Friday, September 25, 2015

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Mac Miller - "Brand Name"

On October 21, 2014, it was revealed Mac Miller signed a recording contract and a distribution deal for his label REMember Music, with Warner Bros. Records, for a reported $10 million. On July 30, 2015, Miller revealed that he had completed his third studio album, which will be his major label debut. Miller’s third studio album GO:OD AM was released September 18, 2015 and with it came the video for the opening track “Brand Name.”

Monday, September 21, 2015

Nickelodeon's Bringin' Back the 90's with The Splat

Speculation from social media users has been growing since August, when Russell Hicks, president of content and development for the media company, revealed his interest in bringing back classic Nicktoons.

"We are looking at our library to bring back ideas, shows that were loved, in a fresh new way," Hicks told Variety last month.

Nickelodeon has remained tight-lipped about the project, releasing veiled messages on social media with the hashtag #TheSplatIsComing.

"They all follow the same pattern," Ken Harris, managing partner at Cadent Consulting Group, said in an interview with CNBC last week. "They will monitor social media closely and they'll turn people on to the process. The whole goal is not to spring something on people, but rather to have them anticipate it."

The question is: What is "The Splat"?

Whether the network plans on creating a new channel, expanding programming blocks or implementing streaming services has yet to be determined.

While specific information on "The Splat" remains unknown, the project is gaining massive attention on social media.

On Tuesday, there were more than 12,000 tweets mentioning Nickelodeon on Twitter. In comparison, the company averaged 2,700 tweets in the last 30 days, according to Topsy.

Google searches for "The Splat" were up by 2,250 percent in the last week, jumping 350 percent on Tuesday after rumors circulated that the program could launch as early as October.

This wouldn't be the first time the Viacom-owned network dipped into the archives. It created the TV Land channel in 1996, which broadcasts classic television series from the 1960s to the 2000s. The channel is home to shows such as "Golden Girls," "Walker, Texas Ranger" and "Roseanne."

This time around, the company would be catering to a niche audience of millennial consumers—instead of boomers—and, once again, introducing old programming to a new generation of viewers.

"Any nostalgic brand can hit a chord with a consumer base that is interested because they remember it fondly," Harris said.

That has been the case with several revitalized classics in the last year. Universal Pictures' reboot of the "Jurassic Park" franchise reaped big rewards at the box office in June, taking in $1.6 billion globally. New installments of "The Terminator" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" both grossed more than $400 million globally, according to Box Office Mojo.

And more are on the horizon.

Sony Pictures is releasing a "Goosebumps" film in October, based on R.L. Stine's novels that were popularized in the '90s, and Lions Gate is bringing "The Power Rangers" to the big screen in 2017.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Spotlight: Burning Man

"If Burning Man was just about cool sculptures, impressive art cars, and amazing outfits, then it wouldn't be that interesting to me. It's also about building a city with a different set of norms, where giving is the currency, creativity the common bond, and openness the expectation. I'm sorry, but if people who have been in the last few years think that is no longer the case, I don't know what city they were hanging out in. For my money, the Playa still provides."
New York Times:
At Burning Man, participants escape from society and most of its demands (including cellphone reception), building art in the desert only to burn much of it down. Once a remote counterculture party, the event, nearly 30 years old, long ago moved from San Francisco to a spot about three hours north of Reno, Nevada, where 65,000 attendees are expected this year.

A multiyear study published in 2013 looked at the psychological effect of Burning Man on its participants and found that people there were more comfortable expressing themselves, particularly positive emotions. The costumes, said Kateri McRae, an author of the study and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Denver, could be a reason.

About 70,000 people descended upon a Nevada desert this year to camp within a dried-up prehistoric lake to form Black Rock City. This pop-up city is home to the event many people know as Burning Man, or, a pilgrimage of individuals from around the world celebrating human connection, self-expression, and self-reliance. 

First held in 1986, this once-small San Francisco beach gathering has drastically evolved over the years (the ceremonial Burning Man didn't burn, and the cops were called). The organizers behind Burning Man deny any affiliations of being a “music festival,” but, for all intents and purposes, this is the wildest music festival in the world.

Introduce “radical inclusion,” “radical self-expression,” and “decommodification” as tenets, and designate the alternative society as a free space, where sex and gender boundaries are fluid and meant to be transgressed. These ideas — the essence of Burning Man — are certainly appealing.

Yet capitalists also unironically love Burning Man, and to anyone who has followed the recent history of Burning Man, the idea that it is at all anticapitalist seems absurd: last year, a venture capitalist billionaire threw a $16,500-per-head party at the festival, his camp a hyper-exclusive affair replete with wristbands and models flown in to keep the guests company.

Burning Man is earning a reputation as a “networking event” among Silicon Valley techies, and tech magazines now send reporters to cover it. CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Larry Page of Alphabet are foaming fans, along with conservative anti-tax icon Grover Norquist and many writers of the libertarian (and Koch-funded) Reason magazine. Tesla CEO Elon Musk even went so far as to claim that Burning Man “is Silicon Valley.”

New York Times:
There are two disciplines in which Silicon Valley entrepreneurs excel above almost everyone else. The first is making exorbitant amounts of money. The second is pretending they don’t care about that money. To understand this, let’s enter into evidence Exhibit A: the annual Burning Man festival in Black Rock City, Nevada.

Over the last two years, Burning Man, which this year runs from Aug. 25 to Sept. 1, has been the annual getaway for a new crop of millionaire and billionaire technology moguls, many of whom are one-upping one another in a secret game of I-can-spend-more-money-than-you-can and, some say, ruining it for everyone else.

Some of the biggest names in technology have been making the pilgrimage to the desert for years, happily blending in unnoticed. These include Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the Google founders, and Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon. But now a new set of younger rich techies are heading east, including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, employees from Twitter, Zynga and Uber, and a slew of khaki-wearing venture capitalists. There's also instagram proof that famous people like Katy Perry, Jared Leto, Diddy, and Susan Sarandon are just as weird as the rest of us.

“Anyone who has been going to Burning Man for the last five years is now seeing things on a level of expense or flash that didn’t exist before,” said Brian Doherty, author of the book This Is Burning Man. “It does have this feeling that, ‘Oh, look, the rich people have moved into my neighborhood.’ It’s gentrifying.”

The weeklong Burning Man festival takes place once a year over Labor Day weekend in a remote alkali flat in northwestern Nevada. Two hours north of Reno, the inhospitable Black Rock Desert seems a poor place to create a temporary sixty-thousand-person city — and yet that’s entirely the point. On the desert playa, an alien world is created and then dismantled within the span of a month. The festival culminates with the deliberate burning of a symbolic effigy, the titular “man,” a wooden sculpture around a hundred feet tall.

Burning Man grew from unpretentious origins: a group of artists and hippies came together to burn an effigy at Baker Beach in San Francisco, and in 1990 set out to have the same festival in a place where the cops wouldn’t hassle them about unlicensed pyrotechnics. The search led them to the Black Rock Desert.

Burning Man is very much a descendent of the counterculture San Francisco of yesteryear, and possesses the same sort of libertine, nudity-positive spirit. Some of the early organizers of the festival professed particular admiration for the Situationists, the group of French leftists whose manifestos and graffitied slogans like “Never Work” became icons of the May 1968 upsurge in France.

Though the Situationists were always a bit ideologically opaque, one of their core beliefs was that cities had become oppressive slabs of consumption and labor, and needed to be reimagined as places of play and revolt. Hence, much of their art involved cutting up and reassembling maps, and consuming intoxicants while wandering about in Paris. You can feel traces of the Situationists when walking through Black Rock City, Burning Man’s ephemeral village.

It might seem silly to quibble over the lack of democracy in the “governance” of Black Rock City. After all, why should we care whether Jeff Bezos has commissioned a giant metal unicorn or a giant metal pirate ship, or whether Tananbaum wants to spend $2 million on an air-conditioned camp? But the principles of these tech scions — that societies are created through charity, and that the true “world-builders” are the rich and privileged — don’t just play out in the Burning Man fantasy world. They carry over into the real world, often with less-than-positive results.

It is a society that we find ourselves moving closer towards the other 358 (non–Burning Man) days of the year: with a decaying social welfare state, more and more public amenities exist only as the result of the hyper-wealthy donating them. But when the commons are donated by the wealthy, rather than guaranteed by membership in society, the democratic component of civic society is vastly diminished and placed in the hands of the elite few who gained their wealth by using their influence to cut taxes and gut the social welfare state in the first place.

More information:
» Mark Day's "24 Hours at Burning Man 2014 Edition" Video
» Huffington Post: Burning Man Critics Miss the Point
» SFGate: "Burning Man Becomes a Hotspot for Tech Titans"

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Hero: Carl Sagan

How Stuff Works:
Before Neil deGrasse Tyson, there was Carl Sagan. Handsome, articulate and witty, Sagan wasn't a man about town. He was a man about the cosmos. A tireless proponent of the universe, he was a pioneer in bridging the gap between science and nonscientists.

He was a giant among his peers, too. Sagan received 22 honorary degrees from colleges and universities throughout the U.S., published more than 600 scientific papers and articles, authored best-selling books and hosted a record-breaking public television series, "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage," a 13-part series that originally aired in 1980 on PBS. For 10 years, it was the channel's most-watched show in the U.S. until "The Civil War." The series won three Primetime Emmy Awards, a Hugo Award and a Peabody Award in 1981. Thanks to 500 million fans tuning in from 60 different countries, "Cosmos" still reigns as the world's most-watched series from American public television.

He discovered how Venus was heated -- through the greenhouse effect (something scientists later learned also happened on Earth) and that the red color of Mars came from windstorm dust rather than vegetation. NASA explorations eventually proved he was right.

Sagan was born in 1934 and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1960 with a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics, then taught at Harvard and Cornell, where he became the director of Cornell's Laboratory for Planetary Studies and the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences.

Some of Sagan's most memorable contributions occurred outside the classroom. During the 1950s and 1960s, he was NASA's astronaut whisperer. He offered advice to the Apollo crew before their journeys to the moon and conceived experiments for other planetary expeditions, including an interstellar record designed to greet the unknown inhabitants of deep space.

When Sagan died of pneumonia while battling bone marrow disease in 1996, he left behind a vast library of his life's work in the home he and his family had inhabited during the 1980s. The Seth McFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive opened to the public at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., in November 2013, the same month Sagan would have celebrated his 79th birthday.

On a more humorous note, scientists have paid tribute to Sagan's deathless phrase (that he never said) "billions and billions," by naming a unit of measurement after him. The sagan is a number equal to at least 4 billion.

Crafted a Universal Message to Aliens
In 1977, two NASA spacecraft left Earth's orbit to afford scientists a closer look at Jupiter and Saturn. And then these celestial-bound twin craft did something even more extraordinary: They transported our message to the universe.

The spacecraft were part of the Voyager Interstellar Mission, and each carried a gold-plated disc designed to survive for a billion years in the hopes an alien civilization might receive it as a greeting. The recorded sounds spanned many possibilities, including the first words uttered to a newborn, greetings in 59 different languages, and music from new and ancient civilizations.

It was Sagan who came up with the idea to add a message to the universe, a "bottle cast into the cosmic ocean," as he put it. Although Sagan's voice isn't heard on the record, he was certainly a part of its creation.

The recording also captured one of science's most famous love stories, the one between Sagan and the project's creative director, Ann Druyan. The sensation of falling in love was so strong, Druyan had the electrical impulses of her brain and nervous system recorded so that it could be turned into music and placed on the Voyagers' recorded greeting when the spacecraft were launched into space on Aug. 20, 1977.

In 1981, Sagan and Druyan were married, and remained together until Sagan's death 15 years later.

Mentored Neil deGrasse Tyson
What may seem simple to one person often becomes profound to another. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the quick-witted astrophysicist, well known for hosting the 2014 version of the "Cosmos" series, received some valuable life lessons from Sagan as a high school senior.

Back on Dec. 20, 1975, Tyson traveled by bus from New York City to Cornell University to meet Carl Sagan. A busy author, astronomer and professor, Sagan had personally extended Tyson an invitation to visit after seeing his college application to Cornell, where he spoke about his enthusiasm for the stars.

"I already knew I wanted to become a scientist," Tyson would later say, "but that afternoon I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to become."

After the personal tour of his lab, Sagan dropped Tyson off at the bus depot. As the snow was getting heavier, he told Tyson to call him if the bus was delayed so he could spend the night at his house.

Although Tyson opted to attend Harvard for his undergraduate education, Sagan's influence remained strong.

"To this day," Tyson said during an interview, "I have this duty to respond to students who are inquiring about the universe as a career path, to respond to them in the way that Carl Sagan had responded to me."

Has An Asteroid Named After Him
In 1994, Eleanor Helin, an expert at discovering asteroids, named her most recent finding (asteroid 4970) "Asteroid Druyan." The asteroid, named after Sagan's wife, Ann Druyan, was locked in an eternal orbit with another notable heavenly body: "Asteroid 2709 Sagan," the asteroid earlier named after Sagan. This was a wonderful birthday present and expression of love.

Made Turtlenecks His Signature Look
In March 2014, the "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" exhibit opened at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C. The display showcased clips from the show reboot, as well as memorabilia from current host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and original host, Carl Sagan. Among the items was an article so iconic, it is forever linked to Sagan's persona: one of his signature turtlenecks. On Carl Sagan Day, an unofficial annual holiday on Nov. 9, the anniversary of his birth, Sagan fans are encouraged to wear a turtleneck sweater with a brown jacket -- and to "celebrate the beauty and wonder of the cosmos he so eloquently described."

Condoned Medical Marijuana Use
Perhaps taking the meaning of "high in the sky" to another level, Sagan secretly (then not-so-secretly) advocated that marijuana use was beneficial. In an essay he authored in 1969 at age 35 under the name "Mr. X," Sagan outlined marijuana's positive effects on his sensibilities. Marijuana, wrote Sagan, made music, art, food and sex better.

It wasn't until three years after Sagan's 1996 death that the author of "Carl Sagan: A Life," revealed him as the author of the pro-pot post. However, Sagan had already revealed himself as a marijuana advocate years earlier. During at least one interview, Sagan said he supported the legalized use of marijuana by the terminally ill.

"Is it rational to forbid patients who are dying from taking marijuana as a palliative to permit them to gain body weight and to get some food down? It seems madness to say, 'We're worried that they're going to become addicted to marijuana.' There's no evidence whatever that it's an addictive drug, but even if it were, these people are dying," Sagan said. "What are we saving them from?"

More information:
» National Geographic: "Carl Sagan and the Cosmos Legacy"

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Unplugging from Technology

The science of how always-on technology impacts human behavior hasn’t been extensively explored—maybe because we’re still in the dawning of the information age. But some studies have been done, and the results are distressing. Researchers have found that social media might promote narcissism, smartphones could be causing insomnia, and screens seem to be making our kids less empathetic.

“Our brains will always be seduced by the high stimuli [of constant connectivity] because of the dopamine that it provides," Blumberg explained in another interview. "It's really similar to having ADHD.”

The Solution
Levin suggests doing your daily activities (even digital ones, like social networking and emailing) at designated times. Your brain—and output—will be better for it.

“Increasing creativity will happen naturally as we tame the multitasking and immerse ourselves in a single task for sustained periods of, say, 30 to 50 minutes,” he wrote in the Times. And when you’re not plugged in? “Several studies have shown that a walk in nature or listening to music can trigger the mind-wandering mode. This acts as a neural reset button, and provides much needed perspective on what you’re doing."

That’s helpful when the goal is being able to disregard a stimulus that isn’t that important. Even what might feel like doing nothing gives our brains the much needed break from technology required for problem solving and making an impact on the world. Levin explains, "daydreaming leads to creativity, and creative activities teach us agency, the ability to change the world, to mold it to our liking, to have a positive effect on our environment."

Using unplugged time to pursue your hobbies or passions can have enormous benefits, too. Levin says that "music, for example, turns out to be an effective method for improving attention, building up self-confidence, social skills and a sense of engagement." You might want to reconsider those guitar lessons you’ve always wanted to take.

Music isn’t the only way. The ultimate goal is to increase our human potential, and to do that all we have to do is pause. Put down the iPhone, stop staring at the screen, and ignore the timeline for a bit.

"Taking breaks is biologically restorative. Naps are even better," Levin concludes. "In several studies, a nap of even 10 minutes improved cognitive function and vigor, and decreased sleepiness and fatigue. If we can train ourselves to take regular vacations—true vacations without work—and to set aside time for naps and contemplation, we will be in a more powerful position to start solving some of the world’s big problems. And to be happier and well rested while we’re doing it."

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"Preseason Record Doesn't Reflect Regular-Season Success"

"At the end of the day, breakout preseason performances must be judged individually; there are just too many variables that go into teams and players. Even with eye-popping stats or unexpected play, some of these standout players get stuck behind an established superstar or starter and rarely see the field after making waves in the preseason. Some can't live up to the hype and reproduce that same level of performance. Some shoot to the top of the depth chart and never look back. Some don't even make the team. Bottom line? Don't feel bad about getting overly excited about a player in the preseason, because anything can happen once the real games start."
USA Today:
In 1978, the NFL added four "preseason" games that have no bearing on each team's eventual win-loss record ahead of the 16 regular-season games. Preseason games are widely seen as a chance for coaches to practice plays, scrubs to make the team and veterans to risk injuries [and for owners to charge high-priced tickets while the players don't get paid regular season game money].

Coaches are reluctant to play their best players or show off their offensive and defensive schemes. No one wants to get hurt. The end result looks like football, but without consequence or passion.

A study in the current Journal of Sports Economics by economists Nancy Ammon Jianakoplos and Martin Shields of Colorado State University raises questions about whether the games offer fans any insights into their team's Super Bowl chances.

"Our main finding is that, although we confirm the significance of preseason winning as a predictor of regular season winning previously found in the 1970-1991 period, we are unable to find any statistical evidence that preseason winning percentage or winning the third game of the preseason provides any preview of NFL team performance in the regular season in the most recent 2002-2010 seasons."

The team extended its analysis to bridge seasons from 1970 to 2010 and account for schedule strength. They find that, "preseason NFL performance lost its impact beginning with the 1994 season."

"These results serve to confirm the view of many fans and even the commissioner of the NFL, who have expressed discontent with the quality of preseason NFL performance. Although preseason games may provide opportunities for players new to the NFL to experience game-time experience and offer the coaching staff more information on the performance capabilities of new players, winning preseason games does not directly translate into better overall team performance in the regular season. The preseason does offer the owners additional revenue and put the players at added risk for injury."

Kirk Cousins, Washington
Preseason: 35 of 54 (64.8 percent) for 370 yards, 4 TD to 1 INT, 101.6 QB rating
Season: 126 of 204 (61.8 percent) for 1,710 yards, 10 TD to 9 INT, 86.4 QB rating

Cousins had a very promising preseason, including a 14-of-20 effort with 122 yards and two touchdowns against the Ravens that fueled the argument that Cousins should be starting over Robert Griffin III. However, when he grabbed the starting job in Week 2, after RG3 dislocated his ankle, he wasn't able to hold on to the job because of too many turnovers (nine picks and two lost fumbles). Colt McCoy took over in Week 8; Cousins didn't throw another pass all year.

Since 2003, nine teams wrapped up the August schedule 4-0 and only four of them produced winning record in the fall. There have been 24 division winners in three years (2004-2007) and the number of those teams that had a winning record in the preseason: 4.

The Colts won four straight AFC South titles, and their preseason record during that four-year run is 5-12. The Eagles have won the NFC East three of the last four years; during those championship seasons, they managed to deliver a combined 4-9 summer record. The Panthers have gone undefeated in the preseason in three of four years and only once in those three years (2003) did it translate into a division title. The only year they didn't go undefeated in the dress rehearsal season was 2005 when they finished at 2-2. And they made the playoffs that year as a wild card.

Enjoy the third weekend of preseason football but don't draw any conclusions about the regular season from what you see on the scoreboard. Did the Saints' 1-3 record in the 2006 preseason leave anyone thinking they would be the story of the year in the NFL?

Sporting Chart:
We decided to compare the winning percentage of the preseason of the team to the performance of that team in the regular season for every team over the last 10 season, which gave us a sample size of 320 team seasons.

When comparing the records, we found that there was no correlation between the performance of the preseason to the regular season. Statistically, the correlation between the winning percentage of a team in the preseason and their winning percentage in the regular season is 0.0944 - values between -0.1 and +0.1 suggest no correlation between two variables.

In conclusion, based on the analysis above, the preseason record of a team, provides very little insight into the performance of the team during the regular season - when it counts.

New York Times:
A strong preseason performance in the N.F.L. not only does not predict a good season, it could actually be a sign of a bad one. In the last 10 years, 18 teams have been unbeaten and untied in preseason play. Those teams went on to post a combined regular-season record of only 130-158.

The teams that were perfect in the preseason also did not improve from the previous season, declining by a total of 23½ games, dropping more than one win per team.

In some cases, a good preseason did herald a successful year. The Broncos parlayed a perfect preseason in 2005 into a 13-3 record, and the 2013 Seahawks won the Super Bowl after a 4-0 preseason.

But more often, the preseason wonders flopped when the games started to count. In 2013, the Redskins, who had won 10 games the previous season, fell to 3-13. The 2011 Rams won all four games in the preseason, then went on to win just two regular-season games.

The most egregious case was the 2008 Lions. They swept through the preseason, outscoring their four opponents by 80-32. Among their victims were the Giants, who would go 12-4 that year. The Lions fell apart in the regular season. Trying out Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky and Daunte Culpepper as starting quarterbacks, Detroit staggered to the league’s first 0-16 record.

In contrast to the summertime highfliers, eventual Super Bowl champions generally had undistinguished preseasons. Even with the 2013 Seahawks’ 4-0 record, the winners of the last 10 Super Bowls have posted a combined preseason record of only 23-17.

Preseason games have value to fringe players, coaches, and teams’ bottom lines. And last year showed that the preseason can indicate whether a new quarterback is likely to succeed. But in general, the prevailing wisdom about the preseason is correct. A great record is not a great sign for the future.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Noah Gunderson - "Halo (Disappear/Reappear)"

Noah Gundersen’s new album Carry The Ghost was just released last month, and while the release is filled with examples of Gundersen’s intense lyricism and a strong songwriting, standout track “Halo (Disappear/Reappear)” seems to keep coming up.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Who Cares About Goodell, The Patriots Are Cheaters

"Interviews by ESPN The Magazine and Outside the Lines with more than 90 league officials, owners, team executives and coaches, current and former Patriots coaches, staffers and players, and reviews of previously undisclosed private notes from key meetings, show that Spygate is the centerpiece of a long, secret history between Goodell's NFL, which declined comment for this story, and Kraft's Patriots. The diametrically opposed way the inquiries were managed by Goodell -- and, more importantly, perceived by his bosses -- reveals much about how and why NFL punishment is often dispensed. The widespread perception that Goodell gave the Patriots a break on Spygate, followed by the NFL's stonewalling of a potential congressional investigation into the matter, shaped owners' expectations of what needed to be done by 345 Park Ave. on Deflategate. It was, one owner says, time for 'a makeup call.'"


His bosses were furious. Roger Goodell knew it. So on April 1, 2008, the NFL commissioner convened an emergency session of the league's spring meeting at The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. Attendance was limited to each team's owner and head coach. A palpable anger and frustration had rumbled inside club front offices since the opening Sunday of the 2007 season. During the first half of the New England Patriots' game against the New York Jets at Giants Stadium, a 26-year-old Patriots video assistant named Matt Estrella had been caught on the sideline, illegally videotaping Jets coaches' defensive signals, beginning the scandal known as Spygate.

The practice of decoding signals was universal in football -- a single stolen signal can change a game -- with advance scouts jotting down notes, then matching the signal to the play. The Patriots created a novel spying system that made the decoding more dependable.

Behind closed doors, Goodell addressed what he called "the elephant in the room" and, according to sources at the meeting, turned over the floor to Robert Kraft. Then 66, the billionaire Patriots owner stood and apologized for the damage his team had done to the league and the public's confidence in pro football. Kraft talked about the deep respect he had for his 31 fellow owners and their shared interest in protecting the NFL's shield. Witnesses would later say Kraft's remarks were heartfelt, his demeanor chastened. For a moment, he seemed to well up.

Then the Patriots' coach, Bill Belichick, the cheating program's mastermind, spoke. He said he had merely misinterpreted a league rule, explaining that he thought it was legal to videotape opposing teams' signals as long as the material wasn't used in real time. Few in the room bought it. Belichick said he had made a mistake -- "my mistake."

Now it was Goodell's turn. The league office lifer, then 49 years old, had been commissioner just 18 months, promoted, in part, because of Kraft's support. His audience wanted to know why he had managed his first crisis in a manner at once hasty and strangely secretive. Goodell had imposed a $500,000 fine on Belichick, a $250,000 fine on the team and the loss of a first-round draft pick just four days after league security officials had caught the Patriots and before he'd even sent a team of investigators to Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Those investigators hadn't come up empty: Inside a room accessible only to Belichick and a few others, they found a library of scouting material containing videotapes of opponents' signals, with detailed notes matching signals to plays for many teams going back seven seasons. Among them were handwritten diagrams of the defensive signals of the Pittsburgh Steelers, including the notes used in the January 2002 AFC Championship Game won by the Patriots 24-17. Yet almost as quickly as the tapes and notes were found, they were destroyed, on Goodell's orders: League executives stomped the tapes into pieces and shredded the papers inside a Gillette Stadium conference room.

And that was it. The inquiry was over, with only Belichick and Adams knowing the true scope of the taping. (After the season, Belichick would acknowledge the Patriots taped a "significant number" of games, and according to documents and sources, they recorded signals in at least 40 games during the Spygate era.) The quick resolution mollified some owners and executives, who say they admired the speed -- and limited transparency -- in which Goodell carried out the investigation. "This is the way things should be done ... the way they were done under Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue," a former executive now says. "Keep the dirty laundry in the family."

To many owners and coaches, the expediency of the NFL's investigation -- and the Patriots' and Goodell's insistence that no games were tilted by the spying -- seemed dubious. It reminded them of something they had seen before from the league and Patriots: At least two teams had caught New England videotaping their coaches' signals in 2006, yet the league did nothing. Further, NFL competition committee members had, over the years, fielded numerous allegations about New England breaking an array of rules. Still nothing. Now the stakes had gotten much higher: Spygate's unanswered questions and destroyed evidence had managed to seize the attention of a hard-charging U.S. senator, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who was threatening a congressional investigation. This would put everyone -- players, coaches, owners and the commissioner -- under oath, a prospect that some in that room at The Breakers believed could threaten the foundation of the NFL.

But other owners, coaches, team executives and players were outraged by how little the league investigated what the Patriots' cheating had accomplished in games. The NFL refused to volunteer information -- teams that had been videotaped were not officially notified by the league office, sources say -- and some executives were told that the tapes were burned in a dumpster, not crushed into pieces in a conference room. The NFL's explanation of why it was destroyed -- "So that our clubs would know they no longer exist and cannot be used by anyone," the league said at the time -- only made it worse for those who were critical. "I wish the evidence had not been destroyed because at least we would know what had been done," Polian says. "Lack of specificity just leads to speculation, and that serves no one's purpose -- the Patriots included."

The view around much of the league was that Goodell had done a major favor for Kraft, one of his closest confidants who had extended critical support when he became the commissioner the previous summer. Kraft is a member of the NFL's three-person compensation committee, which each year determines Goodell's salary and bonuses -- $35 million in 2013, and nearly $44.2 million in 2012. "It felt like this enormous break was given to the Patriots," a former exec says.

They were also angry at Belichick -- partly, some admit, out of jealousy for his success but also because of the widespread rumors that he was always pushing the envelope. The narrative that paralleled the Patriots' rise -- a team mostly void of superstars, built not to blow out opponents but to win the game's handful of decisive plays -- only increased rivals' suspicions. After all, the Patriots had won three Super Bowls by a total of nine points. Although Belichick admitted to Kraft that the taping had helped them only 1 percent of the time ("Then you're a real schmuck," Kraft told him), the spying very well could have affected a game, opponents say. "Why would they go to such great lengths for so long to do it and hide it if it didn't work?" a longtime former executive says. "It made no sense."

AS THE PATRIOTS became a dynasty and Belichick became the first coach to win three Super Bowls in four years, an entire system of covert videotaping was developed and a secret library created. "It got out of control," a former Patriots assistant coach says. Sources with knowledge of the system say an advance scout would attend the games of upcoming Patriots opponents and assemble a spreadsheet of all the signals and corresponding plays. The scout would give it to Belichick's consigliere Ernie Adams, who would spend most of the week in his office with the door closed, matching the notes to the tapes filmed from the sideline. Files were created, organized by opponent and by coach. During games, employee Matt Walsh later told investigators, the Patriots' videographers were told to look like media members, to tape over their team logos or turn their sweatshirt inside out, to wear credentials that said Patriots TV or Kraft Productions. The videographers also were provided with excuses for what to tell NFL security if asked what they were doing: Tell them you're filming the quarterbacks. Or the kickers. Or footage for a team show.

As much as the Patriots tried to keep the circle of those who knew about the taping small, sometimes the team would add recently cut players from upcoming opponents and pay them only to help decipher signals, former Patriots staffers say. In 2005, for instance, they signed a defensive player from a team they were going to play in the upcoming season. Before that game, the player was led to a room where Adams was waiting. They closed the door, and Adams played a compilation tape that matched the signals to the plays from the player's former team, and asked how many were accurate. "He had about 50 percent of them right," the player says now.

During games, Adams sat in the coaches' box, with binoculars and notes of decoded signals, wearing a headset with a direct audio line to Belichick. Whenever Adams saw an opposing coach's signal he recognized, he'd say something like, "Watch for the Two Deep Blitz," and either that information was relayed to Brady or a play designed specifically to exploit the defense was called. A former Patriots employee who was directly involved in the taping system says "it helped our offense a lot," especially in divisional games in which there was a short amount of time between the first and second matchups, making it harder for opposing coaches to change signals.

Still, some of the coaches who were with the Patriots during the Spygate years debate the system's effectiveness. One coach who was in the booth with Adams says it didn't work because Adams was "horrible" and "never had the calls right."

In fact, many former New England coaches and employees insist that the taping of signals wasn't even the most effective cheating method the Patriots deployed in that era. Several of them acknowledge that during pregame warm-ups, a low-level Patriots employee would sneak into the visiting locker room and steal the play sheet, listing the first 20 or so scripted calls for the opposing team's offense. (The practice became so notorious that some coaches put out fake play sheets for the Patriots to swipe.) Numerous former employees say the Patriots would have someone rummage through the visiting team hotel for playbooks or scouting reports. Walsh later told investigators that he was once instructed to remove the labels and erase tapes of a Patriots practice because the team had illegally used a player on injured reserve. At Gillette Stadium, the scrambling and jamming of the opponents' coach-to-quarterback radio line -- "small s---" that many teams do, according to a former Pats assistant coach -- occurred so often that one team asked a league official to sit in the coaches' box during the game and wait for it to happen. Sure enough, on a key third down, the headset went out.

But the truth is, only one man truly knows how much Spygate, or any other suspect method, affected games: Belichick.

It didn't matter that the Patriots went 18-1 in 2007. Or that they would average more wins a season after Spygate than before. Or that Belichick would come to be universally recognized as his generation's greatest coach. Or that many with the Patriots remain mystified at the notion that a historic penalty was somehow perceived to be lenient. The Patriots were forever branded as cheaters -- an asterisk, in the view of many fans, forever affixed to their wins. The NFL was all too aware of the damage baseball had suffered because of the steroids scandal, its biggest stars and most cherished records tarnished. After Spygate made headlines, rumors that had existed for years around the NFL that the Patriots had cheated in the Super Bowl that had propelled their run, against the Rams, were beginning to boil to the surface, threatening everything. "I don't think fans really want to know this -- they just want to watch football," the Panthers source says. "But if you tell them that the games aren't on the level, they'll care. Boy, will they care."

At his pre-Super Bowl news conference on Feb. 1, 2008, Goodell insisted the Patriots' taping was "quite limited" and "not something done on a widespread basis," contradicting what Belichick had told him. Goodell was asked how many tapes the league had reviewed, and destroyed, the previous September. "I believe there were six tapes," the commissioner replied, "and I believe some were from the preseason in 2007, and the rest were primarily in the late 2006 season."

All the negative headlines certainly haven't affected the league's bottom line -- total revenues and TV ratings continue to shatter records. The NFL's annual revenue, racing toward $15 billion, is the most important metric that Goodell's bosses use to judge his performance, several owners and executives say.


Goodell had just upheld the four-game suspension he had leveled in early May against quarterback Tom Brady for a new Patriots cheating scandal known as Deflategate. An NFL-commissioned investigation, led by lawyer Ted Wells, after four months had concluded it "was more probable than not" that Brady had been "at least generally aware" that the Patriots' footballs used in the AFC Championship Game held this year had been deflated to air pressure levels below what the league allowed. Goodell deemed the Patriots and Brady "guilty of conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of football," the league's highest crime, and punished the franchise and its marquee player.

From the beginning, though, Goodell managed Deflategate in the opposite way he tried to dispose of Spygate. He announced a lengthy investigation and, in solidarity with many owners, outsourced it to Wells, whose law firm had defended the NFL during the mammoth concussions litigation. In an inquiry lasting four months and costing at least $5 million, according to sources, Ted Wells and his team conducted 66 interviews with Patriots staffers and league officials. Wells, who declined to comment, also plumbed cellphone records and text messages.

In his 40-page decision on Sept. 3 that vacated Brady's suspension over Deflategate, Judge Richard M. Berman rebuked Goodell and the NFL, saying that the commissioner had "dispensed his own brand of industrial justice." Columnists, analysts and even some NFL players immediately pounced, racing to proclaim that Goodell finally had suffered a crushing, perhaps legacy-defining defeat. From the Saints' Bountygate scandal through Deflategate, Goodell is 0-5 on appeals of his high-profile disciplinary decisions.

After an investigation, the NFL determined Brady and two ball boys conspired to deflate footballs in New England's 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in last season's AFC Championship Game. Brady was suspended four games, then appealed the suspension to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who upheld the suspension. Brady is now appealing the decision in federal court.

During the appeal hearing, it was revealed that Brady, instead of turning his cellphone over to investigators, handed over emails and texts but destroyed the actual phone shortly before he was scheduled to be questioned in the probe.

Houston Texans owner Bob McNair also shared his impressions of various parties' roles in the Deflategate investigation.

"I think we could have handled it better, I think the Patriots could have handled it better, I think Brady could have handled it better," he said.

"You know, when you look back on it, if Brady had just said, 'Look, my guys know I like a softer ball, and that's what I like, and so they do it. But I don't go out and check the pressure of the balls.' ... I don't think there would have been an issue," McNair continued. "It would have been a problem with the guys on the training staff who deflated the balls, and the Patriots would have got some kind of minor penalty; it wouldn't have been a big deal."

A nearly $5 million investigation, the introduction of climate science and a public tirade by Patriots owner Bob Kraft only added to the confusion. Those with a bit of distance -- i.e., NFL players from other teams -- appear to see it as a wild overreaction, even if every bit of it is true.

ESPN's NFL Nation reporters and ESPN The Magazine contributors polled more than 100 players (not every player answered every question) and found a similarly sensible consensus. While 72 percent of respondents believe the Patriots were responsible for lowering air pressure of the footballs, only 16 percent said they were "upset" by it and 68 percent said they think other teams do the same thing. Sixty percent said the Patriots aren't "cheaters."

Quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension would be too long, according to nearly 80 percent of the players. So it's no surprise that 88 percent said league discipline should not be determined solely by commissioner Roger Goodell. Deflategate landed in federal court largely because the NFL, Brady and the Patriots couldn't agree on how serious it was.

More information:
» "After All These Years"
» ESPN: "The Persecution of Patriots Nation"
» Sporting News: Deflategate Timeline
» Sporting News: "Miss America winner claims Tom Brady was a cheater" (not exactly)
» CNN: Tom Brady Endorses Donald Trump

Monday, September 7, 2015

Labor Day 2015: VT Tries to Drop a Deuce on Ohio State

UPDATE: "Braxton Miller has clearly found a new home at wide receiver, and No. 1 Ohio State has found another dangerous weapon. Miller scored two touchdowns -- one on a 54-yard catch-and-run where he had to tiptoe down the sideline, the other on an electrifying 53-yard run -- and the star-studded Buckeyes began their title defense with a 42-24 victory over Virginia Tech on Monday night. The Buckeyes avenged a 35-21 home loss to Virginia Tech last season and earned their 14th straight win overall. The Hokies, meanwhile, lost more than the game, with quarterback Michael Brewer shelved by a broken left collarbone that stalled any hope of a comeback."
CBS Sports:
The Associated Press released its preseason Top 25 on Sunday, and the question wasn't if Ohio State would be ranked No. 1; the question was how many first-place votes the defending national champion would receive.

In the end, the answer was: all of them. Urban Meyer's team became the first-ever unanimous preseason AP No. 1, with all 61 voters placing the Buckeyes first on their ballots. In 66 years of the AP's preseason balloting dating back to 1950, no team had ever received more than 97 percent of the first-place votes.

TCU, Alabama, Baylor and Michigan State rounded out the top five. Those rankings mark the highest-ever preseason ranking for the Horned Frogs and Bears and the highest for the Spartans since 1967.

Washington Post:
The game meets all of the criteria. The defending national champions are “by far” the country’s best team, Beamer said. There has been an eight-month buildup to the season opener, and it will be nationally televised on Labor Day, the only college football game that night. That Virginia Tech dealt Ohio State its lone loss last year only adds to the intrigue.

“Clemson, Texas, Alabama, LSU, Nebraska, Texas A&M, Miami, Florida State,” Beamer said. “But the one thing that we’ve never had is beating a number one team in the country.” Virginia Tech is 0-8 against top-ranked teams.

You might think there is no way no-how that Ohio State can resume the continued scoring pace from the back half of last season, which the Buckeyes put up a 59, a 55, a 49 and four 42s in eight games.

You might think again. The master schemer Urban Meyer has had the entire offseason to concoct ways to deploy his former three-headed quarterback composite of Candale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller.

They were reduced to two when Miller, who started before the others at QB, transitioned to wide receiver. By the way, reports indicate he has adjusted with ease.

Meyer has kept the world -- and, specifically, Virginia Tech -- in the dark on whether Jones or Barrett. That complicates preparations for veteran Tech coach Frank Beamer, who knows defense. But much of the game-planning has been guesswork on which quarterback(s) will play and if Miller will be used innovatively.

If this were a midseason matchup, Tech could stay within reach. However, the difference in these two offenses is vast -- the Buckeyes ranked fifth in scoring and eight in yardage last season, miles above Tech's placement of 97th and 106th -- and the Beamers cannot score enough to keep up.

When you mix firepower with unpredictability, you are dangerous. That depicts the Buckeyes offense, which should score enough to overcome the 11 points they are giving Tech. The SportsLine Projection Model (B grade) is on the same page at OSU -11.

If the Hokies can make lightning strike twice and beat Ohio State on Labor Day, the team's season would be completely transformed once more. But an equally large factor to consider in the matter is putting on a show for the recruits in attendance. Of the 2016 class, 12 of the team's 16 commits will be on hand to do a little recruiting and soak in the scene in Blacksburg.

After intensive efforts reaching out to Tech recruits and verbal commitments, The Key Play has been able to confirm that more than 30 prospects will be on hand to watch the Hokies against the Buckeyes Monday night. The bulk of the program's 2016 recruiting class should be in attendance; their names are denoted with an asterisk below.

When all is said and done, the gap between Ohio State's and Virginia Tech's offenses should be much, much wider than the gap between the team's defenses -- which, of course, is why one team is the defending national champion and a two touchdown favorite, and the other isn't. But the home-field advantage, the Buckeyes' missing receivers, and the Hokies' defensive excellence mean the game could come down to one bounce of the ball all the same. And as well all learned in this same matchup last year, there's no guarantee that bounce will go the way of the "better" team.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Throwback: When Flash Mobs Were Cool

On February 24, 2007, New York's Grand Central Terminal came to halt. 207 performers suddenly froze in place, surprising tourists and commuters in the main concourse.

On September 2, 2009 almost 14,000 people danced to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" in Mexico.

A compilation including a 2010 Singaporean commercial for Changi airport.

In September 2010, to introduce the new Fiat 500c, Leo Burnett Amsterdam organized a bikini flash mob in the centre of Amsterdam.

On July 31, 2011 around 2,000 people danced to Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" in front of city hall during Bayonne's festival in France.

On November 22nd, 2011, approximately 100 dancers from Community-Minded Dance (cmDance) performed a Lindy Hop to a medley of Swing classics in Denver International Airport.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Jake Owen - "Real Life"

Jake Owen told Billboard and Rolling Stone that the idea for the song came when he discussed his favorite artists with songwriter-producers Shane McAnally and Ross Copperman, mentioning Sublime and Sugar Ray in particular. He also said that he wanted to record a song that differed from his usual beach-related themes, such as "Beachin'" or "The One That Got Away", and that he wanted McAnally and Copperman to give him a song about "real-life situations". McAnally and Copperman, who produced the song, wrote it with Ashley Gorley and Josh Osborne.

According to Owen, the song is thematically about how "In a world of materialistic things, everybody is constantly looking for what they don't have, as opposed to looking for what's real and what you have right in front of you. That's what 'What We Ain't Got' touched on…'Real Life' is about what we've got and what's real to us."

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Most Dysfunctional Team in the League, Part IV

"Washington picked up RGIII’s fifth-year contract option for 2016, but it is guaranteed for $16.1 million for injury only. If things don’t change this season, they can cut him before the start of the next league year and not owe him a thing. But if he gets injured this season and requires the offseason to recover, his 2016 contract becomes guaranteed. That could also scare off some teams interested in trading for Griffin."
As far back as I can recall, Washington has sucked, because Washington is supposed to suck, and that’s why Robert Griffin III’s rookie year made no fucking sense at all. Fuck a jinx; we had Black Jesus! It wasn’t just that we were winning, but how. It’s important here to stress how bad Washington was this season, so that maybe you understand how so, so impossibly good RGIII was.

Griffin lit up the league in his rookie season, gaining 3,200 yards through the air and adding another 815 yards on the ground, scoring a total of 27 touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl and won AP offensive rookie of the year. According to Doug Drinen’s Approximate Value metric, which assigns a single numerical value on any player’s season, at any position, from any year, Griffin’s 2012 campaign was the second most successful since 1970, narrowly behind Cam Newton’s coming out party the year before.

I remember, in these moments, being almost moved to tears with joy and disbelief that we had him for the next decade. Even then, even as I was screaming and laughing, my stomach would roil unexpectedly. There was no doubt that RGIII was a Hall of Famer, at the very least the best player to ever don a Washington jersey. I felt guilty, then, as if I was voyeuristically experiencing happiness the fucking Redskins didn’t deserve, that I didn’t even deserve.

As far as I can recall, the RGIII that enraptured the nation’s capital died on the cold, wet ground in Landover against the Seahawks. Knee injuries are the nastiest in that they can rob you of some combination of your explosion, your speed, and your agility. Worse, they can take your confidence, your fearlessness, your spirit. It feels a bit revisionist to say now that RGIII was a raw prospect with limited tools, but perhaps his fall was always destined, and an athlete seemingly from the future was finally overtaken by the evolution of NFL defenses. Maybe, as it’s looked this preseason, his team stopped playing for him long ago, and his coach stopped protecting him, as well.

Maybe Snyder in fact traded the future of his franchise for one cinematic season, and without the ability to draft talent, Washington fell behind. Maybe it’s possible to connect Snyder’s many shortcomings and failures as a human, to those of head coach Jay Gruden, to RGIII and the organization they run. Shit, maybe it’s karma.

Barring an unfortunate occurrence, or a few, the QB for whom Dan Snyder mortgaged three future first-round draft picks and a second—the very future of the franchise—won’t take the field again this year. Barring one or some disasters, RGIII won’t be in Washington next year; it’s just as likely that his stint here ruined his career before it got started as it is he’ll go somewhere else and make the Hall of Fame. Either outcome will feel an indictment on the team he’s left behind.

Three years ago, RGIII came to DC to save a franchise and city in spite of themselves. He almost succeeded. Soon, he’ll be chased out of town, a trail of smolders and ash in his wake. I don’t think I’ll watch much football anymore, but the one thing I’ll always remember, for the rest of my life, are the days he set my city alight.

More information:
» USA Today: Under Dan Synder, "The Redskins Have Started 16 Quarterbacks in 16 Years"
» Washington Post: "The Redskins QB Yearbook, from 1999 to 2015"
» NBC Sports: Dr. Andrews says most players can't recover like Peterson, RGIII
» ESPN: Redskins in Trade Talks, Meeting Resistance from Ownership
» FanSided: "The opportunity cost of Robert Griffin III"