So I have a few things to say about LeBron James, which I know no one wants to hear probably, and then about education. Bear with me.
LeBron to the Heat is not going to guarantee a championship in the least, and it's mainly because his style and Dwayne Wade's are far too similar. They both are at their best driving to the hoop and neither is a very good three-point shooter, though they both think they are. This means that the defensive strategy against the Heat is going to be fairly simple: pack in the paint, have your wing defenders switch as much as possible, and hope Chris Bosh (the real X-factor here) doesn't go off. Even Bosh isn't really a traditional back-to-the-basket big man. He'll be able to play off of Wade and James' penetration and put up easy numbers (probably a 55% shooting percentage, not unlike Amar'e after Steve Nash came to town) but I'm not sure that his isolation face-ups will be of much use. What the Heat need now is shooters (Mike Miller anyone?) or their spacing will suffer.
On the other end of the court, who is going to hold down the fort? James and Wade also have similar defensive styles; they make tons of plays (seriously, look at their combined blocks/steals per game. It's just not fair) due to their immense athleticism, but that also points to how fundamentally shakey they can be. They're maybe the two best help defenders in the league, but neither is a real stopper one-on-one. On top of that, Bosh is honestly a pretty mediocre defender for a big. So without a true center to guard the paint (I actually love Jarvis Varnado as a draft pick here, he will be able to contribute a block or two and 6 fouls every game) I'm not sure this team can be among the defensive elite without a serious commitment from one of their two wingmen superstars.
To go into further detail, how does this skeleton of a roster match up with the two biggest competitors in the East, the Magic and the Celtics? The Celtics have a defensive commitment from all their players and actually, across the roster, would be about as capable as any team ever of defending this Miami behemoth. KG on Bosh, Paul Pierce on LeBron, Ray Allen (with liberal help from Rajon Rondo) on Wade; that is a pretty good setup. Further, Rondo is actually the Celtics best player now, and point guard is one of the two positions the Heat don't have an All-Star at. Looking over at the Magic, the other position the Heat don't have an All-Star at is center, where Dwight Howard looms large. Further, Howard is the best defensive answer to the Wade/'Bron duo; he intimidates drivers like no other and didn't win back-to-back defensive player of the year awards because of his good looks. The well-balanced and unselfish Magic roster, built around a very distinct offensive style (almost every play they run is out of the 4-out, 1-in set), should be considered the favorites in the East until proven otherwise.
To be quite frank, the way I had hoped this free agency would work out: James goes to NYC with Stoudemire to team up in D'Antoni's offense. That would be perfect because Stoudemire's game actually compliments James': they could pick-and-roll any team to death, and the small lineup with LeBron at the 4 and Amar'e at center would be devastating in the open court. It may have taken a few years to get the right set of roleplayers, but that duo would have been potent. Actually, the Knicks quietly made a great deal yesterday, netting three Golden State players who will fit right into their system whilst giving up (admittedly) their best player in David Lee, so that is a step forward for a franchise that has looked lost for years now. And back in Miami, I'm excited but also a little apprehensive. Two non-point-guards who need to have the ball in their hands to be effective? It's not the way I would build a roster.
I came across this video
via the blog Flowing Data
recently and it really ticked me off. It is not that I don't think education is a noble goal, or that our education system as presently constructed is somewhere on the spectrum of seriously flawed to utterly broken. The problem is that the issue of education tends to get framed in this context of graduation rates
and nothing else. While part of the illogic of this is that graduating alone means nothing without proof that graduates have certain skill sets (much as good grades mean little if the students have no real-world—contextualized and useful—knowledge), the real disturbing part is when people act like graduating more students is going to have a ripple effect across society, leading to more jobs, a more involved citizenry, a better economy, less crime, etc. This is precisely the argument put forth in the above video; the direct implication of improved education is improved economy.
Now one could argue that this is unfair to education, subordinating it to some external goal and neglecting its innate value, but I think it's also just false. I graduated with a double-degree from an elite university and then went to work at a job where the only skill I utilized was my typing speed. One of my friends here just graduated with an Astronomy degree; he's working at a grocery store. The truth is, in the race to educate more people, we're just making it harder for the educated to find ways to apply their learning. We're producing legions of college graduates who will soon find out they went to school for no reason, who will soon be employed in jobs they could have acquired straight out of high school (even a high school degree is overkill for most of these positions). I really think that college should be more of an option and less an assumption; many, many people can make a good living without a Bachelor's degree, or by saving thousands of dollars by getting an Associate's from their local community college. Increasing the graduation rate might actually increase
the disillusionment and despair of the populace as we put a bunch of overeducated youths to work in the very positions they went to school to avoid; they think they're above this labor but the market thinks otherwise.
My other major gripe with the video is that it ignores the somewhat-enigmatic maxim "correlation does not imply causation." People who don't graduate high school are more likely to use drugs and be imprisoned
, it argues. Now, is the problem that people who don't graduate get into trouble or that people who get into trouble don't graduate ? You cannot simply assume that the causality only goes in one direction, there needs to be genuine empirical proof. The solutions to these two problems are totally different and a perfect educational institution might have little affect on the myriad of other social ills which lead to addiction and imprisonment.
In sum, I'm always too content to criticize so I would like to propose a couple courses of action, ones that I am less an advocate of than simply curious about. First, could we filter students towards beneficial courses of study, for themselves and for our society? This is not a matter of forcing as much as incentivizing. The government has a handle on labor markets, it knows where demand for educated employees will come from, so let's subsidize nursing and outpatient care providers, let's revamp elementary school computer labs while making a certain level of computer literacy mandatory. The primary counter-argument that I can think of—that people should have a choice and equal opportunity to study whatever they want—is so obviously false when you take the status quo into consideration. First of all, there isn't equal opportunity across disciplines now (when was the last time an English department had the same sort of administrative support as Engineering?) and secondly, this whole project is about finding educated people meaningful employment; the alternative of letting them study what they want for 4-7 years and then end up working as a convenience store clerk for 40 years is not ideal, to say the least.
My second plan would be to attack things from the other end; try to alter the job market to reflect the populace's skills and interests. This is not easy without a massive Keynesian support, and that's not the direction our neoliberal politicians are headed (the growing deficit and jobs bills aside). But it's also essential. The easiest and most important example is of "green jobs". Green jobs don't really exist in a substantive quantity now, but they need to. This isn't a matter of remaining profitable and growing the GDP, it's about surviving in the coming decades of scarcity. The market has little incentive, since it's myopic and geared towards creating individual
wealth as opposed to societal wealth, but the government can use taxes on polluters and systematic regulation to shift funds into more promising areas. Environmental Science programs, and green courses within other disciplines, are growing greatly, but that won't matter if there isn't a productive outlet for all the knowledge and skills they create. The fate of our society will largely depend on how we handle environmental issues, not on the Dow Jones or even the National Debt. So let's start getting started.