Monday, September 29, 2008

This Is Why They Call It Political SCIENCE

A few months I pilloried Kansas Senator Pat Roberts for running a campaign ad that featured awful writing. Well, in the interest of maintaining balance, here's a link to opponent Jim Slattery's newest ad on America's healthcare crisis.

I'm...I'm not really sure how to respond to that.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I Hate Smart Sportswriters

Stewart Mandel's a sharp dude. I like him a lot. His college football book "Bowls, Polls and Tattered Souls" is a lot of fun. He's a fine writer and a credit to his profession. So it kind of sucks when he says something negative about your team.

"2. That the Urban Meyer aura is wearing off. He arrived from Utah as the sport's most intriguing new coaching figure, and he backed up the hype almost immediately by delivering a national title in just his second season. But following the Gators' inexplicable home loss to Ole Miss on Saturday, Meyer's team has gone just 6-4 over its past 10 SEC games. Most puzzling of all is how the coach's once-feared offense -- the one that was expected to truly take off once he had "his own guys" -- has regressed considerably in Tim Tebow's second year at the helm.

While Tebow, whose rushing stats are way down from his Heisman season, is the easy scapegoat, the bigger mystery is how, despite four loaded recruiting classes, there are seemingly so few weapons around him. On Saturday, stars Tebow and Percy Harvin combined for 401 of the Gators' 443 yards. Where were RBs Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody (six combined carries)? And how is it that none of Florida's young pass-catchers have stepped up to fill the void left by Andre Caldwell and Cornelius Ingram? Until they do, the Gators will be very predictable."

Mandel's point is an uncomfortable one, but it's also legitimate. I caught some flak on another board for saying here that if the Gators go 9-4 again this year, Meyer might find his seat getting a little hot.

I stood by that then and I stand by it now, and Mandel touches on why. Meyer's put together four recruiting classes, three of them very highly ranked, and yet the list of Florida's weapons includes just two names: Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin. Aaron Hernandez is working his way onto the list.

Make no mistake, luring guys like Tebow and Harvin to Gainesville is an extraordinary accomplishment. But it's hard to compete for SEC Championships with just two studs. If you look at the other skill position players recruited by Meyer, there's just not a lot that remains.

Louis Murphy's a solid player and decent deep threat, but no one really game plans for him. Kestahn Moore was a decent enough back his first three years, but he was never a playmaker and he's seen his touches fall to nothing this year. David Nelson is a complete non-entity. Nyan Boateng transferred after the 2006 season and did nothing of consequence his first two years.

Harvin and Tebow were signed in 2006. Also signed that year was Mon Williams, who's done nothing in three years. Riley Cooper's a starter this season but has been wildly inconsistent and can't be relied on in third down situations. Brandon James is a dynamic returner and an unquestionable recruiting success, but his role in the offense is a limited one. Jarred Fayson transferred after not being given the same touches as Harvin. Chevon Walker did nothing for two years and bolted town.

Deonte Thompson was a five star receiver and big "get" in 2007, but he redshirted last year and hasn't done much of anything this year. It's way too early to write him off, of course. Bo Williams didn't even wait two years to try and get in the running back rotation before he transferred. Chris Rainey has shown flashes of potential, but after a great first game against Hawaii he's barely shown up this year. As mentioned above, Hernandez has been a success and looks like Tebow's second-favorite target.

Last year's recruiting class included TJ Lawrence, Omarius Hines, Jeff Demps, Carl Moore and Frankie Hammond. All have the potential to become great players, especially Demps with his mind-blowing speed, but none of them are Julio Jones-AJ Green caliber playmakers, the kind who can come in and make an immediate impact.

All of that leaves Florida with a shockingly thin collection of playmakers on the offensive side. Combined with a surprisingly porous offensive line, and you've got a unit that operates about as smoothly as an East German car.

Let's be fair here: Florida's situation isn't disastrous. The Gators control their own destiny in the SEC: win out and they're in the championship game. Most teams don't have the luxury of Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin. The improved defense will help Florida win games even when the offense sputters. (For example, the Gators wouldn't have won this year's Tennessee or Miami games with last year's defense)

But Meyer's inability or unwillingness to find options outside the Tebow-Harvin duo is troubling. And with 1/3 of the regular season down the tubes, it seems unlikely that he'll be able to conjure up playmakers out of thin air.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mississippi 31, Florida 30

Next time John McCain mentions the relatively low number of nuclear meltdowns in the US, point him to this game.

I think I'll avoid for a couple weeks. That was simply a complete breakdown in every aspect of the game. Florida put up the least impressive 443 yards of offense I've ever seen. The defense, frequently put in untenable situations, eventually snapped in a way reminiscent of the 2007 season. And even UF's heretofore untouchable special teams cracked at crucial moments.

But the game was really lost at the beginning of the second half. Ole Miss punched Florida in the mouth at the beginning of the game, and the Gators responded well. The defense stiffened, the offense gelled a bit and Florida scored 17 unanswered points. UF entered the half up 17-7, thanks in no small part to the idiocy of Mississippi's offense in the closing moments.

Then comes the second half kick-off, a Harvin rush for eight yards and the comfortable victory appeared on the horizon. That's when the officials started slathering butter on the ball and Florida started falling apart.

Harvin fumbled and the Rebels took over on Florida's 34-yard-line. The defense held Mississippi to a field goal. Next possession, Tebow botched a zone read handoff to Brandon James and the Rebels recovered a fumble on UF's 18-yard-line. This time Ole Miss punched it in, tying the score at 17-17.

After a couple inconclusive drives, Ole Miss used their "Wild Rebel" formation (and God, how I grew tired of hearing that phrase) to break Dexter McCluster for a 40-yard touchdown run. Florida missed a number of tackles, allowing McCluster to break free.

Down 24-17, the Gators managed to string together a drive that would be punctuated by Tebow's second touchdown run of the game and the season. So, 24-24, pull yourself together and get the win.

Nope. Two drives later former Florida commit Jevan Snead hit Shay Hodge for 86 yards, the kind of play that tormented the Gators last year. Major Wright botched his coverage assignment and Hodge practically jogged 50 yards for the score.

To UF's credit, they didn't back down. On their very next drive the Gators were able to march down the field and score, thanks to a rejuvenated Percy Harvin. 31-30, kick the extra point, stop Ole Miss, score on your last drive and go home with a win.

Nope. After years of blocking kicks and playing great on special teams, the Gators' line buckled. Ole Miss blocked the extra point, leaving it a 31-30 game.

Again, UF's defense rose to the occasion and stymied Mississippi's attempt to run out the clock. Florida got the ball back with 2:05 left and Tebow had his Heisman moment in front of him.

Things were going so well. Taking over at their own 22-yard-line, Florida streaked into Ole Miss territory with three plays. On first and 10 from the Rebel 41, Tebow's line picked up a blitz and the Heisman winner picked out Louis Murphy streaking wide open down the middle.

And the Heisman winner missed his receiver by a step. That seemed to break Florida's back. Tebow missed Harvin on second down. On third down, Brandon James took an option pitch and scampered nine yards, leaving the Gators with a difficult situation: fourth and one on Mississippi's 32. Meyer didn't trust his kicker to boot a 49-yard field goal, and probably with good reason. So you turn to Tim Tebow, Heisman winner, Superman, The Circumciser. Surely he could gain one yard and move the chains.

Nope. Florida's offensive line had no push. Tebow never got close to the first down marker.

Something has to change. The special teams will play well. It's what they do. The defense had its struggles, giving up 325 yards, but they were left in impossible situations. Generally Florida's defenders acquitted themselves well.

No, the problems remain largely on the offensive side of the ball. Yes, they picked up 443 yards and 319 through the air. But once again the offensive line allowed entirely too much pressure (three sacks) and once again Tebow didn't handle that pressure well. Today you couldn't even blame exotic blitz packages like the ones Miami schemed. Ole Miss simply beat a much-hyped offensive line with its front four.

And the Gators still do not have a diversified offense. Harvin ran the ball 10 times. Emmanuel Moody carried it only three times (all in the first half) for 16 yards. Chris Rainey had three carries. Brandon James, Kestahn Moore and Jeff Demps all carried once.

Meyer needs to pick a running back and stick with him. That guy is probably Moody, but for the love of God, choose someone.

Once again the receiving corps outside of Harvin played no role in the game. Aaron Hernandez continued his good work, hauling in four passes. Louis Murphy also got four balls. Riley Cooper had two catches. Carl Moore and Deonte Thompson were shut out once again.

Before today's, Florida's offense had been unimpressive but at least avoided hurting the team. The Gators didn't turn the ball over, didn't make a lot of mistakes and was generally a complete non-entity. Today, however, Florida moved the ball but also committed three turnovers and hurt its defense on several occasions.

If there's good news from this debacle, it's the resurrection of a healthy, dynamic Percy Harvin. He caught 13 passes for 186 yards and ran free over the middle most of the game. He gained 82 yards on 10 carries, a much better rushing average than he had posted in his first two games and closer to the figures he had put up in 2006 and 2007. That should, in theory, open up the field for other playmakers, assuming they exist.

Florida's road to a SEC Championship remains perfectly clear. Win out and they're in Atlanta. It would be nice if Alabama could travel to Athens and beat Georgia tonight, but the Gators still control their own destiny. But right now, it's hard to imagine them beating LSU, Georgia or even Vanderbilt.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Debate Live Blog

(All times Central)

9:39 (Debate over):Instant reaction: no clear winner or loser. McCain had his moments, especially at the end of the debate when he sort of rolled over Obama on a couple issues. (Iran, namely) I'm interested to see how that plays. Generally, however, Obama gave a good account of himself on foreign policy. If this debate was about convincing Americans that he wasn't a little boy trying to sit at the grown-up table, it was a success. He didn't look scared or intimidated. And the first 30 or 40 minutes, focused almost entirely on the financial crisis, played into Obama's strengths.

If McCain performed poorly, it might have ended his campaign. He avoided that. But I think Obama avoided any sort of blunder that would endanger his front-runner status.

9:27: That's twice now where McCain has verbally steamrolled Obama and Obama has pretty much smiled it away. I don't know how that'll look, whether Obama will come off as controlled and patient or like a doormat.

9:17: McCain just rolled over Obama in an exchange about presidential level meetings. It's not that his arguments had any extraordinary force behind them, but he kept talking and Obama couldn't wriggle his way into the conversation. Lehrer didn't do a great job of shutting down McCain, and Obama wasn't forceful enough.

9:12: Obama has a great response here, but sort of ruins it with the "there's a difference between preconditions and preparations" line. I know what he's saying, but that's too cutesy and Clintonesque.

9:10: And that was a good response. Tough, but realistic. McCain comes back with the argument that Obama will meet with Ahmadinejad.

9:06: McCain's excoriating Iran. Obama has to be careful that he doesn't go overboard in trying to prove that he's "Barack Obama, Friend of Israel And Tough Fighter."

9:02: McCain tells a touching story about a bracelet he was given by the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq. Obama points out his own bracelet, given to him by another mother. This is dangerous: you don't want to play dueling mothers.

8:58: Obama just launched the toughest attack of the night. He said that McCain's plea for vocal caution is rather silly coming from someone who sings songs about bombing Iran.

8:50: I'm biased, but I think this is a good exchange for Obama. He's making the case that the war in Iraq is distracting us from the War on Terror as a whole. He did have to make a difficult argument on a troop funding bill, which has an unfortunate "I voted for it before I voted against it" vibe.

8:46: And he doesn't let him do that. Obama is blasting McCain on a whole series of judgment questions.

8:45: McCain tries to move away from the question of whether the Iraq War was a good idea at all. Obama shouldn't let him do that.

8:43: Did you know that Barack Obama opposed the war from the start?

8:40: McCain's economic plan comes down to cutting spending. Obama ties him to Bush, using the "votes with Bush 90 percent of the time" line.

8:37: McCain slams Obama on offshore oil drilling. Lehrer slams his head on the desk trying to get an answer to his original question about changing priorities after the financial collapse, and Obama misses a chance to fight back on drilling.

8:35: McCain wants to consider a spending freeze on everything but defense, entitlements and veteran's affairs. Obama calls this using a hatchet when a scalpel is needed. And we have our first mention of Iraq!

8:34: There is an Amber Alert in Ottawa, Kansas.

8:31: McCain on Obama's record: It's hard to reach across the aisle from that far on the left.

8:30: All these debate sites are made to look identical. I think they should all these things outdoors, work in some local flavor. Ole Miss has a beautiful campus. Put up a magnolia tree or something.

8:27: The "foreign policy debate" has yet to leave these borders.

8:26: McCain uses the word "festoon." He wins the battle for best word. Obama needs to break out "celerity" if he wants to catch up.

8:25: I like this format so far. They're going back and forth, and Lehrer isn't getting in the way.

8:23: McCain with a nice free market attack on the business tax. He explained that well.

8:21: Obama: Eliminating earmarks alone is not a strategy for helping the middle class. A nice line, maybe mitigating the fact that he just seemed to talk about a line item veto.

8:19: Obama points out that eliminating earmarks won't pay for McCain's corporate tax cuts. Not a bad little slash there. Shoehorn the "McCain cuts taxes for big corporations" argument into an irrelevant question, bring up your own middle class tax cut.

8:19: About 20 minutes in, and McCain hasn't done much attacking.

8:18: McCain just said he'd veto "every spending bill" that crossed his desk. I don't think that's what he was going for.

8:16: I'm tempted to vote for the first candidate to pass on a chance to use the "Main Street vs. Wall Street" meme.

8:15: Lehrer really wants these two to speak directly to each other.

8:13: McCain brings in a barely relevant anecdote about Eisenhower and the Normany invasion. He also says he's caught flak for calling for the SEC chair's resignation, when, in reality, he caught flak for saying he'd like to fire the SEC chair. Which he can't do.

8:11: Lehrer presses the point, but Obama pivots away to praising himself for his foresight. Ditto for McCain.

8:10: Same question to McCain. He doesn't offer a position on any specific plan.

8:07: Lehrer starts by asking Obama about the bailout plan. Obama offers a fairly standard set of Democratic conditions (oversight, limits on executive compensation, equity stake, etc.) and attacks McCain in the process. Nothing terribly specific.

8:03: Lehrer pronounces his last name "Lay-ruh"

8:00: I'm watching this debate on exciting high definition. Obama's mole! McCain's melanoma scars! I can see it all.

7:52: Hello and welcome to the Distressed Reporter laptop, located in lovely DeSoto, KS. From here I'll be live blogging tonight's debate between Senators McCain and Obama. Expect serious analysis, insightful commentary and blatantly partisan spin.

David Brooks is a Sad Panda

David Brooks likes John McCain. There's nothing surprising about that, of course, but more importantly, there's nothing wrong with that. I've castigated Brooks on a couple occasions for pointless cynicism, so it would be inconsistent and wrong of me to mock him for being genuinely fond of a politician. And considering how genuinely fond I am of Barack Obama, I would only be adding to the world's endless trough of hypocrisy.

Brooks' point, and it's not a ridiculous one, is that McCain is a good man, a serious man, and that we've lost track of that in the crucible of our presidential election. Brooks criticizes McCain for running a campaign with "no central argument," but the rest of the column is largely a paean to Arizona's senior senator. He desperately urges us to remember McCain's basic decency.

On that point I agree with Brooks. McCain's a decent man. It's unfortunate that we've forgotten that. But if McCain wants to blame someone for that lapse in our collective memory, he needs to look in the mirror.

McCain has run a brutal, dishonest, sarcastic, insulting campaign, and he's done so in an election that is guaranteed to be remembered in the annals of our history. Brooks acknowledges this reality. He just doesn't care about it.

And besides, both sides are guilty, so no one's to blame.

Nor is it, primarily, the dishonest ads he is running. My friends in the Obama cheering section get huffy about them, while filtering from their consciousness all the dishonest ads Obama has run — the demagogic DHL ad, the insulting computer ad, the cynical Rush Limbaugh ad, the misleading Social Security ad and so on. If one candidate has sunk lower than the other at this point, I’ve lost track.

Let's get this part of the discussion out of the way early, because Brooks loves to caricature everyone who supports Obama as an unthinking cultist. Yes, Obama has run several deceptive ads. Yes, he has pursued lines of attack on the stump that are misleading. No, those are not acceptable.

Still, we must make no mistake: it was McCain and Steve Schmidt, the Karl Rove acolyte who runs his operation, who poisoned the atmosphere of this election. As Slate's John Dickerson always takes pains to point out, Obama did start the attacks. He was linking McCain to President Bush before the Republican primary results were official and before his own primary battle with Clinton was even close to finished. And yes, Obama did make the unfortunate decision to spurn McCain's offer of several joint town hall meetings.

But I think deep down, David Brooks knows who has fallen deeper into the muck. The astonishing aspect of McCain's campaign is not that it has thrown mud at the opposing camp. Every campaign does that to some extent. What sets the McCain campaign apart is the joy it takes in trying to drive a shiv into the back of Obama's neck.

But Brutus is an honorable man.

When Karl Rove painted Al Gore, a good and decent man, as a serial liar back in 2000, or alleged that decorated war hero John Kerry was a spineless coward unwilling to defend America in 2004, he didn't do it out of any personal animus. He did it because Gore and Kerry were in the way, and those attacks were the best way to remove the obstacles. McCain's group, by contrast, has reveled in nothing so much as mocking and denigrating every aspect of Barack Obama's life.

But Brutus is an honorable man.

It was not Obama who released an ad rife with potentially explosive racial symbolism that accused the opposing candidate of being nothing more than a vacuous, empty-headed celebrity. It was not Obama who kicked dirt in the faces of the millions of young people who were engaged in, and enthusiastic about, the political process for the first time in their lives. It was not Obama who nominated a dangerously incapable and unsuitable woman for the vice presidency and then roared with false outrage when anyone dared question her qualifications.

But Brutus is an honorable man.

And above all else, remember, it was McCain who uttered the most odious assault of the election when he said Obama would "rather lose a war than lose an election." That was McCain's choice. Those were his words. It was John McCain, David Brooks' good and serious man, David Brooks' good and serious man who at the 2004 Republican Convention had urged his party to not treat its opponents as its enemies, it was that man who alleged that his opponent was deliberately advocating a strategy he knew would result in a defeat. That allegation, practically a charge of treason, introduced a toxic element into the campaign. That element would not have existed if McCain had not conjured it.

But Brutus is an honorable man.

I could argue that journalists, men and women like David Brooks, should be on guard for attacks like McCain's, as they would be most vulnerable in a society that treats criticism of the government as treason. But I suspect that's not something David Brooks would have to worry about.

Is John McCain a good man? Probably. A serious man? Probably. But that doesn't redeem his story. That only makes it a tragedy.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Programming Note

Should tomorrow's debate go on as scheduled (and that's still my prediction), I'll live blog the event here at Distressed Reporter. Should McCain decide not to attend and the debate becomes some kind of Lehrer-Obama interview or a standard town hall meeting, I'll post some reaction and attempts at analysis.

As I said, I expect McCain to attend. One thing to keep in mind: whatever McCain's motives for suspending his campaign and calling for the debate to be postponed, if he does show up and argue with Obama, he'll be facing remarkably low expectations. After all, Obama had a couple days of intense debate prep. McCain decided against those sessions, and then valiantly took himself off the trail so he could return to Washington whatever it is he's supposed to be doing up there.

As a result, if he shows up, debates respectably and doesn't trip over the microphone cord, he's going to get the benefit of the doubt. On the flip side, Obama, who insisted on the debate, will be expected to show something spectacular.

I definitely won't go so far as to allege that this whole operation was an elaborate attempt at lowering expectations for Friday. That's absurdly Machiavellian. But it is a pleasant side benefit.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Head Scratcher

Bizarre, bizarre day on the campaign trail. I wanted to wait a few hours for things to settle down so I could survey the damage; I can do that since I'm not in this to be your one-stop shop for all the breaking political news. I recommend Talking Points Memo or Salon for that.

First, the Times reported that the Bush administration had caved on its bailout package and was willing to limit executive compensation for those companies that participated in the plan. For awhile that looked like the dominant story. Later stories indicated that a preferred version of the package floating around the House included several amendments demanded by the Democratic majority.

Then, John McCain took the extraordinary step of suspending his campaign and calling for a postponement of Friday's presidential debate. The reason? McCain feels like the country would be better served if he winged his way back to Washington to work on the bailout package, a bailout package that seemed to be slowly, but steadily, working its way through the legislative process.

Then the Obama campaign alleged that it was Obama who reached out early in the day to try and forge some kind of joint statement for the two campaigns. Obama said in a news conference that he wanted the debate to go ahead as planned. It was, I thought, a good response, echoing something I was ineloquently saying on another board:

“This is exactly the time when people need to hear from the candidates,” Mr. Obama said.

He added: “Part of the president’s job is to deal with more than one thing at once. In my mind it’s more important than ever.”

The McCain camp then said their candidate would unilaterally skip the debate if a bill was not passed by Friday at 9 PM. Harry Reid said McCain and Obama weren't needed in the capital.

About an hour ago, Obama and McCain both accepted invitations from the president to attend a White House briefing tomorrow.

Deep breath now.

McCain's massive gamble is the story here. What he's trying to do is cast himself as the patriotic statesman, abandoning a selfish campaign to return to his job and save America from a second Great Depression. Barack Obama, in contrast, will continue to plow ahead with his individual desires, forgetting his country and putting himself first. It's a familiar play; the McCain campaign has staged several of those during the election season, and they're getting pretty good at the blocking of it. It's usually part of a double feature with "Bitching About the Media."

But this is a different issue. The American people don't really care about what's said in a presidential debate, barring some kind of extraordinary gaffe or witty rejoinder. But they're deeply attached to the idea of the debates, the theater of them. As Obama points out, this is a moment when people really do want and need to hear from the country's two most important politicians. (Sit down, Mr. President.)

McCain might be able to cajole Obama and the Commission on Presidential Debates into delaying Friday's debate, possibly pushing it back to the date currently occupied by the Vice Presidential affair. I hope Obama stands firm on this, and I suspect he will.

Here's McCain's quandary: he cannot, cannot, cannot unilaterally withdraw from that debate. He cannot allow Obama to stand alone on a stage and answer questions from Jim Lehrer. So he better hope the Congress has a bailout passed. I suspect he has reason to believe that'll be the case.

My guess? We'll have our debate. Obama won't officially suspend his campaign, but he'll fly up to Washington, do the Senator thing, get his photo taken huddled with white-haired economists and do his debate prep in the evening. McCain will do much the same.

In A Shocking Development...

Democrats Cave on Offshore Drilling.

You know, I sometimes wonder what the point of possessing a Congressional majority is when said majority bends over every time the Republicans say "boo."

I agree with Alex Koppelman over at Salon's War Room when he says that he doesn't know who this helps in the election. It does seem to rob McCain and Palin of their insipid, slightly creepy "Drill, baby, drill!" catch phrase, but, as Koppelman points out, it seems to lend credibility to Republican charges that Democrats are weak and spineless. If you can't stand up to John Boehner, how can you expect the public to show faith in your ability to stand up to Vladimir Putin?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why Does Baseball Mogul Hate Me?

Especially when I love it so much?

A few months ago I turned 24. One of my presents was Baseball Mogul 2009. I was given BM 2003 several years ago and loved it, so I was awfully excited about '09.

And for good reason. It's not a terribly realistic simulation of Major League Baseball. The rosters are absurdly flexible; you can shift players up and down from the minors to the majors without repercussions or limitations. Want to get that hotshot first baseman who's been tearing up Double-A on the postseason roster? Well, don't worry about fancy roster machinations. Just move him to the big club on October 1.

There's no 40-man roster. The game does include arbitration, which was lacking from the first version I was gifted years ago.

But realism isn't necessarily the point, though it does aim for a demographic that wants more than the "see ball/hit ball" dynamic of console games. (Which I also adore, for the record) There's a certain nerdy joy that comes from assembling a team and winning a virtual World Series with it. Granted, I haven't actually managed to pull that off yet, but hey, those back-to-back National League pennants were a lot of fun.

There's a tiny problem, however. Baseball Mogul players are crafted from candy glass. Every one in the league is like some unholy hybrid of JD Drew and the Samuel L. Jackson character from Unbreakable. Rarely is a game simulated without a box popping up on my screen to notify me that some crucial member of my carefully constructed roster has been crippled with a horrifying case of gingivitis.

Take the following injury log of the Atlanta Braves, accrued from April 1 through June 1 of the 2025 season:

April 12: Jim Karns out for two weeks. (Finger stress fracture)
April 21: Jose Fretga out for four weeks. (Wrist stress fracture)
May 2: Kurt Hafer out for three weeks. (Spiked Achilles Tendon)
May 7: Brian Widdess out for two months. (Broken ankle)
May 17: Jose Cisneros out for two weeks (Pulled groin)
May 21: Daniel Tyler out for two weeks. (Sprained finger)
May 22: Enrique Lucero out for two weeks (Sprained knee)
May 29: Jose Fretga out for two weeks. (Finger stress fracture)

All big league players, and that list doesn't include the litany of minor injuries that took players from the lineup for two or three days at a time.

So a suggestion for my good friends at Sports Mogul Inc.: you make a wonderful product. Really, a great way to kill time during my long days of waiting for my cell phone to ring or for my email inbox to receive exciting job offers. There's a definite old-school Civilization vibe, a "just one more turn" dynamic. Kudos for that.

But for the love of God, let me go two or three games without learning of a new injury. (And some of these injuries are bizarre. "Bruised kidneys" and "lacerated spleens" come up with frequency, which is slightly less troubling than the fact that those ailments only keep guys out for two or three games) You kill the fun when you eviscerate my roster.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Florida 30, Tennessee 6

(Full disclosure: I missed most of the fourth quarter of the game so I could go to a Royals game with the family.)

That out of the way, I have to admit that I found this a remarkably unimpressive rivalry game blowout.

Tennessee actually out-gained Florida, 258 yards to 243, and 243 yards is a pretty pathetic showing. Tim Tebow was only eight of 15 for 96 yards, and once again UF's receivers couldn't contribute to the passing game. Percy Harvin, who still looks a step slower than he did last year, caught two passes for 49 yards. That led the Gators. Louis Murphy also caught two passes, as did Aaron Hernandez. Add in single receptions by Riley Cooper and Kestahn Moore, neither of them all that impressive, and you have the extent of Florida's passing game.

So when I question Dan Mullen's playcalling, I have to ask whether his unwillingness to pass the ball leads to those numbers or if he won't pass because he has no confidence in his receiving corps. Twice Florida tried to convert third and long with tricky shovel passes; one of those plays worked, the Volunteers sniffed out the other one. There are a lot of ways to run an offense, but if you can't drop back on third and seven and throw an eight yard pass, it's hard to imagine you've got the makings of a dynamic offense. Florida seems overly reliant on the zone read play; they showed little variety Saturday afternoon and pretty much stuck to the ground game on first down.

Defensively, the numbers are impressive, but the Gators still surrendered a couple long drives in the first half. They got lucky on those drives when the Volunteers displayed an impressive inability to get out of their way. No, literally. Tennessee put together a long drive and was poised to punch the ball in for a crucial touchdown when quarterback Jonathan Crompton bumped into his fullback on a handoff and fumbled the ball. It was pretty much emblematic of the entire day.

But a 24-point win over Tennessee isn't cause for nitpicking, and there was obviously a lot to like here. There's a tendency to treat special teams scores as somewhat fluky and unreliable, but they really aren't. Urban Meyer puts an extreme emphasis on his return and coverage teams, and it shows. And, of course, it always helps to have Brandon James. Florida's Devil Dwarf scored on a punt return in the first quarter and broke a long return on the opening kickoff of the game. The Vols seemed to throw up their hands after the kickoff return.

I was particularly excited to see Jonathan Phillips kick three field goals, including one from 40 yards. If Phillips can show Meyer that he's capable of making field goals from more than 35 yards, it'll take a lot of pressure off the offense and reduce the number of times Florida has to go for it on fourth down.

The biggest development came when Meyer finally unveiled much-hyped Emmanuel Moody, the transfer from USC. Moody only gained 61 yards on nine carries, which is a nifty little average of 6.1 yards per carry. Tebow still carried the ball 12 times and only gained 26 yards. But if Meyer gains confidence in Moody and starts to lean on him as an every down back, Florida's offense might hit another gear. Or it might not, especially if the receivers don't start getting open.

While I was annoyed with Florida's inability to touch Crompton (Carlos Dunlap, Jermaine Cunnigham and Lawrence Marsh haven't been seen much outside of the Hawaii game), the defense has played well for a third straight game. None of the teams had the talent to challenge UF's secondary, so we still don't know how the corners and safeties will handle Matthew Stafford and Company, but since the Gators had trouble playing three straight successful downs in 2007, 2008 has been a pleasant little surprise. Tennessee committed three turnovers. As noted above, one was entirely unforced. But true freshmen Janoris Jenkins made a great play to force a fumble in the first quarter and intercepted another pass in the end zone. The Gators had trouble forcing turnovers in 2007, so those were good to see.

Up next is Ole Miss. There's been so much talk of the Rebels as a sleeper that it's hard to imagine Florida will take them lightly. And Meyer has to have some insight into Jevan Snead's talent, considering his unique history with the Mississippi QB.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On Notice

USA aired the season finale of Burn Notice tonight, and it ended with an appropriately explosive cliffhanger. The show will have a third season, but there's more good news. That season will premier in January instead of July. Yes, the ultimate piece of summer escapism is shaking loose the restrictive chains of its slightly JV setting and moving to the big leagues.

But while that's a welcome development, I can only hope that those involved with the show use that move as a rationale for shaking up some of Burn Notice's formulas.

That's not to say the second season was a disappointment. In fact, in many ways it did alter the landscape a little. Most importantly the writers finally introduced a handful of characters who could actually play in Michael Westen's league. Carla, Victor and Larry all managed to challenge and occasionally best Jeffrey Donovan's burned spy. More than a few episodes ended with Michael stymied by Carla and her superiors. Granted, the "mundane" villains, the bad guys who threaten Michael's clients, remain thoroughly out-classed. But it's nice to see someone stand up to the ultimate bad-ass.

Still, season one ended with the promise of a second season revelation. We were going to find out who burned Michael and why. Instead, Burn Notice almost instantly reverted to the client of the week formula. We spent the season inching toward that revelation, the writers doling out drips and drabs of clues that didn't seem to add up to much.

Well, it turns out they did add up to something. There was a neatly constructed plot arc throughout the season, and it came together in the last couple of episodes. Unfortunately, tonight's finale, as noted above, ended on yet another cliffhanger, this one without even a promise of more information to come.

It was a well-written, well-assembled episode, complete with several unnecessary scenes of Tricia Helfer in a swimsuit and the usual outstanding performance from Donovan. He really does do a remarkable job of portraying both Michael and Michael's various cover IDs; tonight's "drunken bodyguard who finds Jesus and righteous rage" was pretty inspired.

But killing off the sniper who had become such a key part of the burn notice arc without even giving a hint as to his target leaves the audience guessing, and not in a good way. Further, ending the episode with Michael jumping over a railing to avoid an explosion rings hollow. He's not going to die. Period.

So what do we need from the third season? Variety. Just a little. You don't have to eviscerate all the concepts that make the show successful. But keep trotting out bad guys who can challenge Michael. Maybe wound him with that season-ending explosion, remove some of his combat skills for a couple episodes and make his weekly client rescues more challenging. Take the show on the road once or twice; Miami's lovely and all, and it does reflect the light-hearted tone required of a summer series on USA, but at some point even sun, sand and palm trees grate.

Above all else, grant the audience some insight into the series-spanning storyline. You obviously don't have to reveal the hows, whys and whos of Michael's burning in the first five minutes of the season premier. But give us some reason to believe this will eventually have a resolution. Eventually we're going to get tired of watching our fired agent beat up drug dealers and kidnappers.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Five Worst Episodes of The West Wing

Yes kids, it's time once again to turn a critical eye on that which we love.

I bow to no one in my esteem for the first four seasons of The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin's award-winning drama and my favorite show in the whole wide world. I'll avoid giving you diabetes by lavishing sugary sweet praise, but suffice it to say those first four seasons frequently reached truly extraordinary levels of artistic excellence.

Naturally I decided to list the five worst episodes of those first four seasons. To repeat a disclaimer: this is a labor of love and should not be read as anything but that. I excluded from consideration "Issac and Ishmael," an out-of-continuity episode created in response to the September 11 terror attacks.

1. "Pilot": Season One
An episode with a number of excellent set pieces, (Bartlet excoriating the Christian Conservatives in the White House, Sam's wonderful conversation with Mallory) but also one of those cases where the pilot doesn't set the right tone for the series. One of the strengths of the series was that while Sorkin was doing a lot of liberal wish casting and created a number of conservative strawmen, he also subverted a lot of the expectations one might have of The West Wing. Religion was treated with dignity and respect. Morality was a consistent theme. So a pilot where Sam picks up a pot-smoking hooker (to be sure, he didn't pay her) and the religious right is excoriated sends the wrong message. The pilot indicated the show would be just another liberal stereotype when it proved to be so much more.

2. "Commencement": Season Four
Problematic for two reasons. First, the key plot element in this season finale is the kidnapping of Zoey. It was not Sorkin's finest decision. I get why he did it, and it was a legitimately clever throwback to a speech Bartlet gave back in the first season, but it just came off as cliche' and desperate, like Sorkin was throwing a Hail Mary at the end of his tenure on the show. Second, the episode relied heavily on Charlie and Zoey, played by Dule Hill and Elisabeth Moss respectively. Hill was the show's weak link and Moss was worse, her performances redeemed by the fact that they were comparatively rare. They had trouble carrying a scene, let alone an entire episode. (I should note that Hill has done a much better job on the few episodes of Psych I've seen) Plus, it seems like Sorkin's awfully cavalier with the death of a Secret Service agent.

3. "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail": Season Three
Goes off the rails a little bit simply with the title. God, but that's a mouthful. The decision to make Don Henley's "New York Minute" the musical backdrop completely ruins any dramatic tension. It's hard to get into the mindset that this is a traumatic time for Sam with that silly little song playing the in the background. It seems like a small thing, but while a soundtrack can't make an episode, it certainly can break one. Sorkin also poisons this episode by giving Sam what is arguably the worst "Sorkin Speech" of the show's run:

"It was high treason, and it mattered a great deal! This country is an idea, and one that’s lit the world for two centuries and treason against that idea is not just a crime against the living! This ground holds the graves of people who died for it, who gave what Lincoln called the last full measure of devotion, of fidelity."

Rob Lowe's delivery doesn't help, but yeesh, that is bad. It's not completely irredeemable until he goes into the Lincoln spiel. On the positive side, this was also the second "Big Block of Cheese Day" episode, and those were fun.

4. "The Stackhouse Filibuster", Season Three:
Aired the week after "Somebody's Going to Emergency...," so this wasn't Sorkin's best twosome. The basic premise of the episode is charming and appeals to the writer's sense of idealism, and I'm all about unrealistic idealism. Old man does something extraordinary for his autistic grandchild. Awfully cool. And we can never see enough filibusters on primetime network television. But Sorkin's framing device, several staffers writing letters to parents, is executed poorly. CJ, Sam and Josh evidently write familial emails in an absurdly stilted style. Come on guys. You're writing to mom and dad. Let your hair down a little.

5. "Game On", Season Four:

Placed here because it represents the true climax of the re-election arc that dominated the beginning of the fourth season. Bartlet wouldn't win the election until the next episode, but there was no doubt after he thoroughly destroyed Rob Ritchie in this episode that he would win. Truthfully, the outcome was never in doubt, and that sapped any tension from the entire storyline. Bartlet was never going to lose. He was certainly never going to lose to someone like Ritchie, who didn't even provide the viewers with a compelling opposition figure. Ritchie was a thinly veiled Bush parody, and I got the impression Sorkin was less concerned with entertaining his audience than with working out frustration brought on by the Bush administration. Understandable, but still a mistake. A relatively savvy viewer wouldn't expect Bartlet to lose to even a three dimensional Republican character like Arnold Vinick, but the re-election story could have been more entertaining.

A note: absent from this list is Dead Irish Writers, a third season episode that's widely panned by the show's fans. And yes, it's blatantly unrealistic. The British Ambassador complimenting the First Lady's breasts is beyond silly. But this episode is protected by the Rule of Funny. Unrealistic plot twists are acceptable if they're sufficiently funny, and I think Roger Rees' performance redeems the stupid twists.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The American Mainstream and My Place Outside It

It's a strange thing to realize you're strange.

One of the most effective slurs leveled by the Republican attack machine over the past few decades is that Democrats in general, but those nasty "liberals" specifically, are far out of the American mainstream. They don't get it. They don't identify with average people.

It's a nasty claim, a brutal insult devised by a collection of fabulously wealthy, fabulously powerful individuals. Al Gore's out of the mainstream, doesn't display American values, but that George W. Bush, he's salt of the Earth, a guy who "gets" the average American. But as much as I hate hearing the argument, I've come to realize in recent weeks that it is, in my case, depressingly accurate.

This election has brought that home to me, but not because I've potentially backed the wrong horse. Again. If everyone who supported a losing presidential candidate was out of the mainstream, we'd have tens of millions of loner freaks out there, and that's not the case. The problem isn't even that I'm dramatically more liberal on a number of issues than the average American; by the definition of average, there are going to be a lot of people who are more liberal or more conservative than normal. Again, that doesn't cast someone out of the mainstream.

I have, instead, come to the realization that those things I value are not considered important by the general public, and I have come to the realization that I do not consider important those things valued by the general public. If that's the case, you are out of the mainstream. No debate.

Sarah Palin has become many things to many people, but right now she is a personification of my alienation from the mainstream. I find myself reacting viscerally, with disgust and dismay to the news reports chronicling some of her Alaska Adventures. I find myself convinced that this time, this revelation will shock and appall the American people.

And I find myself wrong.

Sarah Palin is opposed to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest? Why, polls constantly show that while Americans are divided on abortion, but they also show that most Americans are willing to allow it in cases of rape and incest. This will really hurt her.

McCain's poll numbers shoot up.

Sarah Palin had conversations with the Wasilla librarian about banning books? There's very little that offends me more than the idea of banning books. Basically, if the offense doesn't involve killing people, it doesn't bother me as much as the concept of banning books. You can sodomize a puppy in front of my eyes and it won't offend me as much as if you propose to remove The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the library.

McCain takes a four-point lead in Ohio.

The New York Times publishes a story detailing multiple examples of Palin engaging in Cheney-esque secretive behavior, deliberately skirting public records laws, turning every political dispute into a personal one and elevating friends to important governmental positions. I spent four and a half years at journalism school being taught that the government must be open and transparent, that there's very little more important than that.

McCain and Palin draw thousands at rallies across the country.

What I'm facing, then, is the simple reality that my values largely conflict with those of the average American. That being the case, I could act like the stereotypical liberal and insist that my values are the reasonable ones, the mainstream ones, the correct ones. Or I can come to peace with the idea that the Republicans are largely right: I'm not part of the American mainstream, and those who share my values are in the same boat.

This isn't really a matter of wrong or right; I'm not prepared to renounce all I hold dear because my candidate might well lose an eminently winnable election. Being out of the mainstream doesn't mean you're wrong.

But it doesn't mean you're right, either. And holding your breath until everyone acknowledges that your values are the only correct ones won't accomplish anything.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Unexcused Absences

It's been quite a while since the last update on this blog. For those few of you who read DR, no, I'm not shutting down.

I had a post planned for Thursday, but when I woke up that morning and turned on my computer I found that the damn thing wouldn't let me on the internet. For the life of me I can't figure out why.

I'm writing this on a relative's laptop; it's slow and not particularly stable, so I'm not comfortable spending a lot of time writing out long posts. If I can't figure out my laptop soon, I might have to suck it up and write on this one.

Either way, while I can't tell you when the next post will come, it will eventually come. That's a promise.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Palin Problem

I don't much like the Republican candidate for vice president. It's worth noting that I haven't had much exposure to her, so it's possible Sarah Palin has some great features lurking below the surface. But what I have seen is a candidate who's all too willing to cry sexism when legitimate questions are raised about her qualifications, who's all too willing to shamelessly jump on a feminist bandwagon whose tires she has spent her entire career attempting to slash and who's all too willing to engage in the kind of mean-spirited, often cruel politics of denigration and mockery John McCain purports to abhor. She is, in short, not my favorite person.

But you know what? I'm a liberal Democrat in Kansas. The McCain campaign cares about as much for my opinion as I do for David Brooks' take on the new Kanye West album. What's important is finding a way of successfully conveying that message (the stuff in the first paragraph, not the mental image of David Brooks rocking out to "Love Lockdown") to the people who do matter. Soccer moms in Ohio and Colorado, I'm looking at you. Through your windows. While you sleep.

The question is how to approach Palin, how to attack her, whether it's even a good idea to attack her. A "normal" vice presidential candidate wouldn't present many problems, but Palin's a moose of a different color. She has energized the evangelical base of the Republican Party and helped close the much-chronicled "enthusiasm gap" that supposedly existed between McCain's and Obama's supporters. Those base players wouldn't have voted for Obama, and they probably weren't staying at home on election day either, but they weren't canvassing or phone banking for McCain. Now? They're more inclined to open up the checkbooks.

Far more troublesome is her potential impact on swing voters. Strike that: swing women. (Not to be confused with "swinging women," who, let's face it, are probably voting Democratic in November) The fear is that Palin can use her compelling personal story and preternatural ability to sling mud without dirtying her hands to draw independent, moderate women away from Obama.

Normally the job of attacking the other team's vice presidential pick would fall to your vice presidential pick, but that's dangerous territory for Obama. I'm a Joe Biden fan, but he can sometimes come off as a bit of a...well, "jackass" seems like a kind word for it. And when an old white guy comes off as a jackass when dealing with a woman, unfortunate implications abound.

Biden's not in a position to lecture independent women about Palin's strident opposition to abortion, her opposition to pay equity legislation or her fondness for abstinence-only sex education programs. (The last one being quite an oxymoron, as a "sex education program" dedicated to telling kids "Sex is bad, m'kay?" isn't worthy of the name.) Palin and the McCain campaign would respond with frenzied accusations of sexism. Those accusations would be baseless, of course, but the media would be obliged to cover them. Would many voters be persuaded by all this? Maybe not. But the journalistic maelstrom would suck all the oxygen from the campaign and distract from the economic message Obama is trying to push.

The first obvious solution is to dispatch some high-profile Democratic women to carry the standards against Palin. The highest profile belongs to Hillary Clinton, and she will be campaigning for Obama in Florida this week. I expect Sarah Palin will come up. Clinton could be an effective weapon in this particular battle.

But as some of her aides have pointed out, it's unfair to expect miracles from Clinton. She's got a lot on her plate this fall. The under card is going to be awfully important. There are Congressional majorities to expand and governorships to acquire, and Clinton will in high demand for many of those races. Not to mention, you know, being a Senator. Her dance card is going to be full. When she pledged to help get Obama elected, she didn't bind herself to the role of Obama's troubleshooter on women's issues.

There's another problem as well. The Democrats can send Clinton or any other woman to Ohio to talk about reproductive rights and feminism, but the message might fall on deaf ears. Conservative women energized by Palin obviously aren't going to be swayed.

And those suddenly intrigued independent women aren't in love with Palin because they've made a cool, rational assessment of her policy positions and decided they fall in line with their own. Palin interests them because of that ephemeral concept of identity. She's like them. In many ways, she is them. She's got a large, vibrant family. She cooks dinner. Her husband's a union man, a rugged outdoorsy type. She seems so genuine, so down-to-Earth.

If that comes off as insulting, it's not meant that way. I'll tell anyone who listens that I'm supporting Obama because I agree with his proposed policies, but I largely agreed with the policies proposed in the primary season by Clinton, Biden, John Edwards, Chris Dodd and Dennis Kucinich, and I didn't support them. I'm as vulnerable to those meaningless superficial dynamics as anyone. I like Obama's policies, sure, but there's no doubt that I'm drawn to this young, handsome, hip man and his remarkable wife.

So I don't begrudge these hypothetical women their attachment to Palin, but it's important for this exercise to acknowledge that it's not based on concrete positions. They're not going to be swayed by constant reminders of Palin's extreme conservatism. They're not stupid and they don't live in caves. They know she's strongly pro-life. They know she's not fond of comprehensive sex ed. You can bang that drum all day, but you're not going to accomplish anything. You're not addressing Palin's root appeal.

The other option is to just ignore Palin and focus withering fire on McCain. That has the advantage of avoiding any gender minefields, and you can always hope the Palin stories will fade away until the vice presidential debate October 8. Then you just have to hope Biden can go two hours without accidentally calling her "honey."

But ignoring Palin cedes the field to her, and if early returns hold, she's going to keep lobbing Molotov Cocktails at Obama. The media will cover those attacks, both out of obligation and because they're going to be viciously quotable. Not responding isn't an option; no one wants to repeat John Kerry's mistakes. And responding doesn't make you look strong, it just makes you look reactive, like you're trailing the play. Plus, any journalist reporting your response will have to re-print the original attack.

So, how to deal with Palin? I've written 1,100 words to write these three:

I don't know.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Florida 26, Miami 3

I haven't clicked over to my favorite Gator message board since the game ended, but I suspect when I do I'll find some disappointed Florida fans. This was supposed to be the game the Gators used to release 23 years of pent-up hostility toward the Hurricanes. Chris Leak, Ciatrick Fason, Steve Spurrier, they were all going to be avenged tonight against lowly Miami. Instead, Florida won in relatively unimpressive fashion, grinding out a victory against a young Miami team.

There were certainly some problems, a few annoyances Urban Meyer and Co. are going to have to address in their two weeks off before the Tennessee game. But I saw quite a lot to like, and more than a few things to love.

Chief among the latter was the defense. Florida's maligned defenders held Miami to just the three points, and the Hurricanes needed a 50-yard field goal to score those. The Gators surrendered only 79 passing yards and 61 rushing yards. You can chalk up a lot of Miami's aerial struggles to a young QB and inexperienced receivers, but the Hurricanes have a couple of talented running backs. (One of whom, to be sure, injured himself and was removed from the game at the end of the first half)

Miami was only able to convert 5 of 15 third downs. Third down was an area where Florida's defense desperately needed to improve this season, so that's a nice statistic.

All of the good feelings generated by those statistics need to be ameliorated by the knowledge that Miami was an awful offensive team last year and shouldn't be much better this season. But the Gators couldn't even stop bad offenses last year. Ole Miss was 91st in the country last year in total offense and the Rebels still managed to put up 390 yards and 24 points on Florida. Michigan was 68th in total offense and the Capital One Bowl still turned out to be a colossal humiliation for the Gators. So dominating a pathetic Miami offense is still encouraging.

The Gators didn't force a turnover, and they didn't get much pressure on Miami quarterback Robert Marve until the fourth quarter. Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap both registered sacks on Miami's final drive, and Dunlap horse collared Marve behind the line of scrimmage on another play which wasn't technically a sack. (A penalty should have been called) I was fairly annoyed at the lack of a pass rush early, but Miami didn't have the talent to challenge Florida's secondary deep. Marve completed a few short passes, and he made good use of his legs on a few occasions, but Joe Haden, Wondy Pierre-Louis and company weren't an issue.

Florida did struggle offensively. The offensive line looked like they had never seen a blitz before, and Tebow was running for his life most of the first half. He didn't handle the Miami pressure all that well, occasionally rushing throws and coming up with inaccurate passes. He missed Louis Murphy on what should have been a long touchdown, and he completely botched a third and long throw to a wide open Brandon James.

But if Tebow showed that he still has room to grow as a quarterback, he also flashed the skillset that should impress NFL scouts. He ended up 21 of 35 for 256 yards and two touchdowns. The first TD came on a 14-yard pass to Aaron Hernandez, thrown while Tebow was rapidly backpedaling from Miami defenders. He still put more than enough zip on the ball to slip it over the hands of the Miami secondary. And while he didn't always handle the blitzes well, he escaped from pressure far more than most QBs would. Miami couldn't quite bring him down.

The Gator receivers continue to worry me. Louis Murphy ended up with excellent numbers, four catches for 77 yards and a touchdown, but he dropped two other passes and should have made a better effort on the earlier missed connection. Carl Moore made one huge catch for 28 yards, but that was pretty much the extent of the receivers' contributions.

Hernandez, on the other hand, was beyond impressive. In a year and two games with Florida, he has shown wide receiver-quality open field aptitude, and that continued tonight. Aside from the touchdown catch, Hernandez also caught a short pass and romped through the Miami secondary for 38 yards before being tackled. He could definitely make up for the loss of Cornelius Ingram.

Most troubling was Florida's rushing game. Namely, there wasn't one. Tebow carried the ball 13 times for 55 yards, and Percy Harvin, returning to the lineup after missing the opener, rushed five times for "just" 27 yards. (A 5.4 yards per carry average is only awful when you typically average about nine yards per rush, as Percy does) But Chris Rainey picked up just 13 yards on three carries, while both Jeff Demps and theoretical starter Kesatahn Moore posted negative yardage. Conspicuous in his absence was Emmanuel Moody, who sprained his ankle against Hawaii and might still be injured.

As mentioned above, the Gators get an off week before going to Knoxville on September 30. It's a well-timed break. Harvin will likely be at full speed before the Tennessee game, and hopefully Moody can use the time off to heal. I also hope the coaching staff takes the time work on pass protection and blitz pick-up. Tennessee's defense is going to be every bit as tough as Miami's.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Good lord

John McCain is speaking in front of a green background.

The Best Adjective for Sarah Palin's Speech


You could also say that at times it was mean-spirited, vindictive, effective, energizing, petty and even cruel. But it was, at all points, small.

It was small when she denigrated community organizing as a worthless pursuit, an especially egregious maneuver considering the GOP's emphasis on "service." It was small when she mocked Obama as a man without accomplishments or worth. It was small when she gave in to that most atavistic conservative inclination and excoriated the press for asking questions about her.

It is, to be sure, unfair to single out Palin. (Wouldn't want to be accused of sexism) Wednesday night at the Republican convention was all about small. It was all about sarcasm, scorn, mockery.

And it is, to be sure, unfair to single out Wednesday night. The Republican presidential campaign has centered around the excessive use of sarcasm as a political weapon. The campaign has been about sinking claws into Barack Obama and dragging him down into the muck. It has been about trying to make sure no Democrat feels good about their allegiance.

McCain/Palin: Hope Is For Losers.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Why I Enjoy Kansas Summers

It's 59 degrees outside right now. I walked outside an hour ago to get the mail, and it was actually cold when the wind blew. The high tomorrow is supposed to be about 70 degrees.

Meanwhile, it's 85 degrees in Macclenny right now, and tomorrow's expected high is 90.

Hitchens Misses the Point

Christopher Hitchens is an interesting guy, to the extent that every vituperative, besotted British writer is an inherently interesting guy. I can't say I "like" him, per se, since his is the kind of reflexive contrarianism I find annoying. Add in the fact that I disagree with him on most important issues, and the fact that he seems to actually believe that Bill Clinton is a member of a sub-human, reptilian species, well, there's a lot there I find distasteful.

But he's a good writer, and I like reading good writers. He almost always raises at least a couple of interesting points and brings it "unique" perspective to issues.

So I found his column on the furor surrounding John McCain's 2,915 houses (linked above) rather disappointing. He has two main points:

1. McCain was almost certainly joking with the Politico reporter.
2. This is tiresome class warfare and demagoguery.

The first point is rather weak; if McCain was joking someone with the campaign would have gone to a reporter and said, "Dude, the Senator was joking. Obviously he knows the number of houses he owns" once the interview became an issue.

Hitchens' second point is more compelling. A man who possesses wealth may still possess empathy. The fact that McCain has seven houses doesn't mean he's callous or uncaring. As others, including Paul Krugman, have pointed out, Franklin Roosevelt was a fabulously rich man and he tried everything in his power to help Americans devastated by the Great Depression. (Whether he succeeded or not is left to the reader to decide; within the context of this post, all that matters is that he did care about the poor)

However, Hitchens ignores the reason this is a legitimate issue: the McCain camp started the "elitist" attacks long before the brouhaha over their candidate's properties. They weren't talking about houses, to be sure, but Steve Schmidt and others in the campaign have been trying to portray Obama as an out-of-touch celebrity for months. (To be fair to Hitchens, he does criticize McCain's people for retaliating by going after Obama's questionable real estate deal with Tony Rezko.)

Look, McCain's houses and various rental properties were not the issues around which I wanted this campaign to revolve. It's a stupid controversy, and I hate that we're talking about things like this.

But if McCain's embarrassed by this discussion, by the idea that his wife owns so many houses that he doesn't even bother to keep track, he needs to look in the mirror. McCain has spent months arguing that Barack Obama, an African-American raised by a single mother who occasionally resorted to food stamps to feed her son, is a "pointy-headed, arugula-eating professor type." I put those words in quotation marks because they are, verbatim, the words a McCain spokesman used to describe Obama.

If you're going to argue that Obama is unable to connect with the Average Joe (TM) because of his relatively new-found wealth and celebrity, you make the "elitist card" available for anyone to play. Don't unsheathe a double-edged sword and complain when it cuts you too.