January 02, 2004

Yesterday was a special day for me, having grown up an SC fan. Like most fans of college teams, the subject of my loyalties has nothing to do with the college I attended. I went to law school there, but had I gotten my J.D. in Westwood, I would still be a Bruin-hater. Most of the people who follow the Trojans have never set foot on the campus other than to walk through it en route to the Coliseum, and have had even less contact with the school. I liked the Trojans as a kid, even though no one in my family (save my dad, for one semester) ever attended the school, developed an even more passionate attachment as a teenager (around the time I discovered the, er, talent on the sidelines), and remained so after I went off to college in Berkeley. USC is not now the school to which I have the greatest allegiance (that would be dear alma mater CAL), or the school that I follow with most interest (Michigan, their oppenent yesterday, but that's a long story), but it's the team that I always come back to in the end.

Since 1978, there has been little in the way of good news for Trojan fans. The hoops team occasionally tantalizes its fans with a brief run at national prominence, but this is still a UCLA town, from January to the end of March. No team has won more track, swimming and baseball titles than USC, but scholarship limitations put an end to that dominance in the first two sports, and the baseball team, aside from the national title it won a few years back, is now known more for its post-season underachievement (how does a team with Mark McGuire and Randy Johnson not win a title?) than anything else.

The football team had hardly been better. Its recent history was marked by trips to the NCAA doghouse for recruiting and academic violations in the '80's, and by uninspired mediocrity during the '90's. USC lost eleven straight games at one point to their principal rival, Notre Dame, and eight straight to another, UCLA. After Pete Carroll was hired after the 2000 season, things hardly looked up; the Trojans started 2-5 in 2001, and didn't seem appreciably better than they were in the Paul Hackett era. In the thirty or so games since then, USC has looked bad only twice, against Utah in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl, and against CAL in the first half this year. Most of the time, the games haven't even been competitive, and the Trojans typically look like a team playing an offense ten years ahead of everyone else.

For someone who had seen his team hit rock bottom only three years before, to suddenly mute his cheers at the game yesterday so as not to embarrass his host, a Michigan fan, and to actually feel sorry for the outclassed opponent is quite a switch. Even scarier, USC returns most of their stars, and will play a schedule that looks even easier than the one they played this season, when it cost them a spot in the BCS "championship", a game that is now anti-climactic. They will doubtlessly be the prohibitive favorite going into 2004.

But just as I can savor this new-found dominance, I must also remember that glory such as this is fleeting; after the Trojans won the title in '78 (the real title, too, since it shared the honor with a team it had beaten on the road earlier in the season, Alabama), its third title in six years, I couldn't help but think that was the permanent state of things, the way things naturally were. USC competing for the national title was a matter of birthright. It didn't turn out that way. The next year, an even better team suffered a tie midway through the season, and lost out when their rivals, coasting on a cupcake schedule, went perfect. The Trojans were on probation for much of the next five years, rallied briefly under Larry Smith, then collapsed. It can happen again.

But right now, by whatever right I have to use the pronoun, WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS !!

December 31, 2003

English journalism isn't simply tabloids and the fabricated stories that run in the Daily Telegraph. It's also hilariously highbrow sportswriting, as this take on the BCS controversy shows. The piece manages to discuss college football in a manner that no fan of the sport ever would (including a reference to a split national title in 1990 between Colorado and "The Georgia Institute of Technology"), while being completely oblivious to what pisses fans off about the BCS (the fact that computers are incapable of picking the correct teams for the national championship).

Speaking of which, I will be at the Rose Bowl tomorrow, so if anyone wishes to hook up, tailgate, etc., let me know sometime before 7:00 a.m. on the morrow. My source in local government tells me that the President is going to make his first campaign appearance of the year at the Game, so if you have any words of wisdom, I'll be glad to pass them on.

UPDATE: The official story is still that the President will be with family and friends tomorrow at his "ranch". More stuff on the games over at my college football blog, Condredge's Acolytes.

December 30, 2003

I haven't decided whom to support yet in 2004, but Howard Dean sure pisses off the right people, don't he? Dean is the principal example that truth-tellers tend to be a very unpopular sort, at least at first. He's not even close to being as liberal as McGovern was in 1972 (he's not even close to Gore in 2000), he's much closer to the center on most issues than the incumbent President, but he has incurred a level of irrational hatred not seen in American politics since, well, Bill Clinton. The statements that have gotten him into trouble recently (that even Osama is entitled to the presumption of innocence, that the capture of Hussein hasn't made America more safe from terrorism, etc.) are attacked not because they are false (I mean, we're still in an Orange terror alert, and now we're supposed to be paranoid of men with almanacs) but because, regrettably, they are true.

It would feel great to capture OBL alive, then whack him; after all, he has admitted to planning 9/11. But Dean, ironically for someone who is the first major Presidential frontrunner since Reagan to be neither an attorney nor a businessman, knows that false confessions are a dime a dozen in our legal system, and that a fair trial is the only way to establish an accurate historical record of the most grievous injury suffered by our nation in decades. And even supporters of the Iraqi adventure now concede that it had only an incidental relationship to the "war" on terrorism; the justifications we now hear have to do with what a bad actor Saddam Hussein was, which wasn't the argument we were using when trying to bully our allies into this war.

Increasingly, political correctness (or to use the term popular with chickenbloggers, "anti-idiotarianism") has become a weapon used by the right to marginalize dissenting voices. As it did when that same weapon was utilized against conservative student groups and newspapers, though, it has not silenced those voices but given them strength, a feeling that blunt, unpopular truths carry enormous power.

As I said, I don't know if I will vote for Dean in the California primary, which is only about ten weeks away. The anger he has used so effectively to rally the ideologues behind his banner will not help him in the general election (just as it didn't help Barry Goldwater in 1964), but it may well be what the Party needs in the long run. Since 1980, the Democrats have acted in much the same way the Los Angeles Dodgers have the last 25 years, not taking risks and attempting to muzzle anything that sounds remotely unpopular. As with the Dodgers, their occasional successes on the field obscure the fact that the world has changed; the Republicans control politics at every level, from the government to the judiciary to the media, and the old way of doing things doesn't work. In that sense, Tom DeLay is the Billy Beane of politics, someone who has an edge on the rest of us because he knows a new way of doing things that works, and who also knows that the other side hasn't caught on yet.

Clinton, G-- bless him, used a very effective strategy in uniting the base while picking off centrist, and even some right-leaning, voters, but it all but killed the Democrats down-ticket. Dean is popular with Democrats precisely because he understands that attempting to compromise with a foe that wants to fight an all-out war isn't moderation, it's appeasement. Win or lose come November, 2004, he may be the person to start the rebuilding process that has been delayed for too long.
For those of who enjoy the hathos of Andrew Sullivan's vanity site (does the Harvard Crimson follow an affirmative action program to employ idiots?), please take note that he is on "vacation" this week, and his blogging is being done instead by Daniel Drezner, a conservative who actually thinks before he posts.

December 29, 2003

Those of you who own the paperback version of Fast Food Nation might like to re-read the portion starting at page 271, before you become complacent about government "safeguards" concerning Mad Cow Disease.
The circumstances behind the execution-style slaying of former big league outfielder Ivan Calderon get stranger and stranger.