17 September 2014

Anger over Ray Rice, and the Islamic State

The general line on the Ray Rice matter is that the original punishment--a two-game suspension--wasn't nearly enough ("spineless" said Juliet Macur), and that the NFL covered up how much it knew about that conduct. When the inside-the-elevator video eventually surfaced, the league suspended Rice indefinitely and the Baltimore Ravens released him.
      Keith Olbermann was characteristically apoplectic about the two-game suspension, and Michael Powell talked about "the Circus Maximus that is the National Football League," which "long ago banished shame from its executive suites."
      I beg to differ. I don't follow football closely, have no opinions about the NFL or its executives, and haven't been privy to any of the league's internal discussions about Rice. But viewing things from outside, I don't think the original two-day suspension was too little, and I find the final punishment disturbing.
      The problem the NFL faced, which few of those who have raged on about Rice's and the NFL's behavior seem willing to countenance, is how to suitably punish the perpetrator, Ray Rice, without punishing the victim, Janay Palmer (now Mrs. Rice).
      Before he was fired Ray Rice stood to earn about $25 million over the life of his contract. (Rice's compensation would have depended on his performance, so it's impossible to state an exact number, but $25 million is close enough.) Mrs. Rice would have gained a material benefit from that haul. As it is, she's now married to a man who, while currently well-off, may be unemployable.
      On the other hand, the two-game suspension seems about right. Rice's base salary for 2014 would have been $4 million, so missing two games--one-eighth of the regular season--would have cost him at least half a million dollars. That's more than a slap on the wrist, and enough of a warning of what could happen if there was another incident.
      Punishing the guilty often has bad consequences for the innocent. If Ray Rice had decked a total stranger, and gone to jail for it, his wife, his teammates, and many others would have suffered. That couldn't have been helped. What's different in the actual case is that Rice's punishment, however richly deserved, will directly harm the ostensible object of all this concern, Mrs. Rice, who deserves better.
      I have nothing to say about the Rices' relationship other than the obvious: It's complicated. So were the issues facing the NFL and the Ravens as to what to do about it. But Mrs. Rice has been nearly forgotten in the orgy of declamations about larger issues. Whether the NFL was originally trying to do the right thing or simply covering up, they have now given way to the hue and cry.
      Yes, violence against women, including domestic violence, is an issue that deserves to be taken more seriously; no doubt traditional sanctions have been too lenient. But in the midst of this ideological frenzy, it might have been more compassionate to step back and consider the actual plight of the real woman at the end of Ray Rice's fist.
      OK, I get it. We see the tape of Ray Rice knocking the future Mrs. Rice unconscious, and we have a burst of anger. In our rage, we wish for Rice to be severely punished--Half-measures will not do! But when we eventually calm down, we may realize that our actions might not have been the wisest or best.
      Which brings me to the Islamic State. We see the tapes of the beheadings (actually, I've avoided them; hearing about it is bad enough) and we react: Kill those guys! something within us shouts. Bomb them back to the Stone Age! So President Obama, propelled by public anger and perhaps personal conviction authorizes an air campaign against IS.
      But when we calm down we may want to step back and ask ourselves whether this is the wisest course. And the place to start is by asking why IS decided to publicize the beheadings. If IS really wants to set up a government in the Levant, then inciting a military campaign by the US and others looks counter-productive. Perhaps they weren't thinking too clearly--terrorists can succumb to irrational anger too. But it's also possible that IS saw the beheadings as a recruiting tool, partially because they could attract young men willing to join in sanctified mayhem, but mainly because they could paint their struggle as a war with America and the other infidels rather than what it truly is, a war against other Muslims. If that was their goal, then they've been playing us like a violin.
      We've been through all this before. The Twin Towers fall, and our fear and rage lead to various self-mutilations: TSA, USA PATRIOT, Iraq. We should have learned more.
      Get a grip, folks

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