A Philosopher's Blog

Paying College Athletes

Posted in Business, Ethics, Philosophy, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on July 14, 2014
English: National Collegiate Athletic Associat...

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One recurring dispute in college athletics has been over whether or not college athletes should be paid. I remember listening to debates over this when I was a college athlete and, decades later, I am still listening to them. One addition to the debate has been over licensing deals—for example, the NCAA has licensed the likeness of college athletes for use in video games and the players have received nothing for this. In fact, players are forbidden from receiving any specific compensation for such things.

The obvious counter is that the college athletes who are in the big money sports (football and basketball) do get compensation in the form of scholarships, coaching, medical care, etc. Given the cost of higher education these days, a full scholarship to a college can be worth $25,000 a year or even much more (my nephew is attending a college that costs about $42,000 a year).

Even athletes in the other sports (such as track, cross country, field hockey and volleyball) can receive compensation in the form of scholarships, coaching, and medical care—although typically less than that received by star athletes in the big money sports.

As such it can be asserted that athletes are already paid—in that they receive valuable compensation for their contributions. In fact, college athletes have been recognized as being employees with the right to unionize—at least for now (this is being challenged legally). As such, the actual dispute is over the amount and nature of the desired compensation—a classic employee-employer dispute.

Obviously enough, the NCAA and the colleges want to keep the player compensation to a minimal level. However, the fact that they would rather not provide better compensation is not proof that athletes should not receive more.

While the NCAA and colleges are fine with specific sorts of compensation (such as scholarships), they are rather draconian about college athletes receiving most other benefits. For example, if a college athlete places in a local road race and the award is a gift certificate, the athlete cannot accept it without violating the NCAA rules and possibly being booted from the team. While, as noted above, the NCAA and the college can license the likeness of a player for use in a video game, the player cannot. As such, the vast majority of the money made in college sports flows to the NCAA and the colleges, rather than the players.

On the face of it, the players should receive compensation commensurate with their contribution. For example, if a player’s likeness is licensed for use in a video game, he should receive a suitable percentage of that deal. As another example, if selling the TV rights to football games bring in millions of dollars, the players who appear on TV should get a proportional cut. Obviously, the value of what the players receive in terms of other compensation must be factored in as well as part of their pay.

In some cases, the athletes might already be getting fair compensation. However, the star athletes in the big money sports are probably not—given the money they are bringing in.

The main (and apparently only) argument that the NCAA and colleges advance for not providing commensurate compensation (that is, paying players what they legitimately earn) is that the college athlete should be an amateur who competes “for the love of the sport.”

I do admit that this has some appeal. When I was a college athlete, I competed for that reason—I loved to race. I still do—and these days I pay the entrance fees to run in road races (although I do still win from time to time). I get the idea of the amateur athlete who is not sullied by crass commerce and not driven by greed.

Of course, the amateur athlete who is unsullied by greed must be in a matching context: a complete amateur environment driven by the love of the sport. When I was a college athlete, I was in that context. I competed in cross country and track, both of which are not big money sports. I also went to a division III school—so there were no athletic scholarships. The coaches at the college generally followed the same model that is usually seen at public high schools—they had a primary job at the school and coaching was secondary. For example, the cross country coach was also an exercise physiology professor. The football coach also taught classes. So, we were all amateurs competing for the love of the sport—although we did get boxed lunches and the coaches got some pay.

When everyone is an amateur and the compensation is rather minimal, it certainly makes sense to not pay athletes and to hold them to the standards of being an amateur athlete (versus being a paid professional). However, this is not the case with the big money sports at the big schools.

First, the top coaches enjoy truly impressive salaries. There are twenty four college coaches who make over $3 million a year. Interestingly, the highest paid public employee in many states is a college football or basketball coach.

Second, college football is a multi-billion dollar industry and college basketball brings in millions for the colleges and NCAA. Most of this comes from TV revenue. While the players get some of this in the form of scholarships and other compensation, the vast majority of it ends up going to others, such as well-paid NCAA officials.

Given the extremely generous compensation for everyone else, it would certainly seem that these college sports are not amateur in any meaningful sense of the term and that the context is not one defined by a love of the game. Rather, this is a big money industry in which those doing the vast majority of the work receive very little while a very few benefit greatly from their efforts. In short, college sports mirrors the larger society. The lie used to avoid justly compensating the athletes is that they are amateurs who are supposed to play for the love of the game. Thus, there is a clear inconsistency between the reality of the situation and what is expected of the athletes.

In terms of becoming consistent, there seem to be two options. The first is to make college sports amateur and played for the love of the sport. This would require following the model of amateur athletics that I mentioned above: minimal compensation for everyone, coaches who are professors first, athletes who are students first, no big money deals, and so on. As should be blindingly obvious, this is not going to happen.

The second option is to accept that these big money sports are simply a college version of the pro-sports and they should follow that model: the big money remains, but the athletes are recognized for what they really are—professional athletes. This will mean less money for those who are currently enjoying that massive funnel of cash, but this is what is morally and honesty require.

Sports that are not big money and colleges that are not in the big money can still operate in the spirit of amateur sports and those that are motivated solely by the love of the game and who wish to be true amateurs can compete in those sports or at those schools.



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Failure is Just another Chance for Success.

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on March 15, 2013
Adaptation of above image illustrating an Inte...

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Like most people, the highway of my life is strewn with the wreckage of my numerous failures. When I was a younger man, I looked at failure as a matter of disgrace and resented each failure. While I sometimes engaged in the shameful practice of shifting the blame to others, I learned to accept the wisdom of Confucius, namely that when the archer misses the target he should seek the cause within himself. Or, as this is expressed in the West, it is a poor craftsperson who blames his tools.

While I still regard failure as potentially disgraceful and worthy of resentment, I have learned to have a somewhat more developed view of the matter. After all, while I must bear the responsibility for my failures and they are most often entirely my fault, a failure need not be a matter of disgrace. Most obviously, if I have done the best that I could have done and still met with failure, then there is no disgrace in this. No more could have been expected of me, for I did all that I could possibly do. There are, of course, challenges that we face that are beyond us—what matters in such cases is not that we have failed, but that the challenge has been justly and bravely faced. After all, to fail well can be better than to succeed poorly or wickedly.  Perhaps it could even be argued that a noble failure is a form of success.

One thing that repeated failures have taught me is that there will be more failures. On the one hand, this view can easily lead to despair: if we can be sure that the road ahead will also be littered with the wreckage of failures, should we not greet this future with tears and lamentations at our fates? On the other hand, this view can lead to confidence and hope: have we not survived the wrecks that litter our pasts? Have we not had victories as well? Surely, there shall be more victories in the future and the failures shall be endured as they have before.

Another thing that my repeated failures have taught me is that failure is just another chance to succeed. For example, when I was in high school, I decided that I wanted to be on a sports team. Since basketball was a prestige sport and I had played before, I have it a try. I was awful and after one of the tryouts, the coach said to me “we have an important position for you. We need a manager.” I said, “Coach, I need to do a sport.” He replied, “Go out for winter track. They have to take everyone.” I went to the track practice the next day, wearing my basketball sneakers.

I found that track had its own tryouts—the coach tested everyone’s abilities to see how well a person could jump, sprint, or throw. It turned out that I could jump seven feet forward from a standing start, but could not long, triple or high jump worth a darn. I was also found to be unsuitable for sprinting, hurdling and throwing. So, I ended up where people without any talent in the prestige events ended up—I was slotted to be a distance runner.

Being in poor shape, the practices were tough. By throwing up, I learned to not eat before I ran. By having my feet torn up and bloodied by the basketball shoes, I learned I needed to get better shoes. I was a poor runner my first season and a poor runner in the spring track season that followed. However, by the time cross country arrived, I could run without throwing up and without bringing shame to my ancestors.

When I went off to college, I stuck with running and went all-conference in cross country. I am still a runner today. Without my failure at basketball, I might have never become a runner—so, I owe my success to that failure.

As a second example, when I was in college I thought that I was a good writer, so I sent off some of my work to a game company. I received a brutal rejection letter in reply. I kept at it, earning a stack of rejection letters. However, one day I got the letter I had been waiting for—my work had been accepted. I did the same thing in philosophy—earning a stack of rejections before earning a publication.

Lest anyone think that I am a Pollyanna, I will say that I have encountered defeats that seem to still remain as failures—aside from the lessons learned from them, of course. But even in those cases, I did succeed at learning to not fail in that way again. Also, I recognize that there can be failures that put an end to all opportunities for success—that is, failures that are complete failures. However, saying “failure is just another opportunity for success, except when it is not” does not have the same appeal as the original.


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Posted in Philosophy, Running, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on December 12, 2012

As a runner, martial artist and philosopher I have considerable interest in the matter of the will. As might be imagined, my view of the will is shaped mostly by my training and competitions. Naturally enough, I see the will from my own perspective and in my own mind. As such, much as Hume noted in his discussion of personal identity, I am obligated to note that other people might find that their experiences vary considerably. That is, other people might see their will as very different or they might even not believe that they have a will at all.

As a gamer, I also have the odd habit of modeling reality in terms of game rules and statistics—I am approaching the will in the same manner. This is, of course, similar to modeling reality in other ways, such as using mathematical models.

In my experience, my will functions as a mental resource that allows me to remain in control of my actions. To be a bit more specific, the use of the will allows me to prevent other factors from forcing me to act or not act in certain ways. In game terms, I see the will as being like “hit points” that get used up in the battle against these other factors. As with hit points, running out of “will points” results in defeat. Since this is rather abstract, I will illustrate this with two examples.

This morning (as I write this) I did my usual Tuesday work out: two hours of martial arts followed by about two hours of running. Part of my running workout  was doing hill repeats in the park—this involves running up and down the hill over and over (rather like marching up and down the square). Not surprisingly, this becomes increasingly painful and fatiguing. As such, the pain and fatigue were “trying” to stop me. I wanted to keep running up and down the hill and doing this required expending those will points. This is because without my will the pain and fatigue would stop me well before I am actually physically incapable of running anymore. Roughly put, as long as I have will points to expend I could keep running until I collapse from exhaustion. At that point no amount of will can move the muscles and my capacity to exercise my will in this matter would also be exhausted. Naturally, I know that training to the point of exhaustion would do more harm than good, so I will myself to stop running even though I desire to keep going. I also know from experience that my will can run out while racing or training—that is, I give in to fatigue or pain before my body is actually at the point of physically failing.  These occurrences are failures of will and nicely illustrate that the will can run out or be overcome.

After my run, I had my breakfast and faced the temptation of two boxes of assorted chocolates. Like all humans, I really like sugar and hence there was a conflict between my hunger for chocolate and my choice to not shove lots of extra calories and junk into my pie port. My hunger, of course, “wants” to control me. But, of course, if I yield to the hunger for chocolate then I am not in control—the desire is directing me against my will. Of course, the hunger is not going to simply “give up” and it must be controlled by expending will and doing this keeps me in control of my actions by making them my choice.

Naturally, many alternatives to the will can be presented. For example, Hobbes’ account of deliberation is that competing desires (or aversions) “battle it out”, but the stronger always wins and thus there is no matter of will or choice. However, I rather like my view more and it seems to match my intuitions and experiences.

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Knowing I am Not the Best (Extended Remix)

Posted in Philosophy, Running, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on November 28, 2012

Long ago, when I was a young boy, I was afflicted with the dread three Ss. That is, I was Small, Smart and (worst of all) Sensitive. As a good father, my dad endeavored to see to it that I developed the proper virtues of a young man. Fortunately, his efforts were ultimately successful although the path was, I am sure, not quite what he expected. Mainly because the path was mostly track, road and trail rather than field, court and gridiron.

As part of this process, I was sent to basketball camp to develop my skills in this reputable game. I was a terrible player with no real skill and I had no real interest in the sport. I much preferred reading over shooting hoops. However, I went to the camp and tried to do the best I could within the limits of my abilities.

During one drill, the coach yelled out for the best player to run to the center of the court. Immediately all the other boys rushed to the center of the court. Being honest in my assessment of my abilities I did not move. While I might not have been the worst player present, I was clearly not the best. I was not even within free throw distance of the best. For some reason, the coach made all the boys do pushups. He also made me do pushups, albeit double the number done by the other boys.

I thought this was very odd since this sort of thing seemed to encourage self-deception and that seemed, even to the young me, wrong. I recall quite well getting considerable abuse for my actions, which made me think even more about the matter. I did know better than to discuss this with anyone at the time, but I have thought about it over the years.

In recent years, I have run into something similar. I am always asked before I go to race if I will win. I always give an honest answer, which is usually “no.” This always results in an expression of dismay. While I have won races, I am now 46 years old and folks with far fewer years and miles show up to take their rightful place ahead of me, earning this because they are better than I am. My pride and arrogance, of course, compel me to say that when I was the age of many of my competitors, I was faster than they are now. But, as the saying goes, that was then and this is now. Barring a TARDIS picking up my twenty-something self to go to the races of now (to save the galaxy, of course—racing is very important) I am forced to content myself with a folly of age: looking back on how good I was and comparing the younger me with my current competition.

One the one hand, I do get the point of self-deception in regards to one’s abilities. After all, it could be argued, that a person thinking incorrectly that he is the best would help him do better. That is, thinking he is the best will push him in the direction of being the best. I do, in fact, know people who are like this and they often push very hard in competition because they believe they are better than they actually are and are thus driven to contend against people who are, in fact, better than them. On the downside, when such people are defeated by those who are better, they sometimes grow angry and concoct excuses for their defeat to maintain the illusion of their superiority.

On the other hand, such self-deception could be problematic. After all, a person who wrongly thinks he is the best and operates on this assumption will not be acting rationally. There are, in fact, two well-known cognitive biases that involve a person thinking he is better than he is.

One is known as the “overconfidence effect.” This bias causes a person to believe that she has done better than she has in fact done. As a professor, I commonly see this bias when students get their grades. For example, I have lost track of the times a student has said “my paper felt like an A” when it was a D (or worse) or has said “I think I did great on the test” when it turns out that they did not do so great.

A closely related bias is the “better-than-average Illusion.” A person falls victim to this when she overestimates her abilities relative to others, usually those she is engaged in competition with. Since people often think very highly of themselves, people commonly fall into this trap.

While confidence can be a good thing (and thinking that one is going to do poorly is a way of contributing to making that a reality), this bias obviously has negative consequences. One rather serious problem is that it can lead people to actually do worse. After all, a person who overestimates her performance or abilities might not try as hard as she should—after all, she will think she is already doing much better than she is, thus overestimating her performance and coming to a false conclusion about, for example, her grade. This is most likely to occur when the person does not have immediate feedback, such as on a test or paper.

It can also have the impact of causing a person to “burn out” by trying to hard it based on a false assessment of his abilities. For example, a common sight at road races is inexperienced runners sprinting out ahead of the experienced (and better runners) only to quickly discover that they are not as a capable as they had believed. It can even happen to people who should know better. For example, some years ago I went to the USA 15K championship race as part of a team. Our supposed best runner was bragging about running with the Kenyans. Unfortunately, he got passed by some female runners (as did I—the race attracts top talent) and this apparently broke him to the point where he gave up. I knew my capabilities and was honest about them, so when the fast ladies surged past me I just stuck to my plan. I knew what I could do and what I could not do—and I knew I had a lot of race left and no reason to burn myself out due to a false belief in my abilities. Fortunately, the rest of the team delivered solid races and we took an honorable third place. My experience has been that I do better when I have an accurate assessment of my abilities relative to my competition, most especially in running. Naturally, I do my best—but to do this, I must have a reasonable gauge of what this is to avoid being overconfident and to resist being defeated by my own foolish and unfounded pride.

It might be objected that my rational assessment of my abilities robs me of the critical passion that one must have to be a true competitor. This is, however, not the case. As my friends will attest, while I am gracious in defeat I also hate to lose. In fact, honesty compels me to say that I hate losing slightly more than I love winning. And I really love to win. As such, when I get to the starting line, start presenting a philosophical paper to people looking to score philosophical pissing points, or join a competitive video game I am there to win and to make others lose. But, victory often rests on knowing what I and my competitors can and cannot do. I gain no advantage by deluding myself into thinking I am better than I am or they are worse than they are. True, I am not free of self-deception. But I do not willfully add to it.

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Knowing I’m Not the Best

Posted in Philosophy, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on November 26, 2012

Long ago, when I was a young boy, I was afflicted with the dread three Ss. That is, I was Small, Smart and (worst of all) Sensitive. As a good father, my dad endeavored to see to it that I developed the proper virtues of a young man.

As part of this process, I was sent to basketball camp. I was a terrible player with no skill and I had no real interest in the sport. I much preferred reading over shooting hoops. However, I went to the camp and tried to do the best I could within the limits of my abilities.

During one drill, the coach yelled out for the best player to run to the center of the court. Being honest in my assessment of my abilities I did not move. The coach made the other boys do pushups and made me do double the number, since I had failed to consider myself the best. I thought this was very odd since this sort of thing seemed to encourage self-deception and that seemed wrong. I recall quite well getting a lot of abuse for my actions, which made me think about the matter. I did know better than to discuss this with anyone, but I have thought about it over the years.

One the one hand, I do get the point of such self-deception. After all, it could be argued, that a person thinking incorrectly that he is the best would help him do better. That is, thinking he is the best will push him towards being the best.

On the other hand, such self-deception could be problematic. After all, a person who wrongly thinks he is the best and operates on this assumption will not be acting rationally. Of course, there is a clear challenge here, namely being motivated to be the best while still being realistic about one’s abilities.

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How Much is Genes?

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Science by Michael LaBossiere on August 22, 2012
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The secret of success? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the previous essay, I addressed the matter of the state’s contribution to an individual’s success (and failure). Naturally, no discussion of success would be complete without a discussion of genetics.

While the role of genetics in human behavior is a rather complicated matter, it does seem eminently reasonable to accept that genetics play at least some role in success (and failure). Interestingly, these genes might not all be human—there are some interesting new findings regarding the role of the bacteria that live in us (which outnumber the cells in the human body 10 to 1).

Thanks to years spent in athletics, I have had access to an informal laboratory in which I could observe various factors at play when it comes to success. As might be imagined, genetics probably plays a rather significant role in athletic success (and failure). Being a runner, I will limit myself to running, but the same points can be applied to other aspects of life as well.

One rather obvious role of genetics is body type. As people who run or at least watch competitive running know, the top runners tend to have a rather specific body type. While much of this results from training, there are factors that are genetic. After all, no amount of running will give a person longer legs. There are also the factors that one cannot see, such as the efficiency of the cells when it comes to handling the energy requirements of competitive running. While these factors can be influenced by training, natural ability (which is probably largely based in genetics) does have a significant impact and this is supported by my own years of competitive running.

Having run in high school and college, I was able to observe runners who were in the same training programs, had similar backgrounds and lived in similar conditions. However, performance obviously varied quite a bit even among people who followed the exact same training. In my own case, I was fairly lucky—while I lacked the easy high school success of “natural athletes”, I found that training really paid off for me. In contrast, some other runners worked as hard (or harder) than me, yet did not meet with the same level of success. Of course, there were also runners who trained as hard as I did (or less) who did much better. After graduation, I was no longer on a team, but still trained with other runners. Obviously, some people I trained with and ran with step-for-step were better than me and some were worse. I also found out the obvious—no matter how hard or smart I trained, I would never be able to make the Olympics (although I did run against some of the best American marathoners in Ohio back in 1992).  It makes sense to attribute some of this failure to genetics—my body simply cannot match what the Olympic marathoners can do, despite all that training. Of course, it also makes sense to attribute some of my success to genetics—while I do not have Olympian genes, I have brought home plenty of trophies. Plus, as we old runners say, running is itself a victory.

Naturally, these results were impacted by many variables, but the fact that genes influence performance seems to be well-established. The more interesting question is, then, “how much do genes influence success (and failure)?”

Not surprisingly, people often turn to the study of twins to attempt to sort out what is genetic and what is not. After all, twins are supposed to be genetically identical and hence any differences between them would be non-genetic in nature. Interestingly, it has turned out that twins are not actually identical, thus entailing that some differences might be genetic. There has also been some recent interesting work regarding the bacteria that inhabit the human body and their influence on such factors as health. Oddly enough, it might be the case that some of a person’s success is due to his bacteria.

While the physiological aspects of running and other activities at which one might fail or succeed seem to be strongly influenced by genetics, there is obviously a rather open question as to how much genetics impacts what might be called the mental aspects of success and failure. Going back to running, training and competition have very significant mental elements. For example, there is the matter of having the will to train as needed. As any runner will tell you, real training hurts. Of course, racing hurts more—a big part of being a competitive runner is having what Hobbes called the will to hurt. Only in this case it is the will to hurt yourself rather than others.

As might be imagined, if the “mental” aspects are as influenced by genetics as the physical aspects, then much of a person’s success or failure rests in these genes. For example, if the ability to finish a race despite a broken leg is not a matter of the will of the athlete, but a matter of the structure of his brain that resulted from the genes that constructed it, then he did not succeed. Likewise, if a runner is “broken” in the final sprint by a tougher runner because of the genetics of their nervous systems, then he has not failed.

Shockingly enough, the essay ends as it began, with the question unanswered. After all, we do not know how much the genes influence our success (and failures). But, I got to write about running and that is a success.

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NBA and Pay

Posted in Business, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 28, 2011
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While baseball is supposed to be the American sport, we Yankees are also rather fond of basketball. As might be imagined, the ongoing NBA strike has caused dismay to the loyal fans (a group I do not, in fact, belong to).

The strike, like most strikes, is the result of a dispute between the employees (in this case the NBA players) and the owners As the players see it, they are not being fairly compensated for their efforts. The owners disagree. Because of this impasse, basketball fans will not be seeing any NBA games for a while.

On the face of it, this sort of strike might strike most people as rather absurd. After all, the mean average salary in the NBA is $5.15 million and the median average salary is $2.33 million. The low end salary is about $300,000. Given that the average household income in the US is $50,000 it would seem that the players have nothing at all to complain about. After all, the lowest paid player is still vastly better paid than the average American household.

On one hand, it is easy to dismiss the NBA players as being greedy. After all, almost anyone in the world would be very happy to make that sort of money working hard, let alone playing a game. These players are, obviously enough, extremely well paid and it would be rather odd to say that they are suffering an injustice because of their salaries.

On the other hand, the fairness of a salary is not simply a matter of the amount being paid.  To be specific, the fairness of a salary cannot be judged simply by the dollars being paid.  Other factors must be considered as well, such as the value and amount of the work being done. For example, if I said that someone was paid $12,000 a year it might be tempting to say that she is underpaid. However, if you then learn that the person only works one hour each month, then you might change your mind and think that she is actually overpaid. But, if your learn that each hour of work she does generates $5,000 in profit for her employer, then you might change your mind again and think that she is actually being underpaid for what she does.

In the case of the NBA players, it is not simply a matter that they want more money. Rather, they want a larger percentage of the profits (which, of course, means more money). The NBA players are able to command such high salaries because their play generates massive profits and they believe that they deserve a greater share of the profits that they generate. The owners, who generally do not get out on the court to play in the games, believe that they are (as owners) entitled to a significant share of the profits.

While the NBA players are coached and trained, people obviously pay the rather steep ticket prices to go see the players play. They do not go to see the owners count money. As such, the players are the main source of profits and, it could thus be argued, should be paid based on this contribution to the profits. The owners, in turn, should receive compensation based on the value that they contribute (that is, to the degree that their actions generate profit).

Thus, while the NBA players enjoy rather hefty salaries, the dispute is still the classic dispute between the workers and the owners over who is entitled to what percentage of the income.  As noted above, the theoretical solution is easy enough: the workers are entitled to the value they create through their actions and the owners are also entitled to the value they create. Anything else would seem to be theft. As might be imagined, sorting out this division can be rather tricky. In the case of the NBA, people come to see the players. But, of course, the owners also play a role in making the professional games a possibility. After all, if the players just played on a public court and passed the hat for money, they would obviously not make the money they do now.

This same question arises in other cases of employment. For example, FAMU charges $124.01 per credit hour for in state students, and out of state tuition is $552.03 per credit hour. This does not include other fees. I have 193 students taking three credit hours this semester and will have at least 160 in the spring.  As such, my labor does bring in a fair amount of money for the school. This, of course, only includes my teaching and excludes my administrative work (which is 20% of my assigned work-my four classes per semester are only 80% of my assigned work). As you might guess, my salary is way, way less than what the university charges my students to suffer through my classes. Naturally, there are various expenses involved with the students being in my class-the cost of the buildings, administrative costs and so on. As such, perhaps my salary is fair-that is, when all the legitimate costs are subtracted from what I bring in to the school what is left is what I am, in fact, paid.  However, if what I am paid is less than what I generate (minus the other legitimate costs) then my salary would seem to be unfair to the degree I am underpaid for my efforts.

Of course, my university is not aimed at making a profit and hence this almost certainly changes things. When a for-profit business is considered, one rather effective way to make a profit is to pay workers less than the value they actually create through their labors. As many other have argued, a profit tends to require that someone is either being paid less than the value they provide or is paying more than the value they receive (on the customer end). The stock counter is, of course, that the people who get less or pay more value what they get (either the paycheck or the product/service) more than the other party.  To use a made up example, imagine that my workers value the time they put into making one of my widgets at $1, but they actually contribute $2 to the value of the widget. That would enable me to (at least) make $1 profit per widget with no one feeling they have been treated unfairly. Of course, if they knew that their work was worth $2 rather than $1, they would no doubt see me as acting unfairly. Of course, I could also profit from the customer. If it cost me $5 to make and sell a widget and my customers valued it at $6, then I would make $1 profit per widget at the expense of the customer. Of course, if they knew that the widget could be bought for $5, they would probably feel cheated as well. Of course, if I could convince them that I have a right to a profit (that is, money for nothing and perhaps some chicks for free) then they would think that it was fair. The challenge is, of course, justifying that profit-after all, it does seem to be by its very nature money for nothing. If it was money for something, then there would seem to be no profit left over for that money would have to go to something.

But, one might object, my brief discussion is simplistic and naive and fails to properly capture the reality of the financial situation. That is, profit can be generated without anyone being treated unfairly and without concealing any facts.

Going back to the NBA players, it is obvious that they are very well paid. But it is not obvious that they are actually being treated fairly by the owners.

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Dread Mill

Posted in Medicine/Health, Running, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on September 10, 2011
Johnson T7000 Treadmill @ TaiSPO 2006.

Image via Wikipedia

I am a lazy runner. I do not like speed work or hill work. I prefer to simply run distance at a comfortable pace. I have been like this for as long as I have been a runner, which seems to be at odds with the fact that I have run some pretty good times and was even all-conference twice in college cross country. However, my laziness is a relative sort of thing. Back in the day (that is, back when I ran 33 minute 10Ks and 16 minute 5Ks) my comfortable pace  for my lazy distance running was 7:00 minutes per mile for 13-16 miles. Back then, I was a running machine: I could lock into that pace and keep it mile after mile.

While I am lazy by nature when it comes to running, I also love to compete. As such, I was willing to set aside my laziness during track and cross country seasons and endure speed work and hill work. After college, I settled back into my lazy distance ways, although I would engage in some social running, even if it involved visiting a track. I did, of course, keep racing and that seemed to work out well.

Sadly, it is no longer back in the day and my lazy ways have ceased to serve me well, mainly because my comfortable pace for 13+ miles is no longer 7 minutes. While I have tried using my GPS watch to force me to run harder, my natural laziness proved to be stronger: I’ll speed up for a mile, then I’ll start slacking until I catch myself.

Thanks to my summer unemployment (budget cuts at the university) I had plenty of extra time and started going to planned and supervised track work outs. Normally I loath doing that, but there are few races in the summer here in Florida, so I just told my lazy self that this was racing (I am, oddly enough, not lazy when I race). However, I am back to teaching again and have to return to my usual schedule, which means no evening workouts. However, these had helped me so much I wanted to keep working hard. As such, I needed a way to defeat my own laziness.

As I mentioned above, I had tried my GPS watch. But its beeps and data fields lacked the power needed to be a cruel master of my running. I needed something with the power to prevent my laziness. In my desperation, I turned to the much hated tread mill (or, as runners often call then, “dread mills.”

My girlfriend recently moved to Orlando, leaving behind her very nice Nordic Track treadmill at my house (along with 7.6 tons of other stuff from her apartment). While I normally scorn treadmills, I realized that the damn thing could force me to run at a certain pace. This would, I reasoned, force me to run fast and also help retrain me to running at a fixed pace. While the readouts for distance and pace are probably not dead on, they are probably pretty close. In any case, my Garmin watch provides accurate time and heart rate data so I would know how long I had been running and my effort.

So, I warmed up by running a few miles outside, then fired up the dread mill. The first time I tried it, I must have triggered some sort of per-programmed workout or death trap: the thing suddenly sped up  to a much faster pace and activated the incline feature at the same time. That got my heart rate up pretty good before I could stop it. After re-setting the infernal thing, I was able to run a test 5K on it at a moderate 6:45 mile pace. That worked out pretty well, although the boredom almost killed me. I got some water and then did a five mile run outside. That helped me sweat out the shame of being on a treadmill.

I did find that although the treadmill has some big buttons for controlling the various settings (mainly speed and incline), working them while running was rather awkward and they did not always react when pushed. While I did see that it could be programmed, the actual process seemed to be pretty annoying and limited in its functionality. That is when I noticed the iFit slot (really just an SD card slot). I went online and found that cards could be used to load workouts. I did not want to make Jillian Michaels any richer and wanted to design my own workouts, so I did not buy any of the preloaded cards. I figured that the iFit files were pretty simply (just commands to adjust speed and incline) and found some free software to create my own files. The software is not fancy, but it gets the job done. Because of the way iFit works, it seems that workouts have to be programmed in one minute intervals (this can be exceeded, but is supposed to cause some minor problems). Fortunately, my workout cap on the dread mill is 3 miles of hard running and some rest jogging, which means I only need to program in a bit over 20 minutes. I did read that some SD cards do not work with the iFit readers (usually the ones that are larger than 1 GB). I tried a 32MB card that came with my digital camera and it worked fine. The actual files are very small, so unless you load the card with audio (you can link audio files to the workout, but I do not) a small card should suffice.

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Nothing Like the Real Thing

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on December 18, 2010
Skaters enjoying a full-size Super-Glide synth...
Image via Wikipedia

When I was a kid, there was a frog pond by my house in Maine. It would freeze in the winter and we would clear off the snow for skating. It was great fun and I got pretty good at skating. Now that I live in Florida, my opportunities for skating have been rather limited. While Tallahassee did consider an indoor rink at one point, nothing ever became of it.

On Friday I got the chance to skate. Sort of. A small rink was created using synthetic ice (plastic) and for $6 one could “skate” for an hour. I figured it would be different from actual ice, but was a bit taken aback by how different it was.

The fake ice is actually quite slippery-folks were dropping with thuds left and right. That part provides an authentic ice skating (or falling) experience. However, the actual skating is very different from real skating.

When I tried to move, I noticed that the skates either slid too much so I could not get a good push off, or they “grabbed” the plastic too much and put me in danger of falling. When I could get going, the friction slowed me down far quicker than on real ice. The smooth and graceful flying over true ice was replaced by an ugly, slow shuffle in which I tried to get up to speed without my skates either sliding sideways or sticking into the plastic. There was, to say the least, no skating magic.

I can see why some people do train on the fake ice-it is a much harder workout than skating. You have to really work to get any decent speed and balancing is harder. However, for a pleasure skate it was less than awesome.

I have heard some good things about synthetic ice. Obviously it is easier to maintain than an indoor skating rink and cheaper. However, real ice seems worth the price. Of course, there are no doubt many different types of synthetic ice. I suspect that some of it is actually quite good, especially when properly maintained. The rink I tried was a temporary one, set up downtown for the holidays. I would suppose that permanent rinks would be more like the real thing. However, I still prefer the real thing.

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Of Injuries & the Economy

Posted in Business, Running, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on November 14, 2010


Quadriceps tendon rupture in plain X-ray

Image via Wikipedia


I started running when I was 15 and became a runner when I was 18. For me running is more than a sport-it is a core part of what I am. So, when I fell and tore my quadriceps tendon I had to redefine myself. On a less metaphysical level, I also had to find ways to preserve my sanity and my relatively low amount of body fat. Since running was out, I turned to a stationary bike (used with one leg) and a Bow Flex. I could do some of my martial arts (punching at least).  Eventually I was able to move up to walking, then pool running, then real running.

Last week I managed to injure myself again, this time I tore up my calf. This was mainly due to my over-training and racing too much (every week). In my youth I would have just run through the injury; but I learned some sense and that the world would not end if I was unable to run. Fortunately I already knew what to do: I switched to my alternative fitness program and have been carefully testing the calf. I’ll be back to running soon, but it is good to know that I have a viable alternative for those times when I cannot run.

While the analogy is hardly perfect, the economy can be compared to this sort of injury. For quite some time the United States had been chugging along economically on manufacturing, the housing market, and the financial market. Then the economy was injured. These once strong areas were torn up and the economy was hobbled.

In some cases, people were able to switch careers and some businesses managed to do quite well either by making changes or merely by being lucky enough to be outside the injury area. Parts of the economy have recovered but parts of it are still injured. Recovery, as with any injury, will take time and requires effort. Also, if the analogy holds, the economy will need to change in response to the injury-at least if we want to avoid having it torn up again.

Obviously, there are some important dissimilarities between running and the economy. However, the basic ideas seem to apply: you have to be careful not to do things that are damaging rather than beneficial, you have to expect ups and downs, and when there is an injury, you need to attend to it and change things to reduce the likelihood of the problem occurring again.

In terms of the economy itself, the financial sector and big companies are doing well again. But, they are just part of the economy. Other aspects, such as employment, are still damaged. As far as healing these injuries, we have just had a change in our PT team: the Republicans are now on the team. Unfortunately, they seem to be advocating that we do just what we did when we were hurt. But, doing the same things over and over just produce the same result over an over.

I admit, it is a hard lesson to learn. In my own case, I should know better about when it is time to rest and recover, rather than just doing the same thing: running and racing a lot. Likewise, when it comes to the economy, we need to consider that doing the same thing over and over will not help the economy truly recover. Right now the economy might be like an injured athlete on pain killers: she feels good and is performing, but is actually still injured and hurting under the drugs (or stimulus money). The new coach is telling her that she just needs to keep doing what got her injured in the first place, but that hardly seems like good advice.

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