Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Wednesday, December 31, 2008


What a year 2008 has turned out to be. Plucky little Davidson makes the elite 8, and now Vandy wins its first bowl game since 1955!!!! Hell, they hadn't even been in one since 1982, their last winning season before this year's mighty 7-6 (4-4 SEC). They've now been to four bowls EVER. True, it was a glorified home game in the Gaylord Hotels' Music City Bowl. But BC (entering at 9-4) was a reasonably tough opponent and came in with the nation's longest bowl win streak at 8.

For those of you who watched, it was an uggggly game. Vandy had little offense, scoring three field goals and one fluky touchdown on a deflected punt return. They rotated a three-QB platoon, openly signalling whether each play would be a pass, a run, or a prun (rass?)--none very effective. On the other hand, Vandy had no penalties and no turnovers. Yeah, no penalties!!! That's the kind of excitement we Vandy fans have come to demand.

So, Go Dores! Can't wait until 2061.


Bravo, old blogoy, bravo! Hard not to smile about the most recent turn of events in Illinois. Rod's not so dumb after all, is he? Sure, he's a corrupt sonofabitch who oughta get run out on a rail, but on the way he's having a lot of fun at the expense of all those googoo Dems who have been sticking it to him over the last three weeks. There's something about his impish glee in the midst of shameless political brinksmanship that demands admiration.

Two aspects of this worthy of comment: First, this is tactically very smart, as others have noted. What Blago needs now is friends, and he may have just "bought" a few, including Bobby Rush. At the same time, he deflects attention just a bit from himself. It's a lot easier to oppose a Blago pick in the abstract than to deny a well-liked and respected member of the IL political establishment, and an African-American to boot. I think the Senate Dems will hold fast, but this pick makes that decision just a little tougher.

Second, what Dems have most lacked over the last decade or so, at least in comparison to the GOP, is an appreciation of political theatrics. Obama has brought some of that back, despite his desire to be "No Drama" Obama. But the Dems will be faced with a lot more from the congressional GOP over the next few years. Better get used to it now. Time to start working on their theatrics game, both offense and defense. Where better to start than an in-party dispute case where you've got the essentials on your side?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Rick Warren Flap

Good Frank Rich column today critical of Obama's pick of Rick Warren to pray at the inauguration. I thought about this while I was away and have a few thoughts.

I'm unclear on why Obama thinks it's a good move to reach out to evangelical voters on religion, to try to find common grounds on faith, as this move seems to suggest he is. Finding common ground on economic issues, even on international issues (HIV/AIDS), sure. But it's one thing to work together on specific issues and another to effectively endorse beliefs.

Setting aside the same-sex marriage issue for a moment, Obama may think that by validating the beliefs of evangelicals he can defuse their sense of victimhood, and that if evangelicals cease to feel persecuted, then they may be more persuadable on economic or international issues. You might call this the de-O'Reilly-ification of GOP voters. If it's only a matter of bolstering the social standing of the evangelicals, this might work.

Except, as any nonbeliever will tell you, evangelicals are not stigmatized in American society. Oh, sure, they may be mocked in elite culture and in certain forms of media from time to time. But in most of the country, most of the time, evangelicals are fish in the ocean. Belief, especially belief in a personal relationship with God, is a background assumption of American culture. Belief is normative.

It's not actual persecution or victimization that matters. In a sense, evangelical Christianity, which models itself on a model of the early Church (especially Baptism, but I'm sure this is true of non-doms too)--assumes that Christians are persecuted. Like the first Christians, they are always outsiders. Even if not socially outcast (and they are not), they perceive that they are outcasts.

This is the mindset. It's reinforced by the O'Reillys of the world . . . but it has a theological basis, if you will.

You can't defuse this, not through being nice. Because almost everyone is nice to these people almost all the time. Personal experience is not key. Belief is key. And belief is incorrigible.

So I think that this is a bad move, strategically. It's unlikely to work because it mis-understands evangelical belief. (Obama may be familiar with this mindset of persecution (?), but he may associate it with the sentiments of black folks--in his church and in the community. But white evangelicals feel as persecuted as black Christians.)

Tactically, that raises same-sex marriage. Obama has apparently decided that he can piss off gays and lesbians in the short-term because they don't have anywhere to go. Maybe. But it's almost always a mistake to anger friends to get nothing.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

R.I.P. Grendel (1990-2008)

One of our best friends ever passed away tonight, just after 6 pm EST. She had really declined of late, losing almost all of her weight (this picture is of the University Heights house from 2003--she was half that weight or less when she passed), her appetite (that follows), etc. It was sad to see her go so quickly, but that's the way with cats. At least Bee and I were with her.

G was a feral cat when Frances adopted her--back when Frances was an undergraduate. Yes, you read that right.

G had a great life (for a cat born in the alley behind a mall in southern Mississippi, a life of luxury), and she was loved by many. She will be missed.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What Do You Want for Christmas?

Worst Outdoors State by Area

Backpacker magazine has a great map [update: I'm told that this kind of figure is called a cartogram] this month (I don't think it's available online yet) of the states, with the size of the states adjusted for responses to the magazine's poll of outdoor activities. I.e., so the biggest state is the readers' favorite for outdoor activities, even if it isn't the actual biggest state. No surprise that Colorado gets top honors, with California, Washington State, and Utah all in the running.

The eastern U.S. is relatively small on the map, which is somewhat weird given the location of population centers. My guess is that the readership of the magazine has a pro-Western bias.

But looking at the map, it seems pretty clear to me that Illinois is the worst performing state, by land area, in the poll. I'm surprised that Ohio looks pretty small, too, but given Illinois's larger land area, I'd have to say that Illinois is the worst outdoor state by land area.

Btw, the number one activity of readers in the poll was day hiking, followed by backpacking and then photography.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Iron(ic) Results

I failed with my New Years Resolutions for 2008. Although I would guess that a majority of weeks I ran 30 miles (give or take a mile or two), I never averaged 30 miles a week. I had a couple of weeks with essentially zero miles (e.g., the week Bee was born). So not even close to averaging 30 miles a week. And my time in the Cherry Blossom race this year was better than last year but not sub-70 minutes.

In weights, well, it was not a great year, in terms of building weight. I benched 215 clean today (without a lift-off!), but I have failed on every attempt at 225, and that means I am still a good 30 pounds short of my all-time max of 245 lbs.

Given that I started the year with 205, that means that I moved 10 pounds closer to the goal in 12 months. Not great. I think I need a more intensive training regime. I lift weights most weeks once, and probably a plurality of weeks twice. But I have lifted three times only a handful of weeks and probably can't expect to do so.

Not an epic fail for the year, but not a rousing success, either.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

On a Raft with Huck and Jon

I know this episode of The Daily Show is now a week or so old, but they just replayed it a few days ago and I've been thinking about it ever since. What amazed me, although maybe it shouldn't have, is how naive and simplistic Huckabee's defense of conservatism was. Here, in a nut-shell, is his argument: if people were just nice to each other all the time, we wouldn't really need government. The scales--they've fallen! Sign me up for the revolution!

If that's not the most utopian drivel I've ever heard, then paint me red and call me Karl. Paint me green and call me Ayn. No, we're doing a disservice to those utopian frauds. Marx at least had a realist (and plausible, ca. 1848) account of economic history, and Rand was at least cynical about human motives. Huck's spinning some crap from the five-year olds' Sunday school class. This is Emma Goldman meets Mr. Rogers, Kropotkin trippin' on X in a Seuss hat. Jesus, man! (Jesus Man), whatever happened to original sin!? Gimme some "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," not this warmed-over Joel Osteen shit. You're making me miss the days when antinomians like you got thrown in the stocks. Now, as you guys know, I'm a pretty liberal Christian, and I'm all about the tolerance and glad tidings, yada yada. I don't like talking about hell unless the sentence includes names like Hitler, Stalin, or Falwell. But let's keep the radical forgiveness shtick for when we're all dead, not when we're, oh I don't know, keeping an eye on the hedge funds.

What has happened to conservatism? Somehow, they've managed to combine an utterly amoral set of governing/campaigning tactics--ones I might call "Machiavellian" if I didn't have so much respect for that old skeptic and democrat--with a self-image borrowed from Bobby McFerrin, or, think of it as Malcolm X in a purple dinosaur costume, or Joe McCarthy carrying a Tinky Winky purse. And here's the worst part: Huckabee was one of the least objectionable Republicans this year! I kinda like the guy, and given an apocalyptic choice between him and Mitt Romney (or Sarah Palin), I'd be out on a street corner passing out "Don't Fuck With Huck" buttons. Given the recent drift of GOP politicians, I can't wait to see what their next generation of leadership is going to look like.

It's Harder Than It Looks

Here's a thought experiment:

How hard is it to put together a winning sports franchise? It shouldn't be that hard. Start with baseball. What's the key? You will need three-four (quality) starting pitchers, a set-up man, a closer, a long reliever (less essential); two-three run producers (power), a couple of guys who can get on base (i.e., take walks, hit for average); and specifically, a shortstop, a catcher, and a center fielder.

There are hundreds, thousands, of athletes out there who want to play for your team (or any team that will pay them). Of course, the physical execution of baseball is extremely difficult. But you can spend years developing your players in the minor leagues.

And yet, how many teams have three quality starting pitchers? Now think about it, if you're the GM, you know, right now, that you need these guys for the 2011 season. That's more than three years out. But if you are the GM in 25 (?) major league cities, you won't have three quality starters on April 1, 2011.

Why not?

Because you will lose your guys through free agency? But you can draft the players now and develop them. That is, of course, very difficult. Because it's hard to know which 18-21 y.o. man will develop into a ML pitcher. But you can draft a number of guys and hope a few develop . . . but it's harder than it looks.

Same with any sport. There's a great deal of luck. The uncertainties can be reduced, but only marginally, through scouting, research, better training methods. Oh, sure, you can do better (or worse), and coaching, technique, resources, all matter. There are interpersonal effects, which are hard to measure in advance or even in retrospect.

To be continued.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Coaches and Parties

There's an old saying in football: "There are only two types of coaches--coaches who have been fired, and coaches who are going to be fired." Even the greats run out of steam at some point--Woody Hayes, famously, but seemingly not JoePa? Joe Gibbs certainly--the game had left him behind.

But most coaches who get fired (and I'll expand this to other sports) get fired for things beyond their control. A coach takes over a bad franchise (say, hypothetically, the Lions) and continues to lose. A coach has some success with one roster but players age, move on as free agents, and he has less success with different players. A "genius" coach designs a new system but other coaches catch up and learn to defense the system, bringing the genius back to earth.

So we can talk a lot about why a coach "deserves" to get fired (Jim Zorn? Norv Turner?), but at a certain level there is no desert. Coaches have success, often for reasons beyond their control. Coaches suffer failures, ditto. Coaches can make a difference, but my guess is that coaching is less important than other factors, most of the time.

Look at the long list of great coaches who have failed with a second (or third) team: Ditka in New Orleans, Gibbs in Washington (Part II), Spurrier with the Redskins and in South Carolina. It's the rare coach who wins and wins and wins, even after changing locale. And that coach usually, but not always, has great players when he wins in the second or third place. Note that the "genius" of New England had little success with the Browns.

I think that there's an analogy to political parties here. A political party can win an election for reasons beyond its control. A political party can lose an election for reasons beyond its control. Sure, things the parties do matter. Ideas can matter. But like coaching, party leaders have limited control over events. Ideas rarely determine the outcomes.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the efforts to reinvigorate the Republican party, either as a party of ideas or as a party that speaks to middle- and lower-class voters on bread-and-butter issues. And I have to say that I'm skeptical. Skeptical that the ideas ever mattered that much, and skeptical that ideas and/or policy positions really matter, that much.

The GOP won in 1980 because things had gone very poorly for the US of A in the years preceding the election. It wasn't like the Democrats or Carter had much to do with that. Paul Volker probably had more effect on the economy than Carter, and the policies from the Johnson and Nixon administrations left the country in a rough patch. It's unlikely Carter could have stopped the Iranian revolution, and the seizure of the hostages, well, game over for the incumbent party.

I heard Douthat on NewsHour say that Carter had failed to cope with the economic crisis yadda yadda, no mention of the hostage crisis. Boy, he's young and stoopid.

Reagan won in 1980, but if George H.W. Bush would have won the nomination in 1980, he would have won the 1980 general election.

The GOP won in the congressional elections in 1994 because Southern conservative districts finally voted the way they should have been doing for decades. It wasn't the Contract with America!

I would say something similar about 2008. Did the Republicans really lose because they had no policy agenda? Or did they lose because they were the party in power during a financial crisis, a housing crisis, etc.? I doubt that Obama's policy proposals had much affect. In a very real sense, the GOP was in the situation of the coach who has run the same system for thirty years (sound like anyone?) but suffers some key injuries and faces other teams on an up-swing. Their luck had run out.

Around the blogosphere, we like to analyze and over-analyze these things (i.e., elections). But I'm not convinced that we don't over think them.

Now, of course many of the folks talking about reinvigorating the party have a motive for doing so--they want the reinvigorated party to adopt their ideas. But I would really like to see a discussion of how much any of that really matters in winning elections.

Free Rod

The more days pass the more I start to think that Rod "[Beep]'em" Blagojevich is getting a bum rap in this "selling a Senate seat" scandal. This is not to say that he's probably not corrupt on any number of other fronts (although if he is, then they should indict him on that). But I'm skeptical that one can really "sell" a Senate seat.

This reminds me of a case from years ago. A Detroit mob case. There were these two ne'er-do-well nephews of this mob boss--the family kept them at arm's length, at least, all the time, because, well, they were bleeping morons. The feds wiretapped them (in their car, in their homes, too, I believe), and these guys talked themselves into any number of serious charges by running off at the mouth and talking "tough" (more like stupid). So there was this Arab shopkeeper (it was Detroit) who wouldn't pay them protection money, and they talked about killing him. Ooops. That's conspiracy to commit murder. They talked about "whacking" a lot of people. But in their whole crime spree, how many people did they kill? I believe that the number was zero.

Blago, too. He loved to talk (like a gangster no less). And they have him on tape. But what did he actually do? Not very clear. Is there fire, or was this guy just blowing smoke?

I think that it would be hard to argue that federal prosecutors never overreach. I know that my GOP friends, and Judith Miller, will agree that Fitzgerald has overreached in the past.

I'm not defending Blago. I know what I've heard, and he could be guilty (of lots of things). But if the feds are listening in and watching everything you do, well, there are a lot of federal crimes. And some of them are amorphous, to say the least.

Count me as a skeptic.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How I Feel

Final grades. In.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Meditations in an Emergency

I've said many times in recent years (and I'm OLD, so recent goes back like a decade) that we certainly do live in interesting times. In the last decade, more or less, we've seen a president impeached, a deadlocked presidential election decided (effectively) by the Supreme Court, a major terrorist attack on the "Homeland," two wars, a black man elected president, and now . . . an effing Great Depression 2.0?

How I long for the good old days when the biggest issue of the day was term limits. Or a line item veto. Or a balanced budget amendment.

At this point, I don't think we'll see a balanced budget while I'm in the workforce. And given the state of my "201K"--and yes, I've heard that joke like a million times in the past month or so--I will be in the workforce for quite a while yet.

If you're OLD like me, and we all are, then you remember what I'm talking about. The 1990s were an immensely silly time. In retrospect, it's almost like the last half or so of Tuchman's Proud Tower, which is about the end of the 19th century and the coming of the Great War. In the 1990s it was almost possible to forget that history doesn't necessarily move in a linear fashion . . . although in the 1990s we debated "the end of history." Oops. That seems to have been premature, in retrospect.

I think we're going to see quite a bit of history in the next few years. Let's hope that the darkest possibilities do not come to pass. Let's hope (or pray, if you go for that sort of thing, please do pray) that history is cyclical, and that the upturn follows the down.

I was at a work meeting this week (thus no posts), and let's just say that it's very hard for anyone to be optimistic at this point about the short- and medium-term. Even the folks who have the job of institutional cheerleader.

When the occupational optimists say that we're in for a rough stretch, then the pessimist in me applies the discount rate and says d'oh.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


I have seen the future, and her name is McD.

We got our first little black and white picture show on Monday, although, sad to say, we couldn't get a very good facial view. We did, however, discover that I won't be able to use the name "BarackhusseinMcD" any time soon. Probably for the best. It would've given my adorably GOP, 93-year old grandmother a coronary.

Lots of eggs on the griddle these days. Loquacious McD, Lips, and Mrs. TMcD will be delivering the next generation of Hillaries in Feb., March, and April. Add in Lang, Bee, and Francesca, and that's a lot of estrogen emanating from the greater FFBosphere. I credit #3, whose little ol' lady voice is obviously seeping across the inter-tubes, making this here g-URL ground zero for Generation Pink Snuggly. Much to be thankful for this year. Congrats to all the moms!