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Thoughts on Thanksgiving

by NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN

The NBA draft has always fascinated me as an incongruous piece of social engineering in a larger environment that finds the concept repugnant.

Here’s something from the web describing it:

“The NBA draft is divided into two rounds. The order of selections is based on certain rules. The first turns of the draft belong to the fourteen teams that did not enter the playoffs in that year’s season. These teams participate in a lottery that determines the spot each team will have in the draft. The next sixteen spots in the draft are reserved for the teams that made it into that season’s playoffs. The order of these sixteen teams’ selection is determined by their regular-season win-loss record, going from worst to best.”

Here’s a similar description of the NFL’s recruitment of new players:

“The NFL draft is an annual event in which National Football League franchises take turns selecting amateur football players and other first-time eligible players. Currently, the draft consists of seven rounds. Each team is assigned a selection in each round, with the teams with the worst record from the previous year being assigned the best picks in each round. This helps the league achieve a degree of parity.”

The operative idea in both cases is ‘parity’, the opposite of which is ‘disparity’. To ensure an element of parity, as the descriptions attest, leagues deliberately set down procedures to promote equalization of team strengths. It is still possible for some teams to dominate over short periods of time, such as the Chicago Bulls in the late 90’s or the Dallas Cowboys for a while the same decade, but there is an institutional check on monotonic increases in one team’s strength, such a trend being recognized as serving the league ill.

It seems odd, when you think about it, that a truth grasped by something as puerile as a sports league has been forgotten by the country that swears by sports, where even presidents and senators cannot go one sound-bite without invoking a Hail Mary metaphor here or a Slam Dunk there (or taking great pains to emphasize that it is NOT an Islam Dunk).

The single greatest distinction between developed nations and underdeveloped nations is not the GDP or the technological gap. It is the absence or presence of great economic disparity. But it is a lesson that has America has shelved for many years now, and the result is its slide into third-world status. Lest there be any confusion, that superpowers can turn quickly into third world countries was proven by the old Soviet Union, and that they can be both simultaneously will be proven by China and India in the coming decades.

Disparity in America has grown by leaps and bounds (no pun intended) over the past quarter century, in a game that shows no signs of ending. The driving force behind this growing divide is the ruling idea of the age, the trickle-down theory, a view tantamount to the following: it is fine for one basketball franchise to hire the entire Olympic “Dream Team”, if it is able. Over time, players can be expected to drift to weaker teams, and over the years, the league will find its own parity. In other words, you get the drift (not the draft).

A funny word, that. ‘Draft’ also means a sharp, cold, burst of air, one avoided by wise men and women for fear of catching something. As in members of Congress refusing to touch the word with a barge pole. Not to be confused with ‘daft’, which describes exactly those who would quickly endorse wild adventures so as to “put the war behind us and get the discussion back to the ‘economy'” before a mid-term election.

The donkey is a draft animal in every part of the world. But barring Rep. Charlie Rangel’s brief flirtation with the idea before the Iraq war started, a trial floatation he quickly abandoned, no Democrat has brought up the topic again. The impact of the draft is a reflection of society as a whole. When I talk to members of the World War II generation, many were in the war themselves, others had their relatives in the war, in some cases they even had relatives who died in the war. Among my Vietnam era friends, they were intimately aware of the war, more rarely, some had served there, but many at least knew someone who had gone. And Iraq?

The elephant too is a draft animal, but only in remote places like the forests of India, Burma or Thailand, where it is used to drag huge logs of wood to the railhead (Is it just chance that even there it seems to be used to promote logging?). This noble animal, social, familial and intelligent in nature, is controlled in captivity by a puny mahout who has gained its allegiance by the use of fear, and the constant threat of an ankush (ambush?), an instrument that he uses as both spear and mallet (queer and wallet?)

Animals, as a rule, are drafted without their consent. They cannot escape across the border, seek five deferments, or promise they will serve in the National Guard instead. Of course, some drafts are more final than others.Was it Churchill who observed that in a breakfast of eggs and bacon, the hen was ‘involved’, but the pig was ‘committed’?. As we look at our predicament this Thanksgiving Day, while donkeys and elephants may be involved in how we arrived here, it is the turkeys that are ‘committed’. Who are the turkeys, you ask. Abbot hinted at the answer as he turned to Costello in the old movie and barked, “Idiot, you are the people!”

NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. He can be reached at njn_2003@yahoo.com.

 

 

/>Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast.  His book, “Reading Gandhi In the Twenty-First Century” was published last year by Palgrave.  He may be reached at njn_2003@yahoo.com.

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