After More Than 25 Years, I’m Withdrawing My Support from the Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association. Here’s Why.

An Open Letter to Stuyvesant Alumni

Today is Giving Tuesday, and in recognition I am making annual donations to many of the non-profit organizations that I support. The Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association (SHSAA) has long been one of these organizations, but in 2017, for the first time in more than a quarter century, it is not. This year I am withholding all monetary support from SHSAA and instead supporting Stuyvesant by donating to the Stuyvesant High School Parents’ Association. I’m also encouraging my fellow Stuyvesant Alumni to do likewise.

I consider myself beyond fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend Stuyvesant High School. I grew up in a middle-class Brooklyn home, the child of a public school teacher and a salesman. Thanks to Stuyvesant, I was able to avail myself of one of the best possible high school educations. Of the many things I learned in my three years there, perhaps the most meaningful is that I should seize any opportunity to surround myself with the brightest, most passionate people I can find. Nearly every great thing that has happened to me since is due to a combination of good luck and the application of this lesson.

I’ve long looked for ways to repay my debt of gratitude to Stuyvesant, and because I’ve lived far from New York for most of my adult life, charitable giving has been the most effective way for me to do this. Twenty years ago, this led to me to get involved with an effort to establish an endowment for Stuyvesant, called the Campaign for Stuyvesant (CFS). I pledged a contribution that was the largest I had ever given to a charitable organization, and arranged for an even larger charitable bequest. Significantly, as it turns out, I did little due diligence.

Several years later, when I learned of the acrimony between CFS and Stuyvesant’s administration, I started asking questions. Unhappy with the answers I received, I pulled out of CFS before completely fulfilling my pledge. At the time, I made it clear that while I was departing that effort, I would happily jump back in when all of the organizations representing Stuyvesant and its alumni were working together.

So I was thrilled when, a few years ago and more than a decade after I withdrew from CFS, I started hearing talk that the multiple charitable organizations purporting to represent the Stuyvesant community would be coming together under the auspices of the long-standing Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association. I hoped that this unified organization would both serve the alumni community and provide a means for alumni to give back to Stuyvesant, including a renewed endowment effort.

This time, however, I asked questions first, and what I learned troubled and angered me. Lack of transparency about the terms of the merger and the governance model of the unified organization. Lack of clarity about the organization’s finances, both fundraising and expenses. And when other alumni, some of whom had decades-long track records of working on behalf of the Stuyvesant community, including serving on the SHSAA board, pressed SHSAA leadership for more disclosure and accountability, they were treated with hostility and contempt.

The most frustrating part is that this could all have been resolved easily if SHSAA leadership had answered some relatively simple questions, been more transparent regarding its changes and financial operations, made some modest, reasonable improvements to its governance model, and committed to meaningful, ongoing communication with the alumni community regarding these efforts. Instead, they chose to stonewall, and to attack the motives and integrity of anyone who attempted to challenge them. This shabby treatment of alumni continues to this day, as recently more than a few Stuyvesant alumni have been banned from SHSAA’s Facebook group for attempting to raise these issues and hold SHSAA leadership accountable among the community regarding its policies and practices.

You might hear from the current leadership of SHSAA that it is within their rights to run the organization as they see fit, and that they are following the best practices of other (mostly university-level) school alumni organizations. This is both questionable and beside the point. From what I’ve observed, SHSAA is an unresponsive organization that is not effectively serving the interests of Stuyvesant High School and its alumni community. In its present form, it is not an organization with which I want to be affiliated.

This is why I’ve joined a group of alumni, gathering virtually under the name Concerned Stuyvesant Alumni, that is calling for all Stuyvesant alumni to withdraw their support from SHSAA and find ways of supporting the school and the alumni community that do not involve SHSAA. This is a painful and regrettable step, but until SHSAA implements meaningful reforms, it is a necessary one.

I remain hopeful that one day SHSAA will live up to its promise and become an organization we can support enthusiastically and without reservations. As proud Stuyvesant alumni, we deserve nothing less.

Sincerely,
Daniel Glasser
Stuyvesant High School Class of 1981

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And… They’re Eliminated

Following up to Can the 0-10 Cleveland Browns Make the Playoffs?, Cleveland is now officially eliminated from playoff contention. And it would have been eliminated even if it had managed to defeat Cincinnati today.

Reviewing the Week Twelve games mentioned in the above post as affecting Cleveland’s playoff chances, Thursday’s Chargers’ victory over Dallas didn’t eliminate Cleveland, because it could have been replaced by the Chargers losing to Washington in two weeks. And four of the five games played today went the Browns’ way: Tennessee, New England, Carolina, and Oakland all won. Today’s critical game was Buffalo versus Kansas City, as Buffalo’s victory eliminated the possibility that Cleveland could have won the tiebreaker between them. The only scenario in which this might have been possible is if Buffalo were to lose all of its remaining games. But for this to occur, Miami would have to win both of its remaining games against Buffalo, which would give Miami the tiebreaker over Cleveland.

All of this is moot because Cleveland lost today. Browns fans, better luck next year.

Can the 0-10 Cleveland Browns Make the Playoffs?

In a word, yes.

After Cleveland lost their tenth game of the season to Jacksonville last week, I was surprised to see them still listed as “In the Hunt” on the NFL’s Playoff Picture page. The NFL is careful about this stuff, but I’m loathe to accept it on face value. So as I have done in the past, I set about to prove that this is indeed possible, with the help of Microsoft Excel and the New York Times’s 2017 NFL Playoff Simulator.

I started by separating the AFC into teams that have already clinched a higher seed than Cleveland (surprisingly, only four) and those that haven’t, and assumed the remaining games always go in favor of the former. Of course I assumed that Cleveland wins all of its remaining games. Then I assumed that the teams with which Cleveland is still mathematically in competition lose all of their remaining games against NFC opponents. Finally, I determined the ideal (for Cleveland) outcome of the remaining twenty or so games involving AFC teams. The aforementioned playoff simulator was useful for verifying this work.

Here are the results: If Cleveland wins out to go 6-10, they can end up in a four- or five-way tie for the sixth and final playoff seed (with the Jets, Buffalo, Baltimore, and optionally Miami). In these scenarios, New England, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, and Kansas City win their divisions and Tennessee wins the fifth seed wildcard. The remaining six or seven teams (Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Houston, the Chargers, Oakland, Denver, and optionally Miami) all end up either 5-11 or 4-12.

But how does Cleveland win the wildcard tiebreaker with the other 6-10 teams? Since there are three or more teams from multiple divisions, first we apply the division tiebreaker “to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division.” Buffalo beats the Jets and Miami by virtue of the best record against common opponents (being tied in head-to-head and division record) and Cleveland beats Baltimore by virtue of a better division record. Then Cleveland beats Buffalo by virtue of a better record against common opponents (being tied in conference record).

For this to happen, about half of the remaining 96 regular season NFL games have to go in Cleveland’s favor, including Cleveland winning all six of its remaining games after an 0-10 start.

Let’s look at the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend (week 12). Cleveland must defeat Cincinnati and at least five or six of the following must occur:

  1. Dallas defeats the Chargers
  2. Tennessee defeats Indianapolis
  3. Kansas City defeats Buffalo
  4. New England defeats Miami
  5. Carolina defeats the Jets
  6. Oakland defeats Denver
  7. Houston defeats Baltimore

It’s extremely unlikely that Cleveland’s playoff hopes survive this week, let alone the remainder of the regular season, for which even one-in-a-million is a generous assessment, mathematically speaking. But it’s possible, which I imagine for Browns fans is worth something.

Here’s a detailed simulation.

Disclaimer: I did not factor tie games into any of my calculations.

Reliving The NFL’s Worst Plays

This weekend the NFL Network aired the NFL Top 10 Worst Plays. I believe it speaks to my psyche as a sports fan that I watched three of the top four as they were happening — one of them in person, from just a few hundred feet away — and in all three cases, I was rooting for the team that was on the failing side of the play.

I accept number one as the top choice because of how consequential it was. It’s the only play in Super Bowl history where the team on offense has gone from near-certain victory to near-certain defeat. Even the conclusion of Super Bowl XXV, perhaps the closest analogue, involved a relatively low percentage field goal attempt.

What I do continue to dispute is the conventional wisdom that this was the worst play call of all time. Statistically speaking the risk of a quarterback throwing an interception at the one-yard line is comparable to a running back fumbling at the one-yard line. If anything, the real problem with the play call is that the Patriots anticipated its use. As the video shows, the Patriots defense had run through the play in practice, and former Seahawk Brandon Browner warned Malcolm Butler to be ready for the coverage as they lined up for the snap. This belies the standard criticism of this play call: That the obvious choice in this situation was to have Marshawn Lynch run the ball. It also points out how well prepared the Patriots were to play the Seahawks.

The conventional wisdom also neglects the fact that the fateful play wouldn’t have even been possible if not for a phenomenal catch by Jermaine Kearse two plays earlier. What really cost the Seahawks this game is that they gave up two fourth quarter touchdown passes to the Patriots. Prior to Super Bowl XLIX they had an eight-game winning streak in which they consistently dominated the ends of games.

If there’s any consolation for me, reliving it through the replay might help anesthetize me to the coverage of it that is sure to intensify as November 13th approaches.

Choosing A New Ringtone

I’ve been binge-watching Episodes lately and Matt LeBlanc’s ringtone has inspired me to replace the main one I’ve been using for years.

If you’re the kind of person who isn’t content to stick with the ringtones that your phone manufacturer provides, you know what a consequential choice your ringtone can be. That you select it from millions of possibilities and that it spontaneously and repeatedly shares a piece of yourself with people who are nearby makes it among the most revealing of personal choices. Here’s how I pick one.

The first criterion is that I won’t get tired of hearing it repeatedly. When Windows 3.1 first came out and made multimedia a standard part of the PC experience, one of the first things people did was customize their sound schemes. (Remember the Microsoft SoundBits product line?) As my Windows shutdown sound, I picked Porky Pig stuttering, “That’s all, folks!” It was cute at first, but I was developing system software and restarting Windows fifty times a day. It got old in a hurry.

I also want a sound whose essence can be captured in a few seconds. The point of a ringtone is to alert me that my phone is ringing, so I don’t want to be thinking about — or having people around me wondering — what that strange sound is and what it means. Because it has to be edited to less than thirty seconds and might have to repeat in the middle, it has to be cuttable and loopable.

The above criteria favor shorter, catchier melodies over more complex ones. They also tend to favor instrumentals over vocal tracks, though this can be managed with proper editing. I edit my own ringtones with mp3DirectCut and end up listening to the sound over and over, so I get a sense if it’s going to meet these criteria.

Since the ringtone often plays when you’re not expecting it, it shouldn’t have a jarring opening. I learned this a couple of years ago during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when I experimented with using the New York Rangers goal song as my ringtone. You can listen for yourself, but suffice it to say it begins with the sound of a foghorn and quickly transitions to the musical equivalent of a hockey riot.

While I try not overthink the symbolism of the sound, I do avoid ringtones that might come across as if I’m trying to associate myself with a heroic character. Or songs that are too popular or iconic. For this reason I wouldn’t choose songs like the themes from Batman, Secret Agent, or Mission Impossible, even though sonically they work well.

Finally, and foremost, it has to be a sound that makes me happy when I hear it.

Hearing Two Time repeatedly on Episodes, often to humorous effect, set me in the directions of 1960’s/70’s instrumentals. I listened to a bunch of TV theme songs and also some Herb Alpert tracks. There were a number of good options, but ultimately this one stood out:

We’ll see how long it lasts.

Car Ads, 2016

The latest in my continuing series of posts on television commercials for cars that catch my attention (the commercials, not the cars).

Cadillac’s marketing team must continue to believe that the effectiveness of their ads for the Escalade is directly correlated to the utter selfishness portrayed by its drivers in those ads. In their latest one, The Herd, the message seems to be, “Because I drive an Escalade, it’s OK for me to drive the wrong way down the middle of a one-way street and force every other driver to swerve to avoid me.”

Or, to put more succinctly: “I’m an Escalade driver. I don’t give a crap about anybody else.” This is indeed consistent with my personal experience with Escalade drivers.

On the positive side, I’ve discovered a car ad that I enjoy watching even after numerous viewings: Nissan’s Family Visit. It’s clever, well-choreographed, and has a great backing track. And Mariette Hartley nails the punchline.

How the Seahawks Clinched, 2015

Seahawks clinch 2015 - small

When the Seahawks defeated the Browns on Sunday, it was announced broadly that the Seahawks had clinched a playoff berth. Nowhere, however, was it explained how this was determined. It appeared to be taken on faith, generally without a source, though in some cases the information was cited as coming from “the league”. This is not good enough for me.

When the same thing happened in 2013, I took it upon myself to investigate, and produced How the Seahawks Clinched. At the time I imagined that it couldn’t get much more complicated to prove that a team had clinched a playoff berth. I was wrong. Hold on for the ride.

Let’s start by excluding the scenario where the Seahawks win the NFC West division. As of this writing it is moot due to Arizona’s victory on Sunday night, but when the Seahawks-Browns game was completed, it was still theoretically possible. (Obviously had the Seahawks won the NFC West, they would have had a playoff berth.) This means that we only have to concern ourselves with how the Seahawks clinched a wildcard berth.

Because the Seahawks are 9-5, they can only be defeated for a wildcard berth by a team that has lost at most seven games and isn’t going to win its division. Not counting the NFC East for the moment, this limits the teams to Green Bay (10-4), Minnesota (9-5) and Atlanta (7-7).

Now let’s dispatch the NFC East. Washington can go 9-7, but if they do then they win the division title and thus aren’t part of wildcard consideration. Philadelphia could also have gone 9-7 had they not lost to Arizona on Sunday night (which occurred after the Seahawks clinched). However, in order for the Eagles to have finished 9-7, they would also have had to have defeated Washington next weekend. In this case, Washington would do no better than 8-8, Philadelphia would win the NFC East, and Washington would not be part of the wildcard picture. To summarize, no NFC East team can qualify for a wildcard position.

This leaves three detailed scenarios to consider, which I will cover in increasing order of complexity.

The first and simplest scenario is where Seattle wins (or ties) at least one more game or Atlanta loses (or ties) at least one more game. If Seattle wins or ties one more game, it is at least 10-6 (or 9-6-1) and Atlanta’s theoretical 9-7 best is not good enough. Similarly, if Atlanta loses (or ties) at least one more game, it can finish no better than 8-8 (or 8-7-1) so Seattle’s theoretical 9-7 worst is good enough. In either case Seattle is guaranteed one of the two wild card slots, and the other goes to either Minnesota or Green Bay (whichever of these two doesn’t win the NFC North).

As a result of this, in the remaining scenarios we only have to consider cases where Atlanta wins out and Seattle loses out and thus they both finish 9-7.

The second scenario is where Minnesota wins (or ties) at least one more game. In this scenario, Minnesota and Green Bay are both 10-6 (or 9-6-1) or better and Atlanta and Seattle are both 9-7. The better of Minnesota and Green Bay wins the NFC North, and the worse gets the higher wild card position, i.e. 5th seed overall. This leaves Atlanta and Seattle competing for the final wild card position.

Atlanta and Seattle didn’t play each other, so there’s no direct head-to-head, and they are in different divisions, so intra-divisional records aren’t compared. The next tiebreaker is conference record; in this scenario both teams would be 6-6. After that the next tiebreaker is record against common opponents, with a minimum of four. It turns out that Atlanta and Seattle have exactly four common opponents this year — Carolina, Dallas, Minnesota, and San Francisco — and the Seahawks are 4-1 (3-1 if you count the 49ers only once) while the Falcons are 1-3. Even if you include the Panthers a second time, and the Falcons defeat them in the rematch next weekend to finish 2-3 (which they need to do in order to finish 9-7), it’s not good enough. So the Seahawks win this tiebreaker and are in the playoffs.

The third scenario is where Minnesota loses both of its remaining games, leaving them tied with Atlanta and Seattle at 9-7. Figuring out who wins this three-way tiebreaker is quite involved. None of these teams defeated both of the other two, so there’s no winner based on sweeping the head-to-head games. Minnesota would also have a 6-6 conference record in this scenario, so that doesn’t help either. And these three teams do not play at least four common opponents in 2015.

The next step in the tiebreaker is strength of victory. This is where things get really gnarly. Strength of victory involves taking the combined won-lost-tied records of all of the teams that each team defeated and computing an aggregate won-lost-tied percentage. This means that even a meaningless Week 17 game like Chicago vs. Detroit could have an effect on the tiebreaker because it could improve one team’s strength of victory at the expense of another.

The good news is that who wins the three-way tiebreaker amongst Atlanta, Minnesota, and Seattle is moot as it affects the Seahawks playoff chances. Here’s why: Let’s assume that one of the three teams has the best strength of victory. If it’s the Seahawks, then they win the 5th seed by virtue of this tiebreaker. And if it’s not the Seahawks, then either Atlanta or Minnesota wins the 5th seed, leaving the Seahawks in a two-way tie with the other team to determine the 6th seed.

If Minnesota wins the three-way tiebreaker, then Atlanta and Seattle are competing for the 6th seed. This is the same as the second scenario, where we’ve already shown that Seattle wins over Atlanta by virtue of record against common opponents. If Atlanta wins the three-way tiebreaker, then Minnesota and Seattle are competing for the 6th seed, which Seattle takes on the basis of its 38-7 victory over Minnesota on December 6th.

Even in the unlikely case that no team won the strength of victory tiebreaker (and I’m not even sure if this is mathematically possible at this point), eventually one of the three teams would have to win one of the lower tiebreakers — coin toss, anyone? — and the above logic still applies: Either the Seahawks win the three-way tiebreaker and get the 5th seed, or they’re competing one-on-one against either Atlanta or Minnesota for the 6th seed and win that two-way tiebreaker.

So to recap, in any season-ending scenario that was possible at the time that the Seattle-Cleveland game ended on Sunday afternoon, the Seahawks would have a playoff berth. Q.E.D. And phew!

[Updated 2015-12-24: Added image and made minor text edits.]