Trumping the Vote

Teaching U.S. History this year is too much fun.  No matter who you’re rooting for or against, the cast of characters is so entertaining.

To help you make sense of it, I’m sharing what I find the most helpful to my students.  So, here are the four best tools (today) to understand what the heck is happening:

  1. David Wasserman’s delegate scorecard shows how much each of the remaining GOP 4 need in each upcoming state.  In the primary, the number is 1237.  You have to get there to get the nomination.
    1. Here is Wasserman again, but in 538.  His argument is this – if Cruz/Rubio/Kasich are going to stop Trump, at minimum, you have to win your own state.  March 1 – that’s Cruz in Texas.  For Rubio (Florida) and/or Kasich (Ohio) that’s March 15.  If Trump beats you in your home state, take your ball and go home sorry.
  2. Cook Political is key as well.  I check it daily.  Here’s Amy Walter explaining why she underestimated Trump.  If you want good solid analysis without the fluff, Cook Political is the place.
  3. Last but not least, once we get to the general election, the only # that matters is 270.  It’s not about the polls or the percentages – especially nationally.  It’s about can you get to 270 electoral votes.  This swing the vote tool is killer.  Move the sliders below and you can watch the states swing from blue to red or vice versa.  If it’s Trump v. Hilary, it’ll be the first time in American history that two general election candidates have unfavorables so high.

No matter how crazy things may be – these four tools remain helpful.

Feeling the Bern of Trump – In My Church

If you only have time to read one thing today (besides this blog), go here and read David Brooks talking about why he misses Obama.

Brooks’ book The Road to Character lists 15 keys at its conclusion.  #3 & 4 are:

  • Pride is the central vice
  • Humility is the central virtue.

Take the current leaders in the Presidential primaries and you’ll see this.

Bernie first, I’ll call him dynamite pride: the unfiltered belief that since the system sucks, we should blow it up.  Literally, “anything is better than this.”

Turning to Trump, I’ll call his nostalgia pride: the unexamined belief that the ‘good ole days’ are where we have to get back to – no matter what.  “Making America great again” can mean so many things and thus doesn’t mean anything.

In my church these two prides show themselves demographically.

  •  The olderlies (my daughter’s word when she was 4) suffer from nostalgia pride.  They want to make this church great again and there’s no hesitation (a la Trump) to harken back to a past memory or time when it was good.Memory
  • The younger crowd who, while committed to church (“I’m here aren’t I?”) want to blow it up – Bernie style.  Invoking “this is stupid” they can’t understand why we keep doing it this way.Dynamite

At 46, I’ve been a charter member of both of these camps – it just depends on when.

Here’s the problem: at root they both suffer from that central vice – pride.  Dynamite can’t hear nostalgia because dynamite only sees one solution – destruction.  Nostalgia can’t hear dynamite because it’s only view of a better church is historical.

If we truly want to follow that Crazy Carpenter, we have to do three things (revolutionary in their own right):

  1. Stop comparing our best to the other’s worst.  Is that my brother or sister in this crazy family or is that an idiot who doesn’t get it?  Family?  Oh, I need to listen to you.  Idiot? I have to shout you down.
  2. Stay in the room with difference.  Am I going to learn something from you?  Yes, but only if you’re different and I stay – and shut up – long enough.
  3. Trust the slow work of God.

Bernie dynamiters are right in that some things really need to change.  Trump nostalgics are right in that there’s 2000 years of hard-won Jesus history that shouldn’t be thrown out.  But both are wrong in what they deny.  Both lack the essential humility to say, “Not my will but yours be done.”  I’m more convinced than ever that the Spirit animates our work and our lives.  But we have to grow up – every day.  If we’re not willing to grow, why are we following that Crazy Carpenter?  Why does it matter?

Develop or Use

Imagine this: You get up and go to work.  When you arrive,

  • the doorman swings a 2×4 at your knees.Doorman
  • If you dodge him, then your assistant plunks down a dozen donuts on your desk as you sit down.
  • After sitting, said assistant straps you into your office chair with a time-lock of 8 hours on the belt.  You’re not to move until this afternoon.  (No it doesn’t matter if you need the bathroom, sorry).

Here’s my question: How long would you work there?

As Tom Haberstroh shows in this ESPN Magazine article,


this is what the NBA is doing to its players.  The league is literally killing its players – not as overtly as the 2×4 wielding door-man, but relentlessly, drip by drip, over-scheduling.  NBA teams play 82 regular season games in about 160ish days.  If spread evenly that’d work out to an alternating sequence of game-day/rest-day.  But that’s not how the schedule works.

It looks a lot more – as Tom shows – like:

  • Monday – flight to Portland, play, flight to Utah
  • Tuesday – play Utah, flight to San Antonio
  • Wednesday – play San Antonio, fly home.

Combine the relentless physical pounding of an NBA game with the airline miles (54000 in the NBA v. 29000 in MLB) and you have players getting hurt in major numbers.

Here’s the take-away: The NBA is using its players.  In fact, it’s using them up.  What if the NBA developed them instead?  What if it developed a schedule that allowed players to get better as the season (or seasons) went along?

In your organization are you the NBA or the NBA?  Simply put, are you developing or using your people?

How do you know?  Simple, ask them.  NBA players are telling the league they’re getting used, but the NBA doesn’t seem to be listening.  Are you?

Cruz’s use of shame or winning @ all costs

I’m always curious how political campaigns work (or don’t).  Whether it’s watching the fictional characters of the West Wing, (Toby: “we have to get out of New Hampshire”)

or getting day-after stories like this one from Sasha Issenberg, it’s fun to think about.  Sasha, the author of Victory Lab, lays out how the Cruz campaign strategized in Iowa.  Because there were so many candidates and because Cruz had to do well in IA, the micro-analysis they did mattered.

What’s the line about the two guys hiking in the woods, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you”?  Cruz just had to outrun Rubio, Bush et al.  He did that.

But how?  That’s where it gets interesting.  The Cruz campaign decided in very specific instances to send a voter-violation mailer.  It shamed (or attempted to shame) marginal voters to show up at the caucus.  Here’s what I find interesting – these were voters that Cruz’s people weren’t counting on anyway. In their mind they weren’t going to show up (see the ‘F’ grade) up there?  But if they did, they would probably vote for Cruz.  So what did Cruz do?  He sent the voting violation mailers.

Did he get crap for it?  Sure.  Did he win Iowa?  Yes.  Are the two related?  I think so.

Cruz had to win Iowa.  Lose there and you’re toast.  But what’s his path now?  538 thinks it’s “get a 2nd in N.H. and then roll again in South Carolina“.  Can he micro-analyze again?  Will he send out similar South Carolina mailers?

We’ll see. No matter what, I have to admit that he saw these marginal Iowa votes and rolled the dice.  Ethical?  No.  Effective? Maybe.

Firing Blatt Doesn’t Solve LeBron’s Problem

LeBron James wants to be known as the greatest player ever. It’s not enough for him to be compared to Jordan or Wilt or Russell. He wants to be it – end of discussion.

Unfortunately, for LeBron, reality gets a vote. Reality has voted against LeBron in at least four ways:

  1. His biological clock – LeBron turned 31 this winter. Like dog-years, 31 in the NBA is different than 31 in the MLB or NFL. Watch Brady or Manning this weekend and you’ll see Continue reading Firing Blatt Doesn’t Solve LeBron’s Problem

I Love the Only Defensive Team in the Pac-12

The Pac-12 schedule gods like the Cardinal.

Oregon?  Oh, you want them at the Farm?  Check.

Crummy teams on the road?  How about Washington State and Colorado?  Check.

Dangerous Pac-12 South games at home?  No problem.  UCLA and Arizona have to visit you.  How’s that sound?  Check.

One tough road game, sorry you can’t have everything.  Yes, the Trojos early on at the Coliseum.  Sorry, but that’s the only schedule hiccup to which you have to consent.  Cool?  Check. Continue reading I Love the Only Defensive Team in the Pac-12


USC Football – Fields of Red or Seeing Red

USC’s Pac 12 schedule sets up nicely for 2015. Home games against Stanford, Arizona and UCLA may provide that extra ‘umph’ needed in those nail-biters. Two road games present challenges. At Arizona State is tough, but at Oregon (next to last regular-season game) is even worse.

Here are my projected scores for USC’s upcoming season:

  • Toss-up – Home vs. Stanford – Model Score: 33-33
  • Toss-up @ ASU – Model Score: 34-32 win
  • Win – Home vs. Washington – Model Score: 40 – 26 win
  • Win – Home vs. Utah- Model Score: 37 – 29 win
  • Win – @ Cal -Model Score: 37 – 29 win
  • Win – Home vs. Arizona – Model Score: 37 – 29 win
  • Win – @ Colorado – Model Score: 41 – 25 win
  • Loss – @ Oregon – Model Score: 27 – 39 loss
  • Toss-up – Home vs. UCLA – Model Score: 34 – 32 win

Breaking down USC’s schedule, I predict the following:

  • For Sure Wins (games that SC should win by 2 touchdowns or more):
    Washington and Colorado.
    ** A loss to either one of these teams would be unforgivable if you’re Coach Sark. By definition, these are games you should win. Can turnovers, injuries and/or ‘bad’ nights swing 2 touchdowns? Sure. But the stars really need to align for Washington or Colorado to pull these upsets.
  • Should Wins (games that SC is favored by a single touchdown): Utah, Cal and Arizona. Any of these losses would be problematic for SC. They are a touchdown+ favorite, but an 8-point cushion is still significant. Utah’s defense will keep them in reach. Arizona’s offense will keep them in reach. Cal, playing at home, should stay relatively close.
  • Too Close to Call (games in which SC is statistically tied): Stanford, ASU and UCLA. Breaking these games down each presents a unique challenge.
  • Stanford will be a very good barometer of where USC is at and where they’re headed for 2015. The Cardinal defends. They make tackles and they force your offense to go the length of the field piece by piece. The Big Red defense wins first down more often than anyone else in the Pac-12. This key defensive metric is the critical difference between 2nd and 7 to go vs. 2nd and 8+ to go. Winning that extra yard or two is something Stanford consistently does – just ask Oregon. When Oregon loses to Stanford – and they do – it’s because, defensively, Stanford wins 1st down. How USC stays on schedule: 1st & 10, 2nd & 7 (or less), 3rd & 4 (or less), is critical to this game.  If this game was a road game (see Oregon e.g.) I’d pick Stanford. Because it’s at the Colesium, it’s too close to call. Can SC lose and still win the Pac-12 South? Yes. Win it, though, and SC stays on track for even bigger (national) prizes.
  • ASU is always a tough win to get – especially in Tempe. Especially after Stanford and their physicality, this is a potential hang-over game for SC. Contrasting the Cardinal and the Sun Devils, it’s hard to find two more different teams. Stanford will run at you, double TE’s, smash-mouth football. ASU will throw everything at you, including multiple formations, faster pace, and the kitchen sink. Using my model, this game is too close to call. It’s critical to SC’s Pac-12 South hopes, but it could be their second Pac-12 loss in two games.
  • UCLA – Rivalry games – at the end of the year – are always tough to model. Injuries and a whole season of adjustments are unknowable at this point. Statistically, I have SC winning a close one (34 – 32) but that’s well within the margin. Two things work in SC’s favor on this game:
    • Their losing streak to the Powder-Blues. Reversion to the mean dictates that this year “should” be their (SC’s) year in the Battle for LA.
    • Their offense is better. To beat UCLA, you have to score points. SC hasn’t been able to do that in this particular game the past few years. They will this year. This game could be for the Pac-12 South title, or both of these teams could be 2 or 3 games out of that race. Such is the nature of a 9 game conference schedule.

4 Paths for USC

  1. The fields bloom Trojan Red. They squeak a win out against Stanford, survive ASU the next week and go on a 5-game winning streak to Arizona. Get by them, beat almost-cellar-dweller Colorado and roll into Eugene as the undefeated South leader. Can SC beat Oregon in Eugene? Yes, but it’s a very tough out. Even losing to Oregon, this Trojan Red scenario puts them back in a Pac-12 title tilt against the Ducks a few weeks later.
  2. Good but not (USC) Great. They drop one of their first 2 tough games to either Stanford or ASU. Neither loss is fatal, but they’ll be disappointing to SC fans. The Trojans should get well at home on Washington, Utah, at Cal and Arizona at home. Only Washington is a ‘for sure’ but going into that Oregon game with a loss or two is very solid.
  3. Slipping but still has a pulse. Lose both games to Stanford and ASU and things could be very nasty. Washington should be a win, but at 1-2, Utah is no picnic. Lose to Utah, no shame there actually, and now you’re SC and you’re 1 & 3 in your first half of Pac-12 play – not where SC is used to being. Trojan fans won’t care that those 3 are in the top 5 of the Pac 12. They’ll be pissed. At Cal is no gimmie anymore either. If the Trojans head to Eugene with 3 or even 4 losses, GameDay won’t be there.
  4. Armageddon. 3 Ingredients:
    1. Lose to Washington or Colorado. These are games you (SC) have to win. Drop one of these and the vultures will circle – fast.
    2. Lose 2 of the 3 Too-Close-To-Call games: Stanford, ASU and UCLA. Again, opening with Stanford and at ASU is a tough two-step. Drop them both, stumble against the Huskies and they’ll be calling for Sark’s head.
    3. Lose 2 of the 3 Should-Win games: Utah, at Cal, Arizona. These three are good (not great) teams. My model says every one of them is an 8-point dog. That’s a pick-six and two-point conversion. Pretty small margin.
      Doing the math, SC losses could pile up – fast. With their expectations, that’s death.

Could they go 8-1? Yes. How about 3 – 6? Yes, but it’s unlikely. Stanford and ASU will tell us a lot. Win them both and national playoffs aren’t crazy hopes. Split them and you still have a Pac-12 shot. Lose them both? Katie bar the door.

50%? That’s Enough

Over this summer, I’ve read several how to teach innovation books.  The best was Tony Wagner’s Creating Innovators. Because of it, I’ve come to following conclusion:

I’m trying to teach too much content.

Or “I’m not pushing enough cognitive load out to my kids.”
IMG_0328So, I’m planning on 50% next year. From me – that is, I’m putting it out to the kids.  Looking like most other history courses in the universe, my 50% will comprise:

  • key-word outlines and write-ups from the readings,
  • lectures, discussion, simulations
  • review and assessments.

The other two 25% segments are going to come from

  • team-work (deliverables and peer-ratings) and
  • burning question (a historical question that you (the student) formulate and answer over the course of the quarter.

15166287248_67fa2983b3_kWhy my 50%? Because we – as a class – need a common story.  A backbone if you will.  In the 90’s (when I started), the constructivists told us to just release the hounds and that the academic fields would (magically) bloom with educational harvest.  That model sucked – still does.

Merrimack College student Kara Smith student teaching at the Lawrence Family Development Charter School, in Lawrence, MA on December 7, 2010.

However, we all have those rule-follower students (tell me what to do so I can get an A).  We want them to have to think for themselves.  More importantly, I want them to have to innovate and “do” history as opposed to listen to it.

So, if I want innovation, I have to be disciplined.  For me, discipline (in 2015-16) will look like:

  • Test-dates in concrete
  • 2 out of every 4 instructional days are 50% days (common-story/backbone days)
  • 1 day per week is a team-day (either simulation/discussion or team writing)
  • 1 day per week is for my kid’s Burning Question.  ** This doesn’t mean I’m not right next to them, checking on progress, asking questions, helping them refine.  It does mean that I’m killing something in my teaching schedule so they have time to do history.

Tony Wagner points out in his book, “Most of us don’t remember what was taught, but we remember how we learned.”

I’m trying for more ‘how’ and if that means less ‘what’, game on.

The Game’s Changing

Here are three posts that are worth every basketball player/coach/fan’s time:

  • Andrei Kirilenko is the best player you’ve never heard of.  Neil Paine shows how valuable AK was (he’s retiring).  Kirilenko was ahead of his time.  He could shoot with range, he could pass and he rebounded.  Sort of sounds like most 4’s in the NBA now doesn’t it?  Why?  Because the post-up game is on the decline in the NBA.
  • Interrupting the Post-Up Eulogy, Zach Lowe shows how throwing the ball into the post isn’t what it used to be.  Most of us remember Shaq in the paint, punishing people from the post, in the early 2000’s.  Now we have Curry and Co. penetrating and pitching.  Lowe shows why the post up has declined and why it won’t disappear.
  • The post-up is disappearing because – surprise – NBA defenses are getting smarter.  Zach Lowe, again, shows how the 2.9 seconds rule is changing the NBA game.  Because the NBA has allowed more leeway for help defense, the lane is now clogged.  So, teams are figuring out ways to move the defense before they’re trying to score.

All three are worth the time and all three make me – ex-coach, ex-player and current-fan – think about the game.  What else are we going to do before college football starts, watch baseball?

May 6th Links