January 18, 2003

So that was Ming Yao? He scores six early, two in the fourth, and another two at the end of OT, but was otherwise the Asian continent's version of Shawn Bradley (who, I should also point out, is a pretty good shotblocker). Shaq took him to school, a point soon to be forgotten in light of the Rockets' 108-104 victory Friday, and about the kindest thing you can say was that Yao did not lose his composure. Steve Francis, on the other hand, was unreal, scoring 44, including a three at the end of regulation to tie the game, faking out the refs with the elan of an Argentinian soccer player in drawing a flagrant foul in OT, and absolutely dominating the pathetic backcourt of the Lakers. While Yao's dunk with ten seconds to go in overtime got in the highlight reel, it was Francis dribbling out the shot clock, drawing the entire Laker defense to him, that enabled Yao to be so open in the first place. All in all, the best game of the regular season so far.

January 16, 2003

Well, now we know what the Republican solution to exorbitant medical costs is: blame the lawyers. Or rather, attempt to punish victims of medical quackery by proposing a law for no other reason than to slap a potential opponent in next year's election, John Edwards. Explain again, how does putting a cap on pain-and-suffering damages discourage frivolous lawsuits? I mean, if a lawsuit is frivolous, there aren't any damages to begin with; thus, there's nothing to cap. And if a jury awards a patient huge damages, then, at least according to the twelve people who heard the case, that lawsuit wasn't frivolous.

Bush's latest stunt is in the same tradition as basing the entire policy for education reform on blaming the teachers' union. In fact, passing the president's latest proposal will increase lawsuits, even if it works as advertised, since incompetent doctors are less likely to be weeded out by increasing malpractice costs. As I noted when discussing last year's bankruptcy "reform" bill, an enterprising lawyer will always know how to game the system to his advantage.

January 15, 2003

Believe it or not, there may be something to Pete Townshend's excuse for downloading kiddie porn. I was a bit bothered when his explanation was almost word-for-word identical to David Westerfield's: that he was just doing research to see what was out there. Well, as it turns out, he actually wrote a paper on the subject of how easy it was to obtain child pornography on the internet, and published it on his website. [Link via Cursor] If this controversy doesn't provoke some civil libertarian discussions about the free use of the internet, than nothing will.

January 14, 2003

For years, there was this flaky billionaire named Marvin Davis, who was always threatening to purchase either a football franchise or a film studio. Whether it was the Tampa Bay Bucs or United Artists that were up for sale, Davis' name would always be in the news, before, surprise, surprise, he would back down, and the prize would go to someone else. For a short time, he actually did own a studio. After a while, though, it became clear that he wasn't serious, so he began to be politely referred to as a "tire kicker", someone who interested in looking but wasn't really a player. Perhaps the nadir was when he let his name be linked to a move to build a football stadium next to the Inglewood Forum several years ago, when the NFL was looking to put an expansion team in LA. Just having his name tied to the project was enough to discredit what had been a serious proposal, one that was almost a done deal when Al Davis was still in town, and the league actually went back to negotiating with the Coliseum; better that, they reasoned, then to be dicked around by someone they knew was going to back down in the end.

The last ten years, Marvin Lewis has been the Marvin Davis of the NFL. Unquestionably a terrific defensive coach, his name has been on the short list of almost every vacancy in the head coaching ranks, pro or college, since 1996. After his defense in Baltimore won the Super Bowl two years ago, he was all but offered the head position in Buffalo, but had cold feet at the last second, and stayed with the Ravens. Last season, California was set to announce his hiring when he backed down, and decided instead to become an assistant coach under Steve Spurrier with Washington. He was considered for jobs at Carolina and Tampa Bay, but by then, his reputation was as someone who wanted the attention, not the job, and he got passed over both times. Only a month ago, he was offered the head position at Michigan State, but turned it down. Just when it seemed like he was about to get a reputation for being someone too gutless to be a head coach, he agreed tonight to accept the job with the worst franchise in football, the Cincinnati Bengals. It is hard to imagine a worse situation for him; he will now be a coach for a team that won't spend the money, that is notorious for incompetent drafting, and has little talent to speak of. And they went 2-14 last season. Good luck.
EJ Dionne is all wet on this analogy. John McCain fights special interests; Joe Lieberman is their supplicant.
On a whim last week, I rented the DVD of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I won't pretend that it's one of the greatest movies of all time, but it remains one of the few films I've seen that never gets boring. The DVD is a revelation; one of the reasons why the movie has remained so memorable was just how beautifully it was shot. Apparently, the principal reason the film was even made was to hype a candy bar that Quaker Oats was selling, which, as it turned out, disappeared almost immediately. The commentary track, which consists of the five child actors, is a gas. As you might have guessed, the alternate language tracks are also worth a few minutes of your time; one hasn't lived until you hear Julie Dawn Cole dubbed into French !!
Yesterday, the Buffalo Sabres became the second NHL team in a week, and the fourth in the last eight years, to file for bankruptcy protection. As I noted before, this represents a very disturbing trend in the sport, especially since neither Ottawa nor Buffalo are really the weak sisters of the league; the franchises in Tampa, Carolina, Phoenix and Anaheim have attendance and media problems that are at least as severe, with no hope that things are going to get better anytime soon. And of course, the labor contract expires at the end of next season, although this is one problem that can't be blamed on greedy players, who, after all, are paid far less than their counterparts in basketball and baseball.

The best case scenario may well be that only a couple of teams will fold; the worst case is that the league may well go the way of the NASL. However, I do not believe that the long-term prognosis for the sport is all that bad. Even if the league dies, or is truncated in a dramatic fashion, I would expect many of the franchises to live on. There is clearly sufficient international interest in the sport to survive even the roughest of patches, and if it came down to it, I would expect to see a stronger, and more realistic, ice hockey league exist with teams in Europe and North America.
If this is true, then I don't see why we don't enlist the help of a few expatriate Nigerian bureaucrats as well. All is fair in the war against terror. Speaking of which, Neal Pollack is back, with an expose on the evil doctor who now leads the Senate.

January 13, 2003

I'm a couple of days behind on this story, in large part because it reflects something very rarely seen in public figures: moral courage. The last part of Governor Ryan's speech against the death penalty exhibits how even the most ordinary of men can sometimes achieve greatness. It's the best piece of oratory in years. [link via Jeanne d'Arc]
Kudos to the PGA, for holding its first tournament of the year at a pitch-and-putt course on Maui. The sponsors of the Mercedes Championship may want to consider holding next year's competition on a course that could at least challenge me. Try adding a rough, or sloping the greens, or placing a bunker or two in front of the greens, or something to prevent the winner from having to shoot 31-under par.
I have to admit, I did not see the twist coming at the end of Alias last night. It's to the credit of the writers and producers of the show that almost no one else did, either; none of the spoilers published on the various fansites even mention the reversal involving Sloane and his wife. In fact, the hints I had been receiving seemed to indicate that the big surprise was going to be in the next episode, airing after the Super Bowl in two weeks. Good job !!

January 12, 2003

Gee, what a surprise--the Bush Administration is now blaming Clinton for our deteriorating situation on the Korean Peninsula. Well done; I was wondering when they would get around to following their modus operandi; after all, admitting mistakes is something no Republican President has done since Francis Gary Powers was shot down. Economy bounces from recession to stagnation to recession, after Bush enacts an ill-conceived tax cut for millionaires; blame Clinton. America is attacked by terrorists, in large part because we seem to be more concerned about Iraqi oil that Al Qaeda; blame Clinton. Enron and other companies perpetrate a fraud on American investors for ten years, then help finance the selection of Bush to the Presidency; blame Clinton.

I'm certain that Jen and Barb's drinking will be blamed on Bubba, sure enough. Of course, it would be equally unfair to say that Bush is entirely responsible for each of those problems, particularly concerning corporate fraud. Nobody, myself included, likes to dwell on screw-ups. Nevertheless, however predictable this reaction might be, the tendency not to acknowledge its errors is one of the most troubling political aspects of this Presidency. The 50-50 split within the country necessitates that Bush make a special effort to draw the other half of the country behind his policies. In the aftermath of 9-11, he did that, speaking to us as Americans, not conservatives, and the nation supported most of his proposals to fight terrorism. Now that memories of that terrible day have faded, the partisan divisions have returned. No consensus has been formed about tax policy or Iraq, but this president seems to think that the country will give him a pass if he ties it in to the "war" on terror. Or if he just blames his predecessor. It would be nice if the country had a president whose word we could trust on matters of policy, someone who could admit to, and learn from, his mistakes. Someone like, say, Clinton.