Wednesday Dream Links: Gentrification, Statistics, Gold Smuggling, etc.

The Classical (the place where Free Darko's Bethlehem Shoals went) published a really excellent series of articles on the Parisian soccer club Paris Saint Germaine and its attempts to "clean up" its cheering section. European soccer's problems with racism and violence are well-documented, but as writer Moacir de Sá Pereira's piece contends, PSG used these problems to spearhead an effort to "gentrify" its fans:

What had started as generalized violence at Parc des Princes in the early 1980s became hooligan violence coupled with racism in the 1990s. Then, in 2010, in response to an act of racial violence, the team proposed an anti-violence policy that then morphed into a policy devoted to anti-racism. But the protests by shut out ex-viragiste season ticket holders have nothing to do with racism at the stadium. The motto of fan group Tous Abonnés—"No to violence, but not like this!"—shows where the fans’ concern was: canceling season tickets and instituting an ID policy was a move by the team to kick out the lower-class members. Regardless of race or previous record of violence, they were all now presumed guilty of racism, anti-Semitism, or homphobia.

The protesters—and this includes fans from Auteuil, who had been direct victims of racist abuse—believe that their real crime is of being, simply, "the people." Throughout their protest literature, they describe their virages as "the people’s stands" or "the working-class stands"(tribunes populaires). Ironically, considering that people of non-European backgrounds make up a disproportionate percentage of the lower classes in France, shutting out the working class has a side effect of shutting out the very people who would be targeted by the racism that the project that shuts them out is supposed to protect them against. So instead of addressing the class dynamic of creating a ticket and ID policy that only affects those who want to buy cheapest tickets, the front office’s focus on public expressions of anti-racism conveniently place the team in combat with the fact that, despite French promises about égalité and fraternité, racism certainly still exists in this Republic.

Moacir de Sá Pereira believes that this is part of an extension of "neoliberal ideology" (something I agree with, though I disagree with his assertion that The New Republic is "a thoroughly neoliberal rag," at least according to the more extreme definition he gives for neoliberalism) -- an attempt to extend the market to every level of public life, obliterating relationships that were formerly non-monetized because they are no longer profitable.

American fans have seen this up close in the same way. The issue here is not one of ousting season ticket holders under the banner of anti-violence or anti-racism and the objective of gentrification -- it's one of extorting cities for subsidies and new pleasure-palace stadiums. The effect is the same.

(A little more after the jump)

When the New York Yankees demolished the historic Yankees Stadium, they first took a bag of money from New York...

3) THE NEW YANKEE STADIUM IS NOT A PRIVATELY FINANCED. We paid for a large portion of this stadium. Why Bloomberg, who had no stake in seeing the Yankees get a new home, went along with it is a mystery to me. It's simply unconscionable for a city, with children attending classes in janitor's closets, to spend money on for-profit sports franchises.

...and then used that money to build a monument to class divide and gentrification:

2) IT'S DESIGN IS PROFOUNDLY UN-AMERICAN. Baseball has traditionally played a unifying role. The ballpark is where people of different classes and races and religions actually mingled. The box seats, where the swells sat, weren't physically separated from the proles. The new stadium is like an architectural system of class apartheid, with far fewer cheap seats pushed way up to the heavens (closer to God, at least) and many of the bleacher seats (home to the most loyal and ardent fans) with obstructed views. There is actually a concrete and plexiglass moat separating the I-bankers paying two or three thousand dollars a pop from the mere middle-management types paying, oh, three hundred dollars seat. (It's interesting: After the first playoff game against the Twins, Michael Kay and David Cone were speculating about the subdued nature of the crowd. Was it the 6 o'clock start? The early lead by the Twins? "Excuse me, guys," I shouted at the TV, "it's the fucking architecture!")

We see this at Rockets games, certainly. The Toyota Center's lower bowl is notorious for its sparse crowd (to be fair, the bars are nice) and calm demeanor, and that's almost certainly a result of the average fan being priced out of the good seats. Paris Saint Germaine experiences the same "problem" (problem for the fans; certainly not for the profit-maximizers):

And what are the fans who stay at home missing? Is Rue 89’s characterization of Parc des Princes as now for "consumers" correct? Most likely. At a recent home match, a 1–0 loss to AS Nancy-Lorraine—their first loss at home since the season opener—I watched the action behind the goal from the Virage Auteuil. The stadium was certainly practically full, but there was nearly no ambience outside of the virages. Early on, the most unified howls revolved around a young fan who had brought a vuvuzela into the stadium and blew it from time to time, earning disdain and reminders that we weren’t in South Africa. Past that, the tribunes felt silent. The virages were also disorganized and intermittent with their support once the match began. The upper deck of Auteuil had a man daringly standing on the ledge with his back to the action, acting as a capo and trying to organize cheers, but without a megaphone. Even typical chants, like heckling the opposing goalie on goal kicks, fell to only scattered fans.

Sports teams sell themselves to the public as objects of devotion. They tout their connection to the city and to their fans, but all the evidence indicates that what really matters is money. That's as true in France as it is in the United States.

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Yao Ming is entering politics... kinda:

Since the 31-year-old Yao announced last July that injuries had ended his career with the Houston Rockets, he has become a university student and set up a wine business to go with owning a professional basketball team in China.

Photos in official media on Monday showed Yao at the weekend closing ceremony for the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Shanghai Committee.

"There are about 142 members in the group, and Yao is the youngest," Kong Rong, who works in the service office of committee, was quoted as saying by the China Daily.

The advisory committee does not have any real power, but the newspaper said Yao is supposed to attend regular meetings, and can make suggestions for the advisory body and government departments.

Yao was quoted as saying "raising proposals is very serious business, and I do not want to be hasty."

It is common for sports figures to move into politics in China. Olympic gold medal hurdler Liu Xiang is a member of both the Shanghai and national political advisory bodies.

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Dikembe Mutombo is connected with some weird and shady tales of a botched gold smuggling deal:

More than 1,000 pounds of gold pulled from the cargo hold was taken away by Congolese officials. Two bags containing $6.6 million in cash were gone as well, into the pockets of a local general whose loyal troops oversee much of the nearby mining operations.

To make matters worse, Lawal had to pay millions more to recover his plane and his people. St. Mary said Lawal later told him the entire ordeal cost him around $30 million.

The failed smuggling plot drew global attention. But conspicuously absent from publicity surrounding the incident was any mention of the part played by Mutombo, the finger-wagging basso profondo whose 7-foot stature and defensive prowess made him a force on the hardwoods.

Not only had Mutombo initiated the deal, St. Mary said, but he and his family played a key role from the onset, one not revealed until recently with the release of a United Nations report on Congo’s militia activity that recounts the incident.

Mutombo would not talk about his involvement. "I have nothing to say," he replied when reached by phone in Atlanta. But the extent of it became clear through lengthy interviews with St. Mary, who kept records and copies of text messages throughout the ordeal, and the report by U.N. investigators. Through a spokesman, Lawal declined to comment.

Odd stuff, for sure. If you want to read the ClutchFans thread on the subject, there's some good old-fashioned gold buggery in there, which is always good for a laugh.

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As much as teams have begun to embrace statistical analysis as a part of decision-making, we still see a lot of teams handing out dumb contracts, making ridiculous trades, etc. A lot of that is probably the result of teams that haven't incorporated analytical work into their decisions, but it's not like the analytical teams are perfect, either (Portland's signing of Jamal Crawford, for instance).

Wages of Wins offers an explanation of sorts for this, as well as something of a rebuttal to the "conventional" crowd -- the human mind is capable of some remarkable errors:

It’s that last bit that is telling. I fall prey to this myself constantly. As my readers know, I am a pretty avid believer that WP48 tells us far more about basketball performance than the naked eye ever could. Yet I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I have seen a basketball game and thought "player X was Amazing!", only to check the box score and discover he was terrible-to-average, committing lots of turnovers (which my mind glazed over), missing lots of shots (which weren’t as important as those three THUNDEROUS DUNKS, SURELY) or grabbing no rebounds.

As basketball fans (or basketball analysts — I like to give myself fancy titles to lend more validity to my statements), are convinced that we are experts in this field. That what we see on the basketball court has meaning, regardless of what the data says. It is why coaches are so reluctant to give up on players drafted highly — they see things in on-court performances that convince them the player is capable of so much more than what the box-score tells them. It is why fans of certain players get outraged whenever we post an article that shows how they are overrated.

We want what we see to have meaning, to fit into a narrative. Players that look spectacular when scoring, well, they must be great players! Look at that athleticism! Everybody knows he’s a great player! Meanwhile, players that score lots of boring put-backs, or don’t really get shots off the dribble and only shoot when they are open and passed-to, well, they slip by, beneath our notice, and somehow the buckets that they score don’t count the full 2 points in our cognitive registry.

The illusion of validity is why I get deeply suspicious whenever a fan, sportswriter, coach, or GM says anything to the effect of "the numbers don’t tell the whole story". This is, in fact, true, but what the person saying this usually means is "I don’t care what the numbers say because I am convinced that what I have seen is correct." Which is, thanks to this illusion, almost never true. If I make an argument that the data says a player isn’t good, and someone points out "Yes, but if you watch the games you will notice that this year they are only shooting threes from the slot, and rarely from the corner, where he used to excel," then that person is pointing out a hole in the data that’s worth investigating. If the argument is along the lines of "anyone who’s watching him can clearly see he’s much better than that," then I’m certain the illusion of validity is doing its dirty work.

I'm not nearly as high on WP48 as its creators at WoW, but I agree in principle. Most of what I study in history concerns how people create categories and concepts and then fit the data to that "received" knowledge, and it's as true today as it was in early Victorian Britain. It's not so much that your eye deceives you, it's that your mind isn't built to evaluate masses of nuanced data. And when you try to make such evaluations, you're more likely to be wildly wrong than correct.

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The NBA's annual GM survey came out yesterday. The Rockets only make a few appearances: Kyle Lowry is tied for second (with Ty Lawson) on the breakout candidates list. Scola is second in the "most with least" category. Scola and Martin got votes in the "toughest" and "best without the ball" categories. Former Rockets Shane Battier was second on the list for "best future coach."

The survey has some weird spots, too. Kobe is still given way too much credit with the third spot on the "perimeter defenders" list. Most appallingly, Derrick Rose is ranked ahead of Chris Paul in "best point guard" list. Whatever.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same -- the Wolves are preparing to drive Kevin Love into free agency. Basically, they're offering a shorter and slightly less-well-paid (per year) than the max Minnesota could offer. And Kevin Love probably won't like that:

But here’s the risk: Love could just accept the one year qualifying offer the Wolves have to put on the table — $6.1 million for next season — then after that he could leave as an unrestricted free agent.

Nobody is talking. Not the Timberwolves, not Love who brushed this off as something his agent is dealing with in a recent radio interview.

I, for one, welcome the best power forward under 30's impending 2013 free agency. Here's hoping.

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We didn't blank ourselves or anything, but SBN is officially against censoring the internet.

...you still can't post streams, though.

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