The Red Sox and the flu: Health care and the bottom of the pyramid

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, I'll have a post about Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler's book Abundance. Until then, I just want to borrow their concept of the bottom of the pyramid — the four billion or so people who are the world's poorest but could mean big bucks for someone willing to go in with cheap products.

One of the things that happens is, if you can get this group of people clothes and food and water and electricity and cell phones, they can solve more of the world's problems. If you're worried about clean water and where your next meal's coming from, you could be the world's top engineer and you can't help anybody because you have to feed yourself first.

It's the same reason they tell you on airplanes to put your oxygen mask on first before you help anyone else with theirs: If you can't breathe, you're not of much use in making good decisions for someone else.

OK, so there's the bottom of the pyramid. Let's look near the top of the pyramid: professional athletes in the U.S.

The Boston Red Sox are off to a slow offensive start to the baseball season. A lot of that is due to the fact that the starting lineup has been decimated by the flu.

These are pro athletes, so they're generally in really good shape. They're also by and large wealthy — minimum salary for someone on a Major League roster all year is over a half-million dollars (approach that number without judgment — just recognize it as a statistic in relation to other incomes in the US).

While healthy people do tend to get rid of the flu more quickly than unhealthy people, the flu doesn't give a crap about your bank account.

Doctors and insurance companies, however, might.

Whether you're making $535,000 or $10,000,000 as a member of the Red Sox, if you feel like garbage and miss several days' work, at least your family is going to be well-cared for and it's hardly a matter of life or death.

If you're closer to the bottom of the pyramid, as far as US workers are concerned, several days with the flu might mean you miss several days' pay and perhaps you get fired. Maybe your job doesn't offer health insurance. Maybe your family isn't going to get to eat, or turn on the heat or lights this week, whatever you choose to forgo.

The thing about the flu: It spreads. If you have the flu, you risk your family getting the flu. If you go into work, you risk spreading it to their coworkers, and they to their families. If you work a bottom-of-the-pyramid type of job, say, at a department store, you might get a few dozen people sick. If you work in a restaurant or grocery store, there's a good chance you'll get some customers sick.

But if you work those bottom-of-the-pyramid jobs, it's hard to not go to work. You risk a lot.

Still inside the first few months of a new presidential administration, a lot of people are looking for a change in our health care system. Leadership royally botched its first attempt.

My congressman replied to my letter to him (see the post linked in the preceding paragraph), pointing out the Congressional Budget Office said the American Health Care Act would have saved the federal government money.

Yes, I responded, but they also said it would leave 24 million (more) people uninsured. Some people call that "patient choice." It's really not a "choice" if you have to decide between spending three-quarters of your paycheck on insurance and having a home and food and such.

So what do we do for those folks who, once the Affordable Care Act is replaced, won't be able to afford health insurance and won't be able to afford to miss work?

I don't know the answer. We have lots of smart people who could be working on it, but I'm not convinced any of them are.

In the words of President Donald Trump, "sad."

Josh: The Podcast, Episode 52: Talkin’ baseball

We talk sports. Mostly baseball. Because baseball.

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Performing life as an act of love

This guy right here is a mixed martial arts fighter named Justin Wren.

This is also him.

Filming with Beyond Creative in Missouri today for a national Anti-bullying campaign in schools 🙂

A photo posted by Justin "The Viking" Wren (@thebigpygmy) on

And if you need a size comparison, he's the dude in jeans here, picking up that other giant fighter.

He's 28 years old, and is now fighting professionally for the first time in five years. That time off? It wasn't an injury. It wasn't a suspension. It was a time of building a life of love.

Let's look at more pictures. Like one of him tickling pygmy children in the Congo.

It's pretty easy to be the tickle fight champion when it's 2-1 #FightForTheForgotten

A photo posted by Justin "The Viking" Wren (@thebigpygmy) on

Or showing the pygmy people photos of themselves for the first time.

Seeing pics of themselves for the FIRST time! #fightfortheforgotten

A photo posted by Justin "The Viking" Wren (@thebigpygmy) on

Or having his hair done.

That's fun. Let's see video of that.

Or as long as we're sharing videos, how about the first time the people he's helping saw a white guy?

Wren quit fighting through what probably could have been his strongest years — his mid-20s — to start a nonprofit to help the Mbuti Pygmy people get clean water. Fight for the Forgotten and its partner, Water4, dig wells to draw clean water for a people who are enslaved. Workers go to the fields for oppressors to earn two bananas a day to share among families of four — it's just enough food to keep them healthy enough to work, and it keeps them coming back to work because they need the food.

These are people who are still using army ants to stitch wounds — they have the ants bite the wound, then break off the body, leaving the fangs in to act as staples.

Wren has suffered malaria, parasites and other tropical diseases. His organization employs 17 people full time, but has dismissed more than that to find the right people — people who can survive dense jungle for a month or two at a time, return to the U.S. for a couple of weeks to recover, then go back.

He's back to fighting so that he can raise further awareness, and he's a partner in a documentary on his journeys.

He was on Joe Rogan's podcast this week (he's been on before), and around the one hour, 20 minute mark, he renders Rogan pretty much speechless. It's really amazing listening to Wren talk with such passion and humility, especially while Rogan explains to him that in a few generations, he's going to enter tribal mythology. As a giant, white, hairy myth.


From Wren's Kickstarter campaign.

If you're looking for more love, you should also listen to Kevin Rose's discussion with Scott Harrison of charity:water, which I've mentioned before here.

Now, the question I pose to you is: Could you love anything this much?

This week in political correctness (or is it?): Trump, Schumer, Mexicans, the Confederate flag and the Washington Redskins

Wow, it's an interesting week in political correctness, or whatever we're calling it these days.

Let's see. Should we start with the Confederate flag, Mexicans or the Washington Redskins? Hmm. Maybe Mexicans.

You may have heard that the Miss USA Pageant had to set up streaming video on its own website after being dropped by Univision and NBC (and later picked up by Reelz) after pageant owner Donald Trump called Mexicans "rapists." You know who else called Mexicans "rapists" (or insinuated that they are)? Comedian Amy Schumer. A couple of WaPo columnists are saying she should be Donald Trump's running mate.

Really, what I think they're saying, is that Schumer has a new movie out and a show on Comedy Central and maybe you should put up a boycott. Uh...here's the thing. Schumer is a comedian. She's trying to get a laugh. If she tries a joke and it doesn't work, she won't use it anymore. If people find her funny, she'll keep saying it, even if she doesn't believe it.

Donald Trump is trying to be president of the United States. You know, the guy who helps make laws and is expected to be able to talk to other world leaders about international policy.

Nobody really thinks Tom Segura wants to gain 800 pounds or that Louis CK thinks it's ridiculous that people have Chinese babies or Daniel Tosh this his his sister getting raped is a good practical joke. Know why? They're comedians. Donald Trump? Not a comedian. If Trump's elected, the president of Mexico can skip the Amy Schumer movie but is stuck sharing a border with a guy who said publicly he's probably a criminal.

On to the Confederate flag.

The biggest debate right now, of course, is the Confederate flag flying at the South Carolina Capitol. It's been there since South Carolina joined the Confederacy integration movements in the 1960s. It represents racism to some people, states' rights to other people, and a whole bunch of other stuff to other folks.

The question facing the government is, should it come down? The state Senate said yes it should, and the House debated for 11 hours before agreeing.

Of course it should come down BUT here's why. It represents nothing more than a rooting interest, and it's at a government building. The U.S. flag is a symbol of the United States. The South Carolina state flag is a symbol of South Carolina. The Confederate flag is a symbol of a union of states that hasn't existed in 150 years, and now represents a variety of things to a variety of people.

They might as well put up a Gamecocks banner and wait for the Tigers fans to lose it.

Ever since the Charleston church shooting, the Confederate flag debate has also seeped into popular culture. Golfer Bubba Watson said he'll remove the Confederate flag from atop his "General Lee" (the car from "Dukes of Hazzard," a show TV Land pulled).

Some are really angry about that. They say TV Land and Bubba Watson are bowing to popular pressure; they're "selling out." Of course they are! You know what happens to television stations when people stop watching? They go off the air. Know what happens when people won't buy tickets to PGA events because one of the athletes is doing something to bother them? The PGA takes away his livelihood. Of course they'll bow to popular pressure. That's how they stay popular, because that's how definitions work.

On almost a side note, some NASCAR fans in Daytona were flying the Confederate flag — sometimes above the U.S. flag. Now, I get the flying of the Confederate flag, but above the U.S. flag? That's at the very least disrespectful (and a violation of U.S. flag code); it might actually be treasonous. As in, actionably so. As in, your choice of what you fly on top of your camper could get you drawn and quartered.

More: Minnesota firefighter suspended for flying Confederate flag on fire truck »

Another thing that happened this week is a judge said the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office was right to cancel the trademark of the NFL's Washington Redskins. The trademark was canceled last year, though the team can keep the trademark until it completes the appeals process.

Under section 37 C.F.R. 1.211, Publication of applications, of the trademark code, subsection (d):

The Office may refuse to publish an application, or to include a portion of an application in the patent application publication (§ 1.215), if publication of the application or portion thereof would violate Federal or state law, or if the application or portion thereof contains offensive or disparaging material, any Law offices were recently updated with the information.

Essentially, under the determination that the term "Redskins" is offensive, the team can't hold a trademark on the name. That's not to say the team name has to change, but if they lose the trademark, they lose that big money on licensing. You or I or anyone else could start making Washington Redskins shirts or hats or bumper stickers or dog collars without paying the team for the use of the name. That's a huge business in sports.

That one's the most interesting to me, I think, because there's no precedent for it, it deals with a privately held business (even if the business is WAY in the public eye) and the outcome is going to swing millions of dollars in one direction or another and affect owners, employees and patrons all differently.

Sports talk: Colin Cowherd

Update, July 29, 2015:Cowherd was fired a few days ago for saying that Dominicans are academically inferior to Americans. He said something stupid, he knows he said something stupid, and whether or not he believes it, it doesn't belie someone with access to a few million listeners. I certainly don't condone what he said, but I also don't think saying one stupid thing (or even a few stupid things) negates the smart stuff you say, even if it does mitigate it. So, read on with that new perspective.

A lot of you know I'm a sports fan. And a lot of you have probably gathered through reading the blog, or spending time with me, that I appreciate smart people.

If you're not listening to Colin Cowherd's show The Herd, give it a go. It runs from 10am to 1pm Eastern on ESPN Radio (that's 97.7 FM if you're in CNY). You don't need to be a sports fan. Seriously.

Cowherd tackles his subject from a very honest place. He understands that he works at a large company, one owned by Disney. He also understands that he works for one of the few successful cable channels out there, the top sports channel out there, and that his company gives him three hours every weekday on national radio because he's smart and he's confident in his views.

So if he thinks his company screwed something up, he'll tell you.

And that extends elsewhere. If he thinks the NFL screwed something up, he'll tell you.

If he think you screwed something up, he'll tell you.

He doesn't take idiocy well. If you call into the show, you'd better be smart or entertaining, or prepare to be hung up on and ridiculed on air.

And he enjoys having people on the show who aren't just known for sports, like Mark Cuban (whom you might know from the TV show "Shark Tank" and other ventures outside of his ownership of the Dallas Mavericks) and on occasion someone like Malcolm Gladwell.

If you're not a sports fan, give him 10 minutes one day and 10 minutes another day here and there; his job is sports, but I think you'll learn something way beyond that industry.

Find Your Greatness

When I was in high school, there were two factions with regard to Nike. In one, you might shoot someone or get shot for a pair of Air Jordans. In the other, you wouldn't touch a pair of Nikes and you wrote letters to headquarters about their overseas labor practices.

There wasn't much in between.

Once we got past that time, Nike got beyond their corporate reputation and focused on their branding. They had some pretty cool ads for a while, but then they did something I love: messaging.

Like in the Michael Jordan failure ad.

Jordan isn't exactly someone we associate with failure.

"Find your greatness" is a no-brainer with the Olympics. Olympic athletes are great, and one of my favorite things about the Olympics is the ability for me to watch sports I don't get to see often. Handball. Water polo. That kind of stuff.

Great athletes play those sports, and while they might be as athletic as Michael Jordan, they'll never reach his level of fame, wealth or just general ubiquity.

With that, though, is a series of ads featuring regular people finding their own greatness. Like an overweight 12-year-old from London, Ohio, trying to drop some pounds getting into jogging.

While I see a lot of athletes in my day-to-day life (pro athletes, people who run marathons and do triathlons for fun like it's their life), more than two-thirds of the people I see are like Nathan.

They're finding their own greatness.

Let's be clear, too, that this isn't just about sport, it's about life. Your greatness is within reach, you just have to find it.

Great job, Nike. I'm digging your campaign.

Ahh, the Olympics: Love the games, hate the coverage

I love the Olympics. But I have to say this season, I'm hating the coverage.

It doesn't even have to do with NBC running a really dumb Ryan Seacrest interview with Michael Phelps instead of showing the 7/7 tribute during the opening ceremonies.

It has to do with a few things:

(1) Tape delays. Yes, I know that the ratings aren't bearing me out on this one. We know what happened because the results are available, but people are still watching a lot in prime time anyway. My guess on this is that people are just going to watch the Olympics anyway; it doesn't matter what they show. But if I know who won the race or the game, I don't really need to see it.

(2) The stories. I know, they're aimed at getting more female and youth viewers. But I'm into sports. That's what I want to watch.

(3) Picking the sports. NBC is primarily showing sports that Americans are involved in, getting medals in, or likely to win medals in. But there's a whole lot of great sport going on that we're not seeing. We get a lot of swimming and gymnastics and volleyball (don't get me wrong, I love volleyball), but not a lot of handball (which looks like a lot of fun) and badminton and soccer.

Coverage has been so widely disliked, there's a popular Twitter hashtag at #NBCFail. It's popular enough that it's getting advertising from international businesses like Mitsubishi.

Worse, it's probably about the money, not just questionable judgment. NBC dropped something like $2 billion to show the next few Olympics – in an age when more and more people are watching on mobile devices.

What do I want to see? Stuff I can't see all the time. I want fencing, handball, and the ability to pull up whatever I want whenever I want and watch it live without guest commentary from sports celebrities like Ryan Seacrest. Wait, what? Yeah, why is he even in the mix? NBC actually has sports guys, and Seacrest is doing the Olympics?

Come on.

Penn State: In defense of the NCAA

The NCAA does a lot of stupid things with regard to punishing college sports programs for rules violations. Take, for example, punishing Ohio State because some of its student athletes accepted tattoos as gifts.

In case you've been living under a rock, former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 40-something counts of diddling little boys, and late (legendary) head coach Joe Paterno, the school's athletic director and presidents were implicated by an independent investigator as having covered up the crimes (as in, someone caught Sandusky molesting a child, went to his superiors, and they basically said, no we're not going to the authorities with this; it'd be bad for Penn State football).

There was a due process thing going on with Sandusky, he's never going to see the outside of a jail cell, his victims are going to continue getting whatever help they've needed and now that he's been convicted, some of them will probably sue the school.

The NCAA, which doesn't usually go after crimes – just programs violating its rules – came down really hard on Penn State. There's a $60 million fine involved (that money will be paid over five years to an independent program that works to prevent child abuse). The school is going to lose some football scholarships. They won't be eligible for post-season play for a few years. And every win they've had since 1998 is vacated (which is a weird thing the NCAA likes to do). Additionally, the players on Penn State's roster can transfer schools without penalty (typically, transferring students have to sit out a year while they get acclimated academically).

This means that Penn State's going to have a tough time recruiting top players the next few years, their current good players are going to leave, and essentially the football program is going in the toilet for the next decade or so.

There's a lot of collateral damage, too: football is a financial driver for other sports (you don't think fencing brings in enough revenue to pay for its scholarships, do you?); merchandise sales are probably going to dip if the team stinks; local businesses will suffer if people aren't going to games because the team stinks.

The NCAA claims that they want to change the culture that football is king and that the safety of the community should come first. I'm calling bullshit on the reasoning – if the NCAA stopped cashing in big on college football, they could play holier-than-thou, but that's not going to happen – but here's why I don't have a problem with the punishment:

Because of the cover-up (not Sandusky's crimes), the football program that was being presented to recruits, parents, fans and media was different from the program that really existed.

Let me say it again.

The program being sold was a lie.

If you're the parent of a four-star recruit, are you letting your 17-year old go to place where you know the assistant coach might fondly your kid in the shower? Hell no.

If you're an honors student involved as a volunteer in child welfare organizations considering Penn State, are you going to a school where the high-profile football program is destroying kids' lives and covering it up so you can make more money? Hell no.

As a football program and as a university, Penn State gained so much from the cover-up that only a forced culture change could get the community on the road to healing. And that's what the NCAA did.

No doubt Paterno did a lot of good for the university, by the way. Taking down his statue may have been cathartic, but for all the evil he did in the cover-up, he also put a lot of money back into the university, ponying up enough to put his name on the library. Time's going to heal his legacy, even if taking away 111 wins from his record moves him from first to 12th or 13th on the all-time wins list.

Who wants to help youth baseball and disadvantaged kids in Syracuse?

Update June 26: Sean wrote an additional column this morning about some of the stuff below.

The wheels in my head got to turning early Friday morning. I'm excited about the possibilities of this, so I thought I'd write something up, see what you people think, and see if you have any ideas for me as to who needs to be involved from an administration level.

What started me thinking was Sean Kirst's column, which includes a bit about losing kids who started in youth baseball to the streets after they got priced out of playing. Sean told me in an email that sometimes the leagues just eat the sign-up fees for some kids in that situation, but I happen to know from playing in softball leagues that those sign-up fees help maintain the fields; I've played in enough of those leagues to know who is using the money for maintenance and who's using the money for repairs, and if the city is getting less money from sign-up fees in some neighborhoods than in others, guess whose fields are going to crap?

We first need to be honest with ourselves about youth opportunities in Syracuse. This goes way beyond Say Yes and the fact that anyone can benefit from an education and take that to stellar heights in a career. That's true. But. If you're the sort of kid who loves baseball and your family is in a position that financially they can't sign you up for little league, your income level is such that there are times your parents are making choices between feeding you, feeding themselves, paying rent, paying the electric bill and so on. You can't work until you're 16, and even then, another 20 hours a week at minimum wage isn't going to help all that much – and let's be honest, if you're working 20 hours a week, school is suffering.

There's an easy decision to be made, and that's why a lot of kids wind up on the street, running guns and drugs. It's not that they're lazy, it's that they're actually trying to help, and this is an obvious way to make a big impact on your family's financial future.

The Future Fund just gave a $5,000 grant to The Media Unit, a group that writes and performs pieces about issues facing underserved youth in the city, and the group has most definitely helped a lot of people; we hope that grant will help them grow and help more people.

Baseball's another way through. Keep kids playing, get them into college on a baseball scholarship. Awesome. But first we have to get them into those leagues. That got me thinking about an indiegogo campaign. You might know about indiegogo as the tool someone is using to raise money for Karen Klein, the Greece, NY, bus monitor who last week was seen on YouTube being tormented by kids on her bus. At this writing, a campaign started to raise $5,000 for a nice vacation for her has raised over $620,000.

At indiegogo, you put a goal on your campaign. If you hit your goal, indiegogo takes 4% for using their platform; if you don't, they take 9%. Those are definitely reasonable fees.

What if we started a fund there? It could be administered by some little league activists, someone at the city, someone at the Chiefs, or by another organization who just wants to show their support. Would you give $10 or $50 or $100 to such a fund to keep some kids in youth sports?

What do you think? Who needs to be in on it?

In defense of baseball

American football is, without a doubt, the biggest money-making sport there is.

Auto racing is among the most popular.

Soccer – or football to the rest of the non-American world – is another of the most popular.

baseballBut people seem to have something against baseball. It's not just some people; it's a lot of them. It's boring, they say. Too slow. If, as an offensive player, you fail at your job 7 out of 10 opportunities, you're a sure-fire hall-of-famer.

In fact, the notion that a person can actually play baseball well offensively is just ridiculous (and as a culture, Americans are offensive-minded). Someone throws a ball from 60.5 feet away, often in the 90mph range. The ball moves based on the spin, and it's your job as a batter to take an instrument that's about 32 inches long and, at its thickest, about the width of the ball. There are eight people in front of the batter and one immediately behind attempting to stop the batter from succeeding. Seriously. Ridiculous.

Baseball's a different sort of sport. Endurance is important: in roughly six months, there are about 18-20 days off, including weekends. There's a lot of travel.

And there's very little predictability.

Johan Santana pitched a no-hitter last night. It's not an unheard-of feat. In fact, it's the third one in the major leagues this year. But he threw 134 pitches, which is a whole lot; this time of the year, many starting pitchers are just starting to be allowed to throw 90 to 100 pitches before they're pulled for worry that they'll hurt their arm. Santana threw 50% more pitches than he might have been allowed, and he still got batters to fail every time they were up.

He may not pitch well at all the rest of the year. Like I said, little predictability.

But there is some predictability.

Baseball people are numbers people. There are so many numbers measured and available that even an average manager could predict within a few feet where one particular fielder should play based on who is pitching, the type of playing surface, the time of day, the weather and what color jerseys his team is wearing. Change one of those factors (well, except the jersey color), and the same fielder could reasonably be moved 40 feet and the manager would still be correct.

I think few people (yes, some, but still, few) would argue with sitting in the sun on a quiet afternoon, the smell of freshly cut grass, hot dogs on the grill and a cold beer in hand. And outdoors, that's exactly what baseball is. And with a lack of predictability, there's always the chance that attending a baseball game means you're going to see something amazing happen.

[photo credit]