June 14, 2003

A beautiful day like today is wasted every moment I spend blogging about it. I'm outahere....

June 13, 2003

Holy moley--I've just been expelled from the comments section of another blog, apparently for posting something truly offensive--I defended David Beckham !! I guess I'm going to have get used to being controversial.

UPDATE: Apparently I wasn't expelled. It appears to have been a problem with the specific type of comments section used on that (and on other) blogs. Whew....
A good drinking game is to down a shot of Cuervo every time Bill Walton uses the word "pathetic" during a game. By halftime, you will have forgotten how dull the NBA Finals is this year.
BTW, Tom Watson is tied for the lead at the U.S. Open, having shot a 5-under 65. Mr. Watson, who made the tournament only after receiving a special exemption (it's being held at Olympia Fields outside of Chicago, where Watson debuted 35 years ago), is 53 freaking years old. Tiger is five back. Quote of the day belongs to one Kevin Sutherland, who said of Olympia, "I'm not saying it's Bob Hope-easy or John Deere-easy. It's all relative. But it's the easiest U.S. Open I've ever played."

June 12, 2003

You might have noticed the blogroll has been shortened. For a number of reasons, legal and otherwise, I am concerned with linking to sites that are "pseudonymous". Even if I never make reference here to a post on any particular site, the possibilty that I could become a defendant in a defamation action just for including that site in my blogroll troubles me. If I can't actually put a name to the site, I have no idea how credible that person is. In addition, my blogroll has become too large anyway, and this is a good excuse to do some long-overdue editing

Therefore, effective immediately, I will link to no political site unless I can be assured that there is an actual, reliable, living, breathing person at the other end. I make no judgments as to the reason someone might wish to use a pseudonym, nor will I discontinue visiting said sites on my trips around the Net. If that person wishes to remain anonymous, it is none of my business what his reason is, or what his name is. I just happen to distrust news articles that rely on anonymous sources, and I won't traffic in such a practice on any site that has my good name on it.
Disappointment is the word, after browsing through the first edition of Valley Beat, at least for those of us who were hoping for a weekly that would actually focus on the Valley. So far, I've seen a column about a writer who has just moved back to Van Nuys, some brief notes involving the city of Burbank, the recent letter from local Representative Henry Waxman to the President concerning the use of forged documents to support the war case, and an article about a sexual harrassment case involving the Glendale Police Department (and since when is Glendale considered to be part of the Valley, anyway?) The cover story is actually a good piece, on toxic waste problems at the Rocketdyne facility in Simi Valley, which is in the next county.

The rest of the 63-page weekly consists of stories that were no doubt also published in the sister paper, L.A. City Beat. The club and theatre references are pretty much what you would get in the LA Weekly, which doesn't pretend to care about the world north of Mulholland. The restaurant reviews are of a coffee shop in Hollywood and a couple of Westside pizzerias, and only three establishments listed on the page devoted to recommended eateries are in the 8-1-8. Until they review the Roscoes-of-the-Valley, Casa Vega, I will continue to question its street cred.

Neuheisel's gone: here's the termination letter (many thanks to my crack investigative team, led by Prof. David Johnson, who's been on this story like stink on the Clippers; he needs to start a blog). In order to justify terminating Neuheisel with cause, and thereby save itself a few million, UW is now claiming that he lied to investigators when they first asked him about the charges that he had participated in a pool. As with the Martha Stewart and Henry Cisneros prosecutions, the university is using a prosecutorial bully's favorite tactic: charging the defendant not with the more serious but difficult to prove charge (in this case, gambling), but on a much more selective charge used to intimidate witnesses before the law.

Don't be surprised if the parties agree to a confidential "settlement". Neuheisel has the NCAA dead to rights on this one. The NCAA knows that its regulations, while clearly spelling out whole areas of prohibited conduct involving gambling, do not mention pools. A prolonged legal battle based on the regulation in question is one they cannot win, and the letter from the compliance official at Washington okaying participation in tournament pools is going to be hard to ignore in any wrongful termination suit.

The NCAA also wants this story out of the papers A.S.A.P.; without gambling, college basketball would be followed with all the intensity that college baseball is now, and the popularity of their showcase event largely stems from the participation of millions of people in pools, most of whom have never set foot in Vegas, telephoned a bookie, or set up an off-shore account. Making a common activity seem sinister, and implicity calling many of its devoted fans criminal, are not in the best interest of the NCAA.
Interesting interview with Bill James in Slate, specifically concerning the publication of Moneyball. If I had to pick the writer who has had the most influence on me, it would either be Bill James or Garry Wills.
Who knew they could even use a computer in Norman, Oklahoma?
Excellent take-down of the defenses now being used by the Administration (and their shills in the media) for justifying the Iraqi war: that everyone believed Iraq had WMD's, not just the President. I would add an additional bit of mendacity: that skeptics of the WMD claim are overlooking the fact that Saddam was a monster, the so-called "mass graves" argument. In fact, almost everyone, from Pat Robertson to Noam Chomsky, pretty much agreed that Saddam was a bad guy before the war. Since the planet is filled with nasty dictators, and the U.S. military can't be everywhere at the same time, that rationale won't sell the public on a war unless that dictator is an imminent threat. In Kosovo, President Clinton was able to sell the humanitarian rationale for intervention to NATO, and we went in with French support. And it worked.

For whatever reason, the brutality of Hussein's regime was always a tertiary issue with Bush, behind the WMD and "links to Osama" rationales. Secretary Powell's speech before the UN mainly focused on the weapons, and our justification for going to war, that Iraq had failed to comply with UN Resolutions 687 and 1441, dealt specifically with provisions concerning WMD's. France, Germany and Russia did not agree that the threat was imminent, and for that reason were tagged with the label, "The Axis of Weasels". The Axis of Weasels were most decidedly not of the opinion that Saddam was a nice guy.

But on the issue of WMD's, the Weasels were right. They nailed it. Rather than dissing the French for loving Jerry Lewis, lame rock-n-roll, pretentious filmmaking, and being unappreciative for American support in the two world wars, we should be praising them, for loving Clint Eastwood, John Coltrane, Jules and Jim, and saving our bacon during the Revolutionary War. And for an astute, cautious foreign policy that has now been vindicated.

And no, the fact that Saddam was a monster doesn't justify the rigid certainty that Bush and other used to start a war over WMDs. It means the Iraqis who are still alive, whose families and property survived the war intact, can have a brighter future. For that reason alone, I'm glad we won the war. But as an American, I have to deal with the consequences that my government might have lied to me about what it knew before the war. Already, our government is hinting that Iran has WMD's, as well as ties to terrorists. Those hints may be true, but I have no reason to give Donald Rumsfeld the benefit of the doubt. And I doubt other countries will too, especially since the "coalition of the willing" seems to have been treated as a collection of suckers.

Moreover, unlike Iraq, Iran is not exactly a death camp. There is an opposition to the mullahs, an opposition with democratic legitimacy. In terms of civil liberties, it is about as free a country as Singapore, a nation we have not placed in the axis of evil. On the other hand, it has supported terrorism. They may be responsible for the deaths of Amercian servicemen still in Iraq. A case can be made that Iran is a much more imminent threat than Iraq was, but who in this Administration can now credibly make that case. At best, they're incompetent bunglers who put American (and Iraqi) lives in peril due to faulty intelligence. At worst, they're liars.

And that won't be set aside, simply because Saddam was a thug. Warbloggers who make ad hominem attacks on their opponents are no better than pundits who make crude sexist remarks about the Dixie Chicks: they're all idiots. Who perhaps would be more comfortable living in Iran.

June 11, 2003

With reports circulating that UW has already decided to fire Rick Neuheisel, the NCAA spin that has been lapped up by sportswriters is that the regulations in question are unequivocal: NCAA tournament pools are a violation of the rules. In fact, the conventional wisdom is wrong; one wishes that the sports pages were less filled with "Steno Sue" Schmidts and Jeff "Kneepad" Gerths, and would actually question the nonsense they are being fed.

To wit, NCAA Bylaw Article 10.3 reads as follows:
Staff members of a member conference, staff members of the athletics department of a member institution
and student-athletes shall not knowingly: (Revised: 4/22/98 effective 8/1/98)
(a) Provide information to individuals involved in organized gambling activities concerning intercollegiate
athletics competition;
(b) Solicit a bet on any intercollegiate team;
(c) Accept a bet on any team representing the institution;
(d) Solicit or accept a bet on any intercollegiate competition for any item (e.g., cash, shirt, dinner) that has
tangible value; or (Revised: 9/15/97)
(e) Participate in any gambling activity that involves intercollegiate athletics or professional athletics,
through a bookmaker, a parlay card or any other method employed by organized gambling. (Revised: 1/9/96, 1/14/97 effective 8/1/97)
As you can see, there are a number of activities that are clearly prohibited, such as using a bookie to place a bet, betting a teaser card at a casino, or even the handshake bet on a game that probably constitutes the majority of bets made on sporting events in this country. NCAA Tournament pools, on the other hand, are not mentioned, either specifically or generally, even though that has been a national tradition for almost two decades, and even though the legality of such pools brings into question whether the state views that as "gambling". The sheer randomness of a pool emphasizes the luck quotient to an extent not typically seen in sports gambling; if anything, a pool has more in common with a state-run lottery than the activities the regulation is supposed to guard against, such as point shaving and game fixing. That Neuheisel received a memo from the school stating that an outside pool was appropriate under the regs in question would seem to strengthen any lawsuit he might later file against the university (and the NCAA) for wrongful termination.

June 10, 2003

This story has James Lileks written all over it.
The bad guys won.

Local legend Matt Welch has teamed up with a blogger from Reno at the new and improved LA Examiner website. Hopefully, this is a taste of what their weekly newspaper will be like...although it seems to be emerging with all the deliberate speed of a Terrance Malick movie.

June 09, 2003

Why Orwell Matters: Anyone notice that the Bush Administration has gotten better (eg., they were concerned about Saddam's "weapons program", not necessarily the WMD's) at Newspeak since Christopher Hitchens became an ad hoc advisor to the President.
One of the reasons why it's so easy for me to root for Rick Neuheisel is that I've realized who he reminds me of: Bill Clinton. The two of them have a great deal in common. Both were prodigies, who came from the hinterlands of America (Clinton from Arkansas, Neuheisel from Arizona) to become nationally prominent in their chosen field. Both men have law degrees, although neither has ever practiced law for any significant period of time, and both have had a habit of parsing every legal technicality to get away with stuff. Both were caught in embarrassing lies about relatively trivial matters. Clinton was the first boomer President, while Neuheisel was the first Gen-X head football coach, and both were the recipients of a great deal of resentment from the people they passed along the way, particularly their contemporaries. The subconscious image that comes to mind when people think of the former President is him playing "Heartbreak Hotel" on his saxophone, just as football fans instinctively think of the song "Margaritaville" when Neuheisel comes to mind. And both have been nicknamed "Slick" by their enemies.

Today is the day that the Washington A.D. is supposed to decide whether Neuheisel gets the boot, but no matter what happens, I know he has a bright future. Of course, you know and I know that putting money into an office tournament pool is "gambling", just as we all know that sexual relationships encompass all matter of activities, including blow jobs. But as Kenneth Starr and Robert Ray discovered to their horror, trying to nail someone who is smarter than you are on a technicality can boomerang. Regardless of whether Neuheisel relied on the now-infamous internal memo approving tournament pools organized by third parties, the existence of that memo makes it next to impossible for either the university or the NCAA to take action without seeming to be grossly unfair. The NCAA regs in question do not specifically mention office pools as a prohibited activity, even though they have been around for ages, and to do so now will invite a huge lawsuit.

From my own personal experience, I can tell you that Rick Neuheisel is one of the most charming people I have ever met. He's funny, engaging, and brilliant, skills that would make him a formidable politician (he's probably a Republican, so I'm not sure I want to encourage that path). And like Bill Clinton, certain people hate him with an intensity so passionate as to be obsessive. Eventually, if you keep giving your enemies a loaded gun, one of them will fire.

Rick Bragg Dept.: much of the research above was done by my loyal stringer, Prof. David ("Smilin' Jr.") Johnson, who reminds me that NCAA head honcho Myles Brand is also a Philosopher (but more to the point, is he a Straussian?).

June 08, 2003

At this point tomorrow night, we will know whether the improbable quest of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to win the Stanley Cup has succeeded. Last night's thorough trouncing of New Jersey in Game 6 has raised expectations in Southern California that this might be the year we capture our first hockey crown, an event utterly unforeseeable as recently as two months ago (even more unforeseeable is the fact that I would be referring to a Ducks' accomplishment in the first person plural, as I could name only a handful of their players when the playoffs began, and had seen probably less than two dozen of their games not involving the Kings since the franchise came into existence). Local baseball fans had a good feeling about the Angels as they entered the playoffs; if not expecting them to win it all, we knew going into the Yankees series last October that they were one of the best teams in baseball. No such expectation accompanied the Ducks first round series with Detroit, of which the local consensus was that they would be lucky not to be swept.

I saw Game 6 at the soon-to-be-shuttered Sherman Oaks Lounge, in the company of bartendress/singer/guitarist Annette Summersett, and noted character actress Shannon Ainsworth. It was Annette's last night behind the bar (she goes back to the U.P. for a sister's wedding, and won't return until the bar has its last call next Sunday). I followed the honorable course of action: I gave her a hug and a nice tip, allowed her to beat me in pool, and then let her have it for rooting against the Ducks the entire playoffs. I also vowed that if the Ducks won Game 7, I would quit smoking....
The Ari Fleischer of Iraq, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, has a new (and surprising) job. One can only hope he is able to restore credibility to that American institution.
One area where I try to cut the President some slack is his daughters. Or, I should say that I try to cut the First Twins some slack, especially when they're pulling the same sorts of stunts that a lot of people, myself included, were doing at their age. The gist of this story is that Jenna and Barb went to a karaoke bar in DC last weekend, got royally hammered, and then didn't tip the D.J. I'm sorry, but since when is it expected that a patron has to tip the D.J. on karaoke night? Doesn't the cover charge and the mark-up on the drinks pay his salary already? Leave 'em alone, and let's concentrate on their dad's extremist policies instead.
This blogger raises a good point about the relative insignificance of the blogosphere in the recent NY Times controversy. He calculates that even if the mighty Instapundit and his numerous minions were to all post something critical of Howell Raines on the same day, it would reach less than 150,000 people, or less than 0.04% of the American people. Taking into account that much of that traffic is from overseas, and a pretty fair share consists of people misdirected from Google and other search engines (I assume that Tennessee law profs have an even worse "Pornikova" problem than I have), and who are less interested in politics, you're dealing with fewer people than those attending ball games this afternoon, or watching Mexican soccer games on Univision each day, or the national audience for anything on MSNBC. If Andres Cantor was to denounce the leftward tilt of the Gray Lady's editorials during a Toluca-Club America match, it would have a much greater impact than anything written by Andrew Sullivan (speaking of which, blogger Roger Ailes has an example of journalistic mendacity by Mr. Sullivan in a recent column that is at least as troubling as anything the NY Times has done recently).

It's humbling to realize how insignificant my favorite little cult really is....
Remember when the Houston Astrodome was called the "Eighth Wonder of the World". I used to think that was the height of pretentiousness, a symbol of Texan pomposity and vulgarity. The Astrodome was viewed as an ugly eyesore by the rest of the country, and the teams that played in it never really obtained an advantage from the home crowd, which was usually seated too far away from the action to provide any assistance. Perhaps the two most memorable events held in the Astrodome, the King-Riggs tennis match and the 1968 Houston-UCLA basketball game, were played on surfaces that were hundreds of feet from the front row of fans, giving the TV viewer the antiseptic experience of watching a practice in an empty gym.

The city of Houston has now built two "modern" stadiums for their baseball and football teams, and the world's smallest indoor football stadium lies dormant for most of the year, according to this Washington Post article. The logical thing would be to tear down the monstrosity, since any effort to renovate the Astrodome into a museum or shopping mall would be incredibly expensive. However, sharing an opinion that is held by no one outside of Harris County, some locals want to maintain the stadium as an historic landmark, and I think they're right. Like the ugly uniforms the Astros used to play in, the Astrodome might have been tacky and vulgar to the rest of us, but to the people of Houston, it meant something grand, and it was what gave them an identity. Like it or not, we shouldn't only try to preserve the beautiful things in our society, since we're much, much more than that.