Tuesday, December 23, 2008

NFL Play-Offs

This is the last week of the NFL season and the final teams to qualify for the play-offs will become known. Get ready for a lot of bellyaching by some 10-6 or 9-7 teams that fail to qualify. But if you want to see what it really feels like to deserve to be in the play-offs and not make it, take a look at the following link: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/years/1967/

The 1967 Baltimore Colts only lost one game all year and tied for the best record overall in the NFL that season and yet did not make the play-offs. The lost out on a tiebreaker to their Coastal Division rivals, the Los Angeles Rams (for whom their franchise would one day be traded), coached by George Allen.

The following year, the 1968 Colts would again only lose one game, going 13-1 but would get upset by the New York Jets and former Colts coach Weeb Ewbank. Thus, over the course of the two years, the Colts would go 24-2-2 and yet not garner the Super Bowl title.

A slightly less accomplished 1970 Colts team, in its first year in the newly-formed AFC would go on to take the prize, however, showing how so much in sports involves simple good fortune and being in the right place at the right time.

This last really great series of Baltimore Colts teams went 43-8-4 over the course of four season and played in two Super Bowls, winning one and fully deserves to be considered one of the most accomplished teams of all time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Remembering Phil Ford

What Phil Ford Meant to UNC

On the day where Tyler Hansbrough seems destined to break Phil Ford's all-time scoring record at UNC, a fellow Tar Heel fan has asked me to write a bit about why Phil Ford might be the most important Tar Heel of all time.

For all of you UNC fans who only remember the post-1982 Tar Heels, it is difficult to understand the general plight of UNC basketball back in 1975. Yes, the Tar Heels still had an excellent program, having won at least 20 games in 1971, 1972, 1973, and 1974 and winning the NIT in 1971 and finishing 3rd in the nation in 1972.

But Carolina had lost the recruiting battles for Tom McMillen, Tom Burleson and David Thompson, and didn't even recruit Durham's John Lucas, and the Tar Heels seemed to have fallen back a step and were actually getting a run for their money by NC State for most popular team in the state of North Carolina.

Even though the Tar Heels played up-tempo basketball, they were still known for their rigorous system and sets, and yes, the Four Corners, at a time when NC State and Maryland seemed to have teams that played a more joyful, expressive and exciting form of basketball. Although Carolina had had excellent players such as Bobby Jones and Bob McAdoo(for one season), they didn't seem to have the kinds of athletes that State and Maryland had in David Thompson, Kenny Carr, John Lucas, Brad Davis and Len Elmore.

The 1974 season ended in a disheartening fashion for UNC, as they were trounced by 20 points versus Maryland in the ACC semi-finals, in a game they were never in. It was one of the worse losses ever for Carolina and they simply were outclassed by the Terps.

State and Maryland went on to put on a basketball clinic in the ACC finals in a 103-100 thriller that Maryland probably should have won, probably deserved to win, but in the end, it was NC State's year. State would then go on to defeat perennial champion UCLA in double-overtime in the NCAA semi-finals, in a game that UCLA probably should have won and probably deserved to win. Two nights later, after rolling over Marquette, NC State and Norm Sloan were on top of the world.

It was possibly the greatest year in ACC history, with the number one team overall, two of the top five and three of the top ten teams hailing from the Atlantic Coast Conference. But UNC had lost five out of six against Maryland and NC State, and was definitely an afterthought during the 1974 season.

Lefty had said he would bring a powerhouse to Maryland and he had done it, almost overnight, it seemed, and NC State was now national champion with all of their team except Burleson coming back and with the excellent Kenny Carr due as a freshman. Carolina looked like the odd man out, about to join Duke as a has-been who used to rule the ACC.

Now, I don't have any television ratings to show you, but during this period, the Norm Sloan television show was a widely seen show and I seem to remember it even being on during prime time. For the first time since Vic Bubas retired, Dean Smith had an in-state rival.

As we moved ahead to 1975, things seemed to be only worse for Carolina. Yes, the Heels had added the dynamic Walter Davis in 1974 and now Phil Ford in 1975, but NC State had added Kenny Carr to take Tom Burleson's spot.

Maryland lost Elmore and McMillen but still had John Lucas and had added Brad Davis and were playing a three guard offensive set with great results. Even Clemson, with Tree Rollins, Stan Rome and Skip Wise appeared to be better than Carolina.

Pre-season magazines saw the Heels as being significantly behind the Wolfpack and Terrapins and falling further.

The season did not start off particularly well, with the Heels going 5-3 to begin the year, although the initial schedule was killer. They lost to future NCAA title runner-up, Kentucky, 90-78, and then lost to Duke and NC State in the Big Four tournament.(Big Four teams regularly played four times a year during this era!). After squeaking by Wake Forest and Clemson at home, Carolina lost a heart-breaker to NC State in overtime, 88-85.

Not the end of the world, you say? This marked the ninth time in a row that Norm Sloan and the Wolfback had beaten Smith and UNC. Nine times! This included Big Four, ACC tourney and regular season games. No one ever had or ever would have such a run against Smith.

This is where Phil Ford comes in.

And perhaps, it really is not fair to frame things like that. Walter Davis may have been every bit the player Ford was and perhaps even his better. Davis was Carolina's first freshman starter. Nor is there much doubt about who the better professional player was, even comparing Ford's best pro years to Davis's. Mitch Kupchak was a future Olympian, All American and NBA champion.

Nevertheless, UNC began to turn things around subtly, after the second NC State defeat that year, and Ford began attracting attention, and to many, including Dean Smith, I believe, Phil Ford would go on to be associated with the change of the Carolina program from being an excellent basketball school, to being perhaps the best. And 1975, Ford's freshman year was the pivotal year.

I will return to this point, but basically no one thought Carolina was anything but a NIT team that season, even allowing for the new rule change which was to allow two ACC teams to go to the NCAA tourney. As the season progressed, Carolina would go on to lose at Clemson, as expected, and dishearteningly, at Virginia, but the Heels did manage to upset Maryland in College Park and then finally, after 9 fruitless attempts, most of them very close games, the Heels beat the Wolfpack in Carmichael Auditorium, and then closed out with a win at Duke, to finish 8-4 in the ACC.

There ended up being a three-way tie for second in the conference, behind Maryland's 10-2, with State, Carolina and Clemson tied, although UNC was clearly seen as the lesser among these equals. Carolina won the coin toss and got second seed, which was big because it meant they only had to play either State or Maryland and not both to win the title.

I won't go into long detail about what was probably the greatest ACC tournament of all time. You can go to SI.com and type in "Phil Ford Kicks Up His Heels" to see the cover and read the orignal SI story but Carolina's wins, particularly against Wake Forest in the first round, were the rare ones that actually might have merited the overused adjective "unbelievable." I think this was Carolina's first basketball cover.

When Carolina beat NC State, Norm Sloan and David Thompson in the ACC Finals, it was a bit like when Muhammad Ali beat George Foreman just before that season started.

You knew that the Heels, like Ali, were still good. You knew it was possible, but you just didn't really see it happening unless you were an Ali or Carolina fan who thought with your heart instead of your head. Back then, it was NC State who seemed to always win those kinds of cardiac games and they had, just the night before, taken out top-seeded Maryland on a scintillating Kenny Carr dunk and appeared ready for the NCAA tourney to defend their title.

Walter Davis might have been the most valuable performer that night for the Heels, but nobody had the verve and effervescence that Phil Ford had. He loved to play basketball and you couldn't take your eyes off him.

I don't think the Heels really had a team that could compete for the title that year. UCLA was still great and would win it one last time for John Wooden. Kentucky, which had already trounced Carolina would finish second and was in UNC's regional, although Carolina got upset by Syracuse in the second round and the rematch never took place.

But the importance of this year can never be underestimated by UNC fans. Never again would Sloan or Driesell be considered on par with Dean Smith as a coach. Never again would NC State have a team as powerful or as popular as their 1973-75 squad. Norm Sloan's television show mostly disappeared and he left to coach at Florida three years later, never taking NC State to the NCAA tournament again.

Under his successor, Jim Valvano, State would eek out another title, to their credit, in 1983, but from this point on, their trajectory and Duke's trajectory crossed as basketball programs and by 1984, when Wake Forest went to the Elite Eight, NC State was well on its way to having the fourth best ACC basketball program in the state of North Carolina.

And Phil Ford got a lion's share of the credit for Carolina's revival, both because he was great and because he had style and charisma--Walter Davis seemed somehow boring compared to Phil--and also, perhaps, because he arrived the year of the turnaround and thus is associated with it in people's minds.

I have heard that Dean Smith believes that getting Ford was the difference in putting the program back on top in the state of North Carolina. While Ford was not as great a college player as either David Thompson before him or Michael Jordan after him, he certainly was the most acclaimed UNC player since Charlie Scott.

An Attempt at Both Objective and Subjective Analysis of Phil Ford as a Tar Heel

Ford was definitely my favorite player of that era and I think most of us who played guard pretended to be him in the backyard. As we look back historically and reassess, it is hard to know how to rate him compared to the Rosenbluth's and Jordan's and Daugherty's and Hansbrough's of the program. Looking back, he seemed fully as good or better to me than any post-1973 UNC player, with the exception of Jordan.

Yet, he definitely had rivals who were arguably just as good. Maryland had John Lucas and Clemson had Skip Wise, although only for one year. Wake Forest had Skip Brown and Marquette had Butch Lee, while Michigan had Ricky Davis and Indiana had Quinn Buckner. Phil Ford was not hands down better than any of these guys, in the way that Michael Jordan was simply hands down better than anyone he played against after his sophomore year.

Statistically, Phil Ford was barely--perhaps like Hansbrough in this respect--the best player on his team, which was saying something given that Walter Davis, Mitch Kupchak and Tom Lagarde all played on the 1976 Olympic team.

I would say that Phil Ford and Tyler Hansbrough shared another important attribute:

Basically, Phil Ford was Phil Ford from day one that he stepped on the court at Carolina in a way that no other four year player except Tyler Hansbrough has ever equaled. Did they both improve? Yes, but subtly.

Michael Jordan as a junior was worlds above Michael Jordan as a freshman. Phil Ford and Tyler Hansbrough were basically the best players on their team from year one and maintained this for four years in spite of the presence of your Walter Davis's, Mitch Kupchak's, Ty Lawson's and Brendan Wright's.

I think that another way that Phil Ford and Hansbrough are alike is something that they share with Michael Jordan. All three were the most recognized face in college basketball during their final year with Carolina. Ford had won the Olympic gold with Smith in 1976 and then dazzled in the Final Four in 1977, and by his senior year, he was the most recognized collegian in the sport, just as David Thompson was at State and Bill Walton before him at UCLA. Some seasons you really don't have that one guy that everyone remembers, but certainly, Ford, Jordan and Hansbrough were it.

Like David Thompson, it is hard for us to remember Phil Ford's true greatness as a collegian without some regret that his talent did not come to full fruition in the pro's. Phil started great, winning the rookie of the year with Kansas City and averaging 17 points and 8 assists during his first three seasons in the NBA, but then had a variety of problems that prevented him from ever performing at this level again.

But even looking at his college years, it is possible to perhaps overlook him in a program like UNC's because he never won the national title.

Carolina came close, losing a nail-biter to Marquette where the Heels had a chance to tie in the last two minutes, but unfortunately, Ford's senior season in 1978 was concluded by a flame-out in the ACC tournament semi-finals to Wake. This was followed by a loss in the NCAA first round that was the start of a NCAA tourney mini-slump (by UNC standards only) of three straight first round exits that would last until 1981.

Even more painful for me as an eleven year old boy, was the conclusion to the 1976 season. The 1976 team seemed to be a great, great team. Carolina went 11-1 in the ACC, losing only to Wake Forest in the Big Four tournament (Carolina rarely did well in the Big Four and certainly shed no tears upon its demise) and a last second loss to NC State at home, 68-67.

Entering the ACC tourney, UNC was 24-2 and after whipping Clemson in the semi's, 25-2 UNC took on last place University of Virginia, which had somehow made it into the finals.

Carolina now seemed a lock for the top seed in the Eastern Region. Indiana was undefeated and number one, but Marquette and UNC were right on the Hoosiers' Heels and this seemed like it could be Carolina's year, especially with the Eastern Regional wide open and much easier than Indiana and Marquette's Mideast Region.

Instead, disaster struck. The ACC officials allowed a very rough level of play in the final, and UVa played the perfect game down the stretch and essentially destroyed Carolina's season. Due to the loss, instead of getting the ultra-easy East Region, Carolina was sent to the same region with Indiana, Marquette and Alabama, arguably the top three teams in the country. Then, Ford somehow got hurt between the UVa loss and the Alabama game in the first round of the NCAA tourney, and Carolina ended up getting annihilated by the Crimson Tide.

My father had gotten us tickets to see Carolina in the NCAA's in the first round in Charlotte. Instead, we got to see UVa return to their last-place selves and go out meekly in the first round against a ho-hum opponent. VMI ended up in the East Region Finals that year, which shows just how easy the region might have been if Carolina had only gotten by UVa.

In the course of a week, Dean Smith's best season to date had gone from outstanding success to disaster, making the 25-4 team's achievements bittersweet to me. Even aside from the end of year fiascoes, perhaps Carolina fans should have been wary.

Statistical analysis was not in vogue then, but a look at the schedule shows that Carolina won three overtime games, with one of them, against Tulane, taking four overtimes to win. Also, both of our wins against Virginia had been very, very close, which we probably just saw as UVa getting lucky to be so close. UNC had also lost to a mediocre Wake team and barely beaten Miami of Ohio, Georgia Tech, (when they were not even in the ACC and definitely not known for basketball) and South Florida.

In retrospect, Carolina was probably not in Marquette or Indiana's class that year, although it would have been interesting to play either of them with a healthy Phil Ford. Alabama, who came closest of anyone to beating Indiana in the tournament, probably had their best team ever that season with Leon Douglas at center. Had UNC beaten UVa, however, the road would have been so much easier with Marquette, Indiana, Alabama and UCLA all bracketed away from Carolina until the finals.

1976 might have been the most disappointing season ever for a Dean Smith team, in the way it ended. The 1984 team lost to really good Duke and Indiana teams in close games. The 1971 team rebounded from a loss to USC in the ACC Finals to win the NIT when that was still a big deal and got to beat Duke in the process, in the NIT semi-finals in New York. The 1976 team lost to a mediocre UVa team and then got run out of the arena by Alabama.

Ford and Coach Smith were, together with Walter Davis, Mitch Kupchak and Tom Lagarde, able to redeem themselves, if not the Tar Heels, by winning perhaps the most important Olympic games ever in 1976, with Ford and Indiana's Quinn Buckner forming a talented backcourt that only Puerto Rico, with Butch Lee, could contend with.

Phil Ford's final year, in 1978 was kind of an afterthought when compared to his first three with all their up's and down's. Although Ford had another great year with memorable performances, the 1978 Tar Heels were neither particularly good, going 23-8 and losing to William and Mary, Furman and Providence, nor particularly memorable. 1978 belongs to Duke in most people's memories even though Carolina won a scintillating game over the Blue Devils in Ford's last game. Although Ford's statistics were good his senior year, they were probably not any better than they had been overall his two prior seasons.

Aside from his general excellence, Phil Ford will always be remembered as the master of the 4 Corners Offense.

I tend to be an agnostic on the effectiveness of the 4 Corners offense, without seeing any statistics showing its effectiveness versus Carolina’s generally excellent offense in their normal sets.

Yes, at times the 4 Corners worked great, but there were other times where it didn’t, such as the Marquette game, and even in the NC State game in the ACC Finals back in 1975, where if you watch the action on youtube, Carolina turned the ball over several times in the 4 Corners.

The 4 Corners did not win the 1975 ACC tourney for UNC. Good fortune and excellent play by Carolina, particularly in the games against Clemson and NC State did it, not the Four Corners. In fact, I would say that Carolina beat State in spite of using the Four Corners, not because of it.

Some of the effectiveness of the Four Corners depended upon how rigorously the officials made the opposing team go out and chase Carolina. If the opponents chose not to chase and the officials didn’t push the issue, the game would grind to a halt, as against UVa in the ACC Finals in 1982.

Perhaps the season where it worked best was in 1977, with John Kuester and Phil Ford running it with great success until the game with Marquette where it landed with a thud. Kuester saved UNC against UVa in the finals of the ACC tourney, garnering revenge for Carolina in one of UNC's most bitter revenge wins ever. He was great running it again against Notre Dame. The Heels' string of wins in the 1977 NCAA's were remarkable with each game from the UVa game on, having an incredible level of intensity and pressure.

Given Carolina’s injuries that year, virtually every one of their wins in the NCAA tourney was an upset and they probably could not have won it all or even gotten to the title game without the selective use of Four Corners given their injuries and foul trouble in several games.

Phil Ford was exhilerating in his performance in the national semi-finals as Carolina beat UNLV 84-83 in a high-scoring affair that virtually no one thought Carolina could win. This came on the back of the tedious Marquette victory over UNCC by 51-49. The title seemed near, but the Four Corners finally failed and earned both Smith and the strategy itself a high level of opprobrium from fans and reporters alike.

Carolina would continue to use the Four Corners during the next few years after Ford's departure but no one ever would run it as well again and it would become less a part of UNC's repertoire and for good and bad, associated with Dean Smith and Phil Ford in particular.

About the last time I remember the Four Corners being used in a significant win was against UVa in 1982 where Carolina employed it to preserve a lead against UVa, which they accomplished, but they didn’t increase their margin any and one wonders why they couldn’t have won just playing the way they were. They didn’t use it against Georgetown in a similar situation in the finals and won without it.

The slowdown which resulted in the UVa game in the ACC Finals led to rule changes that essentially ended the Four Corners little by little, which was one of Dean Smith's intentions all along. He knew that if UNC had to choose between a game with a shot clock or a game without where UNC could use the Four Corners, a shot clock greatly improved the prospects of a team like Carolina much more than did the use of the Four Corners.

I think the main reason why most UNC fans remember the spread offense with such fondness is that it annoyed the hell out of Duke, State, USC, Maryland and UVa when Carolina used it and UNC fans loved getting their goats. It wasn’t as though Carolina wasn’t better than those teams most years anyway and needed to stall to win.

I am sure that others remember this offensive strategy more fondly than I do and can point to other situations where they believe it worked great. Nevertheless, given the general excellence of Carolina's teams, who is to say they wouldn't have won most of those games anyway.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

NFL Replay System

The NFL and college football have recently been suffering under a series of highly questionable replay decisions that have greatly affected important games. More and more plays also seem to be going to replay, which means a several minute halt to play and lack of continuity to the games.

Perhaps lawyers understand this more than others, since we deal in appeals as a profession, but one thing should be clear:

You cannot lower the standard for review without ending up with more reviews.

If the NFL has now adopted "under the table" a "just get the call right" standard, then we will begin to see more and more reviews. Cincinnati was upheld on all of its challenges against Washington on Sunday. Pittsburgh was upheld on a challenge that simply could not have been upheld under an indisputable or conclusive standard.

Unless the referees on the field are suddenly getting worse, we should see very few calls overturned under the claimed standards.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Stephen Curry and Davidson -- 2009 Wildcats

The Davidson Wildcat basketball team caught the attention of a lot of college basketball fans last spring. They were a team of overachievers from a small college known primarily for its high academic standards. But they played exciting basketball and they played it the right way, going toe-to-toe in the NCAA tourney with top programs at Gonzaga, Georgetown, Wisconsin and Kansas, and just barely missed a trip to the Final Four. Earlier in the season, they barely lost against interstate rivals, Carolina, Duke and NC State.

Well, Davidson is back and appears to be starting off their season even better than last year. While I am not predicting a Final Four appearance for them, because so much of the one and out tournament is random, I do expect to see the Wildcats back into the Sweet Sixteen.

Star guard Stephen Curry, from Charlotte Christian High School, was number two in the country last year in offensive efficiency among players involved in at least 28% of their team's offensive possessions. The ratings vary based upon how often different teams need their best scorers to shoot, but Curry was right up there with Tyler Hansbrough among the most efficient scorers in the NCAA. http://kenpom.com/leaders.php?c=ORtg&y=2008

The Wildcats have lost Jason Richards, however, who was the top assist man among players in the NCAA tourney last year, and so this is a crucial loss for Davidson, indeed.

Richard's departure has resulted in Stephen Curry's having to take over the position of point guard and now having to be the key man in terms of production in both points and assists, which is no easy task for one player, which is why there have only been a handful of unselfish Phil Ford-type players who have been top-notch assist-men and scorers.

Curry thus far has his team off to an even better start than last year, when the Wildcats lost all of their pre-conference games against top twenty caliber teams, and even against NC State.

Teams like Davidson in mid-major conferences don't often play schedules as tough as teams from the bigger schools, so Davidson has made a concerted effort to schedule tough out of conference opposition during the pre-conference season and has already beaten North Carolina State and West Virginia, while losing an entertaining game to Oklahoma in the preseason NIT. Duke and Purdue on the road are yet to come in the next three weeks.

While Davidson is performing fairly well so far, the team still does not quite resemble the disciplined, heady, streamlined unit from the end of last season that left Big Ten champ Wisconsin baffled, dumbfounded and wallowing in the muck.

Can Davidson get back to the level of its play in last year's NCAA tourney? It is possible. Davidson might be ready to take another step up in terms of performance this season, given Curry's statistics from his Freshman and Sophomore seasons.

It is instructive to look at Curry's statistics so far this season to see that he is especially excelling in four areas: two point field goals, free throw percentage, assists and steals.

His assist and steal rates would lead a lot of leagues and his free throw percentage is superb, with him taking and making significantly more free throws per game than last year.

ESPN talked a lot about his turn-overs last night but he still had an assist to turnover rating of over 1.0 last night and his rating is currently over 2.0, which is high enough to lead a lot of leagues.

His only, somewhat disappointing stat is, surprisingly, his three point percentage.


Last year, Curry hit .439 of his three-pointers, which is a superb percentage, particularly for a player who shoots so many and such long and difficult ones.

By way of contrast, Duke's J.J. Redick, who was also known as an excellent outside shooter and who had a similar style and role to the one Curry had during his first two years at Davidson, hit .421 of his three-pointers in 2006, while attempting 39 fewer. Last season, Steph Curry both shot more than Redick and made a higher percentage than Redick, and without the blue chip support than Redick had around him on Duke's 32-4 2006 team.

So far this year, Curry is hitting only .378 of his three-pointers, while approximately taking about the same number per game. It is hard to gauge after only eight games, especially since there was one game where he was double-teamed the entire time and only attempted three shots and didn't score, although Davidson won easily.

Making .378 of one's three-pointers, especially when shooting a lot of them and from difficult positions, is not bad, but this is also not a stellar number. Conference leaders usually shoot around .440 or thereabout. Granted the line is back a foot or so this year, but this has only resulted in a 1 percent decrease nationally in three pointers made and attemtped.

Curry's two-point shooting is up, however, going from .540 to .570, and this is an excellent percentage for a guard shooting two-pointers. By way of comparison, again, J.J. Redick of Duke in 2006 hit .521 of his two-point shots.

Curry is also shooting far more two pointers per game this year than he did last year, which makes sense, given his change in roles, and this makes his increase in percentage even more impressive given that he is shooting more and thus has to attempt more marginal shots that he would not have been forced to take in the past.

Looking forward, if Curry can get back to the levels of three-point field goal percentage which he attained last year, Davidson might be a legitimate Final Four team. If Curry shoots three's like last year, the tough wins against NC State and West Virginia become easier victories and Davidson likely beats Oklahoma.

The key word is "if" however, because no one truly is Superman. It may be that the burdens on Curry from running the point will simply leave him unable to get some of the easier three point looks that he got the last two seasons. But if he can get back to the .450 level from the three point line, while maintaining his improvement in two pointers, Davidson's opponents had best watch out.

Monday, November 24, 2008

ACC Football

There has seldom been any doubt during the last forty years as to which sport, football or basketball, reigns supreme in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Nevertheless, the UNC Tar Heels had a somewhat better team, at least in terms of record, in football this season than they have in the past several years. This led to a bit of resurgence in terms of Carolina fan interest, but as the season has gone on, it has become clearer and clearer that neither UNC nor the rest of the ACC is very good in football.

So, what happened? The ACC used to play decent football, if not quite at the same level as the SEC or Big Ten.

About the only obvious change in the past few years has been the pilfering by the Atlantic Coast Conference of three of the better football schools in the Big East Conference in 2004.

Since the merger with BC, VPI and Miami, the ACC has gotten relatively better in basketball and relatively worse in football, which was the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen.

Although BC, VPI and Miami have been disappointments in ACC football, all three have overachieved in hoops. Given the relative declines in the Duke, Wake, Maryland and NC State basketball programs since the merger, BC and VPI, and Miami, to a lesser extent, have helped to keep the ACC on top in hoops.

At the same time, all three programs, or at least Miami and VPI have fallen precipitously from their previous top ten football heights. BC has probably elevated ACC play in both sports, even though they make a poor fit in the conference in most ways.

When you add this change to the fall from grace by the former perennial great Florida State, you end up with a conference in disarray, that sends teams like Wake Forest to the Orange Bowl and has a season like the current one, where seemingly no team wants to win their division.

The top ACC team this year–whoever they are–would probably be at least a four touchdown dog against Florida, Oklahoma, USC, or Texas. Indeed, BC or Georgia Tech might be over-performing to lose 35-7 against the Sooners. This is pretty sad given that Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State all won the national football title in the 25 year period before the expansion/merger.

I don’t think anyone has a complete explanation for what has happened. Is it a fluke? Maybe things will turn around and the ACC will go back to being a decent football conference with a couple of top ten teams, but I am beginning to wonder if the ACC and Big East have not now both gotten the “Basketball Conference” moniker around their necks, which turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of recruiting.

Can you imagine how much worse it would be if the ACC had taken Syracuse, instead of VPI, as was the original plan? Thank goodness, that after that first year, the Big East hasn’t been any better in football than the ACC.

I think we can see now that several games this year were not flukes, but rather precise indicators of the (lack of) merit of ACC football:

Maryland–Middle Tennessee State
UNC–McNeese State
UNC–Notre Dame (both teams mediocre)
UNC–Virginia (dreadful game by mediocre teams)
Wake Forest–Navy
VPI–East Carolina
Wake Forest–Clemson (dreadful play on both sides)
Wake Forest–Florida State (dreadful, awful play on both sides)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How Can We Permanently Lower Taxes?

Here's a question:

Take a look at the U.S. budget pie chart by clicking on the link below and see if you can find any way to lower the deficit without cutting defense.

Republicans say that we need to be spending more on defense, but that we can cut the budget in other areas. Here's a hint--62 percent of the budget is composed of Medicare, Social Security, veterans' payments, pensions, etc., and interest. Defense is 20 percent of the budget and everything else Washington provides costs about 18 percent of the budget. Getting rid of Amtrak, foreign aid and entitlements is not going to do it.

Because at some point, taxes have to equal outlays, how or what can be cut that will result in significant savings in order to permanently keep taxes low?


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Classic Spirts--Best Buys

For those who enjoy consuming in moderation the "good stuff," the falling dollar and the economic turmoil of recent weeks can make indulging in expensive liquor a more difficult decision. Not to fear, here are my buying tips, with some category suggestions.

First of all comes the age question. Most spirits improve with time in the barrel, but not necessarily all. If you are buying vodka, buy the cheapest triple-distilled product you can find. When talking about premium rums, bourbons, Scotches and Irishes, and ryes, yes, quality does generally improve with age, but there are diminishing and perhaps, even negative returns after a certain quantity of years. Aging greatly increases the ultimate price of a liquor.

Rye whiskey tends to need the least time in the bottle to mellow, and thus, tends to be the best liquor bargain out there, so little time, in fact, that usually there will be no age statement. Rum also needs very little aging, but tends to be slightly more expensive than rye due to the cost of importation, perhaps, although some rums can age for up to five years or more. Bourbon comes next, generally doing well with six to ten years in the bottle, followed by Scotch and Irish whiskey, which can be aged up to 21 years or more.

Tequila is a new entry into this category, but due to supply constraints, it is currently well beyond what I believe it is worth and should be approached with caution. When buying Tequila, make sure that it is 100-percent agave. After that, the clear, less aged, cheaper versions with 100-percent agave tend to have the most robust tequila taste, with the more expensive dark versions tasting somewhat more like brandy, which I won't treat here because it tends to have a bad reputation in the United States, as opposed to Spain and France. Aging in general, will tend to make a liquor taste somewhat less like its original grain, fruit or sugar.

So here are my recommendations:

Rye Whiskey is almost always the best deal among premium liquors and many Scotch drinkers won't even notice the difference. Jim Beam, Pikesville and Old Overholt should all cost anywhere from $9 to $13 and are all excellent.

When speaking of Rum, I am not talking about clear rum, which is essentially vodka made from sugar. Rum tends to evaporate quickly and often does not carry an age statement. You can do excellently with Goslings Black Seal, which is a very dark rum or Sergeant Classick, which is straw in color, either for around $13 and excellent for sipping.

I find bourbon to be somewhat less friendly for sipping than either Rye or Scotch, but there are times where that more caramel taste is welcome. I would generally avoid the so-called "small batch bourbons", as I believe this is basically a scam to piggyback on the marketing of single malt whiskeys, which is a more legitimate category. Tennessee Whiskeys like George Dickel and Jack Daniels, are similar to bourbon, but perhaps a bit smoother.

Old Granddad 100 is certainly a best buy, as are the higher proofs of Ancient Age. One tip is to look for bourbons which have a proof higher than 80, as higher proofs have traditionally been a sign of better quality among bourbons, perhaps due to the bottled in bond category of yesteryear, that of a 100 proof bourbon. You will rarely go wrong with either George Dickel Number 12 or Wild Turkey 101, both for between $15 and $20 a bottle.

I am not going to pick any Irish because it is too similar to Scotch and generally more expensive. I believe the real merit in single malt whiskeys is in training the palate as to what good Scotch tastes like, but the prices of single malts generally rule them out here. If you do want to buy a single malt, consider a 10-year old as it is not clear to me, whether or not further aging actually improves the product, or rather degrades the malt taste. This depends on the palate, I suppose. Also, consider Johnny Walker Black or Chivas Regal, which are cheaper than single malts but not necessarily inferior.

The all-time winner for best buy in any category has to go to White Horse Blended Scotch Whisky, which can be found for between $12 and $15 a bottle. This whisky has attractive packing, like more expensive whiskeys, and has a base of Lagavulin, one of the most distinct and expensive of the single malts. This is highly recommended. My runner-up would be Teacher's, which is slightly more expensive. It also has the same attractive packaging, i.e., metal caps instead of cheap plastic ones, has a high malt content and a distinctive sweet taste. If you can't find either of these, Passport is not bad, for about the same money. The rule of thumb here is if it has a plastic cap, it is no longer a best buy, but rather cheap swill and this rule seems to hold up fairly well.

Friday, October 3, 2008

R.I.P. Chicago Cubs

What a joke baseball's post-season is. You play 162 games and show that you are clearly better and then baseball sticks you in what may be only a 3-game series and it's over. Or as Billy Beane said in Moneyball, "My sh*t doesn't work in the post-season."

I don't care what happens here. The Cubs were clearly the better team this year.

The World Series winner is now little more than a statistical fraud. St. Louis barely even had a winning record a couple of years ago, but the better team tends to only win about 55% of the time in baseball, which means that a true powerhouse like Seattle had when they won 116 games in the regular season has less than a 20% chance of winning the World Series. A wildcard team with a couple of good pitchers can stumble its way into a title.

This was somewhat obscured at the beginning of the addition of the dreadful five game division series back in 1996 because the Yankees had an unlikely run, winning four times in five years. But since the 2000 season, no team has repeated and some very mediocre teams have won the Series.

I sincerely doubt that the 1976 Cincinnati Reds, which were the only NL team in the last 80 years to repeat, could do so under these modern rules. Atlanta would have won several world series under the pre-1969 and even under the pre-1996 rules, but now it is just a lottery where the regular season means little or nothing.

One commenter has brought up the scheduling changes due to intra-division play. I understand about the scheduling changes, which are another unfair change, particularly to the Mets, but understandable to let some inter-league rivalries take place. The differences in the records here seem significant enough to offset that.

If winning 12 more games in the regular season does not make you better, then why not let all the teams in the post-season?

Two games is not any kind of representative sample upon which anyone can make conclusions. If the Dodgers took two easy games in a row at Wrigley in July, people wouldn't bat an eye. I think I have seen articles that say that it would take 8-10 games to be somewhat statistically reliable, it is certainly more than three games.

The NFL and NBA play-offs are much more statistically sound and I don't think anyone denies that. Hockey is somewhat less so but still more than baseball.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sarah Palin

I am kind of fascinated by Sarah Palin. Her entire candidacy is so surreal that it seems like something out of a movie, maybe a chick-flick called Veep Mom, or one of those comedies where the yokels show how much smarter they really are than more sophisticated folks, call it, Wasilia White House, and instead of Easter Egg Hunts, Sarah "dresses" a deer for the children and teaches them where food comes from.(No moose in D.C., unfortunately).

She has bragged about being the Joe Sixpack candidate, and don't they deserve a little representation in Washington, too?

It reminds me of the situation back in 1970, where Richard Nixon nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, Florida judge, Harold Carswell. When Democrats questioned his capacity for being a Supreme Court Justice, Senator Roman Hruska of Nebraska attempted to make his case for him:

”Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and
people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation,
aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises,
Frankfurters and Cardozos.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Hruska

I guess we all believe in Affirmative Action now.

Or not, since John McCain recently compared her experience to that of Ronald Reagan, who, together with Barry Goldwater, espoused an influential and detailed political doctrine, and who governed the most populous state in the nation for 8 years, and who ran three excellent presidential campaigns, finally winning in 1980, after losing narrowly to Nixon and Ford in 1968 and 1976.

Yeah, that's the same as being governor for two years and mayor of some podunk town in Alaska.

The GOP stalwarts go apoplectic if anyone disses Sarah, so I am writing this at my own risk.

Still, it is hard for me to be too mad at the GOP because this month has been the greatest reality show I have ever seen: the Sarah Palin show. These are the same Republicans that have opposed affirmative action for 30 years because it advances people beyond what they are capable of; these are the people who sneered at welfare queens having babies in high school, but in Alaska you get an extra $1,500 per year for every baby you can pump out, so why shouldn't Bristol get on board?

Let me make clear that I am not disrespecting Sarah just because she sounds exactly like Frances McDormand, who played the female cop in the movie, Fargo, although she does. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fargo_(film) ; http://www.slate.com/id/2201318/

I definitely am not a "hater."

Nor am I am one of those people who point to every factual gaffe that people make.

Furthermore, I understand that when people speak, they don't necessarily use 100% proper grammar, but Palin seems to be especially challenged with respect to verb-subject agreement and antecedents, which seem strung to and fro, interrupted by healthy doses of talking points, which usually seem to have nothing to do with the original question.

If you are a liberal, you really have to scratch your head sometimes to even figure out what the heck she means, and often, you simply cannot. Those talking points are not intended for you. That is conservative secret code. She's non-linear, so don't go trying to put her in the constraints of ordinary grammar and syntax. Let Sarah be Sarah!

You definitely cannot accuse her of not trying to improve herself. My goodness, when asked by Katie Couric what periodicals she reads, Palin remarked, "all of them."

That's a lot of reading.

Slate magazine online, has done a number of superb humor pieces on her. There was one about diagramming her sentences, which was funny, but the Slate article on the poetry of Sarah Palin may have been about the funniest thing that I have seen since the movie Borat. http://www.slate.com/id/2201342/

Sarah tells it like it is, no pulling punches for her:

"On Good and Evil"

It is obvious to me
Who the good guys are in this one
And who the bad guys are.
The bad guys are the ones
Who say Israel is a stinking corpse,
And should be wiped off
The face of the earth.

That's not a good guy.

(To K. Couric, CBS News, Sept. 25, 200

Here is another of my favorites:

"On the Bailout"

What the bailout does
Is help those who are concerned
About the health care reform
That is needed
To help shore up our economy,
Helping the—
It's got to be all about job creation, too.

Shoring up our economy
And putting it back on the right track.
So health care reform
And reducing taxes
And reining in spending
Has got to accompany tax reductions
And tax relief for Americans.
And trade.

We've got to see trade
As opportunity
Not as a competitive, scary thing.
But one in five jobs
Being created in the trade sector today,
We've got to look at that
As more opportunity.
All those things.

If you submitted a sitcom based on the reality of this candidacy, it would be rejected as unbelievable. Truth is stranger than fiction, indeed! And funnier, too. I can't wait to see Gramps McCain holding Bristol's baby in the White House--that alone would be worth having the Republicans win the election.

Sarah is actually funnier than Borat and that movie was hilarious. A great sequel would have Borat go to Alaska and learn about Alaska from her. She truly is about the funniest thing I have ever seen.

I love the way she can turn any question into a nonsensical talking point, or as one wag noted, "babble points." Bail-out? Well, its all about health care reform and lower taxes and trade.... And always remember, Iran is not a good guy.

So you can see, I love Sarah Palin! I am on pins and needles to see what she might cook up for us in tonight's debate. Talk about "Can't Miss T.V."!

I'm not voting for her, of course, but if she ever actually gets a reality show, I will be watching! As she might herself say, Right on!

Friday, September 26, 2008

LPs versus CDs--The Debate Continues

CBS recently did a report on the renewed popularity of vinyl records, which were once thought to be dead a decade ago.

So what happened? Well, a couple of things. First of all, vinyl records are much harder to pirate than CDs, so the record companies like them. Second, they have much more room for artwork and lyrics and the like, so both fans and artists like them in that respect. Third, (and I am not going to provide any links because there are too many opinions out there), vinyl records may interact with a phono cartridge in a way that is simply more pleasing to the ear than is digital reproduction, even though they may or may not be as technically close to the original recording.

For what it is worth, I take a middle position. The vast majority of rock music, up to about 1985, was composed and engineered for vinyl, thus it might not be surprising that it sounds as good or better on this medium. This is true for a large chunk of the great jazz music out there.

With respect to classical music, however, I believe that CDs are generally the better choice for 99% of people. There are so many soft passages in most great classical pieces, which generally date before 1950 or even 1900, that any little bit of surface noise generally becomes obstrusive to the enjoyment of the piece. Most of the imperfections on rock music generally will fall beneath the noise floor.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

GOP Prospects for the Future

If you compare the 1988 electoral map to the 2008 electoral map, as provided by Realclearpolitics, it is becoming clear that the GOP is going to have to change its positions on many issues. The map continues to trend away from them.

The idea that Republicans could win a rout like 1988 or 1984 or 1972 anymore is ludicrous. The blue states on the East coast are heading south towards North Carolina and then Georgia on the I-95 and I-85 corridors. Among states below the Mason-Dixon, Maryland has already become reliably blue after voting for Reagan and the first George Bush and Virginia now has had 2 Democratic governors in a row, and will soon have two Democratic senators.

Some have posited that re-apportionment will save the GOP in the coming decade, with Red states likely to gain electoral votes at the expense of blue states, but this assumption is suspect, as the gains in Texas, South Carolina and Utah, which should remain reliably red, are liable to be tempered by the losses of Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada, Florida, Arizona and Georgia, all of which have suddenly become competitive states for the Democrats. Colorado and New Hampshire, both of which were won by George Bush in 2000, and New Mexico, which he won in 2004 after losing in 2000 are trending blue as well. http://www.savethegop.com/2008/09/14/electoral-college-2012/

You will notice that with the exception of Utah, none of the most fiercely conservatives states, such as Alabama, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana or Mississippi will be gaining electoral votes.

Virginia may go blue this fall and if it does, expect it to remain blue, followed by North Carolina in the next election, with Nevada and Florida already at equipoise. Georgia has gone Democratic for President in 1976, 1980 and 1992, while Arizona went blue in 1996 and has looked increasingly competitive, if not this year, due to the nomination of a favorite son.


Friday, September 12, 2008

The Greatest Fights of Muhammad Ali

Boxing, along with horse racing, was once widely followed among Americans. In many ways, the 1970's were the final heyday for the sport, when there were excellent practitioners, particularly in the heavyweight division, which was led by Joe Frazier, George Foreman, and Muhammad Ali.

Ali, who had previously been a dominant champion during the 1960's with no serious opposition, found himself surrounded by several fighters who were in his class during the 1970's, which resulted in several great, great fights, most of which are now available on either ESPN Classic or youtube. For anyone interested in watching some of them, here is my ranking of the ten greatest fights involving Ali. These are all interesting fights and I would put the first five of these on a list of the greatest fights in boxing history, not just among heavyweights.

1. 1974--Ali vs. George Foreman--Known as the Rumble in the Jungle, this fight had an electric atmosphere, with almost constant action. Ali proved that he had the best chin in boxing as he survived Foreman's brutal assaults and ultimately won on a "light" knock-out over an exhausted Foreman in the 8th round, giving Big George his first career defeat. Despite the biased announcing by the British commentator, this fight was pretty even until the surprising ending where the spent Foreman twirls to the canvas. Because of Foreman's acclaim at the time, this fight was much more of an upset than it seems today, somewhat akin to Buster Douglas stopping the undefeated Tyson in 1990.

2. 1975--Ali vs. Joe Frazier--Known as the Thrilla in Manila, this fight lacked the explosive individual punches of the first Ali-Frazier fight or the Foreman fight, but what it lacked in knock-downs, it made up for in intensity. Frazier and Ali went toe to toe for 14 brutal rounds, fighting to the point of utter exhaustion, if not quite death. Every time I watch this, I am unsure whether or not Ali is going to be able to come out for the 15th round.

Sports Illustrated had this to say the week before the Thrilla: "It is doubtful that Ali and Frazier will match their first fight, a masterpiece of courage and talent and high tension that left one damp with sweat and tingling many hours later." http://vault.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1090286/index.htm

Somehow, they did.

3. 1971--Ali vs. Joe Frazier--Known as the Fight of the Century, this bout pitted the two undefeated champions in a fight which had more peaks of excitement, but less overall intensity than the Manila fight. Frazier punishes Ali in both the 11th and 15th, perhaps worse than any other boxer until Larry Holmes in 1980. Frazier's knock-down of Ali in the 15th was one of the hardest punches in boxing history, but somehow Ali got up and finished the fight. Overall, it was still a pretty close bout and Frazier may have looked more beaten up than Ali at the end.

4. 1977--Ali vs. Earnie Shavers--Shavers had a punch like George Foreman and would later go on to destroy Ken Norton in one round, and put Larry Holmes down in a title fight, and he showed his power here, hurting Ali in several rounds and leaving Ali sagging on the ropes at the end of round 14.

We didn't realize how good Shavers actually was at the time, so in retrospect, Ali deserves credit for beating an excellent opponent in a close, exciting 15-round bout. Sports Illustrated gave this fight its cover with the headline: "Ali's Desperate Hour." http://vault.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/cover/featured/8558/index.htm

5. 1975--Ali vs. Ron Lyle--Ron Lyle was another excellent 1970's fighter, along with Shavers, Norton and Jimmy Young, who never quite won the title in the ring, but who all gave Ali all he wanted head-to-head. Lyle appeared to be ahead in this fight in which he made Ali come to him, away from the ropes, but Ali stopped him in the 11th on a somewhat questionable TKO.

6. 7. 8.--Ali vs. Ken Norton--Ali fought Norton three times, in 1973, twice and then in 1976 and there essentially was not a dime's worth of difference between the two fighters. The first two fights were split decisions, one won by Norton and one won by Ali, with Norton breaking Ali's jaw in the first bout. The third fight took place in 1976 in Yankee Stadium and was just as close as the first two with Ali winning a highly controversial decision by one round on two cards and two rounds on the referee's card.

9. 1978--Ali vs. Leon Spinks--This was an exciting, entertaining bout that resulted in Ali losing his title. The reason why I grade it only at 9 is because it was not apparent at the time, just how poor a heavyweight Leon Spinks was or how much Ali's skills had been degraded in the five months since his victory against Shavers. Spinks may be the worst heavyweight champion to ever hold the lineal heavyweight title, but this was a pretty good fight.

10. Tie--1976--Ali vs. Jimmy Young; 1975--Ali vs. Chuck Wepner. The Young fight was not particularly exciting, but many felt that Young won the 15-round fight. Wepner never really had a chance to win against Ali, but he did put Ali down with a surprise glancing punch and took Ali into the 15th round before finally succumbing and ultimately inspiring the concept of the Rocky movies for Sylvester Stallone.

Ali fought ten title bouts in the 1960's and won all of them easily, against mostly mediocre competition, with the exception of Sonny Liston and the small, former champ, Floyd Patterson. In the 70's, however, Ali rarely had an easily fight when fighting against highly ranked opposition, as the above list shows. It is difficult to assert that the 1970's Ali was measurably better than either Norton or Frazier head to head, and neither Foreman, nor Young, nor Lyle nor Shavers ever fought Ali again, after difficult wins for Ali.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Reel Mowers Revisited

I now have had the opportunity to use my Scott's Elite mower exclusively for a couple of months and I have to say that my opinion of this unit has only gone up. It simply works beautifully and for me, anyway, has made lawn care somewhat addictive.

One tip that I want to share is that I did make one adjustment to the unit's factory settings, which was to raise the cutting height to its maximum. While you cannot really do this on the fly with this mower as you can with the Sunlawn's, it really is not all that difficult to do and takes about five minutes to change, but what a change!

The mower is much easier to push and the difference in cutting height is not all that great. In fact, I believe that many of the people who have found these types of mowers too difficult to push probably never tried the mowers in the highest cutting position.

After adjusting the height to its maximum, it was much easier to cut tall grass, while cutting grass which was just at the verge of needing to be be cut, was almost too easy, as there was very little resistance at all. I am sure a physicist could explain this with an equation, but basically, the larger the mower's width and the higher the grass, the more effort it takes to push a reel mower and small differences in the dimensions and settings might make a significant difference in terms of the pushing effort required.

For where I live, which is the hot and sunny Mid-Atlantic region, the highest setting is plenty short to be presentable and is probably close to the optimal cutting height for the Ryes and Blue Grasses used in this region.

With respect to some of the other issues regarding reel mowers, I continue to find most of the criticisms overblown. My yard is larger than recommended, it is uneven in places and has different types of grasses. None of these factors has been much of a hindrance.

Some critics have raised the question of small sticks getting caught in the mower. The Elite is more susceptible to this than the Sunlawn, but it really hasn't been a big deal. You either roll the reel back slightly or just plow through it if the stick is small enough.

Reel Mowers are not great at cutting tall weeds or breaking sticks into mulch or leveling uneven soil, but most of these practices are not essential, or even antithetical, to safe, proper lawn care. If there are weeds that don't get cut, I simply yank them out.(or if they are dandelions, they eventually fall over on their own.) Yes, it takes a little more time, but the yard ends up looking better. Reel mowers are actually better for mowing near obstructions such as rocks or stumps, as they tend to cut the ground around these objects without hitting them, unlike gas mowers which often break or lose their sharpness due to hitting stumps and exposed concrete and the like.

About the only other issue has to do with the sharpening of the blades. I have mowed a lot of grass with this Scott's Elite and the blades still seem perfectly serviceable. I have, however, bought a blade-sharpening kit for this unit and it appears to be much easier to do than I expected. Although I haven't used the kit yet, I have read the manual.(rtfm, right?) Basically, you apply a sharpening compound to the blades and then either roll the mower backwards, or take one of the wheels off and crank the reels backwards for a few minutes to make the reel edges sharp again, but after a couple of months of using this mower, I don't feel that it is necessary yet. http://www.rubyrooms.com/p/How-To-Service-Your-Reel-Mower/l-2452012

There have lately been a slew of articles, including one in the New York Times, which have dealt with the inability of many small gas-powered engines to run well on fuel blends which contain ethanol, which is basically all of them in the U.S. now. Apparently, small engine machine shops have been inundated the entire country all over, with malfunctioning gas mowers.

This probably explains why my gas mower has died three times in the last 9 months and probably is now headed for the recycling heap. I recently tried high octane gasoline to see if that might turn its sputtering into starting, but to no avail. The only other thing to try is some type of fuel additive, and if that doesn't work, then I am giving up on my gas-powered mower. I wouldn't even bother trying, except for the challenge to see if I can get thing running again.

Nevertheless, with the possible exception of grinding fall leaves, which I haven't had to do yet, I honestly cannot envision a situation where a simple gas-power mower is superior to the tried and true reel mower given my personal lawn mowing needs. Although I have actually seen some good looking gas mowers on sale recently for around $100, I just don't miss the noise and the smell and the wrenching my arm out starting the thing, even if the newer ones actually do work with ethanol blends.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Review--Dennis Wilson--Pacific Ocean Blue

I have been going back and forth over what is going to be my next post, this exquisite album by a former Beach Boy or the new Batman movie, the Dark Knight, both of which I had been awaiting anxiously. Well, you have to start somewhere and this amazing work has soothed my disappointment over the new Batman flick. http://www.pacificoceanblue.net/

First of all, although, this re-issue album is entitled Pacific Ocean Blue, which was a Dennis Wilson solo work from the late 1970's, it is much more than that. Dennis, the lone surfer in the group, was not one of the more-heralded Beach Boys, known mostly as the drummer who rarely sang, but became known for his excursion into transcendental meditation and for having more than a casual relationship with Charlie Manson, before Helter Skelter. He would eventually be overcome by personal addiction and drown in the very ocean he so loved.

Due to Dennis Wilson's early demise--he was to die a few years after the release of POB--he left behind a great deal of music in the archives directed toward an album that never saw official release. Tentatively called, Bambu, after the rolling papers that used to sit next to every cash register at every convenience store in the 1970's, the second disc of the POB re-issue carries songs from the so-called Bambu sessions, that have been bouncing around as bootlegs for close to 30 years. Finally, the release contains two versions of an amazing unreleased instrumental song by Wilson called Holy Man, which by itself is worth the price of admission.

I was never a Beach Boys fan growing up--too corny, I thought and I might have been right given what American radio usually played, Barbara Ann and Surfing USA--not that they were bad but I was more attracted to the Beatles and never realized that the Beach Boys had records like Pet Sounds and Surf's Up and Holland that were amazingly beautiful and deep. Strangely enough, the Beach Boys have always been much more popular in England than at home. Maybe the grass is always greener. But the works on the new POB release are not much like any Beach Boy albums that I know. They have an amazing 1970's feel. Think of the very best music from the 1970's, whether from Jackson Browne or Pink Floyd or George Harrison and you will be right at home with POB and the Bambu out-takes.

Even though POB and Bambu were not originally released together(or Bambu, ever, until now), taken together, they definitely have a similar feel among the songs. If Dennis Wilson had followed George Harrison (another unappreciated famous band member with vocals more expressive than exquisite) and released all of these songs at once, the effect might be quite similar to Harrison's lauded sprawling triple-album, All Things Must Pass, with Dennis's Holy Man playing the role of Isn't it a Pity, as the album's anthem, while River Song might be Dennis's My Sweet Lord. There are 33 tracks here and very few that feel out of place.

My only caveat for Beach Boys-aficionados is that this album reminds me much more of the best of 1970's album oriented rock and not of the the Beach Boys in general. These songs are not at all like the harmonies that many associate with the Beach Boys. They are much more bluesy and laid-back. I've only had these discs a fortnight and I may re-address this new CD release more in depth at a later point, but right now I rate Pacific Ocean Blue very favorably with Harrison's All Things Must Pass, which I see as maybe the classic album of the 1970's.

Five stars and highly recommended!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Reel Mowers

I have been intrigued by reel mowers ever since I noticed Wally and Beaver using one on Leave It to Beaver re-runs. It was my job to mow the lawn growing up and the Cleavers always made lawn care look a lot more fun than it was for me pushing around a heavy gasoline-powered mower.
When we bought our first home, one thing that really didn't occur to me was that once again it would fall to me to keep the grass cut.  Kids come by the house asking if they can do it, but at their going rate of $30 to $40 dollars, I usually ask them if I can mow their lawn instead.

In the process of renovating our home and yard, which had been left in not exactly the greatest shape by the previous owners, I quickly went through four separate gasoline-powered mowers, either simply wearing them out or by hitting upon (literally) hidden treasures like the remnants of a grown-over outhouse, or the mostly buried boiler in the yard that broke the engine of one of the mowers. I then switched to buying used ones for under $100 from a local guy, but soon tired of their inevitable refusals to start, usually just before we have guests or during the last mow of the season, leaving patches of uncut grass for winter.

A riding mower seemed like overkill and plus, I grudgingly like the exercise that I get from cutting the grass. I finally decided to take the plunge and buy a reel mower, figuring that at the least, I could use it as a back-up. My wife tried to warn me off the endeavor, remembering painful childhood hours spent pushing an old, rusty reel mower with dull blades on her family's farm, but I figured that it was worth the risk, given that they aren't all that expensive anyway, and took the plunge.

Doing research on which one to buy, was far from easy. Reel mowers are a product that people seem to either love or hate with equal passion. Lawns come in all sizes, with different kinds of grasses that vary in texture and of course, humans come in different sizes and strengths.

Ultimately, it appeared that there were two major choices, either a Brill-type mower or a Scotts-type mower, with the major difference between them being that the Brills did not need sharpening, while the Scotts-type mowers were recommended for higher, thicker grasses, due to the slightly different manner in which they clip grass. Apparently, the Brill-type mowers are big in Europe where lawns are far smaller and gas-powered mowers are used sparingly. Most reel mowers have five blades, but some of the ones for shorter grass varieties come with seven blades.

After a little more research, I decided to buy a Sunlawn MM1, which was a less costly five-blade clone of the Brill-type, and which also offered the ability to cut a bit higher than the Brill. I am not exactly sure what types of grass I have in my yard, but I think that they are mostly blue grass varieties that grow a bit higher than some Southern varieties, and so I did want the ability to cut above a golf fairway height.

I decided to purchase a Sunlawn MM1 and have used it for over a month, after buying it as a backup for my old gas mower that has already been serviced twice this spring and still refuses to start.

I have been pretty happy with the design of the Sunlawn and particularly enjoyed the soothing sound that its blades make while cutting grass, but I am afraid that Sunlawn must be in the initial stages of product production in China and quality control is apparently not good right now. Previously, some of their dealers have seemingly implied this, as they have delayed production of their new mowers in this style:

"Due to a major production issue with our supplier Sunlawn has been forced to refuse our shipments of the MM-2 model. As a result, availability of the MM-2 will be delayed until further notice. We apologize for the delay and the inconvience but Sunlawn insists that all of our quality standards be met or exceeded."


As evidence of these problems in my own case, the handle bars of my Sunlawn MM1 were warped right out of the box, and this made putting the unit together much more of a chore than it should have been, although Sunlawn was responsive about dealing with this in terms of sending replacements.

Unfortunately, however, after a little more than a month of use, the adjustable metal brackets for changing the mowing height, in the back of the Sunlawn MM1 mower, have both cracked in two, and the mower can no longer be used at all. This happened on Sunday.

It simply appears that the metal was not cured properly or otherwise Sunlawn is going to have to engineer this metal thicker. The Sunlawn has a 2-year warranty and I have no doubts that they will send me a new mower, but I have grass to mow now and hence I bought the Scotts Elite because it was available for pick-up at Home Depot for $84, which is about 2/3 to 1/2 of the going price for the Sunlawn.

I wasn't all that upset about having to invest in a second mower because I have really enjoyed using the Sunlawn mower and its temporary demise gave me a chance to try the Scotts type and to detail my experiences here.

One reason why there are so many varying opinions about these reel mowers is the different ways people use them. Some people in condos and townhouses and the like, have about 100 square feet of grass. I think virtually all of them could (should) be using a reel mower.

My yard is pretty large, probably about a quarter acre of grass, however, and I mowed all of it during the past two days with the Scotts Elite and was impressed. It may be preset a tad low compared to what many recommend but I have usually preferred to mow lower than most people so I probably will not fiddle with the height settings, as I think it is harder to change heights on the Scotts than on the Sunlawn, which had detailed height markings. When I get the new Sunlawn, I may leave it on its highest height setting and use the mowers in tandem.

My grass was about as high as it ever gets during the two days that I mowed it with the Scotts Elite and the Scotts was easily able to handle it, although it was quite a work-out for me. For comparison, the grass height would probably have choked and halted a 4.5 horsepower gas mower unless mowed very slowly, but the Scotts plowed right through it. For further comparison, I then mowed a patch in the front yard that was at a normal cutting height and pushing the Scotts through it was actually easier than pushing a gas mower, as they are much heavier than reel mowers.

I think I like the sound the Scotts makes even better than the Sunlawn.

The Scotts was also easier to assemble and seems better able to handle tall grass than the Sunlawn was, and as I said, my grass was very tall since it needed to be mowed several days earlier. The Scotts' cut may have also been a shade crisper. My Scotts Elite seemed to have more metal parts and to be better constructed than the Sunlawn. My only complaint was that the handles were uncomfortable to hold compared to the Sunlawn but adding some black electrical tape seemed to help.

Theoretically, it may be harder to sharpen the Scotts at some future point, but I obviously have not gotten to that point yet. The Sunlawn may only need sharpening every 7-10 years, as they claim, but there is scant possibility that the mower will last that long, if used on a large yard, although I guess one could get replacement parts after the 2-year warranty expires.

I would add one thing about aesthetics. Part of the fun of these is the throwback aspect, sort of in the same way that vinyl records and tube radios are making a comeback.

Scotts has two mowers under their name. The Scotts Elite, which is the 16-inch mower, seems to me to be more of what people think of when they remember classic reel mowers, with blades that are about shoulder-wide, and usually sells for $80-$100, which seems a bargain. I really like the look, sound, and feel of this mower which seem to embody what a reel mower is, or at least should be, to me. If anyone has read my earlier posting regarding record players, the Scotts Elite is the AR Turntable of reel mowers. It has classic styling, simple engineering that simply works, and few if any extras to break or complicate use.

Scotts' other mower is the 20-inch Scotts Classic--so named, even though it looks less classic to me than the somewhat smaller Elite. The Scotts Classic is about twice the cost of the Elite, and to me, looks a bit strange as it is somewhat wider and has what look like training wheels in back, instead of rollers as on the Elite and on the Sunlawn MM1.

I did not like the look and feel of the Classic nearly as much as the Elite. It felt clunkier and as though it was shaped to meet the 20-inch width just for competitive reasons rather than principles of engineering, because many people who have never used a reel mower before seem to want the widest one possible because they think they will finish mowing quicker.

People forget, however, that getting the larger cutting area is not "free." Aside from the fact that the Scotts Classic costs much more than the Elite model, potential purchasers need to remember that given the laws of physics, it is probably about 25% harder to push the bigger 20-inch Scotts Classic than the 16-inch Scotts Elite.

I also notice on the box that the manufacturer is the American Lawn Mower company, which also makes mowers under its own name, which look similar. They are usually an attractive red in color, and the one for sale at Home Depot was even cheaper, at $74, with a cutting width of 14 inches. It might be a better choice for smaller people or those with less pushing power.

So far, I am very, very impressed with what I got for $84 in the Scotts Elite, but I will let you the gentle reader know if any negative things crop up.

Right now, I would probably recommend that for people who want a mower for a condo or tiny, well-manicured lot, or one with really short or thin grass types, that they consider the Sunlawn since it doesn't need sharpening every year or two, but for people who need a workhorse mower, the Scotts are the way to go.

Among other manufacturers, the American Lawn Mower, Sears and Prison(Yes, really! That is the brand name) reel mowers are probably fairly similar to the Scotts in their mechanics, while the Brill and Gardenia are closer to the Sunlawn, I believe. In terms of aesthetics, I think both the Sunlawn and Scotts Elite are equally attractive, but would give the Sunlawns the edge over the Scotts Classic, which looks ungainly to me.

Lastly, let me say a couple of things about the ease/difficulty of use of reel mowers. If the grass is high enough so that someone would objectively say, "hey, that grass really needs to be cut," then a reel mower would probably be harder to push than a gas mower(non-self-propelled) on flat terrain(Self-propelled mowers have their own issues in terms of being difficult to use, but I won't go into that here.). Reel mowers are actually easier to manage than gas-powered mowers on very hilly terrain due to the lower weight of reel mowers, but overall, if the grass is high, reel mowers are harder to push.

If you stay on top of your lawn, however, and mow perhaps slightly earlier than you would otherwise, then a reel mower may actually be easier to push since they weigh much less.

Secondly, using a reel mower successfully probably demands a change in the way a person mows the grass. If you are the type of person who always is in a hurry to finish mowing and have a fairly large lawn, then reel mowers are probably not for you. You are not going to achieve any significant savings in gas by using a reel mower, although they are safer, much quieter and less polluting, not to mention not having to worry about running out of gas in the middle of mowing and having to trek off to the gas station.

The great thing about reel mowers is that you can mow for five or ten minutes a day, without getting all hot and sweaty and without smelling like gas and without wrenching your arm out starting the mower. You can have fellowship with your family out in the yard because the noise factor is minimal. You can stop whenever you need to rest or get thirsty because there is no worry about starting the thing up again or wasting gas while you rest a second if you leave the gas mower on.

You may actually start enjoying your time spent mowing now that, instead of trailing the hot fumes and noisy barrage of a dangerous gas mower, you are focused on the gentle and safe whirring of a reel mower's blades and the delicate balance of the grass blades as they lift gently in the air after being cut.

Ulitmately, mowing with a reel mower is a Zen thing. If you think it might be for you, give it a try.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Grammar Question

A relative recently asked me for help regarding the standard usage of the word, "lie," and its confusing counterpart, "lay." Let me start by saying that virtually no American gets this right all of the time and very few ever get it right at all.

The confusion stems from several factors.

First, the two words have similar meanings, that of, more or less, lowering a person in the case of lie, and lowering an object, in the case of lay. Secondly, many Americans do not consistently differentiate between the past participles and past tenses of irregular verbs--compare have run and have ran, and have come and have came, which are often used interchangeably by many people. Third, when used reflexively, "lay" may be properly used when normally one would use lie. Finally, lie and lay share a conjugal form, that of the word, "lay," but in different tenses, and this is probably the most difficult aspect regarding keeping these words separate.

Let's look at the present and past tenses for these two words:


Lie: I lie -- Lay: I lay
you lie -- you lay
he lies -- he lays
we lie -- we lay
they lie -- they lay

Past Participles

lain -- laid


Lie: I lay -- Lay: I laid
you lay -- you laid
he lay -- he laid
we lay -- we laid
they lay -- they laid

So here is where most people get tripped up: the past tense of the verb "to lie" is the same as the present tense of the verb "to lay." This tends to make the verb "to lie" feel like a present form when used correctly in the past tense and people instinctively tend to dislike this.

One of the most famous novels of all time is called As I Lay Dying, by William Faukner. Most people probably perceive this as a present tense but it is in fact the past tense of "to lie."

Here are a couple of other famous examples. The traditional children's prayer, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep appears at first blush to be incorrect but what is happening here is that because there is a direct or reflexive object pronoun, which is "me" only the verb "to lay" can be used. The verb "to lie" is intransitive, which means it is a type of verb that cannot take an object.

Simon and Garfunkel had a famous song called, Bridge Over Troubled Water, with a lyric, "like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down," which is similarly archaic but correct due to the following reflexive pronoun after the verb "to lay."

One way to usually get this right is to use the verb "to lie" when we are referring to ourselves or to someone else's lowering themselves downward. Thus, I lie down when I am tired. I lie in the sand to get a tan. She lies down everyday at 3 p.m.

The problem here is when we want to talk about the past, because then, to parallel the above examples, a person will have to say: Yesterday, I lay down when I was tired. I lay in the sand to get a tan. She lay down everyday at 3 p.m.(but presumably no longer does). Unfortunately, most people are going to perceive these correct forms as being in the present and not the past, and we haven't even gotten to the past participle issue, with the strange sounding "lain" being the correct form for the verb "to lie."

I wish I could make this even easier but given the difficulty most people have with this distinction, try the following rule of thumb. If no person or thing follows the verb, use "lie." If a person or thing follows the verb, use "lay."

If I want to lie down, first I must lay the baby down.
When I lie out in the sun, first I lay a towel on the sand.
At night before lying down, I say, "Now I lay me down to sleep...."

Any questions, just leave a comment and I will try to respond. But right now, all this grammar is giving me a headache so I think I will lay down my laptop and lie down for a spell.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Law and Economics--Not Just for Conservatives

As a diehard opponent of the death penalty, I have been thoroughly gladdened by the U.S. Supreme Court's recent curtailment of the practice.

The United States is the only western democracy that makes use of the practice of having its states and federal government execute human beings. I believe that after 30 years of attempting to let U.S. politicians do the right thing, the Supreme Court has finally realized that there are apparently no limits on the appetite of American legislators in terms of application of the death penalty and thus, it falls into the Court's lap to do the dirty work or orchestrating the abolition of the death penalty.

The most recent case, Kennedy, dealt with whether the death penalty could be given to rapists of individuals under 12 years old. And in a nice, bit of irony, Kennedy, Justice Kennedy, that is, was the deciding vote among the five conservatives on the court.

First of all, I find the whole notion that the application of the death penalty should be dependent upon the victim to be despicable. It doesn't matter to me whether the person raped was a police officer, housewife or 12 year old girl--if the crime is the same, why should the penalty differ?

The arguments in favor of this differentiation, "because it was a child" are pretty thin and the Court was right to not let them carry the day.

What was really great about this opinion, however, was the way that the Court's liberals rubbed the use of Law and Economics in the face of the Court's ultra-conservative rightwing. Here's a quote:

"[B]y in effect making the punishment for child rape and murder equivalent, a State that punishes child rape by death may remove a strong incentive for the rapist not to kill the victim. Assuming the offender behaves in a rational way, as one must to justify the penalty on grounds of deterrence, the penalty in some respects gives less protection, not more, to the victim, who is often the sole witness to the crime. It might be argued that, even if the death penalty results in a marginal increase in the incentive to kill, this is counterbalanced by a marginally increased deterrent to commit the crime at all. Whatever balance the legislature strikes, however, uncertainty on the point makes the argument for the penalty less compelling than for homicide crimes."

This is an excellent example of how smart liberals can use law and economics to carry the day.

The other thing that was great about this case was the fact that it involved the 8th Amendment's "cruel and unusual punishment clause", something that basically throws Justice Scalia into apoplexy because his generally well thought-out legal theory of textualism cannot handle examples where the legislature throws the decision to the Court on purpose. Scalia's fallback here tends to be a more Borkean mode of analysis of original intent, which involves looking at the history of the amendment and trying to project what the legislators intended.

Well, what if the legislators intended for Justice Scalia to be Plato and decide the issue based upon any myriad of reasons? Scalia's theory doesn't have an answer for this and his conclusion that the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause was inserted to merely foreclose punishments that were already considered cruel and unusual back in 1789 seems fairly redundant.

Anyway, after a series of terrible disappointments by this Court and Administration for libertarians in terms of abandoning Lopez, we have finally gotten some heartening decisions on the 2nd and 8th Amendments due to the movement of Anthony Kennedy from side to side. Neither Presidential candidate had anything very intelligent to say about this decision, which seems to reinforce the point that American politicians simply lack the courage to deal with the death penalty in a forthright manner, so thanks be to G-d for the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Letter to George Will

Dear Mr. Will:

Regarding your article in the Washington Post on Sunday, June 22, 2008 -- http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/20/AR2008062002276.html

For someone who writes a fair number of excellent columns, you completely blew it on this one. I can only wonder who did the research on this column and I further not that your citation from someone named Heather Mac Donald is absolutely wrong.

Mr. Will, if you believe that "the criminal justice system will do everything it can to keep you out of the ... federal slammer," then you definitely need to start attending some federal sentencing hearings. If it quite common for non-violent federal offenders to get federal prison time for first offenses.

You quibble about the proportion of crack defendants in prison and seem to blame it on the higher murder rate among blacks, as though murderers make up the majority of inmates in the U.S.

You never bother to address the fact that the U.S. has more people in prison than China and India combined and imprisons at a far higher rate that Great Britain. What accounts for these differences? How do these nations stay safe without imprisoning at the rate which we do?

Apparently your interest waned at the point that support for you hypothesis wavered.

You may quibble with Obama over his definition of what consitutes a "young, black male" but your article itself is simply shoddily done and quite disappointing given the caliber of work that you often do.

William Loeffler

Criminal Justice Act Attorney

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Healthful Alternative to Beer

Now that we are getting to the dog days of summer, many people like slaking their thirst with a cold beer after mowing the law or working in the yard. Good enough, but given all the recent data concerning the healthfulness of red wine, why not give red wine a shot.

Well, first of all there is the taste. Red wine goes great with meals, but is often too tannic to be drunk alone, particularly to quench thirst and there really are not that many red wine cocktails that fit the bill.

But thanks to the Spaniards, there is one great way to add red wine to your diet in place of beer or other alcoholic drinks: Sangria.

Now, Sangria has a myriad of recipes, most of which involve something acidic like orange juice being mixed with cheap red wine, fruit and other things, in a pitcher or tub.

But here is an easier alternative if you just want one glass. Take red wine, the redder and the cheaper the better, and pour one serving in a large glass over ice. Then mix in equal parts of Sprite and orange juice, or club soda and orange juice, and if necessary, sweeten to taste. If you don't have any Sprite or orange juice around, try a recipe of one half red wine and one half Coca-Cola--it's pretty good as well. If you want to cut up fruit to put into your concoction, you can, but it isn't really necessary. It is hard to ruin Sangria, so try putting lime or lemon juice in, as anything citrusy works well.

Using the Will Loeffler formula for making Sangria is easy and fun and it also has an added benefit over the traditional way of making it. Here, because you are making it like a cocktail, you are adding exactly one serving of the alcohol portion and are much less likely to over-indulge, as is the case when drinking mystery punch where one doesn't know the alcohol content and it is easy to fool yourself. Happy Summering!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Richard A. Posner

Richard Posner is a judge on the 7th Circuit in Illinois whose scholarship, often associated with the Chicago School of Economics, particularly in the application of economics to law and also to matters of sexuality, had a large effect on my own intellectual development. I have a first edition of his book, Economic Analysis of Law, which he signed for me and I have often considered him a hero.

Unfortunately, I lost a lot of respect for Posner after reading one of his opinions in the field of criminal law where he upheld a particularly onerous sentence while finding a way to wedge what he thought was a clever joke into the opinion. As bright as we all know him to be, perhaps the demands upon him and other federal judges are not all that great given all the time he has to write books and be witty in his opinions. He appears not to have much regard for core principles of human rights and seems to view violations thereof as sort of misguided government ventures which he virtually always upholds.

On a less personal note, I also do not see that he is any more likely, all things considered, to be upheld in his decisions than other judges. He erred badly in an opinion on the sentencing guidelines in which he defiantly ignored (while pretending to be in compliance with) the Supreme Court's previous rulings on the guidelines and got smacked down by Clarence Thomas and Scalia.

What part of the word "advisory" did you not understand, Judge Posner? I mean, come on, how much respect can you have for a judge who doesn't know what the meaning of the word "advisory" is? Either Judge Posner was pandering to the Right in one last attempt to garner a Supreme Court seat, or he really isn't any legal genius in terms of following Supreme Court precedent.

In spite of all his unsolicited opinions about how to improve the legal profession and law schools, Posner, himself, has been guilty of shoddy, almost inexcusable practices at times. Perhaps, no one needs a lecture from Judge Posner about how to improve the legal field when he cannot even refrain from citing vacated opinions. http://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/2006/09/does_judge_posn.html(Does Judge Posner know how to Shepardize or KeyCite?).

In short, Posner has lost a great deal of respect for his opinions on the sentencing guidelines, which frankly make me wonder whether it might not be time for him to take senior status. After all, doesn't the legal profession deserve better than this sort of shoddy work?

I still admire Posner greatly for his 1973 treatise on economics and law, in terms of popularizing the idea which was important. Posner, himself, has not shown much particular aptitude for the enterprise of applying economics to law, interestingly enough, unlike Coase, Demsetz and others. He has often, in fact, been a great aid to those who oppose the Right because of his cursory applications of what he deems to be "efficient" outcomes. In spite of his avowed opposition to the "war on drugs" his legal philosophy actually promotes it and his predictions for its demise after September 11th have been dead wrong.

In all, I find it hard to see Posner as any sort of legal great. Unlike Milton Friedman, or others associated with the Chicago School of Economics, Posner seems to flail to and fro, with essentially no core legal principles to guide him.

He is no Antonin Scalia (who in spite of all his faults, does indeed have core principles); he is no Hugo Black or William O. Douglas who actually believed humans had rights just because they were human, gasp!; he is definitely no Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., although he seems to think he is, but perhaps Posner should be careful what he wishes for. (Holmes was certainly not particularly admirable in many of his writings which often seem inhumane and cruel--"three generations of imbecils", indeed). http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200112/posner

What Posner does share with Holmes appears to be the certitude that he, Posner, is smarter than all the rest of us, and the ability to make this sentiment come through in his opinions.

If I had to characterize Posner, I would say that he is the P.T. Barnum of the legal world. He likes to shock people and will spout off all sorts of revolutionary-sounding things in his writings, but when push comes to shove, he is a conservative judge who basically rules conservatively in a conventional way, something that separates him from the Easterbrooks, Clarence Thomas's and Scalia's of the legal world, who will surprise us from time to time.

Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on Barnum--could this also apply to Judge Posner?:

Barnum never flinched from his stated goal "to put money in his own coffers." He was a businessman above all else, his profession was pure entertainment, and he was perhaps the first "show business" millionaire.

Posner's writings and gadfly antics have certainly made him a wealthy man, whether they have contributed to jurisprudence remains to be seen, but they probably have. As to his own merits as a judge, I am not sure how history will view Posner. One can only wonder how fair a judge can be when he refuses to stop pontificating on very nearly every policy field likely to come before him-- or does this aid in the selection of jurisdiction by plaintiffs who can choose their venue--but I digress.

At one time I might have thought Posner's career was a waste of talent by his not reaching the Supreme Court, but I no longer think it is true because whatever he had to offer, he has been able to do so with his numerous writing ventures, many of which have probably been partially underwritten by public taxpayers. Whatever the case, perhaps Judge Posner should curtail the publications and try to get his own legal house in order.