Monday, February 22, 2010

JTG 02/22/10 - A new, and unwelcome, thought

I've followed Creighton basketball for a long time, and in that time there have been a number of thoughts that have run through my head. Some of them went like this:

"What a shot, [insert Taylor, Korver, or Woodfox here]!"

"How did [insert fifth or seventh school from major conference] get the last NCAA bid over us?"

"Shouldn't we be guarding that big kid for the Chippewas?"

But I can't tell you the last time I had this thought going into a game:

"Please, just don't embarass us."

Unfortunately, that's the state of the Bluejays this year going into Creighton's visit to Cedar Falls and their matchup with nationally-ranked Northern Iowa. And, even more unfortunately, the Panthers didn't oblige this fearful Bluejay backer. Creighton scored the first seven points of the game (yay!), but fell victim to a 28-5 Panther run (boo!) and never got themselves back in the game.

My wife, of course, is a UNI graduate, which makes matters worse. We were at dinner for the second half. I was facing a television with the game on, and she had her back to the TV. It didn't matter. She could read the progress of the game just by watching my face.

Sure, there were glimmers of good play from Creighton, but there's no covering up how completely outclassed the Bluejays were by Northern Iowa. Creighton has long since lost their collective mojo, and once UNI went on their big run in the middle of the first half there was no sign of life from Creighton.

So, pressure fell on the BracketBuster game on Saturday - the "JESUIT SHOWDOWN" - between Creighton and Loyola Chicago. For a half, things looked more than a little concerning. Creighton only led by a point, although that was from a seven-point run from Loyola to close the half. The magic of the Qwest Center and the 15,000+ that showed up for the JESUIT SHOWDOWN didn't disappoint, however. Creighton went on a 13-2 run to start the second half and cruised to a comfortable 78-58 win.

So, now Creighton is 14-14, with two games left to go before the Arch Madness tournament in St. Louis. We've discussed the .500 Mendoza line as a psychological tool throughout the season, but it's becoming a practical question now. Many of Creighton's streaks are already broken, but the postseason streak remains a possibility. However, to get to the postseason the Bluejays need to finish at least on the line to remain eligible.

The final two games of the regular season see them going to Carbondale to play Southern Illinois, then back to the Qwest for the home finale against Bradley. A split of those two games - and given Creighton's season, is there any way to pick anything else - leaves the Bluejays in a must-win situation for their first game in the conference tournament. Going into the tourney at 15-15 and pulling a one-and-done would leave Creighton under .500, and likely at home for the whole postseason.

This has been a brutal, humbling season for Dana Altman and his Bluejays. The team now is almost entirely remade from the squad we thought we would be seeing. The fact that Ethan Wragge and Josh Jones started against Loyola is not insignificant, showing the changing of the guard for the boys in Blue.

Much like bowl games in football, postseason tournaments are a great way for rebuilding teams to get extra work in and build chemistry. This year more than ever, Creighton needs a post season - ANY post season, be it NIT or CBA - to get some extra playing time and help figure out who they are going into next season.

Sure, a magical run through St. Louis to an NCAA bid would be fun. But a win over the stupid Salukis in Carbondale to spark an NIT bid is more likely, and a lot more important.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

LTG 02/20/10 - How can that not be terrorism?

I’m going to need some help with this. A man flies a plane into a building with the express intent of making a political statement, and it’s not terrorism?

Last week, an angry Joseph Stack posted a long anti-government diatribe on his blog, set fire to his house, and flew a small plane into an Austin, Texas, building containing the local office of the Internal Revenue Service. As of this column’s writing, two people (in addition to Stack) were killed in the attack, with a third person missing.

Of course, seeing the crawl on the bottom of a TV screen that says “plane crashes into building” brings back the inevitable, horrifying memories of 9/11. I know when I first heard the news of Stack’s attack, I had the same knot in my stomach I felt watching the Twin Towers fall.

So, I was more than a little confused when, later that day, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that the incident didn’t “appear” to be a terrorist attack.

Excuse me?

Gibbs went on to say that there didn’t seem to be any link between al Qaeda or any similar group and the attack on the IRS building. As if that’s supposed to make anyone feel better.

I’m not sure why this is so complicated. Terrorism is the act of using violence to instill fear into a populace in an attempt to achieve a political end.

So, let’s see. Stack was very, very angry at the IRS in specific and the Federal tax code in general, and wanted to see it changed. Political end, check. Use of violence, check. Instilling fear into a populace, check.

Having “Mohammed” or “bin-something-or-other” in his name? No check there, so it must not be terrorism.

It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that we’ve all been very effectively programmed to think that terrorism = Muslim. Let’s face it, we had a presidential administration that pounded that into our heads starting about September 14, 2001, and continues to do so to this day. Obviously, that type of fear-mongering is effective.

Unfortunately, thanks to the legacy of the Bush administration, whether something is “terrorist” or not has significant consequences. If the government calls you a terrorist, then they can lock you away without any Constitutional rights, keep you locked away as long as they want, and torture you if they feel like it.

So, we couldn’t possibly call Stack a terrorist, because if we did then we’d have to treat him like we treat the people in Guantanamo. And, sadly enough, the American public might look very differently at a white American citizen being waterboarded.

It’s not like we haven’t had acts of domestic terrorism recently. Remember Scott Roeder? He walked into a Kansas church and assassinated Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who performed abortions. Roeder killed Tiller for the express purpose of making a political statement and to use fear to stop other doctors from performing abortions.

Was he treated like a terrorist, renditioned by the military to a secret prison and tortured? Nope. He was treated like what he was, a criminal, and has been convicted of murder and is facing the justice he deserves. Just the way Richard Reed, the “shoe bomber” and Jose Padilla, the “dirty bomber” was. Both of those guys were given all their Constitutional rights, were convicted, and now languish in a SuperMax prison. And, amazingly enough, they haven’t used the superpowers some in the GOP apparently believe they possess to break out and destroy Manhattan.

If you saw any of the town hall meetings about health care this summer, you’ve seen the face of irrational, terrified anger. We’ve seen that irrational, terrified anger explode into two acts of domestic terrorism in the last eight months. We’ve seen people making lots of money appearing on television stoking the fires of that irrational, terrified anger (looking right at you, Glenn Beck).

So, the next time you hear someone take to the airwaves or to the Senate floor decrying the concept of applying the rule of law to Gitmo prisoners, ask yourself this question. Do you think these people would be saying the same thing if the target of their venom was a fifty-something white guy instead of a Muslim? Do you think the people supporting them would be as rabid if they realized the people getting waterboarded looked and sounded like them?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Reporter fired for being objective?

If this isn't one of the signs of the apocalypse, it's certainly a sign of the death of journalism as we knew it. Jason Linkins of HuffingtonPost.com (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/17/reporter-sacked-for-his-i_n_465528.html) writes an article about a journalist who was fired from his job for clinging to the notions of objective reporting and, indeed, the existence of an objective reality.

No, seriously, that's what his BOSS said in firing him.

Now, the paper he was fired from is an unabashed liberal/progressive publication, so I suppose if they want to be in the business of opinion-making (or, in other words, being like FOX News) then they have a right to avoid those nasty facts. But to actually have the gall (or, quite honestly, the stupidity) to admit so in public should shame and discredit the rag permanently.

Look, as readers here know, I'm pretty lefty. I agree with a lot of things this rag wants to do. But the kind of propaganda FOX News has been spewing has been poisonous to the process as a whole. It's just as wrong when someone wants to put out propaganda that I happen to agree with, and it's worth just as much contempt as the Glenn Beck channel.

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Hamilton Nolan made note yesterday of a reporter fired for reasons that can only be called bogus and aggravating.

The reporter in question was Jonathan Springston, a four-year veteran of the Atlanta Progressive News. Springston was sacked as part of some wide-ranging online reboot, but he wasn't let go because his position was made redundant (though the paper apparently has no plan on hiring a replacement). Rather, he was fired because of an apparent insistence on fact-based reporting.

That this was the reason is troubling. That his editor, Matthew Cardinale, copped to it, is insane.

Here's the key excerpt from the response that Cardinale gave to Atlanta's Creative Loafing, when their Andisheh Nouraee asked about this:

Jonathan Springston served as Staff Writer, then Senior Staff Writer for a total of four years. During that time, he has grown as a writer and has produced a lot of content which has served to inform our readership on issues ranging from Troy Davis to Grady Hospital.

As many of our readers know, we are in the midst of a major website redesign and relaunch that will result in new content and new forms of content, as well as tools to empower our readers to meaningfully participate in the democratic process. Part of that has meant going back to our core mission and re-examining how every part of what we do is consistent with, and advances, that mission.

In the end, we had to make a very difficult decision to move forward as a publication without Jonathan Springston. Last Wednesday, we informed him it seemed more appropriate if he found work with another publication or started his own publication.

At a very fundamental, core level, Springston did not share our vision for a news publication with a progressive perspective. He held on to the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively, despite the fact that that was not our editorial policy at Atlanta Progressive News. It just wasn't the right fit.

Cardinale goes on to cite his paper's FAQ, which informs that "Progressive news is news that brings us closer to universal health care, living wages, affordable housing, peace, a healthy environment, and voting systems we can trust."

Now, I like things like universal health care and affordable housing and et cetera. But if your strongly argued point of view on those matters is founded in a reality that you have just decided to invent out of whole cloth, then what you are delivering is not news. At best, you are creating an echo chamber for like-minded people to enter and feel comforted. At worst, you are treating this important issues with the same intelligence as birtherism.

People who work tirelessly to properly advocate for things like health care reform accept that they have a challenging case to make, that making that case is hard work, and that the case is best made when you are operating within the constraints of objective reality.

Cardinale would do himself a lot of good if he spent some time reflecting on the origin of the phrase "reality-based community." In the meantime, advocates of universal health care and the like will have to note that citing the Atlanta Progressive News is going to undermine their efforts.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

JTG 02/16/10 - Deja Blue

Sorry for the tardiness of the post. Apparently the Gods of Winter and the Iowa Department of Transportation weren't in any hurry to have last week's Creighton performances recapped, as I was stuck in Sioux City until this afternoon.

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This Jay-Talking Guy thing isn’t all that tough. I’ve been able to write the same column for weeks now.

Again, the Bluejays came into the week after a split, one win and one loss. But with both games for the week at home, the hope was that Creighton could get a winning streak going, gain a little momentum, put the .500 line farther behind them, and get ready for a run in the Valley tournament.

The week certainly started out in promising fashion. Indiana State was in town to start the week, and Creighton had an opportunity to pay the Sycamores back for handing CU their opening loss in the conference season. The Bluejays took care of business emphatically, beating Indiana State 65-52 in a game that probably wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate.

At the start of the game, Creighton was a little outside-shot-happy, putting up three point attempts on 19 of their first 31 shots. Given that they only made five, it appeared that a re-thinking of the strategy was in order, even though Creighton had built a fairly comfortable lead.

In the second half, though, the Bluejays went inside to Kenny Lawson, Jr., who got his first double-double of the season. The fact that Indiana State was down to eight players due to injury coming into the game made a punishing inside strategy work as well.

So, Creighton avoided a Sycamore sweep, and had a chance to put a winning streak together and drag themselves up the standings as the Valley conference tournament nears. Another home game, against 17-8 Illinois State, would be a good test for how far Creighton has come throughout the conference season.

Illinois State 67, Creighton 63.

It’s not just the loss, although CU dropping to fourth in the conference is certainly problematic. It’s the staggering similarity of the loss that makes it so disturbing.

The first half was a back-and-forth affair, which boded well for Creighton. The Bluejays took a 53-50 lead with just over eight minutes to play, and looked poised to pull away and get some real forward momentum moving towards March.

Illinois State had other ideas. Creighton only scored one field goal the rest of the game, from a combination of bad shot selection and a lack of confidence that is inevitable from the arc of the season. Still, impressively enough, Creighton’s free throw shooting left them within striking distance as the contest came to a close.

Osiris Eldridge, Illinois State’s talisman (who can’t graduate soon enough, if you ask me) missed a second free throw attempt leaving Creighton two points down with 15 seconds left to play. The stage was set. If Creighton could even tie the game, the Qwest Center crowd was waiting to explode and give the Bluejays the lift they needed to win in overtime. And if Creighton could hit a buzzer-beating winner against the Redbirds, it’s hard to measure what that could do for the Bluejays’ confidence level.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know. The Bluejays got stuck in the corner after Kaleb Korver turned down a decent three-point look, and the ball went off Kenny Lawson’s leg out of bounds.

Yep, an unforced turnover on the final possession when Creighton had a shot to win the game. If you’re having flashbacks about Michigan, welcome to the club. At least we know the team is able to make up for the absence of suspended P’Allen Stinnett in one category.

So, Creighton is back to where they started, a .500 club (13-13) and one game over the Mendoza line (8-7) in Valley play. Currently, the Bluejays sit in fourth place in the Valley, tied with Bradley. Unfortunately, the road for the week ahead is a little bumpier. The Bluejays head to Cedar Falls on Tuesday to play league-leading Northern Iowa, then come home on Saturday for their BracketBuster game against Loyola of Chicago. For those of you looking for the BracketBuster game on ESPN, keep looking. ESPN has decided that this year’s Bluejay squad isn’t ready for television.

That’s understandable, I suppose. After all, it feels like Creighton has been in re-runs for about a month now.

Monday, February 08, 2010

JTG 02/08/10 - New 'Jays, same as the old 'Jays?

They’re killing us, I tells ya. They’re just killing us.

The first of last week’s two games started off so well. The Bluejays came home against Evansville and, after struggling a little, pulled away for a convincing 84-71 win. In the win against the Aces, Creighton shot 66.7 percent from the floor.

No, that’s not a typo. 66.7 percent, a school record. Against anyone, that’s an impressive performance. Heck, in the gym by yourself practicing, that’s an impressive performance.

Now, admittedly, playing Evansville isn’t that far off from practicing in the gym by yourself. Evansville is 0-12 in Valley play, meaning my pick-up hoops squad has as many conference wins as the Purple Aces. Even so, given Creighton’s struggles from the field, a hot shooting night like that had to feel good.

It all looked so promising. Creighton had five players score in double digits. Josh Jones, filling in for suspended P’Allen Stinnett, had a career-high 14 points and looked to be rounding into form to help fill Stinnett’s role as a scorer. Ethan Wragge started to look like the three-point wizard the Bluejays need to keep up with the better teams in the league.

So, Creighton gets a convincing performance at home, shakes their shooting blues, and gets above the Mendoza line with their overall record. We wondered here if the win at Evansville was a turning point earlier in the season, so could it be that a convincing win over the Aces might be another turning point?

Um, not so much. Creighton went to Springfield and lost 70-52 to Missouri State, never leading in the contest. Well, allegedly they went to Springfield. Given the performance, it’s not entirely clear that Creighton ever got off the bus.

To steal a line from other outlets, it’s now clear that Creighton has had so many turning points this year that they’ve come right back to where they started.

It’s really hard to overstate how comprehensively trounced the Bluejays got by the Bears. They never led. They fell behind 25-11 (sound familiar to a certain game in Des Moines?) They shot under 40 percent for the game, close to thirty percentage points worse than their performance against Evansville. The Bluejays were 4-21 from three point range and 10-17 from the free throw line.

When the best you can find in the game recap is Creighton’s high-water mark of “trimming” Missouri State’s lead to 60-43, you know the game has gone poorly.

And it’s not like Creighton was playing a national power. Missouri State’s win bumped the Bears’ record to 16-8, and 6-7 in the Valley. Amazingly, Creighton is still ahead of Missouri State in the Valley standings.

Sure, there’s some bright spots. Jones got into double-digits in scoring again. Wragge managed to hit a three-pointer to keep an 11-game streak going. Kenny Lawson, Jr., had 15 points. But, once again, you saw a Creighton team that was tentative at the start of a road game, got behind early, panicked, and collapsed.

So, meet the new Bluejays, same as the old Bluejays. Creighton is back at .500 overall with a 12-12 record, 7-6 in Valley play. The Bluejays have two home games coming up this week, against Indiana State and Illinois State. The fact that the games are at home should give Creighton fans some hope, and a two-game winning streak would be a nice feeling.

But, remember, we’ve talked all season about how everything boils down to Creighton’s performance in the Valley tournament. Last I checked, the Valley tournament is in St. Louis, not in Omaha. Yes, the games this week are important. But until we see this Creighton team lace up their road shoes and have some success, there’s no reason to expect a different result at Arch Madness from what we’ve seen so far.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Why bipartisanship can't work

Really interesting article by James Fallows of The Atlantic (http://jamesfallows.theatlantic.com/archives/2010/02/why_bipartisanship_cant_work.php), explaining why bipartisanship is impossible when one of the "partisans" you're trying to be "bi" with (sorry for the double entendre) refuses to participate in the process. With the Republican Party's committment to opposing everything coming from the Democrats, with the express purpose of doing so to gain electoral advantage, the whole concept of bipartisanship (or even governance) collapses.

I've heard the arguments about why you don't make an opponent actually filibuster (you don't give your opponent the stage unfiltered), but I don't find it persuasive. If the Democrats force the GOP to actually filibuster stuff, then you get to make them look like the obstructionists they are. Let's face it, the strategy the Democrats are currently following ain't exactly lighting up the scoreboard, is it?

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I got this note from someone with many decades' experience in national politics, about a discussion between two Congressmen over details of the stimulus bill:

"GOP member: 'I'd like this in the bill.'

"Dem member response: 'If we put it in, will you vote for the bill?'

"GOP member: 'You know I can't vote for the bill.'

"Dem member: 'Then why should we put it in the bill?'

"I witnessed this myself."

I wrote back saying, "Great story!" and got the response I quote below and after the jump. It is worth reading because its argument has the valuable quality of being obvious -- once it is pointed out. The emphasis is mine rather than in the original; it is to highlight a basic structural reality that has escaped most recent analysis of the "bipartisanship" challenge.

"BTW, that exchange I quoted is not really a great story. It is a basic story, fundamental to legislation -- a sort of 'duh!' moment -- and to the US Congressional system, and to the key difference between our system and a parliamentary system when it comes to bipartisanship. I'm astonished every pundit doesn't already get it, but many either don't or seem willfully to ignore it.

"In our system, if the minority party can create and enforce party discipline (which has never really been done before, but which the GOP has now accomplished), then OF COURSE there can be no 'bipartisanship' on major legislative matters, in the sense of (1) the minority adding provisions to legislation as the majority compromises with them, and (2) at least some minority party members then voting with the majority.

"In a parliamentary system, the minority party is not involved in helping write or voting for major legislation either. If you think about it, and as that exchange I quoted shows, that sort of 'bipartisanship' really can't happen in a parliamentary system on issues where the minority party has the power to tell its members to boycott the majority's major bills on final passage.

"Bipartisanship in the American sense means compromising on legislation so that a sufficient number of members of Congress from BOTH parties will support it, even if (as is typically the case) a few majority party members defect and most minority party members don't join. Bipartisanship consists of getting ENOUGH members of the minority party to join the (incomplete) majority in voting for major legislation. It can't happen if the minority party members vote as a block against major legislation. And that can happen only if the minority party has the ability to discipline its ranks so that none join the majority, which is the unprecedented situation we've got in Congress today.

"The way parliamentary parties maintain their discipline is straightforward. No candidate can run for office using the party label unless the party bestows that label upon him or her. And usually, the party itself and not the candidate raises and controls all the campaign funds. As every political scientist knows, the fact that in the U.S. any candidate can pick his or her own party label without needing anyone else's approval, and can also raise his or her own campaign funds, is why there cannot be and never really has been any sustained party discipline before -- even though it is a feature of parliamentary systems.

"The GOP now maintains party discipline by the equivalent of a parliamentary party's tools: The GOP can effectively deny a candidate the party label (by running a more conservative GOP candidate against him or her), and the GOP can also provide the needed funds to the candidate of the party's choice. And every GOP member of Congress knows it. (Snowe and Collins may be immune, but that's about it.)

"I've missed almost all the punditry this past week... but what I've seen seems almost like a lot of misleading fluff designed to fill the void that should follow an understanding of the foregoing, at least on the subject of 'why no bipartisanship?' There's really nothing more to be said about "why no bipartisanship," once one recognizes the GOP party discipline. On this issue, it's absolutely astounding to blame Obama or even the Congressional leadership (although Pelosi and Reid leave much to be desired otherwise). It's doubly astounding that the GOP did it once before, less perfectly, but with a very large reward for bad behavior in the form of the 1994 mid-term elections. Yet no one calls them on it effectively, and bad behavior seems about to be rewarded again...

"Ironically, the one thing that might lubricate some bipartisanship -- earmarks, or their functional equivalent in specific amendments of general policy -- is becoming unavailable just when needed, and when it might help. After the exchange I quoted (and observed), a Dem could run against that GOP incumbent by pointing out that the GOP opponent lost X or Y or Z project or policy benefit for his or her district or state by insisting on voting down the line with the GOP. 'Put his party above his constituents,' might be the charge, or 'Put Michael Steele above you and me.' But so far, the Dems don't seem to have cottoned onto this. They could go into the 2010 elections not just challenging the obstructionists in the GOP, but showing the electorate what the price of obstruction has been for real people back home."

As I have pointed out a time or two or a thousand, the structural failures of American government are the country's main problem right now. In this installment, we see that the US now has the drawbacks of a parliamentary system -- absolute party-line voting by the opposition, for instance -- without any of the advantages, from comparable solidarity among the governing party to the principle of "majority rules." If Democrats could find a way to talk about structural issues -- if everyone can find a way to talk about them -- that would be at least a step. And the Dems could talk about the simple impossibility of governing when the opposition is committed to "No" as a bloc.