Still waiting for justice in soccer sexual abuse cases

Juan Ramos is a former pro soccer player — once drafted by the Miami Fusion — who embarked on a youth soccer coaching career.

In 2016, he was arrested and pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault by a custodian (not in the parental sex) with a sexual battery victim over 12 and under 18. The allegations: In 2003, he started a sexual relationship with a player he was training, and that continued for four years. When the alleged relationship started, the girl was 13 years old.

That arrest was five years ago. So where do we stand now?

When I checked in a year ago, the prosecution had offered evidence that Ramos admitted to sexual activity. The defense had countered that the accuser can’t give specific dates and also stalked Ramos.

But even before COVID-19 took its toll on court dockets around the country, this case had been continued and continued.

Things took a twist in March, when Ramos’ lawyer, Kevin Kulik, moved to drop his client, citing irreconcilable differences. That filing didn’t seem to change anything. The defense got another continuance in April. On May 1, the court set a Zoom hearing date of July 15, with Kulik still listed as the attorney. And on July 15, the defense got another continuance.

The next court date: Oct. 14.

Could such delays be helping the prosecution? They’ve filed three supplemental discovery documents, each including nothing but a single name and address.

However, the Assistant State Attorney prosecuting the case is now on family leave until Jan. 10. (Congratulations!)

And yet …

The court date set for Oct. 14 went forward as planned. And Ramos didn’t show.

A warrant is out to bring him in.

Might we finally see some action on this case? Is Kulik still his lawyer? Will they stick with the “a teenager was stalking me” defense?

Meanwhile, Shelby Garigen, the soccer trainer who was arrested when she turned up to have sex with a player who was above the age of consent for having sex but apparently not for sending pics on Snapchat, is still in prison. She hired a new lawyer who smashed the prosecution case in his filings, painting a convincing case that the parents of the “victim” leaned rather heavily on their status as prosecutors to bend the rules. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Western New York responded by adding a lawyer to its team.

The case is scheduled for Jan. 17. We’ll see if she actually gets her day in court before her scheduled release in September 2023.

Yes, I’ve written about all this before. Still waiting for someone to explain to me how this isn’t a massive double-standard. Still waiting for someone in the media to ask a few questions about their local courts.

Note: I’m moving ALL my blogging, except as it relates to the X Marks the Pod podcast, here to Mostly Modern Media, which I’ve kept since the mid-aughts.

No, Biden didn’t ignore all available intelligence

It has been suggested to me on Twitter (by someone I know IRL) that Biden’s bungling of the Afghanistan withdrawal came about because he ignored what the the intelligence community was telling him.

In June, intelligence was suggesting Afghanistan could fall in six months after withdrawal. Or maybe not, said Joint Chiefs Chair Mark Milley.

Aug. 10: OK, maybe 90 days. Worst case: Within a month.

And until the moment it happened, the Afghanistan government’s sudden flight from the country was … not expected.

Is Biden totally exonerated? Not really. The irony here is that this is one of several areas in which he is startlingly similar to Trump.

But with less bullshit. And less malice.

Paul Bryan: 1920-2021

Yes, 1920. Paul Bryan died just after his 101st birthday.

But the triple-digit number doesn’t tell the whole story of his longevity. I don’t have an official record on when he made his last appearance as guest conductor of the Duke University Wind Symphony or when he last played euphonium, but I know the answer in both cases would be “recently.”

“PB” made the transition from professor to professor emeritus after my freshman year. That was not “recently.” You’d be hard pressed to find someone who had as much of an impact after his alleged retirement as PB.

And it wasn’t as if he conducted at Duke for just a few years. He was there from 1951 to 1988, first as the director of (all) bands before focusing on the Wind Symphony.

Please pardon a brief rant here — my Duke experience taught me that marching bands and concert bands / wind symphonies are different entities. I spent a bit of time in the Duke University Marching Band (DUMB) as well, and I enjoyed it, but in a different sense that I enjoyed Wind Symphony. To overgeneralize, the Wind Symphony was a bunch of nerds who would break out into improvised counterpoint singing on the tour bus, and the Marching Band was a bunch of drunks who would straggle in to warm up for football games quite a few minutes after they were due. (Being punctual and not a drunk, I was occasionally frustrated with this, but I still loved the overall experience.) Musically, the Wind Symphony was on a different level. I was one of the better clarinet players in DUMB, but I wouldn’t have passed the Wind Symphony audition on anything involving, well, wind. (As director of bands, PB spent several years conducting both, as mentioned in this smart DUMB history, but Duke wisely let him spend his time working on music rather than marching.)

That’s one reason I’m still a bit angry that James Madison High School won’t let kids play in any concert band unless they also join a marching band that requires its members to give up most of the month of August and many fall weekends so they can compete and win a state championship. Good for them, but the point of music in schools should be to provide good musical experiences for all who want them, and again, concert bands and marching bands are different entities. At Duke, only a handful of us did both.

That means, in part, that the music the Wind Symphony plays is not the music a marching band plays. Marching band music is fun in its own right — being a good Athenian, I enjoyed playing the B-52s’ Rock Lobster. But there’s a rich repertoire of music that wouldn’t work for marching bands and really doesn’t get its due elsewhere. A lot of concert band / wind symphony music is vibrant. Beautiful. Fun!

Just listen to the music at PB’s 100th birthday celebration 13 months ago:

(I’m still mad at myself for visiting Duke the week before this event. I plan poorly.)

So one of Paul Bryan’s many contributions to music is that he helped to keep the notion of a concert band alive. This wonderful music should be heard somewhere, and I’m proud to have been part of the movement to make it heard in Duke’s lovely (even before the remodeling you’ll see in that video) Baldwin Auditorium.

The irony is that my entree into the Wind Symphony was because of one little quirk of PB’s. He liked having a string bass in a Wind Symphony.

And that’s how Paul Bryan, in a classic moment of serendipity, changed my life.

When I started at Duke, I fully intended to play in the Jazz Ensemble. For one semester, I did. Read my obituary of the great Paul Jeffrey to see how that went — basically, I knew nothing about jazz, and I decided to switch to other activities like The Chronicle, which set me on my career path.

I auditioned for the Jazz Ensemble on several instruments while Jeffrey patiently heard me out on each one. That meant I was running around the music building looking for a string bass on which to show off my half-decent but non-jazz skills.

The person I wound up asking was, you guessed it, Paul Bryan. And before I knew it, I’d agreed to join the Wind Symphony.

Or at least the “scab” Wind Symphony composed of people who were not spending their fall semesters in Vienna. Some freshmen were aware of the Vienna experience and had signed up early, but I had no idea of such things. (Among the people who went to Vienna that year, oddly enough, was one Ben Folds, not a Duke student but a pretty good percussionist, and holy crap, I just discovered that there’s video from one of the Vienna concerts online.)

I enjoyed it. When PB and the bulk of the ensemble returned from Vienna, I stuck around and spent one semester playing for him, including the Spring Break tour through Ohio and Illinois.

Because of that, I wound up dating an oboe player, which apparently made some Chronicle staffers jealous. (I found out maybe two decades later. Should’ve spoken up in, say, 1990, folks.) More importantly, with all due respect to that wonderful oboe player with whom I had a happy relationship for six months, I eventually moved to percussion and developed a lifelong love of bashing things that put me in the pit orchestra for Hoof n Horn shows and a dazzling production of Carmina Burana. I played percussion of sorts just this past weekend:

(My drum song is at the 39:20 mark. If you watch the rest of the show, please, I beg of you, skip the songs in which I attempt to sing.)

So my PB story really revolves around a brief interaction that happened solely by chance. But it did, in a meaningful way, change my life.

Now imagine how many people whose lives he affected. Go back to 1951. How many people? Hundreds? Doing some quick math in my head, he must have conducted at least 1,500 musicians. Add in his work in Durham, and it’s surely 2,000. He may have just given them a couple of semesters of a rewarding musical experience, or he may have had a powerful influence on their musical careers, as in the case of my friend Anthony Kelley, a great composer and Duke faculty member today. (I still remember my first attempt at playing the bass part on one of his compositions. I think I dropped the bow and broke out laughing, even though I had gotten farther than the tuba players. Sounded really cool when we finally got it.)

I’m nearly a year past 50 now, and I sometimes dread aging. But if music helps keep me alive and thriving for another few decades, I know I’ll have a good role model to follow.

How bad-news bias hurt COVID-19 perceptions

If you’re a fan of sharing the latest grim news on COVID-19, please give this Atlantic article a read.

“What’s the harm in sharing such stories?” you may ask. “You can’t be too careful.”

Sure, but …

“I guess you don’t care about all the people who died,” you may say, right before I unfriend you on Facebook.

Going back to the question — the actual harm is as follows:

  1. Anti-vaxxers are pouncing on every over-amplified misstep in vaccine development.
  2. We’re so busy shaming people who aren’t wearing masks outside that we end up sending them inside, where the probability of spreading goes from “tiny” to “substantial.”
  3. Socializing is good for you.
  4. We need clear, accurate information. It’s worth noting that academics aren’t good at presenting such things to the public, and WHO botched the early messaging.

Speaking of academia, a paper from Dartmouth and Brown researchers ponders the significance of all the negativity in our media — most prominently in the USA.

And that’s not surprising. It bleeds, it leads. And that slogan existed before we had a 24/7 news cycle in which TV news (upcoming rant — who the hell watches this stuff and why?) is trying to scare you away from changing the channel.

These links are from the NYT’s “The Morning” newsletter, which I wish I could find and share. I can share this excerpt:

In the modern era of journalism — dating roughly to the Vietnam War and Watergate — we tend to equate impact with asking tough questions and exposing problems. There are some good reasons for that. We are inundated by politicians, business executives, movie stars and others trying to portray themselves in the best light. Our job is to cut through the self-promotion and find the truth. If we don’t tell you the bad news, you may never hear it. Sometimes, though, our healthy skepticism can turn into reflexive cynicism, and we end up telling something less than the complete story.

This isn’t a new concept in journalism. One of my grad school textbooks was called Spiral of Cynicism: The Press and the Public Good, and it distinguished between healthy skepticism (“I’m going to check this out”) and unhealthy cynicism (“You’re wrong. You suck. Shut up.”)

Put another way — I’m fond of saying that people often confuse cynicism with intelligence. Cynicism and pessimism go hand in hand.

I may sometimes put too much of a rosy gloss on things. But hope is important. Solutions are important. And so is accurate information, even when it’s cheerful.

The case for re-opening schools, partway

I don’t envy school officials right now. They have to weigh two horrible possibilities …

  1. Keeping kids at home, where they’re falling behind their peers (particularly in underserved communities) and suffering mental health issues, including a greater risk of suicide. For a longer list of lifelong problems incurred by school closures, see this NPR story, especially the last six paragraphs.)
  2. Bringing kids into school amid concerns of spreading COVID-19.

Fortunately, evidence to help them make better decisions is mounting …

Studies on school transmission

The news is pretty good.

South Korea: “Jeong and other researchers said schools are not a high-risk setting for Covid-19 transmission, while hinting that school closures might have caused more harm than good.” (Jan. 21, Korea JoongAng Daily)

Duke/UNC: 32 cases of in-school transmission among nearly 100,000 people. ““Our data indicate that schools can reopen safely if they develop and adhere to specific SARS-CoV-2 prevention policies.” (Jan. 8, AAP)

Sweden: “Despite Sweden’s having kept schools and preschools open, we found a low incidence of severe Covid-19 among schoolchildren and children of preschool age during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.” (Jan. 6, New England Journal of Medicine)

Norway: “Studies from several European countries have shown minimal transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from paediatric index cases in schools [37]. However, the majority of these studies did not consider asymptomatic infections and did not screen all contacts. Our study confirms and strengthens these data, as we found minimal transmission even with a prospective design and systematic testing of all contacts twice during quarantine.” (Jan. 7, Eurosurveillance)

Germany: “Johannes Huebner, the head of the pediatric infectious disease department at the Ludwig-Maximilians University Hospital in Munich, recently told NPR correspondent Rob Schmitz that scientific studies have not detected high rates of transmission in schools. ‘Most of the infections are brought into the schools by adults, by teachers, and then spread among kids. But most of the time, it’s only single cases. It’s two, three kids, five maybe that get positive.'” (Nov. 13, NPR story on Europe leaving schools open)

Various (dated but thorough): “Data collected globally have previously shown that schools can reopen safely when community transmission is low. But even in places where community infections were on the rise, outbreaks in schools were uncommon, particularly when precautions were taken to reduce transmission.” (Oct. 29, Nature)

Global (but dated): “In most infections or COVID-19 cases reported in children, infection was acquired at home.” (Oct. 21, WHO)

Studies on asymptomatic transmission

The news is less good, and it’s a reminder that safety precautions must be taken and testing should be frequent.

Austria: More data that asymptomatic kids may spread the disease, but note some shaky claims in this story, notion that the UK made no progress with a lockdown. The UK in general hasn’t had the best response. (Jan. 15, Der Spiegel)

UK: “There is evidence to suggest that people who don’t display symptoms of Covid-19 may have lower viral loads, which means they are less likely to infect others.” The story goes into detail about rapid testing. (Jan. 2, The Guardian/The Observer)

Current COVID-19 rates

Bad, but dropping after the holiday surge.

Global: Mitigation works. (Jan. 23, Our World in Data)

USA:The backlogs appear to be largely behind us, and the underlying trends are moving in the right direction for most of the country. Even for the states experiencing the worst outbreaks, we are seeing early indications that the rates of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are easing, though some areas are still reporting dangerously high case and hospitalization levels and wrenching death rates.” (Jan. 21, COVID Tracking Project)

Safety measures

Masks: Duh.

Vaccines: “Pfizer and Moderna together have pledged to deliver 200 million doses by the end of March.” Of course, the devil’s in the details in making sure teachers get priority. (Jan. 23, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Quick, frequent testing: “With $20 billion, Mina argues, the government could build four factories that produce enough antigen tests to stop most outbreaks in the country. That may sound like a lot of money, but it’s just 1 percent of the COVID-19 stimulus package, the CARES Act.” That’s an indictment of the Trump regime, but it’s also an example of what schools can do with testing. (Nov. 20, The Atlantic)

Treatment: The global medical community doesn’t get enough credit for what it’s done to improve treatment over a short period of time (Nov. 14, Spectrum News and Sept. 20, NPR). Several new medications moved forward in October and November, and a study this month shows convalescent plasma (which I’ve donated twice) is helpful (Jan. 13, Harvard). We still need to know more about long-term effects for those of us who’ve survived — personally, I’m not sure my lung capacity has recovered, though I’m also getting older.

Quarantine: Spring Break could be a problem if people are traveling. This is merely a suggestion, and it may not be feasible, but would a quarantine help?

Bottom line

On the personal level, forcing people back to school is a bad idea, though I’d hope all the information above convinces more people that it’s safe.

The only question left is the issue of collective responsibility. We ask people to wear masks so that they won’t spread the disease, even to those who are taking precautions, and overwhelm our hospitals.

Based on the information above, the chances of schools adding to overwhelmed hospitals seems slim, particularly if all the right precautions are taken. Running schools at half capacity by alternating students helps with social distancing. Requiring masks is a no-brainer, and we should all keep an eye on the evolving guidance on what kind of masks we should be using. We should also test often — two quick tests that are 85% accurate are better than one test that’s 90% and takes longer to process.

Face-to-face meetings with teachers and peer interaction are so important. I can’t see any reason we shouldn’t be planning to open partway in March, when rates will have dropped farther and more people will be vaccinated, and all the way this fall.

We can do this. And we need to.

The 2021 career reset (or, when to cast aside the journalism career)

Three funny things are haunting me as 2020 comes to a merciful conclusion …

First, with the most relevant part in bold:

By far the month’s most disturbing event occurs on July 15 when Twitter, responding to a cyberattack, temporarily suspends many verified blue-check accounts. Within minutes emergency rooms in Washington and New York are overwhelmed by media thought leaders whose brains are literally exploding from the pressure of unreleased insights.

Dave Barry, from his year in review

Second, a scene from When Harry Met Sally that I referenced in my remembrance of my dear stepmom, Meg Gunn Dure.

SALLY: The story of my life isn’t even going to get us out of Chicago. I mean, nothing’s happened to me yet. That’s why I’m going to New York.

HARRY: So something can happen to you?


HARRY: Like what?

SALLY: Like I’m going to go to journalism school and become a reporter.

HARRY: So you can write about things that happen to other people.

Third, Cowboy Mouth, wrapping up a typical show with a typical rendition of Jenny Says that turns into an exorcism:

Turn that smart phone off, dude. Stop recording life. Start living life.

See the 6:10 mark, but watch the whole thing. You’re on vacation, and it’s a great way to kick 2020’s ass out the door.

Make it four: I just read the autobiography of Monty Python’s Eric Idle, and I marveled at all the accounts of time spent with friends.

This post was going to be an elegy for my journalism career, highlighted by the lack of pay. I started in 1991, making $10 an hour, nearly $20 in 2020 money, which wasn’t bad for someone paying about $400/month in rent with no student debt and no car payments. By the time I left USA TODAY in 2010, I was making nearly $60,000. Had I stayed and not been laid off, I’d be making maybe $75,000 now.

Instead, I’ve written six books. I’ve lost money on four of them. On the others, the amount of money I’ve made works out to maybe $2/hour. I’ve had a book signing to which one person showed up, and I wrote a short book that one person has read. (And not purchased, though I did make about 17 cents through Kindle Unlimited.)

Plenty of people say they’ve read my books. Plenty of people told Wilt Chamberlain they were in Madison Square Garden the night he scored 100 points, which would be impressive if that game hadn’t taken place in Hershey, Pa. 

I did take a steady freelance gig a year or two ago that was technically part-time employment, and I was making …

Ten bucks an hour.

Then I was basically laid off.

But this career was never about the money. I’ve known that all along. When I went to a job interview the summer after graduation, the managing editor and editor of the papers in Wilmington, N.C., asked why I wanted to go into journalism, and I started by saying, “Well, it’s not the money.” They laughed and hired me.

Of the two short books I’ve cranked out this year, one was mere self-indulgence, scraping together remnants of my long-abandoned MMA book into a memoir intertwined with MMA history that the fans already know. The other was a neat little history project that I started while quarantining after contracting COVID-19.

The money these days isn’t in writing, anyway. It’s at YouTube. Seriously.

Sure, not everyone pulls in the eight-figure annual windfall of the top 10, but six figures are pretty common. I ran the numbers on some of the people I watch and found this:

  • Music critic: $641 per video on YouTube, $6,922 per video on Patreon. Figure about 20 videos per year, and that’s $150k. He also has a podcast.
  • Music producer/analyst: $840 per video on YouTube. He does about 80 videos a year, so that’s $67,200, though he says some of them are “demonitized” because YouTube enforces the music industry’s ass-backwards approach to “fair use” and takes away his money for using, say, a seven-second snippet of music. He makes more of his money on books, anyway.
  • Australian comedian: $5,500 per video, about 90 this year, so … holy crap, $495,000??!!!
  • Canadian comedian: $32,490 on one video. Close to $14,000 on another. More typically around $1,500, with about 80 videos a year. She had a very good year. She’s also getting sponsorships. Safe to say she’s over $150,000 for the year, though she recognizes this year was a bit of a blip because she had a fantastic idea and ran with it.

Part 1 (17 million views) is highly recommended, and the rest of the series is pretty good.

For sake of comparison, let’s look at blogging, where I thought in 2010 that I might make a bit of money on the side: 

  • WordPress WordAds: I get about 40 cents per 1,000 ad impressions. That means my top post at Ranting Soccer Dad got about $5. When I had my medal projections at my old blog, I could make $100 for a couple hundred hours of work. 
  • Medium: If you can figure out a pattern let me know. I got $1.09 on a post with 19 views and an average reading time of 2:39. I got $2.38 on a post with 1,400 views and an average reading time of 4:23. I know people can make money on Medium, and I’m hoping to turn X-temporaneous into a publication of some import, but I need writers to do that. (Hint hint.)

You get the picture. There’s no money in blogging on my own. The only way to make money as a freelancer is to keep hustling after any assignment you can find.

Don’t send money. Well, not a lot. You can always donate if you’re a fan of the tons of work I’ve done on the Club and League directories. But we’re not the type of people who blow our salaries and inheritances on $3 million houses, so we’re fine.

Let’s be clear — these have been my choices. I turned down a decent job with USA TODAY’s magazines. When I told the magazine department boss how much I made with USA TODAY proper, he assured me he was offering significantly more. After he finished laughing.

I’ve only applied for one full-time job that was a perfect fit for my experience — in fact, I knew I was better qualified than anyone they were going to get, and yet I knew I wasn’t going to get an interview because I wasn’t in the right clique and because the people doing the hiring are “woke” to the point of absurdity and also ageist. Jobs for “writer/editor” exist, but I haven’t been applying for them.

For the last decade, I’ve basically been a stay-at-home dad who writes.

That ends in 2021. 

I’ve planned for a while to start a consulting business. That’ll be launched in earnest in January at the virtual United Soccer Coaches convention. 

The other job is something I didn’t plan. In an effort to re-open schools after 10 months away, Fairfax County is hiring classroom monitors — people who can spend more time in proximity to students than teachers who have vulnerability that COVID-19 could exploit. I’ve already had COVID, and I’m confident in the schools’ safety efforts, so I applied. And was hired. 

So whenever schools finally open, I’ll be working in a physical non-home location for the first time since 2010.

That job will likely only last until June, when this school year ends and we wash our hands (literally) of the COVID academic year. By fall, we’d better have this thing under control. 

It’s also a good time to reset. 

But when I wrote the original draft of this post, I realized I wasn’t really planning to give anything up.

  • Writing for Soccer America? Nope, I’ll keep doing that.
  • Writing for The Guardian? I hope to do more of that.
  • Writing and recruiting for X-temporaneous? I might do less, but I’m not pressing “delete” on it.

With the latter, I’ve been taking cautious steps toward “news” journalism, in which I haven’t fared badly in previous forays. NPR picked up some my work on Millennials and small towns at OZY. A piece on Flat Earthers a few years ago did very well for The Guardian.

And yet there’s still “respectable” journalism to be done in sports. At the risk of seeming arrogant, I’m doing work other people can’t or won’t do because they’re afraid of biting hands that feed them or aren’t well-equipped to write about duplicity and scandal. Each year at the coaches’ convention, people always tell me how much they appreciate my work. It’s a shame that’ll be all-virtual this year, but I hear from people all the time, anyway.

So I’m not giving up any of these things. I’m also adding a consulting business. And a job. And I’m doing a big project for The Chronicle.

Then my goal is to have more “me” time.

That’s not really how time works, is it?

Perhaps, but a couple of things will be off the table.

First, no more books. Not this year. I’ve done a rough draft of a 24-page book to go with my consulting business, but that’s about it.

Second, significantly less time cataloging the decline of American democracy.

Go back to the first quote here from Dave Barry: “the pressure of unreleased insights.”

I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking it’s somehow my duty to share everything of importance that I read— maybe on Twitter, maybe on Facebook, maybe after cataloging everything in Diigo and writing blog posts that most undergrads would call “research papers.”

For what?

If I helped rally voters for the election, great. But I can’t pretend I have some sort of great influence on every topic.

I still won’t stop. I’ll still do the occasional Gen X-related post at X-temporaneous. I’ll occasionally round up a few things here at Mostly Modern Media. You’ll still see links on creativity at Before The Apocalypse, and I might turn all that into a book sometime in the future. I’ve just redesigned this blog to include widgets for my latest tweets and the latest links I’ve saved. At some point before I die, I want to take everything I’ve learned writing books, going to grad school and researching creativity to put together something of substance.

It’s just going to be a question of priority.

The laptop will be shut off at times. I’ll read more. I’ll figure out what I can do in the yard without triggering allergies or tearing my hair out. I’ll spend most time in the music room. When curling resumes, I’ll be making that trip around the Beltway more often. I might even get on the exercise bike every now and then. If that means fewer posts reminding people what fascist douchebags Donald Trump and his sycophants are, so be it.

So my new priorities will cut into my time recording life. They’ll add to my time living it.

Happy New Year.