keeping an eye on the tree and the forest

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I Do Disagree, but It’s Worth a Thought


Here’s Bill Simmons’ latest suggestion about fantasy football:

The new fantasy rules

Editor’s note: This article appears in the July 31 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

You’re not allowed to complain about four things in life: nudity, free food, free drinks and fantasy football. So why would I want to tinker with the latter, a multibillion-dollar business that brings us so much joy? Because we screwed this up from the beginning, that’s why.

You know how pro sports were totally messed up in the ’40s and ’50s, back when the NBA had no shot clock, hockey goalies didn’t have masks and football players went all 60 minutes? Back then, fans thought everything was fine, right? That’s where fantasy is: great concept, semisuccessful execution, tons of potential. It’s not Kathy Griffin’s face; we don’t have to renovate everything, we just need to make some adjustments. And I’m more than willing to be the Winston Wolfe of the whole thing.

Here are the biggest problems, with my solutions:

PROBLEM: Every league has different rules.

Imagine that you and your friends belonged to various bowling leagues, only some used extra-big balls, some used 12 pins instead of 10, some counted strikes as 15 points and so on. How could anyone ever brag about a 300? You’d spend more time explaining your rules than anything else. Well, isn’t that what happens with fantasy football? Some leagues start eight guys, others start 12. Some leagues start multiple QBs, others start one. Some leagues count stats for individual defensive players, some don’t count defense at all. When a buddy tells you a war story from his league, he always has to spend 45 seconds explaining his rules. Complete waste of time.

SOLUTION: The Sports Guy’s rules.

They’re logical. Plus they give me a chance to refer to myself in the third person, like Rickey Henderson. I’ve always wanted to do that. In order …

1. Ten or 12 teams per league, 15 players per teams.

2. Every week you start a QB, two RBs, three WRs, one TE, one kicker, one defense and a 10th man from any position. For that 10th-man spot, only six times can you start a QB, RB or WR. So there’s additional strategy involved: Not only do you need depth, but, since QBs always get the highest points, when you play the “second QB” card one week, you’d better need him.

3. Standard scoring: six points for rushing/receiving TDs; four points for passing TDs; three for FGs; one for PATs; six for defense/special teams TD; one for sacks/fumble recoveries/INTs; two for safeties; one for every 20 passing yards; one for every 10 rushing/receiving yards; 20 points for an arrest. However, there are wrinkles:

A) Five-point bonuses for 175 yards rushing/receiving and 350 yards passing. If somebody has a big day, that should be rewarded. Plus, it gives the “guy who loves to complain about everything, even if his team exploded for 200 points” a chance to complain when one of his players falls a yard shy of the bonus.

B) Shutouts count for 10 points, holding an opponent to seven or less counts for five and holding the other team to under 200 total yards counts as another five. Defenses don’t matter enough in fantasy. In what other scenario is a tight end more important than all 11 guys on the opposing defense? I mean, except for Ben Coates in Madden ’97?

C) Interceptions, fumbles and missed kicks count as minus-one; any pick returned for a TD counts as minus-six against your QB. We don’t penalize for incompetence often enough. If you were so desperate you had to start Drew Bledsoe, then you should constantly be terrified of his trademark hanging floater toward the sideline that gets picked off by a cornerback running the other way. In other words, it should be like real life.

PROBLEM: Nobody can pull off a schmuck-free league.

Look, the duties of an owner are simple: Don’t bring your girlfriend/wife to the draft; don’t draft someone that was already drafted; don’t draft an injured guy (leading your buddies to be thrust into an awkward position of either screwing you or giving you a do-over); try to field a competitive team; create an offensive team name; start a lineup of healthy players every week; return e-mails or phone calls within 24 hours unless you’re trapped under something; and, when all else fails, at least come up with an occasional funny e-mail or message-board post.

But what about owners who bring nothing to the table and do a terrible job with their team? For whatever reason, it’s less awkward for guys to dump a girlfriend than to discard a deadbeat fantasy owner. There’s always some crazy reason to keep him around, like “It would be awkward for the commissioner to run into him at work” or “Let’s cut him some slack, he’s going through a divorce.” Ridiculous. We already have to deal with too much dead weight in real life, we don’t need it in our fantasy lives.

SOLUTION: The “three strikes and you’re out” rule.

Here’s how it works: During the draft, if you don’t make any jokes and sit there looking like Mike Holmgren watching the Super Bowl XL video, that’s a strike. If you repeatedly take too long to make picks, to the point that everyone is screaming 12-letter expletives every time you’re on the clock, that’s a strike. If more than twice you draft someone who was already drafted, because you aren’t paying attention, that’s a strike. If you draft an injured guy (leading to the aforementioned “should we or shouldn’t we give him a do-over” intervention), that’s a strike. If you spend the entire draft whispering on your cell phone to some unseen partner and ignoring everyone in the room, that’s a strike. If you’re too cheap to buy your own magazines and ask to borrow someone else’s, that’s a strike. If you forgot to bring money to the draft, that’s a strike.

But wait, there’s more. After the draft, if you don’t return an e-mail or a phone call within 72 hours and can’t come up with a valid excuse, that’s a strike. If you go more than a month without sending a group e-mail or making a message-board post that belittles the credentials of someone else in the league, that’s a strike. If you belatedly respond to someone’s e-mail or phone call with a snarky comment like “Sorry I took so long to respond — some of us actually have jobs” or “Just in case you forgot, there are more important things in life than fantasy football,” that’s a strike. If you started someone who’s out for the season, or if you didn’t use the waiver wire to try to replace that person, that’s a strike. If you make a horrendously shady trade, even, if it gets overturned, that’s still a strike. Three strikes and you’re out. Simple as that.

(One other note: If you don’t show up for the draft, can’t do it by phone and have the gall to send a lackey with some half-assed list you make to pick your team, that’s three strikes. Go away.)

PROBLEM: It’s impossible to make it through a season without a one-sided trade causing complete chaos.

We all know that the wrong trade can divide a fantasy league faster than the Spelling family fell apart. In my West Coast league a few years ago, the first-place team had Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. It needed a receiver and traded Manning straight up for Amani Toomer. You read the correctly. Nearly 700 angry e-mails and five near-fistfights later, the trade was somehow approved. If that wasn’t bad enough, the first-place team won the title — Toomer filled a gaping hole at receiver — and Manning’s new team finished second. From then on, we called it Toomergate. And, honestly, I never want to go through anything like that again. It was more traumatic than the last 20 minutes of “American History X.”

SOLUTION: Form a trading committee.

Enlist three unbiased outsiders who aren’t in the league but are friends with a few of the owners. It’s not like you’d have trouble convincing them. They’ll be delighted to kill a few minutes at work arbitrating. And you think I’m kidding. They’ll be like, “Wait, you want me to be on your league’s new trading committee? Sure, I’m available!”

PROBLEM: The free agent system is a complete failure.

You know how someone does a brutal job picking his team and gets rewarded with first choice on the free agent wire every week? “Congratulations, you stunk out the joint; now you get to add a receiver who just exploded for 190 yards and a TD last week!” How does that make sense? You’re almost better off tanking Week 1. Anyway, those days are over.

SOLUTION: A weekly auction.

Give everyone a budget of $100 to spend on free agents. Every Thursday, if you want someone, you bid for him; highest bid wins. Not only is it more fun than humans should be allowed, but there’s some genuine strategy here. Let’s say nobody picks Bethel Johnson, who busts out with a 160-yard game in Week 1 after Joe Horn breaks his collarbone patting himself on the back. And let’s say you need a wide receiver because Chad Johnson blows out his knee dry-humping the upright. What do you bid for Bethel: $15? $20? $25? Isn’t this more exciting than everyone putting in for the same three standouts, followed by the three most incompetent teams landing those guys?

PROBLEM: There are never enough trades, and the trade deadline isn’t exciting enough.

Tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about.

SOLUTION: The deadline is Thursday night, 3 a.m., right before Week 11.

Here’s the catch: On that night, every owner needs to go out drinking with his fellow owners. Nothing greases the skids for blockbuster trades like a few rounds of tequila shots. (I wish we could make this mandatory for pro sports as well.) And if somebody doesn’t show up for the deadline bash and fails to provide a good excuse, that counts as a strike (see three-strike system).

PROBLEM: Unless you make the playoffs, your fantasy football season is done by Week 14.

Everyone willingly accepts a shorter season. Why? Because that’s the way we’ve always done it. Well, isn’t it possible we messed up from Day 1, like when HBO greenlit “Arli$$” and kept it on for seven years?

SOLUTION: Make the regular season last 17 weeks.


Here’s how this works:

1. The top four teams advance to the playoffs.

2. Playoff teams can protect just six players from their roster, which makes the original September draft more interesting. Now someone like Tom Brady is worth more than someone like Drew Brees, because of his playoff value.

3. Playoff rosters increase to 11 men: one QB, two RBs, three WRs, one TE, one kicker, one defense and two extra guys (any position). To fill out the last five spots, you hold another, minidraft, via e-mail, in which the playoff teams pick from the teams that fell short. Best record gets the first pick every round, second-best picks second and so on. Regular-season champs get an edge, but not an insurmountable one. Also, there’s a skill to picking the playoff guys: If you like a wild-card team — like Pittsburgh last season — do you load up on those guys or play it safe with the top seeds?

4. Scoring is cumulative through the four playoff rounds. Highest total points wins.

Think about how your life would change with the 21-week system. You get a minimum of three extra fantasy weeks. The whole “fantasy teams getting screwed in Week 16 because contenders rested their guys” debacle is gone. Make the playoffs and you get to prepare for an e-mail minidraft. Like you wouldn’t love that? And in January, not only do you get to watch playoff football, but there are fantasy implications with every game! What’s better than that?

Remember, the whole concept of fantasy is based on procrastination: guys wasting incredible amounts of time preparing to pick the team, then picking it, managing it, arguing about it, following it, rooting for it and alternatively bragging/complaining about it. That’s why we’re involved. We should keep tinkering with the product until we get it right.

If that makes me a world-class complainer, so be it.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His new book “Now I Can Die In Peace is available on and in bookstores everywhere.

Freedom Time


Everybody knows that they’re guilty
Everybody knows that they’ve lied
Everybody knows that they’re guilty
Resting on their conscience eating their inside
It’s freedom, said it’s freedom time now
It’s freedom, said it’s freedom time now
Time to get free, oh give yourselves up now
It’s freedom, said it’s freedom time

Yo, there’s a war in the mind, over territory
For the dominion
Who will dominate the opinion
Skisms and isms, keepin’ us in forms of religion
Conformin’ our vision
To the world churches decision
Trapped in a section
Submitted to committee election
Moral infection
Epedemic lies and deception
Of the highest possible order
Destortin’ our tape recorders
From here and like under water
Beyond the borders
Fond of sin and disorder
Bound by the strategy
It’s systematic deprivaty
Heavy as gravity
Head first in the cavity
Without a bottom
A fate worse than Sodom
What’s got ’em
Drunk of the spirits
Truth comes, we can’t hear it
When you’ve been, programmed to fear it
I had a vision
I was fallin’ in indescision
Apollin’, callin’ religion
Some program on television
How can dominant wisdom
Be recognized in the system
Of Anti-Christ, the majority rules
Intelligent fools
PhD’s in illusion
Masters of mass confusion
Bachelors in past illusion
Now who you choosin’
The head or the tail
The bloodshed of male
Or confidance in the veil
Conferences of Yale
Discussin’ doctrines of Baal
Causin’ people to fail
Keepin’ the third in jail
His word has nailed
Everything to the tree
Severing all of me from all that I used to be
Formless and void
Totally paranoid
Enjoy darkness as the Lord
Keepin’ me from the sword
Blocked from mercy
Bitter than cerasee
Hungry and thirsty
For good meat we would eat
And still, dined at the table of deceit
How incomplete
From confrontation to retreat
We prolong the true enemies defeat
Destitute a necessity
Causin’ desperation to get the best of me
Punishment ’til there was nothing left of me
Realizin’ the unescapable death of me
No options in the valley of decision
The only doctrine, supernatural circumcision
Inwardly only water can purge the heart
From words, the fiery darts
Thrown by the workers of the arts
Iniquity, shapen in
There’s no escapin’ when
You’re whole philosophy is paper thin
In vanity
The wide road is insanity
Could it be all of humanity?
Picture that
Scripture that
The origin of man’s heart is black
How can we show up for
An invisible war
Preoccupied with a shadow, makin’ love with a whore
Achin’ in sores
Babylon, the great mystery
Mother of human history
System of social sorcery
Our present condition
Needs serious recognition
Where there’s no repentance there can be no remission
And that sentence, more serious than Vietnam
The atom bomb, and Saddam, and Minister Farakkhan
What’s goin’ on, what’s the priority to you
by what authority do we do
the majority hasn’t a clue
We majored in curses
Search the chapters, check the verses
Recapture the land
Remove the mark from off of our hands
So we can stand
In agreement with his command
Everything else is damned
Let them with ears understand
Everything else is damned, let them with ears understand

It’s freedom, said it’s freedom time now
It’s freedom, said it’s freedom time now
It’s freedom, I’ma be who I am
It’s freedom time, said it’s freedom time
Everybody knows that they’ve lied
Everybody knows that they’ve perpetrated inside
Everybody knows that they’re guilty, yes
Resting on their conscience eating their insides
Get free, be who you’re suppost to be
Freedom, said it’s freedom time now
Freedom, said it’s freedom time
Freedom, freedom time now

by Lauryn Hill

Sorry, I’m on a music kick lately. This song is from Lauryn Hill’s performance on MTV Unplugged from 2002 which is absolutely brilliant. Before I heard it, I only new her as the girl from The Fugees and that Nas video. However, I was blown away by her transformation from pop to folk, or more like gospel folk. She has gone from Hip Hop and flashy dancers to sitting on a stage by herself singing with just her guitar and letting the lyrics speak for themselves. I have never heard of a person of her caliber to call for repentance in their songs. In one of her interludes she comments, “I know a lot of the content of these songs is heavy…”, which is a severe understatement. It is quite obvious to anyone who has heard these songs that she has undergone a major spiritual adjustment of a divine nature. She is now a folk prophetess. Just take a look at the track listing of this double volume:

Disc One
1. Intro
2. Mr. Intentional
3. Adam Lives In Theory
4. Interlude 1
5. Oh Jerusalem
6. Interlude 2
7. Freedom Time
8. Interlude 3
9. I Find It Hard To Say (Rebel)
10. Just Like Water
11. Interlude 4
12. Just Want You Around
13. I Gotta Find Peace Of Mind
Disc Two
1. Interlude 5
2. Mystery Of Iniquity
3. Interlude 6
4. I Get Out
5. Interlude 7
6. I Remember
7. So Much Things To Say
8. The Conquering Lion
9. Outro

Anyhow, she has been virtually unnoticed recently, so I thought I would mention her because what she is saying should not be overlooked or ignored. Take a listen at Amazon or LegalSounds.



If you twist and turn away.
If you tear yourself in two again.
If I could, yes I would
If I could, I would let it go.
Surrender, dislocate.

If I could throw this lifeless life-line to the wind.
Leave this heart of clay, see you walk, walk away
Into the night, and through the rain
Into the half light and through the flame.

If I could, through myself, set your spirit free
I’d lead your heart away, see you break, break away
Into the light and to the day.

To let it go and so to find away.
To let it go and so find away.
I’m wide awake.
I’m wide awake, wide awake.
I’m not sleeping.

If you should ask, then maybe
They’d tell you what I would say
True colours fly in blue and black
Blue silken sky and burning flag.
Colours crash, collide in blood-shot eyes.

If I could, you know I would
If I could, I would let it go.

This desperation, dislocation
Separation, condemnation
Revelation, in temptation
Isolation, desolation
Let it go and so to find away
To let it go and so to find away
To let it go and so to find away

I’m wide awake, I’m wide awake, wide awake
I’m not sleeping
Oh no, no, no.

Lyrics by U2

I know it is widely acknowledged that this song is about Gareth Spaulding who was a friend of Bono that died because of a heroin overdose: “I wrote the words about a friend of mine, his name was Gareth Spaulding. And on his twentyfirst birthday he and his friends decided to give themselves a present of enough heroine into his veins to kill him. This song is called ‘Bad'” (comments Bono made at a show in Sweden in 1987). However, I cannot escape a simultaneous connection with the experience of the apostle Peter after he tried to protect Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. “Where in the world are you getting that?” you may ask. Well, picking up on the Judas experience in “Until the End of the World” from Achtung Baby, I thought it wouldn’t be strange for Bono to identify failings and regrets of others around Jesus, particularly those viewed positively. What really hit me was the refrain “I’m wide awake, I’m not sleeping”. At first, I began to think of the Transfiguration, where Peter, James, and John fell asleep praying (see Luke 9:30-33). But then I also thought of the other occurrence of sleeping during prayer while they were in the Garden (see Luke 22:44-46). Thus, I got the thought that perhaps “Bad” was Peter rehearsing after the fact what he would do if he could do it again. He had limited his scope on Jesus and the nature of his kingdom to the extent that in both of the events mentioned above, he ends up making suggestions that in restrospect are so bone-headed both of which are intended to keep Jesus around rather than let him go. Anyway, that seemed to fit with the verbage of the song, particularly the fact that he was now “wide awake”. Perhaps I’m wacked out, but Bono is accustomed to weaving different layers into his lyrics so I personally wouldn’t put it past him. I also wouldn’t bank on it. But, whatever.

Clarity in Writing


Here’s a great stuff on writing that Justin Taylor posted recently:

Joseph Williams’s excellent handbook, Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace, rests on two principles: “it is good to write clearly, and anyone can.” He seeks to address these questions:

  • What is it in a sentence that makes readers judge it as they do?
  • How can we diagnose our own prose to anticipate their judgments?
  • How can we revise a sentence so that readers will think better of it?

I’ve reproduced below the main principles found in the book. Of course, you’ll have to get the book itself to see these explained and illustrated.

Ten Principles for Writing Clearly

1. Distinguish real grammatical rules from folklore.
2. Use subjects to name the characters in your story.
3. Use verbs to name their important actions.
4. Open your sentences with familiar units of information.
5. Begin sentences constituting a passage with consistent topic/subjects.
6. Get to the main verb quickly.

  • Avoid long introductory phrases and clauses.
  • Avoid long abstract subjects.
  • Avoid interrupting the subject-verb connection.

7. Push new, complex units of information to the end of the sentence.
8. Be concise:

  • Cut meaningless and repeated words and obvious implications.
  • Put the meaning of phrases into one or two words.
  • Prefer affirmative sentences to negative ones.

9. Control sprawl.

  • Don’t tack more than one subordinate clause onto another.
  • Extend a sentence with resumptive, summative, and free modifiers.
  • Extend a sentence with coordinate structures after verbs.

10. Above all, write to others as you would have others write to you.

Ten Principles for Writing Coherently

1. In your introduction, motivate readers with a problem they care about.
2. Make your point clearly, usually at the end of that introduction.
3. In that point, introduce the important concepts in what follows.
4. Make everything that follows relevant to your point.
5. Make it clear where each part/section begins and ends.
6. Open each part/section with a short introductory segment.
7. Put the point of each part/section at the end of that opening segment.
8. Order parts in a way that makes clear and visible sense to your readers.
9. Begin sentences constituting a passage with consistent topic/subjects.
10. Create cohesive old-new links between sentences.