Donald Trump and the O.J. Simpson playbook


Capping true stories with lies, a Trump mainstay, was central to the O.J. Simpson defense.

Donald Trump is coming to our Denver Lowry neighborhood today, to a rally at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum. Denver. A buddy of mine joked that we should maybe build a wall around the neighborhood. I said maybe we could get Stapleton (a neighborhood to the north) to pay for it.

I briefly considered signing up for tickets just to watch the show, the repressed reporter in me curious as to the scene and the people Trump attracts. But the novelist and shorts story writer George Saunders already did this, and his impressions and thoughts on the topic are gold-standard. My favorite line:

Above all, Trump supporters are “not politically correct,” which, as far as I can tell, means that they have a particular aversion to that psychological moment when, having thought something, you decide that it is not a good thought, and might pointlessly hurt someone’s feelings, and therefore decline to say it.

While Saunders does great reporting and is as insightful in this long-read nonfiction piece as he is in his short stories, neither he nor anyone else I’ve read seems to have pinpointed why some 50 million people are likely to actually vote for Donald Trump for president of the United States in November. So I’ll give it a shot here, with help benefactors to two killers — one fictional, one real-life — and the NRA.

Lee Child, the author of the Jack Reacher novels, puts us on the right track. In a recent, short piece having nothing to do with Donald Trump, he questioned whether the positives of our being such suckers for a good yarn outweighed the negatives (“Some would name us not Homo sapiens but Pan narrans: the storytelling ape,” Child writes):

Would Voyager be leaving the solar system if we hadn’t long ago formalized and mythologized our inchoate desire to wander?

But the bad things would not be happening, either. Every bad thing depends on the same two components as every good thing: people prepared to lie, and other people prepared to believe them. The habit of credulity, bred into us, albeit inspiring and empowering and emboldening, has led to some very bad outcomes throughout what we know of our history. From small things, like a father believing a son, to much larger things, like a billion miserable and terrified dead.

Which brings me to two terrified dead and the incredible story surrounding them, chronicled in the ESPN series, “O.J.: Made in America.” This five-part documentary is full of great stuff, but the recounting of the O.J. Simpson murder trial itself was most relevant to our political moment.

Here you have both components leading to Child’s “bad things.” There were people being prepared to lie — the Simpson defense team, which managed to cast doubt on overwhelming evidence (from wife-beating motive all the way to convincing blood-based DNA evidence) and help the man who once rushed for 2,003 yards in a single, 14-game NFL season beat a double-murder rap.

And you had people prepared to believe them — not just the jury, but also the African American public, some 70 percent of whom were convinced Simpson was innocent (roughly the same percentage of whites believed he was guilty; time has narrowed this gap, but it still remains). The defense team famously appealed to the black-majority jury’s experience with the LAPD’s historically ill treatment of African Americans, which we now know (see Black Lives Matter) is not confined to greater Los Angeles.

Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey, Kim Kardashian’s dad and the rest of the defense team were people prepared to lie — not in the specifics, as the police did mishandle evidence, Mark Furman did perjure himself and so on. But in spinning a yarn of O.J. Simpson as a victim of a civil-rights-abusing police conspiracy, they lied to the jury and, thanks to gavel-to-gavel CNN coverage, vast numbers of people prepared to believe them due to prior LAPD misdeeds and Simpson’s public image as charismatic sports hero.

The essence of the defense team’s success was taking a true story — a long history of police abuses against black people in Los Angeles — and mixing it with a fiction, which was that convicting O.J. Simpson would perpetuate these abuses. This was Cochran’s main message in a closing argument in which he infamously compared the L.A. police detective who had happened to come across Simpson’s blood-soaked glove to Adolph Hitler, the most murderous storyteller of them all. Cochran capped a truth with the lie that O.J. Simpson’s exoneration would somehow be a solution.

Which brings us to Trump. Trump no double murderer, but all signs point to his actual occupation of the Oval Office as a potential catastrophe for American democracy and U.S. foreign relations. His inadequacies in a U.S. presidential context are epic, and probably best delineated by the man who actually wrote “The Art of the Deal,” which turns out to be a work of fiction.

To return to Child’s framework, Trump is prepared to lie — about the true nature of the threats to the United States and our already formidable capabilities to counter them, about Ted Cruz’s father being complicit in the Kennedy assassination, about the viability of his insane policies (the Mexican-financed wall, the barring-of-Muslims, the dismantling of a 70-year-old NATO framework whose benefits to the United States vastly outweigh the costs), about his own background as a charitable giver (poor), about his own finances (tax returns).

And people are prepared to believe him. As the Simpson defense team did with the Los Angeles police force’s history of abuses of power and African American bodies, Trump does with the hollowing out of U.S. manufacturing and inexorable demographic change. Huge numbers of people are hurting and have few prospects to advance on low-paying service jobs for which they sometimes compete with immigrants willing to do our dirty work, the rich are getting richer, and the body politic has ignored them in favor of those wealthy enough to hire lobbyists and threaten attack ads. Enter Trump, who builds upon this truth the lie that he’s somehow the solution. Millions of people are buying it.

Yet Trump is vulnerable to another narrative reality, one nicely put by a vendor the National Rifle Association’s annual conference in May. The writer Evan Osnos describes a conversation with Tim Schmidt, founder of the U.S. Concealed Carry Association:

For several years, Schmidt had a sideline in packaging his sales techniques. He calls the approach “tribal marketing.” It’s based on generating revenue by emphasizing the boundaries of a community. “We all have the need to belong,” he wrote in a presentation entitled “How to Turn One of Mankind’s Deepest Needs Into Cold, Hard cash.” In a section called “How Do You Create Belief & Belonging?,” he explained, “You can’t have a yin without a yang. Must have an enemy.”

Schmidt is telling stories — lies, too, probably, given the data correlating gun ownership with gun deaths. But there’s a deeper truth to this, in that all good stories need villains who need vanquishing. For the Simpson defense team, it was the LAPD. For Trump, it’s the Chinese, the Muslims, the Mexicans and other “others.”

Trump and other populist/nativist demagogues vilify as a matter of course, and Trump is gifted at stoking and steering the ire of his tribe. But what Trump seems not to recognize is that, in so doing, he has shaped himself into an enemy — a yang for many yins — at least in the eyes of those who happen to disagree with his ignorant, pessimistic, dictatorial, black-and-white worldview.

It would be hard to see Jeb Bush or John Kasich as a true enemy, someone whose very persona invites hatred. With the conventions behind us, Trump, who has risen to the Republican nomination on a raft of lies floating along on a true story, may now feel the wrath of the very power of narrative he has so deftly exploited.

Microsoft Band 2 and heart rate

2016-01-29 20.27.51I bought  Microsoft Band 2 a few weeks back ($200). I’d looked at the Band 1 a year ago and was a bit scared off by its extreme flatness; the Band 2 has a nice arch. I jumped on it.

This post is about heart rate monitoring accuracy, but before I go on, the Band 2 is quite a remarkable bit of technology. Comfortable enough to sleep in, not too large, clasp as magnificent (if less neck-saving) as my Shimano mountain-biking clips, vibrates with incoming phone calls and texts before my phone hints at intrusion, sleep tracking is pretty cool, the app and Web interfaces are deep and interesting… in all hard to complain. I’ve read a bunch of reviews and all the reviewers, doing their jobs, did find fault. But ultimately the good vastly outweighs the shaky. (The most shaky seems to be the UV sensor, whose utility I question anyway. But I live in Denver, where one doesn’t need a UV sensor to tell one to sunscreen up between dawn and dusk.)

So, the heart rate monitor. It works quite well. But it’s not as accurate as a chest strap. I have data as well as anecdotal evidence for this.

First, the data.

I went on a run around Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood Three nights ago, more or less a 10K as my daughter kicked around at the Bladium. I wore the Band on myleft wrist, a Polar FT7 on my right (plus chest strap, obviously), and to add a bit of spice turned on GPS and Endomondo on the HTC ONE phone.

The Band has GPS and heart rate plus my weight and age (170 lbs, 47).

The Polar has just weight and heart rate.

Endomondo has just weight and GPS.

Here’s what we got.

Band (from the lovely Web interface):

From the Microsoft Health dashboard

From the Microsoft Health dashboard

There are a couple of things to note. First is that during mile 2, at a 7’32” pace, I wasn’t probably averaging 126 beats per minute. If you look at the graph you can understand why. The Band, probably a bit loose (user error, OK), went out of contact/got unreadable. I was well over 160, maybe into the 170s during much of it. During mile 3, we cut out for a good while, though the heart rate estimate of 159 for the split is probably not too far off, though elevated because I’d killed myself in mile 2 and was on the high end coming into 3. Mile 6 is also quite perplexing, as I was pretty tired, but at an 8’49” pace probably not running quite 166 bpm hot. But maybe.

The Band said my average heart rate was 156 bpm and that I burned 794 calories.

Now for Endomondo on the phone:

Endomondo on the phone

Endomondo, using GPS and how much meat I schlep around our fair planet as inputs, pegged my calorie count higher (908). I started Endomondo slightly later than the Band and the Polar, hence the time and distance discrepancy. How it came up with a 5:09 max pace I don’t know, because I don’t recall having fallen down the stairs, which is the only time I achieve such velocity without some sort of mechanical assistance.

And finally, the Polar, which  knew heart rate and weight:

2016-01-26 19.48.562016-01-26 19.49.11

This post requires a lot of scrolling, for which I apologize.

The Polar and the Endomondo jibed as exactly as I’ve ever seen on the estimated calories (typically Endomondo is 5-10 percent more generous).

The Band probably underestimated the calories, largely due to losing contact with the wrist. It came in with a higher max heart rate (180 vs. 176). The average heart rate, according to the band, was 156. Pretty close, the discrepancy probably explained by the dropping out when I was running hot during mile two.

So here, the band looks pretty good, as long as one tightens it properly around one’s wrist.

But then a run today gave me pause. This was a slower-paced thing, with but one with a twist: at mile 4.6, roughly, I stopped at the westerly field-turf soccer field at the Lowry Sports Complex and did five sets of sprints (I play indoor soccer; call it training) — suicides, six yards and back, 18 yards and back, 32 yards and back. So 112 stop-start yards, times five. I didn’t wear the Polar and left my phone at home. From Microsoft Health:

MSFT Band-Jan 29 runThe striking bit is at about mile 4.6. Here we have complete connectivity on the wrist but strange numbers. While working far harder than the entire previous four-plus miles, my heart rate supposedly dropped 50-ish beats per minute. Between sets, gasping for mile-high air, it was telling me I was at like 135 bpm. Having worn the Polar on these runs, I would guess I was in the low to mid-170s. Perhaps the Band 2 gets in a groove, or is programmed to assume that this particular heart-rate pattern was too strange to take seriously. But something was clearly going wrong.

Why do I bother sharing this? Subjecting you so much tedious scrolling? I think the Microsoft Band 2 is a really cool product, and do recommend it if you’re looking for a fitness band/almost non-Apple Watch. And the heart-rate monitor is a cool thing and works pretty well (when I’m not exercising and check out of curiosity, it’s always plausible). But there appear to be limits to how accurate this particular LED-based technology can get. The wrist is a good distance from the heart, and is especially subject to the very motions that are the point of exercise. The chest strap’s sensor, in contrast, hangs out like two inches from the myoelectric dynamo itself. With that, the Band just can’t hang.


Adrian Peterson, thank you for the valuable insight

Adrian Peterson in 2010

Adrian Peterson (Photo by Mike Morbeck).

While I’m in no position to evaluate Minnesota Vikings all-pro running back Adrian Peterson’s legal situation, his linguistic situation is noteworthy.

From an ESPN wire story on a second child-abuse allegation:

The reported text exchange was as follows, according to KHOU-TV:

Mother: “What happened to his head?”

Peterson: “Hit his head on the Carseat.”

Mother: “How does that happen, he got a whoopin in the car.”

Peterson: “Yep.”

Mother: “Why?”

Peterson: “I felt so bad. But he did it his self.”

According to the report, Peterson then goes on to say he was disciplining his son for cursing at a sibling, though how specifically the child was wounded wasn’t made clear.

Mother: “What did you hit him with?”

Peter never directly answered, the report said, but later replied: “Be still n take ya whooping he would have saved the scare (scar). He aight (all right).”

So that’s Peterson’s conversational style. Contrast this with his usage in a statement relating to the now infamous switch-whooping-on-a-four-year-old:

Peterson has faced heavy criticism for his use of a so-called switch to discipline the other son, but the running back said in his statement that he “never imagined being in a position where the world is judging my parenting skills or calling me a child abuser because of the discipline I administered to my son.”

It’s almost as if it were written by an entirely different person, possibly one with an expensive legal education. We can all take something from this, though.

If someone who is 6’1″, 217 lbs and comprised almost entirely of fast-twitch muscle — someone who can run the 40 in 4.4 seconds, bench press 345 pounds and squat 540 pounds, someone with a 38-inch vertical leap, someone with a Wonderlic score of 16 (placing him somewhere between a security guard and a warehouseman) — says to you “be still n take ya whooping,” he actually means, “remain motionless as I administer discipline upon your person.”

This is of particular use to four-your-old boys of Adrian Peterson’s issue.

For this valuable insight, we can thank Adrian Peterson.

54.7 reasons the USMNT did as well as it did

Michael Bradley Kevin Mirallas

Given how hard Michael Bradley worked, the Belgian should be helping him up. (courtesy U.S. Soccer)

The number 54.7 is a big part of the reason the United States did as well as it did in the 2014 World Cup. Tim Howard’s otherworldly number of saves (16 against Belgium, a probable record) being another important one.

But 54.7 is how many kilometers Michael Bradley ran during his four World Cup matches. That’s more than any other player through the round of sixteen (16 teams had played four games; 16 three). For the  metrically challenged (I’ll admit, this has no visceral meaning to me, 54.7 kilometers), that’s 34 miles. That’s 8.5 miles per game.

Most people can’t run 8.5 miles at all. For those who can, try running it doing a combination of shuttle sprints, intervals and 60-yard sprints, interspersed with occasional walking and jogging. Actually, don’t try it. You’ll hurt yourself.

This would be inhuman output for a skinny dude. Bradley is six-foot-two and lugs 180 pounds around the field. He also had to control the ball, control the midfield, control the U.S. game. He went as fast as 19.2 mph (this is a decent pace on a road bike) He seemed as sharp in the 120th minute of the Belgium loss as in the first. It was unbelievable.


Jermain Jones pursues a sorry Belgian

Jermaine Jones, about to kick a poor Belgian’s ass.

Bradley ran farther than any other player in the World Cup through four games, according to FIFA. Marcelo Diaz, a Chilean midfielder, ran the second most, 52.2 kilometers. The third most? U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones, at 47.6 kilometers. He’s six feet tall and weighs 175 pounds and has 0.00003 percent body fat (mostly tattoo ink). Jones ran 7.4 miles per game, physically abusing essentially every opponent he faced along the way (it was teammate Alejandro Bedoya who broke his nose, remember). Jones was the most formidable beast in the tournament, with the possible exceptions of Argentine holding midfielder Javier Mascherano and Dutch criminal Nigel de Jong (out with a groin pull, looks like — serves the bastard right).

Clint Dempsey ran the fourteenth-most. He’s six-foot-one, 170 pounds and ran 45.4 kilometers, much of it with a broken nose (a Ghanaian high kick). He scored goals and was the most creative player on the offensive front.

The United States had three players among the fifteen hardest-working in the World Cup to the point they exited. Only Chile and — no surprise here — Germany, had as many. U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann revamped the German conditioning program prior to the 2006 World Cup, in which the team overachieved to a third-place finish.

The U.S. clearly doesn’t lack in skill. But they have no Nani, no Christiano Ronaldo, no Asamoah Gyan, no Eden Hazard, no Mesut Özil or Thomas Müller (I love umlauts – don’t you? They’re like horizontal almost-smileys 🙂 ). The U.S. is not, man-for-man, as good as any of the teams they played. Look at the clubs they play for, their salaries.

Yet they got out of the Group of Death.

You might attribute this to “heart,” which seems popular among commentators.

I read a great Jack Dempsey (no relation to Clint) quote in The Week this morning: “A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t get up.” I didn’t see a lot of quitters on the other teams, though, either (Cameroon perhaps the exception). These are extremely elite athletes. They’re all pretty much champions, on every team.

The difference was conditioning. Klinsmann understood that, lacking the best soccer players in the tournament, he would ensure that his team, physically freakish, by and large, to begin with, was beaten into such incredible physical condition that they could run other teams to death, if need be. Call it the evolutionary approach to soccer, if you buy into the theory that endurance is what made humans human to begin with — so they could run their prey to death.

So even if the World Cup 2014 run is history, the example the USMNT has set — and the approach they’ve taken — bodes well for a U.S. soccer establishment. We are rare among the 32 teams that qualified in that we can reasonably expect strides forward in terms of skill and technique. We’re among the few developing-soccer countries among the 32 (Australia, Japan and Korea probably qualify also). MLS (no, not the real estate thing) is already more popular than MLB among kids. The ball is rolling, and we’ll only be able to control it better and better — while running our opponents to death.


A quick conversation with Mikaela Shiffrin’s dad

Gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin of Colorado raises her flag as silver medalist Marlies Schild, center, and bronze medalist Kathrin Zettel, both of Austria, stand nearby after the second women's slalom run at the Sochi Winter Olympics on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. (AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post)

Gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin of Colorado raises her flag as silver medalist Marlies Schild, center, and bronze medalist Kathrin Zettel, both of Austria, stand nearby after the second women’s slalom run at the Sochi Winter Olympics on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. (AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post)

I write quite a bit for UCH Insider, the University of Colorado Hospital’s biweekly online magazine. Late in the game last cycle, folks in Anesthesiology mentioned that one of their docs had a daughter skiing in the Olympics.

Oh, we said. Let’s maybe see what’s up.

His name is Jeff Shiffrin. He was en-route to Sochi when he got my email and was kind enough to respond to several questions in an email interview, which arrived in my inbox on Monday, Feb. 17.  With the goods in hand, I did a crash course on the Shiffrin family, the key document being a great New York Times piece Bill Pennington published in January.

Anyway, the interview with a rightfully proud father is here, and I figured, to celebrate Mikaela’s Olympic gold in the slalom today, we’d get it out to a wider audience.