June 02, 2006

A good primer on the tactical divide that prevents the left side of the spectrum from consistently winning, by the Grumpy Forester.
We're now less than a week from the quadrennial sporting baccanallia that is the World Cup. Even with the recent growth of soccer in the United States, and especially the expansion in fan interest in the event, most American sports fans still possess an attitude that ranges from casual dismissal to frothing disdain at the world's biggest sporting competition. To that end, I am repeating my efforts of four years ago, and comparing the teams at this year's World Cup to an event near and dear to the hearts of many of my compatriots, the NCAA basketball tournament.

The two events have much in common, from the intense national focus they generate, even after the local favorite has gone home, to the early-round interest in seeing an upset by a school/nation no one has heard of over a long-time power. So, without further adieu, your Field of 32:
Brazil: Kentucky (great history, exciting style; can never be ignored); actually, the college team most like Brazil is USC’s football team, a second-choice national fan favorite with its relentless offense, the band, and the gorgeous young women dancing on the sidelines. It’s a different sport, but Brazil always seems to play a different game, and like the Trojans, they always seem to bring the most stars. Fight on, Brazil...

France: Florida (recent champs, with an all-or-nothing tradition; interestingly, the star player for both teams is a French-born son of African immigrants)

Argentina: UConn (perennial favorite; talented, but bland)

England: Kansas (oldest tradition in the sport, with a history of choking in big games)

Germany: Arizona (guaranteed to qualify, but going through a down-period), or Duke (talented, smart, and the team everyone loves to hate)

Spain: Illinois (always talented, but never win a damned thing)

Italy: UCLA (great history, and a defensive juggernaut) or North Carolina (good counterpoint to Germany)

Portugal: Washington (on the attack, but never fails to disappoint at the Dance)

Mexico: Gonzaga (high seed, overrated, will win a few games but under-perform when it counts)

Cote d’Ivoire: MAC champions (at least one African team always "surprises", and even if they don't get out of the first round, they'll make the foes bleed)

Czech Republic: Villanova

Saudi Arabia: MAAC champs

Croatia: Mountain West champions

U.S.A.: Nevada (solid recent performances earn it a high seed, but beware the weak conference)

Australia: Creighton

Sweden: California (perennial underachievers; rarely excite or do anything to convince people they have a legit shot at winning anything)

Ghana: MVC at-large team (see Cote d'Ivoire; their opener against Italy has the potential to be the upset of the tourney)

Costa Rica: Pacific (underrated; their next bad first round game will be their first)

Paraguay: Bucknell (overachievers)

Iran: Montana

Ukraine: Tennessee (sudden emergence at the top-flight, easily winning a tough qualifier but have a lot to prove)

Poland: 4th at-large team from Big Ten (see Sweden)

Angola: SWAC champs

Holland: Texas (exciting, offensive-minded team that never wins the big one)

Japan: George Washington

South Korea: George Mason (memorable Cinderella run recently; iffy long-term prospects)

Ecuador: Air Force (it's the thin air)

Togo: Big South tournament champions

Serbia: Syracuse (boring, mediocre and defensive; will play down to their opponents)

Switzerland: Wisconsin

Trinidad & Tobago: Play-in winner

Tunisia: Sunbelt tournament champions
And of course, feel free to dis my comparisons if you have any better ideas....

June 01, 2006

Having been skeptical of the claims made by some that the 2004 election was rigged, I would be remiss if I didn't link to one of the more thorough treatments of the subject, which concludes that the outcome was one of the most fraudulent in the history of democracy. Having seen exit polling give consistently inaccurate results in the past, I take the amount of faith the writer gives these polls with a grain of salt. And the fact that it is theoretically possible to rig a voting machine doesn't mean that it happened in 2004. But the weight of evidence, the totality of circumstances, are just too overwhelming to ignore...[UPDATE {6/3}: Or maybe the evidence should be reexamined. Two different reviews, here and here, of the allegations contained herein question the charges that Ohio was rigged (second link via Armed Liberal). The exit polling-as-gospel charge has always been the weak link in the conspiracy arsenal; besides the example of exit polling errors giving Clinton a much larger victory in 1992 than he actually won, the exit polls also gave Michael Dukakis a slight edge in 1988, and gave wins to Tom Bradley in 1982 and Neil Kinnock in 1992.]

May 31, 2006

The report, released today, exonerating Lance Armstrong for blood doping before his 1999 Tour de France victory, also takes a long-overdue crack at the unethical conduct of the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) and the autocratic martinet who runs it, Dick Pound. Among its findings are that the tests conducted on the urine samples tied to Armstrong did not satisfy even the minimum standards for a finding of a positive result, and that WADA, the laboratory that conducted the test, and the French ministry in charge of the lab all refused to provide evidence and fully cooperate with the investigation.
Troubling, but predictable:
With immigration perhaps America's most volatile issue, a troubling backlash has erupted among its most fervent foes. There are, of course, the Minutemen, the self-appointed border vigilantes who operate in several states. And now groups of militiamen, white supremacists and neo-Nazis are using resentment over the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. as a potent rallying cry. "The immigration furor has been critical to the growth we've seen" in hate groups, says Mark Potok, head of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. The center counts some 800 racist groups operating in the U.S. today, a 5% spurt in the past year and a 33% jump from 2000. "They think they've found an issue with racial overtones and a real resonance with the American public," says Potok, "and they are exploiting it as effectively as they can."


In addition to white supremacists, the immigration debate seems to have reinvigorated members of the antigovernment militias of the 1990s. Those groups largely disbanded after the Oklahoma City bombing orchestrated by militia groupie Timothy McVeigh and, later, the failure of a Y2K bug to trigger the mass chaos some militia members expected. "We've seen people from Missouri and Kentucky militias involved in border-vigilante activity, especially with the gung-ho Arizona group Ranch Rescue that used face paint, military uniforms and weapons," says Mark Pitcavage, fact-finding director of the ADL. "It's a natural shift. Militias fell on hard times, and this anti-immigration movement is new and fresh."
As Time Magazine details, the resurgence of hate groups, like the Minutemen and the Klan, in the context of the immigration reform battle in Congress, only raises the stakes for why any enforcement-only measure cannot be allowed to pass the Senate. There can be no appeasement with the forces of hate. [link via Crooks and Liars

May 30, 2006

Back when I was writing about YBK, I used a chart showing the relationship between home values and a number of other variables, including bankruptcy filing rates and voting patterns in Presidential elections. The most recent numbers are out, and they still show the strong correlation between rising property values over the past quarter-century and Democratic voting in Presidential elections. The twenty-five states that have seen the smallest increase in home prices since 1980 are, without exception, states that cast ballots for George Bush in the last election. All but six of the states in the top half went for Kerry, and of the Red States that cracked the top twenty-six, five (Virginia, Florida, Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada) are states that are either Purple States and/or trending Democratic, and the other state, Montana, has a strong historical track record of backing progressive Democrats in statewide elections.

In the meantime, here's an interesting summary of what the recent flood of foreclosures means, and how the new bankruptcy law has exacerbated the problem. [link via Susie Madrak]

May 29, 2006

Back from Vegas, where I just spent an exhausting weekend with my buds from college (and their children). For many people, the drive from Vegas to LA on Sunday (or Monday holiday) is one of the most discouraging travel itineraries, an event lasting from 6-7 hours, depending on the traffic on the I-15. Few locals have heard of the Pearblossom Hwy shortcut, a straight, flat road that cuts across the northern part of Los Angeles County, starting in Victorville, and which is invariably empty. Since the worst traffic on the 15 is always south of Victorville heading into the Cajon Pass, this simple detour will save the driver at least a half-hour every trip.