All That and a Bag of Mail

It’s Friday, rejoice!

Let’s dive right into the mailbag which is focused on a mass shooting and the college football playoff.

Really.
Joel writes:
“I’m a fan of your work and philosophy. I’m a Jewish male living in a mid size city in the southwest and was interested in your take on something I’ve observed since the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.

I’m 37 years old and can honestly say that I have never–not once–encountered an incident directed toward me or those around me of anti-Semitism.  I’ve never made a point to hide my Judaism nor have I necessarily advertised it.  I’m sure you know and went to school with many Jews in DC and Nashville so I’d be interested in your perspective, too.  I understand anti-Semitism still exists and existed in the past more so than today and there is a long history associated with it, so I can appreciate that my fellow members of the Jewish community are sensitive when it does occur.

However, the response from some of my own Jewish family and friends seems frankly…forced, as it they couldn’t wait to join the victimology club of the oppressed.  There have been countless emails between family, friends, facebook posts, synagogue bulletins all demanding that we “take action against hate” or “renounce…something
or other”. 

Many people have taken to email and social media to literally ask for sympathy. One individual had the guts to ask why no one had offered condolences to her even though she had no direct connection to the event.  Come on! Just because you’re Jewish doesn’t mean you get to claim your a victim of the shooting, and forgive me for calling BS on that fact that you’re really feeling significant emotional trauma over this because your of the same ethnicity/religion. I’m just not buying it.

I mean, look, it’s awful what happened. It was a lone psycho dude that could have happened anywhere at anytime. It seems like social media empowered him. It is wrong that I don’t feel any more oppressed or threatened now than I did before this tragedy?  My kid still goes to the synagogue preschool and I haven’t thought twice about it. I feel
incredibly safe and included as a Jew in America, but it seems as though some I know are almost relishing the “Jews are under attack” theme since this happened, feigning some sort of emotional trauma. It just strikes me as inauthentic and frankly, weak.

What’s your psychoanalysis?”

First, I can honestly say I have never heard an antisemitic comment in my life. In fact, I’ve heard much more of the opposite. I was raised in an evangelical family. My grandparents were hugely religious and LOVED Jewish people. My mom’s parents traveled to Israel and I distinctly remember them pulling me aside at a very young age and saying, “Clay, don’t you ever let anyone around you say anything bad at all about the Jewish people. They are a wonderful people.”
They loved Jewish people because Jesus was a Jew and they loved Jesus more than anything. (My grandmother might have also been saying this because she took off all the Jewish holidays when she was a girl growing up in Florida. She told us she looked Jewish and her name was Ruth so she figured why not? Plus, given all the people who came to America and changed their last names, who knows, maybe she was Jewish. Which, given that the Jewish line of descent moves through the mother would make me Jewish too.)
In my Southern Baptist church all of the sermons were about how Jews were God’s chosen people and that it was important for America to protect the Jews in Israel. So far from anti-Semitism, my upbringing, in a Southern religious household, was very pro-Jewish.
And this was before I went to George Washington for college, which had a HUGE Jewish population.
I never heard anything anti-Semitic there either.
So my experience, and it may not be a representative one in the South or elsewhere in America, taught me that far from being worse than other ethnic groups, I was taught that Jews were God’s chosen people and that God’s chosen people and if I was being taught this as a kid, I have to imagine lots of kids raised in evangelical households were and are being taught the same today as well.
What happened in Pittsburgh was awful, but I think it presents us with one of the most difficult challenges in our modern media age: determining whether singular events are representative of larger dangers or if they are isolated incidents.
And most of the time truly awful things happening in America represent isolated incidents.
Mass shootings are up over the past ten or fifteen years, but overall violence is down substantially since we were kids. What’s changed is we are all way more aware of these awful acts. (We also publicize these shooters and make them famous, which studies show is one reason why these mass shootings continue. Perversely, the media’s coverage of these incidents, far from making them less likely, actually makes it more likely that they continue. What should happen, honestly, is no media outlet should ever mention these shooter’s names. Which is why I never share any mass shooter’s information).
The key here: we have to be careful not to allow social media and media coverage of bad events to convince us that bad events are actually far more common than they are.
That doesn’t mean that bad events can’t be jaw droppingly painful to contemplate or we should get used to them, we should just contextualize their rarity.
I’ll give you an example from my own current life: I walk my two oldest boys to schools on many days of the week. Occasionally when I turn from dropping them off — as I wave at the deputy stationed full time at their school — I’ll think about Sandy Hook and it it such a gut wrenchingly awful thought that for a moment it will leave me breathless with a pang of fear in my stomach.
Every parent knows this exact feeling, when you are overcome by fears involving your children. It’s truly the worst thing about being a parent, fearing the worst for your kids.
But then I take a breath and remind myself of the actual data — that from a statistical perspective there is no place my kids could be during the day that is safer than school.
And I go on about my day.
Now I do think Jewish people can think differently about this Pittsburgh attack because during living memory the Nazis tried to exterminate them based upon their religious faith and ethnicity. That is, you don’t have to think back very far — you can talk to your grandparents in some cases, you can talk to people who were treated as subhuman based on their religion and ethnicity — for that fear to be reflected in a larger context.
And certainly there are people who want the Jews erased from the earth.
But are there many of those people living in America today?
I think the answer is no.
Which is why I think what you have to ask yourself is this, is this attack an outlier committed by a crazy man or is it symptomatic of larger dangers which are likely to directly impact my family? And I think what you’re doing is what I do when I’m dropping my kids off for school, you use your intellect to combat your fears.
Unfortunately what we’re seeing far too often in this country is people not using their intellects and allowing their emotions to govern. Social media is not an intellectual medium, by and large. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and most of the Internet, honestly, are governed by feelings, not by emotion. And, significantly, it’s easier to provoke an emotional response than it is to provoke an intellectual response online.
Maybe it’s because I was a fearful kid, but the way I combat my fears is by researching the facts to put my fear in context and determine whether my fears are valid or not.
I’ll tell you another story, when I was 19 years old I had a condom break during sex with a random Spanish girl I met at a Brighton Beach disco club in England.
I have no idea what the girl’s name was today and I’m not sure I even knew it then. All I knew was she was cute and we started dancing together and we ended up back at my cheap flea bag hostel on the beach.
The next day after she left I was convinced I was going to die of AIDS. I mean, totally and completely convinced my life was over.
Because I’d been taught in high school that if you had unprotected sex with strangers you died of AIDS.
So there I am in London for a study abroad program and I actually start doing the research on how likely I am to die of AIDS in one of those huge public Internet cafes that used to exist back in the day. (It was called easyEverything, you paid like 5 pounds to be on for an hour of Internet).
And do you know what I found out?
It’s almost impossible to get HIV from heterosexual sex.
First, almost no young heterosexual people have HIV or AIDS. Either then or now. Second, even if you had sex with someone who had HIV or AIDS do you know what the odds are that a guy gets it?
1 in 400.
1 in 400!
That’s like the odds of an FCS team beating Alabama.
Combining the rarity of HIV infection among college-aged heterosexual kids with the rarity of actually getting HIV or AIDS even if someone did have it, I calculated that my odds of having gotten HIV were tiny.
I was far more likely to die in a car accident than I was to have gotten AIDS or HIV from another college kid studying abroad for the summer.
When I went back to college, I got tested for HIV at the student health clinic and the doctor there told me he saw tons of college kids like me, people who were terrified we were going to get HIV or AIDS because we’d had a condom break or because we’d had sex with a stranger.
And do you know what he told me?
They’d never had a George Washington University college student test positive for HIV at the student health center. Now this was in 2000 so that might have changed since, but it really opened my eyes to how much fear had been governing my actions. (Spoiler alert, after three weeks of terror waiting for the test result, I found out I was fine.)
I don’t want anyone reading this today to take this as license to never use condoms or to engage in risky sexual behavior with strangers, but I do think it’s important to understand what you should fear and what you shouldn’t fear.
Most of us in this country are safe and we’re being told by the media, who profits based on selling us fear, what we’re in constant danger.
And it’s just not true.
So if you’re fearful of anything I’d encourage others of you to do your own research and challenge your fears with your intellect. Actually do your own research on your fears.
When you do that, you will often understand how often your fears are utterly unsupported by actual data.
Now to the second part of your question, everyone wants to be a victim in America today and it’s become an epidemic.
That’s despite the fact that we live in a society where, statistically speaking, there have never been fewer victims. Yet we give so much attention to victimhood that I think many people now desire to become victims. When I was a kid I was taught to stand up to bullies. I specifically remember my mom, MY MOM!, who was a typical Southern mom in all respects telling me at a young age to stand up to anyone who bullied me and to fight with them if necessary.
Nowadays what we tell kids, at least in a society as a whole, is that if they are bullied they should tell the teacher and principal and school psychologist and then we cuddle them and hug them and console them if anyone is mean to them at school.
Look, I understand that bullying is bad and I wish no one was ever meant to kids, but I also think teaching kids to handle bullying by standing up for themselves is an important part of childhood. That’s because it teaches self-reliance, it doesn’t teach you to rely on someone else to solve your problems and it doesn’t teach you that attention and love result from victimhood.
I think my parents were right when they told me that if someone bullied me I should fight back. And I still tell my kids that too.
I was also talking about this exact example at Halloween the other day and all the dads agreed they’d been told the same thing that I had.
The result was school was more violent, but I think kids learned how to stand up for themselves without getting adults involved as often.
When I was in fifth and sixth grade kids got in knock down drag out fights all the time. I remember living in fear of getting my ass kicked in fifth and sixth grade by some of the kids with mustaches. There were legit bad asses in my fifth and sixth grades and legit fights too. (I didn’t go to a very good school, FYI. There is a 0% chance my wife would let our kids go to the fifth and sixth grade I went to. Zero percent. And, honestly, I’ve gotten so soft now I probably wouldn’t let them either. And I have boys! If we had girls there is a negative billion % chance we’d let them go there).
My oldest son is in fifth grade now.
I think if there was a single fight at his school that resembled some of the regular fights that happened at my fifth grade we’d have a school wide assembly and intervention and every parent would have to attend.
I’m happy that my kids are safe and I do think that living with bullies and living in fear of getting your ass kicked isn’t ideal for kids, but, and this is a major but here, knowing that you might get your ass kicked helps prepare you for the real world. So does dealing with people being mean to you.
One of the top agents at CAA has a theory he shared me with recently, “If you want your kid to make $500,000 a year, send him to private school. If you want him to become a multi-millionaire or a total failure, send him to public school.”
I think there’s a ton of truth to that.
That’s because I think a big part of all success in life is predicated on self reliance, coming to trust yourself to solve your own problems.
And I worry that we are not teaching our kids to be self reliant.
Now it’s possible that every generation has always thought the next generation was a bunch of candy ass losers, but I do think the natural arc of our history has been towards encouraging victimhood and praising the bravery of victims.
You can respond to victimhood in a brave fashion, but the goal in life should be to never be a victim.
I don’t want anyone to ever feel sorry for me. That’s my goal. Now if something awful happens to me or my family, I hope people are kind, but I don’t ever want to be a victim.
Odds are, I won’t be.
And odds are you won’t be either.
But does anyone else in media with a substantial audience ever tell you this? Probably not.
(By the way, you know we live in a crazy time when people who hate me are really upset because I’m not losing my shit on a daily basis wailing in histrionics over isolated incidents that are not reflective of real life.)

Zach writes:

“CFP question here.  If the goal of the playoff is to put the “four BEST teams in every year” …why even have the regular season.  Example:
If Kentucky wins out – can you REALLY say they are better than an Alabama team they would have to beat?  I don’t think so.  I think most say Bama wins 9/10 times.
If Boston College wins out handing Clemson their only loss – can you say Boston College is better than Clemson? Again, I don’t think so.
Can you REALLY say if UGA loses one more and Wazzu wins out that Wazzu is better than UGA?  I don’t think so.
Point is, Bama, Clemson, Michigan, OSU, Penn State, Georgia, Notre Dame, Oklahoma?  These teams simply get the best talent year in and year out.  So they are simply every year, the best.
I’m not sure your playoff stance, but IMO this has to change or we run the risk of ruining CFB.  I mean Clay Bama could not win another game this season and I would still say they are the best team in college football.  The current model is broken.  8 teams.  6 conference winners plus 2 at large.  Makes so much sense as November would be SO much more intriguing.”
That’s why I’ve always said that the selection of the four playoff teams has to be a balancing test between the best and the most deserving.
Alabama could be the best team in America and still lose to Auburn and Kentucky, both on the final play in a game they turned the ball over six times each.
That could happen, it’s possible. Now it’s not probable, but it’s possible.
In that event Las Vegas, which looks at probability over the course of a season more than most of us, would likely still have Alabama favored over every team in America. Even with two losses Alabama would still be the best team according to Vegas.
But the Tide wouldn’t be one of the most deserving teams in America.
That’s why I always say the playoff test should be a balancing test between best and most deserving. The real conflict comes when a team may be the best, but isn’t the most deserving or a team may be the most deserving, but isn’t the best.
An easy test on this would be if Alabama and Kentucky played in the SEC title game.
If Kentucky pulled off a massive upset and beat Alabama, the Wildcats would be the most deserving team of going to the playoff in the SEC. They’d be the conference champ, have posted a 12-1 record, and would have beaten Alabama head-to-head.
But Alabama would still be the best.
College football fans, uniquely, get confused by this because most teams only play one time and college football fans are conditioned because of this to believe whatever happened once would happen again and again. But if you think from a probabilistic perspective you understand that every college football game is just a sixty minutes section of a longer game.
And in sixty minutes wacky and unpredictable outcomes can ensue.
We see this all the time in other sports that play a best of seven series. How often does the inferior team win a game, often by a large margin even, but still lose the series? All the time.
If Alabama and Kentucky played seven football games, there is almost zero chance the inferior team wins four out of seven, but it might happen in any one game setting.
So I think that’s what makes the committee’s job so hard. They can only judge what happened once and sometimes you have a split between who the best and most deserving teams are.
Zed writes:
“So I have a running argument with my girlfriend who is an LSU grad.  They hypothetical scenario goes like this: 
1) LSU beats Alabama this weekend, wins out and wins against presumably Georgia (or Kentucky) again in the SEC championship.
2) Michigan wins out and also wins their conference championship.
3) Alabama wins their remaining games.
I contend that there’s no way a 1 loss Bama makes it in over a 1 loss Michigan in this scenario.  Michigan’s strength of schedule is beefier than Bama’s.  She contends that they just aren’t going to leave Bama out of the playoff and that they’d jump them.  I guess this is going off of the rationale that Bama is Bama and of course they should be in the playoff.  I don’t think this argument flies outside the borders of Alabama.  I have a strong suspicion that she has some sort of “College Football Stockholm Syndrome” like many in the SEC do and they think there is some sort of dark and mysterious cabal that will stop at nothing to make sure Alabama gets in the playoff.
I don’t feel like I’m the crazy one here, but who knows.  What do you think?
(My girlfriend reads Outkick and listens to all of the podcasts so should you mention this email, don’t mention my real name.  You can call me Zed or whatever.  She gets very ornery about this type of stuff and it’d likely end up with me sleeping in a tent out back if she found out).”
I love that you think your girlfriend, who regularly reads the site, is not going to realize that you are the one who wrote the exact hypothetical you’ve been discussing in the mailbag today because I changed your name.
But here’s the deal, I think there’s a decent chance she’s correct.
It’s hard to know what exact scenarios will play out because it rarely comes down to just a head-to-head decision, but let’s make it the somewhat difficult and assume that Clemson wins out and LSU is clearly in at 12-1. Then let’s also assume that Notre Dame loses one game to finish 11-1. Then Michigan wins out and Alabama finishes 11-1.
I think that’s a messy situation because Notre Dame beat Michigan head-to-head, but is Notre Dame’s resume really any better than Alabama’s? So I could easily see Bama getting in as the third team in this scenario and it coming down to 12-1 Michigan against 11-1 Notre Dame.
Furthermore, 12-1 Michigan’s resume isn’t necessarily that much better than 11-1 Alabama’s. Michigan will have beaten Ohio State, but are we sure Ohio State will even be 10-2? The Buckeyes could easily lose at Michigan State or Maryland based on the way they’ve played so far. So it’s possible Michigan’s best win will be against several three or four loss teams. Alabama’s best wins could also be against several teams with three or four losses. Remember, Michigan might also draw 8-4 Northwestern, a team it has already beaten, in the Big Ten title game so how much benefit would they get then?
So I don’t think her hypothesis is outlandish.
I do think the most difficult scenario for Alabama would be if Clemson and Notre Dame both win out and if LSU wins out as well. Then three spots are definitely gone and you’d get into an argument about which loss is better, Bama’s on the road at LSU or Michigan’s on the road at Notre Dame. (You could also have 12-1 Oklahoma or 12-1 Washington State, but I think those teams would be behind these two).
I think Michigan probably gets in then, but I’m not sure they do.
Remember, Alabama would be a nearly ten point favorite over Michigan on a neutral field according to oddsmakers, doesn’t that have to factor in our best vs. most deserving analysis that we broke down above?
But ultimately I don’t think this will matter, I think Bama will handle LSU with ease on Saturday and eliminate this concern.
I would say, however, that anyone who argues college football is predetermined or boring can look at this game coming up and realize that Alabama’s path to the title becomes infinitely more difficult if they lose to LSU.
I’d also point out that while your LSU girlfriend might justifiably be upset over the Tide’s ability to make the playoff even if they lose, Alabama has been the beneficiary of some extraordinarily good luck in the past — particularly in 2011 when if Oklahoma State doesn’t lose on the road in double overtime at Iowa State then LSU is playing Oklahoma State for the title instead of Alabama.
If we’ve learned anything at all, we should have learned that college football is hard to predict, especially in November.
Hope y’all have fantastic weekends and thanks for reading Outkick.
Comments

Get the Daily Outkick

* indicates required