Sunday, February 04, 2007

Granted...

Hey conservative pundits, enough with the facile Petraeus=Grant analogies.

You don't know what you're talking about.

Yes you, Noemie Emery at Weekly Standard. I appreciate what drove you to say this:

On this time line, Bush's new commander, General David Petraeus, stands in
relation to the prior commanders as Grant does to Civil War losers McClellan and
Meade.


But you don't really have a good grasp of history. All that 'loser' Meade did was win the most important battle in American history since Yorktown.

I know that Grant is within easy reach of those seeking to rationalize, but in fact, replacement generals do not automatically succeed. How aboout these analogies Noemie:
Petraeus= the guy he replaced, Casey - who was sacked after ongoing disagreements with Bremer

Or, since they like history so much:
Petraeus = Admiral Koga, who succeeded Yamamoto as C-in-C, Japanese Combined Fleet
Petraeus = Kurt Zeitzler, who succeeded Halder as the Vermacht's Chief of Staff
In fact, you could list dozens of German generals in World War II who were replaced for being 'defeatists', 'not aggressive enough', or merely disagreeing with the commander in chief. Sound familiar to anyone? (see Manstein, Rommel, Model, von Kleist). In their place arrived up-and-comers full of energy and a 'fresh approach' who then of course, failed miserably.

It's not the general, it's not the tactics. It's the strategy, kids. And with a bad one, there just aren't too many avenues to success, no matter who's in charge.

Measure for Measure

I have to ask this question: what exactly is the downside of the Democrats passing a real live funding bill that prevents further escalation in Iraq? Especially if a few Hagelite Republicans are there to provide some bi-partisan cover...

Scenario 1: The President vetoes the bill and is not over-ridden. In this case whatever the results may have been of cutting the flow of funds, it's basically irrelevant. Nobody can claim the Democrats caused the deaths of soldiers who didn't have the funding to buy up-armored humvees. Sure, Dems would be accused of the same old America-hating pro-defeat bullshit, but so what? They're already being accused of that.

The reason you do the bill in spite of the inevitable veto is that it sends a clear message that the Democrats are doing everything they can to stop the war. Short of such a measure the Dems have a money-where-their-mouth-is problem that will haunt them in 2008 if(when) Iraq is in even worse shape than it is now.

Scenario 2: The President vetoes the bill and the veto is overridden. The only way for this to happen is if there are massive Republican defections. The goal would be accomplished, and in a fully bi-partisan manner. A super-majority means the entire Senate takes responsibility for the outcome.

Scenario 3: The President doesn't veto the bill. An impossibility, but of course in that event, Bush then becomes fully responsible for the results of the funding cut. It would be impossible for him to pass the buck (or lack thereof) to the Legislative branch.

What am I missing here? We are past the point where there should be concern over appearing to be 'defeat-o-crats'. Polls show increasing support for
setting a timetable and leaving, even greater percentages don't want the surge to happen. And for a long time a solid majority feel that Congress should do more to bring the war to a conclusion.

I appreciate the idea of moving one step at a time on Iraq resolutions. I trust that's what the leaders in Congress are aiming towards. But the Levin-Warner compromise, while a probable catalyst for a long overdue debate, and a step in the right direction, is not only toothless by rule, its language is a heavily watered down version of most Americans' opinions on the war.

It's time for Congress to catch up with the rest of us.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Superbowl Shuffle




The Hole - video powered by Metacafe


STOLEN FROM WIKI:

Music: Bobby Daniels and Lloyd Barry
Lyrics: Richard E. Meyer and Melvin Owens

Riding the wave of football mania that gripped Chicago in 1985, the "Super Bowl Shuffle" reached #41 on the Billboard charts, #75 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks, and earned a Grammy nomination for best Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance—Duo or Group, the first (and undoubtedly only ever) nomination for a sports team. (They lost to Prince and the Revolution's "Kiss".) Although some found the lyrics boastful, profits from the song and its accompanying video were given to charity, backing Payton's claim that the they "are not doing it because [they're] greedy, the Bears are doing it to feed the needy."

A female referee, played by Julia Kallish, Richard E. Meyer's wife, was also on hand for the radio and television edit of the song. On two occasions, she whistled and threw a penalty flag to censor the word "ass" in the lyrics, which was then considered a prohibited word on television and radio.


Trivia
Bears defensive end Dan Hampton declined involvement in the shuffle because he felt it was too cocky.

Payton and McMahon were unable to attend the original filming of the song's music video, so they were spliced in later with help of a chroma key.

During Steve Fuller's part of the song, he says "So bring on Atlanta, bring on Dallas, this is for Mike and Papa Bear Halas". The "Mike" he referred to was the Bears' current head coach, future hall of famer Mike Ditka. "Papa Bear Halas" refers to legendary Chicago coach George Halas, who coached the Bears for 40 seasons and passed away 2 years earlier. Fuller's verbal challenge to the Atlanta Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys refers to the two games he started for the injured Jim McMahon, leading the Bears to 36-0 and 44-0 shutout victories against those opponents, respectively.

The music video for the song was filmed at the Park West, a venue in Lincoln Park, in Chicago.

The song and video were actually produced the Tuesday after the Bears first, and only, loss of the season at the hands of the Miami Dolphins on the Monday night game the day prior.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Heisman Stats

MATCH THE STATS WITH THE HEISMAN CANDIDATES:

TROY SMITH AND BRADY QUINN (oh, and some guy named Colt McCoy)

A. 8 Games Played 193/303 2233 Yards 21 TDs 4 INTs

B. 9 Games Played 147/217 1705 Yards 24 TDs 4 INTs

C. 9 Games Played 145/214 1898 Yards 22 TDs 2 INTs

Please ESPN...tell me who is so clearly the best?

Election Day Hypotheticals

What if the Republicans gain ground in the final week? What if there is a Democratic wave? Well, lets run the numbers and find out.


The latest raw poll data shows the Democrats gaining 30 seats in the House. (I’m using the latest polls, regardless of source. If two came out within a couple of days of each other, I average them)

SO – I was curious - what effect would a 2% points across-the-board bump to the GOP candidates have? Say the Republicans stage a vastly effective GOTV campaign in the home stretch. Or if all the Diebold machines mysteriously add a few percentage points onto all the GOP candidates? Or for that matter, if there is a Dem wave that adds a few points across the board to the Blue candidate?

Adding this hypothetical election day variable to the current polls, here are the projections:

GOP +10% = Dems gain 5 seats in the House

GOP + 7.5% = Dems gain 9 seats

GOP + 5% = Dems gain 15 seats

GOP + 3% = Dems gain 20 seats

GOP + 2% = Dems gain 22 seats

GOP + 1% = Dems gain 29 seats

DEM + 1% = Dems gain 43 seats

DEM + 2% = Dems gain 48 seats

DEM + 3% = Dems gain 49 seats

DEM + 5% = Dems gain 55 seats

DEM + 7.5% = Dems gain 61 seats

DEM + 10% = Dems gain 63 seats

So, for example, if you believe that superior Republican GOTV efforts will be worth a net 2 points for GOP candidates on election day, you’re STILL looking at a 22 seat gain. Likewise, if there is a ‘vast blue wave’ that washes over voters when they enter the voting booth – not an impossibility – and provides a 2 point boost across the board for Democratic candidates, 48 seats will change hands.

Unlike the presidential election, where a percentage point or two in a few states could tip the balance, the vast number of elections combined with the polling strength of the Democratic candidates means it would require an almost revolutionary act to interfere with the electoral process to the point where Dems do NOT re-take the house.

I don’t have any special data, and I haven’t done anything that couldn’t be done by someone with about 5 minutes and an Excel spreadsheet.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Cricketometers

Certain species of crickets vary their chirping according to the temperature. They are so precise in fact that experienced entomologists can judge how warm the summer night is just by listening to the crickets.

I shit you not.




The Phoenix

It's been over a year, but I think the time is finally right to revive VeryFineLine.

It's probably just going to be the same old shit, but it will be better than ever!

I just gotta try to remember how the hell to publish pictures and links and all that stuff.

Stay tuned all you many readers...

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A potato and a war

Swain,

Your last post regarding Schiavo deserves some comment in light of the autopsy report released yesterday. Unsurprisingly to most, and certainly to anyone not caught up in the What Would Jesus Do Culture of Life side of the debate, she was officially declared damaged beyond repair and with no hope of any type of recovery. She had no cognitive or vision centers of her brain left and was incapable of any rudimentary thought.

Big surprise. I seem to remember every medical professional with a degree from a university anyone had ever heard of saying exactly that based upon her brain scans. So is that the end of the issue? No way.

Schiavo's parents are considering a lawsuit to discredit the autopsy findings. Fine. I suppose that's even somewhat understandable when approached from the standpoint of a grieving parent who desperately wants to cling to the notion that their child was alive and had a shot at regaining a meaningful life.

What is inexcusable is a governor, a congress, and a president who bent the law and stepped ridiculously out of their bounds to exploit the situation for political gain. What a disgusting spectacle. Honestly, I don't know how people fall for this crap.

On the theme of disgusting spectacles and of overstepping bounds, the Downing Street Memo appears to have the chance to get some legs and finally force people to admit the obvious regarding the case Bush built for his little colonial experiment in Iraq. Members of congress today held an open forum to call for an investigation into whether or not Bush deliberately lied in order to rally support for the invasion. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8248236/

Now that the public is souring on the war and media smells some blood in the water there's a chance that somebody may start asking the pertinent questions. Once again the answers seem obvious, but you never know. Certainly admitting the truth could be painful and the odds are, in my opinion, that after swirling around for a few weeks the issue will die out. People enjoy being willfully stupid.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Bolton, Schiavo, etc.

I can't resist but point out that the sancitmonious conservative Delay-faction in Congress who tout their 'Culture of Life' when they talk about poor Terry Schiavo, is the same group of hypocrites who are going to pencilwhip people like John Bolton into his UN Ambassadorship. In addition to my previous objections, this is the same John Bolton who declared that the slaughter of innocent civilians in places like Kosovo and Sudan should not be the concern of the United States.

This is akin to ardent pro-lifers who make an abortion exception for cases of incest or rape...so the 8-cell zygote is the sacred seed of life and to kill it is to kill a person. But if that same zygote is the product of a crime, it must pay the ultimate price...huh? Those Schiavo-nuts out there claiming the sanctity of a human life seem to lose their stomach for the protest when it comes to pulling the feeding tubes from, say, 10,000 Bosnian children or 100,000 Iraqi civilians.

If that guy really thinks his wife should be allowed to die, all he has to do is move to a third-world country where Americans either ignore genocide or empower it. Then he can be all but certain the religious right will be off his back.

Friday, March 11, 2005

U.N.fit - Update



Great news today coming out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Procedural rules would have allowed the FRC to push John Bolton's nomination for U.N. Ambassador through next week, before the opposition had any real chance to form and make its case. The State Department, perhaps aware of how much scrutiny would be heaped on Bolton from both sides of the aisle, was pressing hard for this fast track route.

But Big Dick Lugar (R-Indiana) evidently felt enough pressure from the opposite side to delay the hearings until the next available time slot which falls in April. That gives Democrats (and anti-unilateralists of any political stripe) plenty of time to form a cohesive and intelligent strategy to derail the Bolton nomination.

Washington Note has a source in Foggy Bottom and has been giving regular updates on the Bolton nomination story here.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

U.N.fit



Optimists fell back to Earth this week when President Bush nominated State Department underling John Bolton to be Ambassador to the United Nations. Bush is only a few days removed from his warm and fuzzy trip through 'Old Europe' to re-establish friendships with allies that had been alienated as a result of the Iraq crisis. Pundits hailed Bush's group Euro-hug as a possible sign that the administration is recognizing the need for European allies (beyond the U.K.), and slowly swinging away from the unilateral approach it has clung to since 9/11.

But Bolton represents the very worst of hardline neocon unilateral foreign policy. This move is akin to nominating Ted Nugent to the board of PETA. Since the Reagan administration Bolton has consistently urged the U.S. government to avoid and even withdraw from any international agreement that limits the U.S. in any way shape or form. Treaties on a variety of topics like nuclear testing, human rights, anti-ballistic missiles (which Bush withdrew from in his first term) and more have all come into Bolton's crosshairs. He has not merely been a critic of the U.N., he has been openly defiant and has suggested that the U.S. cease paying its membership dues and all but implied that the United Nations should be completely ignored.

At a 1994 panel discussion sponsored by the World Federalist Association Bolton claimed "there's no such thing as the United Nations," and stated ''if the UN secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.''

Now is the time for Senate Democrats to draw a line in the sand and send Bolton back to private life. His views are so out of step with even the right-leaning faction of mainstream America, that the nomination has even caused some Republican senators to wobble. His confirmation is by no means assured. The role of U.N. Ambassador is not a good fit for a man to whom multilateralism and compromise represent defeat and failure. Bolton is said to be a brilliant academic, but one thing he is not is a diplomat. Presumably because of his contempt for what the rest of the world thinks or believes, he has a knack for saying the wrong things at the wrong times. His loose cannon-isms have even gone against his own bosses on occasion. During the Reagan years, Bolton consistently failed to follow rules set by the administration on how to engage the press, at one time even staging his own press conference without informing the White House.

Bolton's nomination confirms the administration's contempt for multi-multilateralism. His mission will likely be one of destruction; his first priority will be the ouster of Khofi Annan, and after that a weakening of the U.N. machinery, or at least a steady extrication of the U.S. from the U.N.

The United Nations is lightyears from being perfect. But right now it's the only legitimate body in the world that can work to avoid armed conflict. But instead of improving the U.N., it's hard to see how Bolton is there to do any less than tear it down.

Bolton is not only an inappropriate choice, he's a dangerous choice, and his confirmation must be denied to keep the country moving in the right direction.

Lone Star



Star Loses Companion, Then Kicked Out of the Neighborhood

180,000 light years away from Earth (that's about 1,080,000,000,000,000,000 miles, but who's counting) you'll find a star that's been kicked out of the Milky Way galaxy and that is headed for the emptiness of intergalactic space. The star is traveling at 1.5 million miles per hour, which is a pretty good clip. To put that velocity into perspective, consider that the Earth moves around the sun at 65,000 miles per hour, less than 1/20th of the speed of the ejected star.

Scientist believe the star was ejected after a close encounter with a massive black hole that's thought to exist at the center of the Milky Way. The star was originally one of a binary pair, meaning it had a companion star. (aside: actually most stars come in multiple set like binaries, a single star like the Sun is less common). The theory is that the companion star was recently eaten by the black hole as the pair of stars made too close an orbital pass. The loss of the companion, combined with the gravitational yank from the black hole provided the force to slingshot the star right out of the galaxy.

To understand how gravity could dare do such a thing, we turn to comets. Stars can behave just like comets do in our own solar system in that they change speeds as they orbit their parent body. Gravity gets them moving very fast as they whip around the sun. But as they travel away from the sun they begin to slow down until they're just barely creeping along.

Johannes Kepler was the first to discover this law of orbital motion, one of the most elegant laws in physics. It describes orbital motion and speed changes.

Kepler's Second Law

The diagram shows a comet's eliptical orbit around the sun. The focus of the orbit of an object is a point in space representing the center of mass of the two bodies. For the Sun and a comet, that essentially means the center of the Sun, since the Sun is zillions of time more massive than a comet. I've highlighted two orbit segments in red. They are clearly of two different lengths: segment A is several times longer than segment B. But because of Kepler's second law, the orbiting comet will actually cover each distance in the exact same amount of time. If it takes the comet 5 months to traverse segment B, that means it will take it 5 months to traverse segment A. The only way it can do that of course is to change speeds. comet Kepler's law starts with calculating the area of the triangle-like shapes made by drawing lines from the center of the orbit out to the endpoints of the orbital segments. In this diagram these areas are represented by letters A and B. The law states that the orbiting object travels at the speed to make the area of the pseudotriangles of any two orbital segments be equal. In other words, if we know it takes comet 5 months to travel the length of the B segment, and we know that it takes the comet 5 months to travel the length of the A segment, then we know that the area of the two pseudo-triangles are perfectly equal. So when the object further away, it moves very slow and doesn't cover much distance of its orbit in a given amount of time relative to what it will cover in the same time when it gets closer in and speeds up.




NASA has made good use of this slingshot effect in its interplanetary probe missions. Take the Cassini Saturn probe for example. Instead of heading straight for Saturn, Cassini took a detour to Jupiter. Engineers guided Cassini toward the great planet at just the right angle so it would accelerate and get whipped around toward Saturn. Although it took a little more time to get to Saturn, using a Jupiter gravity-assist meant Cassini needed to carry less fuel - a significant factor in a one-chance scientific mission because it allowed more room for science intrumentation.

The ejected star got a gravity boost from the black hole and has been flung 'upwards', meaning itis moving roughly at a right angle to the plane of the Milky Way. Objects get flung around all the time in space by getting too close to a large body, but whether the object completely escapes or is just merely being sent on a long comet-like ellipse orbit is completely dependent on the objects velocity. Every gravitating body has a so-called escape velocity. An object traveling at least that fast will completely escape the body's gravitational clutches. To escape from Earth for example, an object must travel at about 7 miles per second. Moonbound astronauts had to achieve this speed in order to get to the Moon. A rocket launched from the surface of the Sun would requires a velocity of about 400 miles per second, and an object at the distance of the Earth has to reach 25 miles per second. For the star that was kicked out, it only had to attain a speed of around 150 miles per second to permanently remove itself from the galaxy. At 1.5 million miles per hour, the star is traveling over 400 miles a second; more than enough to get out of town forever.

Aside: there is a common mistake made by even the most science-minded people regarding escape velocity. The determining factor in calculating the escape velocity is not the mass of the parent object or the radius, but rather the ratio of the two (M/R). This is mistakenly called density by some people; it seems ok, after all, we're talking about how heavy something is compared with how much room it takes up. But density is calculated by the equation M/(R to the third power). The ratio M/R has no common name in physics, although some astonomers call it 'compactness'. To demonstrate how density is not a determinant in escape velocity, consider that the Milky Way is much less dense than the Earth, yet its escape velocity is much higher.

It is probably not too uncommon for objects to get tossed around. Moons get ejected from their parent planet's orbit. Planets get dislodged from their parent star and go speeding out of their own solar system. And of course stars themselves can get ejected. There are probably thousands of free-floating objects in the galaxy, speeding along their way after being kicked out of their home.

A 'rogue' planet passing by our Solar System would be bad news. The Sun and its 9 planets are in a state of finely tuned balance that keeps everyone on track and in their assigned positions. Should a rogue planet arrive on our doorstep, that balance would be disrupted. A jupiter-sized rogue moving through the middle of the solar system could cause enough gravitational distortion to pull the Solar System apart. The Earth itself might get flung off into outer space. Losing touch with the Sun would put the people of the Earth in a tight spot, so let's all cross our fingers that it doesn't happen any time soon.

Even if a rogue body passed by on the outskirts of the Solar System, it could spell trouble. The belt of icy rocky objects beyond Pluto's orbit would get disturbed which might cause a rain of comets to fall into the inner solar system. We'd get very little warning if a dark body (i.e. a non star) were rapidly approaching from the depths of space. Not that it would matter if we had warning or not; there's not much we could do about it.

The good news is that space is ridiculously large. The gap between the stars in our part of the galaxy is wide enough to provide a comfortable moat of protection. To give you an idea of the enormity of space, think of the Sun as the size of a basketball, and the Eath the size of a bb, the Earth would be about 100 feet away. The nearest other solar system to ours is the Alpha Centauri system. To basketball scale that system would be very far away indeed. If the Sun were a basketball in Chicago, the ball representing Alpha Centauri would be located in Baghdad. With that kind of gulf in between stars, the risk of a rogue coming upon us is incalculably small.

The ejected star is not headed in a direction that will have it cross paths with a galaxy in our local group. And because of its large size it will most likely die before it ever encounters another sstar. But eventually...maybe in a few billion years...I'm sure the star, or its burned out remains, will show up unannounced in a backyard somewhere and really piss somebody off.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Films Snubbed by Oscar




If you're in the mood for some destruction, you'll enjoy this little website.

Remember in the old days when David Letterman used to be funny? He had a bit where he would toss items off of a five-story building...pumpkins, television sets, you name it he'd toss it.

And did you ever suffer through one of those Gallagher HBO comedy specials back when cable was young and prop-based standup comedy had not yet evolved into CarrotTop quality. His closing bit was the sledgehammer(dubbed the sledge-o-matic if memory serves)...gallons of ice cream, southwestern omelets, fruits of all sizes would all fall under the hammer in Gallagher's signature finale.

Well the same mysterious joy you got from Letterman's and Gallagher's shtick of mass destruction you will find again in these 50 short movies. The star is an industrial shredding device that will take on virtually anything and make mincemeat out of it. From diapers to washing machines to row-boats, there's a clip for just about every kind of shreddable under the sun.

The website belongs to SSI - a shredding company. Their credo is 'what else needs shredding?'. This is big business I guess, and a top company in the shredding field; an enterprise to be taken seriously.

But even if shredding unused car bumpers, circuit boards, and oversized tires is something that their customers have to do for business reasons, SSI hasn't lost sight of the fact that their shredding engines, which come in all shapes and sizes, are just plain cool. And they know that anyone out there would love to play with one for a few hours.

So insane props to SSI, for recognizing that there's a shredder inside all of us. And even though they would love to have our shredding business, they are content to join the ranks of Letterman and Gallagher and destroy things for no other reason than it's big fun to do and big fun to watch.

Thanks to The Apostopher

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Democracy Spreads Despite Bush Doctrine, Not Because of It.



The way conservative commentators talk, you'd think that George W. Bush invented democracy and has been doing infomercials in every Middle Eastern country to show them the glorious light. But before we heap credit on the administration for recent pro-democracy events in the region, it's important that we understand what the scene was like before the Bush Doctrine was implemented, and it's important to understand what exactly has been accomplished so far.

It's become cliche' for opponents of Bush's foreign policy to say something along these lines: "The culture of the Middle East is not built for democracy, we can't just expect them to understand it and embrace it because they're not used to it." They don't realize it, but they are actually setting up Bush for success when they say that. Why? because the Middle East actually has a tradition of democracy. Not all countries of course, but consider these examples:

-Lebanon has been holding elections since 1927 when they were implemented by French pseudo-colonizers. Granted ,during the civil war between 1975 and 1990, elections were not held. But to see Lebanese marching in the streets, and to see the government bending to the public will is not even close to being a new phenomenon. It has alot to do with their democratic tradition and the assassination of a popular ex-leader and little to do with the Bush Doctrine

-Iran also has actually been more democratic not less, since the Islamic Revolution. The Shah of Iran was a dictator who controlled every part of the government. Today, the country's parliament, ministers, and local civil posts are all filled with popularly elected people. Iran certainly has its problems, but Iranians are not strangers to democracy.

-Saudi Arabia held an election recently for some low-level posts. No doubt Team Bush will tout this as a big win. But hold on. These elections had been promised to the people for 30+ years, and every time they came up, they were diminished in original scope and postponed. The people were so cynical about their new 'democracy' that barely 25% bothered to vote.

-Qatar is actually more liberal than the United States in some ways. They have a long tradition of elections and the citizens are guaranteed freedom of expression in the Qatar constitution. When the war was at its height, Colin Powell went to Qatar and asked the government to put their thumb on Al Jazeera (they based in Qatar) and have them ease off stories that cast America in a bad light. Powell was refused. Qatar does not censor their press. Can you say irony?

-Iraq elections were certainly only a possibility because of the invasion. But the recent elections hinged on one man: Ali Al-Sistani. A word from him would have caused the entire election to crumble into complete irrelevance. Sistani implemented a massive religious marketing effort to get his followers to vote.

The problem with spreading democracy is simple: sometimes the people elect figures that are not friendly to the United States. There cases where the administration felt so strongly against a popularly elected leader that they encouraged coups d'etat (and sometimes succeeded). Examples are Nicaragua, Chile, Haiti, and others. Particularly in Latin America, U.S. administrations have been intolerant of left-leaning governments that tout nationalism and even a hint of socialism, whether they are popularly elected or not. President Chavez, approved twice by the people in Venezuela, is a burr under Bush's saddle because he's not interested in playing by the American rules. The recent attempted coup and resultilng election do-over were fully supported (if not encouraged and directly funded) by the Bush administration.

Think of the Palestinians. Nobody in their right mind would claim Arafat was anything less than a menace and an obstacle to peace. The Bush Administration pushed for elections, as long as the winner wasn't Arafat. (I have to chuckle at that.) No matter what we thought of him, he was the people's choice and hugely popular to Palestinians.

The State Department has pushed a secular constitution on the Iraqis because we've had so much trouble with Islamist regimes. But what if the people of Iraq want an Islamist regime? What if they want laws based on the Koran? If democracy was truly our goal in the Middle East and elsewhere, we would keep our hands off the outcome of the elections and the legislative processes.

So don't strain your arm patting yourself on the back for being a citizen of a nation that is spreading the joy of voting throughout the world. Bush and Condi love spreading democracy...so long as the right person gets elected.

3/11 UPDATE: Robert Kuttner at American Prospect has written a very nice article on the same subject called "What's Bush Got to Do With It?" (I wrote mine first though!!!!)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

WMD Found! Johnson's Brain Lost!



On February 19th, Texas wingnut Congressman Sam Johnson told an audience of veterans in Allen, Texas that he knows where Saddam's weapons of mass destruction are, and that he has a great idea on how to resolve the issue. Here's the gem in its entirety:

Syria is the problem. Syria is where those weapons of mass destruction are, in my view. You know, I can fly an F-15, put two nukes on `em and I'll make one pass. We won't have to worry about Syria anymore.


He's got no evidence that the WMD are in Syria, it's just a hunch. But he's dead serious. He actually presented this nonsense to President Bush a few weeks earlier during a visit to the White House.

I am struggling to determine which element of this story is the most ridiculous: 1.) that he claims to know where the WMD are (gee, Congressman, your record so far in locating W's of MD is already so impressive) 2.) that we should use nuclear weapons on Syria (not one nuke, not three nukes, two nukes) to solve the problem or 3.) that he thought the idea worthy enough to waste the president's time with it. Those 7 years in a Viet Cong prison camp may finally be taking their toll on the poor old guy. Sam, next time you have a 'good idea', run it by an aide or two before you actually say it in public. Actually, you could run it by just about anyone with a little more sense than you - your butler, the janitor, your wife's dog, That way you can at least appear to not be living on a completely different planet from the rest of us.

Death to the Death Penalty




Quick: what do the following countries have in common? (no peeking!)
China
Congo
Iran
Pakistan
Yemen
Nigeria
Saudi Arabia
The USA

(There's some kind of a joke in here that says something about how all these countries would be linked in their humane treatment of prisoners, but the U.S. didn't make that list) Either way, it's mighty fine company to keep...the answer is that these 8 nations have all executed children in the last 15 years.

Well, no more of that for at least a few months until some of the more-left-than-right justices on the Supreme Court start to die off. The Court outlawed the state-sponsored killing of criminals under 18 earlier this week. There were 19 states where youth execution was practiced: Texas, and 18 others...so I fully expect to hear the Prez complaining anew about our 'activist' judges.

(To clarify, the specific practice in question applies to people who committed a crime as a juvenile, and then are given the d.p. once they turn 18. In the 19 states, there are about 70 cases that are directly affected by this ruling.)

Regardless of your stance on the death penalty (opinions are mixed across parties) you probably fall into the vast majority of people who feel that as long as we're going to have the death penalty, we have to do it right. Even many of the hardened pro-electic chair types recognize that mistakenly executing an innocent person every now and then is not an acceptable price to pay.

This creates a political conundrum though. If you believe the death penalty is an integral part of our legal system, then you can't publically admit to its flaws, legal or moral. If you do, you run the risk of the punishment being outlawed forever. For anti-deathers, pushing for death penalty 'reform' while at the same time preaching abolition makes for a weakened argument. It's a catch-22 like conservatives face with sex education; you can't tell the kids abstinence is the only way and then hand out condoms at the end of class...you lose credibility.

But there is a huge problem with the death penalty in this country, and it is time we took it seriously, pro- and anti- death penalty people alike. In this article from 2000, Alan Berlow paints a startling picture of the entire Texas execution process, from crime to needle. If you don't want to read it, here's the upshot: A few years back a pro-death / conservative / Republican governor of Illinois put a complete moratorium on executions in his state after researching the frequency of men who were found innocent after they went to the gallows pole. Berlow's point is that the Illinois death penalty is a model of due process and completeness compared to that of Texas. Texas has one of the most flawed systems of any state and yet, of course, we host more executions here than any other state. Yee-haw.

The president's aversion to admitting mistakes makes it difficult to assess and - if necessary - reform any kind of problem. So it's no wonder that Bush is 'proud' of sending 100+ people to the Lonesome Valley in his time as governor of Texas. And it's no wonder that there isn't a doubt in his mind that each and every one of them was guilty as charged and had their fair day in court with Atticus Finch at the defense table.

OK, I've driven onto the shoulder a little bit. The point of all this is that any time the death penalty gets a little more scrutiny, I think that's good news. If we must kill, it should be as an absolute dead-end last-resort option for people who are unrepentant bloodthirsty monsters (and tailgaters). It's just like going to war...it should be a choice that nobody enjoys making, the option we do everything in our power to avoid.

Besides, Can you imagine being held accountable for the monumentally stupid stuff you did when you were 17 years old?


"Danny, I've sent boys younger than you to the gas chamber...didn't want to do it...felt I owed it to them" - Judge Smails, 1980

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Credit Where it's Due




You may have noticed that I've been adding category artwork occasionally. I'm going to try to start doing this with every post from now on...although sometimes I'm not sure what category certain posts go into. I think it adds a little something to the blog, don't you?

Alas, this is not my own idea. I am...um...borrowing it from Poorman - a blog that happens to be one of my favorites. I've posted a little diagram of the way poorman does his category logos for your reference.

Let me know what you think.

Ta-Tonka

In case you were worried, I wanted to let everyone know that the US Mint has released the next in its series of 4 new nickels dedicated to the memory of the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis & Clark's journey into the soon-to-be American west.

The new nickel brings a buffalo to the back side of the nickel for the first time in nearly 70 years. Thank God for that. And the front side has a newly chiseled profile of Thomas Jefferson who, with each minting, looks more and more like Richard Nixon. There's probably a right wing conspiracy behind that somehow.

If you're anxious to get your hands on some of these new nickels, the mint is selling 1000 coin bags, mailed straight to your door. You might think the cost of the bag would be....oh I don't know....$50 + shipping and handling, right? No, all these nickels are yours for the bargain basement price of $79.95 + Shipping and Handling.

Read More Fascinating and Provocative Articles

The Presidential Act




OK, so this might not count as a true politics entry, but it's worth mentioning anyway. Maybe later I will recatagorize it.

If you didn't get your fill of awards last week watching the 7 hours of Oscars, here's a little bonus. Reuters reports in this story that another prestigious award ceremony took place over the weekend. Of course, it's the Razzies, a goof on the Oscars where awards are given out to the worst in cinema rather than the best.

Why is this a politics post you ask? Becuase the winner for Worst Actor was none other than your president George W. Bush for his performance in Farenheit 9/11. I assume the Razzie was given to him for the weapons-of-mass-destruction ploy, but no matter what you think of the performance, it worked. The country was successfully duped and W got what he wanted from us. I think the award is really more about the fact that he does a really bad impersonation of a president.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Heil Schicklgruber!



Adolf Hitler's father was born in 1837 and named Alois (I'm not sure how that would be pronounced in German...Al-wah?). He was the illegitimate child of one Maria Anna Schicklgruber, a peasant girl in rural Austria. The father of the child was most likely a dude named Johann Heidler, and eventually he and Maria Anna were married. But Johann had little interest in the son and never bothered to legitimize the boy. And so Alois grew up as Alois Schicklgruber.

When Alois was 10 years old Maria died. Johann Heidler abandoned his 10 year old bastard son, left town and did not see or correspond with any family or friends for 30 years. Then out of nowhere, he shows up again at the age of 84 with the purpose of officially claiming paternity of the now 40 year old Alois. At some point during his absence he had changed the spelling of his name to Hitler. So upon his return he went down to the burgermeister, got a notary and a few witnesses and made his sworn statement about Alois' paternity. Then he walked over to the Doellersheim church and presented his new paperwork. The parish priest promptly scratched out Alois Schicklgruber from the baptismal registry and wrote in Alois Hitler.

There are conflicting stories about Johann's motivations for doing this, most of them have something to do with an inheritance that he believed he would be able to get a share in provided he could prove he was related to Alois.

Thirteen years after the paternity issue was 'settled', young Adolf was born to Alois and his third wife (and second cousin), Klara Poelzl. By this time, Alois was known legally as Alois Hitler but apparently gave his son the choice of last names. There was even a choice to be made about spelling. Hitler was a relatively new version of the name which had previously appeared as Heidler, Huetler, and a few other derivations. The ambitious young Adolf went with Hitler, thinking the other spellings were not as strong. And he turned his back on Schicklgruber too because it sounds silly (even to native German speakers).

The details of Hitler's past are a little shady because he rarey spoke directly on the subject. In fact, he forbade anyone in his presence to talk about it too. This is probably due to the modest circumstances and seedy family stories.

Think of that twist of fate. Had Johann not had a change of heart at the age of 84 and returned to his home village after 30 years to claim paternity on Hitler's dad, Adolf would have been born Adolf Schicklgruber. It doesn't seem like it would have rolled off the tongue at big bonfire-lit Nazi rallies, does it...

Hey Larry, At Least Jimmy the Greek Is on Your Side

Harvard President Larry Summers has taken a deluge of crap over remarks he made the other day suggesting women have inferior intellectual abilities in some key areas necessary for science and engineering. In this ABC News article scientists and psychologists have come to Summers' defense. There is a long-standing nature versus nurture debate in the scientific community that is at the core of Summers' statements. In other words, when we see a discrepancy on test scores between men and women, it is hard to pin down the cause. Is it the result of different brainpower? or is it a cultural issue, where men and women get programmed from an early age to fit into different gender roles, with society giving a significant assist (we've all heard the statistics about how boys who raise their hands in class are twice as likely to get called on as girls and so forth) . If it's a nurture issue, the inferior scoring is fixable. But if it's an inherent difference in the brains of men and women, we have little choice but to accept it (until the CIA makes math co-processor implant chips available to the general public)

Regardless of the value of debating the issue, one difference is very clear: Larry Summers' brain is inferior to that of a tree frog. I have no doubt that there are quantifiable physiological differences between a woman's brain and a man's brain. But no matter your intentions, you just can't say things like that as the freaking president of Harvard. In this age of political correctness (sorry for the cliche') Summers should have known better. When people engage in an emotionally charged topic like this, they should know that half the people in the room are seeking out ways to be offended. To wit, Larry had barely finished his offending sentence when one woman he was speaking to stormed out of the room.

The reason he shouldn't have said it isn't because it's categorically false. He shouldn't have said it because no matter how you say it, no matter what disclaimers you give (Summers had said before his talk that he was going to 'provoke' the audience), nobody's ever willing to give you the benefit of the doubt about your intentions.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Condoleezza Rice's Commanding Clothes (washingtonpost.com)

Condoleezza Rice's Commanding Clothes (washingtonpost.com)

Kind-of funny article about the fact that Condoleezza Rice doesn't dress like an old biddy. I wonder if Colin Powell is jealous that nobody described him as having "sexual frisson".

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Supremes

I'm not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to the inner workings of the Supreme Court. I'm really not sure what it means to be a 'constructionist' or a 'strict constitutionalist'. But one thing I do know for sure, and that is that most of the Justices are old, which means that the court is going to be dramatically different in just a few years (if not months, depending on Rhenquist's health) compared to the way it is today.


Souter

Ginsberg

Breyer

O'Connor


In this well-written piece in the London Review of Books, Yale Legal Scholar Bruce Ackerman draws a clear picture of the near-future landscape of the Supreme Court. He says it won't be a battle between liberal and conservative forces, it will be a battle between conservative (like S.D. O'Connor) and neo-conservative (like C. Thomas) forces.

Bush has three options when the next vacancy to the Supreme Court comes up: he can nominate a seasoned conservative, a stealth candidate or a plain-speaking neo-con. The president has one fewer senator than Bill Clinton had: 55 Republicans in 2005, 56 Democrats in 1993. But his strategic position is the same. He doesn’t have the 60 votes needed to override a determined filibuster by the opposition, so nominating a neo-con will be risky. Since no one can predict what will happen in Iraq, he may well come to regret a decision to precipitate another cycle of bitter partisan warfare on the home front.

Yet the image of Reagan beckons. His followers have never forgiven the Democrats for rejecting Bork. Shouldn’t Bush heed their call to complete the great work that Reagan began? The simple answer is no. The president should face some hard facts: his 3 per cent margin of victory over John Kerry doesn’t remotely resemble Reagan’s 18 point knock-out over Walter Mondale. Although 1984 marked a decisive victory over liberalism, last year’s election revealed that the most liberal candidate since Mondale was able to run neck-and-neck with an incumbent Republican. Despite his sweeping popular mandate, Reagan’s effort to revolutionise the court led to a cycle of character assassination from which we are only now recovering, and this is not the time to begin the cycle again.


If you want to learn a little more about the issues facing the SC, but can't seem to find the Cliffs Notes, take a gander at Ackerman's article. You'll learn something, I promise.

Poor George

In some weird way I feel sorry for the president when I read blurbs like this from a column by Gerard Baker at The Weekly Standard:

There is a danger, in my view, that the Bush administration, in its
newfound eagerness to show its kinder, less Martian, more Venusian side, will
actually create bigger problems for itself. In its efforts to be diplomatically
accommodating, the United States may end up supporting and bolstering a vision
of Europe that is directly at odds with long-term U.S. goals and interests.
Nothing is to be gained by unnecessarily antagonizing Europeans, to be sure, and
the United States is right to pursue ways of cooperating. But if the early signs
of the new détente are any guide, the Bush administration may find itself
walking into a trap.


He gets pounded from the left and the center for ignoring (if not antagonizing) Europe, and from the right he gets pounded for initiating an USA/EU group-hug. Give the guy a break...

9/11 Pentagon Questions Answered

PM: Debunking The 9/11 Myths - Mar. 2005 Cover Story

The attached link (if it works) should take you to the March 2005 Cover Story of Popular Mechanics. It debunks many of the increasingly ludicrous conspiracy theories about 9/11, including the one alleging the Pentagon wasn't hit by a plane.

What's Your "It's Worth It" Number?

If I could take a moment and completely rip off a Matthew Yglesias reference of a Suburban Guerilla post.

The upshot of SubGuer's research is that the Iraq/Afghanistan troop casualty numbers coming out of the Pentagon are being manipulated. Well, no doy. If you ever listen to the DoD talk about civilian casualties and compare their 'stats' with just about any other information source in the world, then it's not news to you that the Pentagon's numbers are a little fuzzy. But there seems to be some compelling evidence that they're not just a little fuzzy, they're a big blur of lies....I mean really, 470 soldiers being sent home for "bubonic plague-related gunshot wounds"? come on Rumsfeld...

If you're a hawk, whether you want to admit it or not, you have an equation in your head about Iraq that goes something like this: "If X number of troops is killed, it's worth it. Any more than X, it's not worth it." But if you can't trust the casualty numbers coming out of the Pentagon, you'd better think about adjusting your X.

John Paul, Maybe God is Trying To Tell You Something


Pope John Paul II

The headline of this story is "Pope Unexpectedly Rushed to Hospital". OK, for one thing, it goes without saying that if you are rushed to the hospital it's unexpected, otherwise you wouldn't have to rush, right? And for another thing, there is nothing at all unexpected about the Pope having to seek medical attention.

I admire his tenacity, but I have to wonder in all seriousness if maybe he shouldn't hang up the mitre and take it easy for a while, the job doesn't seem to agree with him anymore. Last week he lip-synched Sunday mass - what's next, the Steven Hawking voicebox?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A Few Words About the Late Hunter S. Thompson

It's hard not to admire a man whose last wish was that his ashes be shot out of a cannon after his death, and it's hard not to admire a man who gave himself a 45 caliber headache while chatting on the horn with his wife.

I can't say I've read much of his work beyond his column on ESPN.com, but he always gave a great interview, and this one on Democracy Now is a testament to that.

9/11 Pentagon Crash Questions

I know that this particular conspiracy theory is ancient, but I was only introduced to it recently. It's the one that says that....well, hell, I don't know what it says but the theme is that the facts of the crash scene at the Pentagon don't really add up with what is claimed to have happened.


Pentagon 9/11/01 - The grass is scar-free and there really isn't much of a hole in the building.

The biggest piece of evidence is the scar left in the building. It was 50-something feet wide which is not nearly what you would expect from a 757 with a 150 ft wingspan. There's a few other mysterious elements - 'experts' say the fire was not consistent with what should happened with the spilling and igniting of 6200 gallons of jet fuel.

If that kind of thing interested you. Check out this site.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Pfaff Assesses Bush's Euro-Blindness

William Pfaff in the London Observer gives a big-picture assessment of the Old World / New World divide in this piece. The President may win a tactical concession or two, but the gulf is growing between the two continents because each has its own picture of tomorrow's world order, and they aren't completely compatible. And the trouble with the administration, according to Pfaff, is that it is unable to take on the philosophical differences because they just aren't that interested in even seeing them for what they are.

My take on it is that regardless of the mass protests in the street, regardless of the icy reception from European leaders, and regardless of the inadequate amount of 'concessions' he gets, Bush is going to call his trip to Europe a rousing success.

Maybe It's a Good Thing That the DNI Has 'Limited' Authority


Quite Appropriate Posted by Hello

President Bush has nominated Ambassador-to-Iraq John Negroponte to be the first Director of National Intelligence. Negroponte was the fourth choice of the Prez for this post after such notables as Robert Gates turned it down. Nevertheless the pick is right in line with Bush's other appointees: they've either failed miserably (and I mean that in the nicest possible way, Doctor Rice) or have committed morally reprehensible acts while in their previous posts. In Negroponte's case, he's yet another resurrected Iran-Contra criminal.

John Negroponte, or as he is known in the hip-hop community DJ NegroP, was the man behind the Reagan administration's Central America strategy in the mid-80's. As ambassador to Honduras in the early 80's, he was effectively Reagan's pro-consul in central America, transforming Honduras into a massive outsourced military base. From there, Negroponte oversaw the supply of the Contra rebels to fight Daniel Ortega's Sandanista government in Nicaragua.

It was the last gasp of the Red-Scare glory days of the Cold War. After all, Ortega was a commie and his commie troops 'could march in to Texas in 3 days'. But his real crime? He wasn't interested in playing lapdog to US economic policy. His administration was carrying out social programs that were succeeding (and popular). After pulling the strings for four decades with the Somoza dictators, Washington and the American business community suddenly had no power in Nicaragua due to Ortega's policies... and that had to be rectified. So Negroponte pumped millions into the campaign to get Ortega out of office - by any means necessary.

You remember the Contra rebels right? These guys were not freedom fighters and founding fathers, they were drug runners and murderers and were no more interested in restoring democracy than the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. And Negroponte is directly responsible for a multi-year campaign of terror and violence carried out by the newly-heavily armed Contras. We were all so blind back then...but tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the 1980's at the Reagan administration's request (yes, there were explicit instructions for the contras to go after 'soft targets'). Now wait, what's the definition of 'terrorism' again Mr. President?

That ongoing bloodbath combined with the stifling economic sanctions enacted in the mid-80s finally succeeded. Facing the choice to starve/bleed to death or to go to the polls and vote Ortega out of office in favor of the American puppet, the Nicaraguans reluctantly chose the latter. Ahhhh the sweet smell of democracy, delivered lovingly at the point of an M-16.


Lining up to take the Death Squad '85 team picture Posted by Hello

Negroponte is not being promoted by Bush for his fine work in Iraq over the last few months, he got the job for what he accomplished in Central America in the 1980's, i.e. pulling the puppet strings of the Honduran military, lording over the CIA station chief and all regional intel operations, designing a campaign of psychological warfare, sabotage, and torture, and - best of all - adeptly covering up US involvement to the point where virtually the entire country was united behind our Central American policy. Former official Rick Chidester, who served under Negroponte, says he was ordered to remove all mention of torture and executions from the draft of his 1982 report on the human rights situation in Honduras. Today NegroP perjures...um...I mean swears under oath that he was just a simple diplomat in Honduras, hosting lavish dinner parties and helping American travelers who lost their passports. He's 'never even heard' of half the covert operations that were carried out from Honduras... The guy is as mendacious as he is morally bankrupt. He doesn't deserve a promotion, what he deserves is a war crimes trial and a long sentence in a dank Nicaraguan jail.

RIP Kurt...You Sucked.


Kurt Cobain 2/20/67 - 4/5/94 Posted by Hello

Dammit, I missed Kurt Cobain's birthday yesterday. I may be the only person in the world who thinks that Nirvana was overrated...but a guy who eats a buckshot sandwich has my eternal respect.

Some of Paris Hilton's hacked T-Mobile Content

Somehow the 'authorities' are compelling people to take down their posts with the contents of Paris Hilton's Sidekick. This place has some of the highlights though:

Gawker : Archive for Culture: Paris Hilton

It's only been up for a few days, but my blog has already gone straight into the gutter.

No No...Please Don't Give Anyone My Phone Number!

So Paris Hilton's blackberry data ends up traveling around the Internet. Did you read that list of C-List losers in her date book? Paulie Shore's phone number? It's the most that guy's phone has rung in a decade.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Bill Clinton vs. GWB in 2008?

Did anyone notice last week where 4 House Republicans proposed a bill to repeal the 22nd Amendment of the US Constitution?

That would be the one that says the Prez can only serve two terms.

Don't worry, there's not a chance in hell it could ever happen. It would involve adding a 28th Amendment which in these politically polarized times, is really not possible. If you need a refresher on how to change the Constitution, here you go:

First of all, it has to be approved by the legislative branch of the federal government. The US House and Senate must pass the proposed amendment with a two-thirds majority in both houses. So long 28th amendment, it was good while it lasted. Even if it were to somehow pass through Congress, it would likely then go to the state legislatures. I say likely because there is another obscure way to get state approval that involves state 'conventions' - a method I don't think has ever been used. Anyway, 75% of the state legislatures would have to approve the proposed amendment, but only by a simple majority. I think what happens is a combined vote. Every lawmaker in both houses of each state's legislature has a single vote. (If I'm wrong on that, let me know.)

It would break down like this:

  • Republicans control 20 state houses (both House and Senate)
  • Democrats control 19 state houses (both House and Senate)
  • House and Senate are split in 10 states, but in those split states, Democrats have the majority in raw number of legislators in 6 states, Republicans in 3 states. As for Nebraska, with its uniquely ridiculous unicameral/'non-party affiliated' legislature, who the hell knows. I don't think it would matter. No matter how you juggle the numbers, Republicans would never be able to get the 37 states needed to pass the 28th Amendment.
There is no proposal on Earth that Dems would fight harder to defeat than one that gave even the slightest possibility of Bush being elected a 3rd term. But of course if W could run again, so could Bill Clinton. God knows he misses the limelight. Yikes.

When the Levee Breaks

When you think about astronomical big events, you think in terms of billions of years: the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago, the sun will die in 5 billion years, Uranus collided with an object that knocked it sideways a billion years ago, etc etc. The point is, not only do we not get to see anything cool, mankind has really never seen anything cool either because our lifespan is so pitifully short and homo sapiens has only been a species for maybe 50-100,000 years.

But with geologic events, although it seems like the Earth is unchanging (except for global warming of course), in reality stuff happens all the time. I know there's the frustratingly slow movement of the tectonic plates (the Atlantic Ocean is widening at the rate of 2 feet a year....snore) - but there are some interesting things that mankind has been around to see.

Here's one example of the map of the world changing overnight. (sort of)

The Black Sea had spent a few thousand years as an enormous freshwater lake. The Bospurus Straits, where Istanbul sits today, was a narrow strip of land that separated the Mediterranean from the Black Sea. They had been connected before the Ice Age, but the Straits are narrow enough that they filled with silt and eventually became completely corked. The salt in the Black Sea evaporated slowly and was gradually dilluted with river runoff until the water became Ozarka fresh. Over time the level of the Black dropped as the levels of the oceans (and therefore the Mediterranean) rose due to melting glaciers. There was a 15-20 meter difference in their water levels. The Bosporus Strait was essentially a dam that held back the entire ocean.

Then one day, about 8000 years ago (scientists are pretty sure it was a Tuesday) the silt cork failed. Remember the damn blowing in Force Ten from Navaronne? It starts with a trickle, which quickly erodes the rest of the structure. And then....picture Niagra Falls times a hundred. The 50 foot difference in water level meant 50 cubic km of ocean water poured into the Black Sea every day for several months. The shores of the Black were devastated. There were people all along the Black Sea - it was rich in freshwater sealife. Little fishing communities on the coastline woke up that Tuesday morning to find that the shoreline had snuck underneath them during the night and was moving at the rate of 1 km per day depending of course on the elevation of the surrounding land. If they were lucky, they had little fishing boats they could hop into to ride the tide. But every time they stopped at higher ground, the water kept coming...it must have been a little unnerving and damn inconvenient. Over the course of several months, the Black Sea grew in area by about 15% and took the shape it currently holds today. Finally, one day (scientists think it was a Thursday) the waters stopped advancing as the Black and the rest of the world's water were finally at the same level.



Current Black Sea Coastline Posted by Hello

If you like reading about stuff like this, I recommend 'After the Ice' by Steven Mithen, which is where I learned about the crazy Black Sea flood.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Stats and Stuff

The whole world may have realized this a long time ago, but it just occured to me that NBA player statistics and NFL player statistics should be more like Major League Baseball stats.

In baseball, pitchers' and hitters' absolute stats are normalized. A pitcher's ERA is the average runs he gives up per 9 innings. Batting average and slugging percentage are normalized over a player's total at-bats. Because of this you can compare two players no matter how different their participation level has been.

But in the NFL very few stats are normalized. The focus is always on how many interceptions a QB throws, but what is important is how many interceptions he throws per pass attempt. Think about these two players' season stats:
PLAYER A: 190/344 18 TD 6 INT
PLAYER B: 101/199 2 TD 5 INT
Player A is clearly the better protector of the ball in spite of throwing more interceptions than Player B. At least with quarterbacks the talk is often about the TD/INT ratio, which is better than nothing. For some reason in the NFL, absolute statistics reign supreme - total yards, total touchdowns, total receptions. For running backs, the most meaningful statistic (IMO), the yards per carry, plays second fiddle to total yards gained and total touchdowns. Consider some other stats begging to be normalized: total fumbles to fumbles per attempt. for an offensive line: total sacks allowed vs. total sacks allowed per pass attempt.

As an aside: while we're on the subject of sacks, I think an OL should be judged on sacks/PA as mentioned above, but then that stat should be normalized with the quarterback's rushing numbers. For mobile quarterbacks to get sacked means the OL must have really screwed up, but when David Carr gets sacked, it's half the OL's fault and half the fault of Carr because he's an oak tree in the pocket. So if you want to compare OL performances on sacks allowed, take the QB's mobility into consideration...and the way to judge a QB's mobility is through his rushing yards per carry. (BTW - you can't do this with college teams because college QB's get their sack yards counted against their rushing numbers....which is why you see college QBs with -68 rushing yards sometimes. It's a rule that should probably be looked at since it was put in place back in the days when everyone played option football.)

But I think NBA basketball is the worst. Why do we care so much about PPG? PPG is fine but it should be normalized against minutes per game to be really meaningful. e.g.
PLAYER A: 24 ppg 8.2 rpg 38 minutes played per game
PLAYER B: 22.5 ppg 5.6 rpg 31 minutes played per game
Player B is the more productive player on the court, but Player A is going to win the scoring title.

Why Appalachia Loses So Many Wars

I picked up a two-year old article by Steve Sailer in The American Conservative that discussed a fascinating aspect of Arab society: the incidence of marriage consaguinity. Marrying cousins and nieces may expose your offspring to genetic danger, but it's a great way to keep a clan tight, loyal, and (in some cases) wealthy. It's become such a punchline in the USA that less than 1 in 500 marriages here are between first cousins, but in Iraq, for example, it's something on the order of 2 in 5.

It's something to be considered by policy makers because it affects the way these cultures view institutions that we take for granted like democracy and nationalism.

Middle Easterners are intensely loyal to family, tribe, and clan as a logical product of how humans have evolved to where passing on our genetic information is of prime importance. For our species, cooperation is key. Sailer says that Western cultures choose to give that cooperation and loyalty to the nuclear family unit first, then political institutions (the state, the nation) second, and hope that some combination of the two loyalties will help us live productive lives that will allow our offspring - and therefore our genes - to prosper. Other cultures simply have a different approach to the same goal. Propogating genes means having kids, but it also means relatives having kids. Tribe-ism or Clan-ism offers a system of support for the members of the extended family who share a portion of the clan members genes. Marrying first-and second- cousins is a pillar of this system. Clan loyalties far outweigh political leanings or nationalism. So when we ask Iraqis and Afghanis to think of the greater good, it really is quite a foreign concept to them. Rallying around a flag is just not their thing.

Sailer even offers the theory that the consaguinity phenomenon has actually caused Arabs to lose modern wars. The last 100+ years of military science dictates a rapid fire and manoevre strategy that relies heavily on each unit trusting that the next unit over will do what they say. Non-clan based cultures have no problem with this - they can easily build loyalty to their fellow soldiers, company, division, and country. But for clan-based cultures, it's not so easy - they don't see the same value in risking your life for strangers, and that means poor morale and poor performance on the field of battle.

Didn't Vito Corleone hassle Michael for risking his life for strangers after he had joined the Marines? It's no coincidence - Sicilians also have a complex clan-based system and, therefore, a high incidence of consanguine marriages.

Never let anyone outside the family know what you're thinking.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Real Sooner Magic in Oklahoma

Do pollsters see the world through crimson-tinted glasses?

The bulk of the complaints about college football these days revolves around the lack of a playoff system. With the exception of the few that actually make the decisions, the entire world agrees that a playoff in any form would be better than the current system. NCAA football is the only major sport that decides its champion so arbitrarily. Fans have digested phrases like ‘Co-national champions’ – a completely absurd concept – and have become numb to anything more than low expectations for a fair season with a clear winner at the end. No other sport in the world aside from college football, not even soccer, would dare leave their championship tournament in a tie. But while fans focus on their singsong playoff complaints, another problem with the structure of the game lurks mostly unnoticed in the underbrush. College football rankings - the human polls - with their subtle flaws in both design and implementation have easily done as much damage to the sport’s integrity as the lack of a playoff has.

The AP and CNN/SI Polls have become the cornerstone of the sport. Their most profound role is in the calculation of the BCS ranking in the latter half of the season that not only determines who will play in the national title game, but also who gets at-large berths in the other major bowls. Millions of dollars can swing because of a poll voter’s whim. And there are ancillary complications that come from the polls as well. A team’s preseason poll ranking is often a direct consequence of its ranking in the previous season’s final poll. (Ask the Auburn Tigers if that matters or not.) Consider also that the human polls – not the BCS rankings - are still the gold standard by which coaches are judged, fired, and paid bonuses.

With so much riding on the human polls, the voters have an enormous responsibility. First and foremost we expect them to be fully informed about each team and the nuances of its recent performance. We also expect them to be fair, judging teams on their gridiron performance and nothing else. Also in the name of fairness the pollsters should treat all teams equally. Since there is no instruction book for the voters, each voter inevitably develops his own rules-of-thumb on how to punish or reward teams in the poll given a loss or win. As long as the voter applies these rules consistently, we can all live with that. But the polls are the fundamental force that separates football’s haves from its have-nots. So for college football to maintain at least a thread of credibility, the integrity of the polls is an absolute imperative.

And here’s where the problem lies. To put it mildly, the polls are broken. And college football, already a semi-farce due to its lack of a playoff system, is a full-on sham because of it. Just by looking at the timing of the polls we see that the need for pollsters to be ‘fully informed’ is out the window. It is physically impossible for voters to give adequate time to each team considering the deadline they are given to fill out their ballots. They have 20-30 three-hour games of significance to evaluate every weekend, and they’ve got less than a day to do it. They have little choice but to rely on the mainstream media for their information as well as their analysis. Not only is this in contradiction with poll voters’ mission, it ensures the polls will pass on the same inconsistencies and biases inherent in the mainstream media. Pollsters are human after all, and they are susceptible to the same prejudices and perceptual biases that we all are.

Over the last five years it has been reputation rather than performance, emotion rather than fact, which has dominated the top of the college football polls. And there is a single primary beneficiary of this phenomenon. It’s a team that has lulled the world to sleep with their greatness and consistency. The Sooners of the University of Oklahoma have been so good they’ve convinced AP voters that it’s not even necessary to watch their games anymore. How else can you explain the poll privileges they receive every single year? OU, while most certainly one of the elite programs in college football, lives a charmed existence enjoyed by no other team. And the consequences of this pro-Sooner bias have been, and will continue to be, far-reaching and deep.

College football pundits have been fascinated with OU ever since the school won its seventh national championship after the 2000 season. The story is familiar to virtually every fan of the game: in only his second year at the helm, Head Coach Bob Stoops assembled a powerhouse team that steamrolled through the opposition en route to a perfect 13-0 record. And unlike other recent national champions, there were no star recruiting classes, no slow accretion of blue chip talent that hinted at success in the near future. It just happened. Stoops turned unheralded players into champions virtually overnight. In Oklahoma, they attributed it to that good old fashioned ‘Sooner Magic’.

After 2000, the sports media embraced the Sooners. Already one of the most successful programs in college football history, their return to glory made for a perfect storyline. The 2000 championship team and its successors have fit right in with the OU legend; they’re mesmerizing to watch, dominant on both sides of the ball, and replete with stars. The press has dutifully gobbled up, amplified, and regurgitated every big play, every heroic come-back, and every stand-out player. When other teams would win, they had earned a victory, but when Oklahoma would win, they were fulfilling their destiny. Consider that since their championship season, the Sooners have been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated no less than seven times, four more than any other college football team. Ohio State is next with a lowly three. The media hasn’t simply covered the Sooners, they’ve had an ongoing love affair with them.

In the Sooners’ defense, they certainly deserve some of the limelight. After all, they field a championship contender every year. They have one of the best overall records in all of college football over the last several years. But it’s not just about gloss. The Sports Illustrated cover page domination by the Sooners is indicative of a deeper, more sinister phenomenon. Over the last several years the media (and as a direct consequence the AP Poll voters) have lost their objectivity where it concerns OU. Poll voters and media types have spun themselves such a self-reinforcing web of pro-Sooner bias that they’ve apparently lost the ability to watch how the team actually performs on the field. Oklahoma’s reputation and legend, rather than its play, have become the primary factor in how the team is evaluated and, therefore, ranked in the polls.

To be specific, poll voters treat OU differently. They reward OU more for wins and punish them less for losses than they do any other team in college football. And this bias has affected the outcome of the last four seasons, even altering the national championship picture.

The most glaring example of this bias came at the end of the 2003 season. The Sooners took their undefeated record and #1 AP ranking into the Big 12 Championship Game against Kansas State. The Wildcats had won a weak Big 12 North division after spending most of the year out of the top 25. In November they had strung together several impressive wins to reach #13 in the AP Poll. They had steadily improved toward the end of the season, but nobody considered them a threat to Oklahoma. The Sooners were heavy favorites and everyone in their right mind fully expected them to move on to compete for the school’s eighth national championship.

But not only did the Sooners lose the game, they were roundly beaten by a score of 35-7. The Sooners were sloppy and uninspired. Quarterback Jason White was constantly harrassed and threw two costly interceptions. The vaunted OU defense - so solid all year - gave up over 500 yards of offense to the Wildcats. KSU beat OU in every facet of the game. The poll voters now had to decide how to punish the Sooners. On the surface, a case could have been made for either light punishment or harsh punishment. True, it was a convincing loss, but a loss that came in a conference championship game, a challenge not every team in the country is obligated to face.

But while there is conversation every year about how to treat championship game losers, pollsters have already made up their minds. The short version goes something like this: tough spit, losers.

Using all of the SEC and Big 12 title games over the last five years as a baseline for comparison, poll voters have exhibited some clear and consistent behaviors in how they handle these special contests. On average, the loser of a conference championship game drops 3.5 places in the AP Poll. Another trend is that voters are particularly hard on teams that get upset. The 2001 Texas Longhorns fell all the way from #3 to #10 after losing 39-37 to #9 Colorado in the Big 12 Championship Game. In the SEC Championship Game that same year, the second-ranked Tennessee Volunteers were stunned by upstart LSU by a count of 21-20. For their effort, the Vols lost six places, tumbling to #8. It’s also been the case that voters consistently punish teams that lose big…caliber of the opposition notwithstanding. The perfect example of this occurred in 2003 when fifth-ranked Georgia lost six spots in the AP Poll following a decisive 34-13 defeat at the hands of #3 LSU.

OU was twice guilty against Kansas State; they were blown out, and they were upset. If history is any guide to what the poll voters would do, the stage was set for Oklahoma to plummet in the polls. But even though precedent would indicate a five or six place demotion, the AP voters mysteriously slotted OU at #3 in the next poll, a drop of only two spots. The ramifications of this light punishment were enormous. By staying at #3 in the AP Poll, the Sooners were able to maintain their BCS ranking and therefore qualify for the National Championship game against LSU. Had the pollsters treated OU like any other team, they would have installed the Sooners at #4, #5, or #6. Oklahoma would have then lost their BCS positioning and the national championship game would have taken place between USC (#1 in the actual AP poll) and LSU (#2). The pro-Sooner bias in the polls resulted in the split national championship of 2003.

It may be tempting to dismiss the two-spot drop as being insignificant. So to add some perspective to how unusually light that punishment was for the Sooners after a 28-point upset, consider what is typical for teams that lose by 25 or more points. Not counting OU, there have been 13 instances of a top ten team losing by 25 or more between 2001 and 2004, in both the regular season and the post-season. These teams lost an average of 7 spots in the AP Poll. The minimum punishment given was still four poll slots, which happened twice: Nebraska losing to Colorado in 2001, and Notre Dame losing to USC in 2002.

OU is the only team to suffer such a lopsided loss and only drop 2 slots.

There has, however, been one instance of a team falling only a single rung in the AP ladder after a blowout loss. That team? Guess who. It was the Oklahoma Sooners after the 2005 Orange Bowl when they were beaten by 36 at the hands of USC. After that bloodletting, the Sooners fell only from #2 to #3.

The 2003 storyline doesn’t end with Kansas State’s upset of Oklahoma. After getting off the hook for their loss to the Wildcats the Sooners landed in the Sugar Bowl to theoretically play for the national title. But in New Orleans they proved the KSU game was no fluke, losing this time to LSU. The Tiger defense smothered the Sooners, holding White, with his Heisman Trophy still in his suitcase after his trip to the New York Downtown Athletic Club, to just 56 yards of net offense and the OU ground game under 100 yards. To their credit, the Sooners stayed within striking distance in the midst of a statistical blowout; the final score was 21-14.

Here’s where it gets ridiculous. Once again the pollsters seemingly refused to accept the on-field results. In the final AP poll of the 2003 season the voters bestowed upon the Sooners a unique and unprecedented honor: a complete get-out-of-jail-free card. The 12-2 Sooners held on to the #3 ranking in the AP Poll. After their second convincing loss in a row the Sooners went completely unpunished.

To add some perspective on how unusually light this punishment was, consider that no other top ten team in the past four seasons has ever been granted the privilege of staying in its poll slot after losing a game, be it blowout or near-miss, regular season or post-season. Three times a team dropped only one slot after a loss. Who do you think it was? Each instance involved the Sooners. The most recent occurrence was the 2005 Orange Bowl referenced previously. Another instance was in 2001 when OU lost to the Eric Crouch-led Nebraska Cornhuskers by a score of 20-10 and only fell from #2 to #3. And then there was Kansas State’s 38-37 loss to the Sooners in 2001. For their effort the Wildcats fell one slot from #11 to #12. Was KSU forgiven its loss because they came so close to beating the object of the AP voter’s affection? Perhaps, but it’s interesting to note that the same forgiveness given to KSU has not been extended to the only other top ten team to fall to Oklahoma in the same timeframe. Texas has lost five times in the last five years to OU and has sunk an average of six spots in the subsequent AP poll.

Of course movement in a poll does not occur in a vacuum; a team’s win or loss must be viewed in the context of the other nearby teams in the poll. Returning to the 2003 season where Oklahoma lost two games to close out the season, there were in fact two other 2-loss teams that year along with OU: Ohio State & Miami. Each team had one fewer win than the Sooners, but of course neither had an opportunity to play in a conference championship game. Ohio State and Miami both won their bowl games and finished #4 and #5 (respectively) in the AP poll.

At first glance, it would seem that poll voters must have been out of options if they were willing to leave Oklahoma at #3 after two decisive losses. There must have been no other worthy teams to put at #3, right? Wrong. Ohio State and Miami were perfectly viable candidates to overtake the Sooners in the final poll, and had it been any team other than the Sooners that required leapfrogging, one or the other would have found themselves ranked #3 at year’s end. Miami’s season looked similar to OU’s in that their two losses came in back-to-back games against tough opponents, first to #10 Virginia Tech (31-7) in week 8 and then to #7 Tennessee (10-6) in week 9. But where the Sooners fell two spots in the AP Poll after their two game losing streak, Miami fell from #2 to #14. In Ohio State’s case, the Buckeyes had suffered a mid season loss to #23 Wisconsin (17-10) which sent them from #3 to #8. They had climbed back to #4 at the time of their loss to fifth-ranked Michigan (35-21) in the final game of the regular season, but were again demoted to #8. Normally teams with similar records are distinguished in the polls by the timing of their losses; the later the loss, the more damage it does to the ranking. This is a pretty standard college football algorithm, adhered to for decades (although admittedly with a few rare exceptions). But in the case of Oklahoma in 2003, that rule was inexplicably cast aside, to the chagrin of Miami and Ohio State.

A two-game losing streak like Oklahoma’s in 2003 is normally enough to convince voters that a team is not as good as they originally thought. It’s certainly been enough to cause eviction from the top of the AP Poll. In the case of a single loss, voters may opt against a significant demotion because they consider it to have been a fluke or the result of an unlucky break and therefore not indicative of the quality of the losing team. But a second loss in a row always acts to confirm that the team does not belong in the highest tier of the college football polls. All excuses are declared null and void after two straight defeats. Besides Miami in 2003 with their aforementioned 12 spot fall in the poll, there are three other examples of top ten teams losing twice in a row over the past several seasons. In 2003 Virginia Tech lost two in a row mid-season and fell from #3 to #13. In 2002 #4 Florida State dropped to #12 after two mid-season losses. And in 2001 #4 UCLA lost two close games and wound up at #17.

A top ten team losing twice in a row will fall an average of 10 spots in the poll. For its two-game losing streak, Oklahoma fell two spots.

But the Sooners don’t need a certain score, opponent, or situation to reap the benefits of a fawning media and starry-eyed voters. When OU loses, they always win. In four seasons they have lost a total of seven games. On average, the Sooners lost 2.7 slots in the AP Poll after each loss. Taking into account every single time a top ten team lost over the past four seasons, the average poll demotion is nearly 6 slots. The team with the next closest poll ‘resilience’ is Georgia. The Bulldogs have lost six games over the last four seasons in the role of a top ten team. Their average price per loss is 5 places in the AP Poll, nearly double that of the Sooners. Next in line is Michigan at 5.8, then Miami at 6 places, and Virginia Tech with 6.2 places, and upward from there. Ohio State and LSU lose an average of 7.5 places, and the poor Oregon Ducks, who have fallen three times as a top ten team, have forfeited 8 places.

If you’re still not convinced that OU is getting special treatment, there is much more evidence. Three of OU’s seven losses of the past four seasons have come at the hands of unranked opponents: Oklahoma State in 2001 and 2002, and Texas A&M in 2002. When the Sooners fell to OSU in 2001, they dropped from #4 to #11, their low-water mark over the past four seasons. When they lost to unranked Texas A&M in College Station the following year, the Sooners went from #1 in the AP to #4. And the same year saw Oklahoma lose to Oklahoma State again, at which point they fell from #3 to #8. In the 40 instances of a top ten team losing to an unranked opponent, the average poll demotion is nearly 8 slots. Oklahoma, on the other hand, has lost an average of five slots. It goes without saying that no other team is punished less than OU for losing to unranked teams.

Oklahoma has an advantage when losing to ranked opponents as well. Four of their losses have come at the hands of teams in the AP top 25. In 2001 it was #3 Nebraska beating the Sooners 20-10. Then there were the two losses in 2003 to #13 Kansas State and #2 LSU. And finally this year, Oklahoma lost to #1 USC in the Orange Bowl. In the 49 instances of a top ten team losing to an AP top 25 team, the loser gives up an average of 5.7 places in the poll. After its four losses, the Sooners gave up an average of one place in the poll.

Granted, with the exception of Kansas State, the three ranked teams that beat the Sooners were elite teams, which could potentially serve to explain why poll voters were reluctant to punish OU too much for their losses. But once again, the records prove that OU is playing by a different set of rules. There were thirteen cases of a top ten team falling to an ‘elite’, ranked #1, #2, or #3. In those thirteen cases, the loser fell an average of 4.5 slots in the AP Poll. In OU’s three losses, they fell one, zero, and one slots. In case you’re no good at math, that’s an average of .67 slots.

The poll voters are only reflecting a bias also maintained by the general public. Witness Oklahoma’s pointspread record. It’s a window on whether teams overperform or underperform to expectations, or to say it another way, it can indicate whether expectations are set too high or too low. Las Vegas oddsmakers create a pointspread based on where they project public opinion will be evenly divided. Even if their own calculations show that a given team is 7 points better than their opponent one week, they will set the line at -8 or -9 to accommodate the public’s bias. They know people will bet on the big name teams for their name only, regardless of whether they deserve it or not. Since they’re not as good as people believe they are, the team should eventually post a losing record against the spread as reality catches up with legend. And that’s exactly what’s happened with OU. In 2004 the team was 4-9 against the spread. Over the last four years, they’ve compiled a spread record of 24-28, one of the worst in the Big 12. They’ve delivered more pointspread losses to bettors than any team in the conference except Texas A&M. The Aggies, by the way, are a perfect example of the lag that exists while bettors catch up with reality. Between 2001 and 2003 the Aggies went 9-24 against the spread as bettors clung to the notion that A&M still fielded teams that could compete for the Big 12 title as they did in the 1990’s. In other words, bettors bet on the Aggies’ reputation rather than their play. In 2004 the gambling public finally came to terms with the Aggies’ true nature, the bookmakers in turn reduced the lines, and the team posted a 7-5 record against the spread. As long as the Oklahoma hype machine keeps moving along – and the free pass given to OU after the Orange Bowl debacle indicates it will - there is no reason to expect anything other than another losing season against the spread for the Sooners. The wagering public will likely continue to bet on ‘one of the greatest teams of all time’, and will continue to lose.

How did we get to this point? Why does OU consistently pay a smaller price for losing to bad teams than others do for losing to good teams? Much of it has to do with basic human nature. It is natural to give extra weight to any piece of information that supports a theory that we believe in. In the same way, we filter out evidence in contradiction of that theory. We all do it. It’s an intellectual shortcut that has been hardwired inside of us since the dawn of mankind. In politics for example, people read and listen to information sources more likely to re-enforce their pre-existing opinions. People like to be re-assured that they are following the right path, so Republicans listen to Rush, and Democrats listen to NPR. And when contradictory facts are presented, they are subjected to a higher level of analytical rigor that will be more likely to yield a reason to dismiss or discount them. At some point in the last five years, the theory that the Oklahoma Sooners were different than other college football teams became the conventional wisdom. Once the media convinced the public (or was it the other way around?), their treatment of the Sooners became about building up and defending that conclusion. Once the media was aboard, the problem only got worse. It was a competition to see who could heap the most praise on the amazing Sooners. And the result has been a complete loss of integrity in the polling process.

The AP voters, with their limited time and attention spans, inevitably view teams through the distorting lens of the mass media. This presents a conflict; contrary to popular belief the mission of the sports media is to tell compelling stories, not to present a balanced view of a given issue. If it helps that mission to stretch the truth through exaggeration and hyperbole, then so be it. Before the Kansas State loss, pundits spoke with a straight face of the 2003 Sooners as a team for the ages. “The 2003 Oklahoma Sooners are coming dangerously close to being considered among the greatest teams of all time,” declared a writer from College Football News the day before the fateful Big 12 Championship Game. Earlier that season, ESPN Analyst Trev Alberts claimed that Oklahoma's second team could win the Big Ten conference. Poll voters cannot help but absorb this ambient love for Oklahoma. They had to make their assumptions and cast their ballots in an atmosphere that featured a chorus of voices declaring that the Sooners were a program that transcended space and time. How could they possibly be immune to that?

When the Kansas State and LSU losses occurred, voters found themselves trapped. The ‘greatest team of all time’ got annihilated by a team not even ranked in the top ten, then got manhandled by an out-of-conference upstart. The oceans of praise stood in direct conflict with the results on the field. But the belief in Oklahoma’s greatness and transcendence was so ingrained that base human nature took over, and the contradictory evidence was simply ignored by the pollsters, leaving the Sooners in the stratosphere of the AP Poll. They fell two little spots for losing two games in a row. One can’t help but wonder: what would it have taken to finally evict OU from the top ten? At the pace they were on, three losses wouldn’t have done it, and maybe not even four.

Oklahoma – the school, the team - has committed no crime. They are an outstanding football program and their return from mediocrity is as compelling a story as there is in college sports. But the Sooners’ meteoric rise is interwoven, and is practically dependent upon, this tainted, broken process called the human polls. Virtually everyone agrees that a playoff system would take away much of the farcical quality of college football’s championship process. But if the playoff is ultimately seeded using human polls, and those polls continue to be dictated by popular media (rather than actual independent analysis by the voters), on-field results will still be exaggerated or ignored, teams will continue to be treated unevenly, and the playoff – college football’s panacea – will be just as flawed as the BCS is today. Teams will make or be left out of the bracket on reputation rather than performance. Today’s love affair happens to be with the Sooners, tomorrow’s may well involve USC or another team. But no matter who the team is, it adds unfairness to a system already racked with inequity.

So the folks in Norman are right; it appears that Sooner magic does indeed exist. But it’s not the kind of magic that manifests itself in a last-second miracle catch, or a fortuitous fumble bounce. Today’s Sooner magic is at work off the field. This magic is in the form of a powerful spell cast over AP voters which acts as a dual potion of love and blindness. It makes them all hum “Boomer Sooner” in their sleep, whether they’re aware of it or not.

It’s time to wake up. College football depends on it.


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