Friday, December 21, 2007

The Wisdom of Fight Club

Fight Club was one of those cult movies where either you got it or you didn't. I found it to be one of the most amazing movies that I have ever seen and the book is excellent as well.

It may seem strange to find wisdom in a movie superficially about disaffected men of questionable sanity beating the hell out of each other, but I definitely did.

The movie is full of quotes, many of them perhaps distasteful to some, that are replete with insight. Zen Buddhism is often associated with such quotes, which by attacking certain sacred cows, often in a seemingly profane way, help liberate our minds from a conventional and incorrect way of thinking.

(I am adding this at a later point, but it struck me to see whether or not I am the only one to see the Zen aspects of the movie and I note that recent works exploring these very concepts (and the closely related Taoist ones) have recently been published:

The prophet in Fight Club, played by Brad Pitt, is a character named Tyler Durden. One of the more remarkable things about the 2 disc DVD was a sort of rap song done by the Dust Brothers with lyrics spliced together with some of the more powerful quotes by Brad Pitt and in his voice, from the movie. It sounds corny but the effect is to smack you in the face with some of the themes of life dealt with in the movie.

Here are the lyrics to the "song" "Tyler Durden":

And you open the door and you step inside
We're inside our hearts
Now imagine your pain as a white ball of healing light
Thats right
Your pain, the pain of self is a white ball of healing light
I dont think so

This is your life
Good to the last drop
It doesnt get any better than this
This is your life and it's ending one minute at a time

This isnt a seminar
This isnt a weekend retreat
Where you are now you can't even imagine what the bottom will be like
Only after disaster can we be resurrected
It's only after you've lost everything you are free to do anything

Nothing is static
Everything is evolving
Everything is falling apart

You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake
You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else
We are all part of the same compost heap
We are the all singing all dancing crap of the world

You are not your bank account
You are not the clothes you wear
You are not the contents of your wallet
You are not your bowel cancer
You are not your grande latte
You are not the car you drive
You are not your fucking khakis

You have to give up
You have to realise that someday you will die
Until you know that
You are useless

I say, let me never be complete
I say, may I never be content
I say, deliver me from swedish furniture
I say, deliver me from clever art
I say deliver me from clear skin and perfect teeth
I say you have to give up
I say evolve, and let the chips fall as they may

I want you to hit me as hard as you can (x2)
Welcome to fight club
If this is your first night - You have to fight

Here are some uncoupled excerpts of some of the wisdom from the book and movie:

"It's only after you've lost everything, that you're free to do anything."

This is your life and it's ending one minute at a time.

May I never be complete. May I never be content. May I never be perfect. Deliver me from being perfect and complete.

Only after disaster can we be resurrected.

Maybe self-improvement isn't the answer.... Maybe self-destruction is the answer.

I want you to do me a favor. I want you to hit me as hard as you can.

Fuck damnation, man! Fuck redemption! We are God's unwanted children? So be it!

First you have to give up, first you have to *know*... not fear... *know*... that someday you're gonna die.

Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.

You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else.

The things you own end up owning you.

I don't wanna die without any scars

Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God?

Listen to me! You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you. This is not the worst thing that can happen. We don't need him!

I felt like putting a bullet between the eyes of every Panda that wouldn't screw to save its species.

Fuck what you know. You need to forget about what you know, that's your problem. Forget about what you think you know about life, about friendship....

Hitting bottom isn't a weekend retreat. It's not a goddamn seminar. Stop trying to control everything and just let go! LET GO!

We're a generation of men raised by women. I'm wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.

We are all part of the same compost heap.

You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.

The Christ in Christmas?

Under the Julian calendar of the Roman empire, the Winter Solstice fell on December 25th.

As the shortest day of the year, December 25th had a special significance as a time of rebirth, given that it was the day when the days began getting longer. Accordingly, ancient peoples in Europe often marked the Winter Solstice with ebullient festivals, such as the one honoring the Invincible Sun. Although the early Church (and later groups like the Puritans) attempted to ban the celebration of the Winter Solstice, ultimately, they gave in and attempted to graft a Christian meaning upon it, which wasn't too hard since the Christian God Jesus also was highly symbolic of rebirth.

Placing the celebration of Christ's birth on the Winter Solstice set things up nicely to coincide with placing the celebration of his death and resurrection during the Spring festivals, aka Easter (from the word for the old German moon goddess and related to the modern word estrogen), which often celebrated the death and rebirth of the spouse of the moon goddess.

The Julian calendar was later superseded in the middle ages and the Winter Solstice fell back to around the 22nd day of the year, although December 25th continued to be the date upon which the pagan winter holiday/Christmas continued to be observed.

So the next time one of those fundamentalist busybodies talks about "putting the Christ back into Christmas," tell him that Christ never was in Christmas to begin with and to get their own holiday.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Steroids, Baseball and Roger Clemens

Did Red Sox and Yankee pitching great Roger Clemens use steroids?

Obviously, I don't know for sure, but let's take a look at his career stats on Baseball Reference:

From age 30 to 33, Clemens' record is 40-39 with ERA's around 4 and the highest Whip's of his career.. Then all of a sudden he "recovers" and actually gets, if not better at age 34, at least as good as he had been ten years earlier, continuing on par with his best seasons up to age 42, and has continued on at an excellent perfomance level, although down somewhat, the last two seasons up to the age of 44. For example, in 2004 with Houston, at age 41, with an E.R.A. under 3 and a Whip of 1.157, roughly equivalent to his Cy Young Award winning season of 1987 with the Red Sox, when he was 24.

What other power pitchers in history have done that?

Not Bob Feller or Sandy Koufax. They both retired in their early 30's. Steve Carlton's last really good season came at age 37. Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver continued at a high rate until age 36.

Certainly not Walter Johnson, the pitcher without equal to whom Clemens is often compared. Although Johnson had some success after 35, much of this was attributable to his finally playing on an American League champion team in 1924 and 1925, after years of Senatorial futility.

Throughout baseball history we have always seen the same relative curve of productivity, in which a player's statistics rise during the twenties, level off around age thirty and then decline either rapidly or gradually between thirty and forty. Indeed, many who are labelled all time greats are considered so because their stats tapered off much less after age thirty than other good or excellent players.

Ted Williams is a good example of this. Also, Hank Aaron certainly comes to mind here, playing at a high level until age 40, while another all time great, Willie Mays declined a bit more after his 35th birthday, allowing Aaron to pass him in the race for the all time lead in home runs.

Pete Rose, the all time hit leader was still able to punch out 172 hits at age 41, while Robin Yount, who at one time seemed a threat to Pete Rose's base hit record, declined preciptiously in his mid-30's and retired at 37, far short of Rose's record.

On the other hand, there is nothing that categorically eliminates the possibility of improving after age 30. There are rare human specimens among us. George Foreman won the heavyweight title in his mid-40's after all.

In the realm of baseball, Warren Spahn of the Boston and Milwaukee Braves, went 23-7 with an E.R.A. of 2.60 at age 42, although he never really suffered a mid-career decline in the way that Clemens did. Nolan Ryan continued at a high level until age 44, although much of his late success seems attributable to his finally gaining some mastery over his career-damaging wildness.

Among Clemens' contemporaries, Randy Johnson seems to have pitched into his 40's without much decline in performance.

Some might argue that pitchers' pitch counts are closely monitored these days and that less arm stress could allow pitchers to continue at a high level into their forties.

Nevertheless, such counter-examples such as Spann and Ryan are rare and less likely to be legitimate during an era when the acknowledged usage of performancing-enhancing substances was rampant.

Certainly, it is unprecedented to see an explosion in statistics like that of Barry Bonds, who at age 36 started racking up on-base percentages over a hundred points higher than any he had ever achieved, including his three MVP seasons, which was three years past the point where his talented father, Bobby Bonds, played his last full season.

For Clemens, the rumbers are not so stark a difference, but he still had three or four of what are arguably his best seasons, after the age of 34, beginning in 1997, after four mediocre seasons, at an age when most power pitchers' best years are behind them, and his former team the Red Sox let him go.

It might just be a coincidence.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Federal Sentencing Opinions Issued

The influential 7th Circuit judges, who were formally considered friends of limited government, Richard A. Posner and Frank Easterbrook got slammed by Justice Antonin Scalia today in the Court's two sentencing decisions, which I find delightful.

They had essentially ignored the precepts of the Booker decision (now what part of the term "advisory" do you not understand Mr. Easterbrook?) and their post-Booker sentencing work can now be deposited where it belongs: in the garbage.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Romney, Giuliani and Clinton Losing Support

Look what is happening here in the polls. People are saying that they are sick of the same old connected people running things. Outsiders like Huckabee and Paul and semi-outsiders like Obama are making a charge. The more the Club for Growth and the WSJ criticize Huckabee and Ron Paul, the better they seem to do in the polls.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Mormon Romney

Jack Tapper makes an excellent point here about GOP candidate George Romney's "freedom of religion" speech and how Romney is missing the point:

"His stupid unease on this point is shown by his demagogic attack on the straw man "religion of secularism," when, actually, his main and most cynical critic is a moon-faced true believer and anti-Darwin pulpit-puncher from Arkansas who doesn't seem to know the difference between being born again and born yesterday."

Indeed, it is the secularists who have generally been willing to ignore people's religion as candidates as long as they don't make religion part of the race, as opposed to the issues. What people like Romney want to do is bash non-believers and secularists, while all the while saying "don't you dare try to bring my religion into this. Unfair!"

Unless I no longer understand evangelicals, they will never, ever support a Mormon. Not only do they consider Mormonism a cult, the Mormons are just a little to successful at converting both heathen and other Christians to the point of being considered competition, not to mention that the New Jerusalem is in Israel and not Missouri, in their estimation.

Romney has had it. But on the positive side, at least he wasn't brainwashed like his dad.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

NFL Officiating

What a surprise! The NFL thinks its officials make no mistakes. Due to its poor rule choices and its semi-pro referees and short schedule, officiating decides the results in the NFL more than in any other major sport. The Ravens-Patriots game Monday night may have been one of the worst officiated 4th quarters that I have ever seen.

Speaking of integrity, the NFL hires "journalists" to do post-game commentary on its network after games. How critical can someone be when they are an actual employee of a league that is known for allowing near-zero dissent. I

I was watching the NFL Network after the Ravens game(disclosure: I live in Maryland but I am a Redskins fan) and boy, do they have some impact journalists on there.

Question example: What do you think the Patriots were thinking on that last drive?

Talking head: We sure are glad we have Tom Brady as our quarterback.

Yeah, that's right.

All those 300 lb. guys who are out there slugging each other in the head on the front line were silently muttering to themselves, "I sure am glad we have Tom Brady, I sure am glad we have Tom Brady, instead of "count on four, count on four, count on four...."

Police Offer to Help Group Change their Message or Else

Authorities in Gwinnett County have dropped a misdemeanor criminal charge against an anti-abortion activist who was arrested for driving a truck emblazoned with images of aborted fetuses.

Gwinnett County Solicitor Rosanna Szabo said she "administratively dismissed" the disorderly conduct charge against Robert Dean Roethlisberger Jr.On the day after Thanksgiving, Roethlisberger drove a truck with banners displaying images of aborted fetuses, including a bloody and headless torso. Roethlisberger works for Operation Rescue, a national anti-abortion organization.

Roethlisberger, 44, of Belton, Mo., had been charged under a provision of Georgia law that makes it a crime to use "obscene and vulgar or profane language" in the presence of a person under age 14.

In making her decision to drop the charge, Szabo said, "I have reviewed the evidence and law in this case, and concluded that the physical display of the images in question — as shocking and offensive as they are — does not constitute 'obscene and vulgar or profane language' as specifically prohibited by this statute."

This was a pretty outrageous violation of the 1st Amendment by the Gwinnet police and the article does not make clear that such actions by the police are illegal under the U.S. Constitution regardless of what the Georgia statute may say.

Why the arresting officer's name is not mentioned is beyond me, as is the absurdity of the quote by Cpl. Spellman, which makes clear that the Gwinnett police intended to violate Roethisberger's constitutional rights.

I do not support Operation Rescue but we do not need Cpl. Spellman of the Gwinnett Police telling them how to convey their group's message.

A Lawyer Did That

After having discussions with friends and former professors, I have lately been especially disappointed with the treatment of the legal profession, not by the media so much, as by the Republican Party. A constant refrain from the GOP seems to be that there are too many lawyers in the United States.

One Republican candidate for the Senate from Colorado by the name of Peter Coors, once even made the charge that there are too many lawyers in the United States Senate. One has to wonder whether the chief lawmaking body in the United States could actually have too many people who studied law as opposed to being say, bug sprayers like Tom DeLay, but to many Republicans the proposition would seem self-evident. Doesn't it say in the Bible, "First kill all the lawyers"?

Accordingly, I have decided to try to highlight some of the positives of the profession and some of society's heroes who have studied law.

I don't mean this to stand in contravention to the fact that there are nauseating and corrupt individuals who either practice law or who carry law degrees, or as a defense of state bar associations who spend most of their time implementing practices which make legal fees more expensive for the average person.

But many of the greatest people have been lawyers and the rigorous study of law and philosophy can in fact promote those qualities which make men great. The study of law when implemented well by a good school melds the practicality of most learned professions with the acquisition of knowledge sought in the humanities.

Today, I will recognize the esteemed F.A. Hayek, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics in 1974 and author of the seminal work of political theory, The Constitution of Liberty.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Questions Regarding Health Care

The United States seems to have the best health care in the world for people at the top of the chain, in the same way that Harvard and Yale are the best in the world in education. But this does not mean that the U.S. has better health care or education, necessarily.

We do know that the United States lags many European and British Commonwealth countries in average life expectancy and average high school scholastic achievement, so it is difficult to be dogmatic about these issues.

Regardless of what one's feeling about national healthcare are, one thing that it does not necessarily have to entail is the destruction of a competing private sector. Hillary Clinton did a huge disservice to her own general idea because many people now believe that any national system now has to be "socialized" and obligatiory as opposed to merely guaranteeing payment.

No matter how much libertarians and Republicans how that this issue is going away, it will not because they have failed to address three facets that the free market cannot adequately remedy:

1. Uninsured children
2. Unavailability of coverage for pre-existing conditions
3. Payment for potentially enormous outlays for coverage of questionable treatment.

The Republican Dream is Over for Libertarians

The title above is derived partly from a song by John Lennon on his first solo album after the Beatles broke up and for many of us who grew up as Republicans and worked for its success for years, hoping to return the nation to its small government foundations, admitting the dream is over comes concomitantly with the turning of one's back on a party that once embodied great hope for many of us freedom-oriented Republicans.

This is not my father's GOP. The days of Goldwater, Ayn Rand, YAF and Ronald Reagan are over and in the words of the immortal Jerry Mathers, they're "not never coming back." Instead, the McCarthyites and Nixonians have won and have completely eradicated libertarian influence in the Republican Party.

Getting over being a Republican can be a bit like leaving the religion one grew up in as a child.

It is not easy to do, but at some point, freedom-oriented people who believe in free markets and not interventionism have to realize that not only is there not much left for them in terms of policy in the GOP, that in actual fact, the party goes out of its way to insult and even antagonize libertarians.

While the Democrats through Daily Kos are saying "come on over, there are things that we can work together on," the GOP essentially thumbs its nose and says, "where else ya gonna go?"

Perhaps the saddest thing is that devoted Republicans worked 60 years to once again be in a position like they had in 2002, where they had a popular president and both houses of Congress. The GOP had the chance at that point to truly change the country. They could have passed a flat tax or abolished the income tax. They could have passed agricultural reform. They could have abolished agencies, starting with the Department of Education. They could have reformed Senior Citizens programs.

What did they do instead? First, they blew their political capital on an unnecessary war.

Then, instead of abolishing the Department of Education, the GOP instead decided to strengthen it, with No Child Left Behind.

Instead of reforming the tax code, they decided to make it even more unwieldy, and thus, all the easier to extract campaign contributions from lobbyists.

Instead of cutting farm aid, they decided to increase it.

Instead of reforming Medicare, they decide to create a new prescription drug program costing trillions of dollars, all the while deriding Democrats who sought to insure poor children as "socialists in favor of socialized medicine."

It is difficult to express just how abhorrently everyone in the GOP behaved during the period between 2002 and 2006. Corruption ran rampant, while the party violated virtually every one of its stated core values, shouting "freedom, freedom," every time they passed another bloated bill. Because they have nothing to stand on, their current presidential primaries have become focused on essentially two items: 1) being pro-war and 2)being anti-immigration. It is quite a come-down from the 1980's, when the GOP was the party of ideas and measured debate. It is now the party of yelling and screaming and know-nothingness and so now it is to the Democrats as the GOP will only continue to slip into oblivion.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Federalist Society

The Federalist Society is something known generally to lawyers and law students but perhaps not to libertarians at large. The group claims to "believe in limited government."

At one time, when economic issues were the paramount libertarian issues in the U.S., the Federalist Society seemed almost libertarian. They promoted debate on issues, books on free markets and their web site declares their purpose as the following:

Our Purpose

* Law schools and the legal profession are currently strongly dominated by a form of orthodox liberal ideology which advocates a centralized and uniform society. While some members of the academic community have dissented from these views, by and large they are taught simultaneously with (and indeed as if they were) the law.

* The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies is a group of conservatives and libertarians interested in the current state of the legal order. It is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. The Society seeks both to promote an awareness of these principles and to further their application through its activities.

* This entails reordering priorities within the legal system to place a premium on individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law. It also requires restoring the recognition of the importance of these norms among lawyers, judges, law students and professors. In working to achieve these goals, the Society has created a conservative and libertarian intellectual network that extends to all levels of the legal community.

Nevertheless, during the Bush years, lawyers associated with this group have espoused a whole host of anti-libertarian positions. This is important because according to some, membership in the organization is a sine qua non for being hired by the Bush administration.

To this day, some libertarians still seem to believe that the Federalist Society is a friend of freedom in general, as opposed to mostly being composed of ultra-conservative advocates of capitalism, akin to the Heritage Foundation.

In my experience, I find that the members of this organization are hostile to the libertarian perspective on the 4th Amendment and a whole host of other issues. They are not even particularly sympathetic to federalism, anymore. I find no more kinship with this group than with the GOP in general, for which it is nothing more than a front group.

It basically serves to promote the cramped constitutional thinking of Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia, hardly champions of individual liberty, together with economic liberalism, as opposed to freedom in general. A true advocates of freedom in all its forms, such as William O. Douglas, is scorned because his writings were subtly based on the 9th Amendment and might be used to justify, gasp, abortion.

Yes, the Federalist Society has some freedom oriented publications recommended on their web site, but I see nothing about privacy rights or the fact that the hallowed United States Constitution has resulted in the largest prison system, both per capita and in sum, in the history of the world. Nor does this list appear to have been updated in a long time.

While the Federalists may have at one time been open to libertarian imput, this largely ended in the mid-90s.

I challenge anyone to point out one single Federalist appointee during the Bush administration who has embodied libertarian values in any way shape or form, or to point to any libertarian reforms that resulted from forums the group has advocated. This would be difficult because with a few exceptions for speakers from the Cato Institute, most of the fora involve only conservative speakers. A look at Special Projects, which have been done by the Society shows that virtually every single paper and conclusion therein promotes conservative ideals.

For instance, in the section on International and the War on Terror, libertarian or limited government viewpoints were almost entirely unrepresented, with the vast number of articles and papers offering support for virtually all of the Bush Administration's actions.

The only area where the Society's scholars seem to think the Administration has overstepped, is not surprisingly, with respect to the increasing federal criminalization of corporate crimes. Truly, that must be why the United States has more people in prison per capita than the Soviets ever did; it is because we imprison so many thousands and thousands of CEO's and bank presidents.

It may not be 1984, but there is certainly something truly "doublespeak" about a group that claims to believe in limited government but which seems unable to find anyone willing to write or speak in favor of positions held by vast numbers of libertarians.

Here is someone who is a card-carrying member of this group that I believe embodies its current anti-classical liberal membership:

Private versus Public Education

Are private schools actually better than public schools? While doctrinal purity requires that libertarians argue for them, is there actually authority for the position that they are better by virtue of being private, and not for some other reason?

I believe that this issue is less clear than in virtually all other areas of the economy, for two main reasons. First, education has often been seen as a duty to be undertaken, either by religious authorities or governments, but not as a profit center. Does the Catholic church make money on its parochial schools? I think not. They are subsidized by the church and are often recognized as excellent around the world.

Second, education is something that can often be provided at an extremely low marginal cost. The cost of adding one more student to a class of 500 may be close to zero. Indeed, much of what college students end up paying for has little or nothing to do with the accumulation of scholastic knowledge, which could arguably be acquired for close to free for someone with an inquiring mind dedicated to reading volumes in the library.(Oops, are we allowed to have state-provided libraries?)

Certainly, in the realm of universities, the question of public versus private quality is a dubious proposition. Is Stanford actually better than Berkeley? Is Southern Cal better than UCLA? Many would argue that UVA is superior to its private in-state counterpart, Washington and Lee, but the differences in all these cases seem to be minimal.

As someone who has attended both private and public high schools and universities, it has been difficult for me to perceive many substantive differences not due to either the make-up of the students or the social status of the students' parents.

One of my favorite anomolies of all in this realm of argumentation is that the law department and the economic department of George Mason University have become well known and have been among the foremost in making the argument for private provision and the superiority of the free market: did the students who went to GMU Law make either a poor decision or arguably a statist one in not opting to attend George Washington?

If such students had avoided GMU because it was a state (statist?) school, then the school would have been unlikely to achieve its current reputation as a free market evangelist.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Libertarians versus Conservatives

A friend emailed me the interesting post below by Doug Bandow, stalwart champion of small government values.

Doug, as a recovering Republican for life, I definitely agree with your analysis.

Where I might disagree with the Reagan quote, is that I do not honestly believe that there was ever any earnest desire on the part of most "conservatives" to cut government. Federalism was a tool they used to try to legitimize state-sanctioned racism in the South. Now that those battles are largely over, we have seen essentially zero support for federalism. In fact, prominent conservatives like Bush and Scalia have recently been in the forefront of opposing federalism, although Scalia has hidden behind hyper-technical distinctions.

"Conservatives" were also against welfare, which was perceived as largely going to minorities, but they love virtually ever other type of government hand out, except for health care for children.

Maybe someone can explain to me why it is a "conservative" value to give children federal vouchers for local schools, and to provide federal medicare prescription drug benefits for seniors but it is a "socialist" idea to give children federally-provided or assisted health care?

Of course, we all know what the answer is: Doctors and drug companies and HMO's are good, while teacher unions are bad.

I am definitely bitter, because I believe that these cretins used libertarians for years and delivered essentially zero to us in terms of policy. No, I do not consider captial gain tax cuts that do not apply to savings accounts to be libertarian, but rather just another type of government meddling, and there is not a single other accomplishment from the last 7 years that could remotely be described as libertarian.

The GOP is currently a coalition of big business (some, like Larry Kudlow, claim to be libertarians, but their fetish for war, targeted tax cuts and easy money puts paid to that notion), together with pro-war types who are too busy and important to serve in the military themselves, and moral crusaders who know what is right and wrong and are all too ready to shove it down the rest of our throats but there is no longer any type of intellectual cohesion to the Party's core beliefs.

As the moral element gains more and more influence in the party, the Big Business types are beginning to feel uncomfortable and are beginning to flee--after all, the anti-intellectualism and carping moralism of the busybody social conservatives are not a whole lot of fun at a cocktail party. Rush Limbaugh has become a real bore since he quit the good stuff and he was about the only life in the Party, although ahem, quite a step down from the erudite William Buckley, who inspired many with his cutting and clever remarks.

Today's GOP replaces "cutting and clever" erudition with screaming and shouting and personal attacks. There is very little in the current GOP coalition which is anything but vile and corrupt to its very core and I don't buy the fatuous argument that the Republicans are better than the alternative, which is generally made without much authority to support it.

If someone actually believes in and cares about freedom, 4 questions suffice to show that the Democrats are a far better alternative to the GOP.

Which party supports some forms of torture?

Which party supports a crabbed notion of privacy and freedom under the 4th Amendment?

Which party supports increasing the War on Drugs?

Which party supports rampant military interventionism around the world to a far greater degree?

Thus, I am now a Democrat. Maybe they will at least be willing to throw us libertarians a bone or two. The GOP sure never did.

Getting a Reasonable Picture on an HDTV Set

Most cable and satellite programming looks lackluster on an HDTV set and it will still be a while before most shows are available at a reasonable cost in HDTV. HBO and Showtime, for example are way behind in even providing properly formatted movies in 16:9, much less in High Definition.

One way to get some of the extra value out of that set whose abilities are being under-utilized is to use it more often for DVD viewing.

While DVD's are not up to HDTV quality, they can match what is known as EDTV quality, if but only if they are viewed on an HD- or EDTV with a DVD player using progressive scan technology (i.e., DVD players made in the last couple of years)and if hooked up via three component video cables or one HDMI cable.

Some of the newer and better HDTV's may actually be able to implement the progressive scan themselves, although results vary. Some of the cheaper sets may improve by using a progressive scan-equipped DVD player. This is a bit like Dolby technology, where you need to have it at least in one place in the chain, but some components implement Dolby better perhaps than others.

Nevertheless, this visual improvement of DVD's to EDTV quality is possible only provided that one's DVD players are hooked up properly.

Check your cables--almost no one uses the 3 component RCA cables necessary to pass the signal--in total, it is necessary to use at least five RCA cables, including two for at least two channels of audio depending upon your audio set-up, to pass the EDTV signal to a HDTV set. Using S-video or three component cables will not suffice.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mukasey's Confirmation in Jeopardy

Apparently some in the GOP such as Orrin Hatch, feel that it is the height of disrespect for a judge or nominee to have to answer questions. How gauche!

I don't feel sorry at all for this Mukasey at all. I find it amazing that so many politicians think he should be allowed to waltz into the position of Attorney General with nothing more than a wink and a nod, and then watch all the same politicos run for cover when the next scandal hits, claiming that they had no idea there could be torture.

This goes without even mentioning the sheer idiocy of Mukasey claiming in a hearing that he personally finds waterboarding, "repugnant." What possible relevance could Mr. Mukasey's personal tastes about waterboarding being repugnant possibly have? He's not the one who would be performing or monitoring it and it certainly does not answer the question as to whether it either is or was legal.

Let's find out if he despises war and famine as well and perhaps his opinions about children and animals.

Scalia--Legal Genius?

As the Supreme Court begins to consider challenges to the Death Penalty under the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause, one thing that we can be sure of is that Reagan-appointee Antonin Scalia will find any execution method short of drawing and quartering to be Constitutional.

Why? Because Scalia, utter genius that he is purported to be, believes that the founding fathers added the Clause to the Constitution as a form of place setting, just in case future generations forgot the date of the Constitution's enactment.

You see, in the bizarro Scalia-world, the Clause only prohibits things that had already been prohibited in 1786. Thankfully, this "crude" position goes even too far for some at the conservative, but generally rigorous, Hoover Institute, who note its lack of historical foundation and viability.

I particularly will unload on Scalia here because, in spite of his real talents, I believe he embodies much of what is wrong with our country at present.

He is rude. He is arrogant. He does not appear to work well with others, given the gratuitous insults he slings at his "brethern" on the Court.

While highly intelligent, he is not some sort of nonpareil legal genius, in terms of achievement or motor ability. See, e.g. Richard A. Posner, or Richard Epstein for examples of such creatures.

Nevertheless, Scalia is condescending and his own talent and abilities are seemingly being wasted, as he appears to be passing from the stage of being a legal trendsetter towards that of predictable rightwing vote(who thankfully, is not particularly good at assembling winning opinion coalitions.)

In performing his functions, he delights in making public statements about religion and appearing in public with administration members before ruling on cases involving them.

To those who question his legal reasoning with respect to his part in choosing the President in 2000, with respect to providing scant authority for his vote and the notion that the Bush v. Gore case was sui generis, his retort to "just get over it," seems to involve something less than Ivy League reasoning, particularly given the following limiting statement with respect to the decision's future applicability:

"Our consideration [in Bush v. Gore] is limited to the present circumstances, for the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities."

One can only wonder how many Ivy League credentialled Supreme Court clerks, Scalia and his conservative brethern needed to cobble together such a vapid statement of the obvious as a disclaimer against future criticism of their reasoning.

Nevertheless, legal scholars have been left wondering whether cases that involve "many complexities" are an exception in general to the doctrine of stare decisis, for it seems of such type, there could be quite a few.

Finally, Scalia has recently taken to undercutting Clarence Thomas in the media and criticizing some of his legal theories publicly, for being out of the mainstream, which might be the finest example of the pot calling the kettle a certain color since I don't know when.

Particularly aggravating to those of us who believe in limited government was a concurrence which Scalia issued in a case called Gonzales v. Raich, which dealt with criminal prosecution of medical marijuana users, in which Scalia voted for Alberto Gonzales' and the government's position. All of Scalia's and Thomas's earlier opinions, particularly one decision called Lopez in which gun rights were a subtext, indicated that Bush and the government should have lost on this one and certainly should not have gotten Scalia's vote, which not only undercut years of jurisprudential gains in this area, but essentially overruled Lopez in practice, if not on paper.

Thomas, in the minority on Gonzales, followed his earlier Lopez precedent and found the government's actions unconstitutional. Scalia, on the other hand, switched sides and wrote a self-serving concurrence attempting to at once distinguish his earlier opinions, and at the same time show everyone just how brilliant he is.

I remember in one law school class we once considered why so many lawyers begin to despair of the profession after not that many years of practice. I would submit Scalia's concurrence in this Gonazalez case as evidence therefor. While I am sure that it would get an "A" from Harvard, in its essence it is pure rubbish and he knows it. He just goes around picking and choosing things he likes from various Constitutional clauses, bakes them for 15 paragraphs, and voila, Bush wins.

Legal realism lives and Scalia is its patron saint!

And best of all, there is no way to "prove" that Scalia is wrong because he never truly states the basis of his decision, but merely points to a lot of doctrines and clauses that might support it. This is a concurrence, after all!

In terms of integrity and reasoning, however, Thomas wins this argument hands down. While I may not always agree with his outcomes or reasoning, Thomas, unlike Scalia, appears beholden to no power.

Both his concurrence in Gonzales and his vote in Bush v. Gore, per curiam, in an opinion devoid of any case law or legal reasoning have substantially lessened Scalia's reputation for brilliance. Where once, even reporters and people on the left would reference the power of Scalia's thrusts and attacks on this system, what remains seems to be bereft of power and futile. For some unknown reason, in the middle of his formulaic Gonzales concurrence, without offering any support therefor whatsoever, Scalia gratuitously informs us that "drugs like marijuana are fungible commodities."

Although I did indeed miss the Sixties, or at least all but 5 years of them, this statement certainly encapsulates Scalia's personality. It calls into question what pot Scalia has not been smoking.

Sadly, perhaps, being passed over for Chief Justice and moving into the twilight of a career that once promised so much more, presents the continuing diminishment of an individual whose analysis I once greatly admired, and who offered real insight into statutory (not Constitutional) analysis and interpretation.

As far as an honest and concise explanation for Scalia's result in Gonzales v. Raich, I would submit the following succinct amicus brief submitted by the Incredible Hulk, a conservative legal realist, as a far truer reason for Scalia's divergence from Lopez and for upholding Alberto Gonazles's position:

Guns Good! Pot bad!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Being a Good Parent

A wise man was once asked by a group of people what the key to being a good parent was. Hoping to lead them to the answer rather than simply provide it himself, he turned the question back onto his followers, asking them what makes one a good parent.

The answers came.

One person stated that providing health, material comfort and religion made for a good parent.

Another stated that inculcating knowledge, wisdom and the arts makes one a good parent.

A third stated that "being there" for your children is what really makes you a good parent.

The wise man laughed and said, "good answers, all, well, maybe not the one about being there, but when all is said and done there is one true measure of a parent's success in raising children."

At this, the entire group leaned forward to hear the erudite prophet gracefully impart the knowledge that millions had clamored to know since the beginning of homo sapiens, how to be a good parent.

Spake the wise man:

"See if you can't fuck them up just a little less than your parents fucked you up.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Greatest Game?

I have previously done some writing that I am proud of at another site focused on sports, called Because Dave has stopped running his site due to his having gone to law school, I wanted to preserve the following article about Atlantic Coast Conference Basketball, by moving it here:

The Most Important ACC Game

[Dave: Dave Sez reader William Loeffler has emailed to me or posted in the Sports Shack some great thoughts on ACC history, so I asked if he'd be willing to write some ACC History pieces for Dave Sez. This is his first effort, and it's an outstanding look at the most important basketball game in ACC history. It's probably not the one you are thinking of.]

Was There ACC Basketball Before Dick Vitale?

My name is William Loeffler, and I am someone who grew up in the ACC region during its rise to glory during the 1970's, following it wherever I was living at the time. With the exception of one year in Pennsylvania, I have been fortunate enough to have always lived in ACC country, dividing my years between Atlanta, Georgia; Charlotte, NC; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina; Falls Church, Virginia and now Frederick, Maryland. I attended UNC as an undergraduate and then did some graduate work at the other Carolina, USC. Like many of you, I am a huge fan not only of my local or state team or alma mater, but even further, of the ACC, and am interested in its schools, players, coaches and history in general.

Dave has asked me to write some articles about the history of the ACC. For those of you who are as obsessed with ACC hoops as I am, I hope that maybe I can be a resource to show just why ACC basketball is the best and why it has been for at least 30 years. Any readers out there, we ask that you submit questions or potential articles that interest you, either to Dave, at, or to me, at [Dave: or even better, post something in the Sports Shack and get a thread started]

Although many people would have loved to be at Carolina when I was there, from 1983-1987, during the period of Jordan, Perkins, Kenny Smith and Brad Daugherty, and two perfect 14-0 seasons in conference, I think that the ACC was far more exciting ten or fifteen years earlier, when Cameron was not much different from any of the other schools' gyms and the league only had 7 or 8 teams, with the Big Four teams in North Carolina often playing each other 3 or 4 times per year.

Because UCLA was so strong through 1975 and then Carolina and Coach K and Duke have been so strong since the early 1980's, I believe that a lot of younger ACC fans and students don't know a lot about the period between 1961 and 1981, except maybe a little about David Thompson and the Wolfpack.

Bill Foster's Duke teams in the mid to late 70's, and Frank McGuire's Gamecocks and Dean Smith's and Lefty's teams of the early 1970's were all sensational in their own ways, and many of their players have gone on to great success in the fields of law, politics, television, coaching and team administration. UVA's teams of the early 80's were certainly among the strongest teams never to win an NCAA title. All of these teams deserve to be remembered more than they currently are, I believe and maybe we can help provide some prospective and give some accolades that continue to be due them.

For this article, I will try to sketch out some of the events regarding the one major game that I believe took ACC and college basketball to the level where it is now, after languishing far behind college football and the NBA for years:

NC State versus UCLA, NCAA Semi-Finals, Greensboro, March 23rd, 1974.

In 1954, the ACC started play in basketball, forming from some of the mid-Atlantic remnants of the old Southern Conference. While it didn't take the league long to win its first national title in 1957, it would take 17 years before another ACC club would win it all.

The 1957 Tar Heels went 32-0, winning the championship and setting a record for most wins without a loss that still stands, having only been equaled by the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. As good as the 'Heels were that year, it took an enormous amount of good fortune for them to win it all, starting with a 2-point victory in the ACC Semi-Finals over Wake Forest and their then winning a pair of triple overtime games in the Final Four, finally triumphing over Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas by a score of 54-53. Dean Smith, who was a former Kansas player and Air Force assistant coach, would meet Frank McGuire at that Final Four, while rooting for the Jayhawks, but that is another story.

Nevertheless, in spite of their amazing success, the 1957 Tar Heels were somewhat of a fluke, not in terms of their abilities, but in terms of the ACC's. UNC's success was based more upon Frank McGuire's NYC connections, which he later employed with equal success in Columbia, SC, than were they necessarily indicative of the ACC's overall basketball prowess at the time. Between 1957 and 1974, no ACC team seriously came close to winning the NCAA tournament.

The conference simply didn't have members that were quite good enough during the years between 1957 and 1963, but for the 12 years after that, there was one major reason: UCLA. Between 1964 and 1974, only one other team made it to the hallowed grounds: Texas Western, and they made a movie about them. Everyone else was beaten back by UCLA, the so-called “Wizards of Westwood.”

Only Duke and UNC even made it to the NCAA finals during this 17 year period and both lost handily. Duke made it to the finals in 1964 and got throttled by UCLA, 78-63, followed by UNC in 1968, which lost to UCLA by a then-NCAA record 78-55.

Dean Smith had his team slow down the action in the first half, knowing that his team could not compete with what many considered the greatest team of all time, and UNC managed to “only” trail by ten at the half. Dean was a little more democratic in his younger days as a coach, and after conferring during the intermission with his players, who wanted to play UCLA straight up, Smith relented, and his team went on to lose by the largest margin in NCAA Finals history, a record that was later broken in 1990 NCAA finals by another ACC team.

I would mark the start of the modern college basketball period with two key events: Lew Alcindor going to UCLA, and then David Thompson and the N.C. State Wolfpack ending the UCLA dynasty in a 80-77 double-overtime game for the ages in 1974. After this point, it was clear just how good NC State was, and how strong the ACC had become as a league. College basketball's crown was now wide open for winning again and both the ACC and the sport of college basketball took off at the same time as the NBA declined and moved into its mid-70's era of mediocre champions and basketball.

For context, State's monumental achievement occurred just weeks after UNC's 8-point comeback in 17 seconds against Duke in Chapel Hill, and which, because it involved Duke, many of you may hear about more now than State's victory over UCLA. I was 9 years old at the time and along with the ACC tournament that year, those were the first ACC games that I really remember watching. It wasn't a bad couple of games to start with.

Let's look at UCLA and see how the Bruins lifted the college sport, helping to set up this titanic game that became the battle that set the stage for where the college game and the ACC conference are now.

Starting in 1967, New York native, Lew Alcindor, later to become Kareem Abdul Jabbar, reigned over college basketball in a way that not even Bill Russell had, leading UCLA to 3 championships in three years. Alcindor's record was 88-2 in three years (freshman could not compete at that time), but beyond that, UCLA's nationally televised match-up with Houston, led by future Hall of Famer, Elvin Hayes, in the Houston Astrodome in 1968, took college basketball from being a minor sport and put it on the front pages. Although UCLA lost narrowly with Alcindor suffering from blurred vision, this only set up the 1968 Final Four, making it bigger than ever. The Big A got revenge over the Big E, as UCLA stormed past Houston, 101-69, in the Semi-Finals, en route to winning the second of Alcindor's three titles.

The Bruins also were the coolest thing going. Unlike many ACC teams before the mid-70's, they featured multiple black stars. Jabbar and Walton were probably two of the hippest players anyone had ever seen, with Jabbar being a well-read jazz aficionado and Walton a 6 feet 10 inch Bob Dylan-resembling, self-proclaimed “Dead Head.” Both were thought to smoke, gasp, marijuana. The Bruins had sensational looking uniforms, especially their road ones, and played an exciting, fast-paced brand of basketball, pressing and fast-breaking, and refusing to stall, even when doing so might have guaranteed wins against Maryland, Notre Dame and NC State during the 1974 season. They were fearless.

Sports Illustrated made sure we all knew just how great the “Walton Gang” Bruins were, featuring Alcindor, Walton and UCLA on the cover, time after time, referring to Walton's version as basketball's “Slaughterhouse Five.”

By the time 1973 had rolled around, making it 16 years without a national title for the ACC, UCLA had won 9 titles in 10 years, with the last seven coming in a row. UCLA was so good that its back-up center Swen Nater, who hardly ever played for the Bruins, was a number one draft pick and then Rookie of the Year in the ABA, later going on to a highly successful career in the NBA. UCLA arguably had the two greatest college centers of all time and possibly the two greatest NBA centers of all time, in terms of peak performance, in Alcindor and Walton.

I don't think I have to say anything more about Jabbar.

Walton may be underestimated by some who never saw him play, because his career in the NBA was continually hampered by injuries, and only once could he play in more than 67 games in a season. But if you want to know how good he was coming out of college, think of Steve Nash if he were a center. Like Bill Russell, Walton was unselfish and did not care about scoring and also played on several great teams at Portland and later at Boston.

Walton's Trailblazers won the NBA crown in his third year, as he led the NBA in rebounding, blocked shots, was third in player efficiency and second in his defense rating to UNC's Bobby Jones, and he won the 1977 Finals MVP. He followed this by the winning the league MVP in 1978, when he also joined David Thompson and Julius Erving on the First Team All-NBA team. So, if anyone doesn't remember Walton and you wonder why he talks so much on television, part of it is because has that right because he truly was an all time great, who unlike Charles Barkley, was also a winner.

In winning its ninth title in 1973, UCLA beat Memphis State, 87-66, and Walton had a night that not even Christian Laettner could top: 44 points, on 21-22 shooting from the floor and 13 rebounds. Walton's teams at UCLA slightly lagged Alcindor's, as Walton ended up with only two titles and 88-4 overall.

UCLA's dominance was so complete, that to a large extent, it is difficult to compare coaches like Vic Bubas, Lefty Driesell and Dean Smith from that era with current coaches like Coach K and Roy Williams, because if the yardstick is winning the national title, or multiple national titles, there were almost no coaches floating around in the 1970's who had ever won even one. Adolph Rupp had retired, Frank McGuire was nearing the end of his coaching days and the coaches from other former titleholders in the 1950's and 1960's like LaSalle, California, Ohio State, Loyola, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Texas Western and Kansas, had all either retired, moved on, or their schools were no longer emphasizing basketball.

With the exception of John Wooden, by my count, there are only five coaches in the last 50 years who have won more than one NCAA tournament championship: Jim Calhoun, Denny Crum, Bobby Knight, K, and Smith.

As great as Wooden was, it should also been remembered that he basically hit the recruiting lottery twice by getting Alcindor and then Walton.

Neither Duke nor UNC nor Maryland with all their great recruiting and NBA stars has had a conventional center even close to those two in terms of ability. Mike Gminski and Cherokee Parks? Please. Brad Daugherty and Eric Montross? Nope. Not even close. Tom McMillen and Len Elmore? Closer, but not quite, although excellent players, all. Ralph Sampson? Perhaps, but still not quite. Of course, nowadays, most of the centers are more in the Elton Brand and Scott May mold, which looks more like a power forward compared to the old days where centers shot hook shots.

Give Wooden credit for getting Walton, though. He was obviously both an excellent recruiter and judge of talent, as well as tactician, and brought Walton to UCLA while Dean Smith and Lefty Driesell were ferociously competing to land Tom McMillen, who switched schools from UNC to Maryland at the last minute without Dean Smith's knowledge. By getting McMillen, Lefty and the Maryland Terps, rather than the Tar Heels, became the foil for NC State. The Heels would not be back at top strength in the league until 1976, although somehow Dean continued his decade-long streak of finishing either first or second in the conference regular season, a streak that would go on until 1985. In my opinion, the 1974 Terps were better than the 2002 Terps and were one of the top ten ACC teams of all time.

Lefty Driesell was a Duke graduate, who had come to Maryland after making tiny Davidson College a top-ten NCAA power and garnered a reputation as a power recruiter as he sought to make Maryland the “UCLA of the East,” taking them in a couple of short years from perennial also-ran status to perennial top-ten power in the mid to late 1970's. Driesell's teams also rated highly on the fun-to-watch scale, as Lefty was a funny guy who had a bad temper on the sidelines (although not whiny), and had a reputation for liking to let his guys play, often using fast offenses with three guards running the plays.

Stealing Tom McMillen away from Dean was Lefty's greatest triumph, although, unfortunately, it was mostly a long gradual glide downhill for Lefty in the conference after this period in the early to middle part of the decade, marked by the accidental deaths of several of his players. Nevertheless, the 1973, 1974, and 1975 regular seasons in the ACC were significant in that it was one of the few intervals in conference history where both UNC and Duke were down, with NC State and Maryland being the dominant teams and winning all three regular season crowns and two of the three conference tournaments.

Tom McMillen was supposed to be as good as or better than Walton, but ended up being merely excellent, if not a superstar, making first team All-ACC twice and the second team once, also playing center in the Olympics in 1972, and then in the NBA, and finally ending up in Congress with Bill Bradley.

Lefty's 1974 Terps were focused around a core of three players who would all go on to have some success in the NBA: John Lucas, at guard and then the two towers, Tom McMillen and Len Elmore, both of whom basically averaged a double double during their three years at Maryland. Of course, Elmore is now known for broadcasting ACC basketball and does it well, and Lucas was an excellent NBA player and tennis player before becoming a successful coach.

Lefty subsequently almost pulled off a recruiting coup similar to Wooden's, by signing Moses Malone when McMillen and Len Elmore were rising seniors. At the very last minute, Malone decided to turn pro and became one of the few early successful players to go straight to the NBA from high school. I seem to recall Maryland being ranked number one that year by Street and Smith, because the magazine had come out too early, assuming that Moses was going to be in College Park instead of in Utah.

Lefty's team ended up being sensational that year anyway, winning the conference regular season crown with a 10-2 record before losing to David Thompson and NC State in the 1975 ACC Semi's, and ultimately losing to what was probably the second best team in the country that year, Louisville, in the Great Eight. It was the first year that teams besides the ACC tournament winner were eligible to be selected by the NCAA, and Maryland became the first ACC team to receive the conference's second bid when the tourney chose the Terrapins over the Wolfpack, joining automatic bid-winner UNC in the 1975 NCAA tournament.

After seeing the ACC recruiting coups in bringing in David Thompson and Tom McMillen and noting Maryland and State's success in 1973, Sports Illustrated realized that true competitiveness was in the air in college basketball for the first time in years.

The magazine highlighted this new state of basketball competitiveness, by putting UCLA's mascot on the cover of its glossy 1974 basketball preview issue, showing what appeared to be an uncertain Bruin cornered on one side by an angry Wolf, and on the other by a hopeful-looking Turtle. No Blue Devils or Rams were anywhere in sight, as Sports Illustrated had pegged the year quite accurately.

Like UCLA, NC State had been undefeated in 1973, but had been placed on probation for recruiting violations, and so did not get a shot at UCLA that year. Maryland, which had finished third in the ACC regular season got the sole automatic bid for finishing second in the conference tournament to NC State, and like UCLA and State, had most of its key players back.

In those days, almost all college basketball television coverage was regional, but as college basketball was getting bigger, in the 1973-1974 season several exciting nationally-televised match-ups were slated between UCLA and the other consensus top 4 teams in the country, which were NC State, Maryland and Notre Dame.

UCLA won three out of four of these contests. UCLA edged Maryland 65-64 in Los Angeles in early December, although Maryland scored the last six points in the game and had the ball and a chance to win; the Bruins beat NC State handily on December 15th , 1973, on a neutral court in St. Louis, 84-66; and then split with Notre Dame in a home and away series. Notre Dame ended the Bruins 88-game winning streak on January 19, 1974, by beating UCLA 71-70 after scoring the last 12 points in the final three minutes and thirty seconds in that game, shocking the nation. UCLA, then rebounded to beat Notre Dame the next week in Los Angeles by 19 points.

Now that the 88-game winning streak was over, UCLA relaxed, almost a bit too much, and lost two conference games to Oregon and Oregon State, dropping to second in the polls, and then had to beat USC in its last conference game just to earn the right to go to the NCAA tournament. The Bruins served notice that they were back in form by crushing USC, which had gone into the game tied with UCLA for first place.

1974 was clearly a seminal season for the ACC. With the possible exception of 2005, it is difficult to remember another ACC season that had 3 teams that were as good as NC State, Maryland and UNC were that year, with all three finishing in the top ten, with State at number one, Maryland at number four and Carolina at eight in the AP Poll.

UNC and Maryland ended up tied for second at 9-3, behind State, which went 12-0 for the second season in a row. Carolina split with Maryland, while losing to State three times. Carolina lost its first two games against State by a total of four points, but State won handily in the third match-up. Carolina would end up losing 9 times in a row to State. During this period of NC State dominance, few at Carolina felt much assuaged by eeking past Duke in both conference games that season.

State beat Maryland more easily than it had Carolina during the regular season, but Maryland was improving as the season went on, culminating in an annihilation of the Tar Heels in the ACC tournament semi's, 105-85, in a game that was a blow-out from the beginning.

Maryland had really perfected their break and were playing fast-paced and thrilling basketball. Although State was the favorite, Maryland had the momentum, and raced out to a 12-point lead, which was narrowed to a 55-50 lead at halftime. Even without the three-pointer and the shot clock, this was one of the highest-scoring tournament games in ACC history. The teams kept slugging it out, with Maryland shooting 62% from the floor and clearly the hunter, and NC State, which had beaten the Terps five times in row, desperately trying to even up the game. State finally knotted the score in the last five minutes, but Maryland had the ball and a chance to win at the end of regulation but was unable to score, putting the game into overtime.

Maryland again went out in front in overtime, but exhaustion began to set in, as neither team had played more than seven players. Maryland had four players who had played every single minute of the game and the overtime. A missed front-end of a one and one and a turnover by John Lucas finally gave NC State the edge, as they survived 103-100.

The next couple of weeks were anti-climatic, as NC State easily advanced to the Final Four, which was in Greensboro that year. There was a scare though in the Regional Finals when Thompson fell and hit his head against Pittsburgh. Thompson only played ten minutes, but the team rolled to a 100-72 win anyway, and David turned out not to be seriously injured. UCLA struggled a little more, having to win one of their games in overtime, but the semi-final was set. Number one NC State against 9-time defending champ and Number two UCLA.

Even though I was already a Tar Heel fan by this time, I couldn't help but be absorbed by that NC State team, which was composed of a popular core of guys who mostly hailed from North Carolina and coach Norm Sloan's Indiana. State's team really seemed to enjoy playing together and featured the following: Monte Towe, Moe Howard, Phil Spence, Tim Stoddard, who went on to play in the majors for Baltimore, and the team's big stars, Tommy Burleson and David Thompson.

The Wolfpack also seemed a little less regimented and less stiff than the Tar Heels and had almost a carnival aspect to them that was appealing to a kid growing up in the region. Not only were they great, they were fun to boot.

They had both one of the shortest and one of the tallest players ever to star in the conference. Monte Towe was a sharpshooting ballhandler, listed as 5'7”, but thought to be closer to 5'5” and was known for shooting his usually perfect free throws without hesitation, within one half of a second of the referee handing him the ball; Burleson, the All ACC center, was the tallest player to star in the ACC, along with Ralph Sampson, and was listed at 7'4”. And then there was David. David Thompson could jump higher than anyone had ever seen. Although slightly smaller than Michael Jordan, he played even bigger and was almost certainly one of the top five players ever to play college ball.

Marquette and Kansas played in the first Semi-final game, or in what Kansas coach Ted Owens referred to as the preliminary, with Marquette winning 64-51. Al McGuire was so outspoken as to make it known to the media that he thought that his squad had little chance against either UCLA or NC State in the finals.

I won't give a blow by blow of the thrilling NC State victory by a score of 80-77 in the second Semi-final, as that can be found elsewhere. My hope is that at some point the game will turn up on ESPN Classic, as has the regulation part (but for some reason, not the overtime) of the 1974 State-Maryland tourney title game. If you do get a chance to watch either of these games, notice how much more the players used the backboard then to bank in shots that are usually shot straight on by today's players.

The UCLA game was obviously a big deal in North Carolina. Even though NC State was not as popular in Charlotte where I lived, as UNC, it seemed to me as though most people were rooting for State anyway, as they would do once again in 1983, unlike the situation in the years to come with Duke. I even remember earlier in the year at school, one of our spelling and vocabulary words was the word “undefeated,” in honor of the 1973 Pack.

I was still too young and antsy to sit there during the entire game which was on a Saturday afternoon, so I would get up periodically to go out and shoot baskets in my backyard, which was a gathering place for many of the kids in the neighborhood, who would often shoot there. I remember one of the older boys doing a Pistol Pete Maravich impression, but I only vaguely knew who that was.

I had gone out after halftime, with the game tied at 35 apiece after a back and forth first half, but when I came back in after shooting a few hoops, I was shocked to see NC State was now losing by 11 points with about ten minutes to play. Halftime goes by fast when you are a little kid. Eleven points was a lot to make up in those days, but to their credit, UCLA refused to slow the ball down and NC State began to rally, scoring ten straight points, and then finally took the lead, 63-61, before UCLA came back to tie at 65. Both teams had an opportunity to go ahead, but they traded misses. Overtime.

State went ahead by two, but after the Bruins tied it up, nothing much happened, as State held the ball for most of the period and the teams went into a second overtime.

At this point, UCLA roared out to a 7-point lead and the Wolfpack appeared doomed, since there was no 3-point shot or shot clock, but UCLA uncharacteristically began turning the ball over and State converted its chances before a thrilled crowd in Greensboro, and victory was the Wolfpack's, 80-77. I remember my parents being really excited and neither of them had even gone to an ACC school. State's subsequent 76-64 victory in the Finals over Marquette was humdrum and I barely watched it. I knew an anti-climax when I saw it.

This was back in the era before we had electronic bulletin boards, much less the Internet, and cable news and USA Today and ESPN were still several years away.

We waited all week for Sports Illustrated to arrive at our house and I will never forget the April 1st , 1974 issue. One of the great sports photos of all time adorned the cover, David Thompson and Bill Walton, by far the two greatest college stars of the 1970's soaring and battling almost perfectly vertical in the sky: with the caption stating above their raised hands, as if decreed from on high:

End of An Era: NC State Stops UCLA.

To this day, that cover gives me goose bumps and I don't even like NC State, but I love the ACC and Sports Illustrated's cover conveys just how monumental that game was.

Not only was NC State the national champion, but the ACC also was back on top for the first time in 17 years and the goal of winning the NCAA basketball championship was finally a realistic one for basketball-crazy college programs all over the country. Although Wooden would eek out one last championship the following year, his team was not a dominant one that season and mostly earned its victory due to the broken arm of number one Indiana's Scott May, whose son would one day go on to be a pretty good player as well.

The college game was now wide open to all contestants and only Indiana in 1976 would ever go undefeated again. Duke in 1992 would be the only team able to repeat during the next 30 years.

Only two ACC teams can match that 1974 NC State team, the 1982 Tar Heels and (I grudgingly admit) the 1992 Blue Devils. Nevertheless, the 1974 Wolfpack had an intangible quality that no other ACC team has ever had. They were good, 57-1 over two years; they were clutch; they were likable; they were fun to watch; and they finally proved to the rest of America what those of us in the ACC region already knew. ACC hoops was tops, and 1974 was only the beginning of great things to come.

(1) by Jerry (unregistered) on 02/12/2007 12:19 pm
Fantastic writing, William!

(2) by Dave on 02/12/2007 03:16 pm
As I alluded to in my intro, the game that most folks would say was the ACC's most important would be that 1974 ACC Final between State and Maryland. That's the game that many people call the greatest college basketball game of all time. But think about it, would folks say that if State hadn't gone on to win an NCAA title? If they hadn't, UCLA would have continued their dominance and that would have been the story.

One of the justifications for calling that State-Maryland game the greatest ever is the claim that they were the two best teams in the country. It's generally assumed now that whoever won that game would have gone on to a national title. That claim would have had no merit if State had been beaten by UCLA. A loss to UCLA would not have been considered an upset, the Bruins would have been declared the better team, meaning Maryland was at best the third best team in the country.

(3) by Lee J. Cockrell (unregistered) on 02/12/2007 04:15 pm
Great article. I'm a little young to remember any of that, as we moved to Virginia when I was four in 1976. (We didn't have a TV, or electricity for a while after that, either.) Nice to have someone put it all into context.

(4) by william (unregistered) on 02/12/2007 04:19 pm
Maryland ended 23-5 that year, losing to State three times, UCLA once in Los Angeles, and once to UNC.

And when I say that UNC was down in 1974, that is in relative terms. Except for their loss in the NIT,where the Heels look uninterested in playing, North Carolina went 22-6 and only lost to State and Maryland that year, and beat Duke and Wake three times each. They also easily beat Kentucky and Georgia Tech, Florida State and Virginia Tech, who would be future rivals in the league. Carolina also ended up being the team that had the ACC player who had the most long-term success in the NBA, with All-American Bobby Jones going on to a great career in Philadelphia.

(5) by rdubose (unregistered) on 02/13/2007 06:06 am
Great post. I also grew up during this era and most of my own perceptions and subjective judgments of this time mirror yours. The only correction I would offer is that the NC State two guard who started alongside Monte Towe was Morris Rivers, not Moe Howard, who was part of Lefty's three guard line-up at Maryland during the same period (along with Lucas and Brad Davis). Moe, of course, also enjoyed fame as one of the "Three Stooges." (or maybe that was a different Moe Howard).

(6) by william (unregistered) on 02/13/2007 02:35 pm
You are right, rdubose. I think that both Moe's were underappreciated.

I pulled out some of my old ACC Handbooks and tournament programs and I noticed a few other things I found interesting.

Carolina in 1974 had a Mitch Kupchak, All-American Bobby Jones and future NBA star Walter Davis, so looking back, it seems that Carolina should have been better than they were, in the same way that it seems hard to believe now that Carolina beat Michigan in 1993, based upon the NBA success of the players involved in the 1993 title game.

The ACC tourney guides had pictures of almost all the players in the ACC. I have the guides from 71-72, 72-73 and 74-75, which were the years that my father was able to get tickets. It is interesting to compare the guides of the early seventies, and note the rate of integration.

In 1973, UNC had 14 players and only 3 of them were African-American. Duke had 14 players and only 1 African-American. Clemson had 14 players and 1 African-American. NC State had 14 players and 1 African-American, David Thompson. Virginia had 14 players and 1 African-American. Wake Forest had 14 players overall and 5 African-Americans.

Maryland, which was the first ACC team to be integrated, and Lefty deserve the honors, for having 14 players and 8 African-Americans on their team during the 1972-73 season.

(7) by tongass kid (unregistered) on 02/14/2007 12:30 am
I was a senior at College Park Maryland in 1974 and very much enjoyed 4 years of basketball in Cole Field House. I belive 1974 was an important year for officating. Starting in 1975 the ACC clearly began an attempt to clean-up the officating. The Maryland/State games brought national atttention to the ACC and to overt officating problems.

Carolina Basketball

Basketball season is arriving and I will probably begin to write disproportionately about my favorite team, the Tar Heels.

I recently go a nice email about some basketball writing that I had done at another site, and the writer sent me some interesting YouTube links:

William -

What a fantastic write-up you did on some historical perspective of ACC hoops, in the DaveSez site from Feb of this year. I was a teenager those years, entering UNC as a freshman in fall 1975, so i followed all of the action that decade intensely.

Seeing that, and your passion for some of the history, i thought you might enjoy a couple of clips i have put on youtube:

footage of 1961 UNC-dook fight (Larry Brown and Art Heyman):

video of last 5 minutes of 1975 ACC Tourney Final, UNC vs NC State:

video of postgame celebration of that ACC Final:


- Hayes Holderness, UNC '79

These are excellent clips for Carolina fans and I thoroughly recommend them.

This might only be of interest to fanatics like me, but I wanted to share my observations and response to Hayes' email:

Dear Mr. Holderness

I appreciate the feedback and the links. Apparently, DaveSez is defunct, so I may try to move some of the writing to my blog. I can also post these links there if you want to share them with others.

I am watching the 1975 ACC tournament final now. One thing that I try to impress upon people about UNC and ACC history is that often the conventional wisdom is wrong.

I like to ask people about 1977 and most say that Marquette beat UNC handily in that game and that UNC was not in contention to win at the end, when in reality they are remembering the 8-point final difference due to intentional fouling and forgetting that Carolina had the ball and a chance to tie the game with less than 2 minutes remaining.

The conventional wisdom about this Carolina-State game is that the incredible ability of UNC in the Ford Corners made this upset possible, but I have seen in this short clip a variety of turnovers and bad shots and missed free throws by the 'Heels down the stretch. Play on both sides looks kind of ragged.

Except for the lighting, the clip looks great. I wonder if it is a film transfer or from an early Betamax. This tournament has a special importance to me as it was the first one that I followed from start to finish, although I don't believe that the Wake OT thriller was on television as I remember listening to it on the radio when Brad Hoffman made a name for himself at the buzzer of regulation, leading to Carolina's 101-100 victory.(No shot clock or 3-pointers either!)

I love it when Dean says that "he is extremely pleased" with the win, with his characteristic, perhaps excessive, politeness. He was quite gracious in accepting the bid to the NCAA tournament after the game. I had forgotten they used to do that.

What a crushing defeat for the Wolfback, maybe the worst in their history since it prevented them from defending their NCAA title.

About the fight clip, I find it interesting how little a deal it was in the context of the period. If something like that happened today, there would be felony charges and suspensions and the coaches would be fired. I know two or three guys got suspended here but it wasn't considered all that serious.

Even as late as 1970, South Carolina and Maryland got into a huge basket-brawl and there were no charges or suspensions as I recall. Two USC players were actually into it with Lefty as can be seen on the DaveSez site article about the Mcguire Gamecocks. McGuire loved to scrap and so did his teams. He is still an inspiration to me and I believe he deserves far more credit from UNC fans.

I would love to see a replay of the 1971 ACC title game. Talk about bad blood. It was even worse than against Duke in the late 80's. After the game, John Roche stormed across the court and yelled "F-you, we beat you" to Dean Smith.

You caught a great period of UNC basketball, between 1975 and 1980, which was the consolidation of the program into one of the four or five periennal powers in America. Until the 1975 tournament title, people were writing off Carolina and Smith, and had Driesell and Sloan in the forefront, but in many ways the 1977 tournament title and NCAA run was more significant.

Getting revenge on Virginia, in a tournament title game full of bad blood and then winning with a rag-tag group of subs and the walking wounded was amazing, given all the serious injuries Carolina had that year to their three best players, Laguarde, Ford and Davis.

Carolina then almost did the unthinkable and almost won it all. Who can ever forget the Purdue and Kentucky and UNLV games. That was still probably Smith's greatest coaching job and one of the greatest seasons ever for Carolina.

Nobody remembers anymore that UVa was arguably Carolina's biggest rival between 1976 and 1984, with the Cavs ruining Carolina's 1976 season and the 'Heels and Al Wood torching UVa in the Final Four in 1981. The only team to beat Carolina's starting five in 1982? Virginia, of course, and they ran roughshod over us in Charlottesville. (Wake also beat us but Sam Perkins did not play that game). Who made it to the Final Four in 1984 during Jordan's last year when Carolina seemed a shoo-in? A mediocre UVa team, of couse, that came within a hair of the title game.

It is funny, because I got to Carolina in 83-84, one year removed from our winning the title and it was definitely anti-climactic. We had finally won one in our lifetime, and we were so amazingly good all four years that people did not have as much interest, I believe, as they did previously and do now. We sort of took it for granted. People would have tickets for games in Carmichael or the Smith Center and would watch on television instead. Of course, we knew that Carolina almost always would win anyway as they had few rivals during this period and yet in spite of having the best four year win totals in school history, and going unbeaten in the conference twice, Carolina won neither an ACC tournament nor an NCAA title.

Greatness always needs a foil and during my time at UNC we did not have one. State and Duke were pretty good and Georgia Tech was rising but all were still a step behind and UVa was fading. It may be a paradox but Smith and Carolina needed the rise of Duke to make their game all it could be and to restore lagging interest.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Grundig G5 / Kaito 1103 Shortwave Radio

I recently bought the Kaito version of this radio in gray, which is also made under license for Grundig and it is an amazing little set. For $90, which includes delivery, you get the radio, plus 4 Ni-Mh batteries that re-charge inside the radio, stereo earbuds, the adapter and carry bag and two shortwave wire antennas. It is the most amazing shortwave radio value I think I have ever seen. The Grundig G5 usually goes for about $30 to $40 more.(Hey, that German craftsmanship doesn't come for free!)

I would favorably compare the KA1103 to a highly-touted shortwave portable that I previously owned, the Panasonic RF-B65. The Kaito 1103 basically does everything that that one did, but also includes the built-in recharging battery system with the batteries and also has an excellent dial light and FM stereo which the Panasonic lacked. Audio is comparable between the units.

The Panasonic was a little bit larger and cost close to $300 back in 1988, which would be more like $500 in today's dollars. At first Chinese electronics were a joke but they are really improving. This radio is apparently made by the same operation (or an affiliate) that made the Grundig Satellit 800 but the build quality on the Kaito/Grundig G5 is far better than on that unit, with the 1103's case materials and fit and finish greatly exceeding the Satellit 800.

I have not tried the Grundig G5, which is basically the same radio with a different lay-out. (For an excellent and extended comparison of these radios, check out the Radio Intel site.

Part of the reasoning behind releasing the G5 (and also the Eton E5) seems to have aimed at addressing several severe criticisms made against the 1103's ergonomics by a noted and greatly-respected shortwave reviewer named Larry Magne. Having now worked with the Kaito 1103, in my opinion, Mr. Magne's criticisms were entirely overblown.

Yes, there is no volume knob or volume slider control. You have to push the volume button and then either turn the tuning dial or input a numerical value to change the volume. There are also no up/down slew controls for moving through the broadcast bands and you must push the clock button to see World Time when the radio is on.

The tuning knob on this model is so good that I really did not miss the slew controls that much. It tunes about as well as the Sony ICF-2010, which means at near analog quality, i.e., no muting and little chuffing.

The volume issue does take a little getting used to, but may have been incorporated this way in order to maintain the radio's retro-look. It is also somewhat similar to the volume controls on the iPod and may have been influenced by that incredibly popular design. Nevertheless, if the lack of a committed volume control or any of these other issues is a deal-breaker, get the G5.

On the other hand, many, including yours truly, find the Kaito to be a much more attractive looking radio. It has superior backlighting and dial light controls. The bands are arranged in a very attractive looking retro design with a faux needle that moves and indicates the approximate position on the dial. Mr. Magne took particular exception to this faux needle. (and has with respect to two previous Sony models incorporating this design). Apparently, Mr. Magne has no place in his heart for non-functional add-ons that simply look cool. I do.

In the dark, this radio looks great and reaches a level of low-light utility unfound in other models. The old Panasonic RF-B65, as mentioned previously, had no dial light whatsoever. You had to take great care not to burn it with your Zippo lighter while attempting to operate it at night.

One thing that does not come through in the pictures and advertisements of the 1103 is just how small it is. It is basically mid-way in size between radios such as the RF-B65 and Grundig Yachtboy 400 and the Sony ICF-SW1.

This radio can easily fit into a Dopkit, and yet, has much better audio and performance than the smaller Sony ICF-SW1, which lacked a dial light and SSB, had very poor audio through its external speaker and tuned only in crude 5kHz increments, and lacked an external antenna jack.

Perhaps the best comparison for this radio is the current incarnation of the outstanding Grundig Yacht Boy 400, now called the G4000A(why a company would change the name of a perenially great unit is beyond me).

In my estimation, the Yacht Boy 400 was essentially the same as the aforementioned RF-B65, with the deletion of the tuning knob and the addition of a dial light, although the YB400 was perhaps not quite as attractive as the RF-B65. Nevertheless, it puzzles me to see the RF-B65 touted by some as a wunder-radio, when there is an essentially identical, but yet better one overall, still on the market in the G4000A.

The 1103 compares quite favorably in terms of performance to the Yacht Boy 400 and although prices vary, likely can be had for about the same amount. If you want the slightly better audio and size is not an issue, then the Yacht Boy might be the better choice. but I think that the smaller size, ease of use, excellent backlighting and re-chargeable ni-mh batteries make the Kait0 1103 a clear-cut winner.

Overall, it is doubtful that there has ever been such an affordable and attractive powerhouse of a world band radio jimmied into something this small.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sweet Land of Liberty

185 to 1 went a recent vote in the U.N. regarding whether juveniles should be eligible for life imprisonment without parole sentences. The United States, great champion of liberty throughout the world, was the lone dissenter.

In discussing the American trend to disregard international norms, the New York Times noted that:

"In its sentencing of juveniles, as in many other areas, the legal system in the United States goes it alone. American law is, by international standards, a series of innovations and exceptions. From the central role played by juries in civil cases to the election of judges to punitive damages to the disproportionate number of people in prison, the United States is an island in the sea of international law."

Perhaps one of the few areas in which my alma mater, GMU Law (which was generally a topnotch inculcator of the skill of demolishing sacred cows) was deficient was its implicit assumption that the American legal system was the best in the world, both generally and in almost every area, in terms of rights, liberty and efficiency.

In fact, foreigners are often shocked by the relative lack of protections in the American system, whether it involves civil discovery, appellate rights, lack of meaningful double jeopardy protection and even lack of a right to a jury trial involving strings of misdemeanors that could lead to hundreds of years in prison.

Nevertheless, many conservatives continue peddling the standard line that "Americans have the best legal system in the world," without ever offering a shred of evidence to support the claim.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

GOP and its Demographics

Most people who believe that the universe is only 5000 years old don't make a lot of money, apparently:

"But it's not just the ultra-rich who are abandoning Republicans. CNN's exit poll last fall showed that voters in the East making between $150,000 and $200,000 favored Democratic candidates by a 63-37 majority. Since 2004, the percentage of professionals identifying themselves as Republicans fell from 44 percent to 37 percent, according to a September Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. The same survey found 59 percent of Republican voters agreed with the statement that free trade has been a negative for the country."

Friday, October 12, 2007

Sweet Land of Prisons as Far as One Can See

Because the Supreme Court has refused to enforce its own freedom of speech cases regarding allegations of disorderly conduct, a person can, in fact, if not in theory, be arrested merely for questioning treatment by officials or police officers. Disorderly conduct is the criminal version of crossing the center line; cops use it whenever they want to arrest someone and they have no other justification.

While this woman's behavior was seemingly worse and may actually have crossed the line, the basic precept is still the same. The United States is a country that imprisons people first and asks questions later. We are the world leader in imprisonment, putting people behind bars at a rate that not even Sadam or the Kremlin ever approached. The U.S. holds the record both in terms of per capita imprisonment, as well as total people in prison.

So forgive me if I don't wait with breathless anticipation for the Court's next decision on burning the flag, while thousands of Americans rot away unjustly in jail. While I might not burn it myself, it is hard for me to make a convincing argument as to why someone else shouldn't.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Return of the Larry David Steinbrenner

I don't think the manager matters that much, but it makes you wonder what level of success is needed to keep the Yankees' job. The Braves and Yankees have dominated baseball since the strike, but the Braves are smart enough not to can Bobby Cox.... George, you are returning to your Seinfeld persona.

Friday, September 28, 2007

U.S. Women's Soccer Versus Brazil

There is a real furor over the comments of Hope Solo, the replaced U.S. Women's goalkeeper over the play of her replacement, in the U.S.'s devastating World Cup loss versus Brazil, 4-0.

She took both the coach and her teammate that replaced her, Brianna Scurry, to task, asserting that she, Hope Solo would have stopped those balls and implying that Ryan's mistake cost them the game.

I don't agree at all that Ryan necessarily failed his team and many of those commenting have neither followed this team, nor even bothered to watch the game against Brazil. Although I found it somewhat strange to change keepers at this point, Ryan stated his reasons for the change based upon Scurry's athleticism, and probably with the unstated knowledge that Brazil was far better than the U.S. and that it would take a miracle for the U.S. to win.

One can only hope that Solo's aftergame comments and pouting were only borne by frustration and do not indicate a self-centeredness giving truth to her surname of Solo.

The Brazilian team is far more talented than the U.S. team and probably deserved to beat us in the last Olympics. This result is no surprise at all to anyone who follows women's soccer. The U.S. could have put Gordon Banks in the net and they still would have been easily defeated.

Blaming the coach is an easy thing to do. Recognizing that U.S. soccer is simply bad in general compared to Europe and South America is a more responsible tack. The U.S. women had a huge head start and deserve recognition for making women's soccer viable, but it is doubtful that they can maintain their position if soccer loving nations really begin getting interested in women's soccer.