Thursday, November 30, 2006

More Obama chic

Via Lowry.

Two thoughts.

First. Until this past month, the strategy for the Democrats in '08 was simple: find someone who could win every state that Kerry won, plus either Ohio or Florida. In the aftermath of the mid-terms, suddenly the Mason-Dixon line (Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri) is now in play, plus Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, Montana, maybe even (unless McCain is nominated) Arizona.

The up-for-grabs blue states (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota) seem further out of reach for the GOP.

Meaning? Meaning someone who could win a few borderline and Rocky Mountain states 51-49% may the Dems' road to the White House. And a Mark Warneresque clone may not be necessary. If 150,000 American troops are still in Iraq in October 2008, or if an American withdrawal has led to a perceived Saigon 1975 Part II, sheer revulsion toward the GOP may be enough for 300+ electoral votes.

Simply pointing at Obama and chanting "liberal, liberal, nyah nyah nyah," won't cut it.

Second point. Should Hillary win in 2008, and serve two terms, the country will have been treated to 28 straight years of uninterrupted Clinton/Bush rule stretching over parts of four decades. This would mean the tied-for-second most dominant political families in US history--more dominant than the Adamses, the Harrisons, the Kennedys, second only to the Roosevelts--will have occupied the executive branch of government from the retirement of Ronald Reagan to . . . whom? Someone thirty-five years old in 2016 would have been eight when the Reagans boarded Air Force One for the Palisades.

I'm all for who the people want. But truly, is this what they want? Jeb Bush, who has never drawn a stupid breath (and for want of a few thousand votes in Florida in 1994, would probably be heading toward his own last two years in the White House), has, correctly I think, sensed a certain Clinton/Bush fatigue, and has taken himself out of the race. The thought of nine months of questions about Halliburton must exhaust Jeb as much as nine months of questions about the Rose Law Firm's missing billing records (never mind the thought of her husband set loose on the East Wing, playing slap-and-tickle with the interns) must appeal to Hillary.

So? So Obama is in play.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Two Americas, Indeed

John Edwards holds a book-signing in Borders instead of Wal-Mart, which of course is the anti-Christ.

Only one problem. Wal-Mart pays its employees more than Borders.

Go get 'em Johnny.

I'm back!

After four months of wondering why, I finally figured out why the address bar is so far beyond my means. I found it! I fixed it! Time to go back and be my boring self! So here it is:

A link to my great benefactor, The Irish Trojan.

Can't wait.

Koetter out

A day late, but: Dirk Koetter gone.

So, who? Recruiting starts NOW.

Over the last twenty-five years, ASU's pattern (Larry Marmie aside, God bless him) has been to cherry-pick successful coaches from less pretigious colleges who had achieved some success. Darryl Rodgers from Michigan State, John Cooper from Tulsa, Bruce Snyder from Cal, Koetter from--where, Idaho?

Robbie-Boy floated a Dave McGinnis rumor. Beyond that--having not ventured to the Sun Devil zone--I haven't any idea.

Beat the Bruins

Two years ago, when USC finished its 55-19 pasting of Oklahoma, and thus joined Nebraska '95 and Miami '01 as one of the three greatest college football teams of my lifetime, I called my local radio station to engage in some (I thought) well-deserved homerism, the two drive-time sports jocks on the other end had no wish to talk about Matt Leinart's sterling passing game, or Pete Carroll's stifling defense, or the simply reflect on the Trojans as a brilliant team that peaked at just the right time. No: instead all anyone wanted to talk about was: would Matt stay or would he go? I mean, we didn't get one day of glory before having to respond to the speculation.

So it is this week. With one of the most emotionally satisfying games in years in the books, 44-24, USC over Notre Dame, it appears that Trojan fans will face, once again, one of the most boring, boring recurring stories in college sports. Will Pete stay or will he go?

To a certain extent, the speculation is understandable. This year was probably Pete Carroll's best coaching job of his life. Without a strong team identity (the offensive captain did not play a down in 2006) and with the departure of the non-wide receiving soul of the offense (drum role, please: Leinart, Bush, White, Lutui, Justice, Byrd--five All-Americans, if you need them), it was up to Carroll to send out the best eleven and hope the chemistry would kick in. What he had to overcome was an overwhelming sense of the blahs, one that struck between the victory over Nebraska in September and the 33-10 deficit against Oregon State two months later. At times, the team seemed to be sleepwalking--through the Washington and Arizona schools--and Carroll used the Oregon State loss to turn the season around. Stanford was a walk-over; Cal and Notre Dame were statements. Now USC has secured its fifth BCS game (tell me this isn't a record), and stands poised to position itself for the fourth consecutive national-title-implications game, as well as the third consecutive BCS Championship game.

So what do we hear? Will Pete Carroll go to the Arizona Cardinals?


This, with the Cardinals' skinflint ways that pretty much prevent any sort of success. In 20 years the Cardinals have gone to the playoffs once, and that was a sheer fluke, the act of a team riding the emotion of a whole city rising up to support (among others) local collegiate heroes Plummer and Tillman. The Bidwills are a blight on pro sports, and I would assume Carroll, who now sits astride the premiere college football program in the country, would have the sense to run a mile from them.

Furthermore, Pete Carroll belongs at USC for the next 20 years. His rah-rah-rah, sis-boom-bah attitude didn’t fly in the NFL. I buy into the belief that a certain brand of superlative college coach does not fit in the pros, either due to a certain arrogance of system and work habits (Steve Spurrier), a tendency to micro-manage (Rick Pitino) or too much naked enthusiasm (Carroll). The good news is, in football and basketball, these guys can still make a fortune. (Pity the poor college baseball coaching phenom.)

In point of fact, Carroll lost the better part of one-loss team last year, and as November turns to December he coaches another one-loss team toward–in the worst-case scenario–to the Rose Bowl. Meanwhile, pupil Leinart runs for his life in the desert.

If Pete ever goes, he goes. But it would be a huge mistake. And at USC he is a god.

And yet, this is all I hear lately.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

USC and Arizona State: This is why we care

I walked around all day today thinking of the Texas Rose Bowl, and the wretched, inconsolable emptiness that accompanied me the rest of that night and all the next day, right up until the moment I won five hundred dollars in a poker tournament (and it still hurt). To want something that badly and have it denied, and have it denied in precisely the manner you thought it would be denied (the Trojans' soft defense, minus the four All-Americans from the previous year)--for all this to happen made me question the very act of rooting for a team at all.

The one inescapable truth of sports is that it feels worse to lose than it feels good to win. So why do we torture ourselves? Why do we care?

Last night was why we care.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

USC-Notre Dame, second half

Okay, I settle in just in time to see the Trojan babies push another one across. Back before the kickoff, I thought, "Okay, if USC scores to start the second half, no matter the score, that's excellent good news for the Trojans."

I say it here, it comes out there. Most important drive of the season. 28-10, USC.

Now, the (as the Irish Trojan puts it) Pete Carroll Second Half Magic.

Three-and-out, with a sack. Demonstrating, at least now, that counting on your passing game will exhaust your o-line by the middle of the third quarter. So far, anyway.

Now: USC, third and one. Didn't make it. Gotta punt.

Update: Booty to Jarrett, extra-point missed. 37-17. Beat the Bruins.

Update: 44-24. All else evens out. Beat the Bruins.


ASU-UA at a standstill.

ND goes for it on fourth-and-nine, fails. USC quick first down.

Observation here: a team that thinks it can simply pass into isolation coverage against USC will soon end up sleeping in the street. Pete Carroll--I've said this before--understands the entire sixty minutes of a game better than any coach I've ever seen, save Bill Parcells and Bill Belichek. (He is limited in other aspects of game strategy, but not here.) Pass block? Fine. Pass block for two-and-half quarters and check with your o-line.

Booty. Touchdown. 7-0, USC.

Now what's this at ASU? Ball at the half-line? After UA wins a reversal? Oh well, touchdown, ASU. 27-14, awaiting the extra point.

Update: USC, great punt return, great play selection, TD pass to Jarrett. 14-0, USC.

Update: I think I have a man-crush on Terrell Thomas, cornerback extraordinaire. Stops a TD. 14-3, SC.

Arizona State grinding down minutes. 28-14.

Update: Wow, that Lane Kiffen is some player. Oh, wait: USC scored while we were treated to a shot of Lane Kiffen in the booth. 21-3, SC.

Now Brady Quinn, first down, runs for 60 yards. Go figure.

Meanwhile, the state of Arizona has just gone to bed. 28-14, Devils.

Back at the ranch . . . Notre Dame, first and goal. Darius Walker fumbles . . . SC recovers.


Update: USC , three and out. Blocked. Punt. Touchdown. 21-10.

And in the most boring ASU-UA game ever (thank you!), ASU leads 28-14 with two minutes remaining.

Update: ASU wins, 28-14. Wonderfully tedious. Meanwhile, USC works around two Booty interceptions. Still 21-10.

Right now, I want to do a half of a Clara Bow and have sex with USC's defense, which is basically responsible for the lead right now.

Good night, Footballpalooza. We go to the second half.

Arizona State-Arizona underway

A few observations:

*Where in the world did Arizona get those ugly-ass uniforms? Red shirts with blue helmets and blue pants? They look like the prisoner team in Longest Yard II, and I don't mean the re-make. And . . .

AAAAAH! Touchdown, ASU! 7-0!

*Where was I? I was about to write, if Rudi Carpenter can get in a groove against Stoops's gambling, swarming defense, this might work. I say it here, it comes out there.

Update: Arizona State goes for it on fourth and short, results in a touchdown . . . and a vicious, late, punk-ass forearm to the windpipe of Carpenter by a ScumCat defender. I'm sorry, but try that against Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Brett Favre in the NFL, and you'll find your ass in the locker room awaiting the news on your fine.

Update: I like baseball more than college football, only because you walk away from a baseball game often saying, "I never saw something like that before." Well, I've never seen a punter punt the ball twice, as the UofA punter just did. ASU ball, first and goal . . . and in. 21-0.

Update: Excessive celebration leads to a deep kick-off, a return to midfield, a called fumble (correctly reversed--apparently even the good calls go against ASU). Soon enough, touchdown, UofA. 21-7.

Update: What a crap call! UA's Tuitama gets a clean hit, his head snaps back, bangs against the helmet of a Sun Devil defender . . . the announcers basically admit that, yeah, the hit was clean, the contact incidental, but if you knock heads "with a kid who had two concussions . . ." With a kid who had two concussions? What is this, gridiron affirmative action?

Update: So it goes. For the past three decades, Arizona State has had the superior talent, all the starters on a combined team featuring all the Arizona schools, all but the rare future NFL star who inexplicably showed up in Tucson (Chuck Cecil, Rickey Hundley, Teddy Bruschi, No-Bowl Bobby). The talent has, with rare exceptions, been on ASU's side, and the breaks have fallen to Uof A. Such is life. So it happens that two ASU blow-them-off-the-ball drives are flattened by two turnovers, and what might have been at least 28-7 ASU is now 21-14 at the half. Brother.

One-Month novel

Over 28,000 words. 50,000 seems out of reach. But I'll be close, and it'll be good.

College Lame Day

Nothing tops USC fans (who can hardly be roused out of bed before noon to make it to class) halfheartedly going through the motions on "College Game Day." When you consider that the game in question is a good eight hours away . . . Yah-Dude. Whatever.

Ah, that's the alma mater I love.

There was this good sign: "CHARLIE ATE THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY."

Ate the chocolate factory. Now that's funny.

The meanest rivalry, part two

As I had hoped, Robbie-Boy checks in:

"One more thing about today's game. Devil fans are in a once-every-14 years situation today. WE are the underdogs. It makes me sick when the cats rise out of their traditional 3-8 type seasons and hit the .500 mark and Sun Devils lower themselves to the .500 mark. Which is where we are today. Which is why the chorus of "fire Koetter" is ringing loud and clear. Some see today as a win/win game. Beat the rats, and well, we beat ua. Lose, and well, Koetter is gone!

"Kind of funny, a local fish-wrap writer said today that former Cardinals head Coach Dave McGinnis(a well liked and actually pretty good coach, for having the typical Bidwell roster while he was the cards head man)would be a perfect fit for the Sun Devils. McGinnis wants to be a head coach again, and wants to return to the valley. McGinnis.....hmmmmmm...sounds like a poor-man's version of Pete Carroll.

"Stayed tuned."

The greatest rivalry

Rivalries ebb and flow. A few years ago, the September tilt between Florida State and Miami was virtually the National Championship Semi-final; these days, it's a 13-10 offense-free shovathon in which the winner is as disgraced as the loser. In the decade before Bob Stoops and Mack Brown, the Oklahoma-Texas game was irrelevant, then a one-sided Sooner laugher. Since last year, it's become The Testing Ground for Texas.

And so it is with Notre Dame-USC. The game had a special meaning for me long before I entered USC (I did in fact grow up rooting for Notre Dame). The first football game I ever read about in Sports Illustrated was of the 1974 contest, coincidentally the most famous game in the rivalry's history. This was the game, everyone remembers, where USC trailed 24-0 in the second quarter and 24-6 at halftime, whereupon Anthony Davis returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown, and the Trojans were off to scoring 55 unanswered points for a final score of 55-24.

55-24. As Frank Deford once wrote, it is not often people remember football scores. Last year's Super Bowl? 21-10, Pittsburgh, though it took you a second. The Notre Dame-USC game had been going on for decades, there had been Gifford and Garrett and OJ and Lujack and Huarte and Hornung, but this was the fulcrum. This was the game that introduced American to Traveller, the great white horse that encircled the field after every Trojan score. This was the game that send Notre Dame's Ara Parsegian into retirement--supposedly, in part because he never wanted to look at that damned horse ever again. This game was one that signaled one of the great period in the school's rivalry, one that featured the arrival of Joe Montana (1977), the Komeback Kid Thwarted (1978), and Win One for the Fat Man (the 1982 game that was also the last of John Robinson first tenure). What began in 1983 and lasted for over a decade was one of Notre Dame hegemony, which roughly coincided with USC's, then Notre Dame's, slide into mediocrity. The few times the schools met for large stakes, the game was almost always a laugher--in 1988, when No. 1 Notre Dame met No. 2 USC, the Irish won a 27-10 laugher. Even when USC was very good, and during the Rodney Peete years they were, Notre Dame could not be beat; as a starter, Peete was 0-3 against the Irish, including the '88 debacle. In 1996, when USC finally broke through and ended 13 years of 0-12-1 frustration with an overtime win (this was the year of the $8 million-dollar missed extra point, if you remember), it did not escape anyone's attention that the victory merely salvaged a 6-6 Trojan campaign. What followed was a half-decade of futility on both sides. Notre Dame struggled under Bob Davie, while the Trojans, who learned all the wrong lessons from Keyshawn Johnson, became worse than bad; they became punk-ass.

For all intents and purposes, the modern Irish-Trojan rivalry returned to its importance in 2002, when, for the first time in ages, the both teams entered the game in the top ten, with a BCS game on the line. This was the game remembered for Ty Willingham's defensive schemes being totally exposed by Norm Chow and Carson Palmer, or as the game that won the Heisman Trophy for Palmer. Taking the longer view, this was the game that signaled that Irish-Trojans once again mattered.

It mattered a great deal more last year, when USC (thanks to Matt Leinart first finding Dwayne Jarrett in man coverage, then benefiting from a Bush Push a few plays later) squeaked out a win in The Greatest Game Ever Played. It matters still more today, as the two teams take the field for what is (or should be) a worthy companion to last week's Ohio State-Michigan game: in so many words, the national semi-finals.

A old friend from school e-mailed me this week expressing 1) she was sick, physically ill thinking about the game; and 2) that she hates Notre Dame: "Hate is too weak a word."

Which only means one thing heading into today.


Beat the Irish.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The meanest rivalry

Tomorrow the college football nation will be treated to a special game: the, by all available evidence, meanest rivalry in college football.

Arizona State v. Arizona.

There are older rivalries (Lafayette-Lehigh, Harvard-Yale). There are more historical rivalries (Army-Navy). There are rivalries with more National Championship implications (Ohio State-Michigan, Notre Dame-USC, Texas-Oklahoma). And there are rivalries that produce better games (Notre Dame-USC again, plus Oklahoma-Texas again and, until recently, Miami-Florida State).

For sheer unvarnished hatred, however, perhaps only Alabama-Auburn can crowd the annual Thanksgiving-weekend tilt between the Sun Devils and Wildcats.

This fact may come as a surprise to most people, who associate Arizona with Lute Olson's basketball teams and think of Arizona State as the place Pat Tillman attended two decades ago. But as a veteran of USC-UCLA, USC-Notre Dame, and as someone who has seen both UT-A&M and Ohio State-Michigan fans up close, I can testify: nothing, nothing matches Arizona State-Arizona for sheer unvarnished ugliness.

My younger brother Robbie-Boy once put the ASU-UA game in perspective. He told me he'd spoken to an alumnus of the so-called Big Game, Stanford-Cal, and was told, "Sure, it's a rivalry, and we want to win. But we have friends on the other side from college and we spend the days before the game wine-tasting and going out to dinner. It's part of the fun." Such behavior would be unthinkable between Sun Devil and Wildcat fans, who, starting four hours before game time, begin eyeing one another from one tailgate party to another like panthers circling the same watering hole.

The fist-fights come later, on and off the field.

The hatred has grown in two stages, and its story is a lovely sliver of college football history. The man most deserving of credit (or blame, as you will) is Frank Kush, the coach who put ASU on the football map in the late sixties and early seventies. It was Kush--along with a slew of quality quarterbacks, including Danny White, Dennis Sproul, Fred Mortenson, and Mark Malone--who made Arizona State a football power. A writer in previous generation had once said, "For me, college football gives out west of New Haven and doesn't pick up again until Palo Alto." In Kush's early years, the flyover area was shorter: college football gave out west of Lincoln, Nebraska, and didn't pick up again until Los Angeles. And so it was, until Kush's Sun Devils emerged in the desert and introduced not only to a team but an entire region to the rest of the country.

I was barely old enough in the middle seventies to remember the extent of the bias against Arizona State and other small schools in distant regions. Today's so-called East Coast bias (it is really an L-shaped bias, starting in Ann Arbor, stretching south to Austin, then east through Alabama to Gainesville) has not a patch on football in the seventies, during which the NCAA held a stranglehold on television rights and restricted broadcasting not only to a handful of games, but the same games every year: USC-Notre Dame, Ohio State-Michigan, Pittsburgh-Penn State, Oklahoma-Nebraska. Arizona State was turning out first-rate team after team in virtual anonymity; two months into almost every season, Kush's teams would be 6-0 and perhaps eighteenth in the country, behind many teams with one loss and a few (an Alabama or an Ohio State) with two. A single loss, and ASU would drop out of the Top 20 (as it was called back then). It is hard to remember, but well to remember, that much of the reason the Fiesta Bowl came into being was to gain Arizona State national exposure; the original contract was for the Fiesta Bowl to feature "the WAC champion," but in those days everyone knew who that would be.

It is also well to remember that, in those days, the hatred between Arizona State and Arizona was mostly confined to one day a year. Frank Kush did his level best to express his loathing of all things Bear Down: refusing to land at the Tucson airport when recruiting the latest stud from Amphitheatre High School, for instance. But mostly the fans of both teams (the Devil fans especially) wanted their school to beat the other without wishing the other school ill against, say, UTEP. As a kid whose parents took him to ASU games six Saturday evenings a year, I remember when the PA announcer at Sun Devil stadium would read the days' scores, an Arizona win would be greeted with general applause.

That all changed when the rivalry moved uptown, in successive stages. Stage One was The Game, which featured The Catch. In 1975 Arizona State came into the game 10-0 and flirting with the outer edges of the Top Ten for the first time ever; Arizona, for its part, was 9-1 and ranked 17th. This was the first time in the rivalry where a victory by either side would secure a bowl berth. What followed was the greatest ASU-UA game ever, a 24-21 victory by Arizona State featuring a lunging, diving touchdown catch by sophomore wide receiver John Jefferson. (It was a foretelling of the bitterness to come that, starting then, and to this day, certain Wildcat quarters claimed the catch was a trap.) In the Fiesta Bowl a month later, Arizona State pulled off not only a fabulous upset, but one of the most consequential games in college football history, a game to rank with Notre Dame's defeat of Army in 1920, or Miami's upset of Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl. ASU's 17-14 victory over Nebraska was consequential in the way the other games were: not just introducing a heretofore unsung football power, but literally moving the center of the sport. Notre Dame introduced the country to the football of the Midwest, and specficially to Knute Rockne's Irish; Miami established the primacy of Florida. In the final 1975 tally, Arizona State jumped from number 7 to number 2 in the rankings (many said it deserved the whole macaroni); more importantly, its victory introduced an entire nation to football in the Mountain Time Zone, to Arizona and Colorado State, to Brigham Young and Utah, to Boise State and Air Force. Every time one of these schools finds itself on ESPN or in a BCS Bowl, it should throw up a silent prayer of thanks to Frank Kush.

The events of 1975 were far-reaching in another way, and became the catalyst for the Pacific-Eight to extend an invitation to ASU and Arizona to enter the conference, thus becoming the first of the large conferences to alter itself in any meaningful way. Over the next thirty years, the Big East would be formed, Penn State would join the Big 10, Arkansas would leave the Southwest Conference for the Southeast Conference, the Big Eight would become the Big 12, the SWC would be smashed into half-a-dozen pieces, and--in the last few years--a dozen schools would switch allegiances for an upgrade in status.

It was this trade-up in class that brought the rivalry to Stage Two. Suddenly, both teams were fighting for the Rose Bowl--or rather, Arizona State was, and Arizona was obsessed with playing the spolier. The nastiness reached its present level in the early 1980s, when twice (1982 and 1985) ASU needed to beat or tie Arizona to advance to the Rose Bowl. Both times ASU lost, and both times the sheer joy Arizona took in denying the Sun Devils laid the hatred bare. It was along this time that Arizona State began losing almost every year to Arizona--usually under the most freakish circumstances--that it became clear that Arizona, a basketball school in a football conference, saw its entire season in terms of a single game, Arizona State on Thanksgiving Friday or Saturday. This, then, has been the dynamic of the ASU-UA rivalry for going on a quarter-century: Arizona State, almost always the better team, looking to use the game for a stepping-stone to a bowl, or a better one; and Arizona, almost always the weaker team, taking malicious delight in every bad bounce, every tipped pass, every bad call (and in the Pac-10, the calls can be atrocious).

I have been to four Fiesta Bowls, two Rose Bowls, a Cotton Bowl. I have been at Yankee Stadium for a Yankees-Red Sox double header, been at Fenway Park when Jose Canseco came to bat, sat in the bleachers to watch the Angels come to within one pitch of the World Series, and lose. I have seen Cubs fans up close, and learned the truth of the adage that the Cubs aren't a baseball team so much as an excuse to drink in the afternoon. And nothing--nothing--beats the sheer raw hatred of Sun Devils for Wildcats, or vice versa. And at 5 pm central time tomorrow, I'll turn on my TV and feel a little of that hatred for myself.

Three words.

Skin the Cats.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

While the pumpkin pie bakes

I baked my first pumpkin pie at the age of ten. Thanksgiving. I forget how this came about; either I expressed a willingness to help out of my mother decided to make me useful. The pumpkin part came out of a can; everything else--the eggs, spices, half-and-half, sugar, salt--was added by me, under her direction. Thereafter, save for a few years in graduate school, when I was at the mercy of relatives and (one year) an old high school friend, then living in the Bronx, where the grocery stores did not carry Libby's pumpkin pie pack--all except for those few years, two nine-inch pumpkin pies became my specialty.

My pumpkin pies are the best, and are simultaneously my only culinary achievement not involving a grill. From my chair, right here, I can smell the pies baking in the oven and feel decades drop away. I think of my parents and brothers and I, the five of us in Phoenix, Arizona, in a house on Second Street, eating in a large room--part dining room, part living room--more than a thousand miles away from any other of our relatives. Sunset came early that part of the year; my parents would open the curtains of the arcardia door, and from where I sat I could see over the table, past my father's head, over the back fence to the summit of Squaw Peak three miles away.

Later on, Thanksgiving became less a holiday of pies and mashed potatoes and more, as I grew older, more of a rest stop as the fall semester headed home. In graduate school I taught at one college in the morning, another in the evening, and in the afternoons I sat through literature seminars and fell asleep with my head in my hand; late I night I studied for my doctoral comps until I fell asleep in my books. And between the tenth and twentieth of November everything would pile up: essays and mid-terms to be graded, plus essays of mine that were due, all of it keeping me up until two a.m., in on the weekends, pushing me past exhaustion. Those last few weeks, the image that kept me up and kept me going was of surrendering my body utterly to my airplane seat, and then five or so hours later to the sofa in my parents' living room.

My Aunt Peggy once told my mother a doctorate was the closest thing a man will ever come to giving birth. Much like a mother of a ten year-old child, it is hard to remember the pain of wondering if my seven years of studying would end favorably. Always another semester to get through, another shelf of books to read, another set of papers to grade--and right toward the end, the sofa in my parents' living room (by this time, Seventh Avenue) where I could stretch out and fall in and out of sleep to the sounds of Brett Summerall and the image of Texas Stadium. Yes, and those pies.

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

My novel, which has consumed me in all the best ways, stands at 27, 002 words.

50,000 by month's end?

Maybe not, not now. But close.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

If often stated that, in a perfect world, we would celebrate two holidays: Thanksgiving and St. Patrick's Day.

Christmas is too expensive. Easter too uncomfortably strained between the traditions of the past (tric-or-treating) and the future (parties for all). The Fourth of July is too boring, waiting for the fireworks, and where I live it's too hot. Memorial Day and Labor Day are slightly more tolerable: one celebrates the start of summer and one the end.

New Year's Eve? I'd rather go to bed early.

Easter? Worried about my weight. At least Thanksgiving features lean poultry before loading on the starches and pies.

And Easter has no football.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

One-Month novel

This has taken over my life, and not for the worst.

25, 891 words.


Monday, November 20, 2006

One-Month novel

24,ooo words on the button. Time to ride the bicycle.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

One-Month novel

22,029 words.

11 days to go. 2,500 per day. ULP.

USC 23, Cal 9

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2006 Pac-10 Champions.

Astrogirl was strangely confident the entire game, saying, "You know they're going to win, they're the Trojans!"

Just a new generation of them, actually.

There have been greater games and prettier games. None more satisfying, really, since that 55-19 beat-down of Oklahoma two years ago.

And I'll tell you something else. I woke up this morning all full of justifications and fulminations about why the Trojans (if they beat the Irish and Bruins) belong in Glendale. And then I sat down and realized, you know? I . . . I was going to type "I don't care," but no, that isn't it. It's not that I don't care, it's that I can't stand for distractions like these to take away from the accomplishments of the team, much like will-he-or-won't-he took away from Matt and the guys two years ago.

We'll crap about the BCS another day--including the revolting development that the BCS has turned the Rose Bowl into the consolation game. Today is the day to salute a bunch of kids who were asked to fill the shoes of rock stars (Leinart, Bush, White, Bing, Justice, Lutui) and found themselves equal to the task.

University of Southern California. 2006 Pac-10 Champions.

It never, never, never, never, never gets old.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

One-Month novel

18,017 words. Almost back on track.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

My novel

16,919 words as we speak. About 8,000 words behind, though.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The one-month novel

10,018 wwords as if last night--and I'm actually behind the pace.

I feel a good stretch coming.

Borat punched out by annoyed New Yorker

1. Borat is the funniest movie in the history of the world.

2. You can't say you didn't see this coming.


1. Ohio State
2. Michigan
3. USC
4. Florida
5. Notre Dame
6. Rutgers


Meaning thatIf USC beats Cal and West Virginia beats Rutgers (hardly the least likely of circumstances) the season becomes (or should become) clear-cut. tOhio State-Michigan and USC-Notre Dame are our BSC semi-finals.

I, for one, couldn’t be happier. This would be as close to a playoff as we’re likely to see in the next 20 years.

I don’t want to hear about “close loss” or whatever. Whoever loses tOSU-Michigan goes to the Rose Bowl.

Anticipating objections:

1. How does a one-loss ND go ahead of a one-loss Michigan? The Florida State precedent (1993) deals with that.

2. A Notre Dame team having defeated Cal and Notre Dame (I’m also assuming they beat UCLA, yeah, there’s that) should leapfrog over a Michigan team losing to Ohio State.

3. Same-season rematches in college football suck. This is an inarguable truth of the universe, whether they be a conference championship game or a bowl (Oklahoma-Nebraska ‘79, Florida-Florida St. ‘96). Voters are often dictated by what they want to see as much as whom they deem worthy, and nobody outside of Columbus or Ann Arbor wants to see a November loser get another chance. This fact will hurt whoever loses between Michigan-tOSU.

Well, there's Florida, right?

Call it intuition or whatever, but I truly think that a Notre Dame team that beats USC would jump ahead of Florida. One cannot dismiss the impact of that prime-time Thanksgiving Saturday ABC game for launching teams’ and individual players’ fortunes. The 2002 game launched a two-loss USC team into the BCS as an at-large entry (over a two-loss Kansas State team that had defeated USC) and basically won the Heisman Trophy for Carson Palmer. Should Notre Dame prevail this way, I see them jumping Florida.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Senator Nelson's son arrested after victory party

Apparently there was the matter of an unconscious woman he was dragging across a hotel parking lot. Details here.

The Democrats are back, baby!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Webb wins--barely--in Virginia

Webb surged–he picked up something like 80% of the last 2% of the vote counted. Talent is about to take a dive as soon as the St. Louis vote comes in. Tester is ahead in Montana.

We are looking, ladies and gents, at 51-49, Dems.

Off to bed.

Thoughts at ten past ten

Fox is reporting that Talent’s weakness is his bad bullpen–only 7 points ahead with St. Louis and Kansas City still to be heard from. That margin is too small.

In Virginia, it’s going to come down to the last surviving Confederate widow. 12,000 votes.

Meanwhile, rumblings in Maryland. The GOP has refused to give up on Steele. The Washpost has taken down calling the state for Cardin.

And, wow.


1) Fox news 2) announces that Nick Lampson (D) wins 3) Tom DeLay’s old seat, thus, in Fox’s count 4) handing the House to the Dems.

In other news, Shelly Sekula-Gibbs wins the special election to fill out all eight weeks remaining in Tom DeLay’s term, to be succeeded by Lampson. And, in what may be the story of the night, 42% of those voting manipulated the spinning typist to write in “SHELLY SEKULA-GIBBS” vs. Lampson in the separate regular election.

What may be the only close-to-intriguing story in the most boring Texas election cycle in my 17 years of living here (and no, Kinky Friedman didn’t help) is how the Sekula-Gibbs/Lampson battle (District DeLay) starts tomorrow and shapes up for 2008. And really, that’s all there is in these parts.

Oh, and not for nothing, but . . .

On Fox, Michael Barone with a stack of election returns is Mariano Rivera with a baseball in his hand.

"Ohio six, well, that's part of the Kentucky border, a series of suburban communities earning a median sixty thousand a year joined with some hilly country, a group of farms that went for Kerry by sixty percent, all but the Johnson spread, dating back to Aunt Bessie's dailiance with McGeorge Bundy . . ."

Sodrel (R) loses house race in Indiana

You've never met him. But he was important tonight.

Over at Fox, Major Garrett is bringing up GOP legal challenges in the race. Doesn't sound like much.

Over at TX-22, Shelly Sekula-Gibbs is hanging in there at 42%--as a write-in. Only the slightest indication of how well the GOP would have done had Tom DeLay either 1) resigned a long time ago, or 2) stayed and fought. What he did was the worst of all words.

Nancy Johnson (R) loses in Connecticut House race

Only a matter of how many.

GOP holds Katherine Harris's seat; may gain in Georgia. Virginia continues to annoy

First smidgin of good news for the GOP all night: FLA-16 stays GOP; GOP competitive in two of the only three Dem Congressional districts up for grabs.

Virginia--gawd, when has so much been expended over what mattered so little--still a nail-biter.

Same with Missouri.

Tennessee--barely a lead for Corker.

And the GOP is claiming that CNN (and Fox) called Maryland too quickly.

Rhode Island goes to the Dems

Astrogirl with her first commentary of the night: "How ironic. Whitehouse beats the candidate supported by the White House."


Chocola, Northup lose

Three GOPers in red seats have lost--still the low-hanging fruit. But not good.

Fox calls Maryland for Cardin


The GOP margin for error narrows.

Lieberman wins in Connecticut

Well, somewhere, Kos plots revenge.

I love it.

Don't kid yourself: the nutroots went all-in on Lamont. And they are one GOP victory in either Maryland or the four GOP battleground states from retaining the Senate.

Implications to follow.

Santorum out, Menendez in

No surprises. And Schumer has just declared Ohio for the Dems.

The House: I don't like those Indiana House races: if the Dems go four for four, look out. And Shaw is behind in Florida.

The GOP needs some good news fast: Maryland or Virginia, either one.

Those Damn Exit Polls: here we go

On Huffpost.

Acting with the assumption that exit polls always skew left (sometimes dramatically so) we can assume, early, that Kyl and Corker are home free.

The Dems, then, must hold Maryland, win (as they appear ready to) Pennsylvania and Ohio, and then run the table in Virginia, Montana, Rhode Island, and Missouri.

Tall order. As for exit polls? "Allow me to be the first to say, 'Mr. President.'"

Harris to Nifong: "It's about honesty. You're not honest."

An election-day takedown of Mike* Nifong, the Durham district attorney running the most public disgrace of a trial since the McMartin Preschool child-molestation fiasco and other related preying-teacher frauds perpetuated from New Jersey to San Diego in the mid-80s.

(It is always worth noting that the great Child Molestation Epidemic Hoax was smashed due in large part to the efforts of three eclectically mixed periodicals: The Village Voice, The National Review, and the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. To which news Desert Rose remarked, "There's no subsitute for intelligence applied correctly."

Forty years from now, books will be written about Ray Nifong's prosecutorial misconduct, which has verged on the Kafka-esque since the DNA samples of the accuseds' turned out negative. For now, those of us who have followed the case will have to gain satisfaction from this exchange, between Bob Harris, the voice of Duke sports, and Nifong, when Harris refused to shake hands with Nifong outside a polling place:

You've got to be nicer than that," Nifong said.

"Get out of here," Harris said. "Don't pull this crap."

"This isn't about Duke," Nifong said. "This isn't about Duke at all."

"No," Harris said. "It's about honesty. You're not honest."

More on this in future weeks. For now, back to the mid-terms.

*Correction: Anonymous wrote me to point out that DA's first name was Mike, not Ray, as I originally wrote. I've corrected the text.

Election Day . . .

And, turnout blah blah blah. To paraphrase Dean Barnett: Election Day is like watching the Super Bowl played in the dark. Nothing going on until night-time.

What to watch for: If the three GOP Connecticut Reps go down, trouble for the Republicans. If the Steele wins early in Maryland, bad news for the Dems.

A Chafee win in Rhode Island is bad news for the Dems, negligible news for the GOP in so, so, so many ways.

Watch the GOP Indiana Reps.

As the evening goes along, watch Foley's seat, followed by DeLay's.

And if the GOP wins any two Senate races between Tennessee, Montana, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Missouri, the GOP Senate is safe for now.

I'm going over to Huffpost for a second, having not seen it today. If "Voting Irregularities" are in their top left "scream headline" slot, the Dems are in trouble.

Well, not quite. But close.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Some weekend

Random sightings:

1. USC defeats Stanford, 42-0, in about just the game it needed. It now returns to Los Angeles for the balance of the season--and quite possibly its four most dangerous opponents--and, as I sit here, I cannot think of what will happen, anywhere from the BCS Championship Game to losing the Sun Bowl tiebreaker to Oregon. 11-1 or 8-4: at this point I simply have no idea, and neither does anyone else. The great untold story of this season is the depth of the Pac-10, and--as Robbie-Boy pointed out--the crappiness of its bowl arrangement, whereby, potentially, a 9-3 USC team with victories over Arkansas, Nebraska, both Washington schools, Arizona State and (for instance) UCLA and Notre Dame might end up in freaking El Paso in late December.

2. Arizona State loses to Oregon State, 44-10. Ouch. Has something been happening in Beaver country? Was its 33-10 lead over SC not a fluke? I'll make this point again: One through eight (and even Arizona is showing signs of life) the Pac-10 is very good and very, very tightly packed.

3. Election Day tomorrow. I wouldn't put too much emphasis on polls tightening. I still give--in the Senate--Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland and (barely now) Montana to the Dems, and Virginia, Tennessee and (barely) Missouri to the GOP. But even in doing so I can see how a few thousand votes can turn things one way or another. Perhaps the only even marginally safe GOP seat is Tennessee, so a six-seat pick-up for the Dems is (however unlikely) perfectly legitimate. As for the GOP . . . Ohio, Pennsylvania seem lost and New Jersey will stay Dem, so, best-case scenario, the GOP picks up Maryland, loses one more and keeps 53 seats. Again, probably won't happen. 51-49.

4. Saw Departed. Not as great as I hoped--when the Stones music came in over Nicholson's opening narrative, I was ready for something transcendant, something of the order of Goodfellas. Didn't happen. And I was disappointed, in that the opening montage (busing, protests, etc.) seemed to promise something to the politics of Boston, something that Howie Carr covers in his book The Brothers Bulger. But, as Donald Rumsfeld might have said, you go war with the movie you have, and what eventually shows on the screen is very, very good. DiCaprio showed me something, and Wahlberg, and Damon as a rotten bastard. Jack was Jack. And what you get from a Scorsese crime movie is a Scorsese crime movie, in a style as distinctive as John Updike's prose.

5. Looked forward to last night's Patriots-Colts game more, I think, than any regular season game I had ever seen. Really. What a bummer. Not the final score, but the quality of play. Really, four interceptions (okay, two were not Brady's fault) against that defense? Bill Simmons has been hammering this home all season: the Pats have 13 million in unspent cap money. The money cannot be rolled over. And now that the trading deadline has passed, there is no way of finding a quality receiver. With the playoff slotting coming into play, New England will now very likely have to win a Wild Card game at home, then two games on the road: Denver and the Colts, two of the (for differing reasons) hardest places to play in the NFL. I don't even want to think about it.

6. My novel stands at 5,100 words and counting. This is my cue to get back to work.

Friday, November 03, 2006

One-Month Novel: 50,000 words

Up to 3,028 as of midnight this morning.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Louisville def. West Virginia, 44-34

Chapter one of USC's First Long Road Back Since 2003 (only this time without Leinart, Bush, Williams, Colbert, White, Udeze, Cody, Tatupu, Patterson, Bing, Lutui--did I leave anyone out?).

Dear Rutgers:

Go Rutgers! Beat the Cards!

Signed, Chauncey (get me off the hook, damn it!) Washington

(Joe here: does anyone remember a Thursday Night "Gambler's Special" game so compelling?)

Five Days Out

Partially due to polls, partially due to perceived momentum, partially hunches, here's where we stand.

Nine competitive Senate races: Seven GOP, two Dem.

Dems must win six seats in the aggregate and hope (as seems likely) they hang on to Lieberman in the caucus.

The most likely scenario for a Dem takeover is for the Dems to hold their two seats and go six-of-seven in the GOP seats.

So, consider:

GOP Seats:

Likely GOP: None

Lean GOP: Virginia, Tennessee

Toss-up: Missouri

Lean Dem: Montana

Likely Dem: Pennsylvania, Ohio

Dem Seats:

Lean Dem: New Jersey

Toss-up: Maryland

Right now, if pinned to the wall, I would give both toss-ups . . . to the GOP. Well, I'd give each one independently to the GOP, but probably bet on a split. So say Missouri goes GOP and Maryland for the Dems. Or the other way around.

Which leaves?

Dems, plus four. 51-49, GOP.

Yeah, I'd take that and walk away, too.

Kerry, Day 3: So it's over, of course

Senator Kerry: “I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative about those in uniform, and I personally apologize to any service member, family member, or American who was offended.”

Translation: "To any stupid serviceman dumb enough not to understand what I was saying, and furthermore to any of said serviceman stupid enough to actually be offended by what, to anyone listening, was clearly a smart-aleck remark aimed at your retarded commander-in-chief (who got better grades than me at the same university, but let's not go there) . . . to all you idiots, and to your idiot families, I apologize. Kind of."

November is National Novel Writing Month

So I entered.

The goal: 50,000 words in one month.

Day 1: 1,307. 300 words behind already!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Jeff Bagwell, ex-Astro (and Hall-of-Famer!)

The inevitable happens.

Awhile ago, a writer on's Page 2 (it could have been Jim Caple) made the case that, when one considers all five tools, Jeff Bagwell was the greatest third baseman of the last fifty years.

Sound odd? Consider every Hall-of-Fame third baseman since 1960. Bagwell had slightly less power numbers that McCovey, Stargell, Killebrew and Murray (all hit at least 475 home runs to Bagwell's 449), but with a higher batting average (.297) than all four. His batting average (.297) is the same as Orlando Cepeda's, but with more home runs (Cepeda hit 379).

So, his offensive numbers are in the mix with the five who are in, and this was while a considerable number of them in the Astrodome, which was only the worst hitters' park of all time.

Add to this that could field and throw better than any of the above (some were outright defensive liabilities). And as for baserunning, it isn't close; he set a baseball record in 1997 by going from first to third on singles 150 times, and he is the only player--at any position--to hit 400 homers and steal 200 bases.

One could make the argument that Stargell or McCovey was more dangerous, or more clutch, or more something--but to find a first baseman significantly better than Bagwell, one would have to go back more than half a century, to gentlemen named Foxx, Mize, Greenberg, Sisler, Gehrig.

Jeff Bagwell is a Hall-of-Famer.

Kerry, Day 2: Signs of Life

The gang at Fox News were almost bouncing in the anchor chairs this morning.

Kerry has been put into Han Solo-esque carbon freezing until next Wednesday.

Now: what are the consequences? Probably not an outright flip of a specific election or elections, nothing like the 2002 Paul Wellstone "memorial service" essentially handed Minnesota, and probably Missouri, to the GOP. Harold Ford--who by all accounts was losing anyway--quickly distanced himself in Tennessee. James Webb in Virginia, who has embraced Kerry in the past, may have a more difficult time, especially with Virginia's substantial military and military-family population.

The real effect may be psychological, something to get the GOP moving in the last week and get people generally in the polls. The GOP base has been looking for something to get them moving. This may be it.