Karma Police: The True NBA Lottery Odds

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This one was two big for one post! In part 1 I looked at some of the underlying patterns that seem to affect the outcome of the purportedly unpredictable NBA draft lottery. A billion-dollar industry and the billionaires and future millionaires driving it supposedly have their futures determined by a random drawing of ping-pong balls. If you believe that, you probably think we live in a two-party democracy, and you’re about to pay the deposit on that lovely bridge in Brooklyn you saw listed on Craigslist. Part 1 also spelled out the cases for and against the teams with the worst odds of winning the first pick. Part 2 examined the karmic cases for and against the top ten hopefuls.

When Plagiarists Keep It Real

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This week, at both colleges where I teach, someone posted flyers advertising for a paper-writing service. They marketed themselves as a “current Master’s student.” I was struck by the seeming audacity and doublethink of this. So I called the ad, pretended to be a student, and set up a meeting. I wanted to find out how someone in academia came to the conclusion that writing papers for others is kosher. I also wanted to hear from students about their feelings regarding plagiarism. Check it the story over at the Stony Brook Writing & Rhetoric blog.

Book Review: The Zone of Interest

amis Prick of the Spindle published my review of the latest novel by Martin Amis, The Zone of Interest. A bit from it:

The Zone of Interest alternates between three points of view: Obersturmführer Angelus “Golo” Thomsen, a womanizing mid-level Nazi whose status is due exclusively to his relation to an elite-ranking uncle; Paul Doll, a Nazi who oversees the arrival and ultimate fates of Auschwitz’s doomed arrivals while his wife and children grow apart from him; and Sonderkommandoführer Szmul, a Polish Jew whose life has been temporarily spared in exchange for his complicity in deceiving arriving Jews as to their fate and for pillaging and disposing of the bodies afterward.

Thomsen’s philandering is legendary and relentless, until he finally finds a woman he has feelings for—Hannah, Doll’s wife. At first, the attraction seems nothing more than carnal and fleeting; as Borges wrote, “There are those who seek the love of a woman to forget her.” But Thomsen possesses a complexity that reveals itself over the course of the story: a linear lothario early on, it’s soon clear there is hidden depth and breadth to his character. In some ways, he parallels Szmul: both men go along with the monstrous machinery of the camp because it is the only way they see to survive it. Thomsen remarks, “We went along. We went along with, doing all we could to drag our feet…but we went along. There were hundreds of thousands like us, maybe millions like us.” Like many of those millions, Thomsen ends up somewhere very far away from where and who he is.

Adios, Abuela/The End of a Super power

When my great-grandfather died about 20 years ago, he wasn’t the first person I’d ever known to die, but he was the first to share my blood and to have shared a conversation with me to die. I remember feeling sad for his passing, and wondering how it made my mother feel, since he was her grandfather, but my emotions were vicarious. I did some math.

Many of my friends in school had grandparents way older than mine. Many had experienced the death of a loved one, usually grandparents. In elementary school, that always seemed the most reasonable tragedy. There were other bombshells — I knew a girl who died from an accidental stabbing, on Thanksgiving, as well as other infrequent cases of sibling or parental death — but dead grandparents were de rigeur, a dime a dozen, the coin of the realm.

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I fell in love with superheroes and comic books around this time. My first love was Spiderman; my life love, Adam Warlock. So many heroes powers symmetry or asymmetry (or both) their personalities and histories.
Superman is a near-ominpotent alien whose powers stem from his unique reaction to the rays of our sun; his Achilles heel is kryptonite, a near-nonexistent alien element his powers have a unique reaction to. Reed Richards’ incredible brain stretches light years beyond even the exceptional human limits; as Mr. Fantastic, he can extend his body to unprecedented forms and extremes. Bruce Banner’s wrath and raging lead him to become The Hulk, a juggernaut whose strength lets him overcome if not transcend any and all obstacles, but also one whose unpredictable wrathful rages render his powers a mixed blessing at best.
What if I had a superpower? What if no one I loved would ever die? What if it was as simple as deciding it should be so? Borges wrote Todos los hombres, en el futuro, serán capaces de todas las ideas — “Every man should be capable of all ideas and I understand that in the future this will be the case.” Ideas once considered impossible are always being exposed as achievable, ergo “anything is possible,” ergo someone somewhere would have the power to keep everyone they love alive, forever, if only they had the imagination to consider it, and the commitment to never let the idea slide away.

My paternal grandmother died today. Continue reading