Tuesday, December 23, 2008

they've got big bowls

Dan Wetzel, champion of the NCAA tournament system for college football, on the current bowl system, why we have it and what it looks like on the inside. It's a great article, very informative, even if it stifles debate by accusing anyone who disagrees of being on the take. I'm all for scrapping the system, and even I can admit that the "tradition" of the big bowl games is a perfectly valid argument on its own merits-- in fact, the big bowls and the big rivalries are the only instances where most NCAAF fans see anything relating to "tradition." Hell, I work on most of the most "storied" campuses in college football, and "tradition" here generally is just a euphemism for bizarre superstition and rank hedonism. Oh, and let's not forget ritual mockery of minority ethnicities!

"it opens more doors than it closes"

E.J. Dionne on the Warren invite. Dionne's point is that engaging a powerful pastor who wants to talk about poverty, disease, climate change, and genocide is a win for Democrats and a win for the world and a loss for Republicans. It would be nice if he didn't support prop 8 and believe horrible things about gays, or would at least apologize for his more incendiary comments, but as we've seen with Rich Cizik, support for gay rights is still verboten in the evangelical community. The terrible irony is that, if he did apologize or did support civil unions, he would cease to hold enough support in the evangelical community to be able to sway it in any meaningful way.

What can I say? You go to the inauguration with the country you have, not the country you wish you had.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Warren-mania: throwing God's pit bulls a bone

This morning I heard someone on NPR refer to those angry with Obama for choosing Warren to lead a prayer on Inauguration Day as "activists." What, exactly, makes them "activist?" The act of being disappointed? Why are they "activists," but those who fought to pass Prop 8 are merely "social conservatives" or even worse, "family advocates?"

While we're at it, it's not like liberals and liberal-leaners don't have a legitimate beef with Obama's choice; after all, he now has more Republicans in his administration than avowed liberals, and does so even if you concede that Hillary Clinton is a liberal. You can't swing a cat in Obama's cabinet without hitting a blue dog or three.

Nevertheless, it's worth considering that apparently there will be 2 preachers at Obama's inauguration, and the one giving the closing benediction is GLBT friendly. That, I would imagine, is a first, while every previous preacher probably had views similar to Warren. Furthermore, for all Warren's faults, he's willing to lead the evangelical community back to sanity on aid to the poor, HIV/AIDS work, and climate change. Obama and the Democrats have an interest in seeing Warren's influence over the evangelical community further increase for those reasons. Obama wants to send a message to the evangelical community that they matter in an Obama Administration, that they don't have to go Republican to have leaders who listen to them, and gay-friendly evangelical pastors just don't have much credibility within that community.

Plus, let's face it, this isn't exactly a cabinet position.

UPDATE: And as I write that Obama has appointed hardly any progressives, he names Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor, who's almost as solidly pro-labor as you can get.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Captain Obvious brings you TIME's Person of the Year


It's true that they shouldn't get into the habit of making every new president the Person of the Year, but really, this one is pretty clearly the right call. Barack has dominated the news the entire year, he's felled two of America's political titans, taken over the Democratic party, and been forced to become de facto president 2 months early. His election victory made millions of people proud to be Americans again and humbled formerly snickering European nations who have been forced to admit that, for all their liberal politics, they're not yet egalitarian enough to elect an ethnic minority head of the government. That victory also led the Iraqi government to finalize a power-sharing agreement with the United States, now confident that the next president will fulfill Bush's promise to leave Iraq.

These are really cool.

TIME also gives an uninspired list of runners up and "people who mattered," including people like John McCain and Sarah Palin who were proven notably inconsequential in front of the Obama steamroller. In fact, I would have added Katie Couric to the list of special people for single-handedly laying the death knell to Sarah Palin's fledgling career in national politics. Nevertheless, Palin landed a runner-up slot rather than Hillary Clinton, who was the first legitimate female presidential contender, a far tougher, more resilient opponent than McCain/Palin, and who exits 2008 with a much louder bull-horn than Palin as Secretary of State. More of that vaunted media "balance," I'm guessing. Both McCain and Palin place higher, incidentally, than Robert Mugabe, who has certainly influenced more lives worldwide more profoundly, not to mention international politics. One name is conspicuously missing from the list entirely, and it's the only name I can think of that could possibly have "mattered" this year anywhere near as much as Barack Obama: Vladimir Putin.

Yet TIME saw fit to add Robert Downey, Jr. to the list instead.

It looks like TIME's only real metric for deciding these lists is who gets the most mentions in the news, but that's a terrible way to decide who makes the most significant impact. In the case of Obama, that works because the United States has been obsessed with him all year long, but that system also preferences celebrity over substance. Hence you get Michael Phelps on your list because Phelps won 8 swimming medals, and not Hu Jintao, who is the president of the biggest nation on the planet and the one that hosted said Olympics. You get the CEO of Lehman Bros. because his firm made a big splash when it splattered against the pavement, but you don't get Alan Greenspan or Phil Gramm, who may be the two figures most intimately responsible for the economic collapse that's now affected the entire world. You get Mikheil Saakashvili because his name showed up in the news a lot for "poking the Russian bear," but the big winner in that conflict, the one who looked a lot bigger afterwards and affected the state of international politics, was the bear. And, of course, you get people like Downey and Phelps and Tina Fey, people we liked to watch but who weren't meaningful to our lives. Does making 2 successful movies that revive your moribund acting career mean you "mattered" this year in the same sense that Hillary Clinton or Henry Paulson "mattered?"

Friday, December 12, 2008

questioning their patriotism

The Senate Republicans torpedoed a bailout for the American auto industry, exposing countless thousands and perhaps millions of workers to the specter of unemployment during a depression, at a time of unprecedented job losses, and did so specifically because the Democrats were unwilling to cut worker salaries enough. Not executive salaries, but worker salaries. And it's an open secret that many of these Senators did so with an eye toward the welfare of the foreign automakers who employ their constituents.

That's some shameful shit.

I want you to remember this next time some pseudo-Everyman southern Republican switches out his Confederate bars for the Stars and Stripes and impugns the patriotism of liberals or Democrats.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

all politics is national

My neighborhood is an old one, a haggard remnant of the Studebaker days, much like the city itself. Things had been looking up, though: many of the houses were bought up and renovated, and sold to younger families getting their start. My block was 80% unoccupied only 5 short years ago, and by last year every house save one at the end of the block was owner occupied. The mayor, meanwhile, bulldozed most of the abandoned and condemned buildings. We planted new trees and surrounded the homes with landscaping and gardens, joined neighborhood watch groups and listservs, and got the city to start plowing our alleys again.

Then the housing market crashed and the credit markets seized up. Suddenly none of the people who were planning to move can sell their house, even here, a thousand miles from the nearest housing bubble hot spot. There are several "for sale" signs nearby that have sat outside for months, and at least one of neighbors gave up trying to sell his house, and had to settle for anything that would help him recoup the cost of keeping it. Thus, for the first time in years, we have renters on our block again. Some jobs dried up, the people on the margins of the neighborhood fell on harder times, and in the blink of an eye we've found ourselves the collective victims of a massive wave of thefts and burglaries.

Sometime last night, my household suffered its own glancing blow as an intruder shattered the garage window and rode off on my bike, the shiny, black Schwinn with collapsing saddlebags I wrote about in June. It was my first bike in 20 years. I got to own it a grand total of 6 months.

RIP 88.1 KTXT

From the website:
Texas Tech University's Student Media department is undergoing several changes. The most significant of those changes occurred today when KTXT-FM, the university's student-run radio station, ceased its broadcasts on 88.1 FM and ktxt.net.

Control of the radio station's FCC license, which is maintained by the university, is being shifted from the Student Media department to Texas Tech's other educational radio station, KOHM-FM.

No firm plans regarding the future of the 88.1 FM frequency or the related Web site have been announced.

Lubbock is an isolated, desolate place. The closest cities of any size (Fort Worth, Austin, Albuquerque) are all 5-6 hours away. The weather map during the news looks like a brown grid with a dot in the middle labeled "Lubbock," surrounded by smaller dots with labels that sound more like landmarks than towns: Brownfield, Levelland, Muleshoe, Sweetwater. The landscape is uninviting. Sure, there are buildings and trees planted in the city, but if you drive too far out, you see the rows of houses and lawns just... well, end, and flat, arid plains stretching out over the horizon, the relentless wind building little dust devils in the dirt.

The radio is sort of like that, too: isolated and desolate. There are a bunch of Clearchannel stations, including a crusty rock frequency in the middle of the dial whose aging DJ's play more Led Zeppelin and Van Halen than all the bands from the last 10 years combined, and a mixed 80's, 90's, 00's station that seems to have stopped buying CD's in 2002. Then there's all the pop country and Tejano stations, with a couple of Christian ones sprinkled in between, and one classical station. There is no NPR.

Hanging out on the left end of all that isolation, however, the kids always had K-TXT, Texas Tech's student-run radio station. The station was good by any college radio standards, with a frequently updated playlist that included lots of up and coming acts and was intentionally defiantly short on the top 20 hits. They played music that was catching on outside the twin bubbles of West Texas and MTV. Their DJ's were hip, snobby, Parliament-smoking college students who wore Goodwill sweaters and corduroys and t-shirts that said: "88.1 K-TXT: Don't ask me about music."

In the late 80's, my buddy Shane got us into it, and he (and the purple-haired girl who turned him onto 88.1) became perhaps the only kids at Matthews Junior High to own The Cure's Disintegration. A couple of years later, we all got Wish (which I still contend is the better album of the two). There is virtually no end to the litany of bands I first heard on 88, from the now-classics like The Pixies to alternative babes like Juliana Hatfield and Tanya Donnelly and Kim Deal to alt-country "y'allternative" rockers The Old 97's and Ryan Adams.

88 was far from perfect; in fact, much of the music they played I found unlistenable. Even the crap, however, was at least new crap. It was unmanufactured, non-mass-produced crap. It was crap that hipsters all over the country were listening to and pretending to like so they could look avant-garde.

The good stuff, however, was far better than anything any other station had to offer. It made us feel like we were plugged in, like we hadn't left the 21st century at the base of the Caprock on our way in.

And just like that, the station that over the years introduced me to The Cure, The Pixies, The Old 97's, and Rilo Kiley falls silent.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Blago goin' down

With prosecutorial pit bull Patrick Fitzgerald tapping his phones and half the national media watching to see who gets Barack Obama's senate seat, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich goes that extra mile to prove that he's the dumbest f**king guy on the planet.

According to Fitzgerald's report, Obama was on Blago's shit list because he wasn't willing to play along.

Monday, December 08, 2008

the BCS must die

Around this time last year, Dan Wetzel at Yahoo! sports advocated an NCAA basketball-style tournament to replace the BCS. I drew out what that tournament would have looked like in 2006, and I liked what I saw. It looked like a great idea at the time, and after seeing the carnage of yesterday, it looks even better today. Both teams in the Mythical National Championship Game have a loss, and at last count there are at least 6 other teams with one loss on their record, and most of their losses were smaller eyesores than Florida's faceplant against Ole Miss at home.

And that's not even counting the two undefeated teams, both of whom have previous BCS bowl game victories under their belts. One of those teams, Boise St., didn't even land a BCS game at all despite posting one of the most exciting victories in BCS history. Another team, Texas Tech, had the unfortunate luck of playing in a strong conference, and likewise will not be playing in a BCS game despite finishing #7 at 11-1.

So what would December/January look like if we had said tournament? Behold:

Right out of the gate there's a monster matchup: Texas Tech-Ohio State. The following round we'd likely see the winner play Florida, along with 'Bama-USC (!) on the other side, and a potential 2006 rematch between Boise St. and Oklahoma (or alternatively Penn St. and Oklahoma). If Florida wants to make it to the championship, they'd almost certainly have to beat Texas on the way there; Oklahoma's scary offense would have to face down one of the two best D's in the country-- the Trojans or the Tide. And there's plenty of room for BCS busters to make waves: Texas would have to play East Carolina and the winner of TCU-Utah (anyone out there really think the Utes wouldn't give Texas hell?), and Boise St. faces a relatively untested Penn St. before advancing to the Sooners.

Oh well. One can dream.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Arrr Qaeda?

An interesting op-ed in the NYT on the similarities between piracy and terrorism from a legal standpoint. Nevertheless, I'm a little tired of all these "whatever I don't like=terrorism" arguments, perhaps because they're akin to the truly absurd "whoever I don't like=Hitler" screeching. Furthermore, the "pirates=terrorists" argument is a specious one on several other levels (in most senses, the obvious analog to pirates is not terrorists but brigands), and that sloppiness of argument muddies the editorialist's legal point.

We don't have to remake pirates into terrorists in order to know what to do about them or galvanize the will to act against them. They're pirates. You're not going to have to worry about pro-pirate sentiment among your constituents or the pro-pirate lobby derailing your UN mandate to extend navies' jurisdictions to acts of piracy.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

as silly as ND's tizzy over Weis was

...at least we're not Auburn. From Matt Hinton, formerly SMQ:
Update the coaching board already: Word has emerged from the Auburn bunker, and it is that Tommy Tuberville is out as head coach. Official announcement could come later today.

Auburn lost six of its last seven since the start of October, with the only win coming against Tennessee-Martin, but otherwise, Tuberville only went undefeated four years ago, beat the hated cross-state rival six times in a row and won 45 more games in 10 years than he lost, is all.

Tommy friggin' Tuberville, who won the Iron Bowl so many times it stopped looking like a rivalry, who upset Florida during their title run just 2 short years ago, who went undefeated (in the SEC!) only 4 years ago, and who sports an 85-40 record over 10 years as head coach, is out after one 5-7 season.
For most of Tommy Tuberville's 10 seasons as Auburn coach, the Tigers were the best college football team in a state where that title is almost as important as the national championship.

In 2008, Nick Saban and Alabama took the state back as Tuberville's Tigers faltered, and that was enough to make Auburn want a change in leadership.

God help you if you can't make it 7 in a row against the Tide, apparently.

My biggest worry is that Auburn made so bold a play because they've already got a lock on Mike Leach. Stay away from our coach, vultures!

Canuckistan

Don't look now, but apparently Canada's suddenly found themselves in the midst of a constitutional crisis.

Here's the skinny: the conservatives formed a minority government, lacking an absolute majority themselves or an opposing coalition majority to oust them. As the Canadian economy tanked, the Tories came to be seen as unresponsive to the crisis and lost the confidence of the rest of Parliament. Thus, a union of opposition parties (including, notably, Bloc Quebecois) are planning a no-confidence vote to dissolve the parliament, and are even considering forming their own coalition government.

The monkey wrench comes in PM Stephen Harper's reaction to these negotiations: he's asked the Governor-General to adjourn the parliament, which has only been in session for 2 weeks and has not yet passed a single bill. So now the GG, who's been considered as archaic a figurehead as the Queen across the pond, suddenly has a hugely important decision to make: allow the PM to preempt his own ouster, or to commit the very rare act of denying the PM's request, and if so and if Harper is ousted, to allow the opposition to form a government or hold another election only 2 months after the last one.

UPDATE: The GG has granted the PM's request. Parliament is adjourned, but only until January.