Sunday, November 30, 2008

Earl, on the personal impact of the fallout from the current financial crisis

Can't remember how exactly this was relevant to Galatians (though it did seem relevant at the time somehow), but my friend Earl had occasion to inform us that "last time I checked, my 401k had turned into a 185k..."

"Criminal Mastermind of the D...Oops, Never Mind" Dept

So you're a cop in Montgomery Township, New Jersey. (Let's just say right now, by the way, that if you're living of your own free will in New Jersey, then whatever happens to you, you had it coming; so this post is about laughing at you, not pitying you.) A bank alarm goes off. You go to the bank and peek in, and you see in the shadows the outline of a person standing in the lobby where no person should be at that hour. You go to Condition Red. You evacuate everybody in the next three apartment building. You call to the robber on bullhorns; you call him on the phone; he doesn't respond; he just ignores you entirely. Finally your SWAT team bursts into the building and discovers...

HT: His Daveness

The Devil's Dictionary: Cynic (n.)

A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision.

The Devil's Dictionary: Cunning (n.)

The faculty that distinguishes a weak animal or person from a strong one. It brings its possessor much mental satisfaction and great material adversity. An Italian proverb says: "The furrier gets the skins of more foxes than asses."

The Devil's Dictionary: Cui bono? (Latin)

What good would that do me?

The Devil's Dictionary: Critic (n.)

One who pronounces himself hard to please because nobody tries to please him.

The Devil's Dictionary: Corsair (n.)

A politician of the seas.

The Devil's Dictionary: Contempt (n.)

The feeling of a prudent man for an enemy who is too formidable safely to be opposed.

(This, by the one, is one of my very favorites in the whole dictionary.)

The Devil's Dictionary: Conservative (n.)

A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

The Devil's Dictionary: Conservative (n.)

A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

Well, congratulations, OU...

...but now I think UT ought to be going instead of us, because now, with the latest OU linebacker injury, I think UT could field a better team and would represent the Big XII better in the national championship game.

And that in itself ought to tell you how close those two teams are. [sigh]

By the way, I've been thinking about the rhetorical trick being played by the "45-35, 45-35, 45-35," crowd, and here's the fundamental dishonesty involved.

What the 45-35 contingent does, rhetorically, is this:

1. They look at the three teams in the three-way tie and say, "Well, let's figure out who the worst is."

2. Then they (rightly) kick out Tech.

3. Then they say, "So now let's pretend it was a two-way tie, not a three-way tie."

4. Then they say, "We won head-to-head, so we should we go."

Now the reason that this is patently hypocritical, is this: it's equally valid logic to remove the best team first, like this:

1. We look at the three teams in the three-way tie and say, "Well, let's figure out who the best is."

2. For reasons adduced previously on this blog (which reasons, I might add, were good enough for the computers and the voters), you establish that Oklahoma is the best of the three, and remove them from the equation. Now we need to know which of the remaining two, Tech or Texas, will get the second BCS bid.

3. Then we say, "So now let's pretend it was a two-way tie, not a three-way tie."

4. Then they say, "Tech won head-to-head, so they should get the second BCS bid instead of us -- because 39-33 is the only thing that matters."

Now, that is just as logically valid a proceeding as the one the Forty-Fivers are claiming we'll all go to hell if we don't follow. But do you really think there's even the slightest chance that the maroons who rented that 45-35 plane, are now going to say, "Well, since now it's between us and Tech for the second BCS bid, and Tech beat us head-to-head, Tech should go to the BCS instead of us; it doesn't matter whether or not people think that, all things considered, we're a better team, because 39-33 is the only thing that ought to matter"?

Like hell they will.

Hypocritical bastards... [grinning]

And the BCS nod goes to Oklahoma...

...which I say not because of what happened in Stillwater (though that was, as I have said so often in this unbelievable year in the Big XII South, a football game for the ages). What happened in Stillwater was an OU survival that I think leaves UT fans still with reasonable grounds to feel that they ought to be Big XII South champs -- their case is not as strong as it was going into the weekend's action, and I think OU has a better case, but 20 points when the last 7 was a gimme and when OU was mostly outplayed for most of the game (and, hey, I watched it, and I spent most of the game thinking we were bloody lucky to still be ahead) is most certainly not the domination that in my mind would have pushed OU's case over the top.

But it will be OU that comes out tops in the BCS, I now firmly believe. Not, as I say, because of what happened in Stillwater. It's what happened in Kansas City.

See, the pollsters already decided: they picked OU last week, and none of them are going to flip over to UT after this weekend. I imagine that if you voted for UT last week, you'll do so this week again -- and if you voted for OU last week, you'll go Boomin' this week, too. So OU gets the one-notch edge in both polls -- which means UT has to make up the difference in the computers.

It was already conventional wisdom that UT wouldn't improve its computer ratings by beating the woeful A&M, especially in Austin. The question was whether OU could boost its ratings enough by beating OSU on the road.

But then Missouri went and lost -- which means that UT's computer rankings not only won't improve this week. Now they're actually going to drop, because the Missouri win just got devalued. I think most people felt that an Oklahoma win on the road at OSU, especially if decisive (and the computers will see the twenty points and won't see the immaculate deflection to Gresham nor count the number of times Oklahoma was teetering on the edge of losing control of the game) would boost OU past UT. Add the completely unexpected Missouri loss into the mix and I think UT is toast.

But UT can still hold onto hope. One of the two teams in the BCS championship will be either Alabama or Florida. The other will be either Oklahoma or Texas. I don't think Texas will play in the Big XII championship. But if Oklahoma loses to Missouri, Texas will play for all the marbles. That's right, USC it out -- the Trojans won't jump both Alabama and Florida, and they won't jump both Oklahoma and Texas. It will be the SEC champion against Big XII South survivor.

Texas just has to pray for a Missouri upset now.

Heckuva game tonight, though, wasn't it? Wow. What a man-up by Bradford and the rest of the OU offense...

Oh, by the way: OU lost another linebacker for the season tonight. The one position where we absolutely couldn't afford any more attrition. Just devastating. Now I'm genuinely worried -- and ironically, now I'm thinking that Texas is probably back in front as far as goes the question, "Which of the two teams can put a better team on the field at this point?" If Oklahoma goes up against Florida now, I switch my bet from OU to Florida -- if you're going to play either Tebow or McCoy, you have to be stacked at linebacker, and the Sooners are now officially in deep trouble at a sick irony, the Sooners are probably back to the second-half-of-the-Shootout Sooners, with the hole at linebacker that they're not likely to be able to fill effectively.

So, as much as I like Urban Meyer and detest Old Nick Saban, I'm a big Alabama supporter as of right now, because I like the matchup better -- I think you have a better chance of compensating for lineback problems against Alabama than you do against Florida. And Oklahoma is going to have to go the rest of the way with major linebacker trouble, alas.

And if the only think I cared about was making sure the Big XII won the national championship rather than the SEC, then I'd pull for Oklahoma to lose to Missouri -- because, after a week of arguing for OU's superiority, in the wake of this latest linebacker injury I think Texas is a better team and would be more likely to bring the trophy home.

Life's full of irony, I suppose...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A clarification

The problem with publishing first drafts is that you rarely say exactly what you mean on the first try. My friend John responded to the big OU/UT post by referring, in part, to my apparent conclusion that "UT’s defeat of OU was entirely due to a single injury." That was a reasonable reading of what I wrote, but it wasn't what I believe nor what I was trying to say, and I want to correct that impression.

UT's defeat of OU was not entirely due to a single injury. That injury was neither a necessary nor a sufficient cause. It is absolutely not a given that OU would have won if Reynolds had stayed healthy. I would argue that UT needed some breaks to swing their way; but then the overwhelming number of battles between heavyweights turn, in the end, on a couple of breaks or a couple of back-breaking plays. I indulged in a bit of special pleading myself about that first half, after all (I was curious to see whether anybody would jump me for it) -- to talk about OU's offensive dominance in the first half without pointing out that 25% of OU's points came on a ridiculous, look-what-I-found pass deflection, is pretty borderline, and I can only plead that I was writing very very fast and didn't take the time to go back and revise the first draft. UT needed something to go their way -- as I put it (but not very clearly): "UT’s hope was for more special-teams heroics, or for a critical turnover, or for some huge break."

But of course they had already had some special-teams heroics and (given that Oklahoma's special teams was at that point in the schedule a well-known weakness) certainly reason to hope for more. And turnovers don't happen very often to either the UT or Oklahoma offense, but both of those defenses are pretty good at making turnovers happen. And most big games have at least one or two big breaks. It turned out that in this game the big break was the Reynolds injury; but I don't see any reason whatsoever to think that another break wouldn't have come along if Reynolds hadn't gotten hurt -- it might have favored Oklahoma, of course, but it might also have favored Texas. Texas needed a break or a big play; but with most of the second half to go it was perfectly reasonable to hope for one. Therefore the Reynolds injury was not a necessary condition of UT's winning.

And it wasn't sufficient, either. Every year there are at least fifty games in which one team gets a big break -- and doesn't do anything with it. Without Reynolds the OU defense was dramatically weakened, but it was still a bloody good defense. That didn't keep UT from saying, "Ha! Gotcha!" and absolutely blowing a nuclear bomb of an offensive onslaught right into the OU defense's teeth. Furthermore, just as big a part of the victory as the 25 points that UT scored after the injury, were the 25 points that OU did not score because the UT defense rose up in fury and, having obliterated OU's running game completely, closed Bradford and his boys down for most of the rest of the way.

See, I don't think the injury comes into the discussion at all if UT wins at Tech, and I don't even think the injury ought to come into the discussion, even now, of who should represent the Big XII South in the Big XII championship. I think the only discussion the Reynolds injury should come into, is the same discussion the Cosby injury should come into: the BCS issue of which of these three daisy-chained teams is, at this point in the season, putting the best team on the field. I know Tech beat UT head-to-head; but they beat them at home and they beat a UT team that played practically the whole game without Quan Cosby. That's not the best win of the three games; it's the worst. The best win of the series, I think, has to be OU's absolute annihilation of the full-strength Red Raiders, even though OU had home-field advantage, and I think that only because I don't think you can claim that the home field advantage in Norman -- while unquestionably worth quite a few points given that Stoops has only lost there twice in his tenure -- is an fifty-point home field advantage. The second-best win is obviously Texas's, and when you're comparing Texas's win to Oklahoma's, I think you have to look at the following factors:

  • Texas's win was on a neutral field; OU's was at home. Advantage: UT, by whatever point spread you think a typical home-field advantage would represent.
  • Texas's win was dominant in the last half, against a weakened OU defense; OU's win was equally dominant, but for the whole game and against Tech at full strength.
  • I think it would be fair to argue that Tech didn't play well against OU because they were not used to the pressure, having never played in a game with that kind of pressure and stakes; so you should discount the OU win to a certain extent because of that.

I think the overall edge goes to OU on that one, though there's plenty of subjectivity. But...I mean...if you saw all three games...I mean, really, what OU did to Tech...I don't think anybody would say OU didn't belong on the field against UT, but Tech seriously looked like a Division II team against OU.

As for the comparison of the losses:

  • OU's was on a neutral field, in a game they were winning until they lost their best defensive player; but once Reynolds were gone they were clearly outclassed.
  • UT's was away from home, in the last few seconds, in a game they had to play almost entirely without one of their best offensive players (not their best, obviously, but certainly a key part of their offense) -- at the end of a grueling four-Top-Ten stretch.

Advantage: UT.

Now to the question of improvement over the course of the year (which ought NOT be a factor in the Big XII tiebreaker but most definitely SHOULD be a factor in the BCS rankings)...see, this is where the Reynolds injury really comes into play. There's just no way to get around the fact that the OU team that UT outplayed in that second half was an OU team that was for those twenty-seven minutes dramatically weaker than they had been or would be at any other point in the season. Even one week later the Sooners had had time to move people around and rescheme and adjust. That twenty-seven minutes was OU at its worst, and OU today is a significantly better team than they were in that second half.

And that's something that can, to a certain extent, be tested empirically. UT played OSU at home in Austin, with a healthy Quan Cosby, and barely escaped. OU will tonight play OSU on the road in OSU's biggest rivalry game, still without Ryan Reynolds, but with several weeks' adjustment to Reynolds's absence under their belt. If UT and OU really are equally good teams, then you would expect OU to have a harder time beating OSU on the road as OSU's most hated rival, than you expect UT to have beating OSU at home. I say that OU was a slightly better team than UT before Reynolds went down, that they were a clearly inferior team than UT after Reynolds went down before they had time to go back to the drawing board and retool, but that having retooled around Reynolds's absence and also finally found the old DeMarco Murray, they are now once again a slightly better team than Texas. If OU had struggled against Tech, I would have given the edge to Texas; even now I can understand it if UT supporters want to point at the home field thing to try to tell themselves that Texas would beat OU again if the two were to play again, or at least that UT should get the benefit of the doubt.

But if OU beats OSU on the road, I think it gets hard to keep trying to say that UT is better now than OU is now when the only real evidence in favor of that condition is the second half of that game six weeks ago. And if OU dominates on the road an OSU team that was almost too much for UT to handle in Austin...sorry, guys, I just don't see how the debate would survive that outcome.

It's too bloody bad that the Big XII championship isn't the two best teams in the Big XII against each other, because of course the question that matters right now isn't whether OU or Texas is better than Missouri; we all know that the four best teams in the Big XII South are all better than Missouri, because Missouri is 0-2 against the Big Four. It's OU and Texas that ought to meet in the championship. Too bad it won't happen.

By the way, my own suggestion for a round-robin three-way daisy-chain tiebreaker is something along these lines: margin of victory, capped at 21 points in any one game, and adjusted up or down five points for home field advantage. (Picking five instead of three or seven lessens the chance of there still being a tie after home-field adjustments are applied.) To me the things that ought to matter are domination and home field. (Not, you will note, injuries, bad calls, or other things generally falling under the heading of "the breaks;" we are resolving a round-robin tournament here, not trying to decide which team ended the season as the best-right-now.) And, again, that's what fascinates me about the UT/OU debate this year: home field goes to UT, but domination goes to OU.

I haven't run the math; let's see what my tiebreaker would do...

OU/Texas: ten points, no home field adjustment. OU -10, UT +10.
Texas/Tech: six points, five-point adjustment. So UT -1, TT +1.
OU/Tech: forty-four points, five-point home field adjustment, capped at 21. OU +21, TT -21.

That would give you OU +11, UT +9, TT -20.

(chuckling) That's actually more interesting than I expected it to be. If I had made the home-field adjustment seven instead of five, I'd've pulled UT into a dead heat with OU, +11/+11. (I promise I didn't run those numbers until after choosing my margin, really and truly.) On the other hand, if I allow utter destruction of another team's entire will to live to count as a four-touchdown margin of victory rather than as a three-touchdown margin, UT doesn't even land within shouting distance; it's +18/+9 OU and that's it. And of course if I don't cap margin of victory at all then...ouch. What would that be, something like +34/+9? I could make home field count for two whole touchdowns and UT still wouldn't be close. (But of course I think you should cap margin of victory because once a game gets out of hand the emotional dynamic pretty much renders irrelevant whatever happens after inevitability has been recognized by both the slaughterers and the slaughtered.)

Anyway, my basic point in all of this is that I think home-field counts a lot, but also that domination counts a lot, and also that improvement over the course of a season counts a lot IF you're talking BCS implications. So, I think OU holds a slight edge over UT in the round-robin discussion because I think OU's dominance outweighs UT's neutral field, but it's a slight edge and very subjective and I wouldn't think at all badly of anybody who preferred to give the edge to UT. I think OU's edge if we bring current level of play into the discussion becomes more pronounced, but only pending the outcome of tonight's game. I think an OU loss renders both discussions moot; I think a hard-fought OU victory slightly strengthens OU's edge but not enough to make me think badly of UT partisans who are frustrated by the thought of beating OU and yet watching OU get voted ahead of them; I think an OU beatdown shifts the evidence sufficiently dramatically to make it hard for anybody (even a UT fan) who comes in ahead of Lee Corso on the rationality scale to continue to complain about the BCS ratings.

That's my read of it. Doesn't have to be other people's, naturally.

But I didn't want to allow the impression to stand that I thought Ryan Reynold's injury was the only reason UT beat OU. UT beat OU because they were a great team, and they fought until they found an opening, and when they found they opening they blew right through it and ran away with the game. It was a great UT victory in a fabulous game, and what UT did is the whole reason I love sports: in the end, life isn't fair, and winning isn't about getting the breaks because everybody gets their share of breaks both good and bad -- it's about seizing the opportunity the moment it appears. Even if OU wins the national championship this year, it will remain true that when UT had the chance, they beat us, head to head, man to man.

And I don't think there's any other team in college football that will be able to say that this year.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Oops, in retrospect, that was sort of a personal-space invasion, I suppose

So I couldn't find my just-purchased, hard-to-find, special-ordered Russian cookbook, and had despairingly concluded that I had left it at HEB when using it as my master ingredients list in the Great Borshch Endeavor. That is, I had concluded that, in truest Peril style, I had managed to lose that cookbook before even managing to cook a single Russian recipe out of it.

Then I stopped in at Java Dave's to grap a quick cuppa, and I'm chatting with Miss Eileen the Philippeen (one of the baristas and, by this time, a personal friend), when suddenly she says, "Oh, oh, Mr. Pierce, I keep forgetting -- wait here a second..." She rushes back behind the counter and emerges waving the cookbook. "Is this yours?"

I let out a whoop of delight, which would have been an excellent place to stop. Unfortunately, without even really thinking about what I was doing, I reached out in mid-whoop, took her face in both hands, leaned down, and soundly smooched the top of her head.

[sigh] This physical-touch orientation thing is such a bloody social handicap. Fortunately, Eileen is a very nice persion, and she accepted both the smooch and the subsequent humble apology with cheerful good grace. But...good Lord, Pierce, you have to get a clue socially.

Too bad the Troika weren't there to pronounce me a stariy durak. This is one time I had it comin'.

A Tech fan weighs in

Hey, UT fans who want to make nothing count except head-to-head, and who are so addicted to the magical words "45-35" that you may actually have contributed to the flyover banner UT alums have purchased for the Bedlam game...Shane Walker has a couple of words for you. Like, "Thirty-nine, thirty-three." In fact he has more than a couple of words:

“It’s a day Longhorn fans have forgotten,” said Walker, who said he contributed $500 to the cause. “We realize we got thumped by OU, and if OU wins tomorrow, we’re done in the national championship race.

“But we want to go to a BCS bowl. Based on Texas’ head-to-head argument, we should get the BCS bowl over them.”

Um...yep. You Longhorn types, you believe head-to-head trumps everything, right? So you would consider it an injustice for you to go to a BCS bowl instead of Tech after Tech put a sixty-two-yard touchdown drive on you to, um, beat you head-to-head? Right? Those of you who pitched in to help buy the 45-35 plane, you're also going to pitch in to help pay for the 39-33 plane, right? Because, after all, 39-33 is just as real as 45-35, right? And what's good for the goose is good for the gander, right?


“We find it amusing they say they beat OU on a neutral site,” Walker said. “We would’ve loved to have played OU on a neutral site. We would’ve loved to have seen what would’ve happened to Texas if they went to Norman.

“It seems like they’re not counting our victory over them because they dropped an interception at the end. But we went (62 yards) in the final minute. Does a championship team allow that kind of drive?”

All good questions. Would any Longhorn like to (a) say that nothing in the OU/UT debate should count except head-to-head, and then also (b) answer Walker's questions? Whatcha wanna bet any UT fan who tries to answer Walker's question, will try to answer by appealing to something -- anything at all -- rather than 39-33? In fact, whatcha wanna bet that sooner or later the UT fan, in trying to say why UT should go ahead of a team that beat them fair and square head to head, will sooner or later bring up -- in a whisper, after looking furtively over his shoulder to make sure no OU fans are within earshot -- the numbers 65 and 21?

Because 65-21 is a real number, and it counts, as long as you're using it to say what UT should go to the BCS instead of the team that beat them head-to-head. But if it's a question of whether OU or UT should go to the BCS...oh my God, quick, quick, change the CD...45-35, 45-35, 45-35, 45-35...whew, that was a close one.

Funny how the only thing that matters are numbers, up until the numbers go against you and suddenly everything else in the world matters except numbers. As my childhood friend Russell's grandmother used to say, "If you're the one keeping score, and you're losing, it's your own damn fault." I think you'd find that Shane Walker objects to Longhorn fans' attempt to be the Official Scorekeepers...and I'd sure be interested to hear any Longhorn argue his way out of Walker's appeal to 39-33without simultaneously undercutting his own appeal to the untrumpability of 45-35.

(Yes, I know that home field advantage matters. But so does margin of victory, which is just as empirically real as, and happens on the field just as surely as does, home field advantage. So does on-field improvement over the course of a season. So do ferociously vicious schedules in which teams are forced to face four Top Ten opponents in a row. So do critical injuries at highly inopportune times, something that both OU and UT know something about -- and if you don't think that in a sports-bar discussion between UT supporters and Tech supporters the subject of Quan Cosby's injury won't be raised early and often, by exactly the same people who would object to any reference by Okies to Ryan Reynolds as "making excuses," then I doubt you know many UT fans. Lots of things matter, actually, when a round-robin tournament ends in a daisy-chain three-way tie. To point out things that matter and remind people that they matter, is to participate helpfully and meaningfully in a discussion. But to pretend that the only things that matter are the things that ever-so-conveniently happen to support your partisan view...that's what we mean by special pleading, and it is a species of dishonesty. -- But I've already talked through all of those points here and won't repeat myself further.)

(Also, I know that there are fair-minded UT fans who recognize that it is not a cut-and-dried matter. They're not the ones I'm ridiculing in this post...but then, they also wouldn't have contributed money to pay for a plane to fly back and forth above T. Boone Pickens Stadium with a sign saying "45-35," hoping the rest of America would be too stupid to remember 39-33 and 65-21.)

A culinary success

Well, Anya and I tried our hand at traditional Ukrainian borshch today. This meant that the two of us spent pretty much all afternoon in the kitchen, as the process for making traditional Ukrainian borshch runs something like this:

1. Boil a bunch of beef shank, and a ham bone with plenty of meat on it, and a pound or so of beef marrow bones, and then when you've got that rendered down a bit, throw in a carrot, and an onion, and a couple of parsnips, and a stick of celery with the leaves on, and a boquet garni of celery and dill and peppercorn and parsley, and then simmer it for an hour or so.

2. Meanwhile, bake a couple of medium-sized beets for an hour and a quarter, inside aluminum foil.

3. Also meanwhile, cut up a whole bunch more vegetables that are going to go in once you get serious about the soup. (So far you're not making the soup, just the stock.) So, that's some garlic, and some more dill and parsley, and another carrot and another onion, and several potatoes, and several tomatoes, and a bell pepper, and (you gotta be kidding me, right?) several chopped-up dried prunes. And don't forget to get your lemon juice and tomato paste ready. And also the sugar. And the salt and the pepper...

4. Once you have the stock ready, fish out the meat and carve it off the bones and chop it up bite-sized; meanwhile (there's a lot of "meanwhile" in this recipe and I'm not sure how anybody does it by himself) you strain the rest of the stock into a whole new stewpot and throw out everything that's left. You put the stock back on the stove and get it boiling again and then throw in the potatoes and the tomatoes, and then you rush to...

5. ...get those peppers and onion and, oh, shoot, I forgot to mention the two cups of shredded cabbage so we'll hope you didn't forget them too. Anyway, we have to get the peppers and onion and carrot sauteed, and then towards the end mix the cabbage in, too, while the potatoes are softening up.

6. Then you add all the stuff you just sauteed to the stock, pausing to congratulate yourself for your foresight in having sent your parents to Wal-Mart and told them to come back with the biggest stewpot they could find because otherwise you'd be totally hosed right about now.

7. And after a few minutes (can't remember how many; it's in the book) you chop the beets up nice and fine (you remembered to take them out of the oven, right?) and pour about a cup of lemon juice over 'em and drop the whole concoction into the soup.

8. And after a few minutes more you add in the meat. Did you forget to fry up the bacon? I hope not because otherwise you're scrambling around the kitchen like mad now trying to get that bacon fried. (The Voice of Experience speaks.) Oh, and at some point in there the book is going to tell you to add sugar, and more lemon juice if you want, and more salt and pepper if you want. I think maybe that should have been Step 7 1/2 but I don't remember exactly when you put those in, to be honest -- that's why I have a cookbook. I should also add that I earned formal designation as a stáriy durák ("old fool," which in point of fact I'm called several times daily, but generally with an affectionately exaggerated rolling of the eyes) when Anya discovered that I had just dumped the sugar into the pot like a clueless child rather than first stirring the sugar into the extra lemon juice the way everyone knows you're supposed to do it.

9. Pretty much as soon as you've got the meat in, it's time to add the garlic. And more dill. And more parsley. And your home-chopped bacon bits.

9. Now you MUST allow it to sit and age for fifteen minutes or half an hour or so while the ingredients get to know each other. This is an excellent opportunity for you to go hop into the car and run down to HEB to get the fresh bread you forgot to ask your parents to pick up an hour ago when you sent them running off to HEB for the bacon you forgot to pick up when you took your first shot at collecting all the ingredients for the borshch. And, in case you haven't taken care of this already (though this is one thing I myself had planned well in advance), you can also use this trip to pick up some really strong beer -- Spaten Optimator will do, but Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale is even better, IMHO -- because this soup would sneer in contempt at anything as wimpy as a mere Shiraz or Cab-Sauv.

And then you tell everybody to grab a bowl and line up at the stove, and you put the smetána (which is just sour cream but smetána sounds more exotic) on the table so everybody can get a nice big dollop to mix into his personal bowl, and you say the blessing, and then everybody tears off a hunk of bread and digs in.

In the end, rather to my surprise, it actually turned out to be pretty good. My mother surprised me by saying, "Well, I've always wondered what borshch tasted like" -- I would have thought that Anya would have cooked borshch for them at least once. But my dad and I both got seconds (not that usual for me because I don't really like beets all that much), as did my mom. And here are the verdicts from Kinya, Roma and Natasha respectively:

PAPA: So, what's the verdict?

KINYA: [points at her Coke] It's delicious.

ROMA: [with emphasis] Óchen v kúsno ["very delicious"]!

PAPA: [to Natasha] So is it worth going to the trouble to make it ag-

NATASHA: [not waiting for the end of the question] Yes!

So, there's a big sigh of relief for me: all the way through my first recipe out of Please to the Table, coming out at the end with something actually edible.

In case you didn't think Bruce Lee was superhuman...

...John Derbyshire points us to unanswerable proof:

The Devil's Dictionary: Condole (v.i.)

To show that bereavement is a smaller evil than sympathy.

It is of course necessary at this junction to reproduce, in full, the letter of condolence famously received by Mr. Bennet from that eminent clergyman, his cousin Mr. Collins:


I feel myself called upon by our relationship, and my situation in life, to condole with you on the grievous affliction you are now suffering under, of which we were yesterday informed by a letter from Hertfordshire. Be assured, my dear Sir, that Mrs. Collins and myself sincerely sympathise with you, and all your respectable family, in your present distress, which must be of the bitterest kind, because proceeding from a cause which no time can remove. No arguments shall be wanting on my part that can alleviate so severe a misfortune; or that may comfort you, under a circumstance that must be of all others most afflicting to a parent's mind. The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this. And it is the more to be lamented, because there is reason to suppose, as my dear Charlotte informs me, that this licentiousness of behaviour in your daughter has proceeded from a faulty degree of indulgence, though at the same time, for the consolation of yourself and Mrs. Bennet, I am inclined to think that her own disposition must be naturally bad, or she could not be guilty of such an enormity at so early an age. Howsoever that may be, you are grievously to be pitied, in which opinion I am not only joined by Mrs. Collins, but likewise by Lady Catherine and her daughter, to whom I have related the affair. They agree with me in apprehending that this false step in one daughter will be injurious to the fortunes of all the others; for who, as Lady Catherine herself condescendingly says, will connect themselves with such a family? And this consideration leads me moreover to reflect with augmented satisfaction on a certain event of last November [by which he of course refers to Elizabeth's rejection of his suit], for had it been otherwise, I must have been involved in all your sorrow and disgrace. Let me advise you then, my dear Sir, to console yourself as much as possible, to throw off your unworthy child from your affection for ever, and leave her to reap the fruits of her own heinous offence.

I am, dear Sir, &c. &c.

The Devil's Dictionary: Compulsion (n.); Congratulation (n.)

Compulsion: The eloquence of power.

Congratulation: The civility of envy.

The Devil's Dictionary: Compromise (n.)

Such an adjustment of conflicting interests as gives each adversary the satisfaction of thinking he has got what he ought not to have, and is deprived of nothing except what was justly his due.

The Devil's Dictionary: Commendation (n.)

The tribute that we pay to achievements that resemble, but do not equal, our own.

The Devil's Dictionary: Close-fisted (adj.)

Unduly desirous of keeping that which many meritorious persons wish to obtain.

The Devil's Dictionary: Clarionet (n.)

An instrument of torture operated by a person with cotton in his ears. There are two instruments that are worse than a clarionet -- two clarionets.

The Devil's Dictionary: Clairvoyant (n.)

A person, commonly a woman, who has the power of seeing that which is invisible to her patron -- namely, that he is a blockhead.

When it all fell apart, my first thought -- really! -- was, "I bet Taleb is kicking serious butt right now"

And I was right.

Still can't believe that there are people who excuse the Democrat Freddie- and Fannie-enablers while blaming Bush for the current economic collapse...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Thousandth Post: On the great Longhorn/Sooner debate of 2008

I wrote this post up at home, came into my favorite coffee shop to post it -- and discovered that this will be my thousandth post on the Redneck Peril blog. So, congratulations to me...for having shot my mouth off an inordinate number of times.

So. The great UT / OU debate – or, as my old friend Brian Kengle would describe it, the debate between the T-sippers and Dyslexic U. (As far as Brian’s concerned, anybody who names his university “The University of Oklahoma” and then goes around chanting, “OU! OU! OU!” is, shall we say, “special.”) I’ve decided to weigh in here on the blog, for two reasons:

1. My opinion was solicited by John Gallop, for whose own opinion I have much respect, and who is a Texas grad clearly trying to be fair about it all.

2. I read a short bit from Matt Zemek, whose opinion I ordinarily respect but who I thought was not at all at his best here (Thought #4 in the Five Thoughts).

3. I haven’t blogged in a long time because of the confluence of go-live on my year-long project at work, the finalization of the divorce and the immediate bureaucratic fallout thereof, and moving out of the two-bedroom apartment into the Liong’s just-vacated three-bedroom house, which by virtue of (a) a lack of interest in having a separate office or dining room and (b) creatively hung bedsheets, the Troika and I have transformed into a five-bedroom house – thus allowing each of the four kids who live with me, to have his own room. Going live, finalizing the seemingly interminable divorce process, moving…these are all good things.

But they don’t leave much time for blogging.

Here’s the deal, though: the UT / OU debate is one of those things that fascinates me because it’s so patently clear that all you would have to do to get each side to admit the superiority of the other side’s arguments…would be to reverse the positions of the two teams. If UT had lost at the State Fair in the aftermath of a devastating injury, then proceeded to obliterate by six touchdowns a team that had just gotten through beating Oklahoma, you wouldn’t hear anything about “head-to-head” coming out of Austin – and all you’d see in Norman would be an entire city-full of the crimson-clad holding their hands over their ears and chanting continuously, “45-35! 45-35! 45-35!”

And in this case, I know perfectly well I’m one of the partisans. So it’s an interesting challenge to try to step back and ask myself, “So what should the rules actually be? If this were a raging debate between Florida and Alabama, whose side would I be on?”

Of course, as soon as I do that, I get to the one thing that is absolutely clear and utterly beyond debate: anybody who has, at any point since Florida stunk up its own homefield against the fearsome forces of [unsuccessfully attempting to choke back gales of laughter] Ol’ Miss, even considered for a moment putting Florida ahead of either Oklahoma or Texas on his ballot, is a person whose ballot should be taken away forthwith and given to somebody able to vote with more intelligence and rationality – say, for example, any random 80-year-old Democrat in Palm Beach County. This is not open for discussion.

Oklahoma vs. Texas is, however, well worth the discussing, and Zemek tries his hand at it with a little piece entitled, “All together now ... 45-35 ... 45-35 ... 45-35.” Now anytime you see somebody who is actually repeating his favorite argument before he can even finish a story title, you know you have somebody who is pretty low on arguments; so that wasn’t a very good sign. But my real problem lies with (a) his main philosophical assertion, which is in the last analysis an assertion that I don’t believe he himself actually believes, and (b) his primary empirical assertion, which I don’t think holds water.

His main philosophical assertion is this:

“But when we get to the end of the season, and inter-conference comparisons need to be made, limits must be applied to the leapfrogging….Yes, OU is hotter and more imposing right now. In the first half of a football season, that kind of detail matters. But at the end of a season--and OU is just one game away from completing its 12-game slate; ditto for Texas--one has to include early-season evidence along with late-season facts and figures.”

Now I might be inclined to grant Zemek his argument, which is (if he is speaking English) that you ought to care just as much about how good a team was in September as you care about how good they are in November…except for one thing: Zemek is a raging proponent of a playoff system. And any playoff scheme is designed to do three things:

1. It settles things “on the field.” UT fans would love this part if it weren’t for the fact that 39-33 and 65-21 happened “on the field” just as surely as did 45-35. I love this part, too, even though 45-35 happened on the field – and if UT hadn’t lost to Tech you’d hear nothing from me about OU’s improvement since the Texas game, or about Ryan Reynolds’s injury, or about margin of victory, because 45-35 happened on the field (and under this hypothesis, 39-33 wouldn’t have).

2. It ramps up game-day pressure and thus gives extra weight to a team’s ability to function under extreme stress and miminal margin of error – that is, it shifts the weight of valuation toward character rather than talent. I love this part because I care way more about character than talent.

3. But most importantly (and damagingly) for Zemek’s point, any playoff system grossly overvalues how good a team is at the end of the year, to the point where pretty much nothing matters once you’re in the playoffs other than who is hot right now. Zemek’s argument is a first-class argument…for people, that is, who are prepared seriously to argue that the Patriots ought to be declared the 2008 NFL champions rather than the Giants. As far as I’m concerned, I like this part, too, because (perhaps due to a lifetime spent under the Christian ethical system) I find redemption and resurrection deeply appealing at a fundamental emotional level: I love to see people who have failed pick themselves up and find redemption even more than I like to see people go without ever failing in the first place. This is hardly logical…but it apparently puts me in good company, as we have Our Lord’s word for it that there is more joy in heaven over the sinners who repent than over those who never mess up to begin with.

But more to the present point, Zemek is constantly going on about how much better we’d be under a playoff system, and this is deeply damaging to Zemek’s present attempt to insist that all parts of a season should be valued equally when you’re voting in a poll that specifically asks you who is the best team in America now -- which is what the polls ask. They do not ask, “Which team has had the best season?” They ask, “Who is the best team now?”

You see, any system that defines its champion through a playoff system, is a system designed disproportionately to reward teams that improve during the year. If you want to weight the early part of the year equally with the last part, then there’s a simple way to do that. It’s called a round-robin tournament. And you know what? Nobody likes ‘em. The major leagues spend 162 round-robin games establishing which teams are the best…and then crown their champions by one five-game series and two seven-game series, in which eleven October victories are allowed to outweigh 120 regular-season victories, and a team can win the championship even though it couldn’t win its own division in the regular season. The NFL goes though the contortions of its wild-card process, which makes it perfectly possible for an initially mediocre 10-6 team, fifth-seeded in its own conference and second in its own division, to get into the title game against an 18-0 juggernaut…and simply by finding a way to win that one game, to be declared champion. There is no doubt that the Giants were totally outclassed by the Patriots at the beginning of the year. But there is no doubt that the Giants improved themselves enormously over the course of the year and all but entirely closed the gap, getting close enough to put themselves in position to pull off the upset. And nobody – except the Patriots – objects to the fact that coming into Super Bowl XLII, it mattered much more that the Giants had become a great team by playoff time than that the Patriots had been a great team from the opening whistle. If you don’t want November and December to count more than September, then you can’t be a proponent of a playoff system.

But having given Zemek a hard time, I will now give him credit for using an argument that would be valid if he were using it in slightly different circumstances, and I will excuse his confusion on the grounds that the confusion is the Big XII’s fault. For there are actually two questions at stake here:

1. Which team should be declared Big XII South champion?

2. Which team should be ranked higher in the BCS?

I think those are not just two different questions; I think they are two different types of question. And in particular I think that if Zemek were trying to answer the first question rather than the second, his philosophical assertion would be entirely valid. His mistake is in apply the philosophy appropriate to the first question, to the second question, where it isn’t appropriate.

See, the Big XII South champion is, in actual fact, supposed to be settled by a round-robin tournament. The games that take place in September ought to carry just as much weight as the games that take place in November; that’s what a round-robin tournament is supposed to accomplish. Now of course the problem with round-robins is that, unless you play lots and lots and lots of games, it tends to produce ties; and therefore you have to have a tie-breaking scheme. But any tie-breaking scheme meant to resolve a round-robin tie, must be a scheme that grants equal weight to all parts of the season.

It is, therefore, in my mind a disgrace that the Big XII resolves its round-robin ties by appeal to a ranking scheme that is (a) not at all designed for that purpose and (b) flagrantly over-weighted, on purpose, to end-of-season performance.

In short, I think you ought to apply one set of standards if you’re trying to decide who should be Big XII South champion, and a different set if you’re trying to rank teams for the BCS; and I think the Big XII discraces itself by confusing the two. And I think what you see with Zemek’s piece is a guy who has gotten philosophically confused precisely because the Big XII has introduced philosophical confusion.

So on Zemeke’s philosophical assertion, I wind up saying, “You’re right if we’re talking about who should be Big XII South champion; you’re wrong if we’re talking about who should rank higher in the BCS standings; and it’s a travesty that the Big XII forces us to talk about both at once.”

That brings us to Zemek’s main empirical assertion, namely that the Longhorns’ “body of work” is more impressive than Oklahoma’s, which I think is wrong, but certainly debatable. After all, the Longhorns’ body of work is bloody impressive – certainly more impressive than, ahem, Florida’s or USC’s, or even (in my opinion) Alabama’s. I mean, I would rank Alabama higher on my BCS ballot because they haven’t lost yet, but on a neutral field I’d put my money on Texas to kick Alabama’s shiny red butt. So let’s look at that body of work.

First of all, they beat Oklahoma on a neutral field. I don’t think they would be able to do that on a consistent basis, but then nobody else has even challenged the Sooners this year. Furthermore, they beat Missouri, whom Oklahoma would I think also beat, but whom Oklahoma has not played and therefore has not beaten. True, Oklahoma slaughtered TCU and Cincinatti, but I think the Missouri win by itself is as impressive as Oklahoma’s TCU and Cincinatti wins put together. Then, too, Texas beat OSU, albeit with a great deal of difficulty even though they had home-field advantage; and they came within one play of beating Tech on the road. Remember this: Texas’s only loss came on the road, in the closing seconds, at the end of one of the most brutal stretches of schedule in living memory.

If UT had beaten Tech, I would absolutely say that UT should be ranked ahead of OU. And going into the Tech game, I still said that UT should be ranked ahead of OU. In fact, I told my UT buddy Scott Finke that even if OU were to beat Tech, UT should get the nod over OU and Tech unless OU delivered a serious beatdown. The number I quoted to Scott before the game was four touchdowns.

For you see, I think home-field advantage matters a lot in college football. UT beat OU on a neutral site, and by the end of that game they were clearly the best team on the field (the fact that they were clearly not the best team on the field until Ryan Reynolds went down doesn’t change the fact that UT won the game, injuries being a part of football). UT lost to Tech by a hair’s breadth in Lubbock, at the end of a four-game stretch more brutal than any I ever remember seeing a team face (though pretty much everybody in the Big XII South had a hellacious schedule to deal with). If OU were to beat Tech in Norman but struggle to do it, then, I considered going into last Saturday, you would be looking at one team that had won at a neutral site and lost on the road (UT), one that had won at home and lost on the road (Tech), and one that had won at home and lost at a neutral site (OU). To me, that would have put the ranking as UT – Tech – OU, unless OU went out and obliterated Tech. So I told Finke, “If OU beats Tech, but not by much, then it’s gotta be UT. If OU slaughters Tech by four touchdowns, I think you have to go with OU,” -- because a thorough beatdown, even at home, would to my mind outweigh twenty-seven minutes even on a neutral site.

“Twenty-seven minutes?” I hear you cry. “What do you mean, twenty-seven minutes?”

Well, here’s the thing. The trouble with UT’s chanting interminably, “45-35, 45-35, 45-35,” is that UT is trying to say that that one Saturday in Dallas should count more than everything else combined…that what happened in Lubbock shouldn’t matter, that what happened last week in Norman shouldn’t matter, that the question of which team has improved more since that weekend shouldn’t matter, that in fact nothing should matter except that Saturday. And that would to me be a pretty hard sell even if UT had outplayed OU for sixty minutes in Dallas.

But it’s even worse than appealing to sixty minutes – if you’re a UT fan trying to make the Red River result count more than anything else, then you’re really trying to say that twenty-seven minutes should decide it all. For until, with 11:40 to go in the third quarter, Oklahoma’s defense was devastated by the loss of the most important player on the roster after Sam Bradford, Texas had been, barely but definitely, outplayed.

Here is how Colt McCoy and his boys performed in the Shootout before Reynolds was hurt, while at the same time Bradford & Company were engaged in racking up four touchdowns in seven possessions:

Field goal
Field goal

There was a kickoff return for a touchdown mixed in there, as well, to keep the Longhorns within shouting distance at 28-20, but there was little question that Colt McCoy and the Texas offense simply weren’t going to be able to keep up with Bradford and the Sooners unless some dramatic break fell their way. At that point the OU offense had scored 28 points on 7 possessions and the UT offense had scored 13 on 6 – which is to say, 4 points per possession to 2 1/6 points per possession. There was simply no reason to think that OU’s offense wouldn’t continue to outscore UT’s offense; UT’s hope was for more special-teams heroics, or for a critical turnover, or for some huge break.

And then, with 11:40 to play in the third quarter, they got the break of the season. Middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds -- the heart and soul of the OU defense, by far OU’s best defensive player, a player who the previous week had become the first defensive player in the history of Bob Stoops’s program to grade out perfectly for a full game – middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds tore his ACL.

A team as deep as Oklahoma can retool a defense to adjust for the loss of its best player, given time – as they have over the weeks since the Texas loss, especially with the emergence since the Texas game of freshman Travis Lewis. Indeed, Oklahoma manhandled the same Tech offense that scored 39 points against Texas not only without Reynolds, but without star defensive end Auston English as well. In fact, if a team as deep as Oklahoma is in the middle of a game against all but the very top-level competition, it can generally patch together something good enough to hang on through the game.

But Texas is one of the two or three best teams in the country, a genuinely great team, even if you agree with me that it is by a whisker not quite the best team in the Big XII. As good as Oklahoma is, there was no margin for error, any more than Texas would have had margin for error against Oklahoma had Texas lost its best defensive player. The problem against playing against great teams is that if they get an opening, then they explode on you before you can figure out how to patch it. On that day the hole opened up in the middle of the OU defense, and Texas seized its opportunity and seized the day -- and I give them full credit for it. How cold-bloodedly, in fact, did UT go for the jugular? Try this, for the four possessions following Reynolds’s injury:

Field goal
Touchdown w/2-pt conversion

By the time UT got the ball back for its final possession, it had a ten-point lead and had only to grind the clock; and thus in the last minute or so OU finally got a meaningless stop: at last, against a UT offense that had deep-sixed the passing part of its playbook, the crippled and confused and demoralized Oklahoma defense forced a punt.

Five possessions, even counting the clock-killing one. Twenty-five points. Which is to say, 5 points per possession. Once Reynolds went down, the OU defense literally couldn’t stop Texas. During that quarter and a half, Texas outscored OU 25-7.

Now I don’t for a moment begrudge Texas the victory. Texas beat OU fair and square, on a neutral field, and while the Reynolds-less OU defense was failing to stop UT, let us not forget that the full-strength OU offense was mostly failing to score on the newly energized UT defenders. UT won that game, won it outright and going away, and my hat’s off to them. But what (slightly) annoys and (hugely) amuses me is the desperation with which the UT supporters in the media, in the best tradition of special pleading, cling, like Zemek, to that 45-35 score – for when Zemek puts his hands over his ears and chants, “45-35, 45-35, 45-35,” what he really means is, “25-7, 25-7, 25-7.” He means, in fact, that twenty-six minutes and forty seconds of football should count more than all the rest of the year put together.

And you know what? If Texas had found a way to beat Tech, I’d’ve agreed with him. Like I told Finke, the quality of the Texas win, and the fight that Texas put up and the adversity they fought through before finally succumbing in Lubbock, and the allowance you have to make for home field advantage in college football – all of those, to my mind, weighed heavily in UT’s favor. And even though I think that during those twenty-seven minutes UT had OU at its worst, and was playing at its best, and even though I think OU has improved dramatically since those twenty-seven minutes and UT doesn’t seem to have, and even though I think that if OU and Texas were playing a rematch this weekend I’d give OU a clear edge…still, the comparative quality of the Texas and OU wins and losses, I thought, had been to that point unmistakably in Texas’s favor. And it was going to take four touchdowns to change my mind.

Well, it wasn’t four touchdowns. It was six -- and that’s with the OU starters gone after the first couple of minutes of the fourth quarter, and with Tech’s scoring a meaningless touchdown in the closing seconds. Had Stoops kept his foot on the gas pedal you’re looking at seven or even eight touchdowns…Gawd Almighty.

See, if you’re a UT fan, you just can’t insist that Texas should stay permanently ranked ahead of OU, with no attention paid to the possibility that OU has improved significantly and UT has not, on the “head-to-head” basis, unless you’re willing to say that Tech’s more recent win should keep Tech, in its turn, ranked permanently ahead of UT. And you’ll find a snowball in hell before you’ll find a UT grad who thinks Tech ought still to be ranked ahead of UT. Now, if UT gets to leap past the team that beat them head-to-head on the basis of last Saturday’s game, why doesn’t OU get to leap past Texas on the basis of that very same game? How do you get to leapfrog the team that beat you, while still insisting that you are immune to being leapfrogged in your own turn, by the very team that just absolutely annihilated the same team that just a couple of weeks ago beat you fair and square, in the very game by which you justify your own leapfrogging? You can try, if you like, to say that you lost on the road and OU won at home – but unless you are willing to try to say, with a straight face, that home field advantage is worth five touchdowns, that doesn’t wash. Or would you like to try to convince a neutral observer (not an OU fan like my admittedly biased self, but a genuinely neutral observer) that if Tech had come to Austin this year, you would have spanked them by forty points?

I didn’t think so.

But it gets even worse for Texas, in two ways.

1. At this point, UT advocates can make no case that UT has gotten significantly better since the last twenty-seven minutes of the OU game; but there is no denying that OU has now had the chance to adjust its defense to compensate for Reynolds’s loss, and also that DeMarco Murray is a different runner now than the tentative, still-mentally-knee-injured runner that he was in the first five games of the season. The OU team that will step on the field next Saturday, and that would step on the field to play Texas if there were to be a rematch, is a dramatically better team on both sides of the ball than the team UT played in the second half of the Red River shootout. Is UT a better team now than they were then? Or was that twenty-seven minutes the finest stretch of football that UT has played or will play this year, coinciding with OU at this year’s worst? I think it would be at least as easy to make the latter case as the former. In a rematch, I think UT bettors would be very, very tempted to put a lot of money on the Vegas underdog, because I think Vegas would give you the Longhorns plus at least a field goal.

2. In order to keep any audience at all for its special pleading, UT has to insist that the neutral field angle be played up as far as possible. But the season isn’t over, and UT faces a very serious problem next week. UT got OSU at home, and they were lucky to escape with a four-point win. (Shortly thereafter, by the way, Tech had their own chance at OSU at home -- and they rang up 56 points in a five-touchdown blowout.) OU, by contrast, has to go to Stillwater this year, to play in the Bedlam game that is the worst possible scenario for a team trying to avoid an upset: OSU is not OU’s biggest rival, but OU is OSU’s most hated rival, and OU has to play them on the road.

I think Bedlam is going to be hard slogging for OU this year, and you could very well see an upset, in which case I would join the UT supporters and say forcefully that UT deserved to be the Big XII representative in the BCS championship. But if OU beats OSU on the road, after all the trouble Texas had with OSU in Austin…well, it just continues the theme; the weight of the evidence except for that twenty-seven minutes, points in OU’s favor in my opinion, and this would continue that trend. That twenty-seven minutes ought to weigh heavily – but UT fans want it to outweigh all other evidence combined.

And yet…UT is a genuinely great team, and they won; they not only competed with OU (which nobody else has done), they beat ‘em. I think that twenty-seven minutes should weigh heavily; and I think you should give UT extra credit for the neutral field, and you should cut ‘em lots of slack for a last-second on-the-road loss against their fourth consecutive Top Ten opponent…so I can understand it if somebody thinks UT should still be ahead of OU today, and I can even understand it (though I’ll disagree with it) if somebody continues to maintain that even if OU goes into Stillwater and comes out with a win.

But what happens if, for the second week in a row, it isn’t just a win? What happens if OU dominates OSU, in OSU’s house, in a textbook rivalry trap game, by three or four touchdowns? At that point, I think it would simply stop being intellectually respectable for UT fans to continue to cling to the Red River Rivalry’s second half as an untrumpable get-into-the-BCS-free card. Head-to-head is not the deciding factor here, not for a team that wants (like UT wants) to be ranked ahead of the team that three weeks ago beat ‘em. Who is the better team now, OU or UT? That is the question. Well, UT needed Reynolds injury to beat OU; they needed home-field advantage to escape OSU by 4, and in the end they couldn’t get past Tech in Lubbock, period. There’s no particular reason to think they’re a better team now than they were in the Red River Shootout. Meanwhile, on the OU side, during that twenty-seven-minute stretch Texas was clearly, at that time and place, the superior team. But since then OU has improved dramatically; it just got through putting onto the very team that had beaten Texas two weeks earlier and clobbered OSU the week before, the second-worse butt-kicking any No. 2 team has ever received. If OU bitch-slaps OSU clear into January come Saturday, I just don’t see how UT fans could continue to claim, with a straight face, that UT is a better team now than OU has become.

I don’t think that should matter, if you’re deciding who wins the Big XII South. But I think it certainly ought to matter if you’re filling out a BCS ballot. What a crying shame it is that you can’t separate the two.

But for the record: I think OSU is more likely to upset OU, than OU is likely to deliver a second consecutive for-the-ages butt-kicking. If OU loses, then my UT buddies and I will be unanimous in our votes for UT. If OU barely escapes, then I’ll think OU is better but I won’t be annoyed by the inevitable rejoinder, “45-35.” and thus we will agree to disagree.

If it’s four touchdowns?

Well, at least Missouri won’t have to worry about the ignominy of losing to the same team twice in one year. And at least, after the Big XII championship, the debate will be largely over…for if OU loses to Missouri, Texas will go to the national championship. But if OU beats Missouri, then so much for the body-of-work argument that Texas has beaten Missouri and OU hasn’t.

But whichever Big XII South team gets into the national championship game against the S.E.C. champion…God help either Florida or Alabama when they have to play either Oklahoma or Texas, is what I say.

And on that point, I suspect John and Scott and I can all agree.

P.S.: An update, in which I say what I think would be the fairest outcome:

I am going to pull for Baylor to beat Tech. The perfect outcome of this weekend, I believe, would be for Oklahoma to be ranked higher than Texas in the BCS -- because I think Oklahoma is at this point a better team -- but for Texas to be declared the Big XII South champion -- because I don't believe a round-robin tournament should be tie-broken though a system that disproportionately weights one part of the season more heavily than another.

I say this knowing perfectly well that if UT gets the chance to play in the conference championship, and beats Missouri, that they will jump back ahead of OU in the BCS rankings and will go to the national championship instead of OU, in which case I will wish them a cheerful God-speed-y'all. But I just hate the thought of the Big XII South's tie being broken by BCS rankings, and this is the best way to avoid that.

I'd just have to cheer for Missouri in the Big XII championship, that's all. ;-)

Monday, November 10, 2008

And the weight comes off the shoulders

An e-mail exchange from a few moments ago:

From: Pierce, Ken
Sent: Monday, November 10, 2008 9:44 AM
To: Bret Bosker
Subject: RE: is this now acceptable language -

Was the decree entered successfully?

From: Bret Bosker
Sent: Monday, November 10, 2008 9:52 AM
To: Pierce, Ken
Subject: RE: is this now acceptable language -

Yes sir. Congrats, it’s completed and you are divorced.

I’ll forward a certified copy as soon as it is received.

Bret A. Bosker
Which leads me to the following Q-and-A, from my also-recently-divorced friend George, that is just a little bit too true to be a joke:

Q. Why are divorce lawyers so expensive?
A. Because they're worth it.