Monday, September 29, 2008

Ten Years Too Many?

I've been meaning to do my "decline of the Simpsons" post for a long time now- Actually, it's something I've been thinking about for years now, going back way before I even started blogging. But the Simpsons was just so good in it's heyday, to chronicle the show's demise would be an epic task, one worthy of a book, not a blog post.

And while I never got around to putting what's been kicking around in my head into words, I haven't stopped trying to figure out what the hell happened. This summer, for the first time ever, I finally spent time watching the "classic" Simpsons episodes on DVD and in order. One thing I'm sure of, is that the classic Simpsons are still great. Seasons three through seven probably add up to five years of some of the best television ever made. What's left today is really a pale imitation of the show's former self. I bring up the Simpsons because I actually bothered to watch last night's 20th season premier and it was horrible. Rather than delving into a long, ranting discussion, I figured I'd just leave a short list of what made last night's entrant to the Simpsons family so craptacular.

# In the classic Simpsons episodes, any schemes or semi-legitimate employment opportunities Homer has are doomed to failure, as Marge never would hesitate to point out. It reflected Homer's character perfectly and provided the show with a neat bit of continuity. Last night's episode, Sex, Pies, and Idiot Scrapes, threw characterization and continuity out the window. In the episodes "A" story, Homer and Flanders became bounty hunters, successfully nabbing Snake and Fat Tony among other bail jumpers. If your initial response is "that doesn't make any sense," you're right. It doesn't. The episode ends with Homer thrown in jail for missing his own trial.

# I mentioned continuity in my last little bit and just need to point out that the classic episodes had a lot of fun with continuity. The Simpsons own house is constantly changing, as is the neighborhood and all sorts of other locales about town. But generally, these changes are meant to be jokes (particularly in the Simpson house), or more often, are added because they comprise an important part of the plot. Last night's episode featured a visual gag in which Homer and Flanders chased Fat Tony onto the Springfield monorail. The problem is, the only monorail we know about was a disaster and was presumably dismantled, seeing as it hasn't been seen since season 4. The monorail was supposed to be a callback joke, but it's brief presence last night only amounts to a cheap visual gag that doesn't add to our appreciation of Springfield (like the town's numerous ethnic neighborhoods do), it just cheapens it.

# Last night's episode featured a side plot with Marge working in an erotic bakery that was completely underdeveloped. Basically, that subplot gave us exactly what a couple of high school kids could have come up with- the lame and the obvious.

# The episode opened with an over-the-top brawl at a St. Patrick's Day parade, complete with Catholics, Protestants, and plenty of stereotypes. Classic Simpsons tended to have consistent plots. This episode, like a lot of the new Simpsons, uses one ridiculous plot to propel the characters into another, very different outrageous situation. While classic Simpsons walked a fine line between realism and cartoonishness, last night's episode obliterated that line.

# The writing is just plain bad. I didn't laugh once. The dialog sounds more like witty sitcom banter than it does anything actually funny- as if the writers are writing to showcase the supposed laughs rather than actually bothering to be funny and creative.

No Bailout

Apparently, it ain't happening yet. It's pretty damn heartening. In fact, it's so heartening that a little something inside of me is really wondering whether doing nothing is actually a real possibility. Who would've thought?

The truth probably is that no one quite knows what the overall economic effects of doing nothing will be, so in a way, whether you want the government to do something or you want the government to do nothing, we're all just going on faith. And maybe, just maybe, we ought to have some faith in the market, because I'm not sure I can think of a time where any government anywhere ever successfully managed large sectors of the economy. For now, I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Debate Blech

I lost about 45 minutes of my life watching the awful debate Friday night and I wish I could have it back. From what I saw- and everything I've heard afterward- it was just a lot more of the same old garbage. McCain was exactly what I expected him to be- feisty, yet prepped enough to hammer home all the major talking points, and without a doubt convinced that being the next President is a bit too similar to being the next Batman. Obama wasn't much better. In terms of actual policy, he may well be worse than McCain, but it was hard to tell as neither candidate let policy get in the way of their sound bites.

From what I saw (which was mostly the economic portion of the debate), two things stand out. The first was McCain's continued insistence in turning all of politics into the war on terrorism. As McCain explained it, pork barrel spending and earmarks aren't just wasteful, they are literally a gateway drug toward political corruption. Not once, not twice, but three times did McCain mention those bad, corrupt members of Congress he had helped put into jail. The message was clear- everyone else better watch out for President McCain.

The other part of the debate that stuck in my mind was the failure of either candidate to acknowledge that spending would have to be cut to pay for the massive financial bailout. McCain did promise to cut government waste, but he seemed to be describing using a scalpel where quite clearly an ax would be needed. Trimming a few million here and there would certainly be worthwhile, but it didn't answer the questions. Nor was it particularly helpful that McCain mentioned the many wasteful departments we have in general without actually identifying which ones in particular trouble him. Of course, Obama was far, far worse on this particular question. Rather than answering what he would cut, Obama responded with what he wouldn't cut, laying out a whole smörgåsbord of new initiatives and spending.

I won't discuss the foreign policy questions that much, mainly because the politically partisan seem to think that their candidate performed remarkably well. The libertarians I've read weren't all that happy with either candidate, with some extremely disappointed in Obama. With the war in Iraq winding down successfully, Afghanistan is going to be the next big foreign policy question, and from what I understand, there seems to be little difference as far as what's being offered in terms of policy there.

(Side note- I'm a bit troubled by the idea of pouring more troops into Afghanistan, simply because I'[m not sure stabilizing that nation is really possible. For all the Iraq is Vietnam analogies, Afghanistan, the Democrats favorite place where our troops should be, is the most likely to become the next Vietnam. The problem is, the country is completely lacking in any sort of infrastructure, and without infrastructure, how do you really leave a stable government in charge? Iraq was about rebuilding the existing infrastructure, but there wasn't one to begin with in Afghanistan.)

All in all, if I had been swaying Obama over the last few weeks, the debate may have swung me back to the neutral position. McCain still worries me, but Obama needs to work on being more Bill Clinton and less John Kerry. Truthfully, I'm not all that sure what Obama is about and at this point, I'm not sure who's scarier.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Big Scary Bailout

My gut isn't quite sure if Megan McArdle is right when she says we need a bailout, just not this bailout. Obviously, there are some major problems with the proposal currently before Congress, the biggest being the near dictatorial powers vested in the treasury department and lack of any sort of outside review. The Patriot Act parallels are all to eerily similar, where Congress is urged to act quickly and not waste time thinking during this national emergency.

The other concerns are a bit more nebulous. Of course, the cost of any bailout to taxpayers will be tremendous, but the real question is whether the economic consequences of inaction will be greater or less than the cost of a bailout. What's scary is that no one can answer that question with any degree of confidence. And for all the talk of the consequences of inaction, history has shown us that the consequences of government action can be just as bad if not worse. Most economists agree as noted in this Amity Shlaes Wall Street Journal piece, that the Great Depression was made all the worse by the New Deal. While the stock market crash of 1929 was an example of market failure, it was the government's continued mismanagement and prioritizing of inappropriate incentives that prolonged what could have been a much briefer economic downturn.

Folks of all economic stripes have decried a bailout as tantamount to corporate socialism- privatizing the gains and benefits of the market, while forcing the public to bear the negative risks. And it's true, but there's a big but in there, particularly for those on the liberal end of the political spectrum. As reported in the Hartford Courant on Sunday, all the trouble on Wall Street is being felt in the pocketbooks of Greenwich residents. Shed no tears for the billionaires, but as noted in the Courant today, the state's budget deficit is now projected to be 300 million dollars, no small part of which is due to decreased income tax revenue from the Greenwich rich.

Ultimately, the real problem is the difficulty of punishing those who made bad decisions, as it's tricky to assign blame in the first place and even trickier to come up with a plan within the confines of the law that sticks it to "greedy wall street types" without sticking it to those who really didn't do anything wrong.

After this is all over, I'm sure the government will have done something. My hope is that the reach of whatever the government does is limited and the powers delegated to deal with the issue are even more limited. But what's the correct answer here? I couldn't tell you.

The One Where I Beat George Will To The Punch

George Will opines on John McCain's reaction to economic crisis. If it sounds at all familiar, it's because it echoes my own sentiments from yesterday, albeit much more eloquently and persuasively.

In any case, McCain's smear -- that [SEC chairman Chris] Cox "betrayed the public's trust" -- is a harbinger of a McCain presidency. For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are "corrupt" or "betray the public's trust," two categories that seem to be exhaustive -- there are no other people. McCain's Manichaean worldview drove him to his signature legislative achievement, the McCain-Feingold law's restrictions on campaigning. Today, his campaign is creatively finding interstices in laws intended to restrict campaign giving and spending. (For details, see The Post of Sept. 17, Page A4; and the New York Times of Sept. 20, Page One.)

By a Gresham's Law of political discourse, McCain's Queen of Hearts intervention in the opaque financial crisis overshadowed a solid conservative complaint from the Republican Study Committee, chaired by Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas. In a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, the RSC decried the improvised torrent of bailouts as a "dangerous and unmistakable precedent for the federal government both to be looked to and indeed relied upon to save private sector companies from the consequences of their poor economic decisions." This letter, listing just $650 billion of the perhaps more than $1 trillion in new federal exposures to risk, was sent while McCain's campaign, characteristically substituting vehemence for coherence, was airing an ad warning that Obama favors "massive government, billions in spending increases."

The political left always aims to expand the permeation of economic life by politics. Today, the efficient means to that end is government control of capital. So, is not McCain's party now conducting the most leftist administration in American history? The New Deal never acted so precipitously on such a scale. Treasury Secretary Paulson, asked about conservative complaints that his rescue program amounts to socialism, said, essentially: This is not socialism, this is necessary. That non sequitur might be politically necessary, but remember that government control of capital is government control of capitalism. Does McCain have qualms about this, or only quarrels?

On "60 Minutes" Sunday evening, McCain, saying "this may sound a little unusual," said that he would like to replace Cox with Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic attorney general of New York who is the son of former governor Mario Cuomo. McCain explained that Cuomo has "respect" and "prestige" and could "lend some bipartisanship." Conservatives have been warned.

Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Right On

Megan McArdle sums up the problem of the billion dollar bailout rather nicely:

I don't think we can punish risk taking managers and the shareholders who enabled them as thoroughly as we might like without possibly taking the rest of us down with them. But allowing banks to selectively offload their crap on the government without so much as a rap on the knuckles for having bought the crap in the first place is taking things too far.

Last Night, On 60 Minutes

John McCain and Barack Obama appeared in separate interviews on 60 Minutes last night, the focus of which was the current economic crisis. John McCain's answers troubled me. From the get go, he laid down whom he thought was to blame for the financial crisis:

I think they should be deeply concerned about the fact that innocent Americans that don't work on Wall Street and don't work in Washington are the victims of the greed, the excess, and, yes, in some cases, corruption. There's a social contract that Adam Smith talked about between capitalism and the people. That contract has been broken. It's been broken by greed and access, aided and abetted by a government in Washington that's dominated by special interests and corruption.

Obama's answer was more nuanced and more impressive, particularly coming from a Democrat:

Hey, look, there were a lot of factors involved. But I think there is no doubt that if we had had a regulatory system that had kept pace with the changes in the financial system, that would have had an enormous impact in containing some of the problems that are out there. I mean, you've got greedy CEOs and investors who are taking too much risk. But that's why we set up rules of the road, to prevent that from spreading into the system as a whole. And, unfortunately, we had a lot of deregulation. And instead of modifying the rules for this new economy, we just eliminated them. So we've got to change our regulatory system. But, Steve, there's a bigger problem. And that is that the economy has not been working for ordinary Americans.

The typical Democrat playbook would simply blame deregulation and greedy corporate CEO's. But unlike McCain and his talk of a broken social contract, Obama notes the complexity of the financial world and the fact that the financial system outpaced the regulatory system. Obama's still a politician, so he still has to name check the "greedy CEO's," but his attitude as a whole just seemed more thoughtful, more open, and the slightest bit more promising to libertarians.

McCain continued in his interview to say that as President, he would have demanded the resignation of Chris Cox, head of the SEC. Not that he'd have the power to fire Cox, the head of an independent regulatory agency, but President McCain would get what he wants. It's the sort of discussion that makes McCain come off as a bully, a sharp contrast to Obama. Maybe it's the sort of temperament one wants in a commander-in-chief (or maybe not), but I just don't think it's the way most Americans want their president to handle domestic issues. It just starts to tread too far into "forget about the law, I'll rule as I please" territory.

The interviews last night had me sliding back into the Obama camp. Whatever positions McCain may stake out, he seems to be far more committed to doing what he thinks is is best than he is to free markets or even the rule of law. Obama is by no means ideal, but he strikes me as much more thoughtful at a time where we may need a thoughtful president.

More On The Financial Bad News

Jesse Walker has Reason's Wall Street Roundup. Left and right, up and down, there's plenty articulation of the same worry- It's a problem when risks are are made public while rewards are kept private.

Non-Patriot NFL Thoughts

Once again, got a chance to see a number of different games this weekend and here are some observations:

# Mike Ditka is an absolute idiot. On Mike and Mike this morning, he remarked that the Steelers offense looked so terrible againast the Eagles because they got away from what they do best which is running the football. Ditka then remarked that the Steelers offensive line is a "run-blocking offensive line" and, I kid you not, that "they don't practice pass-blocking." I don't think I've ever heard anything so inane come from the mouth of a supposed NFL expert. The Steelers couldn't stop the Eagles pass rush because they don't practice pass blocking ... No wonder the Steeler coaches kept calling pass plays!

# Tennessee is a very good team, but with or without Vince Young, quarterback play is going to be a sore spot. As I remarked during the game, every pass Kerry Collins threw looked like something he would throw to neighbor kids at a backyard barbecue.

# The Bengals gave away chance after chance to win their game againast the Giants. Driving down to kick what would be the field goal to send the game into overtime, the Bengals faced a second and 10 from 23 with 35 seconds and one timeout remaining. Carson Palmer completed a short pass over the middle to Houshmandzadah to get the ball to the 14, giving the Bengals a 3rd and 1. Rather than having another play ready to go, Palmer had to take the time to call another play, eating an extra 5 seconds, minimum, off the clock. They converted the 3rd and 1, but by the time they did, only 4 seconds remained on the clock. If they had a play ready to go on that 3rd and 1, they would have had one shot into the endzone from the 4- instead, they had to settle for the tie.

Overtime was worse, as they may as well have handed the game to the Giants. After actually getting a stop, their offense took over and proceeded to try running the ball on first and second down. The 2 runs netted 2 yards and they couldn't convert the 3rd and 8. Palmer was 27 of 39 on the day, while Chris Perry had only 74 yards on 20 carries (take away his 25 yard TD run and he managed only 49 yards on 19 carries), yet the Bengals decided to get all conservative when they had the ball in overtime. In case you were wondering, these sort of mistakes fall on the coaching staff.

# The Bills pulled out another one and are now 3-0. They have the makings of a playoff team because Trent Edwards continues to make good decisions, the defense continues to play tough, and Marshawn Lynch is a very good runningback.

# I wasn't the least bit surprised by the lack of fireworks in the Cowboys-Packers game. After defensive shortcomings the previous week, both teams were sure to try and clamp down this week. The Cowboys did have 453 yards of total offense, but 112 came on the 2 long touchdown plays which basically ended up being the difference in the game. Greg Jennings by the way, continue to amaze, with 8 more catches for 115 more yards giving him a total of 19 catches for 373 yards on the season. Interestingly enough though, after 12 touchdowns in 13 games last season, he hasn't yet to reach the endzone this year.

# Yes, they lost, but the Saints put up some amazing numbers on offense yesterday- 502 yards of total offense- Drew Brees completing 39 of 48 passes for 421 yards- Reggie Bush totaling 148 yards of offense and scoring twice. They should be fun to watch all season.

# Top 5 QB's so far this season? For my money it's Jay Cutler, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Donovan McNabb, and Aaron Rodgers.

# I'll say it here first- the NFC has far surpassed the AFC in terms of quality of play. So far we've seen little in terms of inter-conference play, but what we have seen has been telling. The marque games thus far have seen the Bears crush the Colts, the Colts sneak by the Vikings, the Panthers defeat the Chargers and the Eagles embarrass the Steelers. That's a 3-1 advantage to the NFC, who own a 7-3 advantage on the season.

More importantly, look at the AFC's division leaders after 3 weeks- Buffalo, Tennessee, Baltimore, and Denver, none of whom are particularly intimidating. Who knows what's become of the Patriots, the Colts are 1-2 and don't look like quite the same team, the Chargers haven't won a game yet, and the Steelers- supposedly the class of the AFC so far this season, looked like a deer in the headlights againast the Eagles pass rush. In The NFC, the East looks strong and is easily the best division in football at this point. The Bears and Vikings are both 1-2 but have been competitive and the Packers, despite their loss to the Cowboys, clearly have a good football team. The NFC South and NFC West have a few more wild card elements, but I'd be pretty confident in saying that Arizona for example is a better team than Baltimore.


The worst part of the the 38-13 thrashing the Dolphins gave the Patriots in front of the Patriots own home crowd was that Matt Cassel's play was the least of the team's troubles. As Bill Belichick noted in his post-game press conference, the Pats were outcoached and outplayed on both offense and defense. (Ever the one for dry comments, Belichick also noted that the Pats looked good in the kicking game.)

It was just plain ugly on all fronts and it wasn't because of the absence of Tom Brady. Brady wouldn't have helped againast the Dolphins bizarre spread formation direct snaps to Ronnie Brown, with which the Dolphins scored four of their touchdowns. Brady wouldn't have helped with Chad Pennington picked the Patriots apart all afternoon, completing 17 of 20 passes for 226 yards. Brady wouldn't have helped againast a Dolphins rushing attack that saw Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams rush a combined 33 times for 211 yards.

Sure, Tom Brady would have helped the Pats put up a few more points, but once again, don't let Brady's absence hide the laundry list of problems this team has. The offensive line continues to struggle, giving up 4 more sacks. So far, through 3 games, the line has given up 10 sacks, after giving up only 21 all of last season. And on a day when the rushing game was desperately needed, Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan combined for 15 carries for only 47 yards.

This was the Patriots worse loss since their infamous 31-0 loss to Buffalo at the start of 2003. It was the first time since 1999- before Brady and before Belichick- that the Patriots trailed by 15 points at halftime. There's no need to talk about Matt Cassel because if the rest of the team continues to play the way it played againast the Dolphins, we'll be talking about record breaking losing streaks, not record breaking winning streaks. The loss sucks, but more disturbing was how it happened, getting outgained 461 to 216 and embarrassed at home. The bye's coming up next week, but Belichick better find a way to fix this team in a hurry. And for all the Brady haters out there, don't forget ... his legend grows with each loss the Pats take this season.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Free Market Dude in Ben Bernanke's world

Will Wilkinson blogs on the trouble with being a free market guy in Fed Commissioner Ben Bernanke's world.

But would we be better off without Bernanke’s job? I sincerely don’t know. I am torn about the strong version of the Austrian story. I think they might be right that none of this would have happened had there been a free market in money, etc. But I half-suspect that we wouldn’t be able to sustain such complex, globally-integrated financial markets in the absence of a relatively active government regulatory role. That is, we might not be as rich as we are now had we been living in a world of financial laissez faire. And if, as I half-suspect, I am wrong about that, I wonder how relevant it is. I very generously put the probability of the abolition of the Fed in the next twenty years at .10. If my dreams of awesome intellectual influence were suddenly realized, my advocacy of its abolition I think moves the probability of it to about .20. But there are other hopeless crusades that matter rather more to me. I leave this one to Ron Paul.

So what can I really be for in the present circumstances. Merely that the Fed do better. That ice catch fire and the Fed disappear? I guess there’s no reason I can’t be for both.

Wilkinson's post on the impossibility of blaming purely government or market forces because of the "byzantine amalgam of market and state institutions enmeshed in a thicket of regulation" is also worth a quick read.

A Dangerous Precedent

President Bush, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., and most of the rest of Washington not named Ron Paul have urged the government to spend hundreds of billions more to buy up bad mortgages and save the economy. I don't think even the brightest economists are really capable of weighing in on whether or not this is a good idea. We're talking about a huge sector of the economy that's inseparably tangled with federal monetary policy. Regardless, it's a rather scary precedent. If the government continues to eliminate all the risks of the market, what's to prevent people from taking risks in the future. I know, I know, the response is always more regulation, but the fact of the matter is, if risk is regulated away in one regard, speculators and curious investors will find a different, non-regulated way in which to take risks. And again, the thought that the government will step in to prevent people from losing their shirts will always be in the back of speculators minds.

It just seems logical to me that too many government bailouts can't be healthy in a functional market economy. Also scary was this little bit of wisdom from George Bush:

“There will be ample opportunity to debate the origins of this problem. Now is the time to solve it.”

Solutions when you haven't quite figured out the problem are troublesome to begin with, but such solutions are even more troublesome when they come in the form of hundreds of billions of dollars and binding federal regulation

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's Always Sunny

Just a heads up that tonight is the season premier of what's currently the funniest show on television, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Tonight's back-to-back episodes look like they answer the question "can the show top itself?" in the affirmative. In the first episode, Dennis and Mac become obsessed with consuming human flesh and in tonight's second episode, the gang apparently solves the gas crisis. I'm sure a good time will be had by all.

McCain's Health Care Plan

I tend to use this blog to make an awful lot of snide, nasty comments about John McCain, so I figured I'd take a minute to say something nice. Actually, I've just seen a great deal of mostly negative discussion in the media over McCain's proposal tax employees health care benefits and I just wanted to weigh in with my two cents. It's a brave political move and the sort of idea that actually would drastically change how health care in this country works for what I believe is the better.

Much of the discussion misses the most important part of McCain's plan and that's to eliminate the government created difference in tax treatment between those who receive health insurance coverage through their employers and those who purchase it on their own. This is absolutely crucial. Currently, under our current tax code, health care benefits are not taxed as income, which is precisely why we have a system where the majority of people receive health insurance coverage through their employer. If however, you are self-employed or just have a job that doesn't offer health insurance, you have to purchase your health insurance out of your income which has already been taxed. In other words, the system has a built-in advantage for those who receive employer-provided health insurance. And the McCain plan is designed to level the playing field under the tax code, so to speak.

In the short term,that does mean health care benefits will be taxed, which does mean more money out of your paycheck. But in the long term, the idea is to create a more vibrant health insurance market, one in which individuals actually make decisions as consumers. Truth be told, I have no idea how it will all play out, but I do know it's a step in the right direction and an actual example of one of the candidates proposing a very real change.

Privacy By Any Other Name

I respect the work he does, but Glenn Greenwald continues to strike me as a blogger who spends a hell of a lot of time on truths that aren't all that significant. For those who may not know, Greenwald was the blogger who did a hell of a lot of work in writing about the evil Bush administration warrantless surveillance program. (The very same one I blogged about back in July, the one that I determined wasn't as big a deal as it's critics were making it out to be.)

Anywho, Greenwald blogs today with more than a little bit of glee on the news that Sarah Palin's e-mail was hacked into and posted on the internet. Greenwald finds it ironic that the same right wingers who vigorously defended warrantless surveillance are up in arms over Palin's personal e-mail being made public. And sure, I can see the hypocrisy ... sort of. It just seems to me theres a big difference between someone in the CIA or NSA reading your private e-mails and having those same private e-mails posted on the internet for the entire world to see.

Like I said, I get it ... but, blah, blah, blah. Of course the right is outraged- the left would be equally outraged if this was their guy (or gal). More than anything, it just seems rather silly to me to get so worked up when these really are completely different types of issues. I've been working on a post on privacy rights I don't have up yet, but this to me is the biggest problem with the term as it's used in the political and legal sense. Just because certain actions fall under some large rubric of privacy, doesn't mean they have anything to do with each other.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I meant to post this on Monday but never got around to it:

I actually watched Saturday Night Live this weekend- Not to see 8-foot tall monster and American hero Michael Phelps embarrass himself, but to take a peak at Tina Fey's take on Sarah Palin and see just what SNL's coverage of the 2008 election would look like. I wasn't impressed. Yes, Tina Fey does look remarkably like Palin and her impression is dead on. However, the writing on Saturday Night Live, as it has for so many years now, really just stinks. The opening sketch of Fey and Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton wasn't terrible, but despite a few funny lines, just lacked any real bite. Most of the rest of the show was just putrid, prompting a number of moves to the fast forward button on the DVR. As Mrs. Lonely libertarian pointed out, SNL has been doing some of these stupid family sketches for a couple of decades and they just get less funny over time.

I will however, go out of my way to mention one bright spot, Andy Samberg's ridiculously bizarre music video about the failed Space Olympics. Samberg's the same one who did the Lazy Sunday sketch from a few years back, about his and fellow cast member Chris Parnell's attempt to see the Chronicles of Narnia. Like Narnia, this one's worthy of a viewing, although it's obviously not as catchy.

What's striking about this Space Olympics clip is it was the only part of the entire show that seemed remotely original. The problem SNL has faced for over a decade now is that it's competition- primarily from cable- has surpassed it in terms of quality. Weekend update hasn't seemed relevant in years because the Daily Show (not to mention numerous celebrity-obsessed comedy shows) actually do the "make fun of the news thing" year round, on a daily basis. And even the popular sketch comedy shows (think Chapelle's Show at it's height on Comedy Central) have more leeway to push the envelope precisely because they are on cable. SNL can still do funny stuff- but it's got to get better writers who are actually willing to take some chances and not tell the same lame jokes over and over and over again.

Updated 9/17/2008 @ 3:15 PM : I would take it as an axiom that good sketch comedy has to be willing to fail, not really just fail, but fail miserably. That's why good sketch comedy troops tend to mix big hits with big duds. What SNL lacks, what it's lacked for a long time now, are any writers or producers willing to take chances. Good comedy when it fails should make you ask "What the hell was that?" It should make you think the writers were doing too much acid, not that they don't know how to write.

Government Guarantees

In the same vein as the last post, Will Wilkinson blogs on government guarantees.

Anyway, institutions are institutions are institutions. Government institutions aren’t magical. Some institutions can indemnify others, but it can’t be turtles all the way down. Government is limited in capacity to insure individuals and corporations against loss. The widespread assumption that there is in fact some kind of unlimited, all-purpose backstop — that the U.S. government can simply guarantee itself against its own failure through magical fiscal and monetary willpower (i.e., economic Green Lanternism) — seems to me a big part of the problem here.


What everyone needs, capitalist and prole alike, is better institutions, including a better regulatory framework for the financial sector, so that markets do work. So let’s have that.
But let’s also not pretend that the government’s attempt to “guarantee” that you will get your retirement income, or that you will get your heart surgery in a timely fashion, or that a functioning financial system will endure, actually makes these events more likely than they would be under alternative institutions that make no such guarantees.

The Magic Wand of Regulation

First came the federal bailout of Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae, and now comes the news that the Federal Reserve will help to bail out failed insurance giant AIG. Like 99% of the American people, I'm not in finance, nor do I know anything about finance, as regular readers will remember past proclamations of ignorance. I don't want to weigh in on good or bad because the truth is I have no earthly idea.

One thing I do know is I've seen more and more calls from the left for more regulation. Now, 99.99% of the people calling for more regulation may not know just what regulation we actually need, but that doesn't stop them from asking for it in the first place. I'm not briefly blogging on the subject to be Mr. Big Libertarian and blame all the financial sectors problems on regulation- I only want to point out that for far too many people, regulation is a magic word that cures all evil, when the truth is, it's unclear what regulation could have done to prevent the woes of the financial sector in the first place.

Anyone who works in a regulated industry can tell you that regulations matter- that is, specific regulations have specific impacts. For even simple, agreed-upon goals, crafting regulations to achieve those goals is difficult work. Based on the libertarian lens through which I've viewed my own experiences, the real problem of regulation- of all regulation- is that it's often very costly without actually doing what it sets out to do. When I harp on regulation, the point isn't to demand that all regulations be eliminated, it's only to point out that specific regulations should be carefully crafted and weighed on their relative merits. Simply saying "we need more regulation" isn't a solution. The biggest problem I see with the financial sector is there seems to have been mistakes made by both the government and the private sector. The thing is, the mistakes of the private sector seem more clear, and those mistakes are played out through these massive collapses we've been witnessing. But the mistakes of the government? Saying deregulation was the problem in a still highly regulated industry doesn't really help. The truth is, I've heard very little about what the government should have done specifically to avoid the collapses we're seeing today, yet still, the call comes out for more regulation.

Some folks on the left like to use the term "reasonable regulation." And that's just fine. As soon as you figure out what's reasonable, you can let the rest of us know. Until that point, I'd rather not hear about the magic wand of government regulation.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Banning Books?

Check out this thought provoking post from the Volokh Conspiracy's David Bernstein on whether or not allegations of book banning are as serious as they're made out to be.

Librarians make content-based decisions as to what books should be on the shelves every day. Well-run libraries apparently typically have set policies as to how to determine whether or not to acquire books, but, as Earl Maltz points out, these policies obviously reflect background social/political norms. You're certainly not going to find a "classics comics" version of Mein Kampf in a public library, nor are you likely to find children's books (or, outside research libraries, adult books) that advocate slavery, racism, or other ideas deemed socially unacceptable. You are also unlikely to find Playboy, much less more hard-core pornographic magazines or books.

So, libraries engage in "censorship" every day; they just call it "professional discretion based on objective policies."

The question, then, is why taxpayers must defer to the professional librarians' decisions. Sure, librarians are "professionals." But citizens who complain about a particular children's book (for its presence or absence) may have Ph.D.s in child psychology, have raised 10 children and have 20 grandchildren, have MSWs and work with children all day, spent 20 years teaching in a seminary, or otherwise have a range of knowledge and experience that make them potentially more qualified than a librarian to determine what is or is not appropriate material for children.

Given that public libraries are ubiquitous in the modern world, it seems to me that Bernstein is on the right track- that citizens seeking a voice in the material their public library carries is not really tantamount to book banning, even when citizens literally seek to have books removed from the library. The brief libertarian response (as Bernstein points out) is that these editorial decisions are precisely what is wrong with taxpayer funded libraries in the first place. But if you're going to have public libraries, then you have to accept this messiness. Even when drawing a line of "appropriateness," there will always be some disagreement as to just where that line should be drawn.

More Election Fun

This from the Simpsons "Treehouse of Horrors VII." In this classic episode, released Halloween time 1996, frequent alien protagonists Kodos and Kang assume the form of presidential candidates Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in an effort to take over the world through a Democratic election. Some classic moments:

Kent Brockman: Senator Dole, why should people vote for you instead of President Clinton?
Kang: It makes no difference which one of us you vote for. Either way, your planet is doomed. DOOMED!
Kent: Well, a refreshingly frank response there from senator Bob Dole.

Kang: The politics of failure have failed. We need to make them work
again. Tomorrow, when you are sealed in the voting cubicle, vote
for me, Senator Ka... Bob Dole.
Kodos: I am looking forward to an orderly election tomorrow, which will
eliminate the need for a violent blood bath.

Homer: America, take a good look at your beloved candidates. They're
nothing but hideous space reptiles. [unmasks them]
[audience gasps in terror]
Kodos: It's true, we are aliens. But what are you going to do about
it? It's a two-party system; you have to vote for one of us.
Man1: He's right, this is a two-party system.
Man2: Well, I believe I'll vote for a third-party candidate.
Kang: Go ahead, throw your vote away.
[Kang and Kodos laugh out loud]

... And In Other NFL News

Norv Turner is officially the league's biggest cry baby, for his whining that Ed Hochuli's early whistle was unacceptable. For those of you football fans living in a cave, Hochuli blew a call in yesterday's Broncos-Chargers game when he inadvertently blew the whistle on a play near the end of the game where the ball slipped out of Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler's hand. The Chargers recovered what should have been ruled a fumble, but because of the inadvertent whistle, on review the ball was ruled down at the spot of the fumble and the Broncos retained possession. This all occurred on a second and goal with under a minute left, with the Broncos trailing the Chargers by 7, 38-31. Two plays after the call, Cutler was hitting Eddie Royal for a touchdown and another pass to Royal for the two-point conversion gave the Broncos a 39-38 victory.

Here's why Turner is a big baby. It's not as though the call gave the Broncos the win. They had to score the touchdown and even after the touchdown, the Chargers defense had a chance to stop the two-point conversion. Two chances to hold on to the win and they couldn't do it. More importantly, the only reason the Chargers were recovering the fumble was because the ball had squirted out of Jay Cutler's hand. It's not as though some great effort by the San Diego defense was wiped away by one inadvertent whistle. I would have been pretty damn lucky for the Chargers if they had won the game on a slippery ball. Luck is luck, whether it comes in the form of an inadvertent whistle or a ball gift-wrapped from one's opponents. The early whistle left the Chargers where they should have been if luck hadn't reared it's head in the first place.

Can officials cost a team a game? Rarely, but it does happen on occasion. I've heard some talk this morning that the NFL should revisit it's rules in the off season, but that's just crazy talk. Inadvertent whistles happen all the time and there's no way you're going to change the rules that play that goes on after a whistle is blown actually counts for anything. It's bad luck and this happened at a terrible time for the Chargers. But good God, Norv Turner has the look of a man who's in over his head.

Other brief comments from all the games I saw yesterday:

# Aaron Rodgers is a damn good quarterback and the Packers passing attack looks every bit as scary as it did with Brett Favre last year.

# With as bad as Carson Palmer is looking, Jay Cutler has got to be a top 5 quarterback, right?

# Anthony Gonzalez is going to be the Colts next star wide receiver. Not only did he look great running all over the field yesterday, that lateral he made to Reggie Wayne was an incredably heads-up play.

# I was watching the early games at Black Bear's Saloon with my good buddy McBlog and for whatever reason we were in view of the Raiders-Chiefs game. As we commented at some point during the afternoon, every time we looked over at that tv, there seemed to be players strewn across the ground while the football bounced around amidst the madness.

# The Panthers are 2-0 and looked really good in beating the Bears yesterday. I was most impressed by how they ran the ball againast a Bears defense that crushed Joseph Addai last Sunday night.

# It's a rough loss for the Bears, but they're legit this year and by legit I mean, yes, they really could go back to the Super Bowl. The defense is back in 2005 form and Kyle Orton actually looks like an NFL quarterback (and not like Rex Grossman who usually looked like he was trying to be an NFL quarterback). Every time I glanced at the Bears game, Orton seemed to be dropping back, making quick decisions, and just throwing darts.

Cassel Watch

Patriots 19 Jets 10. Different quarterback, same story as the Patriots rolled to yet another victory over the Jets, their 11th in their past 12 matchups. A bit more on the game in a second, but first, a check on Matt Cassel, who completed 16 of 23 passes for 165 yards, 0 TD's and 0 Ints. For those counting, this means that in 10 quarters (2&1/2 games) Cassel is now 40 of 61 (65.6%) for 485 yards, 3 TD's and 0 Ints.

There's not all that much to say about a game that before last year would have been considered a typical Patriots win. The media tends to get wrapped up in offensive production, but the media tends to forget that these Patriots have won a great many more games in the style they did yesterday than they did with Brady chucking the ball left and right in last year's fantasy season. The defense was great, the Patriots ran the ball and stuck with the run, and the special teams gave the Patriots the field position edge all day long. It's a recipe for success this season and we'll see how far it takes these Pats. For now, at 2-0, I the road to a 6th straight division title seems wide open. The Jets were supposed to be the challenger because of Favre- And I know the bills are an impressive 2-0, but their quarterback is Trent Edwards, a guy who has six more career touchdown passes than Matt Cassel. Even if the Bills defense is comparable to the Pats- a questionable proposition- we still have Randy Moss while they have Lee Evans.

Obviously, the big tests will be when the Patriots play the league's elite teams, but given how the season has shaped up so far, I'm not quite sure who those teams are. For now though, even with Cassel, the team with the 21 game regular season winning streak needs to be talked about with the rest of the league's elite, or at least until someone really embarrasses them.

The positives from yesterday's Jets game? LaMont Jordan, who looked like an absolute beast and who was really the only running back to get consistent yardage. The secondary, which looked better againast Favre than it did againast Damon Huard. Coles had big yardage on a broken play, but other than that, Cotchrey had 1 catch and Favre spent most of the day checking down to backs and tight ends. Overall, the defense just looked really damn good- and how awesome was that sack by Adalius Thomas, taking down Leon Washington and Brett Favre with his monstrous arms for a 15 yard-loss.

The negatives? The offensive line did not block well. While LaMont Jordan looked good, Sammy Morris and Lawrence Maroney had 16 carries for 16 yards. The Jets though, we're clearly ready for the Pats to run the football- perhaps more concerning is the pressure the Jets put on Cassel all day, sacking him 3 times while getting many more good hits on him. If you want to know why the Pats didn't go downfield in the passing game, I'd look squarely at the offensive line.

One final thing to keep in mind and that's the way the Jets shut down Brady in Moss in their last matchup, week 15 last year in Foxboro. The Pats won 20-10, in the only game all year Brady failed to throw a touchdown. Like that game, the Jets continued yesterday to work to take Randy Moss out of the game and were pretty damn successful, holding him to only 2 catches. What I'm trying to say here is that Mangenius knows how to game plan for Brady and Belichick, so maybe even with Brady we would have been happy with a 19-10 win. Not that Cassel is Brady by any means, only that his unassuming numbers from yesterday may be a bit more impressive than they look.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday Drug War Stuff

I've got a couple of posts kicking around, but it's been an in and out kind of day and I may not get to much else, so before I leave you for the weekend, allow me to highly recommend spending 5 to 10 minutes to listen to Berwyn Heights, Maryland mayor Cheye Calvo, the man who's two labradors were the victims of a SWAT drug raid back in July. (See here and here for my own brief coverage of the story.) If you have the time just take a listen. It's a shame these overly violent mistaken raids happen, but as Calvo mentions, they may be more and more prevalent. And it's terrible to say, but perhaps for things to change, this sort of thing needed to happen to someone of Calvo's status and not to someone poorer and darker skinned. Kudos to the mayor for realizing this and for taking it upon himself to actually try and do something.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Scary Ideas From The Obama Campaign

From the Cato blog, if elected, Barack Obama would like to create a national technology czar. "with broad authority to develop policy, elevating high-tech issues to the cabinet level in a major recalibration of the government’s approach to regulating the communications sector."


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Worst Part Of This Year's Election

I'm hoping that Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the genius minds behind South Park, come up with another brilliant way in which to characterize this election when South Park returns in the fall. They are after all, the ones who reminded us in 2004 that whatever the issues of the day might be, we're still given the choice between a giant douche and a turd sandwich.

This year, our choices aren't douche and turd- in a way, our choices are worse. You could say our choice this year is between snake 1 and snake 2, but that's not nearly clever enough (which is why I'll wait for Matt and Trey). This year, on one side we're presented with the candidate who represents change, the first black president, and the man who's going to revolutionize politics as we know it. On the other side we're given the war veteran, the man who believes in service to his country above all else, and the man deeply opposed to the corruption that has characterized government in recent years. In short, the narrative we've been fed is that both of these guys are different, that both of these guys are not typical politicians.

And it's a nice story except for the fact that both of these guys are typical politicians. Unless your Harry fucking Truman, men (and women) who aren't typical politicians don't wind up running for the White House. Certainly, only tried and true politicians wind up in the White House. This isn't to say that Obama and McCain don't care about the country. On the whole, their policies reflect what they think is best for the nation. But what I am saying is that being a real politician literally does mean selling part of your soul. The truth is that the majority of politicians are not corrupt, but they are incredably ego driven and neither McCain or Obama is any different. Notions of change and notions of putting nation before self are not why either of these men are running. Like everyone else in politics, it's about power and prestige.

Truthfully, I think McCain and Obama both have the potential to be better in the presidency than George Bush and certainly better than Al Gore or John Kerry could have been. McCain is committed to stamping out corruption and eliminating waste in government and given everything I've read about Obama the law professor, I believe he has the ability to be the kind of president that really does transcend partisan politics. What I resent is the narrative that either of these guys is something special. They're still professional politicians and we shouldn't forget just what that means.

The War?

Not to delve to deeply into the political land mine that is the war in Iraq, but has anyone else noticed how the war has disappeared almost completely off the face of the political map?

Not surprisingly then, the news that President Bush plans to withdraw 8,000 troops from Iraq in early 2009 did not provoke electoral rhetoric, nor did the news hit with the force that it probably should have hit with. Vietnam it's not and a mere 5&1/2 years later, perhaps the war is winding down in Iraq.

I suppose I understand why it's not a huge political issue for either candidate. Obama is better off with the war on the back burner and McCain's leadership and military record are far less powerful campaign tools if he were to actually come out and say the war is winding down. What I don't understand is why the story isn't bigger news. Democrats in Congress have been demanding a withdrawal date since 2004 and now that they finally have one, they're still not happy. But whether you're anti-war, for the war, or straight up undecided, the fact that we've reached a measured level of success is certainly a good thing. For those who still want to debate the issue, go for it- Over time, I've become more and more convinced that the effort was not worth the cost in American lives and American dollars, but I'll always listen to arguments either way.

I have a pretty strong feeling however, that history isn't going to vindicate either side of the Iraq war debate. Any success is always going to be weighted down the question of whether or not it was worth it and the loss of lives and poor planning are counterbalanced by the eventual successes. It'd be nice and neat to say one side was right, but I sure as hell don't see that ever happening.

Who Loves the Constitution?

Reason's Jacob Sullum on the 2008 Republican platform's treatment of the Constitution: Like the Democrats, the Republicans only respect the Constitution when it's convenient. Some examples:

[T]he GOP platform does not question the legitimacy of the federal government's enormous entitlement programs, saying only that they should be "reformed" and "modernized." Regarding Social Security, McCain does not go even as far as George W. Bush, who proposed letting Americans shift some of their payroll taxes to private accounts. By contrast, the current platform calls for "personal investment accounts which are distinct from and supplemental to" the existing system of intergenerational income redistribution.

Far from shrinking the federal government, the Republicans want to enlarge it, providing "aid to those hurt by the housing crisis," solving "the energy crisis" (undeterred by the Carteresque connotations of that phrase), "expanding access to higher education," seeking "a major expansion of support" for certain kinds of stem cell research, even "returning Americans to the moon as a step toward a mission to Mars." The platform does not explain how these initiatives qualify as "legitimate constitutional functions."

The Republicans are committed to "continuing the fight against illegal drugs," even though that fight, unlike alcohol prohibition, was never authorized by a constitutional amendment. They want to impose national bans on gay marriage, human cloning, assisted suicide, and online gambling, even while declaring that "Congress must respect the limits imposed by the Tenth Amendment," which reserves to the states or the people "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution." Despite their eagerness to trample individual freedom in all these areas, Republicans claim "the other party wants more government control over people's lives," but "Republicans do not."

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Nationwide Ass-blasting

Steve Chapman at Reason has a great quickie round-up of the Democratic and Republic conventions, posing the question "When did freedom become an orphan?" As Chapman points out, each day of the Republican convention had a theme and none of those themes involved freedom or liberty. Monday was "Serving a Cause Greater than Self." Tuesday was "Service," Wednesday was "Reform," and Thursday was "Peace." The Democrats, surprise, surprise, were just as bad. Their daily themes were "One Nation," "Renewing America's Promise," and "Securing America's Future." Let's just say I'm less than impressed.

I just so happened to be watching It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, the extremely politically incorrect FX series on DVD the other night, when this exchange in "The Gang Runs For Office" really seemed to sum up my feelings about politics and about the presidential election.

Dennis: Am I supposed to vote for the Democrat who's going to blast me in the ass or the Republican who's blasting my ass?
Mac: See politics is all just one big ass-blast.
Dennis: It's a coast to coast,...
Charlie: You're going to get you're ass-blasted.
Dennis: ass-blasting

Good News On The Drug War Front

The local Hartford Courant picks up an op-ed piece that's been making the rounds: Paramilitary Police Raids Must Be Reined In. It's a promising sign that this is being treated as a national problem as opposed to mere isolated incidents. It's becoming harder and harder for even the mainstream media to ignore the ever growing list of sympathetic victims.

How Old?

I've noticed a theme in sports talk radio, particularly now that Brady has gone down, that the age of the Patriots defense is a major concern this season. Certainly now that Brady is out, the defense matters a hell of a lot more, but I'm not sure I understand all this old age talk. Let's take a look at how old the Patriots defense actually is. Here are the week one starters:

Richard Seymour 28
Vince Wilfork 26
Ty Warren 27
Mike Vrabel 33
Tedy Bruschi 35
Jerod Mayo 22
Adalius Thomas 31
Lewis Sanders 30
Ellis Hobbs 25
Rodney Harrison 35
James Sanders 24

Now, we all know Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi are getting old. Other than the two of them though, where are the age problems on this defense? Mike Vrabel may be 33, but he had what many consider to be his best year last season. And Adalius Thomas may be 31, but this is only his second year on the team and I didn't hear a word about his being too old when the Patriots signed him before the '07 season. The only other 30-something in the lineup was Lewis Sanders, a journeyman corner who should only be holding down the job until second round draft pick Terrance Wheatley is ready.

All of the defensive linemen are in their prime and their are young players sprinkled throughout the defense. The real question this season for the Patriots defense seems to be can the young players actually step up. If so, this can be one of the better defenses in the league. The real questions are how good a run stopper can Jerod Mayo be and can the young players in the secondary- Whealey and last year's first round pick Brandon Meriweather- be assets rather than liabilities.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Damn Thing Won't Work Right

This is a test, this is only a test.

The one day I have a lot to blog about, the blog decides to give me trouble.

The Great Big Quarterback Question

Brady's injury and Brett Favre's presence on the Jets has the NFL faithful excited that maybe, just maybe, someone can end the Patriots five year reign as kings of the AFC East. (Some people also want to throw the Bills in the discussion, mainly because of their pounding of a receiver less Seahawk team that tends to struggle when coming east, but I'll believe it when I see it. The Bills have lost 9 straight to the Patriots and 13 of their last 14. In those last 9, the Pats have outscored the Bills 288-86, indicating to me that even without Brady, the Bills have to prove they can put double digit points on the board against the Pats before they can be considered a legitimate contender.)

The real interesting question is, just how much do quarterbacks actually mean in this league- for all the credit and blame quarterbacks get for winning and losing, how much of it actually should fall on their shoulder. Obviously, the 12 game difference between the Patriots 16-0 and the Jets 4-12 from last year is a bit misleading. Even with Brady and without Favre, people had the Patriots winning a more reasonable 12 or 13 games and the Jets probably somewhere closer to .500. For this experiment to be meaningful, Matt Cassel has to be a quality NFL starter for the rest of the season. He can't be too bad where the Patriots decide to bring in someone else and he can't be too good where he'll end up getting a big contract to start somewhere else next season.

If quarterback's really mean everything to a team, really mean the difference between winning and losing, we should see that as the Jets should be able to pass the Patriots. If quarterback's mean little and wins and losses reflect more on the play and talent of the rest of the team, than the Patriots should win their 6th consecutive divisional title.

Now obviously, this isn't an exact science, and perhaps the Patriots beating out the Jets for the division doesn't really alter the assumption that good quarterbacks win and bad quarterbacks don't. It's such a strongly ingrained position, that I'm not sure this one instance of an ultra-talented Patriot team holding on to the division actually disproves the notion. However, should Favre and the Jets take the division ... well, that's a hell of a strong piece of evidence of the difference quarterbacks do make.

Say It Ain't So

Woe is me, Tom Brady is out for the season. Yesterday afternoon, the sports viewing population let out a collective sigh the likes of which has never been heard before. It's not just an all-world quarterback that was lost, but a potential championship season. And sure, the Patriots extended their NFL record regular season winning streak to 20 games, but come on, that was all lost as well. It's time for the Boston faithful to retrieve their pre-Red Sox 2004 "the end is near" attitudes because good God, Tom Brady tore up his knee.

Before thinking too hard about the fate of the 2008 Patriots, lets take a trip back to 2001. The Patriots 100 million dollar face of the franchise, Drew Bledsoe, had just injured a blood vessel on a vicious hit from Jets linebacker Mo Lewis and looked to be out for an extended period of time. The Patriots were 0-2 and had only won 7 of their previous 26 games dating back to 1999. For those of us who'd been excited by the Parcells-Bledsoe Super Bowl run of 1996, those days were looking more and more like a distant memory.

Enter Tom Brady, a 6th round draft pick in 2000, heading into his first start in a game against the 2-0 Indianapolis Colts. Exit my youthful hopes that my Patriots could always, always (even in 1990 in the midst of a 1-15 season), turn their season around. I didn't even bother to watch the start of that Colts game, but when I did tune in, something strange happened. Rather than crack like my hopes and dreams, the Patriots rallied behind their rookie quarterback. The defense harassed Peyton Manning for 60 minutes, the rushing attack came on strong, and throwing a careful mix of screens and short passes, the Patriots defeated the Colts 44-13. It turns out to be a recipe for success over the course of the season and it's a story everyone knows all too well.

What we tend to forget how hopeless the Patriots season looked in September of 2001. We tend to forget who was on that Patriot team. There was no Randy Moss on that team, only Troy Brown and David Patten. That team had a rookie Richard Seymour, but didn't have Vince Wilfork or Ty Warren or Jarvis Green. That team did have Antwoin Smith, but does anyone doubt that Lawrence Maroney or Sammy Morris could have been 1,000 yard rushers for that 2001 team. Far too many pooh pooh the thought that Matt Cassel is the next rags to riches story without putting the entire situation into perspective. Football is about the team and outside the quarterback position, the Patriots have a damn good team. They went 16-0 last season, not solely because of Brady, but because of the talent around him.

Even considering Matt Cassel and considering 2001 Tom Brady, this version of the Patriots is more talented than the 2001 version. Take that for what you will, but I take it as a sign that the team isn't going to just call the season lost and the team has a fighting chance. Obviously, if Matt Cassel does his best impression of Ryan Leaf, the Patriots season will be lost, unless they manage to get another capable guy in there. But if Casell can do his best imitation of 2000's Trent Dilfer or 2001's Tom Brady, then why the hell shouldn't the Patriots still be contenders. Again think back to 2001- that team didn't even throw the ball down the field, relying instead on screens and short passes. With Moss, as they showed yesterday, these Patriots under Cassel have the potential to do even more than those 2001 Patriots.

The real question isn't whether Cassel can come in and be a star, the real question is whether he's an NFL quarterback and from what limited regular season play I've seen from him, I believe the answer is yes. I was impressed yesterday when he came in without a lead, without any points on the board, and backed up to the two yard line and led the Patriots on a 98-yard drive. I was impressed yesterday with the lack of interceptions. And I was impressed in Cassel's only other regular season game where he received significant playing time, way back in 2005, when he almost beat the Dolphins in a season finale with most of the regulars resting. That Dolphin team, if you remember, had won it's final 6 games to finish 9-7. And Cassel played well after coming in at the start of the 2nd quarter, completing 11 of 20 passes for 168 yards, 0 Ints and 2 TD's. If you were curious, that puts Cassel at 24 of 38 for 320 yards, 3 TD's and 0 Ints in 6 career quarters of significant NFL play. Not half bad and it certainly doesn't make me think that the 2008 preseason version of Matt Cassel is the one closer to the real thing.

I can already hear the pain in the voices of Patriots fans, but come on- Have a little hope. We've been through worse. No our offense won't set records this season and no, we don't have an easy track to the division title and a first round bye. But that doesn't mean it's not within our site. To repeat myself, we did more with less back in 2001. Or in other words, we're still a lot closer to the AFC elite than we are to the basement. Belichick and McDaniels will adjust the offense and we'll see game plans designed toward Cassel's strengths and designed to hide his weaknesses. We'll also return to the rushing game, something we should have been doing anyways, and a strategy that should be made easier given the number of running backs we've kept on the roster. More than anything else, let's not forget the ability of this team to rally in the face of adversity. For the other 52 players on the team, Brady's injury may be- in a way- a blessing in disguise- removing the weight of expectations from their shoulders. For the first time since, gee, maybe 2004, the Patriots will not be the darlings of the NFL, which maybe, just maybe, can relieve the team of much of the pressure they played with all of last season. There's still a lot of talent in New Engalnd. And most importantly, there's still Bill Belichick. Yeah we all love Brady, but it's in Bill we trust. I hope no one forgot that part.

Updated 9/8/2008 @ 11:55 AM : No one should misread the Patriots looking at other quarterbacks as a sign of the apocalypse. Belichick wouldn't have stuck with Cassel as his backup if he wasn't comfortable with Cassel as his backup. Chris Simms and Tim Rattay are coming in because they now have only two healthy quarterbacks. They'd be insane to play out the season with only rookie Kevin O'Connell on the bench. Maybe another backup will eventually press Cassel, but I guarantee you, the thought is just to get a backup with some experience, not to literally find a new quarterback. That's why we may see Chris Simms or Tim Rattay, but I'd be willing to be we don't see Daunte Culpepper.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Thursday Night What?

Tonight the NFL kicks off it's 2008 with a match up between the Super Bowl champion Giants and the no-longer Joe Gibbs-coaches Redskins. What those of you may not remember is that this is year number six of the NFL's Thursday night experiment, an experiment which should probably be scrapped and called a failure. ESPN's Bill Simmons made a similar comment in his latest podcast, wondering why we're stuck with this odd sort of an opener year in and year out. For those of you who doubt what I'm saying, let's take a look at the history. In the past 5 years, we've basically been given one game worth watching, the 2004 match up between the Patriots and the Colts. I'm sure you all remember that one- Brady and Manning threw for a lot of yards- Willie McGinest had that key sack- And former Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed what would have been a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation.

That was a great start to the season. The other four games, not so much. In 2003, before the tradition of showcasing the Super Bowl champion began, we were treated to the Jets and Redskins, two teams who ended up winning 11 games that season. In 2005, the two-time defending champion Patriots took on the new look Raiders. Randy Moss did catch a long touchdown for those Raiders, but the Patriots dominated for yet another opening day win. In 2006, the Steelers took on the Dolphins. You probably don't remember that one, but I do. Charlie Batch filled in for an injured Ben Rothlisberger and the Steelers uglied themselves to victory over a bad Dolphins team. Finally, last year, the Colts manhandled the Saints, sticking it to all the prognosticators who had picked the Saints to go the Super Bowl, illustrating that, no, the Saints can not play any defense.

It's not that I object to more football- I'm a fan of more football. It's just that the opening night of a season is must-watch football, and the product we've been given is most definitely not must-watch football. It's just a little disappointing to have the memories of so many crappy games stuck in my head, particularly when I can think of so many other good games I've missed. And in the end, it's just more fun when opening day is actually opening day.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Greatest Story Ever

From the strange world of sports: The Lions just signed running back Rudi Johnson who had been let go by the Bengals. While brining in Johnson, they released veteran running back Tatum Bell in order to make room on the roster. This is the good part- Apparently, Bell walked off with Johnson's luggage, as security camera footage shows him leaving the Lions facility with Johnson's duffel bags. The luggage was returned, but not Johnson's money, ID, and credit cards.

Any fantasy football owners out there interested in Tatum Bell? More importantly, any real NFL teams interested?