August 25, 2007

Ecce Angeleno: A terrific slice o' life story out of East L.A., in this morning's local paper, about the last Japanese restaurant in Boyle Heights.

August 23, 2007

Butch van Breda Kolff, R.I.P.: The coach and mastermind behind perhaps the darkest moment in Los Angeles Laker history has died at the age of 84. Coaching the Lakers to two NBA Finals appearances in the late-60's, van Breda Kolff was always remembered for allowing his dislike of Wilt Chamberlain interfere with the Lakers' bid to win the 1969 championship.

In brief, the Lakers had lost to the Boston Celtics in five of the previous seven NBA Finals, and had not yet won a title in Los Angeles. With the teams splitting the first six games by winning on their home courts, the aging Celtics came out fired up in the 7th and deciding game of the 1969 Finals, which for the first time was being played in Los Angeles, and took a commanding lead late in the game. At one point losing in the fourth quarter by 17 points, the Lakers had cut the lead in half with less than six minutes to play, when Chamberlain dislocated his knee while rebounding a ball at the defensive end. Trying gamely to play, the Laker center finally limped off the court with 5:15 to play, and van Breda Kolff moved back-up forward Mel Counts into the center position in place of Chamberlain.

Over the next few minutes, Counts played well; it also helped that his Celtics' counterpart, Bill Russell, had five fouls. The Lakers cut the lead to a point, with Counts hitting two free throws and an outside jumber, with just under three minutes to play. Insofar as Chamberlain couldn't hit free throws to save his life, had no outside shot to speak of, and also had five fouls, Counts gave the Lakers a dimension during that rally that they normally didn't have. The Celtics, aging and in foul trouble, seemed spent.

What happened next is the stuff of nightmares to Laker fans, and still enables Celtic boosters to wake up each morning with some serious wood. With under three minutes to play, the Lakers had three straight chances to take the lead, all of which came to naught; Elgin Baylor put up a wild shot, then Jerry West and Keith Erickson had turnovers on consecutive possessions. On each possession, the Lakers' offense was curtailed by the lack of a dominating inside presence. Finally, with just over a minute to play, Don Nelson put up a desperation shot over an outstretched West, which bounced high off the back iron and into the basket, giving Boston a three-point lead. At the other end, Counts got the ball underneath the basket on the next Laker possession, only to have the ball stripped by Russell. After two more free throws, the Celtics lead grew to five points with less than a minute to play, and would eventually reach eight points. In all, the Lakers went six consecutive possessions between points in the final three minutes.

At some murky point during this sequence of events, Chamberlain had either miraculously recovered from his injury, or had decided to suck it up and play, but in any event had informed his coach that he was ready to go back in. van Breda Kolff, who hadn't gotten along with Chamberlain during the season, exercised the same coach's discretion that would get him fired soon afterwards, and told the greatest player in basketball history to sit down, as Counts was playing well in his absence. The Lakers got no closer than two points the rest of the way, and lost for the sixth time in eight years to their hated rival, 108-106.

In none of the accounts that I have seen does it identify when Chamberlain announced he was ready to go back in. Certainly, the Lakers played well for several minutes after Wilt went to the bench, but on their three possessions where they failed to take the lead, the Celtics had clearly adjusted to Counts' presence on the outside. Even with a crippled Chamberlain, the Lakers could have used him to bottle up the Celtics front court, setting up West, Tommy Hawkins or even Counts to have open shots from the outside.

What's even harder to excuse if you're a Lakers fan is that van Breda Kolff didn't see fit to reinsert Chamberlain in the final minute, when his play under the basket might have sparked a last-ditch comeback. The three-point shot was still a decade in the future, so having a good perimeter player stroking from twenty-three feet out wasn't going to make the game any closer than having Wilt put in a finger roll. Even if the Celtics had held on to win, you still want to have the players out on the court that give you the best chance, and even if putting in Wilt would have been tantamount to a Hail Mary pass, at least the fans and players would feel like the team gave it their best shot. Not bringing Wilt back into the game when he asked to go back in, even during desperation time, was clueless.

After Nelson's shot, the Lakers needed their own miracle, and Counts was clearly not going to do it. van Breda Kolff's stubbornness may not have cost the team a title in '69, any more than Bill Buckner's error necessarily cost the Red Sox the '86 World Series, but it had the same impact on the long-suffering fans of the team. He was a very good coach, and he certainly deserved to be remembered for the overachieving teams he coached at the college level (including a Princeton team that made the Final Four in 1965), so it's sad he'll be remembered for a couple of minutes when he wasn't a good coach.
I never knew a man who had better motives...: I suppose next he'll be quoting Richard III....

August 21, 2007

Atrios somewhat reticently links to this post, which posits that the changes incurred by the 2005 BARF legislation are somehow related to the high rate of foreclosures we're currently seeing. Under the old law, the hypothesis goes, the generous terms by which someone could file Chapter 7 allowed many a homeowner to save his home, receiving a breathing space in which he could stop the forced sale of his property and come current on his mortgage. As someone who loathes the BARF, and who has repeatedly spelled out some of its egregious after-effects, as well as many of its unintended consequences, such as the devastation to the credit card industry caused by the mere passage of the law, it is a tempting position, but one that I just don't buy.

You see, in American bankruptcy law, there are two avenues available for most consumers, Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Choosing either avenue imposes a court order, called a stay, that stops all debt collection activity, including foreclosures and civil lawsuits. In Chapter 7 cases, the consumer files his paperwork listing his assets and debts, as well as his monthly income and expenses, and more than 9 out of 10 times, the court-appointed Trustee will determine, after a public meeting to which creditors are invited, that the debtor has no assets to liquidate. Thereafter, the consumer receives a discharge, forgiving his unsecured debts; the whole process usually takes four months, tops, although the courts in L.A. are still dealing from the huge backlog of cases resulting from YBK in October, 2005.

However, a Chapter 7 does little to protect the consumer from the Big Bad Wolf trying to foreclose, either now or in the golden, pre-BARF era that was so friendly to consumers. The automatic stay provides a temporary reprieve, but secured creditors like mortgage lenders have always been able to take advantage of a remedy under the law, the Motion for Relief. That motion gives the lender the ability to go before the court and ask that the automatic stay be lifted so that foreclosure proceedings (or evictions) may continue.

Filing such motions is what I used to do for a living, and unless the property involved had a huge equity cushion (exceedingly rare in Chapter 7 cases, since the debtor would presumably borrow off the equity first to pay his debts), I always won. In fact, I was expected to have an order signed by the judge and in my client's hands within six weeks of the case being filed; if it was a repeat filer, I would seek an order for the matter to be heard ex parte, so it wasn't unusual for the client to be able to resume the foreclosure process within three weeks of the filing. And that was under the old law.

Both before and after 2005, homeowners who wanted to stop foreclosures and save their homes filed Chapter 13 bankruptcies. The Chapter 13 case is the preferred option of the authors of the new law, in that it imposes a repayment plan, usually over five years, on the debtor. Since the mortgage lender receives payment on its arrearages over the lifetime of the plan, it is protected, and the court won't grant relief from stay allowing it to pursue the foreclosure.

The problem with the new law is that it imposes additional costs on many debtors, particularly non-homeowners, who make above the median average income in their state. It doesn't impede homeowners from saving their investment through the bankruptcy courts, any more than the old law did. And the old law certainly didn't give a serious breathing spell to those homeowners who filed a Chapter 7 to stop a foreclosure. Joe Biden can be blamed for a lot of things, but not the high foreclosure rate.

August 20, 2007

Is there a genocidal regime or dictator that the ADL won't appease? [link via The Plank]

UPDATE [8/22]: I figured the ADL wasn't going to get away with playing David Irving on the Armenian genocide. Good that they switched course, even though "tantamount to genocide" sounds almost euphemistic, like "almost murder." The ADL long ago forfeited any right to be a gatekeeper for the term.

August 19, 2007

Can a statement by a press flack that it is a policy never to comment on a particular issue the same thing as "declining to comment" on same? Kevin Roderick explores the philological ramifications.
Tilting at Strawmen: Has anyone argued that bloggers will inevitably replace investigative journalists? Or that bloggers can typically do the same sort of reporting as newspaper reporters? Of course not, so what was the point of this op-ed?