personal. Medical issues are personal, for instance. Indeed, I strongly suspect that GSP's problem is primarily physical, that he's got a bad knee that is probably limiting his training and explosiveness in fights – which is why he's getting hit so much, lately, I think.

But here's the thing, Johny, GSP owes you precisely nothing. He didn't make the decision, after all. He did what he was supposed to do – he showed up for the fight and he fought a tough fight. Just because you and Dana don't like the decision doesn't mean that GSP owes anything to you, not the least little bit. He is well past the point of needing to prove anything to anyone, given that he's the UFC's biggest draw, their winningest fighter with the longest current winning streak and is without doubt the best welterweight in the organization's history. For you to say anything about GSP is fucking arrogant bullshit that makes me hope that GSP spurns you and you take another fight and lose, slide into depression and doubt and get booted from the UFC. Then you'll take a spot in the World Series of Fighting and get knocked out in three fights in a row and retire to Texas in shame and defeat. Your lack of interest in the personal well-being of one of the greatest fighters who has ever lived is, frankly, disgusting and shameful and it makes an absolute mockery of your vocal Christianity. It makes it hard to like you, moves your confidence into arrogance and makes me wish for your defeat and, indeed, humiliation. Just saying.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why it may be time for GSP to hang up the gloves

I had an article about Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks but I threw it away.  (And, for what it's worth, I thought Hendricks won the fight - that my predictions were wrong and this post addresses that.)  This is one of those times when I wish my blog had more exposure than it does because this is something no one has said and I think it's really important:

Georges St-Pierre does not seem to have fully recovered from his knee surgery.  And, at any rate, since his return from break hasn't been fighting with the same efficiency as before.

Up until this point, I had been making excuses for GSP's relatively poor performance against Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz.  Condit had the advantage of GSP's ring rust and Condit's primary trainer being GSP's trainers down at Jackson-Winkeljohn. That's why GSP had such a relatively hard fight against Condit. Against Diaz, oh, he had a flu. Sure, GSP dominated both fights but . . . not in the style to which I have become accustomed. Yes, he won both fights but he seemed to lack the utter, total, multi-faceted dominance of his previous fights. There were moments when both Diaz and Condit seemed to be, well, winning. In the Diaz fight, there were points where GSP seemed, well, tired.

Against Hendricks, GSP lost, in my view. Indeed, over at, it was nearly unanimous that GSP lost. Regardless of whether GSP “really” won is a different issue – that GSP got his ass kicked.

If you look at my previous articles about GSP-Hendricks, it's easy to see that I didn't expect that. The more I thought about it, the worse it looked, stylistically, for Hendricks. It isn't like GSP hasn't fought wrestlers with good power punching before, right? And the most trouble Hendricks has been in has been with fighters with a style similar to GSP – Hendricks had split decisions against Koscheck and Mike Pierce. Hendricks lost to Rick Story. Discarding (albeit with reservations given Hendricks punching power) Hendricks' win over Jon Fitch, Hendricks doesn't do really great against other wrestlers. Furthermore, Hendricks had a very tough fight against Carlos Condit, an opponent that GSP rolled over with only one real bump along the way.

But Hendricks really kicked Georges' ass. Even if you think that GSP won enough rounds to win the decision, GSP lost the fight. Hendricks nearly finished him a couple of times, he may have landed fewer blows but they were much, much harder.

After I heard Joe Rogan point out that more than half of the blows that have landed against GSP have come in the last three fights – that in 21 UFC fights, 12 of them five rounders that went the distance, GSP has taken half of all shots in the last fifteen percent of his UFC career – it occurred to me why GSP has taken such a battering. The short answer is that GSP isn't moving as well as he used to move and he's exerting more effort to do it. While Hendricks is the highlight of this, it was evident in all three fights, really, because, well, GSP got hit a lot, something that doesn't normally happen. There was a time, before GSP's knee surgery, where he was basically untouchable. Successful power punches against him were happening at the rate of two or three a round.  But since his return from his knee surgery, he's literally being hit 5 times as much per minute in the cage.

He got this incredible defense from the very thing that made me a fan of him in the first place – he had this nigh superhuman ability to cover distance. From way across the cage, he could shoot in, land some shots and then disappear. It was like magic. Go and watch his fights with guys like Thiago Alves or his second fight with Josh Koscheck. His defense was as close to perfect as anyone in the octagon, better, I think, that Anderson Silva's at Silva's peak.

So, frankly, I expected the fight with Hendricks to resemble GSP's second fight with Kos, where Kos could do nothing to GSP except walk into GSP's jab and wing the occasional power shot. Instead, GSP was flat-footed with bad footwork. Sure, Hendricks is also able to cover a lot of distance, absolutely, but – as I said – it isn't like this was GSP's first rodeo. But where he was able to dance circles around Koscheck, connecting at will, making Kos at the top of his game look like he should be in another sport – the same Koscheck that lost a split with Hendricks, the same Koscheck whose fighting style is almost identical to Hendrick's – well, Hendricks shows better ability to cover distance and get inside GSP's defenses.

The other place where this is pretty clear is . . . GSP's power. Yeah, yeah, I know that GSP has been criticized for not finishing his fights, but, man, sure, he might not have finished them but his opponents looked like they'd been hit by a truck and in many, if not most of them, at some point GSP had his opponent's seriously rocked. This was true even in the eye-poke-athon that was GSP-Jake Shields – Shields had a plenty hard head but when GSP connected with a high kick, Shields was on his heels on rubber legs.

GSP has not rocked a single person since coming back from his leg surgery. Not one. Nick Diaz even commented on GSP's lack of power and Hendricks said that he was never in trouble, even though there was a time when GSP regularly rocked guys with very hard heads.

Against Hendricks, GSP landed several quite clean head kicks. I had predicted this. GSP is taller than Hendricks so landing the high kick would be easier than against almost any other opponent – he hasn't fought someone shorter than him since Thiago Alves. None of the head kicks seemed to faze Hendricks . . . and GSP kicks, or kicked, quite hard. Hard enough to send people stumbling back, hard enough to put them on their heels, knock them down, put them on rubber legs. They just bounced off of Hendricks. I could see their lack of impact, moreover. It wasn't like Hendricks got hit really hard and just ate it, the kicks lacked drive.  I couldn't help but think if Lyoto Machida had landed one of those kicks that the fight would have ended.

Power also comes from the legs, though. The explosiveness needed to really hurl yourself into a fight comes from the legs. If GSP's legs, or, perhaps, more properly, leg is messed up, it's going to effect his ability to throw himself into blows. It “feels” to me like GSP can still tag a person with speed but that he lacks the power to hurt them.

Since the ability to hurt one's opponent is a vital component of defense in combat sports, GSP's inability to hurt his opponents makes him more vulnerable. If you're already suffering from a reduced ability to move, well, you're in pretty serious trouble.  It might explain why you're now being hit five times as often.

Since GSP is so good, though, him at 80% is still championship caliber. Absolutely. But it's a different kind of champion. It's a champion who gets hit a lot, one who doesn't have a long shelf life.  Especially if he also lacks power.

Moreover, GSP has been talking for a while now about memory problems. While the Joe Rogan Experience podcast where GSP talks about his memory losses might just mean that GSP is weirder than we imagined and thinks, and has long thought, that he is being abducted by aliens, after the fight with Hendricks, GSP was talking about how he couldn't judge who won the fight because he couldn't remember it, that he had blurred vision, stuff like that.  That's bad juju.

For many fighters, the end comes fast. Chuck Liddell was on a seven fight winning streak before he just collapsed, losing five of his last six fights and winning against another nearly shot fighter in Wanderlei Silva (sorry, Wandy, but it is what it is). Four of Liddell's losses, including the last three, were by brutal KO. The same thing happened with Jens Pulver – overnight he went from being one of the best fighters in the world to being virtually everyone's punching bag. Tito Ortiz . . . aw, hell, I could go on and on about it, it's a well-known thing that for fighters the end can come fast and is usually ugly. Do we really want that to happen to GSP? To see an increasingly ragged GSP drag himself into the cage to be thrashed by an increasingly irrelevant group of wannabes and has-beens? I do not. Especially if it means gambling with his health.

Still, to me, it seems increasingly clear – GSP isn't the fighter he was before the knee surgery. It breaks my heart to have to say that, as GSP was my first real MMA man crush, but the evidence seems clear, to me. GSP's once incredible ability to cover distance, and the power that brought, is gone. He's fighting on one leg. Yeah, he's Georges fucking St-Pierre, so he's still a top caliber fighter – if he wants to be, if he's otherwise healthy. Regardless of whether GSP retires, I think we need to acknowledge that he's on the downhill side of his career and that can be agony to watch.  So if GSP wants to get while the getting is good we should look him in the eye, shake his hand and thank him for his ability as a fighter and ambassador of MMA.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Mixed martial arts, "supporting our troops" and US militarism - fuck all that shit

One of the things I dislike about sports in general, and MMA in specific, is the militarism.  WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS.  Regardless of the promotion, America MMA has a theme of militarism.

"Supporting" our troops has become something we are required to do if we're going to be taken seriously as Americans.  Americans, we are told, support our troops.  Almost no one really bothers to define what that means, though.

As a taxpayer, I, like everyone else in America, obviously support our troops, in a completely literal, financial sense.  Troops get paid because I, among others, pay them.  Everything they do is public largesse.  Supporting our troops is a fundamental requirement of paying taxes.

I also "support" them in the sense that I wish them well.  I want them to be safe and happy (though since I feel this way for everyone on earth, take that as you will).  I have and have had a lot of friends who served or continue to serve in the military, furthermore, and on an immediate, selfish level I want them to be safe and do well for themselves.

However, the troops are uniquely engaged in a number of foreign policy decisions that I don't support.  I don't, and never have, supported military action in the Middle East.  I most definitely do not support the troops being anywhere except the United States - and I very much mean that in the sense that I think the US should close every foreign military base with a tiny number of exceptions.

It becomes sophistry of the highest order, then, to say that I support the troops while not supporting almost everything American troops do.  The deflection that people use is that they're "defending our freedom".  Nonsense.  Afghanistan does not, and never has had, the power to take away one dram of my freedom.  Doubly so for Iraq.  Troops in Western Europe have lost all meaning - there is no communist threat, anymore.  Russia is our ally and Eastern Europe is joining the EU as fast as they possibly can.  Likewise our East Asian bases.  China is also our ally.  Why do we need bases in Japan, Okinawa and Australia?   We do not.  The day-to-day actual service of almost everyone in the US military does absolutely nothing to defend my freedom because they defend against enemies that aren't there.

(This is not to say that I think we should abandon our military.  I do not.  But I very strongly feel that the role of the US military should be restructured for actual territorial defense, not the ability to project force - which is its current organizational model.  Not defense, but offense.  If you say the best defense is a good offense, you're just offering a meaningless platitude in lieu of something substantial.  It is superficially easy, in the course of history, to find countries that get themselves into it really, really deep because of aggressive militaristic foreign policies.  Using the military for foreign policy often seems like a good idea until it becomes a really, really bad one and a country finds itself surrounded by hostile foes it's own policies created.)

I believe it is also sophistry, and juvenilization ,to say that the troops bear no responsibility for their actions because they're part of the military.  The defense "just following orders" has been ruled, somewhat comprehensively, to be no defense.  Military service does not justify criminal behavior just because someone else ordered you to do it.  (Though it is almost universally ignored in the military, service people who are given illegal orders are obliged to refuse them.  However, the culture of the military does not permit questioning  orders, which makes the laws demanding soldiers question orders meaningless.  De facto always trumps de jure.)  I can't make myself believe that obedience and conformity to military authority clean the hands of soldiers - which would be a standard unique to them, additionally.

In those senses, then, I do not support the troops.  I don't support what they do as being part of a malicious foreign policy that even were it not immoral (and it is immoral) is also short-sighted, creating enemies out of thin air, wasting money and lives in a frankly Orientalist fantasy.  I do not think, furthermore, the facts of service miraculously purge the soldiers of their individual responsibility for the crimes they commit while in the service.

But almost no one talks about the intrigue inherent in any statement about supporting our troops.  "Support our troops" has become a completely hollow phrase, used by people with all manner of political convictions around US foreign policy, that is used to manipulate us into continuing those policies.  Anyone who criticizes, much less attacks, the present course of American foreign policy is accused of not supporting our troops and in the act of "supporting" them conflates the sincere desire for the physical and emotional well-being of those troops with the reactionary political causes of US foreign policy.

In short, saying, "I support our troops" creates a narrative space into which the hawks and warmongers can put an infinity of violence.  Any criticism of the policy of violence enacted by the military becomes transformed through rhetorical alchemy into a condemnation of the people in the military.  It's a giant conversation stopper, preventing Americans from discussing the consequences of the stark militarism of the United States since 9/11.

The second major reason why I have trouble saying I support our troops is I think that a lot of the rightward shift in the United States is due to the near ubiquity of military service among the working poor young men (and, increasingly, young women).  When I graduated high school - and I think this is commonplace for people who come from working class families - nearly all of my peers joined the military.

Only one had any actual desire to serve in the military as a conscious career decision.  The rest were simply at loose ends at the end of high school and having no real academic or employment opportunities, they choose to go into the military as a way to get a paycheck with a job with some social prestige and get out of the house, to be "grown up".  As I said, I think this is pretty normal for "the working class".

This has caused the working class to shift towards the right.  There's hardly a working class family in America that doesn't have several members currently serving, or having recently served, in the military.  For them, supporting the military is immediate - a vital pressing concern.  If they support candidates who wish to defund military adventurism, they are making their loved ones less safe.  What they want is more military, more body armor, more guns, more planes, more of everything that their loved ones say is needed to protect them from their enemies.

Additionally, those loved ones are made part of a system.  Their first political consciousness free from their parents is shaped by their involvement with the military.  To a certain extent, all of their lives they'll identify themselves as being a member of the branch of service where they served - this is particular marked, of course, in the Marines, but is present to some extent in all branches of service.

When young servicepeople get out of the military, there is a great deal of immediacy for them, too.  If they were to act to defund the military, they would be leaving people they know in the lurch.

This drags the working class to the right.  They have a vested interest in US military adventurism!  Funding a large, well-trained, well-equipped military is of vital, immediate importance not only to the servicepeople, themselves, but also to their families and friends who aren't in the service.  The servicepeople are likely to remain supporters of the military their whole lives, too.

I very much believe that a large peacetime, voluntary military is one of the key ways in which the right-wing branch of American politics has subverted the leftist leanings of the working class.  Young people are told that rather than agitated for better access to education and better employment opportunities out of high school, they should just join the military which provides those educational and employment opportunities.  An inherently right-wing organization, the military, becomes the first place of real employment for many millions of working class Americans.

(There is some indication that this is changing, I admit.  Between the privatization of the military and the mechanization of the military, the number of people in the service has declined substantially in the past ten years.  But it's still quite strong.  75% of Americans 50 years or older have an immediate family member in the military.  57% of people 30 to 49 have an immediate family member in service, and 33% of those between 18 and 29 have family in service.  All of these numbers are heavily slanted towards the working class.

(Note I did not say "poor", but working class.  There is a popular Heritage Foundation report out there that conflates middle income with "middle class", saying that almost all soldiers come from families of median income.  I will just assume that people reading my blog know the difference between the middle class and middle income.)

I think what bothers me most, though, is the extent to which - otherwise - sports organizations, including MMA ones, avoid taking a political stand.  Because support of the troops carries with it specific foreign policy implications - it is childish to imagine you can support the troops apart from what the troops actually do, so to support the troops is to support the deeds of the troops, clearly - it becomes boosterism for war.  In almost all other ways, professional sports seeks an apolitical stance.  They never support one position over another except with our mystical, automatically heroic troops.

As I've said, the view is that supporting the troops is somehow apolitical, itself.  That you can somehow support the troops separate from their deeds - but as a stand that's so utterly untrue that I don't know why I need to say it!  Apropos of MMA, if you support a fighter, you support that fighter's fights - you're saying, "Hey, I like that dude, I like the way he fights and generally approve of his behavior and persona."  While it might not be universally true about every bit a given fighter - perhaps you appreciate Anderson Silva's fights but find the man's persona remote and inaccessible; I, myself, appreciate a number of fighters but dislike their overt religion, like cage fighting is a holy mission, like Jesus Christ came down from Heaven and told them to beat people's heads in for money and glory - supporting a fighter at least means supporting their fights.  But with soldiers?  Nope.  Supporting them, absurdly, foolishly, has been divorced from their actual deeds.

This is more or less unprecedented.  Even the police don't receive this kind of unconsidered praise.  I think it's a point of interesting comparison.  First, we don't divorce police officers from their work - if a department is corrupt, it is permissible to speak about that corruption without accusations that you're somehow fostering crime.  Our thinking about police work is nuanced enough to recognize that a corrupt and/or inefficient police department works against the goals of policing - a safe and crime-free community.  Second, we don't talk about police officers as if they have no control over their actions.  They aren't infantilized.  If a police officer commits an act of brutality, even if that brutality is structural in nature, even if their bosses ordered it, it doesn't let them off the hook - we all recognize that cops are grown-ups and that assaulting and torturing prisoners is something that the individual who commits the crime must be held accountable.

Which is all that bothers me about this - that sports organizations, among others, have been duped into support of war under the facile arguments demanding that everyone in the public give homage to "the troops".  That no one in any of these organizations goes, "Hey, wait a second, this is an overt political message and we avoid overt political messages organizationally."  That public support of the troops empowers the politicians who send them into foreign wars to keep doing it, so long as the troops are supported, the United States will have a large, standing army that itches to be used.  That, by its existence, almost demands to be used and is, in fact, being used - destructively, to the harm of us all (though, let's also be fair, moreso to the people being invaded).

The upshot is that we need to become more nuanced with the public discourse around supporting our troops.  We need to be more frank in acknowledging the actions of those troops, divorced from lore and hagiography.  We need to stop treating them like children incapable of making moral judgments about their orders and somehow, inexplicably, free from the moral, legal and ethical burdens carried by following those orders.

Doing so will, I think, among other things, give us a better military - one that more accurately reflects the actual values of the country, one that commits far fewer crimes, one that is used in far fewer wars.  In turn, I think that's a pretty good way of supporting our troops - to put them into fewer situations where they become murderers because of "orders" or because they participate in illegal foreign wars.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Review of McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld by Mischa Glenny

I'm reading McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld by Mischa Glenny. The book is about organized crime in the aftermath of the Soviet Union, not just in the former USSR but everywhere, and the book has this really . . . weird narrative about capitalism. Basically, while describing the horrors caused by the plutocratic and criminal states that arose post-USSR, Glenny chalks it all up to the necessary growing pains of an emerging capitalist society.

The crazy thing to me is that . . . at the time of this dude writing this book, the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries are still total nutcases. The book was published in '09 and it takes about a year to go through publication, so it was probably submitted in '08, which means the bulk of the writing probably went on before the Great Recession. But it wasn't like '07 was some stellar year in Eastern Europe.

While it is true that the criminal elements in Russia are weaker, now, power in Russia has been replaced with Putin's dictatorship – which one might say is at least as criminal as the crooks it replaces. And Russia and most of the Eastern Bloc is experiencing rates of poverty that made the Soviet Union look downright affluent. Sure, now the stores in Eastern Europe have stocked shelves . . . but only an incredibly wealthy elite can buy anything. An improvement for the rich, but not so much for the tens of millions of Russians cast into abject poverty. Not to mention the one sterling communist education system is in shambles (not to mention the flight of the intelligentsia from Eastern Europe, draining the education system further), lack of health care where once everyone got it, so forth and so on.

But the most damning numbers, for me, come from life expectancy. In Russia, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, men could expect to live to 72 years of age. It's now . . . 59. Capitalism has shortened male Russian lives by thirteen years, replacing communist longevity with violence and alcoholism.

I'm not going to say that if the USSR had continued to exist that things would be better than they are, now. There's simply no way to know that. It's a facile game to make those kinds of predictions. But Russia seems yet to have repeated real, material benefits of capitalism a full generation after the fact. There was always an elite who lived luxurious lives, does it matter if they were communists or capitalists? It seems to me that it was under the communists that the Russian state did bettter – lower rates of crime (even including the state's brutality), longer lives, better educational and employment opportunities for the overwhelming majority of people.

If Gorbachev had put his considerable intelligence and energy into invigorating communism than with perestroika, well, who could possibly say what would have happened? Perhaps things would have fallen apart even worse, though I have trouble imagining how without there an all-out war. But this is what we do know – for tens of millions of people in the former Soviet Union, life is worse now than then. They have worse education, often no access to medical care, certainly no form of retirement. For many others, life is more or less the same in terms of quality of living. And for a tiny few, things are a lot better as they are living the capitalist fantasy of tremendous wealth. You'd think, since this is the case, that maybe constantly cheerleading capitalist as the means away from poverty might . . . not be a clever thing to do. There seem to be many more signs that capitalist is a Russian curse and not a blessing.

But, nope. The narrative is set. The crime and corruption, and now, I suppose, tyrannies of the former Soviet Union are the birthing pains of a better world. Even though those pains seem likely to continue indefinitely, that the birth may never occur (and, in general, that kind of dividing line is also facile – at this moment EVERYTHING CHANGED; usually it was an incremental process that doesn't resemble the neat narratives of historians and especially journalists). Even though the gulf between the rich and the poor is literally at the highest point since . . . the events surrounding the October Revolution.

Reading the book, though, it's clear that Glenny has very strong feelings about Russia. I mean, duh, his name is Mischa. I'm gonna read into things, here, and say he has a Russian background. When describing the Soviet Union, though, he talks about how gray and dreary it was. When describing post-Soviet Russia, well, now it's a very lively place.

I think this is because for Glenny, it is a far, far more lively place. If you're a reasonably affluent Western journalist flying into Moscow, I'm sure that things have improved pretty dramatically for you in Russia. Glenny says as much, talking about the clubs, cuisine, girls. What he seems to entirely miss is how, sure, now Eastern Europe has all of these things, including billionaires, but it has had a very, very dramatic cost to the people who weren't the winners of the capitalist lottery.

Not just the gangsterism (though that is hard to ignore), but the way the former communist nations have ravaged educational and health care systems. The way that critical services have been obliterated with no hope in the next couple of decades of something to replace them. Not to mention how Eastern European nations, once at full employment, are now burdened with very high rates of joblessness.

More broadly, there is this notion that capitalism brings wealth. I've said it before and I'll say it, again – while it's undoubtedly true that the richest nations in the world are capitalist, so are the poorest. Glenny seems to buy into the reasoning that if we only give capitalism a chance in Eastern Europe, things will get better. It's only been twenty years!

There are two flaws in that reasoning that . . . I don't think one can easily dismiss. The first is that after twenty years, there's no way to say what would have happened if communism hadn't fallen. Now you're in the realm of science-fiction, trying to compare alternate time lines. It has all the difficulty of trying to imagine what would have happened if the Confederacy had succeeded in gaining independence. Many interesting scenarios could be imagined, but none of them have the least basis in fact.

Second and this is the doozy, there are poor countries that have been both very capitalist and very poor for a very long time without a lot of hope of things improving in the near future. While I certainly hope that Eastern Europe turns itself around, there's no reason why it shouldn't go the direction Bolivia or Haiti or, well, pretty much all of Africa.

South America and the Caribbean are a very interesting test bed. Not only is much of the area capitalist, it is more conceptually capitalist than places like the United States. In much of the region, there is almost no regulation (or if the regulation exists, it's pretty notional with the states so weak that they can't enforce it – which is why so much cocaine somehow manages to escape Columbia so consistently). If you describe a capitalist's idea government, it would sound a lot like Columbia – where the central government is so weakened that businessmen can do as they please. And they are. But what doesn't happen is the wealth is distributed to the poor. Indeed, as the coke barons grow in power, the lot of people in their territories diminishes to the point where much of the country is in virtual slavery. I suspect the only reason it isn't actual slavery is that if the coke barons owned the workers there might be some sense of obligation towards the people they oppress.

There's no reason to assume that Eastern Europe won't go in that direction rather than, y'know, becoming a bunch of Japans and South Koreas – the Slavic Tigers. All through South America and Africa are countries with abundant natural resources, countries that are conceptually quite capitalist, but since the minerals extracted from those places enriches foreign companies and a tiny local minority, one does not see a rise in quality of life for the people of those nations. Frequently, they're worse than before, because you have armed thugs demanding that they engage in those businesses (diamond mining, cocoa production) that serve the wealthy elite and their foreign masters instead of businesses that would provide them with a growing economic base (developing local industries, a tax base capable of supporting universal education and health care, stuff like like). There are plenty of examples – the main bulk of capitalist nations, really – that say that the kind of economic chaos that Eastern Europe finds itself can endure . . . indefinitely. Longer than communism, certainly.

But people who challenge the narrative that capitalism is unvarnished good all the time don't tend to sell many books.

Also very interesting is that, in every case the author makes about the rise of organized crime internationally, is that a big part of it was fiscal deregulation. Glenny's narrative goes, “Well, you had these countries like Israel and India with strong collective social traditions but then deregulation and government privatization came into vogue and mob violence broke out in a big fucking way.”

So it stands even more remarkably that such a strange intellectual lacuna should exist – Glenny repeatedly refers to gangs in the former USSR and Eastern Europe as providing private security services that the police could not handle, those necessary handmaidens to capitalism, but the deregulation and privatization of government that happened in the 90s and has been one of the persistent goals of capitalism. When they finally got what they wanted (in part, I feel, because after the fall of international communism they had no ideological rivals and did not need to soften their rapacity for fear of a communist uprising in poor nations), it lead to the Great Recession and a large rise in the number of gangs and the level of violence. Yet, at no point does Glenny suggest that maybe this is a structural problem with capitalism, itself. Which is strange because, y'know, he does everything by blame capitalism by name – he simply lists the facts but without the least bit of indictment of the organizing principle behind those facts. In short that the deregulation of business and privatization of government has been driven by capitalism.

If the book took an entirely apolitical stand – simply describing the facts and letting the reader infer them – well, I wouldn't like that, either, but at least it would have the air of neutrality. But Glenny isn't neutral. He is repeatedly capitalism's cheerleader in a book that describes the very horrors of capitalism, itself.

He eventually does mention, briefly, that this crap does threaten the foundations of globalization. Glenny mentions that everyone knows how money is laundered and some countries, like the US, could really curtail money-laundering havens by putting sanctions on those countries, or the world could get together and create international banking regulations including the teeth to enforce them.

But licit business also uses these havens to avoid taxation. There is tremendous pressure from the business interests that fund elections and control economies to allow various tax havens – and, thus, money laundering – to continue.

I think he shies away from the horror of it, though: the capitalist ethos is incompatible with any restrictions on what can be commodified or the manner in which markets are acquired and kept. In the perfect capitalist world, anything goes. Gangsterism is the fundamental model of capitalism: anything to make money. That's what they think they want. Glenny doesn't want to say that, no one does. They have this fantasy where a system built on human greed and personal ambition finds some kind of rational boundary. That they will “learn” to moderate their greed and ambition to avoid the social chaos created by murder and mayhem as normal business tools. They'll put them away because it's bad for business.

Sure, it's the rational actor fallacy, but it's also the capitalist fantasy – that people will see, as we do, not to do business that way.

I wonder if the book will move into a discussion of the violence of licit businesses, y'know, how mining and oil companies are really big on murder and always have been, not to mention the arms business, or the chocolate business which is built on slave labor. Not even stuff like the horrors of forced immigration and the coyote trade, where business turns a blind eye, but the acts of violence perpetrated by the businesses themselves. That is what really ties it all into one package for me – that businesses are quite willing to kill and enslave quite directly if they can get away with it, in ways no different from any organized crime ring . . . except, I imagine, a little more plausible deniability created by a larger number of intermediaries speaking a more rarified language. You won't catch too many oil men saying, “Kill that sonofabitch” but merely opining to their security professionals that it would be great if that Nigerian tribal lawyer went to a place from which he would not return. Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest!

While McMafia is an interesting book, I think it is inherently flawed by the author's inability to address the structural problems of capitalism even as he describes many of them. Insofar that the rise of international gangsterism is linked to capitalism, it is only capitalism's “growing pains” until the nations that have embarked on this capitalist adventure learn to deal with their new system of government. This is true even in countries that have been conceptually very capitalist for as long as the United States. Because it is Glenny that brings up capitalism's role in crime, his inability to analyze capitalism beyond mere boosterism for it rankles quite a bit. To understand gangsterism requires, I think, an understanding that gangsters are the epitome of capitalism – everything is a commodity, even life and death. Slaves are a commodity as are assassins. You sell what you can, for as much as you can, without any limitation on the products you sell or the techniques employed to acquire those goods or secure your markets; violence is certainly permissible. To this you would need to add the realization that businesses behave in the same way when they can – that the mobster mentality is alive and well in corporate boardrooms all across the world who have no qualms about corrupting governments, using mercenary killer to enforce company policy, lie, cheat, steal and kill. They can and are doing all of these things, except they have offices in Maryland. Without that kind of analysis, the book is entertaining but ultimately hollow.

Monday, November 4, 2013

MMA journalism stinks - reflections after Bellator 106

As King Mo himself has noted, MMA journalism sucks.

After Bellator 106, which I found a quite entertaining card even without the incredible performances by Chandler and Alvarez,'s Ben Fowlkes gave us a post-fight breakdown of the card.

In it, he admits that he was surprised at Daniel Straus's performance.  He was about the only one.  Straus is a top ten ranked featherweight with a very dangerous style for a slow starter like Curran.  Curran's defensive, reactive style of fighting found a brick wall in Straus's minimalist, pressure-oriented approach.  I admit that I thought Curran would win . . . but I very much thought the tough, hard-nosed Straus was going to be a very stiff test for Curran.  Straus was and he picked up a clear decision.  So that's the first place that Fowlkes failed to understand what was going on.

The second was when he criticized King Mo as being a boxer who occasionally shoots for the takedown.  This . . . ignores the reality of King Mo's two fights prior to his second tilt with Emmanuel Newton where King Mo very much returned to the takedown and ground and pound style of his Strikeforce days.  It also ignores that in Mo-Newton 2, King Mo did take Newton down but was unsuccessful in holding Newton to the mat.  King Mo tried the takedown, G&P strategy but Newton showed great takedown defense and then great skill in getting the hell up.  Later on in the fight, when Mo was tired, yeah, he boxed with Newton - but I felt that was simply a realistic assessment of his cardio.  The first two rounds tired Mo more than Newton, so takedowns were going to be increasingly hard to get and of briefer duration . . . and since they were hard to get and didn't last long even when Mo was fresh, well, he decided to strike, or so it seemed to me.

It isn't that Mo has abandoned wrestling against Newton, but that Newton showed great takedown defense and superior cardio (the first surprised me a bit, the last did not - I knew that if it went long, it would favor Newton who has always kept up a very fast pace for a light-heavyweight).

But Fowlkes decided to ignore the evidence of his senses and Mo's last three fights to project a false and actually pretty weird narrative.

While doing this, he ignored what I think is the real point - King Mo needs to leave Las Vegas.  There was a time when a lot of top guys trained in Vegas - back in the heyday of Randy Couture and Forrest Griffin.  But in the past several years, Las Vegas has stopped looking a place that builds MMA champions.  King Mo entered with Roy Nelson, who has also underwhelmed in his last several performances.  I think that King Mo needs to bite down on his mouthpiece and see if AKA or the Blackzillians or Jackson-Winkeljohn or Alliance or Tristar or Roufusport will have him - a top-level camp where he can get comprehensive MMA training and training partners equal to his skills.  If he does this, I think that we could see a re-energized King Mo.  If he continues to squander his talents for lack of adequate training opportunities in Las Vegas, I think he's already on the backside of his MMA career.  To me, that's the real story, and consistent with fighters like Griffin, Nelson and even Frank Mir who were training or continue to train in Las Vegas far past the days when it is athletically justifiable.  It was easier to just say, "Oh, King Mo isn't doing what he's good at" when the problem is - and there are a lot of people who agree with me, I didn't invent this narrative I simply find it compelling - that Mo trains inappropriately for the sport as it exists today.

The third thing is a repetition of what Fowlkes has said about Bellator - that he considers the idea of a Bellator pay-per-view card to be somehow treacherous of Bellator.  Bellator, because they've given over a hundred cards that were on free TV, are somehow obligated to keep doing it.

Now, I think that there is a very good case to be made for keeping all Bellator events free.  The really big, money-making sports in America don't put their best events on PPV.  The World Series, the NBA Championships, the Super Bowl are all right there on network TV.  Ultimately, the money made by keeping things PPV doesn't match the potential revenue of corporate sponsorship and commercials for network TV spectacles, or one could reason.

That said, in the fight business, PPV cards are routine, not just for MMA but also for boxing.  The only reason kickboxing or muay Thai events don't go PPV is the same reason why Bellator has hesitated to do PPV events prior to now - they don't have a big enough audience to justify the expense.  It is possible that that, like boxing, MMA events are big enough to make bank for PPV but not so big as to get the kinds of corporate sponsorship money that one finds in basketball, baseball and football.  Indeed, it seems likely.  A lot of brands shy away from the brutality of boxing and MMA has a reputation for being more brutal, still.  Boxing has a good sized fan-base, yes, and they tend to be pretty dedicated - as opposed to the cultural affairs that the baseball, basketball and football championships are in the US.

Case in point - here in Miami, the NBA Championship over the last couple of years utterly dominated the city.  During the games, everywhere you go you find people talking about the games.  When the Heat won their most recent championship, my whole neighborhood erupted.  People were out in the streets hooping and hollering into the night.

Miami is also home to not one but two of the most important MMA camps in the world - the Blackzillians (I know, I know, I didn't name the team, though) and American Top Team.  When members of those teams fight on big cards in the UFC, such as Vitor Belfort's fight against Anderson Silva, the biggest Blackzillian name against one of the best MMA fighters of all time, there wasn't that kind of anticipation.  I've never seen Miami obsessed with MMA, even though there are a ton of South Florida fighters who are world class, the way they've been with basketball, it does not create the same buzz.

I think it is fair to say if it doesn't happen in Miami, it doesn't happen anywhere in America.  MMA isn't enough of a cultural event to justify the kind of corporate sponsorship one finds in the big three American sports (in the US) or, say, soccer (everywhere else).  MMA is a fairly niche sport - marginally mainstream, and I think with greater potential than boxing, but it's a far cry from being a cultural touchstone.

This drives boxing and MMA towards PPV events.  While fighting sports don't have the kind of cultural significance of other sports, their fans are well-known to be pretty dedicated.  To wit, if you tried showing the Super Bowl on PPV, you'd lose most of your viewers.  As you lost your viewers, it would become less of a cultural event, less a part of the American psyche, which would greatly diminish advertising revenues and even interest in the sport.  But the same number of people will watch a UFC card on PPV as will watch it on Fox TV.  It's just that in the PPV, the UFC gets a lot more money.  For those of us enthused about the fighting arts, it is likely that we'll be forced to obscure cable channels, the Internet and PPV events to get our fix.

But rather than write about that, Fowlkes goes for the lazy narrative that he would feel slighted by Bellator for engaging in a business model that is typical for combat sports.  Like his personal feelings should be taken into account!  Grow the fuck up.

The last bit of weirdness is his analysis of the Mike Bronzoulis-Joe Riggs fight.  Like with Straus and Newton, Fowlkes seems dismissive of the idea that Bronzoulis deserved to be in the fight at all and attributes Riggs' performance to simply wanting to collect his $100,000 payday and not to the fact that during Fight Master, Bronzoulis proved himself to be a really, really tough fighter with a really, really tough style.  Particularly against Eric Bradley, Bronzoulis was supposed to lose.  He didn't.  Bronzoulis showed that he was pure heart and he has an incredible gas tank, that even when you're beating him he's not going to make it easy - and there's a really good chance that you'll wear yourself out fighting him at which point he'll really turn on the heat.  That, in short, Riggs fought the fight he fought because Bronzoulis is a very good fighter with a style like quicksand - quicksand that Riggs didn't jump into for very good fight related reasons.  In particular, because if he did that, Riggs might lose.  The toughness and tenacity of Bronzoulis was very important to Riggs's approach, probably moreso than a big check at the end of the fight.

Today a couple of interesting things came out, too.  Particularly that Riggs has a broken hand and a broken orbital.  These might also have played a big role in why Riggs opted out of a striking contest where he wasn't doing so well for a jujitsu fight there he was pretty dominant.  But rather than doing any research, Fowlkes decided - for the third time in one card - to create a narrative where the abilities of the other fighter were simply irrelevant to the story he told.  It wasn't that Riggs was fighting a hard piece of iron shaped like a man and Riggs took that into account, it was that Riggs was merely collecting a paycheck - which is dismissive of both Riggs and Bronzoulis!

I want to say that this guy is terrible and should be fired, but the truth is that the guy that replaced him would probably be at least as bad.

Overall, it's a poor piece, but quite typical of the quality of journalism typical in MMA.  I suspect that fans of all second tier sports have equally bad journalism!