A Bold Prediction

Photo by Keith Allison.

Last night, Zydrunas Ilgauskas passed Brad Daugherty to become the all-time leading rebounder in Cavaliers franchise history and Lebron James passed Mark Price to be become the Cavaliers' all-time steals leader. They trounced the Toronto Raptors, 114-94, which was their 9th straight victory by twelve points or more. In all these years, the NBA has never seen such a dominating win streak last this long. The Cavaliers haven't lost a home game this season. That's twelve home wins in a row, and counting - a franchise record. How about the overall record? 18-3, which is - you guessed it - the franchise's best start ever. The Cavaliers defense is suffocating, their offense firing on all cylinders. Dare I say, this team looks unstoppable. If you don't believe me, go see for yourself.

Think about how far the Cavaliers have come since last year. Things were chaotic during training camp and the first few months of the season. Aleksandar Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao were involved in contract hold-outs, the team seemed to have a hangover from their pre-season tour through China, and Larry Hughes was still on the roster. Lebron James carried the Cavaliers by himself almost every single night, averaging over forty minutes playing time. When he didn't play, the Cavaliers lost, plain and simple. During All-Star weekend they underwent a personnel change. Exit Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, and Donyell Marshall; enter Joe Smith, Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, and Delonte West. The Big Trade seemed a bust, however. I twice witnessed the Cavaliers get scorched by Mo Williams and the lowly Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavaliers struggled to maintain a .500 record during the second half of the season, and amazingly held on to the four seed in the Eastern Conference. Yet, in the second round, these very average Cavaliers managed to take the Celtics, the eventual NBA champs, to the last minute of the seventh game in a seven-game series while on the road.

Well, that very average Cavaliers team wouldn't look average for much longer. On draft night, Danny Ferry picked up a promising power forward in J.J. HIckson, who turned a lot of heads in summer league. Then in August, as Lebron and his buddies were earning themselves some gold hardware in Beijing and redeeming USA Basketball's dignity on the biggest global stage, Ferry found a way to bring Mo Williams and his instantaneous, explosive offense to town. Further, West, Wallace, and Szczerbiak had more time to adapt to Mike Brown's system during the off-season and training camp.

The payoff wasn't immediate, but it still came fast. The Cavaliers won only one of their first three games, but have been on a roll ever since. Because their defense is so good and their offense so efficient, the Cavaliers have been able to build big leads fast, maintain them until the fourth quarter, and then rest their starters. This means less end-game heroics from Lebron, which means he averages less minutes; which means that if the Cavaliers keep up this routine, they may be heading into the post-season with a relatively well rested team. Moreover, if they keep winning like they do - and, barring injuries, I don't see why they won't - they very well may grab home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Q is a madhouse. The prospects of another team beating the Cavaliers at home would be slim to none. So if a very average, Lebron-led, 07-08 Cavaliers team was only seconds from beating the 07-08 NBA champion, Big-Three-led, Celtics in game seven on the road, just imagine what a very good, well rested, Lebron-led Cavaliers team with home court advantage could do.

In lieu of this, here's my bold prediction (literally):

Cavaliers win 60+ games, earn home court advantage throughout the playoffs, and defeat the Lakers in six games, just so they can celebrate in front of the home crowd. Parties ensue throughout Northeast Ohio for three straight nights. The parade through Public Square soon follows. Cleveland sports fans breathe a sigh of relief.

God, I hope I'm right.

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A Bold Prediction by Nathan M. Blackerby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


The Suppression of Online Journalism

This past Friday, Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! interviewed journalist Antony Loewenstein, author of The Blogging Revolution. They discussed how many non-Western bloggers have been arrested and suppressed by government institutions of their respective countries just because they pose a threat to the status quo:

Many people in these countries, of course, can’t rely on state-run media, which is propaganda... Blogging is a way of trying to express different views. So in every country I went to, except for Cuba, where the internet is very underdeveloped, you have situations, people blogging about sex, about drugs, about gender issues, about politics. The majority of people in these countries don’t blog politically. They blog about their personal lives, about their boyfriends, their girlfriends. But there is increasingly, as that report states, many, many regimes who are fearful of the fact that you have independent voices, simply put. (Democracy Now!)

What is most troublesome, however, is that Google, Yahoo! and others have actually complied with these governments to achieve the goal of suppressing the coverage bloggers offer:

With the assistance of Western multinationals like Yahoo!, who have actually given information to the regime to assist these people being put in jail. Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Cisco, other security firms, internet firms, have sadly and shamefully been involved in these kind of complicity acts. And... one of the things I discuss in the book is to actually have more transparency about how those guys actually operate in those kind of countries. (Democracy Now!)

Google, Microsoft, etc. may be multinational, but they're still US-based companies. One should expect them to uphold in their international dealings certain core rights and values that define the United States: the right to free speech, the right to dissent, and civil disobedience. The fact that Google and Microsoft's market extends to nations whose regimes currently ignore such values and violate such rights doesn't entail that we should tolerate Google and Microsoft's current "when in Rome" attitude. These values and rights aren't bound by time, place and circumstance. They are supposed to apply universally. Hence any compliance with regimes whose interest is to suppress civil disobedience and dissent should be treated for what it is: compromise. Of course, such compromise is unsurprising in a world where market values have come to trump or altogether displace democratic and moral values; where nations, communities, and the people who inhibit them are seen as a mere means to profit rather than invaluable ends in themselves.

UPDATE: Check out this BBC news story about two Burmese bloggers who were arrested within the past year and recently received the 'cyber-dissent award.' Also, check out the Committee to Protect Bloggers. They've got a lot of coverage dealing with bloggers who were arrested for speaking out.

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The Suppression of Online Journalism by Nathan M. Blackerby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


Local Currency in Milwaukee

It looks as if some of E. F. Schumacher's ideas have begun to grow legs in Milwaukee. The Riverwest and Eastside communities have begun to entertain the possibility of establishing local currency, and they've been getting a fair share of local and national media attention for it too. Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, have each ran articles about it. A local radio station, WTMJ (am620), a local television news station, TMJ4, and a radio station in Baltimore, WBAL (am1090), have also provided coverage of the story. The issue has made an appearance in a number of blogs as well. (cf. The Consumerist)

So far, nearly every news piece that I've read, watched, or listened to, has implicated the current financial crisis as the reason for Riverwest's rising interest in local currency. Consider the opening lines of the Newsweek and Chicago Tribune articles, respectively:

People nationwide may start hoarding their cash as recession fears grow. But in Riverwest—a progressive enclave of Milwaukee—residents have another answer to their money trouble: they'll print their own. The proposed River Currency would be used like cash at local businesses, keeping the area economy humming whatever the health of the country at large. "We can create our own value," explains Sura Faraj, 48, one of the plan's organizers. (Newsweek)

Residents from the Milwaukee neighborhoods of Riverwest and East Side are scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss printing their own money. The idea is that the local cash could be used at neighborhood stores and businesses, thus encouraging local spending. The result, supporters hope, would be a bustling local economy, even as the rest of the nation deals with a recession. (Chicago Tribune)

The way I see it is that the explanation offered by Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, et alia is due to the presumption of a logic of economic centralization; rural and certain urban localities, with the labor and resources they provide, are essentially seen to act as tributaries that feed a steady stream of goods and services into larger, central markets, which themselves feed back into their tributaries, as if forming a loop. The presumption is that, so long as the central markets continue to grow, overall wealth should increase for its tributaries as well. Likewise, when larger markets falter, one should expect the same for local communities. Given the logic of centralization and given that the adoption of local currency entails at least a mitigated rejection of centralization, it isn't difficult to imagine that the only type of scenario in which a community would consider adopting local currency would be one in which the central markets fall on hard times. In all other cases, adopting local currency would amount to biting the hand that feeds, which is irrational so long as the hand keeps feeding. However, the current economic crisis must have scared some into believing that sometime soon the hand might actually stop feeding, so naturally these folks have begun to look for another means of sustenance.

Monopoly money? Think twice!

What is one to make of this explanation? Well, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article is exceptional in that it depicts Riverwest's interest in local currency as arising from a broader concern for building a stronger, more eco-friendly community. One of its quotes is from a post on Sura Faraj's blog, in which she discusses the various benefits of localizing currency. Faraj is a politically outspoken member of the Riverwest community, and apparently her blog has served as a catalyst for Riverwest's flirtation with developing a local currency. Here's a bit about what she has to say:

Most community currency is based on time and can be used to exchange services in neighborhoods. This promotes local economic strength and community self-reliance. Other benefits include more community involvement and pride, patronage of local businesses (those that participate), and ultimately the reduction of traffic emissions. Because of its positive impact on the environment, local currencies are part of economic strategies of more and more sustainable living supporters. (Sura for Change)

Taking this into account, one can see why a community would want to adopt local currency no matter how well or poorly the larger markets may be doing. By encouraging local productivity and widespread ownership, allotting more control to the community and its members, and providing a counter-balance to national and international businesses who have no qualms with funneling wealth out of local communities, local currency would guarantee more freedom, in the sense that the community becomes less dependent on external financial and economic institutions to meet its needs.

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Local Currency in Milwaukee by Nathan M. Blackerby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


An rwx World

This week, I came across a number of interesting videos and books that deal with so-called intellectual property, copyright issues, digital media, the free culture movement, Creative Commons licensing, and other related matters.

The first of which is a film called Good Copy, Bad Copy, which was released in 2007. It focuses largely on the creation of new music through sampling, the entertainment industry's opposition to file-sharing, and in a subtle way, the economics that underlie copyright issues. Perhaps most interesting to my mind was the segment that covers the Motion Picture Association of America's influence on Swedish authorities shutting down The Pirate Bay in May/June 2006. Since the Pirate Bay is in Swedish territory, and thus does not fall under US jurisdiction, the Pirate Bay isn't restricted by the copyright standards found in the US, and so no one could be detained nor could the state prohibit the Pirate Bay's continuation. Check out the film:

Next is a recently published book by James Boyle entitled The Public Domain. It's available as a pdf for free download. You can also freely read it online in html at Yale University Press. As one would expect from a book, The Public Domain goes into greater depth than Good Copy, Bad Copy concerning fair use and intellectual property issues. However, it is also broader in scope, as it addresses such things as invasive techniques to control what we are allowed to do with, what we are capable of doing with, and how we actually use media and software. Thus he carries on an extended discussion of such things as DRM, and proprietary vs. free and open source software. His message is a simple one: the public domain is worth preserving. Well, duh. Shouldn't that be a no-brainer? Unfortunately, for some people it isn't.

I also came across a recent interview with Lawrence Lessig on Charlie Rose, as well as a presentation Lessig gave at a conference hosted by Google in 2006. In the Charlie Rose interview, Lessig discusses his relationship with Barack Obama and how he has known Obama since the beginning of Obama's career as a law professor. He also discusses the influence of money in politics and how we need to work toward more open governance, his motivation for the establishment of Change Congress.

The only unique things I found about Lessig's Google presentation is that he compares Creative Commons licenses with the GNU General Public License, and that, during the Q & A period, he addresses some deeper philosophical questions about intellectual property vs. fair use. Beyond that, the rest is really just an extended version of a talk he gave at TED in 2007. So if you don't have an hour and fifteen to spare, check that out instead.

Finally, I read a long essay (or short book - whichever you prefer to call it, I guess) by Douglas Rushkoff entitled Open Source Democracy. It was published in 2003 by DEMOS and, like The Public Domain, is available for free download. Rushkoff's thesis is that political communities have been based largely on a top-down, proprietary model, in which power and decision-making is vested in a centralized group. By contrast, free and open source communities exhibit an emergent, bottom-up, and participatory model, in which power and decision-making is largely decentralized and vested in each member of the community. As such, free and open source communities provide an example of an alternative model for politics and governance. Check out p. 59-60, where Rushkoff draws a parallel between free and open source models and the economics of E.F. Schumacher.

Rushkoff's book is good insofar as it takes a first step towards addressing how free and open source models might be suggestive for new forms of government and politics. However, I found his argumentation a bit too loose at times. In the coming weeks I hope to post a blog that makes a stronger connection between free culture, open source, etc. and democracy. At any rate, Open Source Democracy is worth the hour and a half or so it takes to read.

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An rwx World by Nathan M. Blackerby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


Lebron James Dunks Microsoft

Lebron James and Microsoft have ended their two year partnership. I can only wonder why. Does his Zune no longer support the file format of his favorite Jay-Z songs? Perhaps Vista crashed on him one too many times. Or maybe a new partnership with the Free Software Foundation is in the works?

Perhaps a better question is why Lebron partnered with Microsoft in the first place. They really didn't do much for one another. To my knowledge, Lebron appeared in just one commercial announcing the release of Vista, and even then it seemed more of a cameo. You remember it, don't you? He just stood there and said "wow."

Microsoft then made a website for him, which won a Webby for design. In reality, however, the design was atrocious. Navigation was always a cumbersome adventure. Links were mapped onto animated images that often had no correspondence to the content of the pages they opened. In many cases, those pages turned out empty. Moreover, the blog was infrequently updated by someone other than Lebron.

At any rate, I can live with him no longer receiving millions from Microsoft for doing nothing. The only partnership that matters to me is the one he has with his fellow citizens of Northeast Ohio via his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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Lebron James Dunks Microsoft by Nathan M. Blackerby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


Speculation and Anticipation Rule the Day

It was a spectacle to witness the collective euphoria that ensued last week after Barack Obama defeated John McCain in the presidential race. Moments after the polls closed on the west coast and, one by one, every major news network projected Obama the winner, I listened from my apartment in Milwaukee as each corner of the city simultaneously burst into jubilant celebration. I stayed up until early Wednesday morning and watched ABC News broadcast live feeds of parties as they took place in the streets of DC, Harlem, Los Angeles, and Times Square. The following day, it was as if the students on campus here at Marquette University were walking on air. Most of my friends and family members could barely contain themselves, whether in conversation, e-mail, or in the updates and comments posted to their social networking site(s) of choice. Barack Obama became the first minority ever to be elected US president, the first black person to occupy the highest office in the land. His campaign motivated young people and minorities to be politically active in ways the nation hasn't seen since the 1960's. His victory signaled an end to eight years of far-right rule under George W. Bush. There was and still is much to celebrate. However, the gravity of the difficulties our nation now faces demanded anything but prolonged celebration.

By Thursday, it was back to business as usual, and speculation about what an Obama administration would look like soon ran rampant throughout the media and the Internet. Obama announced Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, and planned a meeting with his economic advisers. Pro-Palestinians and those seeking a peaceful, two-state solution to the Arab-Israel conflict claimed that Emanuel would be a rabid dog in foreign policy matters, constantly whispering pro-Israeli sentiments in Obama's ear, which they claimed if acted on, would only serve to escalate the violence. By contrast, many Zionists were at least apprehensive that Obama might turn his back on Israel. On Sunday morning, I watched the local and national political television shows as many Republicans continued to label Obama The Most Liberal Member of the US Senate, a charge constantly leveled against him throughout the the presidential campaign. Yet, commentators on well known liberal news shows such as Democracy Now! claimed just the opposite; Obama is, and will remain, a conservative, they said. Now that's a headspinner! How can one man simultaneously occupy mutually exclusive positions in the political spectrum?

Obama won the election for a number of reasons, but mainly, I think, because of his message of change: reformation of health care, development of so-called green energy, a return to a more progressive taxation system, a definite plan to end our military operatives in Iraq and Afghanistan, more transparency in politics, a break from the divisive politics of the past 28 years, etc. Many now wait in anticipation, anxious to see an Obama administration implement those changes he claimed he would bring to America. Some are blinded by their optimism that he will unquestionably deliver on his promises. Others, as mentioned above, have defaulted to the same tired old divisions, seeing only compromise and failure in his future. I suppose its natural after such a grandiose historical event to whip out one's crystal ball and dream about what the future holds. Yet merely because such dreaming is natural, this doesn't count in favor of its accuracy. Right now, speculation and anticipation rule the day, when what we sorely need is some patience, keen observation, and a readiness to speak up when things begin to go awry.

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Speculation and Anticipation Rule the Day by Nathan M. Blackerby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


Iverson is now a Piston, but can he deliver a championship?

After the Piston's 2007-08 season ended with another defeat in the Eastern Conference Finals, Joe Dumars vowed that he was going to shake up the Pistons's roster. But after replacing Flip Saunders with first-year coach Michael Curry and signing the disappointment that is Kwame Brown, Dumars sat on the proverbial fence. I was surprised by this, since it was obvious to anyone who follows basketball that the team needed a face-lift if they were to make another run at an NBA championship. The 2005-2006, 2006-07, and 2007-08 teams, which had more or less the same line-up, were consistently a dominant team during the regular season. But winning almost 60+ games each season hasn't managed to help them avoid receiving anything more than a consolation prize in the Eastern Conference playoffs. In 2005-06, the Pistons ran out of gas against Dwayne Wade and the Heat after a grueling seven game series with the Cavaliers in the second round. In 2006-07, Lebron rolled over them like a MAC truck (game 5 at the Palace, anyone?). This year, the Big Three were just too much for the Pistons to handle.

All this leaves the impression that the Pistons no longer have what it takes to win in the playoffs. Simply put, they've been outmaneuvered by superstar power in the last three post-seasons. If the Pistons planned on winning the NBA championship anytime soon, they'd need to make some moves to match the star power of their rivals.

So as the summer rolled on and the Cavaliers (who traded scraps for Mo Williams), Bucks (who traded Yi Jianlian for Richard Jefferson), 76ers (who picked up Elton Brand in free agency), and others presumably got better, I couldn't help but think that the Pistons would become increasingly marginalized; not only would they be unable to win against these teams in the playoffs, they probably wouldn't beat them during the regular season either.

Of course, on Tuesday, Joe Dumars finally followed through with his promise to shake things up. The Pistons announced that they traded Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess to the Nuggets for Allen Iverson. This was a good move for the Nuggets. Iverson became stagnant in Denver, so they needed to get rid of him. Billups and McDyess are stable, reliable players with a nose for defense. They should bring some of that with them. Further, Billups is a Denver native, and has said that he is happy to play for his home-town team. His sentimentality towards the team shouldn't be underestimated. I expect that it will lead Billips to play more inspired basketball. Consequently, the Nuggets should play better in both the regular season and the post-season. But the million dollar question is: will The Answer be the answer to Detroit's playoff woes?

I'm not so sure he will. But before I give my reasons, allow me to explain why I may be wrong. Iverson, despite being somewhat on the decline (he's 33), is still a fantastic player. He can create his own shot, and is thus a constant scoring threat - something that the Pistons badly needed. Moreover, he is a weathered veteran, and claims he is hungry for a championship. Now that he's on a team that has, at least to all apperances, been in contention for a championship over the last three seasons, this might be enough to light a fuse in him. We could see a resurgence of the old AI. He could go on a tear in the post-season, leaving the competition in his wake.

Or not. When it comes to winning in the playoffs, Iverson has disappointed throughout his career. The 76ers made it to the Finals just once during his tenure in Philadelphia (2000-01), only to be embarrassed by a superior Lakers team. Every other year an Iverson-led 76ers team made the playoffs, they lost in the first or second round (see the summary of the 76ers seasons here. Iverson played on the 76ers from 1996-2005 and part of the 2006-07 season). And even after being traded to the Nuggets - a team that already had a superstar in Carmelo Anthony - Iverson couldn't manage to lead them past the first round (see Nuggets seasons here. Iverson was on the roster for 2006-07 and 2007-2008). If one's prior playoff record is any indication as to how one will perform in later playoff appearances, this is bad news for Detroit. It seems that no matter who surrounds him, Iverson has made it a habit to lose in the playoffs. So why should we expect anything more out of him now that he has changed uniforms? In all likelihood the Pistons will face either Cleveland or Boston if they make it to the Eastern Conference Finals this year, and I suspect that Iverson's presence on the court won't be enough to counteract Lebron or the Big Three.

Team chemistry is also an issue. Iverson is a big time player, now amidst a team that was built on playing selfless, defensive basketball. Such selflessness and defensive-mindedness has been the recipe for the Pistons's success. Iverson just doesn't fit this picture (remember, he was on the unruly, ball-hogging, all-eyes-on-me 2004 Olympic team roster). The only way I foresee Iverson fitting into the current Piston system is if he discovers a superstar switch that he can turn on only when the Pistons are in trouble. It should remain off most of the time, though, because in order to floriush within the Pistons's system you've got to be ready to play gritty defense and team-oriented offense.

So in the end, I think the Pistons didn't fare well in this trade. But perhaps I've underestimated Joe Dumars. Perhaps he's just temporarily looking to fill more seats at the Palace and sell more jerseys while he begins his pursuit of stealing Lebron away from Cleveland in 2010. All I have to say to that is: if you think he or any other general manager is going to pull that off, don't hold your breath.

*UPDATE (Monday, November 10, 2008): The Nuggets have waived McDyess after buying out his contract. He may resign with the Pistons after 30 days, as dictated by the Gary Payton rule. If that happens, the Pistons will have essentially swapped Billups for Iverson, which makes the trade more even. So far, Iverson hasn't made an impact, though. The Pistons lost to the Nets in Iverson's debut, and lost to the Celtics in his first game (as a Piston) at the Palace.

*UPDATE (Tuesday, November 11, 2008): According to this report, the Cavaliers are interested in signing McDyess with the mid-level exception they have left over from the off-season.

*UPDATE (Sunday, November 23, 2008): McDyess will be re-signing with Detroit. With this announcement and with early returns on both teams' performance, I believe the trade has worked out fairly evenly. Detroit now has a star that may be able to get them over the top during playoff series', as demonstrated with big wins over Cleveland and Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Denver has acquired a team player that knows how to run an offense, as demonstrated by the fact that they have been playing better basketball and have racked up more wins than Detroit since the trade. However, I expect to see improved performance from the Pistons after McDyess's return on December 7, 2008. After all, he was and once again will be the key bench player for their team.

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Iverson is now a Piston, but can he deliver a championship? by Nathan M. Blackerby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.