Friday, August 12, 2011

Mitt Romney's View on Corporations

Liberals and Democrats are having a field day with Mitt Romn's off-the-cuff remarks yesterday (responding to hecklers at the Iowa State Fair) that included this line: "Corporations are people, my friend."

Here's the entire exchange, as per the Washington Post:

ROMNEY: We have to make sure that the promises we make — and Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare — are promises we can keep. And there are various ways of doing that. One is, we could raise taxes on people.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Corporations!

ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend. We can raise taxes on —

AUDIENCE MEMBER: No, they’re not!

ROMNEY: Of course they are. Everything corporations earn also goes to people.

AUDIENCE: [laughs]

ROMNEY: Where do you think it goes?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: It goes into their pockets!

ROMNEY: Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People’s pockets! Human beings, my friend. So number one, you can raise taxes. That’s not the approach that I would take.

At a top level, Romney is right: corporations have been long treated by courts as independent "people", able to enter into contracts, commit torts, and -- perhaps, most important -- shield their investors from personal liability.

That's consistent with the Citizens United court's finding that corporations are entities that are subject to First Amendment protections: to paraphrase Romney's words, "Corps are people, too."(*)

(* - Robert Clark's seminal treatise, Corporate Law, declares that "One of the law's most economically significant contributions to business life, and one often ignored by lawyers because it generally generates less litigation than many other contributions, has been the creation of the fictional but legallly recognized entities or "persons" that are treated as having some of the attributes of normal persons." Sec. 1.2.3)

But read Romney's words again. He's actually not arguing that corporations are people, the way Dean Clark and the Citizens United court does.

Rather, he's arguing that corporations are made up of people. Every dollar that a corporation earns in profit is eventually paid to a real person, who owes taxes on that profit. And accordingly, Romney argues, corporation taxes should be reduced.

(We will put aside the political wisdom of Romney -- who's being painted as Mr. Corporation in the GOP primary, at least by Tim Pawlenty -- defending lower corporate tax rates.)

But under Romney's vision, corporations are little more than unincorporated associations: partnerships, if you will, who just happen to have stock tickers.

But if corporations are just the collection of people whom comprise them (i.e., stockholders), why should we grant them status as "legal persons"?

And why should the corporate shield on liability (the shield that kept Mr. Romney, and the rest of Bain Capital from suffering ill-effects from the bankruptcy of Ampad) be recognized?

To quote a different Supreme Court (albeit minority) opinion: "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society"

Friday, June 24, 2011

The "Secret" Site of NFL Talks is... Allerton Point

AP would be remiss not to mention that the latest round of the "secret" NFL/NFLPA talks have been taking place in Hull, MA, at the Nantasket Beach Resort, which itsel is a quick jog down Nantasket Ave. to Point Allerton.

New 1st Circut Decision on Confidentiality Provisions

(Cross-posted at the Mass High Tech site)

The Young Tech Company's Introduction to the NLRA and Confidentiality

By Terry Klein and Matthew T. Henshon

“The National Labor Relations Act? I thought that was for Big Labor. What’s that got to do with my growing tech company?”

Potentially, a lot.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has helpfully reminded employers in the private sector that the NLRA has a broader reach than they might think. Historically, the NLRA was enacted to protect the rights of employees and employers to engage in collective bargaining. It codifies the rights of employees to organize, establishes the National Labor Relations Board, governs union elections, and forbids certain unfair labor practices by employers and union organizations. Examples of such practices include employer interference in employees’ efforts to organize, an employer’s refusal to bargain with employee representatives (and vice versa), and conduct by unions that amounts to coercing employees to organize or employers to enter into collective bargaining agreements.

But the language of the NLRA is very broad, invoking a different era when many – if not most – employers faced the prospect of a unionized workforce. And that broad language could still apply to a “New Economy” company.

Earlier this week, the court issued a decision that could affect all employers that include confidentiality provisions in employment agreements, whether they are union shops or not. The court found that one such employer had engaged in an unfair labor practice when it terminated an employee for violating one such confidentiality provision. It did so in spite of the fact that the employer’s workforce was not unionized, and in spite of the fact that the employer was terminated for discussing the terms of his employment with one of the employer’s clients, as opposed to one of his coworkers. Employers that include confidentiality provisions in their employment agreements would be well served to review those provisions to ensure that they comply with the NLRA.

NLRB v. Northeastern Land Services Ltd. presented the First Circuit with the question of whether including a confidentiality provision in an employment agreement constituted an unfair labor practice. While a 2009 First Circuit opinion in the same case concentrated on NLRB procedure (and was vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court), the latest decision returns the focus to the substantive interplay between the NLRA and employee confidentiality agreements.

NLS is a temporary employment agency that supplies workers to companies in the natural gas and telecommunications industry. The employee who filed the unfair labor practices charge with the NLRB signed a temporary employment contract stating that he “understands that the terms of this employment, including compensation, are confidential to Employee and the NLS Group. Disclosure of these terms to other parties may constitute grounds for dismissal.” In connection with a dispute with NLS over reimbursable expenses, the employee notified the temp agency’s client that he would be offline until the dispute was resolved. NLS terminated him. He responded by filing a charge with the NLRB. It was undisputed that NLS had not terminated him for discussing the terms of his employment with fellow employees in connection with a union organizing effort, but instead for disclosing terms to a client. The First Circuit is silent as to whether other NLS employees were union members or were seeking to organize collectively.

The court nonetheless concluded that the provision at issue violated Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA and that by terminating an employee for violating the provision, the employer had engaged in an unfair labor practice. Stating the broader rule, the Court held that a confidentiality provision is unlawful if (1) employees would reasonably construe it to forbid organizing activity, (2) it was promulgated in response to union activity, or (3) the provision has been used to restrict the exercise of organizing rights. Firing an employee for taking issue with the terms of his employment, the court stated, “went to a prime area of concern” under the NLRA.

The First Circuit’s restatement of its 2009 decision should prompt employers to review employment agreements that include confidentiality provisions. While temporary employment agencies will certainly want to subject their agreements to close examination, other employers for which confidentiality provisions are important should also take note.

The court does not, of course, hold all confidentiality provisions to be automatically void. Narrow provisions that prohibit disclosure of “company business and documents”, for example, are most likely lawful. But, as the court decision makes clear, the mere inclusion of a confidentiality provision can violate the NLRA. And terminating an employee for acting contrary to the provision will constitute still another violation. In NLS’s case, the NLRB forced the company to rehire the employee and pay him damages related to his termination.

Technology companies are not fertile grounds for the type of union organizing that the NLRA is intended to protect, to be sure. But in the context of an employment dispute – say, attempting to enforce a non-compete provision against a former employee – an enterprising employee would be sure to use a broad confidentiality provision and a potential NLRA claim as leverage. Whether located in the First Circuit or not, businesses would be wise to make sure their confidentiality provisions are narrowly tailored to fit specific business needs.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why No Talk of Suspension?

After turning the ball over in the third quarter of Saturday night's game, a perhaps frustrated Dwayne Wade of the Heat proceeded to (i) grab Rajon Rondo and (ii) swing his legs under him, while throwing Rondo to the ground. It's Rondo's dislocated elbow that has gotten all the attention (with the video -- rated at least PG-13 -- here.)

Rondo got hurt on the play. Although he came back into the game, it's unclear whether he will be able to play tonight, in an important Game Four, and his one-armed effectiveness is definitely at issue.

Was Wade intended to hurt Rondo? It's clear that he intended to foul the Boston point guard, mostly like to prevent the kind of break-away that occurred later (after Rondo returned) off of a comatose Chris Bosh. (Although as Jeff Van Gundy notes on the telecast "the ball was already out of bounds.")

Moreover, it was not Wade's first foul, nor first overtly-aggressive play of the day, or the series.

In addition, the Heat themselves, doth protest too much after the game. Here's Wade: "We play this game as competitors..You never want to see anyone get hurt, no matter what it is, what kind of injury it is. Kudos for him for coming back." (emphasis added)

Wade yesterday: “It’s a physical game, the game of basketball is a physical game. I’m not a dirty player, it’s physical. Everyone falls to the ground, everyone gets hurt, people get up.”

Here's teammate LeBron James: "You definite don’t want to see anyone have freak injuries. The competitors that we all are, us against Boston, you definitely don’t want to see nothing like that happen. Injuries aside, you hope the best for him. You hope that it’s not as bad as it looked. You hope it’s not something that affects him long term."

Finally, Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra: “I’m not answering questions about that. I’m done with that. Moving on....It looked like a normal contact foul...[Rondo] just landed on it wrong. Those things happen. There was a lot of contact. Some of the plays were a lot more physical than that, where guys didn’t get hurt. Those are tough plays."

No flagrant foul was called on the play by the officials at the game. However, the NBA rule book permits the League Office to post-facto assess fouls as "Flagrant-1" or "Flagrant-2" fouls after the fact, making its assessment on factors including:

1. The severity of the contact;

2. Whether or not the player was making a legitimate basketball play (e.g., whether a player is making a legitimate effort to block a shot; note, however, that a foul committed during a block attempt can still be considered flagrant if other criteria are present such as recklessness and hard contact to the head);

3. Whether, on a foul committed with a player's arm or hand, the fouling player wound up and/or followed through after making contact;

4. The potential for injury resulting from contact (e.g., a blow to the head and a foul committed while a player is in a vulnerable position);

5. The severity of any injury suffered by the offended player; and

6. The outcome of the contact (e.g., whether it led to an altercation).

In the NHL, the players on the ice would tell an observer whether the foul (or hit, in hockey) was seen as a clean but unfortunate injury, or something more sinis In baseball, we'd know the next time Wade came to the plate.

With no fighting, no beanballs, and no true enforcers in a post-Pacers NBA, the retribution -- if required by the Code of the Game -- will be more subtle. Celtics Coach Doc Rivers, perhaps already anticipating a tough-guy response from some of his players (mostly likely Kevin Garnett), tried to defuse the tension: "I don’t know if it was a hard foul...Let’s put it like this: He didn’t intend to hurt Rondo. I don’t honestly believe that 99 percent of cases in our league that the player ever intends to hurt anybody but he did. It just happens."

Notwithstanding Doc, watch what happens when Wade goes to hole tonight.

This series is about to get a lot more physical.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Earth is Flat, Fairfield Edition

Princeton's head basketball coach, Sydney Johnson, has left to take a similar position at Fairfield University.

And a Tiger Nation wonders why.

Time for an adult conversation.

Here's one reality: Sydney did a great job with a difficult hand. He turned a 6-23 team into one that won the Ivy title and took a Final Four team (Kentucky) to the last two seconds. He did it with class and made everyone associated with the team feel good about how he did it.

He also did it faster than the much-more-publicized Tommy Amaker did at Harvard (they both started four years ago) despite Harvard's stronger commitment -- both financially and with admissions, um, "flexibility".

So Tiger Nation can fairly be disappointed.

Here's the second reality: Sydney's chosen profession is coaching.

Princeton's basketball coach is normally paid (at somewhere in the low-to-mid $200s as widely reported) -- if he does his job correctly, and performs in accordance with historic norms -- below "market." And the market is moving upscale.

An aside: Yes, Pete Carril stayed at the school for 29 years despite winning multiple titles. But Coach Carril grew up in the 1930s in Bethlehem (PA), at a time when you were happy to have a job(*).

(*-Shades of players, decades later who, in Carril-speak, were "happy to have a uniform.")

But back to the current day. If you have the ability to find eight high-schoolers, convince them to come to your school, and turn them into a winning basketball team, you can make a lot of money.

A lotta lot.

Rick Pitino made $8M last year. 30 of the 68 coaches who took their teams to the NCAA this March earn $1M or more.

(Actually, make that 31: VCU's Shaka Smart just signed for 8 years at $1.2M/year.)

And the velocity at the top is increasing. Back to Carril: in the 1980s, the then-Kentucky coach (Joe B. Hall) probably made $750K, or 4x or 5x as much as the Princeton basketball coach.

In 2007 (the year Sydney started at Princeton), Kentucky hired Billy Gillispie for $2.3M per year. 10x.

Current Kentucky Coach John Calipari makes close to $5M per year. 25x.

And even beyond the dollars that the schools pay, the current "cult of personality"(*) that surrounds big-time college coaches provides plenty of other opportunities, from summer camp lectures to corporate retreats.

(*-A small point on this: the raised "NCAA custom court"(**) for the Final Four has resulted in even more (marginal) focus on the coaches. They are elevated above the rest of their bench, their coaching staff, even the official scorer. And since almost no single athlete plays all 40 minutes, they have literally the longest-running role on "center stage.")

(**-Not to get off on a tangent, but one does wonder: what does the "custom court" have to do with the NCAA's academic mission? And how much does it cost? Oh, and by the way, the NCAA owns at least 13 of them (8 opening round sites (mens) + 4 (womens regionals only) + the one in Dayton.)

See: John Thompson III, who left Princeton in 2004, is paid $1.8M/year and is featured in a national television commercial alongside Magic Johnson.

Meanwhile, and most relevantly for this discussion, it's clear that the dollars at the top of the pay scale are trickling down. The "mid-majors" -- George Mason, VCU, Butler, Richmond (with FoAP Chris Mooney) -- are willing to invest in their quality coaches(*), and give them long-term security (6 years for GMU's Larranaga, 8 years for Smart, 10 years for each of the other two).

(*-Whether this money is being found inside the athletic budget, or via outside (ie., special-purpose fundraising), and if the latter, how the schools' development offices feel about it, is an interesting question.)

It's not Rick Pitino money, but it's still a good living, and with more job security (i.e., a longer-term contract) than at some of the "BCS Schools."(*) That's what has changed in the past decade. As noted earlier with regard to Jeff Capel, the patience at the BCS schools is shorter.

(*-And unlike the Ivies, the Mid Majors offer the simplicity of offering athletic scholarships rather than hoping on the Princeton, say, Admissions Office for (i) an admit; and (ii) a financial aid package.)

We don't think of Fairfield as having a great recent basketball tradition, but frankly, who thought about Butler's tradition before last year? Or VCU's before last week?

Fairfield, by all accounts, was willing to invest in Sydney (query whether or not Fairfield can afford its investment, given its basketball revenue, but that's a problem for another day).

Indeed, by inking Johnson, Fairfield has raised its basketball visibility. Oh, and by the way, they are still in a major media market, and one that will be undoubtedly thinking -- and reporting -- more about the Stags (and probably the rest of the MAAC(*) as well.)

(*-Indeed, with its core Jesuit institutions -- and local, traditional rivalries -- the MAAC is starting to look more-and-more like the old Big East did when it was started in the late 1970s.)

And while at Princeton, Johnson was "just another" representative of the school, he's likely to be The Face of Fairfield(*) - the school, not just the basketball team.

(*-Johnson's photo is currently on the front-page of Fairfield's website, above the "fold". One doubts that the new Princeton coach -- whomever he is -- will get the same attention.)

(Quick quiz: Name the most prominent Fairfield alum.)

(Answer: Probably, Buddy Cianci.)

And he's likely to have a direct line into the President's office. Rev. Jeffrey von Arx, S.J. is a 1969 Princeton alum.

As the NCAA basketball world is now "flat" (in Seth Davis' words -- sort of), it's a reasonable -- if not expected -- move. (Davis' point is that, in a one-and-done era, the gap between BCS-elite teams fielding frosh and sophs and a mid-major built around veterans has shrunk. On four different occasions in the last six Final Fours, Mid Majors have appeared (GMU (2006), Butler (2010 & 2011) and VCU (2011).))

Realistically, the foreseeable NCAA ceiling on the Ivy League is probably the Sweet Sixteen, which Cornell reached last year, not the Final Four or even the Round of Eight. In the 31 years since Penn went to the Bird-Magic Final Four, only 7 Ivy teams have won a single game in the tournament. Only the aforementioned Cornell team won in the Round of 32.(*)

(*-The 1983 Princeton team won two games, but the first game was a "Preliminary"/Play-in, hence they did not reach the Sixteen.)

In the last ten years, the MAAC has won four NCAA first round games(*), although it has not sent a team to the Sixteen in its history (begun in 1983-4). (By the way, Sydney's inheriting a team that was 25-8 and has 4 starters returning.)

(*-Niagra also won a play-in game in 2007, but was blitzed by #1-Kansas in the First Round.)

And while Princeton may seem like a great place to live and raise a family, there are any number of residents -- many of whom work on Wall Street -- who seem to find Fairfield County perfectly acceptable.

Is Princeton-to-Fairfield a move that we expect?

No, but in this world-is-flat time in college basketball, we shouldn't really be surprised.

Monday, April 4, 2011

#NCAAChamp "Tweets" (on Facebook)

10:05 #NCAAChamp. Matt Howard and Mack do 15 small things each game to help BU win...

9:47 #NCAAChamp This game to be played in the 40s?!?!?

9:42 #NCAAchamp. Offensive rebounds killing Butler late first half

9:35 #NCAAchamp. Butler doubling the high ball-screen, not help-and-recover. New look for Butler ( andUConn?)

9:15 #NCAAChamp. We'll know early. If Butler's defensive physicality can handle UConn's speed, then the Bulldogs have a good chance. And that means -- unlike most underdogs -- Butler wants the refs to "let them play"

Thoughts on Championship Monday

A few "mind droppings" on the eve of the NCAA Championship:

* Over/under. If you had surveyed the thousands in Indy a year ago, and told them one of these two teams (Duke or Butler) would be back in the Final a year later, how many would have guessed the Bulldogs?

And what if I told you that Gordon Hayward -- Butler's best player and a Top-10 NBA pick -- was going to leave early? What would you say then?

* Hayward. Speaking of Hayward, what thoughts are going through his mind tonight -- as the 36-41 Jazz -- winding down a lost season -- prepare to play a meaningless game against the Lakers tomorrow?

Surely he's rooting for his former teammates, and might even be in Reliant Stadium tonight. But he's averaging 4.5 points per game (only 15.5 minutes per night) for a non-playoff bound team. How much would he pay to be back on the floor for "one shining moment"?

And by how many would the Bulldogs -- underdogs by 3.5 as of game time -- be favored if Hayward could suit up?

* The shadow of Jeff Capel. Shaka Smart's decision to stay at VCU is the latest in a series of decisions for mid-major coaches to remain at their (comfortable, and grateful) mid-major schools. In the last 12 months, we've seen Brad Stevens (Butler) and FoAP Chris Mooney (Richmond) chose to stay home, rather than make the jump to "high-major."

Perhaps the easiest way to explain this is by pointing to Jeff Capel. In 2006, Capel was the "hottest mid-major" coach. Coming out of Duke, he jumped to Oklahoma and proceeded -- in his third year -- to take a Blake Griffin-led Sooners team to the Elite Eight. Two years later -- despite a 96-69 record -- it's over. Thanks for the memories.

Yes, the high major life is "The Life."

But you had best win. And win now.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Updated: Most Memorable NCAA Semifinal Games, Part II

Back in 2007, in connection The New Republic, I put together the "Most Memorable NCAA Semifinal Games" since 1979. With four more Final Fours since that list, and with two highly-anticipated semifinals approaching on Saturday, it's time to update the list.)

Just as a reminder, this list is only for semifinal games, not Championship games. So no Jimmy V looking for someone to hug, no Keith Smart from the corner, no Mateen Cleaves dancing (although that looks like the start of another list...)

The list also begins in 1979, the year of the Bird-Magic final. That year’s Final Four was memorable for other reasons, as it featured not one, but two Cinderellas (Bird’s Indiana State, although a #1 seed, was from a mid-major conference; and #9 Penn), as well as another team (DePaul) that looked as though it was on the verge of becoming the dominant force in college basketball in the early 1980s. With Mark Aguirre (who was the NBA’s #1 overall pick in 1981) and Terry Cummings (#2 overall in 1982), the Blue Demons were derailed by UCLA in 1980 (UCLA eventually played in the National Championship that year), and then stunned by St. Joseph’s in 1981 in an early round game – albeit underappreciated today – that surely ranks among the greatest upsets in NCAA history.

This year's Final Four also features two mid-majors, Butler (back for the second straight year -- and making the most of it with a memorable semi-final a year ago) and Virginia Commonwealth.

Without further ado, Numbers 5 through 1:

5. (#1) Michigan 81 / (#1) Kentucky 78 (OT) (1993)

A year removed from the heartbreak of the ‘Laettner game’, Kentucky’s Rick Pitino brought a hungry and talented team to New Orleans, with players such as Jamal Mashburn, Travis Ford, and Jared Prickett, and an average margin of victory of 31 in its four NCAA tournament games. But Michigan’s Fab Five – Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson –were not only one of the best recruiting classes ever, but a still-influential fashion statement: they invented – or at least widely popularized – the baggy-short-look for colleges.

Facing a double digit deficit with 14 minutes left, the Wildcats started pounding the ball to Mashburn, and eventually tied the game with 1:26 left in regulation. But when ‘Mash’ fouled out, Pitino had to mix-and-match lineups in the extra period; finally with four second left in the OT, and Michigan clinging to a 3-point lead, Webber made two straight deflections on in-bound plays, including a ‘heads-up’ second one from the baseline where he tipped the ball back towards mid-court, forcing a desperation heave by Kentucky’s Tony Delk that fell short.

But like Freddie Brown in 1982, Webber’s reputation as a crafty end-of-game player would last just 48 hours.

Interesting sidenote: the 1993 Final Four featured three #1s (Michigan, Kentucky, and UNC) and one #2 (Kansas) – the best ‘chalk’ ever.

4. 1984 (both games)

(#1) Georgetown 53 / (#1) Kentucky 40

At halftime, the budding Georgetown dynasty was at risk. The Hoyas had suffered through two scoring droughts of more than 5:00 minutes in the first half, trailed at one point 27-15, and more importantly, had their franchise center, Patrick Ewing, saddled with three personal fouls.

But coming out for the second half, it was Kentucky who went cold. The Cats went scoreless for the first 10 minutes of the second half, scored 2 points, then went another 7 minutes without another score. The whole crowd – including Georgetown fans – cheered when the Cats ended the worst drought in Final Four history.

Interesting sidenote: this game was only the second-biggest disaster that Kentucky’s Sam Bowie (was involved with during 1984, although he was only an innocent bystander in the June meltdown in Portland.

(#2) Houston 49 / (#7) Virginia 47 (OT)

Before there was a “Ewing Theory”, there was a “Sampson Theory.” In 1984, Virginia looked to be undergoing a rebuilding year, having lost 3-time college player-of-the-year Ralph Sampson to graduation the year before; but after going to just one Final Four with Sampson (in 1981), Othell Wilson took an undermanned and undersized team to the brink of the title game.

Houston’s Guy Lewis – the 80s coaching version of Dick Cheney – had seemingly learned nothing from his experience in 1983 (see below). The entire game was played at UVA’s slow, patient pace, despite Houston’s superior athleticism. In the last minute of regulation, the Cougars turned the ball over three times without a call of timeout, and barely escaped the NC State-esque ending. Georgetown would overpower Houston two nights later, however.

3. NEW (#1) Kansas 84 / (#1) North Carolina 66 (2008)

The only time all four #1-seeds advanced to the Final Four, although Kansas had to hold off the ultimate Cinderella (#10-Davidson) in the Elite Eight game to get there. The Kansas/UNC game itself was played at a high level, with Kansas sprinting out to a 40-12 lead, withstanding a furious UNC rally that closed the gap to a mere 4 points (54-50 with 11 minutes left in the game), and finally pulling away to the final margin.

What makes this game so memorable, however, is the announcer. Billy Packer had called every Final Four in the Magic-Bird era (actually, every FF since 1975), and was the defining voice of the Final Four. But at the same time, he seemed to court controversy, especially with regard to rising Mid-Majors like St. Joes (in 2004) and George Mason (in 2006).

The final straw came for Packer in the middle of the Kansas first half run. With the score 38-12, Packer declared the game "over" as the broadcast cut to commercial break. Although UNC eventually lost, the game was in fact, a long way from over.

But Packer's career was. Three months after the game, Packer was replaced by Clark Kellogg.

2. (#2) Duke 79 / (#1) UNLV 77 (1991)

[No video available]

A year removed from a 103-73 pasting in the Championship Game from the same Runnin’ Rebels (like Florida this year, the core of the UNLV team returned as defending champs), Duke ended a 45-game winning streak and ended talk of ‘greatest team of all time.’

UNLV had rolled through the regular season and the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament with an average victory margin of 29, and had rarely been involved in a tight game. And when point guard Greg Anthony fouled out late in the second half, the Rebels were suddenly rudderless in the closest game they had played in close to two years. Bobby Hurley, the slightest man on the court – and who, along with Christian Laettner, helped put the “detest” in “Duke” for many – belied his reputation (to that point) as a poor shooter by burying a huge 3-ball with a little over two minutes remaining to bring Duke within 2. Brian Davis then gave Duke the lead, with a conventional three-point play, and the UNLV reign ended in a haze of missed foul-shots (Larry Johnson went 1-3 from the line), and a botched last-second ‘play.’

Two nights later, the Blue Devils escaped the can’t-win-the-big-one tag by beating Kansas for the National Championship. A year later they repeated, a feat that the Gators are seeking to match in Atlanta.

1. (#1) Houston 94 / (#1) Louisville 81 (1983)

Phi Sla(m)ma Ja(m)ma vs. the Doctors of Dunk. Thought to be the ‘real’ championship game (especially since the other semifinal featured two low seeds (#6 NC State vs. #4 Georgia).

And the game delivered. Referee Hank Nichols calls the game “The Blitzkrieg.” At one point, there were 11 dunks in 14 minutes. A note that was passed down press row during the game: “Welcome to the 21st Century.”

An end-to-end game in a real college gym (not a dome) that featured (H)Akeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Michael Young, Larry Micheaux, and Alvin Franklin for Houston and Milt Wagner, Rodney McCrae, Scooter McCrae, Billy Thompson (one of the first ‘super frosh’), and Lancaster Gordon for Louisville.

When Houston’s sixth man, Benny (called “The Outlaw”, but who would have fit in on the Jackson’s Victory tour) Anders, was asked, in the post-game interview room, about “one of the dunks” he had to ask, “which one?”

Of course, earlier in the season Anders had said, “I like the dunk. It’s a high percentage shot.”

This is a must-Tivo on ESPN Classic, if you have the opportunity.

Interesting sidenote #1: Houston starter Micheaux fouled out with 13:28 left because Guy Lewis didn’t know he had four fouls; two nights later in the final against NC State, Lewis made the same mistake when Drexler picked up his fourth foul with 2:38 left in the first half!

Interesting sidenote #2: In her story after the NC State victory in the final, then-Boston Globe reporter Lesley Visser asked rhetorically about Lewis’ decision to slow the pace midway in the second half:
Why, they asked, did Houston coach Guy Lewis, a man who had coached for 27 years, signal for a stall when the team led by seven points with 10 minutes left? Or, as one coach said in a bar after the game, "Ninety-thousand dollars of recruiting on the floor and he has them play like Princeton.

Interesting Sidenote #3: The toughest of all of the Cougars, Larry (“Mr. Mean”) Micheaux is now a high school teacher in Stafford, Texas. You never know.

I couldn’t include every great game, or memorable moment in this list. A few that ‘just missed’: Duke 81 / Indiana 78 (1992), Coach K vs. Bob Knight (“The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.”); or Duke 70 / Florida 65 (1994), giving Grant Hill the chance to win three titles; or Kentucky 86 / Stanford 85 (OT) (1998). And of course, without semifinal wins like NC State over Georgia in 1983, or Villanova over Memphis State in 1985, the memories of those respective Finals would have a different flavor.

But here’s hoping that this weekend’s games add a few more memories to this list.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Updated: Most Memorable NCAA Semifinal Games Since 1979

Back in 2007, in connection The New Republic, I put together the "Most Memorable NCAA Semifinal Games" since 1979. With four more Final Fours since that list, and with two highly-anticipated semifinals approaching on Saturday, it's time to update the list.)

(Why 1979? It’s arguably the start of the modern era, with the Bird/Magic final. (That’s still the highest rated TV game, and also – and perhaps not coincidentally -- the first college game I remember watching.))

Here's the updated list, with video (as available):

Honorable Mention:
* (#1) Georgetown 50 / (#3) Louisville 46 (1982) (Trivia: Name that game's MVP, as chosen by CBS. (Answer below))
*(#11) George Mason 58 / (#3) Florida 73 (2006)
For more on these two games, go here.

10. (#3) Michigan 83 / (#1) Illinois 81 (1989)

The 31-5 Flyin’ Illini had been near the top of the national rankings for a good part of the season, and featured future NBA first round draftees in Kendall Gill (#5 pick), Nick Anderson (#11), and Kenny Battle (#27), along with sixth man (and high school legend) Marcus Liberty. Michigan featured future NBA players such as Rumeal Robinson, Loy Vaught, and Glen Rice.

With the score tied late in a back-and-forth game, Michigan’s Terry Mills missed a long jumper, but on the weak side, Sean Higgins followed-up with 0:01 left, and “Michigan man” Steve Fisher moved to a (then) career record of 5-0; somewhere Bo Schembechler is smiling at the memory.

9. (#1) Georgetown 77 / (#1) St. John’s 59 (1985)

Although a dominating performance by the Hoyas made the result a foregone conclusion well before the final horn, the lead-up to the game was enormous. #2, and St. John’s had beaten the then-previously-undefeated Hoyas earlier in the season in the Capital (DC) Center. That win was part of a long St. John’s streak that began when Coach Lou Carnesecca wore on an ‘ugly Italian sweater’ that became his trademark.

In late February, on the Hoyas’ return trip to Madison Square Garden, Georgetown coach John Thompson put on a replica of Carnesecca’s sweater under his suit coat, and opened it up to the crowd just before tipoff; the Hoyas won that night, as well.

Interesting sidenote: the Big East had placed three teams in the Final Four in 1985 (Georgetown, St. John’s, and Villanova), a feat not since equaled.

8. NEW (#5) Butler 52 / (#5) Michigan State 50 (2010)

While the clock struck midnight for George Mason in the 2006 National Semifinal, but mid-major Butler just kept rolling along. Indeed, Butler's bubble would not burst until after the final horn on Monday night.

The "patron saint of analytical coaches" Brad Stevens earned his stat-geek stripes in the last minute of this one, electing to foul Korie Lucious -- despite the presence of hundreds of college coaches in the gym, ready to second guess that decision -- with a 3-point lead.

Top-ten draft pick Gordon Hayward secured the rebound and Butler's place in NCAA history. (Of course, Butler center Matt Howard's place in fashion history had long been immortalized.)

7. (#2) UConn 79 / (#1) Duke 78 (2004)

UConn jumped on Duke early, racing to a 15-4 lead. But the Blue Devils clawed back and eventually took an (seemingly) insurmountable lead of 75-67 lead with just 3 minutes left.

But to the horror of the Dookies everywhere, UConn went on final 12-0 run to drive a dull, splintery, wooden stake – metaphorically, of course – through Duke Nation’s collective heart.

6. (#1) Indiana 97 / (#1) UNLV 93 (1987)

Despite having one of the best shooters in the game (Steve Alford), Indiana Coach Bob Knight had been a vocal opponent of the 3-point line, which was introduced that year. No one adapted faster to the new rule faster than UNLV (37-1 going into the game), and the Rebels hoisted 35 threes in the semis, including 10-for-19 from guard Freddie Banks (38 points). Armon Gilliam added 32, despite facing double-teams (Indiana essentially left UNLV guard Mark Wade unguarded, as he was a poor shooter); Wade, to his credit, handed out 18 assists, a tournament record.

Indiana only took four three-pointers, all by Alford (2-4, on his way to 33 points), and received unexpected help off the bench from a well-coiffed Steve Eyl. After the game Knight was unrepentant: "This game was a classic example of how much influence shooting now has on the game because they got 13 three-pointers and that was worth an extra 13 points. I believe basketball should involve passing and a lot of other things, not just coming down the court and throwing it in."

Trivia Answer: Freddie Brown was the 1982 MVP (as chosen by CBS) for Georgetown in the 1982 semifinal game. His 15 minutes of fame lasted just 48 hours.

(Numbers 1-5 coming tomorrow.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Big East's Downward Trajectory

Big-East haters, including Charles Barkley, have been having a field day over the past two days. After receiving a record 11 bids (albeit to an expanded 68-team field), the Big East has gone quietly, with just 2 of its teams (#3-seed UConn and #11-seed Marquette) surviving the first weekend to make it to the Sweet Sixteen.

And while the 11 bids may have been deserved -- perhaps most convincingly because of the general mediocrity in the rest of what became the #1-seeds(*) in the NIT field -- the BE performance has been bad. And it's part of a pattern.

(*-The NIT #1 seeds, which presumably were the "last four out" of the NCAA field -- as the NCAA now owns the NIT -- were: Alabama (21-11, #45 on KenPom, Boston College (20-12, #69), Colorado (21-13, #56), and Virginia Tech (21-11, #32.))

A year ago, the Big East sent 8 teams, which led all conferences. While West Virginia did make it all the way to the Final Four, the rest of the league did not do particularly well: only 2 teams made it to the Sweet Sixteen (WVU and Syracuse, who was beaten by eventual national runner-up Butler.)

In 2009, however, it was a better story: just 7 Big East teams (nonetheless tied with the ACC and Big Ten for most by a single conference), with 5 advancing to the Sweet Sixteen; both UConn and Villanova went to the Final Four, and but-for a tremendous defensive performance by Michigan State (throttling Louisville), the Big East may have matched its record(*) of sending 3 of the 4 teams to the Final Four.

(*-Culminating in one of greatest Finals ever, Villanova over Georgetown. St. John's also went; the other team: a Dana Kirk-coached Memphis State (nee Memphis.))

The lesson? The Big East may have become "too" good. The competition among the various programs to reach the elite level -- to be an at-large Tourney selection -- has meant that many of the programs have upgraded their coaching and commitment (most notably, St Johns this year, which went 21-12 after playing .500 over the past two years.)

With eleven legitimate Tournament teams, almost every game in the Conference was played at a high level. And the wear-and-tear may have produced entertaining league games (and a memorable Big East Tournament) but a wash-out on the game's biggest stage.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reuters: Why no Robots in Japan's Nuke Facility?

[Cross-posted at ST-AIRC Blog)

Reuters is running a story wondering why Japan -- where robots are used much more extensively then in the US -- no robots are available to help solve the nuclear emergency at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

Japan a Robot Power Everywhere Except at Nuclear Plant
By Jon Herskovitz

TOKYO, March 17 (Reuters) - Japan may build robots to play the violin, run marathons and preside over weddings, but it has not deployed any of the machines to help repair its crippled reactors.

While robots are commonplace in the nuclear power industry, with EU engineers building one that can climb walls through radioactive fields, the electric power company running Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi plant has not deployed any for the nuclear emergency.

Instead, its skeleton team has been given the unenviable and perhaps deadly task of cooling reactors and spent nuclear fuel on their own, only taking breaks to avoid over-exposure...

Christmas in March

There's plenty to be depressed about around the world.

Japan. Bahrain. Libya. The Deficit. The Economy.

And here in New England, the winter has been one of the snowiest and longest in recent memory.

Yet, with the dawn of the "real" opening day(*) of the NCAA Tournament -- and on St. Patrick's Day, no less -- it's truly Christmas in March, at least for those of us who love basketball.

(*-The NCAA's "First Four" notwithstanding. In reality, most people (and more importantly, most bracket pools) have ignored the four games played over the past two nights.)

The tournament has changed over the years. When I was in grade school, there was no "Selection Show", no ubiquitous printable brackets. On the Thursday of the first week, Sports Illustrated would arrive with a stapled-in insert (often sponsored by Camel Cigarettes) with my first look at the bracket as a whole. (The Springfield Union-News would publish the matchups in agate type, with the Second Round indicated only as "Saturday, 2pm: Game #7 Winner vs. Game #8 Winner")

But I would race home breathlessly after school, flip on a nascent ESPN (cable had arrived the year before, and ESPN was one of the 13 channels that were included) and watch Reggie Lewis lead a Jim Calhoun-coached Northeastern squad against LIU. Like Opening Day of a baseball season, there's no substitute for watching real-live sports in the afternoon -- and in a game that matters.

Over the years, I was lucky enough to be a small part of three First Round weeks: in 1989, 1990, and 1991. The memories of those weeks -- and in particular the "what-might-have-been" at the end of each of those games, decided by a total of 7 points -- will be with me as long as I live.

But what is most interesting is not that the memories of the Tournament would stick with me -- a role player on a mid- or perhaps low-major team. Even Kenny Anderson, a high school phenom, #2 overall pick in the NBA draft, and who played 858 games(*) in the Association -- thinks back fondly on his days in his only NCAA Tourney. And it's nice to see a player like Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor -- a player whose NBA prospects are not at all certain -- be able to reflect on the tourney even as it happens: "This is one of the best times of the year. Probably better than Christmas for a lot of us."

(*-If you don't think 858 games in the NBA is a lot, check out the all-time list. If you are even a casual sports fan, you will recognize the vast majority of the names above Kenny (for sure once you get above 1,000 or so), and you can probably bring an image of each player on that list.)

Of course, what really makes today is our discovery of Cinderella: the unheralded small school that can take down a Major. It happens every year -- almost -- but even still some are more amazing then others. In 1996, Princeton took out the defending NCAA champs in a nail-biter; Sean Gregory (also a former Tiger player) wrote a terrific retrospective in Time Magazine about the inside story-behind-the-story.

So enjoy today. And tomorrow.

By Sunday evening, the clock will probably have struck midnight for all of the Cinderellas, and we'll be (most likely) back to the BCS heavyweights for the Sweet 16. You know, the ones you've projected in your pool.

But for now, hope springs eternal. And unlike baseball, you only have to wait 40 minutes -- not 162 games -- to see it rewarded.

NASA's R2 Robot Unveiled

[Cross-posted on ST-AIRC blog]

NASA's R2 Robot was unveiled yesterday on board the International Space Station. The robot will assist astronauts inside the ISS, although it will still be in testing mode through the summer (testing begins in May).

For more see this article.
At the NASA site.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Sampling of IBM Watson News over the Weekend

[Cross-posted on ST-AIRC Blog]

IBM has inked a deal with Nuance to apply Watson's Jeopardy-winning Deep Question Answering technology to health care.

IBM’s Watson Jeopardy Stunt Unleashes a Third Great Cycle in Computing

NY Times' Stanley Fish -- not very impressed with Watson

Stephen Baker, author of “Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything” on the impact of IBM's Watson

TED-cast by Stephen Baker

Friday, February 18, 2011

More Follow-up From Watson

A sampling of four new articles following upon on Watson's victory in Jeopardy!

Professor Oren Etzioni, the director of the UW Turing Center, on the match:
It didn't surprise me that Watson won. In fairness there are some small things in the game that give it an advantage, like the time that it has to process -- it sees the clue instantly, it gets transmitted via text, and then it's told when it can buzz in. So it has a number of these small advantages and particularly last night it was often winning on time.

Watson as the beginning of a new kind of search engine?
Etzioni says he expects natural-language software to make a big dent in search applications over the next five years, although at the moment systems such as Watson aren't ready for 'prime time': he notes that Microsoft bought a natural-language processing company called Powerset in 2008 for US$100 million, "but you don't see Microsoft using it in any visible way". Kautz agrees that systems as broad and powerful as Watson could be available for general use "surprisingly soon. Let's say three to four years."

Ken Jennings on his Watson experience:
I expected Watson's bag of cognitive tricks to be fairly shallow, but I felt an uneasy sense of familiarity as its programmers briefed us before the big match: The computer's techniques for unraveling Jeopardy! clues sounded just like mine. That machine zeroes in on key words in a clue, then combs its memory (in Watson's case, a 15-terabyte data bank of human knowledge) for clusters of associations with those words.

Gary Kasparov on playing chess alongside - rather than against - a computer:
Having a computer partner also meant never having to worry about making a tactical blunder. The computer could project the consequences of each move we considered, pointing out possible outcomes and countermoves we might otherwise have missed. With that taken care of for us, we could concentrate on strategic planning instead of spending so much time on calculations.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Coca-Cola's Secret Formula: its Brand

When an entrepreneur starts a new company, one of the first things he(*) worries about is how to protect his new idea. And usually the choices are two: file a patent, or keep it under lock-and-key as a trade secret.

(*-or she, but we'll keep the masculine only here)

The trade-off for patents is clear: in exchange for a 17-year monopoly, the inventor has to disclose his methodology (or other invention) to the world, so that others can build off his patent. Indeed, the entire patent regime is is like a giant Jenga puzzle, with almost each patent "built" in effect upon previously-issued patents.

Trade secrets are the opposite: the inventor makes a decision that protection of the idea would be better served by keeping it private. Although there are some legal protections for stolen trade secrets (for instance, claims for misappropriation or theft, or unfair competition law), but even if an inventor insists on a non-dislosure agreement, if the secret is valuable enough, he may not be able to recover full damages from a breaching party.(*)

(*-The breaching party, even if insured, may not have assets large enough to make the inventor whole, for instance.)

For years the gold standard in trade secrets was the formula for Coca-cola. Urban legend has claimed that the only copy was held in the vault at the SunTrust bank in Atlanta, and that only two Coke executives (at any one time) had access to the document.

But in 1979, a columnist for The Atlanta Journal and Constitution ran an article that identified a ledger book with a formula for "Merchandise 7x"; over the weekend, the popular NPR radio show "This American Life" re-awakened interest in the 1979 story -- and the formula that goes with it. It is currently a viral sensation on the web -- this year's Susan Boyle.

The reality is that the formula -- or something very much like it -- has been "out" in the public domain for years. Type in "coca-cola formula" into a search engine and you'll find a number of recipes that will probably come very close to the taste.

But after a century of making the soda, Coca-cola now relies on a different intellecual property tool to protect itself: its trademarked brand. And trademarks don't expire (if subject to continuous use).

A lot of drinks may taste like Coke.

But only one can call itself (legally) the "Real Thing."

Machines 2, Humans 0

Building on its defeat (through Deep Blue) of chess master Gary Kasparov in 1997, IBM's AI team was a big winner last night with Watson storming from behind to win for the third night in a row, and dominating lead total of $77,147 for the week, more than the two humans combined. Ken Jennings finished second with a three-day total of $24,000 and Brad Rutter was third with $21,600.

Watson seemed to be off-its-game early, trailing for much of the first half of the game. But perhaps it was a machine version of "Rope-a-Dope": when "Double Jeopardy" began, Watson answered 18 of the 29 questions, ensuring its win.

Jennings finished the evening with a message as part of his "Final Jeopardy"
written answer:
"I for one welcome our new computer overlords."

Some analysis of how Watson "heard" the answers.

What Watson's victory means: Link

And an interview with IBM engineer: Link

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Man-vs-Machine (3)

In Day Two of Man-vs-Machine Jeopardy!, IBM’s Watson dominated much of the show, answering 13 of the first 15 questions correctly and leading with $ $35,734 to $10,400 for all-time money leader Brad Rutter and just $4,800 for Ken Jennings.

In fact, but for its answer on Final Jeopardy (when it answered “Toronto” even though the category was U.S. Cities, and the clue was “Its largest airport was named for a World War II hero; its second largest, for a World War II battle.” With its answer, Watson showed the slightest bit of, um, fallibility.), Alex Trebek may have had to “stop the fight”… as it is, Jennings and Rutter will have a final chance tonight.

As they say, check local listings…

IBM’s Watson team offered this analysis of the Final Jeopardy mistake from last night. Meanwhile, IBM’s General Counsel, Robert C. Weber, offered this view of why Watson matters to the legal profession:

And here’s a PBS Newshour piece on the development of Watson, which also covers some of the history of AI:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Man-vs-Machine (2)

From an upcoming film on Uncontacted Tribes in the Amazon:

Also brings to mind a recent best-seller, "The Lost City of Z" by David Grann, about one of the last "romantic" explorers in the early part of the last century: Percy Fawcett. Fawcett, having explored much of the Amazon, left in 1925 on a search for El Dorado -- the Lost City of Gold. He, his son, and a friend disappeared into the Amazon jungle, and were never heard from again.

The book chronicles a latter-day effort to retrace Fawcett's footsteps, which brings the author all-too-close to repeating Fawcett's experiences. The result is a compelling read.


IBM’s Watson was tied for the lead after the first day of “Computer-vs-Human” challenge on this week’s Jeopardy, including long-time champ Ken Jennings (who has won 74 in a row).

One of the questions Watson answered correctly:

Clue: "Iron fitting on the hoof of a horse or a card-dealing box in a casino."
Watson: "What is shoe?"

But in other areas, Watson struggled:

Clue: "From the Latin for end, this is where trains can also originate."
Watson: "What is finis." Confidence level: 97%.
Trebek: "No. Ken?"
"What is terminus," Jennings answered correctly.

It will be interesting to see what the cultural impact of a Watson victory will be, especially in comparison to IBM's Deep Blue vs. Kasparov in 1997.

Watson is not connected to the Internet, and although Alex Trebek (and others) repeat that fact, it appeared that Watson did best when the answers were those that would be found by a search engine:

The questions that it did best at are ones that if you entered into Google or Bing, you can get the same answers. For instance, if you input one of the questions asked in the Jeopardy! tournament into Google, "Bang, bang, his silver hammer came down upon her head" one of the first results is "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" which Watson correctly answered. You get the same results with Bing. It's as if Watson is using the same sort of search algorithms, except not culled from the Internet, but a manually compiled, ginormous database of song lyrics, history, literature and other concrete, indisputable bits of information.

Computer-vs-human Jeopardy continues tonight (2/15/2011) and Wednesday (2/16/2011).

Friday, February 4, 2011

Bollywood's Vision of a Robotic Future

[Cross-posted on ABA ST-AIRC Blog]

Last fall, Bollywood (India's version of Hollywood; by some measures (for instance, number of films produced per year, it is larger)) released its most expensive film ever: "Robot" (or "Endhiran"). Great special effects, and -- it appears -- a "Terminator"-type story-line. Here's the official site.

Here's the official trailer:

And here's a compilation of the "best" scenes involving robots, spliced together (overdubbing is believed to be Russian):

Why Does Japan Emphasize Robotic Advances?

[Cross-posted on ABA ST-AIRC Blog]

From the BBC, interesting article about why Japan has taken such an active role in promoting "humanized" robots -- necessity being the mother of invention. And why some of the elderly in Japan prefer the human touch:

No, Robot: Japan's Elderly Fail to Welcome Their Robot Overlords

By Michael Fitzpatrick BBC News, Tokyo

"In Japan robots are friendly helpers not Terminators. So when they join the workforce, as they do often in factories, they are sometimes welcomed on their first day with Shinto religious ceremonies.

But whether the sick and elderly will be as welcoming to robot-like tech in their homes is a question that now vexes a Japanese care industry that is struggling with a massive manpower shortage. Automated help in the home and hospitals, believe some, could be the answer. A rapidly aging first world is also paying close attention to Japan's dalliance with automated care. It wants to know whether it can construct the nursing-care and medical-care needed in a future with fewer younger people to take care of the elderly.

Japan could show us how.

"The country sees it as an imperative to build carer robots and systems that can monitor health in the home. Because without them the nation's health care system won't cope," says carer Yasuko Amahisa.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Not Exactly the Turing Test

[Cross-posted on ABA ST-AIRC Blog]

RoboCup participants are trying to build a robot with a specific purpose: to defeat the 2050 World Cup (human) champions. Here are the latest advances towards that end: Hat tip to BotJunkie:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Data Privacy Day

{Cross-posted from ABA ST-AIRC Website]

Related to the American Bar Association's Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Committee's (AIRC) work is Data Privacy, and today (Jan. 28, 2011) is Data Privacy Day.

For more see this link.

For some thoughts from ABA ST-AIRC co-chair Ryan Calo on Data Privacy, see this link.

Monday, January 24, 2011

MIT's Sherry Turkle on the Impact of Technology on Society

From the January 14, 2011 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Programmed for Love
By Jeffrey R. Young

In a skeptical turn, the MIT ethnographer Sherry Turkle warns of the dangers of social technology "...She has spent some 15 years since that day studying this emerging breed of "sociable robots"—including toys like Furbies and new robotic pets for the elderly—and what she considers their seductive and potentially dangerous powers.

She argues that robotics' growing trend toward creating machines that act as if they were alive could lead people to place machines in roles she thinks only humans should occupy.

Her prediction: Companies will soon sell robots designed to baby-sit children, replace workers in nursing homes, and serve as companions for people with disabilities. All of which to Turkle is demeaning, "transgressive," and "damaging to our collective sense of humanity..."