Friday, March 4, 2016

A Simple Soldier's Response to Donald Trump

As a current active duty Army officer, and as a holder of a Master’s degree in Modern European history, I was particularly troubled when the front-runner for the Republican Party’s nomination for president insinuated that service-members under his command as President would mindlessly follow not only illegal orders, but immoral orders the scale of which can only be compared to crimes committed under some of the modern world’s worst dictatorships.  After five years of service in Germany, marrying a German, and generally falling in love with their way of life, I have spent many years contemplating and studying how and why an advanced, outwardly religious civilization with endless commonalities with our own could turned into one of the world’s most reprehensible machine of death. How could a ‘civilized’ people do such a thing? How could professional soldiers be complicit in the most egregious actions of our modern era?

My experiences in Iraq personally has given me a more intimate perspective on those questions. There is not much separation from an outwardly civilized society with a tradition of tolerance, love, and respect for human rights, and a calloused, morally-detached disregard for the “better angels of our nature” that induces horrifying behavior from simple soldiers trying to get the job done to protect themselves and their buddies and get home to their families.

Mr. Trump is indeed known for “speaking his mind.” And, if memory serves me right, this was the impetus of the question Ms. Kelley asked. To be clear, the context of the question concerned the “going after [terrorists’] families,” a disturbingly typical over-the-top statement to project an image of strength. His basic inability to contextualize his statement and his doubling-down not once, but twice, stating the service-members under his command would indeed follow his orders demonstrates a disturbing default to dictatorial postures that is completely incongruent with the Constitutional oaths sworn to by all public officials; from the President to the Army Private.

As distasteful as the last seven years has been to me, the believer in original intent of the Constitution, private citizen of the United States, I have yet to be presented with an illegal or immoral order from our Commander in Chief and I have followed my oath to obey his orders with good conscience. I have no doubt I would continue to do the same under any of the other candidates running for office as well.  But I would be the first to state that no, Mr. Trump, I would NOT obey an order to conduct illegal activities pursuant to whatever foreign policy you are pursuing.  I would NOT obey immoral orders no matter how seemingly justifiable it may be in the emotionally-charged, fearful aftermath of a terrorist strike.  I will not because I have sworn to uphold the Constitution and am answerable not to you, not to the American people, but to my God.



A Simple Soldier

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Best Football League in Europe

The Best in Europe
Buried in the comments sections of internet articles on Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, or Barcelona internet trolls and fan boys will take gratuitous shots at other commentators’ teams, their leagues, and the intimate details of their romantic lives with their immediate family members. It is inevitable. Like the world of NCAA college football, the tribal world of international football play in separate leagues, with differing fan cultures and rivalries, and only rarely to these worlds overlap in bowl season or European cup competitions.
Can statistics and comparisons actually state which league is the best? I see it every time an English team crashes out of European competition, and every time a Spanish giant hoists up the European Cup for the nth time in their history: The supporters and detractors immediately make claims to the supremacy of their respective league in the same way as PAC12 and SEC supporters fight it out every January. So, I analyzed the six largest leagues in Europe to see if there are any conclusions we can draw regarding league supremacy.  I plotted and charted the results and tables of the German Bundesliga, English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, French Ligue 1, and Dutch Eredivisie as well as the UEFA Champions League and Europa League competitions for the past six seasons.

Spanish Juggernaut?

I will say that some of my preconceptions were smashed. I had always assumed that simply because I did not follow, and therefore did not know, any of the teams in La Liga (outside the obvious top three), that La Liga was simply another European league with a dominant force that crushed the rest of the league every year. In fact, La Liga showed similar parity to the other leagues.

In this chart, for instance, even if one is to take into consideration teams in the Bundesliga and Eredivisie play four fewer matches than the rest of the leagues, there are fluctuations from year to year and it is difficult to point to a larger trend. Yes, La Liga may be a slightly less balanced league when comparing its champions to its lowest side, but what must we do with the 2012-13 Bayern side, or 2013-14 Juventus?


Is league supremacy dependent upon a diversity of success, or how many different clubs win the championship? I would not consider Ligue 1 to be seriously considered the top league in Europe, yet by that metric, they have had the most unique champions and top-four finishers. Similarly, the number of unique clubs that play in the top flight can be analyzed. Ligue 1 has the highest number even when adjusted for league size. Despite the common perception of the volatility of the Bundesliga, the inclusion of a relegation playoff makes their league the second lowest percentage-wise of the number of clubs to have played at least a season in the top division.

Title Race and Europe

So, what about the title race? Can we draw any conclusions from there? The detractors of the Bundesliga like to point to Bayern’s last three years in which they seemingly wrapped up the Meisterschale months before the end of the season as proof of the inferiority of the league.

When looking at the data, the 2012-13 Bayern championship looks to be an outlier that is now regressing toward the mean. Yet, even with this, it is difficult to draw any definitive conclusion. And when confronted by the Bayern subject, Bundesliga apologists point to the competition for European slots as a selling point to the league.

Yet, even when one mentally adjusts the data to reflect the four matches less in the German league, the numbers between places three and seven in the table do not show any particular trend or conclusion.

European Competition

The best and most compelling evidence for league dominance comes from looking at European competition.

In the Champions League, La Liga teams have appeared in more quarterfinals, semifinals, and have won more championships than any other league. Granted, these sides almost entirely consist of Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid, but the same could be said about Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Juventus, and Borussia Dortmund. It isn’t until the Europa League is looked at that the picture emerges clearer.

Now it is entirely possible that La Liga clubs simply take the Europa League more seriously than do others (simply look at how the English sides have fared/prepared for Europa fixtures of late), but there is no denying La Liga supremacy when matched against other leagues in European competition.

Who is the Best?

So, what is the whole point of all this? Which league is the best? How do you define the best? Certainly Spain has two sides in Real and Barca which can be considered favorites at any time to win the European Cup, while Germany has one, and no other league can even boast one. However La Liga also has matches in which Barca and Real obliterate opponents 8-0, 6-0, 5-0 with less-than-surprising regularity. The English Premier League is the wealthiest, the most watched on television internationally, and has the highest paid players in the world, but the fact that fans may have to place a second mortgage on their home for a season ticket tend to keep stadium atmospheres quite dull. The German Bundesliga has the highest attendance, highest goals, and lowest ticket cost on average than any other of the analyzed leagues, yet it is persistently annoying to have a league of Bayern versus this year’s also-ran.
The point is, there is no point. Fandom is felt, not analyzed. It is emotion and not logic that compels us to watch the next match even when our head tells us we are going to lose (unless you’re Bayern). We in America have a gift. Unlike the Potter born in Stoke-on-Trent, we can chose whether we wish to follow all of Stoke City’s matches in all of Ryan Shawcross’ bone-crunching glory. Because I was not raised on Tyneside, I was able to escape my initial fandom of the Toon while the Mike Ashley-piloted Titanic plowed into the iceberg. I was able to choose my club of BVB based upon my own metric of greatness: a club with history, tradition, some titles and success, and a massive fan-culture. So, if you are a Barca fan because you worship the ground above which Leo Messi floats, or if you are a Real Madrid fan because your Spanish-speaking friends like them, or if you are a Chelsea fan because you like dour, pragmatic, but winning football; then you are fine by me. What is the best league? What is the best team? Easy. It is YOUR team. It is always YOUR team.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Meekness Begets Weakness: The British Mediation Effort in the Bosnia-Herzegovina Annexation Crisis of 1908-1909

Well, here it is. My thesis:


The October 1908 annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the simultaneous declaration of independence by Bulgaria may have only formalized two preexisting conditions within the outlying provinces of the once-mighty Ottoman Empire, yet the move by the Austo-Hungarian government to solidify its holdings in Slavic lands sparked a crisis that is comparable to the events of July and August 1914. Yet, this incident did not provide the spark that led to the general European conflagration. Every historian has since looked on the annexation crisis in the context of World War I.
This study will look at the events in question while attempting to break away from the gravitational pull that is the Great War. In particular, it will examine the actions of Great Britain and the genuine, but ineffectual attempt to mediate between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. It will show that the mediation efforts conducted by Lord Grey of Falladon, head of the Foreign Office, were doomed to failure because Britain did not have as much at stake as other participants in the crisis, the efforts were marked by unclear and inconsistent communication with her ally Russia, and were conducted out of a sense of fear of failure.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Twitter - The Good, Bad, the Ugly, and World Football

Twitter: it is a polarizing word to most of the Americans that I know. You either love it or hate it. There is no middle ground. Myspace, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, and all the other myriad of social-networking applications that arose in the past fifteen years have had strong opinions associated with them. I was no different. All throughout the 2000s, I vowed to never cave to the latest fad and constructed social engineering effort that came along. I saw it as a devil's tool to steal time, compromise privacy, destroy individualism, and connive ways to push advertising down ones throat in an already over-saturated advertising market.

However, back in 2009, while away from my family for a training course, I finally gave in and joined Facebook. I saw it as a one-time compromise. It was after all an easy tool to share photos with family. What a Pandora's Box I opened! Facebook quickly dragged me into its clutches. I quickly developed a friends list of my legitimate friends and acquaintances from whom my well-travelled career has separated me. But I always managed to use Facebook in a way that fit my perspective and conformed to my beliefs. Thankfully, Facebook was designed that way.

After selling my soul to Facebook … and incidentally, not a day goes by that I do not curse Facebook for their newest 'improvements' designed to connect one with advertisers, I vowed I would draw the line there. This new Twitter thing… that was too far. I had already bemoaned Facebook's penchant for disinformation… it became the tool for instantly forwarding the latest hoax news or lowest-common-denominator scrap of pop-culture that I attributed to destroying this country's average intelligence quotient. Social media was like a virus. It perpetuated the kind of shallow understanding of the universe that comes from mindlessly "Sharing" and "Retweeting" drivel from Rush Limbaugh, Bernie Sanders, Rachel Maddow, and Perez Hilton without the least effort to fact check or engage in critical thinking. Facebook was bad enough. This new thing that blasted out 144-character statements of rubbish to the entire universe, was emblematic of all that was wrong with this fifteen-nanoseconds-of-fame-mad, reality-TV-addicted, ADD-addled, gullible bunch of sheeple that populated this once-mighty nation.

Then the 2014 World Cup came. . . . I had a moment of weakness; a moment wherein I compromised my values. . . . I signed up for a Twitter account.

The primary reason for it was to read in-match commentary from the kings of all sound bites and catch phrases pertaining to the glorious game, the @MeninBlazers. But it grew exponentially from there. I quickly followed all the key figures in the world of world football. I regularly blasted @GrantWahl with whom I disagreed on almost everything. I favorited @IanDarke with whom I agreed on almost everything. I enjoyed practicing my German reading skills following the exploits of the die Deutschenationalmannschaft via the @DFB-Team.

In-Match Meme's? YES PLEASE!!!    -    The heady early Twitter days of the World Cup

 I was hooked. I followed every second of the matches both on the television, with my Twitter app up on my iPad perched right next to my line of sight. I cursed the WatchESPN app 3-minute game delay in which my Twitter feed exploded after @MatsHummels scored the game winner against @FFF (France). I gloated alongside Germans in real time from half a world away with every minute of the 7-1 mauling @DFB-Team laid upon @CBF-Futebol (Brazil). I checked Twitter every night before bed to ensure I didn't miss any latest news on injuries or another exploit of newest @AmericanOutlaws #WillFerrell. I also learned all those cool things called hashtags and why everybody had a run-on name starting with "At".

Following the World Cup, I couldn't give it up. I was addicted to football. I fully immersed myself in fandom with my new-found love and awesome club @BVB (BV Borussia Dortmund 09). I followed the team, I followed the players, I followed the fan groups. And don't even get me started on the August transfer window's final days!

After about two to three months of tweets, I started to see reciprocation in the Twittersphere. I noticed "Notifications" that popped up that someone out there was actually listening to my ridiculous little blurb or shameless plagiarizing of another's work via Retweet. People "favorited" my statuses. These were like tiny little boosters of self-esteem, injected like a drug. I secretly liked these small tokens of reassurance from people I had never met nor would probably ever meet. I felt almost dirty as it severely compromised my entire pre-conceived notions of the platform. It was then that I understood the power of Twitter and its appeal.

My personal media campaign against Qatar 2022

My tweets became more frequent. They started to be less about expressing myself and more about seeing how many people would favorite a Tweet of mine or getting my own Tweet re-tweeted by a legitimate famous person! I felt disgusted with myself! But I continued on. I used Twitter as a mechanism to target FIFA sponsors over the Qatar World Cup and their despicable human-rights record. I used Twitter to connect to other @BVB fans from the middle of nowhere Kansas, the very definition of fly-over country, and the most un-refined, un-cultured place I have ever known.
As with every obsession of mine, the passion with which I engage it ebbs and flows. The Winterpause certainly curtailed much of my Twitter addiction, though I must say I have paid more attention to my Premier League team, @LFC during the holidays. My conflicted view of Twitter has arrived at some sense of resolution. All of the negative aspects of the use of social media are very much pertinent. But what harm is there to use it for good, and in moderation? Is there anything really wrong with feeling joy when you get "Followed" by @EmbassyDavies (Michael Davies from Men in Blazers) and by @BVB? What is really unsavory when you derive pleasure from having actual (albeit confined to a 144-character reply) conversations with @ClarenceGoodson, @AleBedoya17, or @stuholden? I think nothing.

Twitter: The only place where Michael Davies will follow you for posting something humorous about @ChelseaFC, and your heart will race for a microsecond when you find out that “Marco Reus” … but not @woodyinho follows you.
@BVB: Where the club follows YOU too
Twitter, like Facebook has a legitimate purpose and can be a force for good, without compromising ones core values. Facebook has allowed me to check in with long-lost friends without the awkwardness of personal meetings exposing the reasons why they are long-lost. They have allowed me to keep in contact with closer friends and family while my career takes me all over the world. Just because Twitter has become the poster child for everything I see wrong with this country … or should I say the mirror that exposes the ugly truth of our American society and culture, the medium is not inherently evil and fulfils a purpose by those with the necessary discretion to use it properly.
I recently read something on ESPNFC wherein the author bemoaned how the exponentially growing inject of money over the past 30 years has created a gulf between footballers and the fans that pay their ever-expanding salaries. Twitter and social media help close that gap. I may not be able to stehe Ich hier und singe "Borussia! Borussia BVB!" in the Südtribüne at the Westfalenstadion, but I can join in the camaraderie of their global fan-base using Twitter to follow the latest news and find an emotional outlet to this important part of my life. After all, here, on the windswept prairies of Big12 country, I have no other.

-Josh's Twitter handle is @hallj78 and is known as BVB Kansas

Sunday, August 17, 2014

BvB Signs Hall on Free Transfer, Loaned to LFC

With two weeks left in the fan-transfer window, BvB made waves by signing up-and-comer Josh Hall as a fan on a free transfer.  Hall had previously had youth experience with Newcastle United but had fallen out of favor of late.

Hall with his new kits
"It's a dream come true!" Hall exclaimed.  "It was hard growing up a football fan in the US in the 1990s, and after joining the Army fifteen years ago, the constant movement and no consistent exposure to quality play on TV left me teamless for so long.  My dad signed with the obvious MUFC years ago.  I enjoyed watching them play but never felt any kind of ownership.  My other family members are big Gooners.  I finally feel like I have a football home now with BvB.  I did my homework this time too.  I love watching Mats, Marco, Aubameyang, and the lads at the Westfallenstadion and I am grateful they give me the opportunity to support the Reds on the side.  YNWA and Heja BvB!"

Best of luck!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Euro-snobbery and the Discontent with MLS

We Americans love sports.  This is hardly a big surprise. In the pantheon of American sports, what the world calls football and we Americans call soccer arguably ranks fourth or fifth in popularity in this country.  In fact soccer is an English abbreviation for Association Football (Assoc-er) that the high-brow upper-class gentry of the sport passed on to their cousins across the pond and then later adopting the more popular, working-class term of football… actually kind of a sick joke in my opinion, but I digress.

The Americans who do like soccer can be categorized into two groups: Fans and distant admirers.  We all know the distant admirers.  They are the ones who tune in during the World Cup and read up on the teams and players during that one month every four years; kind of like we all become experts in Curling every fourth February.  The more serious distant admirers may even research the professional club teams of the stars’ of the tournament.  After all, nothing quite impresses ones’ friends at the bar by quoting Messi’s latest stats for Barca while Argentina gets bounced again by Germany.

The American Fans … capitalization fully intended… on the other hand, are a serious bunch.  We either despise the term soccer or wear it proudly like a badge of honor.  We are more knowledgeable in the game than the average European fan.  We embrace our pedigree as American rebels, picked on throughout high-school for playing a ‘girly’ sport.  Yet, even here we have a divergence.  I speak of the Eurosnob versus the MLS Fan.

Now, I fully admit to being a Eurosnob, but not for the aforementioned reasons.  As a lifelong fan of the beautiful game, I enjoy viewing the game played at its finest level.  Watching an MLS match to me is as enjoyable as watching an NCAA Men’s soccer match.  And the last time I saw one of those games, due to the thuggery and lack of imagination, it was difficult to distinguish between the version with the pads and oblong football, and the one with the spherical football and shorts.

I admit I don’t watch MLS … except on rare occasions … and on those rare occasions, I have seen marked improvement.  And I should watch the MLS.  But to the Eurosnob, it is simply no contest.  The MLS is light-years away from parity with the best leagues of Europe.  This is a problem.  And, it is a problem that the MLS is not too stupid to realize.  They fully know their product is vastly inferior to the teams one can see on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons in the Champions League.  But they also know their product well and have a plan for long-term success.

Here is the harsh reality:  The MLS has to compete in a market saturated with sports… while being perhaps the fourth or fifth best draw out of the sports.  So, how does one grow the MLS in America?  The Eurosnob will quickly go capitalist on you and bemoan the salary cap, the fact that there is a profit-sharing agreement with the teams, that the MLS cannot attract the top talent with these financial restraints in place.  Granted, they cannot.  But I ask, what then the alternative?  If one remembers the NASL, the New York Cosmos did just that.  They paid enough to attract some of the best players in the game to come play in America… granted, they were a little past their prime, but the point remains.  The Cosmos instantly became the Harlem Globetrotters with the rest of the league playing the Washington Generals.  It was a phenomenal success… for about five years, when other teams tried to increase their stock by spending vast amounts of cash to attract other talent to simply keep up with the Cosmos.  It was a failure.  The teams went broke and the league folded.  How can you keep a national fan-base interested with one team winning it all every year?  We, after all are not Greece with Olympiakos, or Turkey with Galatassary.  Those leagues can afford to have a sub-par league and a singularly dominant team that competes in Europe every year because of football’s hegemony in their respective markets.  American soccer cannot and MLS knows this.  So, they grow slow.

Small, soccer-only venues like Sporting Park are testament to MLS's small, but steady growth

How can they better grow the sport?  Well, they have done a remarkable job by starting player development like the European academies.  Hopefully soon, this will be their primary talent pool from which to draw, lessening their dependency upon the NCAA system and attracting foreign stars at the end of their careers.  They are also improving their game.  The MLS has seen an improvement in the quality of play since their start in the mid 1990s.  No longer is it hoofing it up the field and trying to knock it down to the feet of a massive 6’5” forward to clumsily take a whack at the goal.  There is an emphasis on play development, coming up from the back, building an attack, possession, etc.  MLS does still have a lot to do on the whole thuggery of the game though… but so does Stoke City.

What I see as their biggest missed opportunity is in the TV market.  Now, one can only tune into about 50 games a year on television through ESPN and FoxSports1.  It’s not a bad deal, but it televises only two or so games a week nationally.  If one wants to grow the sport into a success outside of the markets of the individual cities holding teams, there has to be an emphasis on TV deals that broadcast games to the regions.  Fans outside of the immediate markets have no attachment to a team.  It is impossible to develop a rabid fan base if one can only catch a game from a particular team twice or thrice a year.  This could be for further down the road, but it seems to me to be the primary recipe for success.

Oh, that other subset of fans outside of the Eurosnobbs?  The Domestic Fans?  Those are the MLS fans.  They, unfortunately occupy a very small minority of the American soccer Fanbase.  They are the ones who have the ability to be season-ticket holders and support their local team vociferously.  We Eurosnobs are a bit jealous of that, like an Ohio Scouser is of a real Kopite … unfortunately we don’t have the ability, or we don’t have the patience to grow the domestic sport slowly.  And lest the Domestic Fan become too depressed, we should be encouraged that our league probably ranks somewhere in the top 30 of the entire world.  That is nothing to be ashamed of considering our sport is not the top draw.  There is nothing wrong with supporting the best product in the market.  And our watching the EPL and Champions League every week cannot but help grow the sport in America, but we also cannot neglect growing the MLS.  TV execs watch the numbers.  If we tune in, we help it grow.