Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Two Good Reads

1. Eve Fairbanks' piece in The New Republic about South Africa's transportation system in advance of the World Cup. This paragraph was especially amusing:

But there are hotels all over sprawling Johannesburg. The city itself needs to be navigable; soccer fans don’t just move back and forth along pre-set axes like foosball dolls. Any tourist would be impressed with the Rea Vaya, but with months to go to kickoff, it took us eight additional taxi rides to get where a tourist might reasonably want to go. And anticipating the patterns of public transport use has never been Johannesburg’s strongest suit: Transport to and from the stadiums was the biggest black mark on last June’s trial-run Confederations Cup. I have visions of German spectators, brimming with I-told-you-sos, smugly blogging the beating of their minibus-taxi drivers next June.

I sent this article to about ten different friends and relatives. The transportation situation at the World Cup next summer could turn into a massive fiasco, although I'm hopeful that South Africa will respond with the world's attention fixed upon it. The one positive coming from the article is the fact that Jo'burg is getting a new public transportation system for the World Cup, which would be a rare instance of a major international tournament leaving a useful legacy in terms of infrastructure. I think about this point every time I drive to a Braves game and mutter to myself that MARTA doesn't go to the Ted.

2. S.L. Price's piece in Sports Illustrated about Urban Meyer. I couldn't put the piece down, if for no other reason than it was a reminder of how much of an outlier Meyer is, not unlike most people who are at the apex of a very competitive profession. A few random thoughts:
  • I wonder how many dads in the State of Florida will decide that it is a good idea to make their sons run home eight miles for striking out in a baseball game.

  • The story of Meyer failing as a minor league baseball player was reminiscent to me of the similar tale about Billy Beane in Moneyball. I could see how both of them were inspired to success in sports by their failings as athletes. (I wouldn't be shocked if there is a similar story floating around in the ether about Jose Mourinho.)

  • Price did a good job of confronting the criticism of Meyer for his players' run-ins with the law. At the end of the piece, I felt a little bit more sympathetic towards Meyer's position. The endorsement from Marty Johnson's father was definitely meaningful. On the other hand, the influence of his wife, who has psychological training, reminded me of Tom Osborne, who also had a background in psychology and ultimately ended up with a roster full of miscreants? Is the story that Osborne and Meyer use psychological expertise to justify keeping very talented players on their rosters for selfish reasons? Do they have good intentions, but their players take advantage of a caring approach? Are their players' misdeeds covered excessively because their teams are so good? I'm just thinking out loud here. Maybe I should just say that when I read the Shelley Meyer passages, I thought "Tom Osborne."

  • My first thought when I read the following quote by Meyer was "and this is when Urban Meyer goes from great coach to merely good: "You know what? I used to really stress about what people thought. But I don't care anymore. I've won. I've done it. I'm in a different place." Then Meyer was hospitalized after the loss to Alabama and I was reminded that maybe he is still the competitive guy who headbutted his players when he coached wide receivers at Notre Dame.


Stephen said...

Fellow footie fans:

Before criticizing South Africa for things like logistics, remind yourself of the bigger picture.

While in JoBurg this past summer, one of their major newspapers ran a headline quoting a representative of one of the taxi cartels saying "[If you institute public transportation] We're going to make JoBurg look like Baghdad."

Seriously, just take a second, and imagine if anyone said something like that in the US in any context and it appeared on the front page of the NYT. The fact that it barely raised eyebrows there shows how awful the taxi situation is.

Even if the Cup is a tremendous failure with regards to transportation, it could be a tremendous long term success with regards to helping get rid of the heinously negative-externality-ridden and inefficient taxi system. That's something to support and celebrate.

Go USA and Go Bafana-Bafana!

Stephen said...

Sorry fact checked myself- the newspaper I remembered seeing was actually while I was in Cape Town... the city whose taxi-safety the JoBurg author opines... Yikes.

Here's a reprint of the article.

JasonC said...

My co-worker from Durbin, South Africa, said every time FIFA came to S.A. to inspect progress the workers dropped their tools, started a work-stoppage and danced in the streets until FIFA or the govt caved and gave them more money. Should be interesting.