Saturday, January 31, 2009

Criminal Masterminds of the Day Double Feature Dept

You know, you'd think that when criminals call 9-1-1 on themselves accidentally while engaged in the act of stripping tires from a car, they would be the hands-down Criminal Masterminds of the Day.

But you would be wrong, for those guys don't have video, and I'm big on visual aids:

Hat Tips: failblog and Dave.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

When is it easy to say, "Here comes a 65-yard touchdown" the moment the ball is snapped?

When the richly-deserving-of-unemployment jackass of a defensive coordinator calls a blitz package that involves seven -- count 'em, seven! -- people rushing the quarterback with four DB's left to cover the 4,000 square yards of field between the line of scrimmage and the back of the end zone. (Not on YouTube yet but then Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan only pulled this masterstroke of genius four or five minutes ago.)

Yes, 1,000 square yards of coverage responsibility per defensive back.

And now you are behind by seven more points than you were twenty seconds ago.

I'm totally serious, I saw that blitz coming and said out loud, "Surely this is a feint and you're backing out???" and then the ball was snapped and sure enough everybody headed for the quarterback and I muttered with a grim shake of the head, "Well, that's a touchdown a-comin'." I swear if I were a head coach and my defensive coordinator suggested that we install a seven-man-rush package I'd tell him, "Suggest that once more and I will seriously reconsider your employment on my staff." News flash to Rex: when your daddy was first running the 46 defense and rushing five to eight guys on practically every play, it was a New Thing and offenses hadn't had time to figure it out. But that was TWENTY YEARS AGO, you head-case. Oddly enough, twenty years is enough time for offensive coordinators to figure out how to run circles around a fundamentally flawed defensive scheme that succeeds only when opposing offenses have a quarterback who knows less than a decent 5-A Texas high school quarterback now knows about quick-strike timing patterns to the huge open spaces left by big blitzes. It DOESN'T WORK ANYMORE, you moron -- which is a big reason that your daddy raises race horses now instead of coaching NFL defenses.

This concludes today's sports rant.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

In memoriam Orel Sambrano

My friend Andres just wrote with horrible news. His uncle Orel Sambrano, a courageous Venezuelan journalist and radio commentator who has bravely opposed both the Chávez government and the drug cartels that infest his homeland, was gunned down yesterday.
Venezuelan lawyer and journalist Orel Sambrano was assassinated this Friday at approximately 3:00 p.m. The well-known host on Radio America took three shots from unknown persons traveling on a motorcycle.

Sambrano had gotten out of his vehicle and was walking toward a video-rental store when he was intercepted by assassins who, without speaking, fired the shots; he died instantly. One of the shots hit him in the head.

The journalist's dead body was taken to the Valencia morgue and the police began investigating the case by interviewing potential witnesses, according to the press.

This is the second attack directed at journalists to occur this year in Venezuela, following several attacks by unknown persons last March, in the state of Portuguesa, against Rafael Finol, the political editor of the magazine El Regional. Finol survived those attacks.

The Carabobo chapter of the National College of Journalists deplored the assassination of Sambrano and called a meeting to take appropriate measures and, as well, to urge the authorities to investigate the crimes.
That's my clumsy translation of this article. (Thanks to Daniela and Edwin for helping me with the words I didn't know.) From his e-mail I gather that Andres's instinctive reaction was to suspect the Venezuelan government; but according to this article the mayor of Valencia blames the assassination on the narcomafia whom Sambrano had also attacked. Not that I particularly trust the mayor of Valencia; but at the very least it is obvious that Sambrano had not confined himself to only one set of potentially deadly enemies -- any man who is willing publicly to take on both the drug cartels and Chavez's government, is a very brave man indeed.

Those of us who live in America -- even those of us who think Obama is a disastrous choice for President -- sometimes need to be reminded that our leaders, however much they might be morally capable of murder (and you'll never convince me either LBJ or for that matter FDR wouldn't have killed without a qualm had he been certain he could get away with it), are constrained by the most successful political system in the history of the world, if "successful" is defined to mean "most effective, and for the longest time, in protecting the ordinary citizen from the depradations of those among them who would deprive them of life, liberty, and the opportunity to pursue happiness." My friend Alexandra and her family, and now my friend Andres and his family, can tell us that there are many places in the world where simply to speak your mind in public is an act of mortal courage. As the Soviet Russian once said privately to his American friend, "The difference between our political systems is really quite simple. In our country we are free to speak and to assemble. In your country, you are free after speaking and assembling..."

Requiescat in pace, Sr. Sambrano.

And the rest of you...please pray for my friend Andres.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Welcome To Ayn Rand's Hell (updated with stuff from TMQ and a couple of extra Perilous Principles)

Otherwise known as the world in which Dubya, Sec. Paulson and the Obamessiah have solved the economic crisis. I'm laying the sarcasm on thick, of course, as it is my firm opinion that the following two things may truly be said of the overwhelming number of "solutions" that government offers:

1. The "crisis" to be solved either is not in fact a crisis, or else is a crisis that was created by the government to begin with.

2. The "solution" will make things worse, certainly in the long term and usually in the short term as well.

Thanks to Jennifer for the link, which was especially generous of her since she most certainly does NOT share my (and Rand's) libertarian cynicism.

UPDATE: Adding two more general rules to the above, plus pasting in an excerpt from Tuesday Morning Quarterback that seems beautifully relevant (especially since TMQ obviously shares my take more or less exactly):

3. More often than not, the people who will suffer the most from the "solution," are the people the politicians claim to be "helping."

4. But one group of people who ALWAYS benefit from government solutions, are the politicians implementing the "solution," which is to say, as a general rule, the people who created the crisis in the first place (assuming there really is a crisis and not just the illusion thereof).

Here's TMQ's take:

The Crisis-Claiming Crisis: Barack Obama also said last week the recession may last "years and years" unless Congress votes him fantastic new spending power. The recession is unlikely to last "years and years" even if Congress does nothing: The late-1970s and early-1990s recessions ended on their own without dramatic legislation. But presidents love crises -- famously, Bill Clinton lamented that he never got to preside over a war. The economic situation is "a crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime," Obama declared at George Mason University. Really! Unlike Sept. 11, unlike the 1980s crime wave, unlike the 1960s civil-rights riots and murders? To me the current recession resembles the early 1990s recession, which was also triggered partly by mortgage-based financial fraud (in that case the S&L meltdown), which also caused credit and investment markets across the United States and European Union to seize up, which also was accompanied by a stock swoon (about 30 percent, only somewhat worse than the current swoon) and which also brought about deflation in the housing market. But who remembers 1991? That's ancient history. Wasn't Augustus the Emperor in 1991?

Presidents love to proclaim things are worse than they seem, because this can be used to justify the awarding of extra presidential power. Just after George W. Bush took office, in the winter of 2001, he proclaimed an "energy crisis" and demanded sweeping new powers from Congress. Petroleum and electricity-generating capacity should have run out by now based on Dick Cheney's 2001 statements. In the spring of 2001, a U.S. military plane collided with a Chinese jet and crash-landed in China; this was declared a crisis and said to justify new White House powers. Sadly, on 9/11, an actual crisis occurred. Next, Bush declared a crisis of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and asked Congress for extraordinary powers to invade a nation that did not appear to pose any threat to the United States. Then terrorists within the country were said to be a crisis, said to justify board expansion of presidential powers including warrantless wiretapping of American citizens and the holding of prisoners without charges. When gas pump prices hit $4 a gallon in the winter of 2008, Bush called that a crisis and asked for additional powers. When financial markets froze in the autumn of 2008, Bush immediately asked for $700 billion to spend without congressional oversight. Presidents love to cry crisis and then ask for extra power and extra money outside normal channels of accountability.

Obama hasn't even been sworn in, and already seems susceptible to the desire to proclaim a crisis. "A bad situation could become dramatically worse," the president-elect said of the economy last week. This seems exactly what a president-elect should not be saying -- there's a lot of self-fulfilling prophecy in business. But such comments sync with the practice of presidents describing situations as much worse than they actually are, in order to justify more presidential authority. The moment the economy resumes ticking upward, expect President Obama to tell us there is a shocking super-ultra global warming crisis that justifies expanded presidential powers and extraordinary spending programs. (Climate change is a genuine problem, but no crisis.)

The news media like the sense of crisis, because it keeps viewers glued to TV news and nervously scanning newspapers. Part of the downward psychology of the recession is that journalists are using the most negative language possible -- "SALES PLUMMETED 2.2%" is an actual headline from last week's New York Times economic coverage -- while demonstrating no sense of history or proportion. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show 7.2 percent unemployment. That is a serious concern, yet was presented by the media as an unprecedented calamity -- in 1991, unemployment was 11 percent. Even with 2.6 million jobs lost in 2008, obviously a disturbing number, there are more people employed right now than five years ago, since overall, employment grew in that period. The civilian labor force did not even decline in December -- read the fine print. Unemployment rose because jobs did not keep pace with population growth. This kind of perspective is utterly missing from media coverage, since news organizations perceive a self-interest in making the situation sound worse.

Members of Congress of both parties like the sense of crisis, whether real or imagined: it gives them excuses to take money away from average people and hand bags of gold to favorites and interest groups, who repay the representatives and senators with campaign donations. The extent to which members of Congress have a financial incentive to tax the average and confer money on political favorites would I think shock the Framers, who did not anticipate the corrupting impact of campaign donations, because campaigning in their time entailed giving speeches in town halls.

You might think: Washington is full of somber experts and urbane talking heads, why don't they warn presidents not to declare crises? Institutional Washington loves the sense of crisis, because this makes institutional Washington feel important. Lobbyists, think tank fellows, news-channel figures, government officials and Washington pundits all become more significant when there is a sense of national peril -- plus, they get to strut around projecting gravitas. If things are basically fine, why give extra attention, to say nothing of extra money, to institutional Washington?

Criminal Masterminds of the Day Dept

It's probably not a good idea to stand patiently in line while wearing your Official Acme Bank Robber Ski Mask -- but at least the ski mask dude actually got Step One right: if you want to commit a bank robbery, you should start by going into a bank, not the office of the Jessamine South Elkhorn Water District.

Walk-In Closet Dept

I can't understand what women like Tina (who sent me this commercial) find so exciting about walk-in-closets...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Importance of Careful Enunciation Dept

OFFICE WORKER WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS [chatting idly with his fellow laborers]: ...I wish my mind worked like that. [has second thoughts] Or, actually, I guess I'm glad my mind doesn't work like that, or else I'd sit here all day amusing myself.

EQUALLY NAMELESS CO-WORKER [looking up from his computer screen, eyes wide with mock shock]: You'd sit there all day doing what?????

Really? Literally? Dept

HIGHLY INTELLIGENT HOST OF GOOD MORNING AMERICA [portentously]: Debt! Americans are literally sinking under the weight of it...

Sounds like we all need to spend more time doing leg-lifts at the gym, eh?

I don't is this a fail?

Despite its appearance on failblog, this sure looks like a win to me.

Brilliant Commercial Spokesperson Of The Day Dept

Arthritis, n.: acute or chronic inflammation of a joint, often accompanied by pain and structural changes and having diverse causes, as infection, crystal deposition, or injury. (From Greek arthro-, joint + -itis, inflammation.)

Voice-over of woman in arthritis medicine commercial this morning:

"I knew rheumatoid arthritis was painful, but [with outraged astonishment] I didn't know it could attack my joints!"

(Definition courtesy of

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Reassuring Restaurant Hostess of the Day Dept

A conversation with a local restaurant hostess, as reported by Scott Finke:

CUSTOMER FINKE: How long is the wait right now?

REASSURING HOSTESS: It'll be twenty minutes, but it's going really fast.

Juan Diego, Watch Your Back Dept

Faith (this morning's barista at Java Dave's) is not the morning talk-television fan that Veronica is, thank God. So we're listening to some pop station's morning show instead of to the emotional self-abuse (in the Catholic sense) of Diane Sawyer, who yesterday ran a big piece that was about absolutely nothing except shamelessly, all-but-breathlessly narcissistic self-adulation, and included in her Lessons Learned From The Year In Which I Single-Handedly (With A Small Assist From Sam Donaldson) Altered The Landscape Of News Television Forever, the following gem:

"Lesson #3: Don't think about yourself; instead, think about what you can do for other people."

After which she went right back to talking about how fantastically fabulicious she was. Hi-freakin'-larious stuff. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Rigorously Self-Aware American Intellectual Elite.

But that's not the story I set out to tell, actually, just a story I suddenly remembered I had forgotten to tell. What I meant to tell you was about a news tidbit that momentarily caught my attention. I give you the following dialog between myself and the entertainment-gossip chick on the radio morning show:

ENTERTAINMENT-GOSSIP CHICK: New Kids on the Block are hittin' the high C's....

PERIL: Bullspit; I mean, as least pick a boy-band with some actual vocal talent if you're gonna try to sell me on that one...

ENTERTAINMENT-GOSSIP CHICK: ...They announced yesterday that they have signed a deal with Princess Cruise Lines...

PERIL: Oh. [à la Rosanne Rosannadanna] Never mind.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Never let it be said that English judges are soft on crime

At least, as long as they're sure that the criminals are unlikely to rough said judges up as they leave the courthouse.

HT: Dave.

Criminal Mastermind of the Day Dept

In his defense...actually, I don't think he has any.

HT: Dave.

Ловкий Молодец (Dexterous Young Russian Dude) of the Day Dept

For a translation of what he's saying, look below the fold -- but watch it once before you open it because the translation is a bit of a spoiler and the explanatory note totally gives it away.

...continue on to the transcript and an extra explanatory note...Here's what he says:

"S***! Oh, my!...

"[to camera] Look! It's actually gotten stuck!


In order to fully appreciate this video, you must know that in Russia, all the circuits in the house are 220v. And now you know why in the U.S. we only run 110 through our sockets...

Whoops, almost forgot to hat tip failblog.

Utah #1, Florida #2 for me

Then USC, then Texas, then OU.

Not a great night for me. Just as glad I had to take Natasha to Austin and didn't get to watch the game.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Nagging Parents Of The Year Dept

Hmm, let's see: Jail, or my parents? Jail...or my parents...?

If This Cop Thing Doesn't Work Out There's Always Marriage Counseling Dept

Key quote from this story of marital conflict in China: "[Police officer] Deng says he eventually persuaded the boyfriend that it was a man's job to warm his girlfriend's feet but told the woman not to leave her feet there for too long."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Reshuffling my Top Five

It is now:

1. Utah
2. Florida
3. USC
4. OU
5. Texas

If you're going to give OU credit for getting better since October, you have to give USC credit, too. And I don't see how you could watch the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, knowing that Penn State and Ohio State are very comparable opponents, and not move USC up above Texas -- and ipso facto up above anybody Texas has beaten, at least until that anybody proves against a real opponent that they've gotten a lot better since Texas beat 'em. And as we should all see plainly by now, "real opponent" excludes teams in the Big XII. If OU isn't a lot better than Texas is now, then USC is better than Texas. And since OU hasn't proved that to my satisfaction, they sit behind USC.

This does not mean, by the way, that I think Utah and Florida should have played for the national championship. You sort the bowls by the information you have before the bowl season; plus, USC has had their bowl and had their chance to impress, but OU and Florida haven't had their shot yet.

But I think OU had better bring their game Thursday night in a big way.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Peril's Dictionary: Casquivana (n., Sp.)

"Empty helmet," i.e., airheaded young girl, whose supercervical appendage appears to have been supplied by the Deity for purposes purely cosmetic. From Old French casque ("helmet," "skull") and Latin vānus ("empty," "pointless").


Okay, I have to confess two things. (1) I completely made up the etymology; I don't know what the actual etymology is and have no intention of looking it up because I already know I like mine better. (2) I'm not sure I have the meaning of the word exactly right. Probably real close, though, since Mr. Bennet uses that word to describe Lydia and Kitty when they are talking very silly girl-talk about the officers.

By the way, there are those among my Gentle Readers who would say that casquivana sounds like an excellent word for any person who has been known to forget his computer at home, to go home to get the computer, to get distracted by something else at home he had also forgotten to do, and to return to work only to discover, upon opening the trunk, that he had once again forgotten the computer. By this, these Gentle Readers would mean me, since I have done that on three separate occasions. I maintain, however, that I do not meet the definition of casquivana as given above, because of the last half of the definition: when God was installing what sits on top of this particular red neck, His purposes were clearly not cosmetic.


This is, by the way, a real word, and I do think it means basically "airhead." I'm reading Pride and Prejudice in Spanish at the moment for practice, and I camped out last night at Java Dave's to put my feet up and read away. It was especially convenient to do so because Daniela and Daniel were both there for most of the evening, and so every five minutes or so I would interrupt their conversation with something like this:

MR. PIERCE: Hey, Daniel, what does pesar mean?

DANIEL: It means "to weigh."

MR. PIERCE: That's what I thought, but that doesn't make any sense. Is there maybe an idiom "a pesar de"?

(Daniel can't think of one but Daniela steps helpfully in.)

DANIELA: Oh, that's right, "a pesar de" means "even though."

MR. PIERCE [checks the book and confirms that "even though" works in context; then, gratefully...]: Perfect, that makes perfect sense now, thanks!

So I get to the speech where Mr. Bennet replies to his wife's assertion that all of their children are clever by saying, "...I had hoped that our sentiments coincided in every particular, but I must so far differ from you as to think our two youngest daughters uncommonly foolish." And the Spanish makes sense up until the very end, where Mr. Bennet concludes, "...que son extraordinariamente casquivanas."

I didn't recognize the word casquivanas, but it sounded like an absolutely delightful word, a word that certainly sounded likely to mean "empty helmet" = "airhead" -- and a word likely to be highly useful to me personally, as well. You see, Anya and Kinya have both gone all ethnic on me, but have chosen different ethnic allegiances. Anya has decided that she is German and pretends to be highly offended if I call her Russian (and when I call her "Kazakh" her outrage is no pretense). Kinya objects to being called anything but "Russian," and as part of this policy she automatically threatens to punch me "v glas [in the eyes], Papa, v glas!" anytime I address her in Spanish as if she were Mexican.

Which means that I intend to have a very great deal of fun indeed calling across the room toward Kinya, "Oy, casquivana!"

But I thought I would just check with the experts to make sure I knew what the word meant and wasn't abusing it. Turns out, though, that neither Daniel nor Daniela, nor for that matter Veronica (because I stopped by this morning on the way to work to check) can ever remember hearing the word casquivana. Well, as far as I'm concerned, that means it can mean anything I want it to mean -- and it now means "empty helmet," in the metaphorical sense of the definition with which I started this post.

And to end this post, I hereby provide an illustration of the ultimate "empty helmet" chick:

The Devil's Dictionary: Inadmissible (adj.)

Not competent to be considered. Said of certain kinds of testimony which juries are supposed to be unfit to be entrusted with, and which judges, therefore, rule out, even of proceedings before themselves alone. Hearsay evidence is inadmissible because the person quoted was unsworn and is not before the court for examination; yet most momentous actions, military, political, commercial and of every other kind, are daily undertaken on hearsay evidence. There is no religion in the world that has any other basis than hearsay evidence. Revelation is hearsay evidence; that the Scriptures are the word of God we have only the testimony of men long dead whose identity is not clearly established and who are not known to have been sworn in any sense. Under the rules of evidence as they now exist in this country, no single assertion in the Bible has in its support any evidence admissible in a court of law. It cannot be proved that the battle of Blenheim ever was fought, that there was such a person as Julius Caesar, such an empire as Assyria.

But as the records of courts of justice are admissible, it can easily be proved that powerful and malevolent magicians once existed and were a scourge to mankind. The evidence (including confession) upon which certain women were convicted of witchcraft and executed was without a flaw; it is still unimpeachable. The judges' decisions based on it were sound in logic and in law. Nothing in any existing court was ever more thoroughly proved than the charges of witchcraft and sorcery for which so many suffered death. If there were no witches, human testimony and human reason are alike destitute of value.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

I'd say ditto...

...except that this guy is entirely too easy on the bastards, thugs, and modern-day would-be slaveowners who run the NCAA.

All hail the Utes

If you made me turn in my final AP ballot right now, having informed me that Dubya had canceled all the remaining bowl games, my ballot would look like this:

1. Utah
2. OU
3. Texas
4. Florida
5. USC

Now, if you made me guess what my final AP ballot will look like, my guess is that it winds up like this:

1. OU / Utah...and the order will depend on how convincingly OU beats Florida. (Obviously the fact that I have OU #1 and Florida not in the top five implies that I think OU will win.)
3. Texas
4. USC
5. TCU
6. A bunch of losers after that point

That's because I think Oklahoma will defeat Florida, and I think they will do so relatively convincingly. And also I think Texas will kick Ohio State into June of 2010.

Now, to explain my rankings, by explaining why Utah does or does not rank above each of the other teams in my estimation.

General principles for comparing undefeated teams to defeated teams

Note that the principles I'm about to lay out are, I believe, entirely consistent with what I've been preaching all year, and which earlier this year I was using to say that Texas should be ranked ahead of OU. Furthermore, I have pretty radically revised my evaluation of the Big XII South in the last couple of days, and that is reflected in my rankings. So don't bug me with no accusations of homeristic stacking of decks.

The burden of proof is totally on the team that got beat. That means that if anybody wants to say his team should be ranked ahead of Utah, he has to put up a serious case. If anybody from OU wants to say that OU should be ranked ahead of Texas, he has to put up a serious case. If anybody from Texas wants to say that Texas should be ranked ahead of Texas Tech, he has to put up a serious case (and to do so with arguments that can't then be turned right back against him to show that Texas should be ranked behind OU). I would accept the following three types of argument, if made with sufficient rigor and empirical evidence:

1. If you can make a serious case that the undefeated team would have had a loss if they had had to play the team the defeated team lost to, then that is, to me, a good refutation of the "you lost and we didn't so we're better" argument.

2. If you can make a serious case that the undefeated team would have lost at some point if they had had to play the same overall schedule that the defeated team did, then that is, to me, a good answer to the "you lost and we didn't so we're better" argument.

3. Because I believe very strongly that the whole point of sports is to become better, and therefore I believe that playoff-based systems (which in the end determine which team had become the best by the end of the season) capture the spirit of sport better than do round-robin tournaments (which give just as much weight to how a team starts out as they do to how a team ends), I think it is fair to argue that a team that lost early has caught and passed the undefeated team. Now you have to make a very serious case indeed, to me, if you're going to use that argument. But if you're going to insist that games in the early part of the season should count for just as much as games at then end, then I think you have no choice but to go take away the Giants' 2008 NFL championship crown and give it to the Patriots, who beat the Giants just as many times as the Giants beat them, and who had a vastly better season overall. Not willing to do that? Why, then that means that you agree, at bottom, that it's all about how good you become, not how good you start. So if the case is strong enough, I think you have to admit it into court -- but obviously it needs to be a very strong case empirically.

So those are my general principles for comparing undefeateds to defeateds. Now let's apply it team-by-team.

Why Utah rather than USC?

Utah is undefeated. USC is not. If you're going to put USC ahead of Utah then I think you have to argue that either (a) Utah would also have lost to Oregon State if the two had played, or (b) USC should get extra credit for playing in a way tougher conference than Utah, or (c) there's some reason to think that USC has improved dramatically since their loss and Utah hasn't. Um...bad news for USC.

(a) Would Utah have lost to Oregon State?...Oh, wait a second. Here's part of Oregon State's schedule:

25 Sep: beat USC 27-21.

2 Oct (yes, the very next Saturday): got beat by Utah 31-28.

I realize that OSU got USC in Corvallis and had to go to Salt Lake to play Utah; but I defy anybody to come up with a better measure of what home field advantage is worth than Jeff Sagarin -- whose regression studies consistently come in at about a field goal and who this year calculates home field as worth I think 2.91 points. So say you give USC an extra field goal on the 25th and OSU an extra field goal on the 2nd...guess what? USC still loses in Corvallis, and OSU still doesn't win in Salt Lake. Have a nice day, USC, thanks for playing.

(b) How 'bout that Pac-10? I mean, that's a real conference, not like the Mountain West. I mean, after all, in head-to-head competition...oops. Never mind. (Head-to-head Pac-10 vs. MWC this year: 2-6. Ouch.)

(c) I don't see it, frankly. USC raised their level of play a notch in the Rose Bowl, but then again, they were playing a Big Ten team, which is kind of a joke. And while it is true that Utah was playing a grossly overrated Alabama team, it is also true that they unquestionably raised their level of play as well.

Burden of proof is on the team that lost, especially when they lost to a common opponent that the other team beat. USC doesn't come close, IMHO. Goodbye, USC; Utah is better than you until you prove something head-to-head, which you won't get the opportunity to do. Next year, I would advise you to beat Oregon State. You might also consider getting out of the Pac Ten and moving to a quality football conference -- the Mountain West, for example. (Don't worry, Pac People, I'll scorch my own Big XII, too, before I'm done with this post.)

Why Utah rather than Florida?

The SEC was grossly overrated this year; I don't see any particular reason to think that it was harder to go undefeated in the SEC this year than to go undefeated in the MWC. (Yes, I know: "all those Top-30 SEC defenses" -- you mean, like Alabama's?)

In this case, we have a situation very similar to Utah/USC -- there is a common opponent who played back-to-back games against first Florida, and then Utah. In this case both Florida and Utah won -- and, to be blunt about it, Utah's win was a more dominant and impressive win. At the end of the third quarter in the SEC championship, I think most people watching thought that Florida was in trouble. After five minutes were gone in the first quarter of the Sugar Bowl, I think everybody in America knew that Alabama was in trouble; and I don't think there was any point in the whole game where people thought, "Too bad for Utah." I suppose the closest thing came at 21-17; but Utah then proceeded to march right back down and take control again.

I will allow the Florida backers to complain that Andre Smith's absence made a big difference. But how big a difference did it make? How are you going to quantify it? Besides, Smith wasn't missing from the Alabama defense, and Utah rolled up just as many points against that defense as Florida did -- and Utah stopped at 31 to a large degree by choice. Utah exploded in that first quarter with the no-huddle, then slowed things down in an obvious attempt to shorten the game. Had Utah kept the pedal to the medal and stayed in hurry-up, no-huddle mode for the whole game, it's just not reasonable to doubt that they'd've rolled up quite a few more points than they in fact did. If Smith is in the game then the Alabama offense scores more points; but then the Ute offense probably scores more points, too.

See, the difference between "Alabama didn't have Smith in the Sugar Bowl," and, "OU lost Ryan Reynolds in the Red River Shootout," is precisely quantifiability. We know that Ryan Reynolds' absence made a huge difference in the Shootout, because Reynolds didn't get hurt until the second half, giving us a control performance, as it were. It's not debatable that Reynolds' loss made a huge difference in that game, because Texas was hanging on for dear life until Reynolds went down, and from the moment Reynolds went down it was a different contest. Not "might have been different," it was different. We know how Texas would have fared against OU-with-Reynolds, because Texas actually played a half against Reynolds (and were in the game at half 28-20 solely because a return for touchdown had made up for some of the deficiencies of their rather overmatched offense, in much the same way that Alabama had hope at the half of the Sugar Bowl only because the deficit was 21-10 instead of 21-3 -- thanks to a return for touchdown that helped make up for their outright hapless offense). The before-and-after-Reynolds Shootout results are as close to a controlled experiment as you are ever likely to get in football, and if you can't admit that the Reynolds injury radically altered the whole character of the Shootout then you are simply impervious to empirical evidence (and therefore of no interest to me as a football discussion partner).

But there is no such control available for Smith. Utah was dominant throughout and changed their offensive strategy quite obviously depending upon whether they felt comfortable with their lead and wanted to milk the clock, or whether they were feeling urgency to score. The Utah offense was much better than the 'Bama defense; the Utah defense was much better than the Smith-less 'Bama offense. Maybe Smith makes the 'Bama offense close to an even match for the Ute defense -- but then, is there any reason to think that Utah wouldn't have scored 50 points against 'Bama if they had needed to? I don't see it, myself -- and the only thing Smith could possibly have accomplished, given that he doesn't play defense, would have been to make sure Utah's offense spent more of the game in urgency-to-score mode rather than take-our-time-and-kill-clock mode.

At the very least, Utah showed in the Sugar Bowl that they were just as capable of beating up on Alabama as Florida was. And if you take Alabama off the slate, tell me whom else Florida beat this year who was as good as TCU? Actually, never mind taking Alabama off the slate, because TCU would IMHO also whoop Alabama -- Alabama just isn't that good a team, and just didn't really accomplish very much this year once you look at who it was that they went undefeated against. Whom did Florida beat this year that you seriously believe, at this point, would beat TCU on a neutral field?

That's what I thought.

So, to me, the best Florida can claim is, "Hey, the Alabama games didn't prove anything." But the trouble with that is that Florida needs the Alabama games to prove something -- because Florida lost at home this year to a team that four other teams beat, and thus the burden of proof is on Florida. Florida needs to be able to say, "We're a different team now than we were then" (and they could try to say that Tebow and the Gators had a wakeup call against Ole Miss and actually started playing like they were capable of) -- but it doesn't do any good to say that unless you can also say, "And the different team that we now are is clearly better than you." Well, Florida, I saw you play Alabama, and I saw Utah play Alabama.

And you didn't make your case.

Why Utah rather than Texas?

Because of what happened in the Holiday and Cotton Bowls. I thought Oklahoma State and Texas Tech would both dominate their bowls. Instead they both lost outright. And that means that I had been up until now overestimating the quality of Texas's body of work: Oklahoma State came this close to beating Texas in Austin, and of course Tech did beat Texas in Lubbock -- in a game that, had Texas won, you would have had to feel Texas had risen up and stolen in the last quarter after being dominated for most of the game. Now, I would excuse Texas to a certain degree for that loss because it was in Lubbock (add a field goal to offset home field and that gets Texas closer though still not there) and because they lost Cosby very early in that game (which I think would have made the rest of the difference). But if you're going to give Texas a mulligan for losing because they didn't have Cosby, then you also have to take away Texas's signature win in the Shootout, because OU didn't have Reynolds for the second half. And even more's kinda hard not to suspect that Texas might have just a spot of trouble with Oregon, and for that matter with Ole Miss. But Oregon lost to three other teams (including Boise State) and Ole Miss lost to four teams -- though not to Texas Tech.

Texas gets credit for beating OU on a neutral field. But I saw both the first and second halves of that game, and Texas doesn't get as much credit for that win as they think they do, because I really don't see how Texas can claim that they would have won that game if OU hadn't lost Reynolds. I mean, it's certainly possible that they would have found a way to win. But the evidence says that they were much more likely to have walked away with a loss. And then they're a two-loss team and not even in the discussion. So, they get credit for seizing their opportunity and beating a great Oklahoma team, and that gets them into the discussion; but they only get credit for beating that team at its least great moment of the whole year. There's no compelling reason to think that Texas would have beaten the early-season Oklahoma team without the Reynolds injury, much less to think that Texas would beat the team that Oklahoma has become now that the Reynolds injury has been schemed around and Alex English is back. And now that Tech and OSU and Missouri have all been exposed as overrated, that fearsome four-game OU-Mizzo-OSU-Tech stretch just doesn't impress nearly as much as it did a week ago. The bowl season has made Texas's loss seem worse and its wins seem not nearly as good.

Utah deserves it more than Texas does at this point. It's that simple.

Why Utah rather than Oklahoma?

For all the reasons I just gave with respect to Texas, basically -- the woeful performances of Tech and Oke State have in my mind pretty seriously devalued OU's body of work.

Now, I do think that Oklahoma has one thing in its favor that none of Utah's other challengers can match: in the case of Oklahoma, there's plenty of reason to think that Oklahoma really has improved dramatically in the months since the Shootout, because the injury impact is obvious. But you know what? Oklahoma lost. And in the OU/Texas debate, Texas is handicapped by the fact that while it is true that they beat OU head-to-head, it is also true that they got beat by Tech, and that Tech got absolutely run off the field by the Sooners. But Utah hasn't lost. There's no Tech that OU can point to when the debate is between Utah and OU.

So at this point, based on Utah's performance in the Sugar Bowl and the Big XII's performances in the Cotton and Holiday Bowls, Utah has moved ahead of OU for me. I'm just not as confident as I was a week ago that OU's dominance during the last half of the season is an artifact of true greatness rather than an artifact of weakness in conference opponents. Utah is undefeated; Oklahoma is not. The burden of proof is on Oklahoma -- and, thanks to those three bowl results, I say Oklahoma has not yet proved what it has to prove.

But there are two bowls left that could change my mind.

If Texas has a tough time with Ohio State, then I move USC up ahead of Texas, and in the process I emphatically move the Pac-Ten up ahead of the Big XII. But that pushes Utah even further ahead of Oklahoma than I already have them, and puts even more weight on the BCS Championship game. If, on the other hand, Texas dominates Ohio State, then I leave Texas ahead of USC and my Utah/OU comparison holds steady at the status quo.

And that brings us to OU/Florida. Here are the possible results and how they would affect my vote.

1. Florida wins. In that case, Utah is my national champion; even a Florida domination of OU would just mean, to me, that the Big XII was indeed grossly overrated. If the comparison is between Florida and Utah, then for me, Alabama is where you go for the comparison, and it's already settled. There is no way I will move Florida ahead of Utah. The question for me wouldn't be, "How high does Florida go?" -- if Florida wins on the 8th, then my top two are Utah and Florida in that order. I mean, I'll believe that Florida and Utah would be very evenly matched, because I think that's already been established; but I'll believe that Utah gets the ring because the burden of proof is on Florida, as explained above. So the only question in this scenario, for me, would be, "How far does OU fall, and how far down do they drag Texas with them?"

2. Oklahoma wins in a dogfight, leaving me convinced that if OU played Florida ten times it would be a crapshoot as to which of the two teams, if either, would win six games of the ten. In that case, I would conclude that at the top of the football world there were three more or less equally competitive teams -- four, if Texas were to win convincingly in the Fiesta -- and that none of the defeateds had met the burden of proof. In that case, my top two would be Utah and OU.

3. Oklahoma wins convincingly but doesn't slaughter them. In that case I agonize over which team gets my #1.

4. Oklahoma dominates Florida. In that case, because I think Alabama shows us that Utah is slightly better than Florida but not dominatingly so, and because I think there is good reason to think that the team Oklahoma is dramatically and demonstrably better than the team they were able to field in the second half of the Shootout, I go ahead and move OU back ahead of Utah -- and curse the lack of a playoff.

So where's the cutoff point, the margin of victory at which "convincing" changes to "dominating"? Well, that kind of depends on how Texas does against Ohio State. If Texas impresses in the Fiesta, then a two-possession (i.e., 9-point) victory for OU would probably be enough for me, and two touchdowns or more would definitely do the trick. If Texas loses to Ohio State, then I would demand at least two touchdowns and probably wouldn't begin to be comfortable with anything less than a three-touchdown blowout.

But I'll tell you this: either OU dominates Florida and my top two are OU and Utah in that order, or else Utah is my national champion. What Utah has done this year...I can't say enough about 'em. That is a championship team. If they wind up #2 in the Peril poll it will only be because Oklahoma convinces me, in the BCS title game, that they have become, by this point in the season, one of the all-time great teams.

My money? Well, to be honest, it's pretty much on Utah at this point. Which is why right now I have Utah #1.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Wanna know the deepest, most fundamental reason I hate living in Houston?

It's because I grew up in the kind of small town where a shopkeeper could leave an honesty box in charge of the shop.

Wanna know why I doubt I'll ever go back to Princeton even for a visit? It's because you'd be nuts to leave your dorm room unlocked at Princeton, and yet folks in Princeton, and lots of other folks who hugely impressed with themselves as sophisticated and high-toned, look down on people who live in small towns like the one I grew up in. And if you doubt that, say something snide about Sarah Palin at your next big-city cocktail party and watch how many people in the gathering raise their noses toward the ceiling as an automatic reflex.

(I don't mind Sarah Palin jokes -- I've been known to pass a couple along myself. And I don't mind your saying that Palin was not qualified to be Vice-President, as long as you have enough intellectual honesty and consistency to admit at the same time that, a forteriori, by any standard strict enough to justify your rejection of Palin, Barack Obama was disgracefully unqualified for the Oval Office. I don't object to your having a low opinion of Palin's political views, or of thinking she isn't ready yet for the Oval Office, in other words. But the instant personal revulsion felt toward Palin by millions of people who won't accomplish as much in their next three lives as she already has, just because she is a small-town hick who knows how to hunt and fish and make a living with her hands, and because she goes to church and -- unforgiveably -- appears to actually believe the things she says in church...that instant personal revulsion was absolutely palpable; and it was nothing but straight-forward, old-fashioned snobbery -- which always reveals far more about the snob than it reveals about the rube. The world would not be noticeably worse off if Charles Gibson and all his ilk, or Barbara Walters and Whoopi Goldberg, suddenly disappeared; and a world without Oprah would be a better place entirely. But get rid of Sarah Palin and all the women like her who are disdained so deeply by Katie Couric and her sisters among the self-perceived elites, and this country would be in one almighty world of hurt.)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Devil's Dictionary: Impunity (n.)


The Devil's Dictionary: Impostor (n.)

A rival aspirant to public honors.

The Devil's Dictionary: Impiety (n.)

Your irreverence toward my deity.

The Devil's Dictionary: Immoral (n.)


The Devil's Dictionary: Illustrious (adj.)

Suitably placed for the shafts of malice, envy and detraction.

The Devil's Dictionary: Idiot (n.)

A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling.