Sunday, July 19, 2015

My Lengthy Greek Post Script

A week ago tonight, Ariadne and I were in Constantinople and visited Ayia Sophia Cathedral. Of course, this morning I attended church in St. Sophia Cathedral in Washington. Two Sundays in a row at an Ayia Sophia is pretty good.

Church this morning was nice, but the reminder of the other Ayia Sophia made me wish I was still on vacation. As did the folks at coffee hour who asked me to reflect on our trip, especially on being in Greece during the crisis.

As you recall from previous blog posts, even amidst the crisis Greece was fantastic. I continue to wonder if that sentiment is me being myopic, or a manifestation of the Greek spirit?  It's likely both, but more so the later. As one fellow Bank of Pireas queue member said in Kyparissia, 'to be Greek is to put up with hardship and challenges; we've done it before and we'll do it now.'  Despite 25 percent unemployment and 50 percent for young people, closed banks, billions in debts and acrimonious relationships with countries they are literally bound to and allied with, Greeks and Greece endure but also hopefully thrive.

Thrive is the key word. Greece and their partners came to a deal as we were leaving Athens, and a week later the Parliament approved it despite some violent protests in Syntagma Square (according to the Greek press that was a mild violent protest in comparison to others, and there were no major injuries). The protests weren't that significant actually. What is significant is that the Parliament approved an austerity package that just a week earlier had been rejected by the 62 percent of Greek voters.

Unpopular is one thing. If they were solutions with a proven track record in a country like Greece, and that will help Greece thrive, who cares if they are unpopular? The problem is austerity never works, at least if your goal is economic growth. The simple summary is in the U.S., President Obama and Democratic Congresses rejected austerity, increased spending and the U.S. economy grew and unemployment is now down to 5.3 percent. Europe led by Germany did the opposite and the entire continent's economy (save Deutschland and the U.K., where they DON'T use the euro) is stagnant at best with very high unemployment rates in most eurozone member countries.

But they did bail out the German and French banks who lent Greece the money.  So at least the Germans and the banks are happy!

Unfortunately, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and theh Greek Parliament had to agree to the latest austerity deal put forth by Europe. They needed the money to open their banks and thus allow their citizens to have at least some level of financial certainty.

Another factor behind the ratification of the deal is that Greeks want to stay in the eurozone, for a number of reasons. Politically, Greeks believe in a united Europe. Economically, they hope that one day soon Europe (not just China or Russia) will start investing in the Hellenic state and spur actual growth. Finally, and egotistically, it bothers Greeks that their nation, a sophisticated, modern (far from perfect) democratic state that gave the world the word for and concept of Europe would not be in the eurozone while lessor countries like Bulgaria, Latvia or Romania would.

Though austerity is terrible with a track record of being terrible, some of the reforms foisted on Greece are necessary. Trimming the size of the Greek government bureaucracy is overdue; the cronyism in hiring, and the corruption that comes along with it, has to end. Increasing the retirement age to 65 makes sense (though the deal with Europe increases it to 67), and privatizing some enterprises and increasing competition does, too.

Of course, though I'm not an expert I have two ideas of my own. If you go to Greece you'll notice two things during your stay.  One, everyone is friendly and seems to get along great with everyone - their neighbors, strangers, tourists, etc.  Filotimo, the Greek love of honor, is alive and well. Two, there is wifi all over Greece.  Ask Ariadne; the wifi situation in Greece is remarkably good (except in our χωριό: that's one reason to go to Spilia of course).

I believe those two strengths could be used to help Greece.

If I could have my dream job right now, it would be to raise a few million dollars and help advance or deepen civil society in Greece. The filotimo is there; I think Greeks would want to work with their fellow Greeks. But civil society, do it yourself/punk rock, citizens groups -  everything from Habitat for Humanity to the Sierra Club to the Junior League to Alcoholics Anonymous - are not as strong as they could be or need to be in a democracy.  Too often Greeks only look to their political parties for any kind of civic activity, which of course feeds into the cronyism and corruption. Again, the filotimo is there. Greece just needs more citizens groups to help fully utilize all that love of honor.

I could be completely wrong about civil society - though I know they do not have a Sierra Club that organizes hikes, happy hours, and grassroots lobby days in the capital. But I know for a fact that one thing Greece needs is more cash registers.  That's where wifi comes in.

Here in the U.S., where the hipster start-up economy is everywhere, iPad's and iPhone's often act as cash registers.  When I go to a food truck or the coffee shop near my office I use a debit card to pay, a tattooed cashier swipes it on their iPhone or iPad with a little attachment, and they email me the receipt.

Ah, the receipt.  It includes your order plus that magic wand, your sales tax. Greeks, both individuals and businesses, are notorious for not paying their taxes. And the Greek state is broke as a result of too many obligations and not enough tax revenue.

In at least a third of the shops and restaurants we patronized in Greece they did not have a cash register. Instead, merchants or waiters made change in old fashioned lock boxes, envelopes, fanny packs, or in apron pockets.  And those stores did not give out receipts.

Since there is so much wifi in Greece, why don't Greek banks emulate our start ups/hipsters and give each of their commercial customers an iPad? That way every business in Greece will have an on-line cash register. Greek citizens already pay many of their bills via ATMs and kiosks so the card culture exists. Greek banks can complete the deal by making sure that every citizen in the motherland has a debit or ATM card or better yet a credit card. A majority of Greeks sstill do not have credit cards.

It was shocking to see how many businesses in Greece appear to be off the grid and not tied electronically to their bank via a cash register. I have no idea if any of these off-line business pay any taxes but the safe money is they are paying way less of what they owe, if they pay taxes at all.  Making sure each business is online with a cash register that takes ATM or credit cards, linked to a bank, should increase tax revenue significantly thus helping the Greek state pay it debts and fulfill it's financial obligations and responsibilities.

Best of all, both of these ideas should be doable thanks to a very educated and motivated Greek populace.  More than 36 percent of Greeks have a college degrees, a higher percentage than here in the U.S.  Greeks are educated but they need opportunities to use those smarts.  A robust civil society and entrepreneurialism, aided by a electronically linked iPad cash register, should help.

Thanks for reading this lengthy post.  Let me know, particularly if you are in Greece, if any of this makes sense! Τα λεμε!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Report from ground zero: Athens

Our second to the last destination on our jaunt through the motherland* is Athens. For centuries, this city was the center of the universe and if you have been following the crisis, it is again!  At least it has been to the press.

As you may recall from previous posts, we did not really notice the impacts of the crisis in Thessaloniki, Crete, Messinia or Nafplion.  I assumed we would in Athens, Greece's largest city full of pensioners and protesters.

Only we haven't.

Even in Athens the tourist bubble is still intact: cash comes out of the ATMs; most places take credit cards; the streets are filled with tourists; the beautiful (that's the word for it) Athens Metro is clean and orderly and normal. Additionally, during a walking trip into a residential neighborhood near our hotel I found the mini mart full of food, a larger market also fully stocked, and a vegetable stand bursting with produce.  Even the graffiti, which mars large parts of Thessaloniki, is relatively mild here.

Granted, neighborhoods outside of downtown probably aren't in as good a shape, and there are many store fronts whose only sign is 'ενοικίαση' - for rent - but in general Athens seems to be in decent to good shape.

There definitely seems to be a disconnect between the press and the facts on the ground.  For instance, the day after we saw a report on the BBC on the dire shape of the Monastiraki flea market we went there, and found it full of opens stores, merchandise, and tourists. Later that night we saw the BBC reporter on the square behind the Acropolis Museum but resisted the urge to ask about his coverage.

Or maybe I am simply too ensconced in my tourist bubble but the Athens and Athenians we have interacted with has ranged from awesome to normal.  I hope that our experience here is less me being insensitive to folks who are suffering and more that H Ελλάδα ποτέ δεν πεθαίνει! Greece will never die!

I'll wrap up this post with a quote from Chuck D: don't believe the hype, and come to Greece if you can!**  Τα λεμε! - Αthan

* Of course, we wrap up our trip outside of the motherland courtesy of a 20-hour layover in Constantinople. But since my dad's family is from Anatolia it counts.
** The second part of that quote was NOT from Chuck D.  I believe that was Flava Flave.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Notes from Nafplio

As Ariadne and I head into the home stretch of our 15 trip through Greece we are starting to see some of the impacts of the crisis. You may recall that in our tourist bubble things have been great - but things were also pretty good when we ventured  outside of that bubble.  During our visit to my mom's home region of Messinia - which is not a tourist destination by any stretch though it has some great sites and beaches - we found ATMs full of euros and stores and shops full of food.

Here in Nafplio, an incredibly charming coastal town that like Crete should be on every itinerary if you visit our motherland, two merchants asked me to pay with cash instead of credit cards.  Both offered discounts for paying with euros, and both said Greek banks are starting to warn store owners they may run out of money if a deal is not struck soon.  The American banks behind my credit and ATM cards will reimburse the Greek banks instantaneously according these store owners; Greek banks will not do the same to local merchants out of fear.

We head to Athens in 24 hours so may see more signs of the crisis soon.  But for now, other than two merchants asking for script, Greece continues to function and be the greatest of destinations.

Να' τα πουμε! - Athan

Monday, July 6, 2015

Greece on the morning after

I'll try to post some photos, etc. this afternoon, but in the meantime I want to give folks a quick update on Greece on the morning after the big vote - more than 60 percent - against the bailout offer.  We have spent the last 2 plus days in Messinia, my mom's home region and more importantly not a tourist area so outside the bubble we have been in since landing in Greece last week.

  1. the banks have money, with no restrictions on withdrawals from foreign accounts.  I was able to take money out without any issues - other then the guilt that unlike a local Greek a Greek-American tourist can take out more than 60 euros.
  2. The guy in line behind me said 'to be Greek is to deal with difficulty/challenges; we've done it before and now we'll do it again.'
  3. The stores have plenty of food; the Ola Mini Market is living up to it's name in Greek: they have everything from snacks to eggs to batteries.
  4. The Greek people continue to be resolute. There is lots of anger but not much self pity.
That's it for now, but look for future posts where I hope to explore two ideas: the conflict in Greece between Φιλότιμο, the Greek love of honor, and their selfish, every man for himself behavior; and one simple solution for Greece's economy - iPads and cash registers.

 Να' τα ποθμε! - Athan

Monday, June 29, 2015

First full day in Greece; last day in the Euro?

We had a pretty great day in Thessaoloniki today: touring the White Tour; visiting the Museum of Byzantine Culture; walking all over Ano Toumpa looking for my dad's old house; eating the largest squid I've ever seen (on a plate or otherwise) on the waterfront for dinner; taking in an outdoor concert by Thansis Papaconstantinou at the Forest Theater atop the city.  And watching people NOT freak out about the banks being closed today and potentially Greece running out of money tomorrow (Tuesday, June 30th).

I don't know if it's resignation or stoicism or determination or fatalism - or a combination of all four - but no one we talked to seemed that worried about the banks or what may happen if Greece defaults.  As some of you know, I hate speculating. Well, I guess that's a Greek thing since no one in Thessaoloniki wanted to speculate.  Everyone we spoke with - the waitress at breakfast, the front desk, a cab driver, a waitress at dinner, the woman who exchanged my dollars at Western Union, the folks who tried to help find my dad's house, the street vendor who sold me a giant cookie - all said, 'we'll see what happens' or 'I don't know.'  No one cried or cursed or showed any emotion. The singer Papconstantinou opened his show by saying 'we should have never joined the Euro, and now we're going to leave the Euro' to a mixed response from the crowd of  1,500 people.

One thing that does seem clear is that folks want to stay in the Eurozone and judging by news we heard on the radio and the protest in Athens most Greek voters will vote 'NO' in Sunday's referendum on the bailout package proposed by the European Union.

So today appeared pretty normal, at least for a tourist with American dollars in reserve, a way to exchange them, and credit cards. But it seemed normal for Thessalonians, too.  We'll see tomorrow, or Wednesday if Greece defaults.

Here are a few other MacedoNotes:
  • The employees at Thomas Cook at the airport and the Western Union on Aristotle Square both said foreigners exchanging dollars for euros will not have any problems getting money. We haven't had any problems using a credit card or debit card, but I have to try  t use an ATM (with the banks closed they were not working today). They are supposed to distributor  money from foreign accounts so that's something to test tomorrow.
  • As I tweeted earlier, I must smell like garlic, olive oil nd cigarettes because no one here thinks we're tourists. Everyone speaks to us in Greek and we are two for two in being offered only Greek-language menus at restaurants. One guy even walked over to me to start complaining about the EU as we both were investigating if we had found a working ATM hidden near the Museum of Byzantine Culture.
  • That museum is fantastic by the way as is the White Tower, which offers great views and has a nice museum of Thessaloniki tucked into the rooms off the spiral staircase to the top.
  • We haven't seen that many homeless people, but we had an accordion player come up to us at dinner and have seen at least 30 people wearing teeshirts featuring the word Brooklyn.
  • As we wandered up and down the street looking for my dad's house in Ano Toumpa (which mean above Toumpa, and Ariadne can testify that is it above; we had a steep walk) four of the nicest and most down to earth and generous residents came out to help us (I'll post their photos, and others, on Facebook soon). Those folks deserve better from Greece's political class and the EU. Europe seems more interested in punishing average people than in making their lives better. I hope that tomorrow our anti-austerity President will call Angela Merkel and urge her to be as generous and humble to Greece as those residents of Ano Toumpa were to us.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Witnessing History

As Ariadne and I prepare for our trip to Greece, this weekend provides an interesting hinge moment for both my two nations.  The short and accurate take on things is America continues to get better, towards a more perfect union, while things in Greece are somehow actually getting worse.

And that phrase from the Constitution is a succinct reminder why America is America and Greece is Greece.

The legalization of gay rights in all 50 states, a lightening bolt of civil rights from the Supreme Court, is another example of what makes America America: citizens organizing and striving for their rights in a democracy, and believing they can win because of our democratic institutions.  They did, and they won at the highest court in the land.

Greeks, on the other hand, have neither the belief that their democracy works nor that their institutions are just or that they can win.  There was hope that PM Alexis Tsipras would be a little different but he seems to lack political skills and has completely overplayed his 'hand.' As soon as he took office he started to negotiate via blustery press releases and press conferences. Instead of saying, 'look, I know we messed up but the big question is what does Europe do with Greece now'  Tsipras has done the opposite for 4 months. That attitude seems to have played into the hands of Eurozone hardliners in Germany who obviously have no sympathy for the Syriza government.

But Europe should have sympathy for the Greek people.  But they don't.

I imagine the only solution is for President Obama or Treasury Secretary Lew to call German PM Angela Merkel and say "Cut Greece some slack. Your banks have been reimbursed and there is no reason to be putative. After all, Germany should remember what happens when you rob a nation of it's dignity and ruin it's politics. Bottom line: the US does not want a NATO ally being driven out of the Eurozone and into the arms of rogue like Putin or China."

Hopefully that will happen. And in turn Greek voters will demand institutions that serve the public good and the Greek political class will show some patriotism, pay their taxes and stop stashing their money in Switzerland (like Nazis, climate change-loving sheiks and other ne'er do wells).

And Ari and I will have a front row seat. We will be in Thessaoloniki on June 30, the day Greece may default, and in my mom's hometown village on July 5, the day Tsipras wants a referendum on the Eurozone deal.

I'll try to blog as often as possible, looking back at a country that continues to strive to be more perfect while typing from hotels in a nation just trying to survive.

A few more notes:

  • I'll never understand the opposition to gay rights or gay anything.  Until it's mandatory gay marriage, what is there to get fired up about? The small-minded opponents of gay rights often say that that community is outside the mainstream, but that's exactly the opposite.  In my lifetime gays have only asked for mainstream American rights: join the Boy Scouts; openly serve in the Armed Forces; get married.  Who are these weirdos?
  • As I blogged before, Greece needs to be more like America. Instead of looking towards Russia or China what Tsipras should really do, if Greece is forced to leave the Eurozone and into a Grexit with drachmas, is ask for a TPP-style trade pact with the US.  It could be a play at regional stability in the shaky, ISIS-haunted eastern Mediterranean that links the economies of Greece, Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and other countries that are democracies. Greek olive oil could completely dominate the US market! I'm not an economist but seems like a good idea, right?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Manuel Transmissions: Palm Sunday Edition

After a week hiatus for spring breaks Manuel Transmissions returns with Cleo, John, Ariadne, Evan, Athan plus very special appearances from γιαγια and παππου! See all that, plus our baseball predictions, at: http://youtu.be/YzyjZ2_g-BA

Sunday, March 29, 2015

They Just Do Not Get It, the Sequel

I'm reposting an old blog that sadly, a year later, is still relevant.In 2014, it was Arizona and Kansas flirting with so called 'religious liberty' laws making it legal to deny someone service if that person's lifestyle (or something like that) violates one's religious beliefs. Indiana upped the ante, and Gov. Mike Pence signed such a bill into law last week.

Of course, denying someone service fails to recognize that no matter the lifestyle they are one of God's children and Christ loves them, too.  Christ's love redeems us all, makes us all equal, and there is no other. Therefore, theologically, there is no one to hate IF you are a Christian.  Here's the blog from last year.

They Just Do Not Get It - March 3, 2014

No, the title of this post is not about Duke fans.

But I AM talking about crazies, specifically the ones in Kansas, Arizona and elsewhere who even think about passing laws that make it okay to not serve people - in this case gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered - who violate a private business owner's deeply held 'religious beliefs.'

Those laws have been defeated or vetoed after opposition from Republicans in the business community.* However, houses of worship - especially Christians - should also oppose these efforts.  Sadly, most of these folks who vote for these laws, support the lawmakers who think them up, or the business owners who would love legal cover to discriminate THINK they are acting on Christian beliefs.

They're not.

In the run up to Lent - this year western Lent and Easter are in synch with the Orthodox calendar; take that Georgian calendar! - our gospel lessons have been getting us ready and reminding us why Easter is the holiest of holidays for Christians.

One of the themes our priests have been reinforcing the past few weeks has been how we treat other people, or 'the other'.  The message, especially in last week's reading from Matthew 25:31-46, is that we need to treat everyone, to love everyone, as if that person was Christ.  Whether you like them, know them, think they are bad people, if they are Dukies - no matter what - Christ tells us to love them.

To quote the Bible: 'whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

It really is eerie how directly antithetical these proposed laws are to scripture. To further quote Matthew: 'for I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison (that's right, in addition to never turning anyone down for anything even if they are gay, Jesus says you have to LOVE prisoners!) and you did not look after me.  Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’


Since these laws deal mainly with restaurants the folks who support them want to literally do the opposite of what is written in the Gospel. Perhaps they want to start a new religion, or perhaps start a new organization: Evangelical Christians Against Christ.


Christianity is a simple religion but one that is challenging to get right; one of the things you have to do is love everyone as Christ loves us.

Just as the righteous crucified Christ the righteous among us today do not seem to understand his message. David Green, the billionaire CEO of Hobby Lobby and a financial backer of groups that advocate these discriminatory laws said in a 2012 speech “We have tried to run our business in a way that would be pleasing to our savior."

I humbly suggest that that is not happening, yet.  Mr. Green may want to read Matthew and then rethink his current business model.

* Smart business owners would never support these laws - or more importantly turn away business.  Greek restaurant owners in the south and in inner cities never turned away paying customers just because those customers were African-Americans. It was good business and good karma.  As you may know, Greeks were so well known for taking anyone's money that during the riots in Detroit, Washington and elsewhere Greek businesses were not fire bombed or damaged. The LGBT community uses the same money as the rest of the country.  If you're a for-profit business like a restaurant or a hobby shop, why would you want to act like an anti-Christian AND turn away paying customers?

FYI, David Green was coincidentally born in the same hometown as one of the greatest Americans, Christians, and humans of all time, Dean Smith. Both are from Emporia, Kansas.  I looked up Green's biography on the off-chance that he was a graduate of Duke University.

As for Dean, if you have not yet had a chance to read Duke graduate John Feinstein's excellent column in honor of coach Smith's birthday do that right now!  Of course I take quite a few shots at Duke but Feinstein's columns are almost always great - especially this one.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Greek Independence Day, Tsipras Edition

Happy Greek Independence Day!  Ζήτω Η Ελλας!

This year's Greek Independence Day once again finds Greece in the headlines, as new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the Syriza government try to negotiate better terms for paying back the nation's massive loans in the wake of the lingering financial crisis.

That crisis continues to frame most things Greek. But one of the greatest things about being Greek is the ability to shrug off  problems and not let them affect your sense of self, your Hellenism.

I continue to brag about being a Greek, so much so that a friend at work recently commented "I can't believe you still brag about that in the face of the crisis." Bragging about being Greek in times of crisis is one of THE Greekest things you can EVER do.* A Hellene knows that over the course of 2,500 years of history, you are going to have some valleys - self-imposed ones like the current situation, or external ones like the fall of Constantinople, the Anatolian catastrophe, etc. - and we are likely to brag about the valleys, too.

To paraphrase Louis Armstrong, 'If you have to ask what Hellenism is, you'll never know.'**

As I've written before, I'm not crazy about Tsipras but you can not question his Hellenism. What else would give you the courage - or θρασος - to go to Germany, as he did this week, and say 'despite our screw ups and fiscal irresponsibility you have to cut us some slack"?***

Only a people who invented logic can confidently push such an illogical idea.

One of the Hellenic highlights of 2014 was Greece's stirring victory over Ivory Coast in the group stage of the World Cup. The win propelled Ellas into the knock-out round and was delivered in dramatic fashion by George Samaras' penalty kick.****  As his shot hit the back of the net I screamed to the throng and our παρέα gathered in Public Tenley "H Ελλάδα ποτέ δεν πεθαίνει! Greece will never die!"

And we'll never stop bragging, either!  ΖΗΤΟ Η ΕΛΛΑΣ! Long live Greece!

* I was bragging about one of our recent triumphs, Archbishop Iakovos' participation in the March on Selma. His role was highlighted in the film 'Selma' where Iakovos tells Martin Luther King, Jr. 'You are not alone my friend.' Apparently a second line of dialogue - 'Really? I'm the ONLY white guy here?' - was cut from the final version of the film.
** Armstrong lived for a time in Astoria, Queens, aka Greektown, USA
*** Cutting Greece some slack by easing up on austerity makes sense, too. Witness the US, who passed a stimulus bill under President Obama, versus the eurozone, suffering years of stagnation thanks in large part to German-imposed austerity. When the chips are down, a supposedly socialist-leaning Europe helps their banks not the people.
**** Coincidentally enough, this clip is in German! 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Manuel Transmissions: !!X edition!

Episode !!X of the Manuel Transmissions podcast - featuring Paul 'Ted Cruz' Kushner, FK Stamatos, a Ramadan-inspired lenten tip AND John going pyu pyu pyu (guns blazing) - is FINALLY available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8EBnowd0LY.

You're welcome.

Monday, March 16, 2015

March Whatever

I titled this post March Whatever due to the sense of inevitability and lack of excited that frames this year's NCAA tournament.

The big story is Kentucky's quest for an undefeated season and John Calipari's second national championship, which coincidentally will match the number of final four appearances his teams have had to forfeit (UMass, Memphis). Is there any excitement watching this mix of one-and-done and McDonald's All American players, led by one of America's smarmiest coaches? No, there isn't. It's no fun.

The other stories aren't much better. Every year it seems the tournament gets more and more hyped, more and more corporate, and less and less entertaining. The charm of the tournament is the underdogs, but this year the NCAA selection committee picked underachieving name brands like UCLA and Indiana instead of more interesting teams such as Dayton, Richmond or even Miami. It's a corporate, brand-name tournament played by student-athletes who put far more into the NCAA than they get out.

Finally, there's Carolina. Last year, I had our team winning the national championship as I usually do. That team defeated Kentucky, Duke, Louisville, and Michigan State, the top four teams in the preseason polls, so were a legit threat.  Carolina, Dean-style basketball resurfaced in Greensboro last week for 3.75 games to produce some hope for the NCAA tournament, but one reason for a whatever is this team is probably a year away from a legit pick to go 6-0 and winning another national championship.

So for all those reasons, it's March Whatever for me. Despite that - GO HEELS! 

Here are a few more hoop notes for now, with my picks for the tournament coming tomorrow (Tuesday) night.

Three must-read articles have come out in the last week: my classmate Scott Price's piece in Sports Illustrated about UNC, John Feinstein's column on Syracuse and the ACC, and Barry Jacobs' column on the ACC tournament. 

Scott's piece is worth reading even though it's a little too cynical and broad. I still have faith that UNC will restore the Carolina way and that the University of the People will get it right. Scott quotes my former professor John Shelton Reed quite a bit, too. The SI piece posits that Carolina started losing it's way when Jordan and the Dean Dome turned a plucky and liberal program into a national brand, a process augmented by the world wide leader in sports hyping the UNC-Duke rivalry. 

The common thread through all three articles is the ACC now represents all that is wrong in college athletics. There are no more student athletes, just unpaid workers building a successful brand of entertainment and sports programing (the ESP of ESPN). It used to have a down-home tournament for fans of a geographically-compact conference; now its tournament is an east-coast roadshow in fairness to teams - not schools - that range from south Florida to New England to Indiana.

Worst of all, Feinstein points out that not only has its football-fueled expansion and money-loving ruined the quaintness of the basketball tournament, it has tainted the ACC's highest and mightiest. Who would have thought that Dean Smith's school could host an academic scandal, Duke would ignore two instances of sexual assault, and Syracuse would have to forfeit more than 100 wins due to academic schemes to keep players eligible?

Worst of all, to me at least, these problems are not that hard to fix: make freshmen ineligible, or follow baseball's example of holding a high school draft and if you don't sign with a team you can not be drafted again until you complete your junior year; play fewer regular-season games - 8 in football, 20 in basketball; 25 in baseball.  Those reforms would restore the quaintness of college athletics, keep the athletes in class more, and make sure that academia not corporate, name-brand, money-loving broadcasters set the agenda.

This year's NCAA tournament may make me shrug 'whatever' but these scandals make me embarrassed and ashamed for caring so much about college basketball. 


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Manuel Transmissions: All Manuels March Madness Edition!

The latest edition of Manuel Transmissions is now available at https://www.youtube.com/embed/Pdiur1Dovws.  Due to some transportation issues it's our first all-Manuels podcast, featuring Alex, Evan, Ariadne, Athan, and John our host - with a cameo from Sophia.  Predictably, we discuss the ACC tournament but spend most of our time talking about March Madnes* and our brackets.**

* - we trademarked Madnes with one S***
** - our picks are for entertainment only and are not meant to be the basis for any illegal or legal wagering
*** - I made that part up****
**** - they can't all be winners

GO HEELS!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Why We Watch

This is why we watch, right?  A week after a home loss to Duke that demoralized me, a generally half-full kind of viewer of all things Carolina, the Heels are back and playing like, well Tar Heels!

The turnaround is another reminder that we are watching embryonic young hoopsters when we are watching college basketball. The cynicism, money and corporate control - NY Life ACC Tournament, with a logo underfoot athletes who will not get a dime - makes that easy to forget.

Carolina's play this week reminds us that kids aren't perfect and make mistakes - but kids can also improve and do so quickly. In the course of three games the Heels seem to have solved the three problems that have marred their entire season until now.

One, Marcus Paige has gotten some help. Granted, he made the biggest shot of the game versus Virginia on Friday night, but freshman Justin Jackson was our leading scorer. On Thursday, Brice Johnson was fantastic and it was Kennedy Meeks making big plays down the stretch on offense and defense. 

Two, the poise was there. Carolina was down 5 to Louisville at half but was steady and methodical in the second half to win going away. Better still was the poise displayed when Virginia made the inevitable run to cut the lead to one. On back-to-back possessions Carolina made great plays. Paige went to Meeks at the free thrown line, who in turn made the extra pass to Jackson for a lay up as the 35 second clock expired. On the next possession, after a time out with 6 seconds left on the shot clock, Paige dribbled into the lane, pumped fake right then pivoted left to hit the game-sealing floater. Classic Carolina.

Finally three, the Heels are spreading the wealth Dean style. Paige has continued his resurgence of late, Johnson has been excellent on both ends and on the boards, Meeks has made some big time plays and though plagued by turnovers J.P. Tokoto  has done the same and Joel Berry kept us afloat versus Louisville with a huge stretch in the first half.  

By far the biggest development has been the play of Jackson. He quietly has gotten more consistent as the season has progressed but he exploded versus Virginia. Much has been written about his 4 three-pointers but he hit shots from all over the floor. I loved that he was aggressive to the hoop a number of times and did not 'settle' for being a one-dimensional shooter.  

All this could add up to Carolina's first ACC Championship since 2008. Growing up, an ACC Tournament title was almost a birthright for born, bred and dead Tar Heels like myself.  What a great capstone to an up and down season, one dominated by tragedies like the Wainstein report and the death of Coach Smith, an ACC title would make.  

On top of that, a win over Notre Dame would be another reminder that this is a game played by college kids, kids who can look nothing like Tar Heels one weekend and very Carolina the next.

GO HEELS! 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Return of Manuel Transmissions

A new episode of the Manuel Transmissions podcast is up and available at http://youtu.be/I_ACNro7waM.  This week's episode features Cleo, Paul, Evan, Athan, Alex and our host John discussing spring break, a little college basketball and our favorite NBA players (non-UNC alum division) plus tuna salad! 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Game That Defines the Season

Last night's loss to Duke was more than a disappointing loss to our smug and lesser arch-rivals. The loss epitomizes why so many Tar Heel born, bred and dead fans feel uneasy about this team and it's lack of progress.

To me, there have been 3 themes - or problems - with this team, and all were on display last night in Chapel Hill.
  1. This team is too dependent on Marcus Paige. I love Marcus Paige; in our new post-Wainstein era he is exactly who we need leading this team and frankly being the student face of the entire university. But the operative word there is lead. A leader leads but does not make every play, but that's what this team expects and all the opposing teams know it. As Jawad Williams tweeted (@worldwad) last night, someone else needs to step up and help Paige and this team win some games. Paige was magnificent last night vs. the Devils but needed help down the stretch but did not get much if any assistance. Finally, in a cruel twist considering recent events, an over reliance on one player is anti-Dean. One 'criticism' of Dean is that he was too egalitarian and team-oriented (yes, some idiots actually said that). Well, sharing the wealth is how you win games and championships. Look at Worthy-Perkins-Jordan, or Montross-Williams-Lynch-Phelps, or Lawson-Hansbrough-Ellington-Green, or Bird-McHale-Johnson-Parrish, or LeBron-Wade-Bosh, or Duncan-Parker-Ginobili-Popovich, Magic-Kareem-Worthy, Jordan-Pippen-Jackson, etc.
  2. Point two is related to point one: the uneven development of the players on this team. Paige and Brice Johnson were both named third-team ACC, which seems about right. Johnson is the only player to have gotten better this year, and was the only other reliable Tar Heel on the floor versus the Devils besides Paige. Offensively Johnson is confident and has some great moves, is as athletic as you would imagine a state high jump champion to be, and does the work on the glass. But this team has been undone by a lack of progress from Kennedy Meeks and T.P. Tokoto and spotty  play from everyone else in the rotation: Britt, Jackson, Berry, James, Pinson. None of those guys are reliable contributors game to game. At the end of a season you should see more development from all the players, but especially from Meeks and Tokoto. Both could and should have been All-ACC players but instead they have looked lost down the stretch.
  3. Which of course is maybe our biggest problem. In addition to being un-Dean in terms of players, it also appears that this team is very un-Carolina at the end of games. Your typical Tar Heels squad - the pre-broken wrist 2012  Kendall Marshall squad is probably the most recent example - is a well-oiled, smart and poised machine at the end of the season. But not this one. The late-game melt downs at Duke, at Louisville, and at home versus Virginia, State and the Devils could not be more frustrating or vexing. Of course, this problem is the sum of the first two issues. Who are these guys making all these unforced errors? Their jerseys say Carolina so my eyes believe it but my gut, my heart and the Carolina-blue blood coursing through my veins does not.
So what's next? It's hard to be optimistic at this stage of the season. To win the ACC tournament the Heels would have to go through Louisville (doable; we've practically beaten them twice already), Virginia (also doable especially if Meeks and Tokoto show up), and Duke. One of Dean's sayings is it's hard to beat a team three times in one season so I would love our chances to prove Dean right (again) and get some revenge against the Devils.

Even if this happens it's hard to imagine us going more than 2 or 3 games deep in the NCAAs. Another example of how un-Dean and un-Carolina team this teams seems to be. As sad as those 3 issues just discussed THAT may be the saddest admission of them all. 

Despite all that - GO HEELS!