Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Welcome to Fort Worth, Georgetown Fans!

We now can say this without hesitation or fear of contradiction. The Athletic Director at Texas Christian University evidently does not give a rat's ass about football. Because yesterday TCU announced that it is leaving the Mountain West conference for the Big East. Now, you might recall that Ft. Worth is nowhere near the closest Big East schools that it will compete against in football which tend to be on the East Coast. Also, as Mike Greenberg of ESPN Radio pointed out, TCU, with its 9,000 students is neither big nor East.

But what it has is one hell of a football program. The TCU Horned Frogs are undefeated and ranked # 3 in the country. But they are forced to toil in the Mountain West Conference which has no automatic bid to a Bowl Championship Series bowl game whereas the Big East inexplicably does. Granted, West Virginia is pretty good and Rutgers and Pitt have been good in recent years. But the Big East is primarily a basketball conference.

My guess is the thinking in Ft. Worth was that it was too much pressure to go undefeated in the Mountain West every year to get a shot a BCS game which carries a bigger payday. So rather than fight the system, they go to the Big East where they will play higher ranked opponents than the clowns out in the Mountain West and still pretty much cuff everybody around.

I don't know who coaches the Horned Frogs basketball team. The fact that I don't know this should tell you much about their stature in the hoops pantheon. Because I KNOW THESE THINGS.

But whoever this poor bastard is, he must be about to put a gun to his head. Because he is now in a conference with the likes of Louisville, Syracuse, UConn, West Virginia and Pitt. Not to mention the Catholic schools like St. John's, Villanova, Georgetown, Marquette, Seton Hall, Notre Dame (Big East in every sport but football) and Providence. If they win 3 conference games their first year in I will be stunned.

Needless to say, this is stupid. TCU has no business playing intercollegiate sports against teams located in Rhode Island and Syracuse which is damn near in Canada. It will be a logistical nightmare because not only will the football team have to travel up there, but so will every other team TCU fields. And the other members of the Big East will have to do likewise.

But nobody cares about that. TCU wants an easier way to get into the BCS roulette. They get away from Air Force who nobody in their right mind wants to play if they can avoid it. They get the prestige (such as it is) of hanging out with Notre Dame without having to fool with them in football who you have to figure will quit sucking eventually even if they have to go through 5 more coaches to get there. The Big East thinks it will get more respect as a football conference just by admitting a team into its fold that will likely kick the living hell out of most of the other teams there in that sport.

To hell with the travel costs. To hell with time away from school. What are the kids gonna do? Take online courses?

It's all about football. It's all about money. It's about gaming the system. Which TCU-or anybody else in the college football world- wouldn't have to do if there was a playoff in college football. With a playoff structure, the conversation about the Killer Frogs playing games in Morgantown and Storrs on a regular basis does not happen.

But I suppose some expansion of cultural horizons could come from this. A kid from Hooks might get to see her first blizzard. A kid from South Orange will get to experience a town where men wear cowboy boots with suits.

This is stupid. But this is big time football.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Today's Wally: The LSU Game

Well, that was kinda the reason he and the other receivers were in there: "Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino had his good-hands team up front, and as fate would have it, Cobi Hamilton...went up and came down with that onside kick."

Except they didn't have any batons that I could see and nobody tested positive for steroids after the game: "LSU is fast. The Tigers' defense is like an Olympic relay team..."

Wally Manley Hopkins: " [R]yan Mallett found Hamilton at the UA 35. Hamilton made a small duck to shuck the safety..."

Bet he was on a relay team: "Hamilton, who was a teammate of Mallett's at Texas High and was a track standout..."

My Sunday Feeling

As you know, we are nothing if not scrupulously fair here at TMFW. So let me begin this week's post by congratulating the Auburn Tigers on their thrilling, if not improbable, 28-27 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Bammers spotted the Woe Eagles 24 points only to have the visiting Tigers completely dominate the second half.

Not to take anything away from Auburn, but it was a complete gag job on the part of Alabama. A collapse of historic proportions in the history of possibly the most intense rivalry in college football. Insert your own favorite way to describe calamity here. Nick Saban will probably execute some players tomorrow at sunrise after he reviews the game film.

Still, one must also give credit where credit is due. Auburn's quarterback, the wondrous Cam Newton, made the big runs and throws with the game on the line. He would be a lead pipe cinch for the Heisman Trophy but for a little problem that surfaced at the beginning of the season.

First, some background. If there is any state that has long since lost any sense of proportion about Division I football it is Alabama. It is no exaggeration to say that the much of what makes sense there politically and business wise revolves around the rivalry between the two schools. For example, my friend Don used to practice law in Birmingham. He said that part of their trial strategy routinely involved making sure an Auburn lawyer didn't get in front of an Alabama judge. He found this ridiculous, only because it is, and moved out to California after a few years.

Secondly, Auburn University-at least the athletic department- has been pretty much run by a Trustee named Bobby Lowder. Lowder-a wealthy former banker (more on that later) has his fingerprints on every personnel move involving the football program over the last 15 years including the infamous secret trip to Louisville along with the de facto Athletic Director to court Bobby Petrino. This was while Tommy Tuberville was still under contract.

Now to Cam Newton. Cam left Florida after allegedly stealing a laptop. Cam says he left because he wasn't going to get any PT with Tim Tebow at quarterback. Cam winds up at an obscure Junior College in Texas where he wins the JC National Championship. He is a hot commodity. Here's where the fun starts.

2 years ago Auburn fires Tommy Tuberville for no apparent reason except that Alabama's hiring of Saban scares the bejesus out of the Woe Eagle faithful. They hire Gene Chizik from Iowa State. Meanwhile back in Mississippi, Mississippi State gets rid of Sylvester Croom. Former Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen takes the job at Bulldog High. Both Auburn and MSU recruit Cam.

About last October, former Bulldog quarterback John Bond issues a statement through a lawyer that a year or so ago he was approached by a guy named Kenny Rodgers who holds himself out as representing Cecil Newton the father of Cam Newton. Bond alleges Rodgers told him that Cecil would deliver Cam to Mississippi State for $180,000. All hell busts out on cue.

Rodgers just happens to work for an agent. Cecil Newton says he knows Rodgers but that Rodgers wasn't authorized to speak to MSU on his behalf. MSU says it declined to pay but continued to recruit Cam "normally." Cam says he don't know nothin' about nothin'. Auburn says that its recruitment of Cam Newton was on the up and up and that Cam is 100% eligible.

And just as if this situation couldn't get any more entangled, an Internet post entitled "As The Plains Burns" gets posted on an LSU discussion Board outlining the author's massive conspiracy theory involving Auburn football, Federal investigations into the failure of Bobby Lowder's bank (hence the reference to him being a former banker), and Alabama politicians. You can read it here at the jump: http://www.tigerdroppings.com/rant/messagetopic.asp?p=22778676

At this point in the show, I have some questions and observations.

1) Why did Mississippi State continue to recruit Cam Newton "normally" when it knew that at least somebody connected with the kid had tried to shale them down? Is it because this is business as usual in the SEC?

2) If indeed, Rodgers tried to "shop" Cam Newton to MSU, why didn't they report it to the SEC Commissioner's office?

3) Cecil Newton is a preacher. He pastors a church outside of Georgia. The church was cited for numerous code violations. It was threatened with getting razed. Supposedly, the church was recently brought up to code and Cecil has a new truck. This has been reported not only on the Internet but in the straight press as well. Where did the money come from?

4) We know that the Feds are sniffing around and have wiretaps on at least on Auburn booster who has been indicted over trying to bribe legislators in return for favorable votes for his casino interests. They are investigating the failure of Lowder's bank which is what they always do when a bank fails. Bond has told the media the FBI told him they were looking into the question of "selling players." They got wiretaps. They have subpoena power. Some guys over in the "Loveliest Village On The Plains" have got to be sweating buckshot.

5) While I am not one for conspiracy theories, I will say that if 1/4 of what "As the Plains Burns" is true, Auburn has a serious, serious problem with the NCAA. I don't believe that it will get the Death Penalty or get kicked out of the SEC as the post predicts. But they could get on probation for a millennium and have to forfeit any wins that Cam Newton participated. Which would be all of them this season.

6) And I fully believe that there are many Auburn crazy types that do not give a shit just so long as they beat Alabama and Cam gets the Heisman.

7) I also believe that Alabama is not exactly pure of heart in this regard. I'm sure that boosters there have figured out ways to slip money to players. In any event, I love the story in the Internet post about Auburn people paying Alabama's Gene Jelks to stay at Bammer and get them in trouble with the NCAA. Don't know if it's even remotely true. But I like it.

And this may be why Cam Newton may not get the Heisman. Overrated and useless as it is, there are some that take its award seriously. And rumor has it that some of the voters do not relish the thought of a repeat of the Reggie Bush situation where he was forced to return the trophy after it was revealed that his family had received "loans" from an agent while Bush was at Southern Cal. Which is perilously close to the situation here depending on what the Feds or the NCAA kicks up on Cecil Newton or some wild boy Auburn boosters.

This is enough scandal and intrigue for one weekend. I'm now going to turn to the relatively simple story of the heightened tension between North and South Korea for some diversion.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Today's Wally: The Mississippi State Edition

It was an exciting contest: "Momentum swung back and forth openly and often."

Making stuff up: " With 0:01 showing on the clock (MSU's) Derek DePasquale 22-yard field goal field goal tied it at 31-31 and sent it to overtime, which rarely favors the visitors."

Naturally: "Unless they are Razorbacks..."

The Bulldogs weren't just trying to win they were trying: " To jerk the Sugar or Cotton Bowl welcome mat from under the feet of their visitors."

The Bulldogs favored a physical style of play: " They did it the old-fashioned way; they lined up and ran it up the gut, slamming and whamming into grass-stained uniforms of the Hogs."

The Hogs' early excellence in the game seemed prophetic indeed: "Earlier the Hogs appeared ready to make a huge statement. One that would quiet the cowbells, the crowd and maybe send the BCS computers spinning into overdrive."

Stealing from Clement Clarke Moore while making more stuff up: " Visions of big bowls were dancing in the heads of the Razorbacks."

The ensuing fumble by Knile Davis while the Hogs were thus distracted by visions gladdened the hick home crowd immensely : " [T]he bells echoed across the darkness and into the deer woods 50 miles away."

The Bulldogs' next drive was fearsome to behold: The Bulldogs began a time consuming, almost mind-numbing 70 yard drive..."

And now to end with the following almost mind-numbingly self evident sentence: "It was not just a great game, it was a classic match-up of coaches trying to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses."

My Sunday Feeling

There were 3 women sitting at the table next to me at lunch the other day. I am not one to eavesdrop and I am pretty deaf in restaurants even were I to be so inclined. But it was hard not to catch snippets of their animated discussion about one woman's husband who had, so I gather, become disenchanted with the particular Big Box church out in West Little Rock they had been attending.

The first sign of trouble began when the husband in question, "Jerry," had lost interest in and quit going to, a marriage enrichment class offered by this particular church. Without knowing all of the particulars, I would have to say that I tend to side with Jerry. Most of my buddies who have had to endure such classes and/or couples counseling found them to be, shall we say, productive. But now it appears that Jerry won't go to church at all. This was where one of the women encouraged her sister in arms to put her foot down.

"Unfortunately, and I hate to say it, but you are going to have to take responsibility for your family's spiritual growth, "she said. " Now this is going to threaten Jerry. You know how you handle this?"

"No. How?" Mrs. Jerry asked.

"You tell him 'Jerry this isn't about you. It's about God.' "

"That's right." said the third rail.

It's not about Jerry. It's about God. That was it? Really?

For some reason I instantly recalled the story about Voltaire on his deathbed. It is said that the Church had sent a priest to try one last time to convert the unabashed atheist philosopher and polemicist. Voltaire's eyes were failing him late in life so he could not fully make out the shadowy being hovering over his bed.

"Who is there?" Voltaire asked.

" I was sent by God," replied the cleric.

" Your credentials, Sir," Voltaire is said to have famously replied.

Religious discourse, like many other areas of modern discourse, has been reduced to coded language and sound bites. This should not be surprising. As Dr. Christie told generations of future Methodist preachers, "Religion always adapts to the social milieu of the time." And American society, in the age of instant information, wants instant certitude.

Which brings me back to the ladies and Jerry. "It's not about you it's about God" has got a nice ring to it, but it rings about as true as its equally unbelievable cousin that is typically trotted out when people are extricating themselves from relationships: "It's not about you it's about me."

Of couuuuuurrrrrrrrse it's about you. You want out. This is self-evident.

But why is Mrs. Jerry's insistence that he attend church "about God?" Sure, it's about God in the sense that this is why people go to church. I don't know these folks from the Man in the Moon, but I think an equally plausible explanation is that is not just about Jerry or God. It's about her. And them as much as it is "about God."

It's just a sound bite. And it is as authoritarian as it is completely unprovable. Which makes it such a 2010 kind of thing to say.

This women all seemed very earnest and determined. I'm sure they believe they have Mr. and Mrs. Jerry's best interests at heart. But any solution that sounds like it would be at home on a bumper sticker probably isn't much of a solution.

But I know this. I'm glad I ain't Jerry. Because he is fixin' to catch Unshirted Hell come Sunday morning. And unlike Voltaire, it would behoove him to keep sarcasm to a minimum.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Naming of Parts

Most military poetry, like most military music, is pretty dreadful stuff. "Naming of Parts" by English poet and World War II veteran Henry Reed, is not. I thought of this great poem while walking through the National Cemetery last week. Really.

Naming of Parts

Vixi duellis nuper idoneus
Et militavi non sine gloria

To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling level. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in their gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the Spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got: and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For to-day we have naming of parts.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Greetings From The Natural State!

The Arkansas Legislature is back in session, its mighty acts to perform. As we all know, these are exceedingly troubled times. The problems facing our elected representatives are numerous and daunting.

So naturally, the first Bill introduced by a freshman Republican State Legislator was a bill changing the State Motto from "The Natural State" back to "Land of Opportunity." It is my understanding that some of our sister states intend to follow the example of our beloved Arkansas and are changing the mottoes that grace the various license tags that drive through our state en route to somewhere else. Here is but a partial list.

Michigan: The Thank God For Barack Obama State

New York: The Asshole State

Texas: Football, Guns and Jesus!

South Carolina: Lindsey Graham Ain't Gay

California: Insolvent But For Apple and the Porn Industry

Louisiana: The What The Fuck Else Could Happen Down Here State

Kentucky: Cigarettes, Whiskey and Suspicious Fires In Horse Stables

Wisconsin: Come and Freeze in the Land of Cheese

Illinois: An Exceedingly More Corrupt and Colder Version Of California

Colorado: Tell Us Again Why We Joined The Pac 10!

Idaho: We Hate The BCS!

Utah: Where Young Girls Are Not Safe

Alaska: We May Be Totally Dependant On Uncle Sam But We Need To Take Our Flippin' Country Back Dontcha Know?

North Carolina: It's Not Like We Actually Care About Football

Virginia: I'm Sorry. Were You Talking To Me?

South Dakota: Scary White People!

Tennessee: Taking Bids on Memphis!

Wait. This just in. Another Bill will be introduced in the Ledge tomorrow suggestive of another new State Motto.

Arkansas: We Done Lost Our Mind Last Election Day.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My Sunday Feeling

I had not been to the National Cemetery here in Little Rock in years. I don't much like cemeteries unless they are of some historic significance like Mount Holly in downtown Little Rock or the ones at Civil War battlefields. But the dawn of Veteran's Day this year filled me with a desire to go pay my respects to my father who is buried there.

The visual image that confronts the visitor that passes through the gate is intense almost beyond measure. Simple white stones for the most part, standing "row on row" as the old and much overrated poem says, for as far as the eye can see.

Now, we all gotta go. And cemeteries everywhere all pretty much have the same geometry. But in your basic National Cemetery, the headstones are all the same which transmits a powerful message to the visitor. All those resting beneath this sacred ground, despite whatever differences between them in life, are all alike. Walking through the grounds I couldn't help but think of the Paul Westerberg song, "Pine Box" with the hard boiled lyrics "Pine box, white stone. You get a pine box and a free ride home."

Not all of the dead at the National Cemetery were killed in action in the service of their country. Indeed, my own father's service to nicotine is what got him killed. Still, all here wore the uniform, or were related to somebody who wore the uniform, of the Armed Forces of the United States and received an Honorable Discharge.

You can't buy a plot there. But you sure as hell have to earn it. And the coin of this particular realm is duty, sacrifice and honor. Cosi Fan Tutti. They are all alike.

You don't get much extraneous information on the headstones at the National Cemetery. The picture in the post last Thursday just recites the facts. Buck Bowen was a Christian as denoted by the presence of the cross on his headstone. He served in the Navy during World War II. He lived. He died. His rank at Discharge was EM3 which my buddy Don correctly figured out stood for Electrician's Mate, 3rd class.

That makes sense. Dad was a Seabee, which is Navy slang for Construction Brigade.

Which brings to mind the first line of "Pine Box."

"He never hit my mama,

but he hit that beach at Omaha."

My dad hit the beach with the Marines at Iwo Jima. Eighteen. Lied to get into the service. Like most guys who see serious shit, he never really talked much about it. I know he felt comparatively lucky to be a radioman when they went ashore which meant that he was not on the point. That was the upside. The downside was that he got shot at a lot because he had a box on his back.

I know that he helped build airstrips and that he wore a machine gun as he climbed the telephone poles they set up for telephone and telegraph. I know that he learned basic electrician skills because he wired the addition to our house in Mabelvale much to the horror of my Mother who just knew that we would be incinerated once and all due to Dad's handiwork.

"Hell, Donice," I remember him telling her. "I learned how to do this in the Navy. Besides, AP&L (as it was known then) won't let me throw a switch until they approve it." That latter bit of information comforted her only slightly.

I also know that my father didn't consider himself to be much of a hero. He was just glad to get through the war in one piece and return to Porter County, Indiana where, incidentally, his Discharge papers entitled him to lifetime hunting and fishing privileges. If his Discharge would have entitled him to play golf for free he could have gotten greater use out of that.

I don't suspect that many of the dead at the National Cemetery considered themselves heroes either. Sure, some of them signed up to go to war. But some signed up to learn a trade. Some signed up to see a bit of the world. Some signed up to stay out of jail.

There can be dignity in simplicity. And the simple government issued tombstones convey a powerful message about those that sleep beneath them at the National Cemetery.

They are there because they wore the uniform. They are all alike.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

My Sunday Feeling

I have told this story before. I once worked for a Judge who told me that about all he knew about politics was that it was always a bad idea to vote for anybody that is running on a platform of honesty and integrity. I have adopted Judge Ginger's maxim as my own although I have tweaked it a bit. Not only do I not vote for anybody that runs on such a platform, I also refuse to vote for anybody who campaigns on a platform of "restoring traditional values" or somesuch malarkey.

And guess what? I got outvoted bigtime last Tuesday.

Our new Lt. Governor-elect claims that God told him to run. Our new Secretary of State-elect is opposed to health care reform. Not that he can do the first damn thing about it. The Congressman-elect in the 1st District is a former rodeo clown who has been in a bankruptcy.

None of these guys could have gotten elected Town Drunk two years ago. And they won their elections with platforms of utter hooey about values and being against Obama and little else. So. What the hell happened?

I am no political scientist. But I think President Obama and the Democrats did an exceptionally lousy job of getting out their message for one thing. While the Tea Party started to rage Obama was all tied up over that stupid controversy with Skip Gates and the police officer. A controversy largely started by his popping off at a press conference.

Secondly, he continued to stay curiously above the fray as all hell was busting out in the electorate. As one writer has said, nobody gets credit for avoiding the plane crash. But the White House sure did a lousy job of explaining to the American people how it a) saved the automotive industry, b) prevented a world wide economic catastrophe that may have resulted in a depression and c) created health care reforms that will benefit all Americans. Not to mention troop reductions in Iraq just as he promised while maintaining robust if largely clandestine military activity against the Taliban and its sympathizers. There is a lot of stuff here to work with.

But they let their message get co-opted. It was like the Obama Administration refused to believe that the American people could possibly drink the snake oil that was being passed out.

Well they did. And truth be told, if the unemployment numbers were lower there might not have been so many Democrats defenestrated. But things were so bad for them all most Rs had to do was run against Obama and Pelosi in order to win an election. And all this occurred while Obama's approval ratings are still pretty high. For a guy who just got hit in the head that is.

And so We the People have handed the keys to a group of folks who ran against the government. And now they ARE the government. Which means they will have to, like, govern. Which is nowhere near as easy as calling people names on the campaign trail. The next two years will be interesting.

But just when I am beginning to think that madness has completely swept the land I only need to look close to home to see the body politic act in a manner that revives my flagging spirits.

Clark and Boone Counties here in Arkansas went "wet."

Maybe there is still hope for reason to yet prevail. But until then, I'm going back to writing about sports all of the time. I understand what happens in that world.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

So. Now What?

Make no mistake about it. Yesterday was a really bad day for the Democrats in general and President Obama in particular. The Republicans, tapping into free form dissatisfaction with incumbents, most of whom happened to be Democrats, took over the House of Representatives and gained some seats in the Senate, although how many is unknown at this point given the razor thin election in Alaska.

The Republicans are understandably exultant about their huge victory last night. But what exactly is going to happen when everybody gets sworn in and the heavy lifting of governance begins? The answer is clear. It depends.

They ran on the platform of repealing health care reform. Not gonna happen as long as Barack Obama is President. He will most assuredly veto any such bill that hits his desk. And there aren't enough votes to override it when he does. Besides, there are parts of it that everybody likes. Like coverage for pre-existing conditions. And it is hard to undo stuff that gets made into law. Everybody hates the United States Tax Code. It's still on the books. So complete repeal is impossible.

Cutting spending? It is to laugh. As far as I can tell the Republican candidates were all pretty vague when they were pressed to identify areas where they would cut spending. People expect services from the government. Hell, they couldn't even get rid of the National Endowment for the Arts after the furor over the grants to Robert Mapplethorpe. And this is why. Programs don't just spring from the brow of some pointy headed bureaucrat. They have political constituencies of their own. Dale Bumpers railed for years against that big dang particle accelerator the Department of Energy wanted to build. Guess who won?

No more bail outs? Fine. There won't be any more. Not necessary since the bailouts, initiated by George W. Bush by the way, not Barry, saved the banking and automotive industry and likely staved off a global economic crisis.

Cutting taxes? The Dems are all for it. Indeed, they cut taxes for small business and proposed further relief for whatever constitutes the middle class. There's wiggle room here for both sides. But this will require negotiation and compromise. Which is anathema to the true believers on this issue.

What it will come down to is this: Will the new majority in the House try to introduce legislation that stands any chance of getting passed in the next 2 years? Or will the next two years be dedicated to trying to ensure that Obama is a one term President as some Republican leaders have suggested? Which ain't exactly the loftiest goal of statecraft I have ever heard.

We shall see what we shall see. Gotta hand it to the Elephants. Their discipline and cohesiveness carried the day. Not to mention the fact that the Democrats' feckless defense of their own policies pretty much served it up to them on a silver platter.

It's gonna be an interesting 2 years.