Basketball Stat of the Day
HBO has been showing a documentary on the UCLA dynasty from 1964-1975, and it's highly recommended for all fans of the college game and plain old sports fans, period. The show's an excellent blend of the serious and comic, and a large number of former Bruins are wonderful interviews (Sidney Wicks is hilarious. Who knew?).
The following statistic is lifted from the program. In the 1971-1972 season, Bill Walton's sophomore year (no freshmen allowed back then), the UCLA team not only went a perfect 30-0 and won the school's sixth consecutive NCAA title, its average margin of victory in those 30 games was 30 points!
Should Florida win its second consecutive title Monday night, which could easily happen, and Jim Nantz and Billy Packer start babbling about the Gators' status as one of college basketball's historically dominant teams, keep that stat in mind.
Excellence, even championship-level excellence is one thing. True dominance is another altogether.
Reflections on Mortality-Sports Division
The Saturday of the Final Four is the second-longest day of the year for sports fans, trailing only Super Bowl Sunday in its weight of time on one's hands.
Not only am I old enough to remember when the first semi-final game had a 1 p.m. tipoff, I covered a Final Four that did.
Reflection the second: Bad enough that Doc Rivers' kid is a freshman reserve for Georgetown. Worse that I covered Doc when HE was in high school.
Memo from Washington: Don't Shut the Door!
Those seeking illumination on the workings of the federal government are urged to read the current issue of the periodical Government Security. Let's put it this way. I sincerely hope Osama bin Laden is not a subscriber. If he is, we're screwed.
By and large, Government Security is sort of a cross between Car and Driver and the Sharper Image catalog for cops and bureaucrats in the security field. Most of the magazine is devoted to spiffy new gadgets produced by corporations whom I'm sure you'll be surprised to learn have the last two pages of the issue all to themselves for free ads for said gadgets.
So far, so good. Then there are the articles. These, believe it or not, are pretty much on the level. For example, the lead story was on the $1 billion increase in the Bush administration Homeland Security budget for technology upgrades. This, of course, was a Very Good Thing. The author and magazine did have the integrity to point out the bulk of the $1 billion increase would go to the Secure Border Initiative Network a/ka/ the virtual border fence that every American over five knows is a useless boondoggle that'll make the anti-missle defense program look good by comparison.
The real gem in Government Security was well-disguised with pictures of gadgets, charts, and technical acronyms. Readers who push through the clutter are rewarded with bellylaughs.
The General Services Administration basically buys all federal office supplies and runs its buildings. In the interests of security, the GSA has upgraded the plastic swipe cards by which employees can access to the buildings where they work and secure floors therein. The spiffy new cards are individually coded. They have the workers' picture, security clearance if any, civil service level, how they take their coffeee, the whole schmear. They were expensive, but as old swipe cards expire and employees begin using their new ones, the improvements in security, efficiency, and the reduced need for human guards will justify the purchase.
Or maybe not. There's a problem. The scanning devices at each and every federal building can't handle the increaaed amount of digital information on the cards. They shut down. Replacing them is unbelievably expensive even by government standards, and in any case, cannot be accomplished before the new cards replace the old ones.
So, either the government is going to be forced to hire a guard for every door on its property, or we'll have the largest demonstration in the history of Washington, D.C., hundreds of thousands of civil servants milling about the National Mall, unable to get to work.
"Let me in dammit! I'm Chief Justice Roberts, I tell you!"
The GSA is the agency run by that nice Laurita Doan woman whose short-term memory loss was so pronounced when she testified before Congress last week. It's to be expected someone coping with such a serious disability might make a teeny mistake in purchasing.
The Government Security article closed with a memorable sentence: "Chaos is feared imminent." Come to think of it, that sentence would make a dandy standing headline on all news of George W. Bush's second term.
Great Moments in Political History
Between being chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and running for president, Joe Biden (D-Del.) is a busy man. Yesterday afternoon, Biden's schedule got especially jammed up. Having not been on TV for seven minutes, Biden had to tape a segment of "Hardball" then go to the Radio-TV Correspondents' dinner, one of those Washington self-adoration festivals that turn the late J.P. Morgan into a violent revolutionary.
Oh, yeah, Biden almost forgot. In between those engagements, he had to squeeze in speaking to the Senate on the Iraq war appropriations bill.
Pressed for time, Biden made a most politically unfortunate fashion choice, one that will live in the same infamy as Calvin Coolidge wearing a feathered Indian headdress. Biden went to the well of the Senate and spoke gravely of war and peace wearing his tuxedo. The world's greatest deliberative body turned lounge act.
Way to be, Joe! How to qualify for leading the party of the common man in 2008! Why didn't you just go the whole route and speak in tails and top hat while twirling a cane?
Class symbolism aside, Biden's move would've been a death knell to his presidential bid had it ever drawn breath in the first place. Male voters make up 49 percent of the electorare, and a significant majority of men not only hate wearing tuxedos, they deeply resent seeing other men IN tuxedos. What can I say? It's stupid blind prejudice I'm behind 1000 percent.
It pains me to call Biden out. As a fellow native Delawarean, I wish him and his campaign well. So do Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and the staff of the Onion, albeit from slightly different motives.
Why At Least One Person Wasn't Admitted to Harvard
Just moments ago on the Channel Five newscast, a story complete with graphic breathlessly headlined the fact this year was the most selective Harvard had ever been in its admissions process, with only 9 percent of applicants accepted.
The story did allow as how this was also a record year for the number of applicants to Harvard, with over 23,000 kids applying for the roughly 2000 spots in the freshman class. This led me to remember a bit of fourth grade math.
If the number being divided stays the same, and the number divided into it grows, then the result, or dividend, will be smaller. Harvard wasn't any more selective, just more popular, a fact apparently not snappy enough to lead a Channel Five story.
Heaven help us if the station ever chances upon the mysteries of bond prices and bond yields. Or the earned run average for that matter.
Knowledge is Good?
For reasons we need not discuss here, I spent part of yesterday morning perusing "Sociology and Sport Journal." Studying this learned publication was a true learning experience, or rather, a re-learning experience. As I was taught as a young man, higher education and I were not meant to be soulmates.
No one besides fellow contributors to the journal could be soulmates with the writers in "Sociology and Sport." Yours truly has been reading for over 50 years- for work, pleasure, and to get directions for assembling children's toys. Never had I read such dizzying hooey as I found in this journal. Every essay was an exercise in incomprehensible reasoning conducted in unintelligible prose. Each one could have been a parody of leftist academic prose written by Rush Limbaugh, if the fat bum were both actually funny and in the throes of an LSD overdose.
Forget discussing sports. There weren't even any mentions of sociology I could find. A diligent search turned up just one fact (white and African-American young women perceive different ideal body types). The rest of the many long words in the journal were devoted to its unifying theme and title "(Post)Identity Studies."
A handy rule of thumb for you beginning writers. Never, ever, begin a title or anything else with a parenthese. Just don't, OK?
One professor devoted her essay to looking at the influence of Michel Foucault and Jacques Lattin on the sociology of sport. Those two chaps are not homesick defensemen for the Nashville Predators. They're founding fathers of the French intellectual concept of poststructurialism, an idea roughly summarized as the attempt to destroy reality in its currently accepted form. The future unity of discourse and psychoanalysis figured prominently.
It got better. Another treatise dealt with personal identity. By asking test subjects their reactions to a photograph of a woman athlete looking in a mirror, the author claimed to demonstrate how "the idea of identity cannot be separated from the body, and the perception of the body inevitably creates the misperception of the body which forms the basis of we call identity."
To quote the immortal Bertie Wooster, "Well, I mean to say, what?!" And believe me, the debate over Marxist interpretations of sociology in sport was worse. Far worse.
The journal's editor declared the issue's intention to be "to see sport as a seat of power in the struggle against social inequality." That may be a noble goal, but history and current events teach us sports' seat in that struggle is usually at the furthest end of the bench. Exceptions to the rule such as Jackie Robinson and Muhammed Ali are rare. They're also too well-known to serve as fodder for professional scholars whose world obviously consists of the library, office, and faculty lounge. I bet none of 'em has seen their school's sports teams play.
Why bring this up to innocent readers? I just want to let folks know a night's brooding has come up with the perfect idea for my revenge. The study of sports sociology needs new blood, and I have just the writer for the NEXT issue of Sociology and Sport Journal. He's a well-known writer well versed in all aspects of sport, has never met a topic on which he didn't have an opinion, and enjoys debate more than dessert.
No doubt about it. These eggheads and Curt Schilling are made for each other.
Dog Fails to Bite Man Isn't News Either.
Not to preen, but refer back a few weeks on this blog, and you'll see I did a bang-up job of handicapping the NCAA's men's basketball tournament, correctly predicting three of the Final Four teams, with my only loser eliminated in the Elite Eight.
I'm NOT preening, either. Big whoop. According the New York Times, just about every American with a pencil was a college basketball expert this March.
Except they weren't, not really. Our nation's collective memory has become so defective, our journal of record can't recall the history of one its biggest sports events before 2005.
It's no surprise when high seeded teams reach the Final Four. It's what usually happens. Last year, when George Mason reached the semi-finals, and 2005, when high seeds went down like extras in a gladiator movie, they were the anomalies. Ever since seeding began in the tournament, form has held. The selection committee is smarter than it's given credit for. This year's Final Four contains two 1 seeds. That's actually slighter LESS than average. The other teams are 2 seeds. That's slightly above average, but only slightly.
Nor is it an upset when someone picks all four semi-finalists correctly in a bracket pool. Happens all the time. Since most people pick favorites to win anything, and since there are only 10-12 teams with solid shots to get that far, it's the good old law of probability asserting itself.
The other thing is, bracket pools don't pay off for your position at the top of the stretch. It's guessing who'll win the final three games that'll determine who gets money, bragging rights or both in all those pools. I've been entering bracket pools since the late '70s. I've had three of four Final Four teams more than once-several times with the correct champion as well. I've never cashed a check. Someone always has been righter than I was.
Reading the Times article more closely, we see even this alleged Year of the Chalk has its share of losers. The numbers cited to prove handicapping the 2007 tournament was a walk in the park came from ESPN's massive bracket contest. It was supposed to be amazing that almost 170,000 out of 3.3 million entrants had all four teams in the F.F. picked correctly.
As noted, we don't who those 170,000 so-far prescient souls have taking the whole cheese. A quick bit of long division, however, tells us that about 1 in every 29 contestants managed the feat. That's a little less than 3.5 percent.
That's a historic performance for bracket guessers? Suppose it is. The overwhelming majority of ESPN entrants couldn't have appreciated reading the news in the Times today. In a year the Times declared it was easy to be smart, there's a 96.5 percent chance any individual entrant was stupid. There's an ego boost, huh?
The Sunday Globe Giveth and It Taketh Away
Elizabeth Edwards, wife of presidential candidate John Edwards, has suffered a recurrance of breast cancer. Nevertheless, she and her husband determined he should continue the campaign as she returns to treatment.
That's about as personal as decisions get, and I think I speak for decent people everywhere when I wish them well and drop the topic. Their family life is none of my damn business.
Globe political columnist Joan Vennochi begs to differ. Her piece in the increasingly unreadable Globe "Ideas" section today is a montage of presumptuous, banal and insulting long-range psychoanalysis of two people she has met briefly if at all. It would be rank gossip if spoken by the Edwards' next-door neighbor. As political commentary, it's beneath contempt. Ms. Edwards' illness has nothing to do with what sort of president her husband might make or the ideas he's put forth in his campaign. It's not a "who cares" deal, because it evokes sympathy, but it's not an issue for commentary, or shouldn't be.
The unspoken message of this piece is clear. Vennochi thinks the Edwards' personal decision isn't what she'd do. That is a "Who Cares?" topic.
Whether it's from the left or right, the incessant focus on what our politians are like as people helps demolish public discourse. Simple truth, all politicans are weird, and those who run for and become president are weirder than most. It's a given, and we need to move past it to assess whether or not we should vote for one of 'em.
Way back in the day, the United States had a president who suffered from clinical depression. He had a son die in the middle of his first term. His wife was eventually institutionalized for degenerative mentall illness. Abraham Lincoln did OK anyway.
An Inquiring Mind
There are tricks to getting information out of Bill Belichick, and Mike Reiss of the Globe uses them better than anyone. That's why his Sunday notes column today was the first of that decrepit newspaper genre I've read as opposed to scanned in months.
Belichick cultivates a image of taciturnity, but it's only half-real. The Patriots' coach regards sound-bite emotional questions as inane (I'm with him there) and answers specific questions about team personnel in such cautious generalities he could be discussing any human male on earth. But when asked to discuss the sport of football in general, be it historical, technical, or his own experience, Belichick's a regular chatterbox.
Through the basic journalistic discipline of being around his subject a good deal while keeping his eyes and ears open, Reiss has grasped how to approach his subject and come away with much valuable information-as he did today. Belichick's opinions on proposed NFL rules changes are not the stuff awards and extras are made of. They are, however, undeniably news, and of undeniable interest to dedicated football fans. What other sort of person reads an NFL off-season notes column in the first place?
Belichick is an astute observer, and I don't believe he'd be so open with Reiss if he didn't think Mike was as interested (OK, almost as interested) in football as himself. Mutual professional respect can accomplish wonders.
In the final analysis, people consume journalism in any form, from newspapers to the Internet, to find things out they couldn't learn anywhere else. Reiss fulfilled the Globe's part of that bargain today. Good for him.
A Blood Sport-Complete With Tea Break
On my only visit to London, long ago during the Carter Administration, yours truly attended a cricket match in the interests of further professional education. It was a long afternoon spent equally mystified by the game and stupified by boredom. The memory was filed and immediately forgotten-until this week.
I was dimly aware cricket's World Cup was taking place in the Carribean. Don't ask how, I don't know. Yesterday, Shari Tharoor, undersecretary general of the United Nations, had an op-ed piece in the New York Times berating Americans for their inability to like or comprehend the noble sport of cricket, the biggest game in his native India. It was the usual blah about our nation's barbaric simplicity of mind and thirst for violent action-you know the dril.
Today's Times printed several indignant letters from patriotic American fans telling Tharoor that, by golly, baseball can be EVERY BIT as boring as cricket, so put a sock in it. Giving the lie to those who say the nation's paper of record has no sense of humor, a story on the front page, complete with color photo, made the argument Tharoor should have used. It seems we have underestimated cricket, just not for the reasons he gave.
Shortly after Pakistan was eliminated from the World Cup by Ireland, an upset on a par with Arizona State beating BC in hockey, coach Bob Woolmer was found dead in the team hotel in Kingston, Jamaica. He'd been strangled.
Whooa! And Dennis Green thinks he got a raw deal in Arizona? Reading further, as who wouldn't, I was delighted to learn cricket is not and has never been cricket in the "good show old chap" sense of the expression.
Reporter Marc Lacey described the World Cup scene with phrases like "rum drinks swigged like water" and "large-scale gambling." There have been doping scandals (uppers, I presume) in the past few years. A past captain of South Africa's national team got a lifetime ban for match-fixing. The sport has an anti-corruption unit far bigger (and busier) than the NFL's. And now, a corpse with mystery attached. Plenty of suspects, too. Current Pakistan resident Osama bid Laden might've lost a bob or two on the home team.
Rum drinks with little umbrellas! Gambling!! Drugs!!! Fixes!!!! Murder most foul!!!!! Where has THAT sport of cricket been all my life? We are talking demographic platinum for American television.
Get me the president of Spike network on the horn. Good-bye ultimate fighting. Hellooo, cricket.
Jonathan Papelbon may be young, but he's been around enough to realize a salient truth about baseball. The only role change a pitcher can make to limit his chance of arm injury is to go play the outfield instead.
Papelbon told Red Sox manager Terry Francona today he'd rather return to his 2006 job as closer than be the starter he'd tried to become in spring training. This exempts Papelbon from the need to ever buy his skipper a birthday or Christmas present. The decision also showed a neat grasp of logic. Baseball's a difficult game. Someone who masters one of its trades is pushing his luck to seek another.
The notion starting would put less stress on Papelbon's right shoulder than would closing never quite made sense. Wouldn't pitching 80-90 innings in the course of 162-game season be LESS stressful than pitching around 200 innings in the same time? The proposition was irrelevant anyhow. A century and a half of the game's history teaches us pitchers are at the same risk no matter how often they pitch, how they pitch, or how old they are. Kid or vet, righty or southpaw, starter, closer, or in-between, hurlers share the same chance of serious injury on every pitch-a damn fine one.
God didn't WANT man to pitch. The body's not meant to do it. Sooner or later, every pitcher in the big leagues copes with a serious lost-time injury. How well they do so determines the fate of their careers. That's not including the innumerable prospects who hurt their arms in the minors and are never heard from again.
Given those odds, Papelbon made the right call. He's already proven he can blow hitters away in the ninth inning. Why mess with innings 1-8? His shoulder will stand the gaff of pitching or it won't. It won't matter what the inning is if it can't.
Further Signs of Personal Obsolescence
In a large office of people who interact only through e-mail, one still arises from the desk and ambles the 20 or so feet to the desk of the person with whom one needs to communicate.
A TV network will begin showing reruns of American Gladiator this weekend. The network in question is ESPN Classic. Is there really an audience of millions of Americans who regard the early '90s as Ye Olden Days of Sports?
One of the purest pleasures of Bay Area life in the early '70s, right up there with the sourdough bread, music, the fact Napa wines were still affordable, and the beautiful young women, was the opportunity to listen to the late, great sportscaster Bill King on the radio.
King did Raiders games and Golden State Warriors games, and was your basic old-school San Francisco character, complete with long, waxed moustache. But he had a way with words.
One Sunday afternoon, King was in Madison Square Garden gloomily describing how the Fazier-Monroe-Reed, etc. Knicks were pulling away from Rick Barry and the Warriors in 4th quarter crunch time.
"The Knicks," King said after a long sigh, "play the game correctly."
A better epitaph for Jared Dudley's career at BC could not be imagined. Dudley's raw physical abilities aren't the stuff of NBA lottery picks, but he has the knack of doing what's needed and doing it properly when it's most needed. Coaches doing recruiting and NBA GMs at draft time come to grief every year thinking that understanding can be taught. They're only partially right. A man's game be improved through teaching, but a pupil who instinctively grasps the subject matter is rare in any discipline. Let me put it this way. All-around sports fan Bill Belichick must adore Dudley's game. It's based on what he looks for in football players.
Dudley's brain receives and absorbs basketball knowledge and transmits the knowledge to his body at a very high level. Without his gift, BC would've been a marginal NIT pick this season, and in several other of his four years at the Heights. Dudley's special ability is hard to describe, but easy to see when it's in front of one on the court.
Oh, yeah, it's also an ability which wins games for teams at any level. The ACC Player of the Year, by definition, is a guy who can play ball at any level. Here's two predictions for Jared Dudley's future. He will not be an NBA lottery pick this June. He will, however, have a longer NBA career than several guys who are.
He Didn't Fire Wolf, Damn It!
Idly dial-switching during one of the innumerable NCAA tournament commercial breaks last Friday night, I wasn't surprised to see Donald Trump on the screen. He's hard to avoid. I was, however, somewhat startled by the venue-CNN.
Trump was not there to promote a new exercise in self-promotion, which would've made sense. No, he was being interviewed by Wolf Blitzer for the purpose of delivering a ringing condemnation of the Bush administration, as evaluated by the sound management principles Trump embodies on his TV show "The Apprentice."
Arizona and Purdue could wait. This show needed further investigation. I wasn't tuned to Comedy Network by mistake. I hadn't confused Blitzer with Stephen Colbert. This was a genuine interview being conducted by Blitzer, one of TV's champion chumps, and presented as real information by "the most trusted name in news."
Holy Cow! Oh My! Ever other sportscasting catch phrase of astonishment! An entire network, no, the entire cable news idea, jumps the shark standing on Fonzie's shoulders!
I hold Trump blameless. In our slight acquaintance, he's always seemed like a decent chap. I admire his insight into modern America. Trump was the first rich guy to figure out the era of ADD celebrity. He realized playing the public stereotype of a wheeler-dealer tycoon would make him infinitely more famous and be infinitely more fun than actual wheeling and dealing. In terms of money, Trump's a marginal tycoon at best. Warren Buffet has hundreds of times more. But for American who knows Buffet's name, 100,000 know Trump's.
Trump's clever gig, however, does NOT exactly qualify him for precious air time discussing the vital issues of the day. He has no special insight nor expertise to contribute-no more than than fellow TV celeb Paula Abdul, anyway.
The breathtaking absurdity of Trump's appearance rests solely with CNN. An entire business devoted to the production and distribution of televised news has lost its ability to distinguished between actual reality and what it sees on television. CNN thinks Trump is real. It may think American Idol and WWE are on the up and up, too.
CNN is lost in the funhouse hall of mirrors of the infinite-channel universe. It should fire Blitzer and hire Max Headroom as its new anchor.
An Expanation and Promise
Dear Readers (I know you're out there): A new life experience has me very busy lately, and kinda tired, too. This is why my posting has dropped off lately. I promise to rally and contribute more here, assuming I'm contributing in the first place.
Bowie Kuhn 1926-2007
Bowie Kuhn died today. Kuhn became Commissioner of baseball in 1968, when the game was at the nadir of a two-decade decline in profitability and prestige. When Kuhn was forced from office in 1984, the game was well-established in the explosive growth pattern it's followed (with the exception of the 1994 strike since the mid-70s.
This would be a phenomenal record of achievement for Kuhn if he'd had anything to do with it. As Commissioner, however, he vehemently opposed the development which turned baseball around-the advent of free agency and the subsequent salary escalation it spawned. Americans are fascinated by sudden wealth. All fears to the contrary, the more owners paid their players, the more fans were willing to pay more money to watch those players in action.
Whether or not Kuhn believed all the silly things he said about free agency remains unknown. He said what he was told to say by his owner-bosses. Thus, instead of credit for presiding over the baseball boom, Kuhn will be remembered most for refusing to wear a topcoat or use an umbrella in inclement weather during post-season games. In those innocent days, bigwigs sat down in front. The luxury box was in its infancy.
Kuhn looked ridiculous trying to pretend it wasn't cold, so he will be recalled as a ridiculous figure. Sportswriters and fans sneered at Kuhn for failing to settle the baseball strikes of 1972 and the long walkout of 1981. This was naive. As the owners' mouthpiece, Kuhn had no credibility with the players and no authority to impose or even suggest his own settlement.
Once again, however, ridicule was Kuhn's destiny, as the line about the strike became, "this would never have happened if Bowie Kuhn was still alive."
All commissioners deserve SOME ridicule. Being a well-paid, well-dressed sock puppet for a gang of spoiled zillionaires sets a fellow up for pratfalls. But in Kuhn's case, the jibes were overdone. If Kuhn didn't have much to do with baseball's revival, he didn't do anything to hinder it, either. He was a fine Commissioner King Log.
Just like the frogs in the fable, the owners got mad at Kuhn for failing to exercise the power they didn't give him, and dumped him for Peter Ueberroth. Commissioner King Stork came up with collusion brainstorm, and wound up costing the moguls over $80 million. Bud Selig led them into the strike of '94, and wound up costing them $1 BILLION, all for nothing. Compared to those two, the log without a topcoat looks pretty good.
In private, Kuhn was anything but a stuffed shirt. He was a laid-back, convivial conversalist who enjoyed the occasional Scotch, and whose personal hopes for the future of baseball were more radical than one would've ever believed. Speaking to Harvard Law Students in 1978, Kuhn expressed the hope he'd be commissioner when the first woman player made the majors.
It didn't happen. It hasn't happened yet. It will someday, though, and I hope the gallant pioneer gives the memory of Bowie Kuhn a shout-out when she celebrates the happy day.
How Many Drugs Do You Kids Think We Did in the 60s, Anyway?
Throughout his lengthy and occasionally distinguished movie career, Dennis Hopper has played pretty much the same three roles.
1. Hopelessly stoned burnout from the Summer of Love.
2. Homicidal maniac.
3. Homicidal maniac who's also a hopelessly stoned burnout from the Summer of Love.
I'm old enough to have seen Dennis Hopper in just about his every movie when they first came out. Whichever agency came up with the brainstorm Hopper would be the perfect choice to pitch folks my age on their client's retirement planning services will never get any of my business.
How Can the American People Get to Carnegie Hall?
The day in 2004 when Vijay Singh briefly interrupted Tiger Woods' reign as the world's top-ranked golfer, he celebrated by going to the practice range and hitting a few buckets of balls. I saw this with my own eyes.
One of Woods' many commercials is dedicated to the idea he never takes a day off. Those who are number one don't have the luxury of relaxation.
The United States of America is the greatest country in the world. To keep it that way, all citizens have to do is vote for the liar who's telling them so, or buy the liar's disposable consumer good. Same difference.
Americans don't have to DO anything to be number one. God forbid. The subtext of the message is "We're number one because YOU are one of us."
This sick dialetic is what's most wrong with our still pretty OK country, a rhetorical device invented by scoundrels to lure busy people into apathy. Americans aren't any worse than any other's nation's citizens. In many ways, they rank highly. But a diet of unearned praise rots the soul faster than Milk Duds rot teeth. The lies we've chosen to believe make us the world's LAZIEST citizens-which might as well be the worst.
I know from lazy. I' m a procrastinor born and a procrastinor bred and when I die I'll be a procrastinator dead. But even I can sum up the energy to drag my butt to the polling place come Election Day. Most Americans can't be bothered.
My home town Lexington, Mass. has one of the highest voter participation rates in the country. For a presidential election it's close to 90 percent. Yet for a local election for town offices, which impact this upper-middle class town more than any president could on a daily basis, 33 percent is a strong effort. "It'll be OK" is our motto.
"It'll be OK" is engraved on the tombstones of every dead society in human history. If we Americans expect to avoid such a sad fate in the VERY near future (hello, People's Republic of China!) we'd better lift our collective posterior and head out to the driving range.
Round Up the Usual Suspects in Indianapolis
This was a year for ugly stepsisters. The NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee rewarded George Mason's historic run to the Final Four in 2006 by attempting to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.
So welcome ultra-dull major conference also-rans Purdue, Illinois and Arkansas to the field of 65. Drexel, Air Force, Missouri State-go the NIT without your suppers. We're cutting up serious money here, fellas. Think of the weight rooms we've got to fund.
OK, it was a tough year to pick a field since even the top 4 seeds have horrific blots on their escutcheons (Kansas lost to Oral Roberts at home, Florida spent the last two weeks of February with its sneaker laces tied together). But whenever it came down to a coin flip, the BCS-football factory conferences got the call over the smaller schools. This isn't merely unjust, it's bad marketing. Everyone loves an underdog. Few outside West Lafayette, Ind. love the Boilermakers. You'd think someone at CBS would make this point to Billy Packer-say by firing his ass.
One more question for the committee. If Florida was the overall number one seed, how come it doesn't play the winner of the play-in game? Presumably Florida A & M and Niagara were seeded 64-65, but Kansas, seeded 4th overall, gets the winner as its first-round patsy?
As anyone at Florida State or Syracuse will tell you, loudly, there are only two REAL seeds in the tourney-In and Out. Since a team must win all its game to be national champ, seeding has a most minor effect on the champ's destiny. Sooner or later, the victors face what appears to be a bad matchup, and win anyway. Happens every year.
Here are some off the cuff predictions. Recent scholarly research on tournament handicapping has confirmed what I've known for decades. The very worst way to pick a successful bracket entry is to watch a great deal of college basketball. You hockey fans better jump on your office pools with both feet.
There's an ironclad tournament rule. If the ACC champion is from the state of North Carolina, it gets a number one seed and plays its first two games inside the state. North Carolina, qualifying on both counts is the first seed and plays its first two games in Winston-Salem.
The favors end there. Put it this way. The next 5 seeds in the East all begin with reasonable expectations of AT LEAST making the Final Four. Texas has Celtic-to-be Kevin Durant, who looks like he'll be the next George Gervin, and it's a 4. Vanderbilt, 2nd in the SEC, is a 6. USC and Washington St., tied for regular-season 2nd in the Pac-10, are 5th and 3rd respectively.
Oh, I forget. Georgetown, the Big East champ, is the 2. The Hoyas were the most consistently impressive team I watched this season, admitting I never really start paying attention to basketball until after the Super Bowl. Despite the danger of using my own eyes, they're the choice here to reach Atlanta from the East.
2nd choice: Texas
Potentially Irritating Underdog: George Washington
This is the region of the other candidate to be Danny Ainge's dream date at the draft, Ohio St.'s Greg Oden. The Buckeye center who's passing for 19 despite looking much older than Doc Rivers, played well with one hand for most of the year. Now that his other has healed, the young? man has begun to assert himself, eating offenses alive.
Nobody scored over 55 points against OSU in the Big Ten tourney. They've beaten Wisconsin twice in two weeks. Their region is chock-full of flawed rivals. Texas A & M's offense went south in the Big 12 tourney, Virginia is unbeatable in the shadow of Monticello and mediocre everywhere else, while Louisville and Tennessee wax invincible and invisible in 10 minute stretches of almost every game.
This leaves Memphis, owner of the nation's longest winning streak. No program in history has turned turtle in the tourney as often as Memphis. I made a vow never to pick them again in 1986. So far, I've stuck to it. So Ohio State it is.
2nd choice: Memphis
Potentially Irritating Underdog: Xavier
Florida is the number one seed here. Ohio State is number one in the South. And they wonder why our children can't find Europe on a map.
An Elite Eight matchup between Florida and 2 seed Wisconsin would be amusing if nothing. Florida can't win without scoring, and Wisconsin wins a lot without ever scoring. There'd be serious coachly brain damage whoever won.
But it won't happen, nor will the Gators repeat as national champs. They're a fine team, but not the stuff historic achievement is made of. For reasons best described as "blind guessing" this handicapper foresees Maryland upsetting Florida in the round of 16.
The best way to beat a top defense is to have guards who can create their own shots and lack the slightest degree of conscience. By coincidence, that's just what 3 seed Oregon possesses. They're the closest thing to an "upset" Final Four pick I could find.
2nd choice: Wisconsin
Potentially Irritating Underdog: Winner of 7-10 UNLV-Georgia Tech first rounder.
The second-most consistently impressive team I watched this season was Kansas. Their games with Texas were superb entertainment, and when in doubt, this expert chooses clubs which give him pleasure. It's a more valid approach than the RPI.
Ben Rowland's teams seldom give me pleasure. They win a great many games, however, and UCLA will have the added bonus of staying in its own time zone, indeed, its own state, throughout the regional. If the Bruins spent the past week working on their Wiltesque free throw shooting, they should advance to Atlanta, where they'd be the chalk to win the entire shebang.
Hey, there's an original angle for you. Pick UCLA! You won't find raw guts like that in every sports blog, gang.
2nd choice: Kansas
Potentially Irritating Underdog: Villanova
Bonus guess: You know that "traditional" 12 over 5 upset you'll hear about until your ears bleed this week? None will happen this year.
Double Bonus Guess: Take Albany and the points over UVa.
Private Past, Public Pain
Both the current and former governor of Massachusetts have been taking their lumps lately. Although very different men, Deval Patrick's and Mitt Romney's difficulties stem from the same root, their shared background as bigwigs in the private sector.
What's common practice in business cuts no ice in politics. This leads to understandable confusion among those corporate folk who try their hand at elective office. Shareholders applaud or shrug off executive actions that appall voters-even if the shareholders and voters are the same people.
None of Patrick's actions that gave the Globe and Herald such fainting spells would have made a CEO's day book. Executives are expected to pamper themselves a bit in return for whatever it is they're doing to make their business prosper. A friendly phone call on behalf of an old corporate acquaintance falls under the category of "cast your bread upon the waters." No big deal.
These practices are no big deal in politics, either-until one caught at them. Public servants are supposed to be just that-men and women who wait hand and foot upon the body politic in return only for gratitude when they don't get kicked. Liberal Democrats like Patrick bear an additional burden. They're supposed to live like the disadvantaged they wish to help. Otherwise they're hypocrites. Of course, the rigidly austere Michael Dukakis had the snot blasted out of him anyway, so who could blame Patrick for thinking, "whatever happens, by God I'll have nice drapes"? The general counsel of Coca-Cola had nice drapes in his office, I'll bet.
Also, a governor can't make phone calls on behalf of persons and institutions from his past. Everything he or she does is a conflict of interest, because the Commonwealth is a huge institution with innumerable interests. After two years of asking everyone he met to scratch his back, Patrick now can't stratch anyone back without getting in trouble. It's unnatural, and like many a private wheel turned pol before him, Patrick's having trouble adjusting. Truth is, Patrick will spend his four years being judged on how well he squares the immutable circle of American politics. The voters demand both a high level of government service and low taxes. They also react with fury when told this fantasy is a mathematical impossibility. Your truly will give him his home and life to follow to the death any candidate who runs for high office on a platform of telling the American people they're full of it I don't expect to be called on that promise.
As befits a man with four years experience as governor, Romney's moved past that quandary. His difficulties involve an eager willingness to shovel it into the American people, subset Republican, with a backhoe. He's gleefully repudiated half the things he said as a two-time candidate for office here and as an actual governor. As a smart chap on the lefty Americablog said, "Romney was for Massachusetts before he was against it."
In politics, such blatant opportunism makes enemies and draws ridicule. In the private sector, opportunism is no vice, it's a shining virtue. What is Bain Capital, Romney's old firm, but a whole pile of money looking for ways to be opportunistic? Consistency and the free market are not often compatible companions. A dealmaker is expected to say anything that'll seal the deal, and let investors sort out its merits after the fact. It seems harsh to blame Romney for not seeing he needed to discard what had worked for him most of his life just because he was running for president.
Businessfolk-turned-officeholders stumble as Romney and Patrick almost every time they start a campaign and/or new job due to the same culture shock those two capable men are undergoing. Yet we the people keep electing newcomers from the private sector to high office on the fallacious notion "rich people steal less." Apparently we the people don't keep up with business and financial news.
Given that habit, we the people should be prepared to accept the culturally induced missteps of private-turned-public men as part of OUR costs of doing business. As long as the new pols snap out of it in a year or so, there's no harm done.
In politics, there's only one earnings statement-it's over a year away for Romney and almost four years in Patrick's future. If either man needs comfort, they should to the golden West.
Never was there a political newcomer who was a more celebrated private sector success than Arnold Schwartzenegger. The governor of California couldn't do anything right in his new job for a year or more. Two years later, he's right back on top of the game.
Foolish pols lament the fickleness of the voters. Wise pols count on it.
Personally Depressing College Basketball Note of the Week
Last night yours truly watched Notre Dame play Georgetown in the Big East tournament and a fine game it was, too.
Patrick Ewing, Jr. is one of the Hoyas' main men. OK, tempus fugit etc., but I couldn't help remembering one salient fact about the young man's distinguished father. It isn't so bad I covered Ewing Sr. in the pros, or even when HE was a Georgetown star. It was distressing, however, to realize I wrote about the elder Ewing when he was in high school at Cambridge R & L.
It gets worse. The first time I wrote a story involving Ewing Sr., he was a high school JUNIOR. Now his actual Junior is in college.
Is It Too Late to Enter This One?
The Globe found out it had two finalists for this year's Pulitzer Prizes today. The paper sure paid their potential honorees a strange tribute.
Charlie Savage is a finalist for his series on presidential signing statements and the Spotlight Team is one for it's "Debtor's Hell" series. Both were outstanding pieces of journalism and both are eminently worthy of a Pulitzer.
This morning's story on the front of the Metro section "Obama Paid Late Parking Tickets", on the other hand, not so much. Did the Globe plagarize that one from the Onion?
There's diligent scrutiny of a presidential candidate and then there's being a smarmy idiot. Digging into a senator's unpaid parking violations from his college days falls squarely on the latter side of the ledger.
Newspaper political staffs just don't get it. Readers on the right and left both hate them because this sort of meaningless trivial "gotcha" reporting has become papers' poor excuse for election coverage. This story reeks of the false assumption of moral superiority that's been the Globe's worst and most irritating habit for over three decades.
If you're going to be the public's watchdog, barking every time Dad opens the front door a bad idea. The family will keep sleeping when you finally bark at real burglars. And sometimes, when a reporter or his newspaper get flak from political partisans of both persuasians, it doesn't mean he and it are fearlessly calling 'em like it is. It means everyone can see he and it did a lousy job.
The Cutting Edge in Pursuit of the Obsolete
I was lucky. When I was sentenced to do a Sunday NFL Notes column for the Herald back in the late '80s, only scientists working on their Nobel Prizes had ever heard of the Internet.
For a journalist, cyberspace is the ultimate power tool, an incredibly useful gadget that if you're not careful can cut your fingers off in a nanosecond. Ron Borges wasn't careful, and he lost 1/6th of his annual income's worth of flesh.
Borges usually is a fine reporter and better writer. Patriots fans hate his bizarre animus towards Bill Belichick, but that's not the issue in the two-month suspension Borges got from the Globe. Plagarism is a very bad crime in my former business. The web makes it dangerously easy to commit. One talks with a reporter in another town, double checks one's notes by checking out the friend's byline, cut and pastes the relevant facts into a story, and presto, one is busted, not for malicious theft, but for theft born from slovenly habits the web makes it easy to acquire.
In the 21st century, the words "according to" are a reporter's best friend. Anyone with time on their hands can do the same research you did, and if there's one thing society's learned from the 'Net, it's that hundreds of millions of the world's inhabits have way too much time on their hands.
This piece is not meant to defend Borges. He sinned, and his punishment seems just. It's sad, however, Borges fell into error while producing the most useless waste of space in sports journalism, the Sunday notes. The same Internet which made it easy to swipe facts has rendered Sunday notes utterly obsolete as reading matter for devout sports fans.
Anything a reporter learns on Wednesday he didn't dig up all by his lonesome is going to be common knowledge to anyone who cares long before Sunday. And if the scribe's scoop is good enough to lead the Sunday notes, he or she should've written it for the Thursday paper and/or put it on the paper's website Wednesday. If it isn't, who cares, and why bother to write it except to keep the tire ads from banging together?
Even back in my day TV and radio were taking newsy little tidbits from around the league and turning them into mid-week hoo-has. My solution was hardly original. I wrote mini-columns, made calls looking for funny stories, and fooled around with statistics. I attempted to divert more than enlighten. It was my only alternative, since my Globe competitor Will McDonough would lead his notes by calling the Commissioner and asking, "So, Pete, what's new?"
A reporter without such sources isn't going to produce Sunday notes worth the amazing space (the Globe gives each pro sport an entire clean page) they get from habit. Back in the '70s, when Peter Gammons invented the format, Sunday notes were revolutionary. But so was polyester, and people aren't wearing much of that anymore.
I'm sorry for Borges' trouble, even if he deserves it. In the final analysis, however, how much difference is there between cutting and pasting a few paragraphs from a colleague's story and sitting in on a conference call exchanging notes with him and 15 other colleagues? Either way, you wind up serving the reader pre-chewed food.
The most famous Sunday section of them all is the New York Times' News of the Week in Review. It's all analysis and perspective. The Sunday notes would be well advised to become NFL (or NBA, MLB, and NHL) of the Week in Review.
It's all they have left to offer, really. And that approach would keep reporters from maiming their professional selves with their laptops.
Case Study at LB
On the opening day of the NFL season, Adalius Thomas will be three weeks past his 30th birthday. That'll make Thomas barely legal to play linebacker for Bill Belichick.
The Patriots' signing of perhaps the biggest name (also budget) free agent on the market should surprise only those who haven't paid attention to the franchise's MO during the Belichick years. The boss always says teams should try to get younger whenever possible, and he means it-except when it comes to linebackers. Belichick likes them seasoned, well-seasoned. In point of fact, Junior Seau was the ideal LB pick-up for the Pats. He came out of retirement.
Belichick has no qualms playing rookies on his offensive line or in his secondary, two areas where most clubs prefer veterans. But the Pats seldom dress, let alone play, linebackers without considerable experience. Even the 'backers who play almost exclusively on special teams, like Larry Izzo and Don Davis, have been around the block more than twice or thrice.
But doesn't Thomas' contract violate the Pats' "rule" not to break the bank for free agents, or even their own veterans? It would if any such rule existed, but none does. Your truly has heard Belichick make the same point time and again: there are plenty of NFL players worth every nickel of a megacontract. It's just there are more that aren't. The Pats have a more stringent definition of who's worth the top bucks than other franchises, but aside from the Redskins, it's a difference in degree only, say 10-15 percent more rigorous.
Thomas isn't just a free agent, he's an IPO in a market primed to boom. NFL money managers have millions in extra cap cash sloshing around their budgets and a need to show performance (wins) to their customers. The trick with IPOs, of course, is to get in on the ground floor before the stampede sends prices to ludicrous heights. If Nate Clements got an 8 year,-$80 million, $22 million guaranteed deal from the 49ers, then the proper time to sign Thomas was yesterday.
When it comes to assembling talent, the only "rule" the Pats have is the best one-there are no rules. Those who maintain otherwise prefer a simpleminded myth over simple reality.
The Role of Sports in American Society
The following anecdote should show why the WEEI contention sports are for really dumb white guys under 40, and the ESPN-Slam Magazine contention the NBA All-Star game was for equally dumb black guys in the same age group are pernicious threats to our nation's way of life.
In the late '70s, my dad was a captain of industry in Manhattan. As part of his duties he was required to attend occasional social gatherings of People of Substance. You know the drill-wear a tux, write a check, eat a forgettable dinner, listen to an even more forgettable speech.
At one such dinner, Dad found himself seated between noted '60s civil rights advocate Julian Bond and one Richard Milhous Nixon.
"So what'd you guys talk about all night?" his curious son asked the next day.