Thursday, August 15, 2013

Jumping off the Deepak end

Deepak Chopra.

I do not wish to make Deepak Chopra my mortal enemy. After all, he appears to be a friendly enough guy. I can see that he has a genuine desire to help people make sense of their place in the universe, to see them healthy and happy, in touch with their spirituality and one with all. I can dig all that. The neighborhood teens even call me Deepak, or "D-Pac", or something like that - for reasons that have nothing to do with any similarities between me and the guru himself. I actually kind of get a kick out of it. So I would love to be at peace with him.

But I find everything that he says maddening.

I made a couple of comments on Facebook about this recently. I am reading the book that Chopra co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow, "War of the Worldviews: Science vs. Spirituality". I would not normally read anything written by Chopra, but in the spirit of having an open mind I thought it would be fair to read this book. The book is in a debate format, where each chapter is started by one author with a response by the other. Since each chapter is half written by Mlodinow, I was hoping that this would keep Chopra honest.

Chopra claims to be a champion of spirituality, standing in opposition to religion. And he tries to make his case that spirituality has something to offer that science does not.

Now, I am neither a spiritual leader nor a scientist, but I do consider myself a philosopher and a poet (my degree is in English Literature with a minor in Philosophy). So when Chopra writes, every once in a while I start to feel like where he is going it, because he is using metaphors and figurative language to state his claim.

But wait - you mean he was serious about that?

He constantly make statements that seem to be poetic, but then uses them as fact. He draws analogies, but then seems to forget that an analogy is not the thing itself. In logic and critical argumentation, we call these "non sequiturs", "category errors" and "strawmen". In Chopra's world, these are talking points.

The danger is that when the figurative is taken literally, and you leave room for the supernatural, you are in fact creating a religion! This is what Chopra says he does not want, yet he walks straight down this path - yet this path is fraught with danger.

The Bible is a book of stories and poetry that has had the misfortune of being taken literally by some modern readers (possibly this was the intent of the authors - possibly not). Over the years, we have learned all kinds of things about our world that show the Bible to be in error if interpreted in this way. If I were Deepak Chopra, I would state emphatically that my theory of consciousness is a philosophical outlook, romantic and poetic. Otherwise, when (and not if) if is shown by science to contain errors he will not look like a fool. Perhaps he is banking on science taking a long time to disprove his "universal consciousness"? I wouldn't be so hopeful.

Even worse is his habit of co-opting meaningful words from other fields; "quantum", and "evolution", even "life" and "death. He re-purposes them to describe concepts in his own worldview. This has become a bit of a joke, as there is even a Deepak Chopra quote generator. But this is honestly confusing to readers that do not have a firm grasp on the concepts described by these words (as used by any other knowledgeable person). I find this technique to be wholly dishonest. What happens when a reader does some additional research, and learns what quantum fluctuation really means? They will feel abused by Chopra.

There are long passages of Chopra's writing that simply means nothing. Filled with lots of language, but no logical content. Why do I care? Because I love the truth, and Chopra tries to obscure the truth in favor of soothing people with language. Because Deepak Chopra loves his ideas more than the truth, but I love the truth.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Worst "Worst" Hockey Trade Ever

One of my friends asked on Facebook what others thought was the worst trade ever. I am re-writing my response as a blog entry to make it easier for me to fill in all the details, and to help kickstart this blog.

The premise of the post on Facebook was that "Mad Mike" Milbury's infamous Chara and a first (Spezza) for Yashin should be considered the worst trade ever. I would have trouble arguing that it is not one of
the worst ever - after all, this trade comes up on every list of "worst trades" ever published on the Bleacher Report. It is important to keep in mind that Milbury's tenure as GM of the Islanders earned him a notoriety as a short-sighted wheeler and dealer. The Chara deal may not even be the worst deal that Milbury made: Olli Jokinen and Roberto Luongo for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha, anybody?

What really makes a "bad" trade? It can't simply be allowing the other team to "win" the trade. If that was the case, then hands down the worst trade in history would be the Gretzky trade, the 25th anniversary of which we have just finished commemorating. The saying goes that the team who gets the best player wins the trade - since LA got the greatest player of all time in his prime, then they could not have had a more winning deal. But I think we have to remember that Edmonton had reasons to do this trade, and in the end they got exactly what they were after (cold hard cash). So I can't think of this trade as the "worst" - although LA was a big winner, Edmonton didn't really "lose". The reason that the Milbury deals are so laughably bad is that they each involve a Milburian poor judgement. It requires a degree of incompetance to elevate a bad trade into the "worst categroy" - someone really needs to "pull a Milbury".

An additional problem with narrowing down to one trade is that we are all fans, and it is hard to evaluate trade implications when you have team allegiances. I am a Devils fan, and my Leafs-fan buddy knows that I always think of the 3rd-overall-pick (Neidermayer) for Tom Kurvers deal as being an epic bad trade. But I know I can't call that the worst - just a favorite. I like it because it has an additional sting when you bring it up a with a genuine Leafs fan.

If we are talking bad trades that make me smile, it helps if you can pile up a bunch of factors. How about a former Devil who abandoned the team for a ridiculous contract, traded to a victim (a team that I also dislike) who gives up a prospect that becomes a solid player - one side get abused, and the entire drama becomes a punch line waiting for a buyout? Consider Christopher Higgins, Pavel Valentenko, Doug Janik and Ryan McDonagh for Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt and Michael Busto. None of the players in this deal really matter except McDonagh for Gomez, and Gomez the player is the important part - it is Gomez the contract. No matter how much I hate the Rangers, it's fun to think about what Montreal gave up in McDonagh to add the heartache that is Scott Gomez, elephantine contract and all.

But the one I have to call the worst of all, even if I remove my fandom from the equation, is the Lindros trade. Think about this: the rights to Lindros go to the Flyers in exchange for six players (Steve Duchesne, Peter Forsberg, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci and Chris Simon), two draft picks and $15 million. Five of those 6 players played full NHL careers, and Forsberg will unquestionable by a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. One of those draft picks turned into Jocelyn Thibault, who was subsequently traded for Patrick Roy. This trade singlehandedly built a dynasty in Denver. Lindros was an excellent player for the Flyers, but he could never have lived up the the expectations associated with that price tag; even if he was able to stay healthy, even if the Flyers didn't have to struggle with Lindros' agent of choice (i.e. his Dad) and the drama surrounding that. I consider acquiring the rights to Eric Lindros to be the worst trade in NHL history.

What do you think. Am I right? Any worse deals that you think I have left out?