Saturday, July 28, 2007

On holiday

The Great Unannounced Summer Blog Break of 2007 is likely to continue into early August. Also, it's now announced.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I'll see you on the other side.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Just slightly off message

Sure, you could ask why the American public had to pay for leaders of the nonpartisan Office of National Drug Control Policy "to appear at about 20 political events with vulnerable Republican members of Congress before the 2006 elections." You also could ask why they seemingly made far fewer appearances alongside Democratic or independent congressmen in that time period.

But it'd be better just to be quiet and let the office's White House liaison speak on the matter: "The director and the deputies deserve the most recognition because they actually had to give up time with their families for the god awful places we sent them."

Swing districts. Imagine the horror.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

None for the record books

Two sayings come to mind regarding the NCAA's sanctions against the Oklahoma football program. First, the punishment should fit the crime. And second, you can't change history.

The NCAA found Oklahoma guilty this week, not of a crime, but of a "failure to monitor" its players' employment at a car dealership, with three of them being paid for work they didn't do. The school self-reported the violations, so it received a relatively lenient penalty: four lost scholarships, two extra years of probation, and the vacation of all eight wins from the 2005 season.

The first two are all well and good, but the erasure of history is troublesome on a few levels. For one thing, retroactively changing game results from two years ago has its limits as a deterrent to bad behavior. Yes, it's a blow to school pride, but it doesn't have any real effect on a team's present ability to compete, which is what ultimately brings in the big revenue and national attention.

Second, it's silly to ask everyone to forget that those games ever happened. The Sooners won eight games on the field two years ago, and newspaper archives forevermore will prove it. Vacation of wins can lead to some comically twisted record books. In this case, the official account is now that Oklahoma went only 0-4 and then received a Holiday Bowl payout despite never officially playing in a bowl. (Equally absurd is the post-forfeit version of Alabama's 1993 season, wherein the Crimson Tide, 9-3-1 on the gridiron, officially went 0-11, made it to the SEC title game, and then won the Gator Bowl.)

Third, stripping the 2005 Sooners team of its wins punishes the vast majority of Oklahoma players who were not found to have done anything wrong. That's not to say that it's never OK to reverse an athletic event's outcome due to rule-breaking, of course. If a player uses performance-enhancing drugs or shaves points, for example, that has a clear causal connection to victory or the margin thereof, and it's only right to overturn the outcome. But when, as in the Oklahoma case, the off-field actions aren't directly tied to on-field performance, it's a tougher call to wipe out a team's achievements when most of the athletes whose play won the games did nothing wrong.

Plenty of more effective deterrents exist. Large scholarship cuts have a huge impact on a program's finances and success, and lengthy probation leaves violating schools in the danger zone for even more serious penalties for years to come. Fines and postseason bans also are effective monetary penalties, and the death penalty is still an option in the most egregious cases.

The NCAA has more than enough power to make schools suffer in the present and future for rules violations. It should be judicious in extending that power to the past, too.

So now we need permission

Maybe I don't understand this whole war on terrorism thing.

To me, it would seem that when you have "high certainty" about the location of many top al-Qaeda leaders -- you know, terrorists responsible for almost 3,000 murders on American soil on 9/11 -- and you have the U.S. military ready for a "snatch and grab" mission, you'd want to have the military get them and get out.

But again, perhaps I don't understand. Because according to The New York Times, when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld faced that very situation in 2005, he called off a planned raid. Why? Because he didn't have permission from the president of Pakistan to send in a few hundred troops to grab some top leaders of a group that killed almost 3,000 people on American soil.

Well, we certainly wouldn't want to seem impolite.


President Bush on Feb. 10, 2004, discussing the disclosure of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name: "If there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. If that person has violated law, that person will be taken care of."

Bush on Thursday, discussing the Plame investigation: "I'm aware of the fact that perhaps somebody in the administration did disclose the name of that person. ... [I]t's been a tough issue for a lot of people in the White House. It's run its course and now we're going to move on."

Did I miss some accountability somewhere in there?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Gulf Coast bias

I'm a rabid Alabama fan. With few exceptions, I'm a strict SEC loyalist during bowl season. I have no business defending the Pac-10. But thanks to Les Miles, I'm about to do it anyway.

LSU's football coach, with kickoff still a couple of months away, has taken to filling the offseason with incendiary comments, the most notorious of which was his description of the Crimson Tide with the adjectival form of the F-bomb. But as uncouth as it may have been, you can chalk that up to an SEC West rivalry that became a million times more intense the moment Alabama made LSU's crystal-football golden boy, Nick Saban, the highest-paid college coach in the nation.

Where Miles entered the realm of the bizarre, though, was asserting a couple of weeks ago that USC's schedule, heavy on Pac-10 opponents, would allow it to roll to the national title game with only minimal opposition. A simple look at USC's schedule disproves that. Many phrases come to mind when I see a slate that requires trips to five bowl teams: Arizona State, California, Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Oregon. "Minimal opposition" isn't one of them. (In fairness, I'd prefer that schedule to LSU's gauntlet of Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia Tech, even with all but one of those games at home, but that still doesn't mean the Trojans have an easy row to hoe.)

Underlying the whole brouhaha is the age-old argument about which conference is the best, and your answer probably depends largely on your region of choice. As a long-time connoisseur of Southern football, I tend to see the SEC, on average, as the nation's premier football league. But I recognize, as any clear-headed fan of the game should, that conference strength ebbs and flows, as Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel has asserted repeatedly.

No one league is permanently the best in every single season. Nor are the same teams always in the top tier. It's easy to argue the SEC's top six programs -- Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, and Tennessee -- are better than any other league's top six. But it's also important to consider the ebb and flow of power within conferences. In the last 15 years, every Pac-10 school has played in a bowl that's a member of today's BCS, compared to only six teams from the SEC. That degree of internal fluctuation means Pac-10 teams rarely can point to a conference game as a gimme, because no opponent is more than a few years away from having been in the spotlight or getting there again.

Thanks to the NCAA's scholarship limitations, even the top programs in the top conference are never more than a few plays away from falling to average teams from other leagues. LSU fans who remain unsure of this fact should just look to the 2005 Arizona State game, which the Tigers beat a mediocre Pac-10 squad with a fourth-down touchdown with a minute left, or the 2004 Oregon State game, which they won against an Insight Bowl-bound team only when the Beavers' kicker missed three extra points, or the 2000 UAB game, when a four-loss Conference USA team walked into the fearsome Death Valley night and strolled out with a victory.

The SEC is touted as the nation's best conference right now, and I think that's as it should be. But it's important to remember that hype isn't always reality: Back in December, sports commentators were crowning the Big Ten as the king of the sport, and you see how that turned out. The beauty of college football is its unpredictability -- everyone who had Wake Forest as the ACC champion last year raise your hand -- and that state of flux is a big part of what makes the game so fun to watch.

It's fine to claim the SEC is the toughest conference around. But it'd be wrong to say that everyone else has it easy.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Literal answers to rhetorical questions

From a Birmingham News story Tuesday: "[W]ho's to say the perfect burger isn't worth $18 or even $100?"

Me. I am to say this. I will never pay $100 for a hamburger. At least not until inflation makes me.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

What, he worry?

Helpful life hint: If you find yourself convicted of a couple of counts of perjury -- actually, let's throw in convictions for obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal investigators, too, just for good measure -- make sure you stay on good terms with the president so you don't have to get within a country mile of a prison cell.

Double bonus if you used to hold a high post in the executive branch and/or the Cheney branch. Triple bonus if the president in question is so unpopular that he doesn't seem to think there's much downside in talking about pardoning you completely, even though almost 70 percent of Americans don't want that to happen.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Yeah, I'd call that a protest

Of all the things you expect to read in a story about the 2008 presidential race, a line like this can't be one of them: "Seamus expressed his discomfort with a diarrhea attack."

Not much more to say on this one

I've tried a couple of times to conjure up a detailed post about Thursday's sentencing of HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy and former Gov. Don Siegelman on corruption convictions. But honestly, it's tough to contribute much beyond the axiomatic.

The defense wanted no prison time. The prosecution wanted 25 or 30 years. The sentence ended up somewhere in the middle. Siegelman will continue to say, as he has from the beginning, that the case was politically motivated. The government will continue to say, as it has from the beginning, that it wasn't. The defendants will appeal. The courts will decide. We'll hear about it.

Meanwhile, two men who once sat at the top of the state's business and political worlds will sit in federal prison instead. And one would hope that Alabama will pause for a moment at some point to reflect on how it all came to this.