Wednesday, August 30

Wednesday Mystery Meat.

College football season officially begins tomorrow night! Feel the Croomulence!

· Every fall, my friend Stanley, who runs a Web site called, and I put our heads together and preview each week's Southeastern Conference games. The season's about to start, as you've no doubt guessed, and the week 1 previews are up -- my assigned teams are Georgia, Auburn, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida, and Ole Miss, and Stanley has Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State, LSU, Tennessee, and South Carolina. As you'll see, whatever football expertise employed in these previews comes second in priority to simply snarking ruthlessly on all the teams, even the ones we like. Still, check 'em out. We'll be doing this all season long.

· Between my general flakiness and my complete techno-illiteracy, which goes for everything from HTML coding to turning up the volume on my cell phone, I've probably pissed off more people than anyone else in the blogosphere simply by taking forever to link them. Well, no more. Please welcome to the blogroll: Kathy McMullen, whose political blog Birmingham Blues did a bang-up job of calling shenanigans on the recent effort to bounce Patricia Todd, Alabama's first openly gay state legislator, out of the 54th District seat she'd won fair and square at the polls; longtime homey and fellow Georgia fan Mark Niesse, otherwise known as The Surly Poker Gnome; and another diehard Bulldog, Macondawg, otherwise known as Macondawg. Welcome aboard, and please remember the use of portable electronic devices is prohibited during takeoff and landing.

· Macondawg also gets props for providing a link to this man's pre-season top 25, which is perhaps even more snarky and condescending than the picks Stanley and I put together. Which is saying something.

· OK, did anyone watch the "Blind Date" edition of "Fear Factor" last night? I had the very weird sensation of seeing someone on TV who looked uncannily like this girl I used to go out with (above, the one on the right, dillwipe) -- the girl who was supposed to rescue the high-school "band geek" from the underwater stunt but couldn't because she couldn't hold her breath long enough. Turned out not to be her, of course, but still. If it had been her I probably would've had to call her out for not eating the potato-and-worm salad in the second segment. C'mon, now. You're better than that.

· Not to pile on the what-the-fudge-happened-to-Joe-Lieberman schadenfreude express, because Lord knows I would never, but who in the good-gosh-golly hell thought this would be an effective sales pitch for his campaign? I half expected a mom and her teenage daughter to walk onto the beach talking about their "not-so-fresh feelings." Joe's sure been making me feel not-so-fresh lately.

· OK, I know that according to Josh I'm not supposed to care about fashion, but since Josh, too, links to Go Fug Yourself, then I feel reasonably secure declaring this one of the funniest things I've read in a good long while.

Just for the record, I don't see anything that offensive about J-Simp's outfit. Then again, I am a dude, so when I hear the words "Jessica Simpson," "hemline," and "5-6 inches above the knee" in the same sentence, I'm kinda not paying attention to anything else. I dunno. You be the judge.

· Finally, since I never met an Internet widget I didn't like, here is where you can go (courtesy of EDSBS) to make your own "Colbert Report" You're On Notice! board. Mine is below.

That's right. Feel my wrath.

Monday, August 28

Putting the "assy" in "fantasy."

Ladies and gentlemen, the starting lineup for the Sex Panthers, the soon-to-be-2006 champions of the Big Ass Football League:

QB Jake Plummer
WR Hines Ward
WR Javon Walker
RB Larry Johnson
TE Heath Miller
WR/RB Willie Jackson
WR/TE Laveranues Coles

K David Akers

DL Nick Barnett
DL Keith Brooking
DL Derrick Brooks
DL Cato June
DB Champ Bailey
DB Sammy Knight
DB Charles Tillman

And those riding the pine, for now:

QB Marc Bulger
QB Chad Pennington
WR Andre Johnson
WR Joe Jurevicius
RB Fred Taylor
TE Joel Klopfenstein
DL Karlos Dansby
DL Lance Briggs
DB Brian Dawkins
DB Michael Lewis

If any of y'all are participating in fantasy football this year and have had your draft already, lemme know who you got. I'm interested in seeing whom everyone else is forging into the 2006 season with.

ME: Oops.

The Columbus, Georgia, Northern Little League All-Stars have won the Little League World Series, beating Kawaguchi City, Japan, 2-1 to take the world title. Kyle Carter struck out 10 batters in a complete-game three-hitter while Cody Walker scored the winning run on a two-run HR in the bottom of the third inning.

So where was I during all this? Uhh . . . sound asleep, blissfully unaware that the already-rain-delayed title match had been moved up to 5 p.m. Eastern from its originally (re-)scheduled time of 8 p.m. Which I only found out as I flipped on ESPN just now and watched, slackjawed, as they played the highlights from the game on "Baseball Tonight." Which means that, err, harrumph, my first attempt at liveblogging has been pretty much been, like most of my past relationships, over before it started.

But regardless, big ups to the Columbus Little Leaguers, who (as I mentioned earlier) weathered more controversy than any group of freaking 13-year-olds should have to and stayed focus to bring some pride to the Chattahoochee Valley. Between the Bulldogs going to the College World Series and the Columbus Little Leaguers winning the world title, it's almost enough to make you forget that the Braves are probably going to finish approximately 13,502 games out of first in the NL East. Congratulations, guys!

Sunday, August 27

Little League World Series liveblog: Columbus vs. Japan Mother Nature.

Howard Lamade Stadium in South Williamsport, Penn.: Columbus's own field of dreams?

As promised, this is where I'll be liveblogging the world championship game of the 2006 Little League World Series, in which the U.S. champs from the Northern League in my hometown of Columbus, Georgia, will play the international champs from Kawaguchi City, Japan. As of right now, the world title bout has been rain-delayed from 3:30 Eastern to 4:00 p.m. (I feel kind of bad for the kids from Beaverton, Oregon, and Matamoros, Mexico -- their third-place game, which was to have started at noon, has been cancelled entirely.) I'll be getting started here whenever they do; please bear with me if I turn out to do a completely crappy job with this, since I've never liveblogged anything before (and we're also having guests over at 5).

Anyhoo . . . in the meantime, ESPN's LLWS coverage can be found here.

UPDATE @ 3:58 p.m.: OK, now the game has been delayed until 6:00 p.m. Yikes. At this rate, these guys may be playing well into Monday. Well, I'll still start the blogging whenever they start playing.

UPDATE @ 5:00 p.m. sharp: Now it's 8:00 p.m. Just out of curiosity, when are these kids' bedtimes?

UPDATE @ 7:03 p.m., can I get a witness?: OK, ESPN says the game has been postponed until tomorrow night at 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central. I still plan on liveblogging as much of it as I can before my fantasy football draft begins at 9:00 CT. Full coverage of the LLWS, interspersed I'm sure with dramatic details of how I smoked everyone else in my fantasy league by grabbing the lead-pipe-cinch sleepers of the draft, tomorrow evening.

Saturday, August 26

Today America, tomorrow the world.

Josh Lester -- eighth-grader, shortstop, badass.

As I've mentioned before, my hometown of Columbus, Georgia, is not without its oddities and various embarrassments. But today we hold our heads up high, because today we stand but one step away from the top of the Little League mountain, for Columbus's Northern Little League team has beaten Beaverton, Oregon, in the Little League World Series to clinch the U.S. title and advance to the world-championship game tomorrow afternoon.

The road to the title bout has not been without the usual haters trying to harsh our team's buzz. First the apparently under-medicated mother of an Arizona player accused Columbus of throwing their Tuesday game against Lemont, Illinois, so that they wouldn't have to play the Arizona team again. Then, after the very same game, the Lemont coach accused power hitter Kyle Carter of showing "disrespect" to the game because he wears his cap slightly askew when, in fact, Carter wears it that way because he had a shunt implanted in his head as an infant to alleviate an arterial blockage (the Lemont coach still hasn't apologized). Then, after losing the game that advanced Columbus to the U.S. final, the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, manager suggested that Georgia baserunners were tipping off pitches. (Less conspiratorial, but still annoying, was the Atlanta Constitution's insistence on splashing today's front page with a big photo of Josh Lester crying to illustrate a story on young kids getting emotional in their sporting endeavors. Because every 13-year-old boy secretly pines to have a picture of himself crying on the front page of a major daily newspaper.)

But whatever, because the Bulldogs of Columbus Northern are headed to the world-championship game (so suck it, Arizona, Illinois, and New Hampshire!) tomorrow to face the winner of tonight's Mexico-Japan international matchup. And for the first time in my storied illustrious occasionally respectable blogging career, I will be trying my hand at liveblogging an event. Yup, some people do BCS bowl games; some people do political conventions; I do Little League.

But shut up, because it's Columbus, and we're a proud people. The game begins at 3:30 Eastern tomorrow afternoon and will be televised on ABC. Either watch the game or read this blog, because if you do neither, Kyle Carter and his skewed baseball cap will come to kick your ass.

Thursday, August 24

Interplanetary Social Chat #45089.

JuPiTeR: wasup guys

Earth4578: Hey, how's it going

youranus: sup jupter

JuPiTeR: not much

*** ADMIN: SaturnRulz has entered the chat room ***

SaturnRulz: whats up yall

youranus: hey saturn hows it going

SaturnRulz: pretty good

JuPiTeR: hey dood

Earth4578: I like your rings

SaturnRulz: thx

Earth4578: Can I get some like that?

SaturnRulz: i guess, 1st you have to get a really big gravtational pull

Earth4578: Kewl, Ive been working out lately

MARS_BITCHES: hey jupter, hows your red spot, any better?

JuPiTeR: nope, still hurts

JuPiTeR: it suxx

MARS_BITCHES: sorry man

*** ADMIN: pluto has entered the chat room ***

pluto: hey guys whats up

SaturnRulz: ???

pluto: ???

JuPiTeR: umm i thought this was for planets only

youranus: ya rly

pluto: what r u talking abuot?

SaturnRulz: dude your not a planet, your orbits all fucked up

Earth4578: Yeah, it's called a circle, look it up

youranus: lol


pluto: it's not fucked up, it's eccentric

Earth4578: whatev

youranus: lol eccentric = fucked up

JuPiTeR: anyway i heard yuor orbit crosses neptune

pluto: NO, my orbital nodes are outside neptunes orbit, its just that my orbit is inclined relative to yours



Earth4578: OK now you're just making shit up

pluto: oh so i guess youre only cool if youre in the plane of the ecliptic huh?

pluto: yuo guys r snobs

youranus: u r teh l4m3

JuPiTeR: yeah why dont you go play in the dwarf planet chat room

MARS_BITCHES: dammmmmmn


Earth4578: Yeah dood, they're called little people

youranus: hehehehehehehehehehe


SaturnRulz: why r u yelling?

SaturnRulz: dude your moon is almost as big as u r

JuPiTeR: yeah i got 4 moons bigger than you

Earth4578: My moon is bigger too

pluto: your moon is teh suxx0rz

SaturnRulz: nice try, why don't you go back to playing w/ the Lolipop Guild


MARS_BITCHES: u got knocked the fuck out man


*** ADMIN: pluto has left the chat room ***

Earth4578: Wow

MARS_BITCHES: what a dick

SaturnRulz: yeah realy

JuPiTeR: yeah but you know, i feel kinda bad 4 him now

MARS_BITCHES: 4real?????

JuPiTeR: lol no, just kiding

youranus: lol good one

SaturnRulz: did he just call us giant orbiting farts?

Thursday mystery meat, and an opportunity for all you college-football fans to look S-M-R-T.

· Just out of curiosity, why did the authorities from Colorado or wherever pay for John Mark Karr to fly business class from Bangkok to LAX? According to the Thai Airways Web site, Karr's unrestricted business-class ticket would've cost 91,360 baht, which equals $2,436.57 -- whereas a restricted, economy-class ticket on the exact same flight would've cost nearly $900 less. You tell me whether John Mark Karr deserves complimentary champagne and fried king prawns. (Just in case you were curious, here's what Thai's new business class looks like.)

· Lord knows I've I've bagged on my hometown of Columbus enough over the course of doing this blog, so when something good comes out of C-Town, I'm going to call attention to it. Well, the Columbus Northern Little League team is in the semifinals of the Little League World Series tonight, so if you happen to be flipping through the various ESPN networks this evening and manage to catch a little bit of the game, cheer 'em on.

· Here's another Peach State athlete getting props: has rated Georgia defensive end Quentin Moses the top DE in the nation and the number-two player overall.

· On the political tip, I'm going to make an admission that will probably surprise some of y'all: When I was living in Virginia in 2000, I voted in the state's Republican primary for John McCain -- partly because I thought he would make an infinitely better candidate than the empty-suit Bush, but also because I was seriously considering voting for him over Gore in the general election. Well, let's just say my respect for the "maverick" McCain has just about disappeared completely, because it's starting to look like the guy will just say anything to get elected. On "Meet the Press" Sunday, he basically said Bush's "stay the course" strategy is stupid, but that we need to continue it; he basically said Rumsfeld is a bad SecDef and needs to resign, but if Bush wanted to stick with him then that was fine. And then there was this comment to reporters earlier in the week:

[McCain] said the administration had failed to make clear the challenges facing the military. . . . McCain said that talk "has contributed enormously to the frustration that Americans feel today because they were led to believe this could be some kind of day at the beach, which many of us fully understood from the beginning would be a very, very difficult undertaking."

But here's what McCain said to Chris Matthews just a week before the war first started:

MATTHEWS: Are you one of those who holds up an optimistic view of the post-war scene? Do you believe that the people of Iraq or at least a large number of them will treat us as liberators?

McCAIN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Basically, it's like this: When it looks opportune to stand by Bush and support him, McCain will do that; when it looks advantageous to talk about what a shitty job Bush has done, he'll do that. He'll flip-flop back and forth between them as often as he needs to. Watch out for this as McCain's 2008 presidential campaign begins to gather steam over the next year or so.

· But lest you think I can never, never bring myself to say something kind about a Republican, let me point out that Sarah Palin (above), former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and the winner of the Republican primary for Alaska governor, is adorable.

· Finally, if you're an excellent college-football prognosticator, or even if you're just a shitty one who doesn't mind being wrong, wrong, wrong in front of a reasonably large group of people, join the College Football Pick 'Em Group I set up on Yahoo -- pick each week's Top 25 games against the spread, and at the end of the regular season the person with the most correct picks gets a sizeable cash prize a fawning we're-not-worthy post on this very site and, consequently, the respect of every single person who reads it. Yep, both of them! To sign up, go here, click on "Create or join group," "Join existing group," and then "Join a private group," and then enter group ID number 14719 and password "tereshinski" (no quotes, all lower-case). When you sign up, howsabout posting a message on the group message board letting me know who you are and which blog you run, if you have one. Good luck!

JoeT3 wants to know if you feel lucky. Well, do you, punk?

Tuesday, August 22

The University of Georgia, where the right to party is fought for. And won.

We don't do everything well. But we do some things extremely well.

The Princeton Review has released its 2007 best colleges rankings, and as usual, Georgia has made a sterling showing in that most important of rankings, the best party schools. Georgia ranked #12 in the country, a slight drop from last year when we made the top 10, but still, considering that our university president is spending most of his time these days implementing "family-friendly" (read alcohol-free) tailgate zones and trying to erase the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" nickname from our consciousness, we should probably be impressed that the ranking didn't fall any further than it did.

Georgia ranked high in a number of other categories worth mentioning, including, but not exclusive to:

· The "Best College Newspaper" list, which is particularly dear to my heart considering that I spent the better part of three years annoying students and administrators alike as a writer and/or editor for that newspaper, The Red & Black. The R&B ranked number six in the country. I'll take it.

· The "Students Pack the Stadiums" list, where we ranked fifth below only Notre Dame, USC, Florida (understandable) and North Carolina (WTF? Maybe this list also implies "students pack the basketball arenas"?).

· The "Lots of Hard Liquor" list, where we came in at #10 (and tops in the SEC East). Personally I'd rather make that list than the "Lots of Beer" list, if I had to choose.

We also made some less desirable rankings, "Dorms Like Dungeons" being chief among them, but . . . well, I can't say it's inaccurate.

Some other interesting stuff I learned -- our rivals in Atlanta, the ones who always like to talk about how much smarter than us they are, in fact have a lower average GPA than we do and have an average ACT score only one point higher than ours. It is also worth pointing out that Auburn University, despite having allegedly reached "the top of the nation" academically, is still below Georgia in terms of average GPA and average SAT and ACT scores. (Although they do apparently have an outstanding library.)

I guess they ranked the libraries based on how many copies of this they had lying around.

As for the categories of "Hottest Girls" and "Biggest Assortment of Places to Cure a Raging Hangover Within Staggering Distance of Campus" -- both areas in which Georgia also would've excelled -- I guess the Princeton Review didn't get to those. Next time, Princeton Review, next time.

The Motherland is calling! We will rise up and ruthlessly defeat the enemy!

Now that Mark Richt's first five-year plan has come to a close, and with such smashing success -- 52 wins, two SEC titles, a 4-1 (dammit!) 3-2 bowl record, and a five-game win streak against our big in-state rival -- it's time to look forward to the next five years. Coach Richt has decided that the next five-year plan will begin under the leadership of Joe Tereshinski III, a good quarterback and a fine Slav, the fifth-year senior who comes from a long line of loyal and patriotic Bulldogs.

Some have questioned Richt's wisdom in making this move -- they would rather see heralded new recruit Matt Stafford take the reins. But I'm confident in Richt's decision. He knows the QB situation at Georgia better than anyone, and there's every reason to be confident in his abilities to develop each of our prospective signal-callers. I pointed out in the comments to this post at Paul Westerdawg's place that back in 2001, David Greene had even less experience than Tereshinski does now -- Greene was a redshirt freshman who had never taken a single snap in an actual game -- and yet he turned out just fine. As a recruit, Greene showed promise, but he was hardly an all-world five-star OMG prospect; still, he later became one of the best QBs in conference history. Tereshinski's natural talent may or may not be on Greene's level, but be that as it may, if we could win eight games in 2001 with a brand-new quarterback and a brand-new coach, it hardly seems outside the realm of possibility that we could win nine, ten, or even more this year with a slightly more experienced QB and a very seasoned coach.

My point is I think it's time for all good Bulldogs to rise up and show their faith in our great leader Richt, as I stated in the comments here. And I have used my mad MS Paint skillz to assemble some propaganda spirit posters, in the hopes that they will encourage Bulldog Nation to support our red (and black) army as they seize the means of production in the SEC and emerge victorious in our conference revolution.

Here they are:

Under Richt's great guidance -- forward to victory!

From Georgia Bulldogs will be Georgia champions

Trust in our great leader Richt

And my personal favorite, based on the slightly creepy poster here --

Thank you, Comrade Richt, for the happy childhood!

I had an idea for one based on this one in which Richt is standing beneath the smiling visage of former head coach and Hero of the Motherland Vince Dooley, but I couldn't find any black-and-white pictures that really worked. Oh well. Enjoy.

Friday, August 18

Roundtable No. 1: Polls, underrated Hokies, and time travel.

Now that the Blogpolling has begun in earnest and bloggers everywhere are rushing to both justify their rankings and belittle those of others, leading to the kind of trenchant, enlightening "You suck"/"No, you suck" debates that only the blogosphere can produce, it's also time to bust out with the series of regularly scheduled blogger roundtables to discuss all manner of things -- teams, coaches, polls, schedules, coffee, dogs, daughters, Darryl Strawberry, the long ball, you know, no big whoop.

Our first official roundtable of the 2006 season is brought to you by The House Rock Built, makers of fine Notre Dame-related blogs and blogging products for over 11 months. House, what say you?

1. What's the biggest ripoff in this preseason poll? Either pick a team that's offensively over- or underrated, or you can rag on a particular voter's bad pick (hey, we're all adults here, we can handle it).

I'm surprised to find that I don't have any huge, fiery objections to the initial poll. I'm not really feeling Florida as the #7 team in the country (though I put them at #10, so I guess I don't have too much room to complain), and I think Virginia Tech will only look better and better as the season progresses, but other than that I can't really find anything that really drives me into an Orgeronic fury.

Except for the Hawkeye fan over at The Bemusement Park who left Georgia off his preseason ballot entirely. He better find someone to start his car for him in the morning. But everyone else is safe for the time being.

Nope, nothing to see here. Hey, anybody know where the Beirut chapter of the Bulldog Club meets up?

2. What shold a preseason poll measure? Specifically, should it be a predictor of end-of-season standing (meaning that a team's schedule should be taken into account when determining a ranking), or should it merely be a barometer of talent/hype/expectations?

It's risky enough to make a prediction on how good teams are right now, at the beginning of the season, when we haven't actually seen any of them play; trying to reach even further and predicting where they'll be at the end of the season seems, to me at least, like outright insanity. So I restricted my ballot to how good I think teams are right now, based on talent and coaching alone, without trying to take into account the millions of intangibles, potential upset/letdown situations, and other stuff that can affect a team's fortunes over the course of a four-month season. That's what I think a good poll should measure, and I definitely don't think it should be a preseason hype-barometer, since the outlets like ESPN and SI are already doing plenty of self-evident hyping. Two weeks before the start of the season, we're already being inundated by the usual boatloads of hype over Notre Dame, Auburn, and the like -- do we really need a poll telling us whom everyone's talking about?

3. What is your biggest stretch in your preseason ballot? That is to say, which team has the best chance of making you look like an idiot for overrating them?

Louisville at #8 is probably my biggest -- and given that the schedule they play is arguably a notch below what the elite squads from the other BCS conferences are up against, there's a chance that, even if Louisville goes buck wild this year, we'll never be able to determine whether they're really the eighth-best (or better) team in the country or just a pretty good team that fattened up on a bunch of weaklings. That said, though, if the Cards go 12-0 this season -- hardly outside the realm of possibility -- then I think there's a pretty airtight case to be made that whacking both Miami and WVU and never slipping up anywhere else are pretty good indicators of elite status.

Virginia Tech at #14 also makes me a little nervous, if only because I seem to be the only one who's high on them relative to FSU and Miami. But the more I hear about them, the more I like, and I think anyone who's automatically penciling the Hurricanes in as the Coastal Division champion in the ACC is making a grave mistake.

Frank Beamer can't get enough RAGEAHOL!

4. What do you see as the biggest flaw in the polling system (both wire service and blogpolling)? Is polling an integral part of the great game of college football, or is it an outdated system that needs to be replaced? If you say the latter, enlighten us with your new plan.

Well, to refer back to an earlier question, I think the biggest flaw is that, whether you're talking about sportswriter pollsters or coach pollsters or blogger pollsters, no two people have the same criteria for poll-worthiness when they're filling out their ballots -- you've got some people who are ranking the teams based on where they think they are at that precise moment, you've got some who are ranking them based on where they think they'll be at season's end, and others who might be ranking them relative to beginning-of-the-season expectations. Thing is, there's really no way to "correct" that -- you could issue a preseason edict to all your poll respondents saying, "Now, everyone make sure you ONLY rank the teams based on this and this and this," but that'd sound pretty stupid, and there wouldn't be any way of ensuring compliance in the first place.

So I think the current system of polling, while not perfect, is the best system we've got at the moment. As flawed or biased as human beings' judgment may be, I still prefer it overwhelmingly to computer polls; the idea that you can reduce something as complex and intangible-laden as college football down to mathematical formulas just seems really silly to me. If I had my way, I might at least experiment with the idea of waiting until four or five weeks into the season to start actually polling people, since by then voters would have a much greater pool of actual real-world knowledge about what they're judging; it might alleviate situations like we had in, say, 2004, where Auburn turned out to be one of the best teams in the country but was hamstrung all season long by a low-teens preseason ranking. Even without that change, though, I think the present polling apparatus is still the best idea anyone's come up with.

5. You're Scott Bakula, and you have the opportunity to "Quantum Leap" back in time and change any single moment in your team's history. It can be a play on the field, a hiring decision, or your school's founders deciding to build the campus in Northern Indiana, of all godforsaken places. What do you do?

Wow. I think this is one of the most intriguing questions anyone has ever asked in one of these roundtables. I guess I'd probably go down to Miami in June or July of 1944 and leave a big box of extra-strength condoms on the bedside table of the Rev. J. Graham Spurrier.

What? I can't use that? Not technically part of my own team's history? Screw you then.

I'm tempted to say I'd go back to New Year's Day 1983 and get someone to cover Penn State WR Greg Garrity better on his winning touchdown catch in the Sugar Bowl; had the Dawgs thus sealed their second undefeated, national-title-winning season in three years, that might've staved off the Dawg's slide from elite to merely-pretty-good status toward the end of Vince Dooley's reign. That still wouldn't have prevented us from hiring Ray Goff in '89, though, so here's what I'd do: I'd go back to January of 1989 and dump a boatload of money on the desk of the then-31-year-old Bill Cowher to become the Bulldogs' next head coach. I've already discussed in a previous roundtable why I think Cowher would be a monumentally badass coach for the Bulldogs, and if we'd somehow managed to keep him from trucking off to Kansas City to be the DC for the Chiefs in '89, who knows? Today he might be the 17-year veteran coach of the Georgia Bulldogs -- easily the longest-serving coach in the league, yet at only 49 years of age, still looking forward to many productive years ahead of him -- standing astride the world of college football like a colossus, with at least four or five SEC titles and probably a national title or two under his belt. Steve Spurrier would've still become the coach of the Gators and still done very well, but would've never been allowed to achieve the kind of soul-crushing dominance he did over the Dawgs. The '98 and '99 "losses" to Tech would've instead been guffaw-inducing Georgia blowouts. And you can be damn sure that jug-eared puke Tommy Tuberville wouldn't ever make any cracks about how Georgia "might want to run the ball more." Not unless he was itching for an unholy kneel-before-Zod beatdown from The Chin.

Not that Mark Richt isn't the Man, of course, but tell me this wouldn't have been sweet.

Friday Random Ten, back to double-digits edition.

Antarctica: the biggest party island of them all.

Life is back to normal in the Gillett household now that my air conditioning is finally fixed and indoor temperatures have dropped from 100-something to a nice, brisk 80 or so. But I'ma have icicles hanging off of this bitch by Sunday. You just watch.

1. Crowded House, "Together Alone"
2. Orbital, "Impact"
3. David Cross, "'You Go, Girl!'"
4. Pet Shop Boys, "How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?" (Eclipse mix)
5. Orbital, "Acid Pants"
6. R.E.M., "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"
7. Fugazi, "Walken's Syndrome"
8. Genesis, "Jesus He Knows Me"
9. Cake, "I Will Survive"
10. The Farm, "To the Ages"

There's good news all over the place, though: the Redskins are aiming for Clinton Portis to be back in action by the time the regular season starts; the Pet Shop Boys are releasing a live CD and a documentary DVD simultaneously in October; and a federal court ruled President Bush's warrantless domestic-surveillance program unconstitutional. Which, given the administration's track record in matters such as these, means that they will most likely respond by . . . well, changing absolutely nothing about what they're doing, but still, it's nice to know someone's holding them accountable.

Your good news and/or Random Ten in the comments.

Wednesday, August 16

The HJS Shut Up! This Could Totally Happen! 2006 SEC preview (part 2): How the West will be won.

Last week I did my first bit of actual football prognosticatin' with a preview of the Eastern Division of the SEC. This week it's the Western Division, where I suspect the horse race for first place will be even more tightly contested than in the East. As before, I'll begin with my pick for the division winner and work my way down, and no, my pick for the West champion isn't whom everybody else is picking . . .

Alley Broussard lays the smack down on an Auburn defender. Remember this image in a month or so.

1. LSU Tigers
Last year: 11-2 (7-2 SEC), capped off by a 40-3 red-assed beatdown of the Miami Hurricanes in the Peach Bowl

Yeah, you heard me: LSU, not Auburn, will be the team representing the Western Division in the Georgia Dome come December 2. As you'll read below, this selection may have a lot more to do with my doubts about Auburn than it does to do with confidence in LSU, but that doesn't mean there aren't a lot of reasons to be confident about the Bayou Bengals. On offense, the key is to establish JaMarcus Russell as the starter early so that he can build confidence coming back from last year's shoulder injury; if he does, he'll have an excellent receiving corps to throw to. RB Alley Broussard, too, is coming off an injury, one which caused him to miss all of last season, but I think he's better than people give him credit for. On defense, LSU has done their usual incredible job of recruiting top-notch talent, but are going to be forced to throw a lot of those guys in right away, particularly in the front seven; still, I'm always going to give the benefit of the doubt to a Bo Pelini defense. The secondary, at least, should be well-equipped to counter the passing threats of teams like Auburn and Tennessee.

I know I'm sticking my neck out to pick LSU, a team that definitely has its share of question marks, ahead of the team everyone else has picked to walk away with the SEC title and maybe more. But what can I say -- I just have this feeling that the LSU-Auburn game on September 16 may turn out to be a helluva surprise. No telling what happens after that, but . . . alls I'm saying is, don't overlook the Tigers who wear purple.

Absolute best-case scenario: 12-0, an SEC title, and a shot at the ADT Trophy.
Book-of-Revelation apocalyptic scenario: 6-6 and a short ride to Shreveport on Dec. 27.
My prediction: 11-1 and a horrifically vengeful rematch with Florida -- their one loss of the regular season -- in the SEC championship game.

"Keaton always said, 'I don't believe in God, but I'm afraid of him.' Well, I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Kenny Irons.

2. Auburn Tigers
Last year: 9-3 (7-1 SEC), followed by an inexplicable 24-10 humiliation at the hands of Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl

Every poll I've seen has Auburn in the top 10, many in the top five (including mine); Phil Steele and Gold Sheet have them at #2. has them going 11-1 in the regular season, winning the conference title, and playing in The Show. Stewart Mandel calls them a "title contender." So why are they sitting here staring up at LSU, a team I have ranked just below Auburn on my initial Top 25 ballot?

The expectations game. That's all I can say. Three years ago, everybody and their brother was talking about Auburn and their #1 ranking by The Sporting News, and the Tigers proceeded to fall flat on their faces right out of the starting gate as they limped to an 8-5 season. The year before, Auburn had been predicted to make a repeat appearance in the SEC title game but got embarrassed by Arkansas and got punked by an arguably inferior Florida squad and injury-rattled Georgia. Quite simply, this is a team that, when the expectations are high, finds ways to lose.

I know that sounds like an awfully vague, intangible criterion by which to doubt a team, and honestly, I sure can't doubt the Tigers based on talent: promising QB, a rampaging tailback, eye-popping speed on defense. And yet there are just enough potential weak points -- inexperience at receiver and safety, loss of an all-world leader on the offensive line -- that, in this season of major expectations, I can see Auburn getting tripped up just enough to miss out on a Brad-Pitt-in-Troy destiny-seizing moment and find themselves on the outside looking in when the SEC championship game is played.

Absolute best-case scenario: A second undefeated season in three years and the national title they didn't get in 2004.
Book-of-Revelation apocalyptic scenario: A very 2003-esque five losses and an invitation to a who-cares bowl.
My prediction: 11-1 and runner-up status in the SEC West, but -- with the loss to LSU having happened early in the season -- they get a Fiesta Bowl invite just the same.

How fast is Darren McFadden? He just came into your house, made himself a sandwich, made out with your wife, and left, and you never even saw him.

3. Arkansas Razorbacks
Last year: 4-7 (2-6 SEC), including a stunning upset at the hands of Vanderbilt and a 70-point donkeypunch by USC

Mitch Mustain is OMG teh hottest QB EVAR. Yeah, I heard you the first time. But Mustain alone won't be able to suddenly yank the Razorbacks out of four-win purgatory and back into conference contention. For that, they'll have to use the same game plan they've been relying on for what seems like eons now -- a killer running game and strong defense. The running game is definitely there, with nightmare-in-the-making Darren McFadden running behind an excellent fullback in Peyton Hillis. The defense will probably be there, too, with Sam Olajubutu leading a scary linebacking corps and a lot of promising, though raw, talent at most of the other positions.

Still, even though they're returning 19 starters, this strikes me as a somewhat inexperienced team in a lot of respects, even when you get past the quarterback situation. Enough that they're probably one year away from making a serious run at the SEC title -- but that doesn't mean that they can't ruin someone else's ride along the way, and I think they'll have the stones to pull one or two major upsets this year. Auburn plays Arkansas the week before they play Florida, while LSU travels to Little Rock the week before a possible return date in the Georgia Dome, and I'd be vary careful not to overlook the Hogs if I were a player on either of those teams.

Absolute best-case scenario: 10-2 in the regular season and a stunning march to the SEC title game.
Book-of-Revelation apocalyptic scenario: Mitch Mustain turns out to be Ron Powlus and the Hogs go 5-7.
My prediction: 8-4 and their first bowl invite in three years.

They call Alabama the Deacon Blues . . . no, wait, that's that guy in Steely Dan. These guys are the Crimson Tide.

4. Alabama Crimson Tide
Last year: 10-2 (6-2 SEC), capped off with a win over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl

I like Mike Shula. Like the fact that he's a Catholic, like his dad, like the fact that, after a bizarre sequence of events that brought him to Tuscaloosa, he's presided over four pretty much scandal-free years there. Like the fact that the look he wore last season was more steely Bob Stoops gaze than deer-in-the-headlights befuddlement. But if recent history tells us one thing, it's that Alabama has had trouble following up breakthrough seasons -- they haven't had back-to-back ten-win seasons since they won the '92 title under Stallings -- and Shula now has to basically rebuild last year's terrific defense and find someone to fill Brodie Croyle's shoes. The 2005 Tide, despite an offense that looked increasingly rickety as the season wore on, could count on the defense to reliably pull wins out of their asses at a moment's notice; they won't be able to do that this year.

But the offense, which returns nine starters from last year, might actually be better than it was a year ago, particularly if Tyrone Prothro can complete an amazing comeback from the vomit-inducing ankle snap he sustained against Florida. And even if the team itself still turns out to be not that good, well, they've scheduled enough laughable out-of-conference games (Feel the power of the Duke Blue Devils! Thrill to the high-flying escapades of Florida International!) that they should be able to snag a third straight bowl invite no problem. As it stands, Alabama seems to be in a murky clump of could-be-good, could-suck-ass mid-tier teams such as Arkansas, Tennessee, and Ole Miss, and their defense will have to learn the ropes pretty quickly to rise to the top of that group.

Absolute best-case scenario: A 10-2 season that ends with the gleeful stomping of Auburn's "fear the thumb" dreams, followed by a second straight January bowl.
Book-of-Revelation apocalyptic scenario: They get upset by Hawaii in their opener, and Tide Nation is calling for Shula's death by firing squad for the duration of a 5-7 season.
My prediction: 7-5 and they get to pick their postseason holiday destination -- Memphis, Nashville, or Shreveport. Lucky y'all!

The Orgeron ponders which member of the press he will ritualistically sacrifice in the Grove next.

5. Ole Miss Rebels
Last year: 3-8 (1-7 SEC), and Ed Orgeron shot the team's water boy at season's end, "just to watch him die"

I'm probably going to get a machete to the skull from The Big O himself for saying this, but I think Ole Miss is really going to regret -- if they haven't started already -- dumping David Cutcliffe, their most successful coach since maybe the John fricking Vaught era, for a guy who had never even been an offensive coordinator, much less a head coach. Orgeron may have maniacal motivational skills and a tasty spouse, but I have yet to see any indication that he's anything special as a head coach; Ole Miss's offense for the past two years has been downright cadaverous, and I wouldn't get my hopes up for a dramatic turnaround in 2006. A lot of people seem to think that a sea change is in order because the Orge managed to snag Brent Schaeffer, former co-QB for the Tennessee Volunteers -- but this is a guy who couldn't beat out Erik Ainge for a starting job, for Pete's sake, and even if he does turn out to be a playmaker he's not going to have too many guys to throw to.

Ironically, the defense -- never exactly a strength under Cutcliffe even when the rest of the team was going great guns -- should be the Rebels' strength this year behind superhero linebacker Patrick Willis. If Orgeron plays his cards right, that defense might be improved enough to seal the deal on the kind of close games that got away from them at the last minute in 2006 (Vandy, Alabama, etc.). A 4-0 start is a possibility thanks to a not-ridiculous-but-not-unbeatable OOC schedule that includes Memphis, Missouri, and Wake Forest, but I still have a hard time seeing this team as one that's going to make a lot of noise in SEC play this year.

Absolute best-case scenario: 9-3 and a New Year's Day bowl.
Book-of-Revelation apocalyptic scenario: They get a grand total of one win, and it's against D-IAA Northwestern State.
My prediction: An even 6-6, two, maybe three conference wins.

Anyone who'd volunteer for the responsibility of turning this team around (and spend a segment of his life in Starkville in the process) is a better man than I.

6. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Last season: 3-8 (1-7 SEC), but that one win came in the Egg Bowl, at least

Nobody in Starkville -- or Oxford, for that matter -- wants to hear this, but you could basically throw a blanket over Ole Miss and Mississippi State this year, the two teams are so similar. They've both got moribund offenses, led by QBs who are by no means worldbeaters; running games that seem likely to create the lion's share of whatever offensive production they get; and surprisingly strong defenses led by beastly middle linebackers. Because the talent levels of both teams still seems to be so iffy, I'm making the not-exactly-earth-shattering prediction that the two Mississippi teams will once again be locked in a race for the bottom of the SEC West.

While the on-paper talent level is not great, there is enough returning experience on the MSU squad that they could pull an upset or two. And whatever else you can say about him, Sylvester Croom has succeeded in the herculean task of completely making over this team psychologically, from a team that looked like a glorified Sun Belt squad in the last few years of Jackie Sherrill's tenure to a team that, while still struggling, at least isn't getting blown out by 52-0 margins anymore. The schedule, unfortunately, is not terribly friendly -- only Tulane and D-IAA Jacksonville State look like guaranteed wins, and since they don't get a shot at Vandy this year, they might have to win the season-ending Egg Bowl for a second straight year to avoid finishing with an empty W column in conference play. I think the Starkville Bulldogs are still a year away from seriously flirting with bowl eligibility, but I hope they give Croom long enough to find out.

Absolute best-case scenario: 5-7, with a bowl game a possibility right up until a November 18 loss to Arkansas.
Book-of-Revelation apocalyptic scenario: See Ole Miss (above), only replace "Northwestern" with "Jacksonville."
My prediction: 3-8, winless in the SEC.

Wednesday mystery meat.

Yeah, I know, I'm going to hell for this. Still, I've had a pretty good run.

· Here, from the New Yorker, precisely what Mel Gibson deserves.

· Here, George Will admits that, uh, well, remember all that crap during the '04 election about how John Kerry wanted to treat terrorism as a "law-enforcement problem" and not as, like, a military problem? Remember that? Well, uh, turns out Kerry might've been right.

· This response is why (well, one of the reasons why) John Rogers kicks ass . . . and, of course, this.

· Saturday night I was in Columbus with Baby Sis, luxuriating in my parents' beautiful centrally-air-conditioned home so that I didn't have to spend the entire weekend being steam-cooked in my own apartment, and we went to see "Clerks II." We were "joined," so to speak, by two women who brought their toddlers to the film, evidently because they thought that actually finding a babysitter would deprive their children of valuable education in the world of unnatural, and in some cases bestial, sex acts. I could go on with this rant but am unlikely to do any better than what my sister has done here.

· On an oddly similar note, The M Zone's Yost muses on the wonderfulness of Playboy's college-football preview issue. Hint: It involves naughty cartoons and "peek-a-boo panties."

Better not bring yo' kiiiids!

· Also courtesy of M Zone, here's one reason why you don't fuck with UGA students. Certainly not in line at McDonald's, in any case. (How the hell did I miss this story? It wasn't anywhere to be found in my last alumni magazine.)

Saturday, August 12

How do you solve a problem like Syria? (And Iraq? And Afghanistan? And . . . )

I've been reading Andrew Sullivan about ever since I seriously got into political blogging -- for about three years now, I guess -- and my opinion of him has changed numerous times during that period. Before the '04 election, his posting was about an equal 50-50 mix of genuine insight and boilerplate GOP-talking-point regurgitation; these days, as his eyes seem to have been fully opened to the true cravenness of the Bush administration's incompetence in everything from the Iraq war to the budgeting process at home, that mix has been dialed down to about 75-25 or so. Though more sensible now than he used to be, he'll still throw in a neocon-esque howler every once in a while -- but more so than ever, even when I disagree wholeheartedly with Sully, he still gives me something to think about.

This post of his from Friday is pretty much a microcosm of his current state -- at times infuriating, yes, but overall thought-provoking. In responding to an e-mail that proposes a potential Democratic strategy on the overall situation in the Middle East -- something that Sullivan has chided them incessantly for lacking, sometimes with good reason, sometimes in the service of mere pettiness -- Sullivan made me, by turns, hopeful . . .

The Iraq fiasco has shown the enormous difficulty of using blunt force to create an organic democratic change in a few years. But the future is not written yet -- and the Scowcroftian policies of propping up fast-failing dictatorships (a policy that gave us the first Islamist government in Iran) was clearly insufficient after 9/11. So call me a chastened neocon, if you must: appalled by the execution, humbled by the unintended consequences, but still unable to surrender the belief that more democracy and liberal institutions in the Middle East is the only long-term solution.

What does this mean in practice? Redeployment within Iraq to regions where we truly can encourage democracy and prosperity, like Kurdistan. More "soft" support for democratic movements in the Muslim world -- the kind of backing we gave Eastern European dissidents in the Cold War -- is essential, if done subtly enough not to prompt backlash. Encouraging the entrepreneurial Gulf states to grow in wealth and influence cannot hurt; a serious non-carbon energy policy at home is part of the mix as well. . . .

. . . and pissed-off:

If the Democrats could present a multi-faceted, hard-nosed approach to winning the war, a lot of us in the middle would give them a second look. But so far, not so good. I'm waiting for a leading Democratic nominee to pill a Sistah Souljah on the anti-war left, to call them on their irresponsibility and narcissism.

I don't get where Sullivan gets "narcissism" from; I'm a little more inclined to admit to his charge of "irresponsibility," though with the caveat that if being deemed "responsible" on national security requires assenting to every cockamamie invasion plan that comes down the neoconservative pike, I'll take "irresponsible," thank you very much. There seems to be a prevailing opinion amongst the self-proclaimed Those Who Know Better in Washington that "seriousness" on national security requires one to get behind every single war the neocons propose, no matter how short-sighted or spectacularly ill-thought-out. You could see it in the comments left at this thread (and, to a lesser extent, this one), in which I got called a "pussy," amongst various other things, simply for thinking that a wholesale Israeli attack on Lebanon, or a massive U.S. invasion of Iran, might not actually be such a great idea. My conservative critics, from what I could see, gave no thought to whether the Israeli attack on Lebanon might not actually be accomplishing anything, or to the potential consequences of an invasion of Iran; I was opposing a war, period, that's it, so that automatically makes me a lily-livered, tie-dye-wearing, terrorist-appeasing, Lieberman-purging pussy.

Those commenters may not realize it, Andrew Sullivan may only now be noticing it, but I think the American people -- if current polls are any indication -- have started coming around to it: War is not the automatic solution to everything, not even the wide-ranging problem of what to do about the Middle East. More to the point, war isn't even the solution to the problem of how to inspire democracy in the Middle East, because democracy at the point of a gun -- as we've seen in Iraq -- is, for the most part, really no democracy at all.

Furthermore, and I know I'm going to take a lot of crap for this, I just don't think it's the job of the United States to be the Great Democratizer and go around installing democracies in every country in the world that doesn't have one. Installing a new democracy is kind of like God giving Adam free will: It's great for people to have choice, but when you give them that, you have to account for the chance that they're going to choose something terrible. Look at Palestine and Iran: Those two countries are about as democratic as it gets in the Middle East -- certainly more so than the regime we just toppled in Iraq, or than so-called allies such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for that matter -- but in their most recent free elections, they chose, respectively, the Hamas party (basically a terrorist group) and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (nuclear ambitions and rhetoric on Jews basically indistinguishable from Hitler's). Do we really want to spend thousands of American lives and billions of American dollars on giving nutjobs like these a chance to flourish? Democracy is a wonderful thing, and I'll champion it every chance I get, but it's also something to be considered very carefully, and I don't think it makes me or any other Democrat "irresponsible" or "narcissistic" to say so. Andrew Sullivan may think that not wanting to wave my magic democracy wand and immediately bestow democratic governments on every single country in the Muslim world means I lack "vision," but eventually he and other right-leaners are going to have to face the put up/shut up dilemma and decide exactly how they want all this wonderful democracy to be executed. Until then, I'll take no more where-are-your-solutions crap from them, thanks.

Basically it seems to me that the overall, writ-large War on Terror, Middle East Situation, or whatever you want to call it boils down to three areas. There are the very focused, specific problems of countries where we're already hip-deep militarily, i.e. Afghanistan and Iraq; the somewhat larger issues of countries like Iran which we haven't directly engaged yet, but where a threat is definitely presented; and the still larger, civilization-affecting issues of how the Muslim world and the Western world relate to each other going forward. For lack of a better way to describe these, I'll use modifiers used by economists and physicians and call them Micro, Mini, and Macro -- and make no mistake, I'm using them to refer to their scope relative to one another, certainly not their severity or urgency. Sullivan wants a Democratic solution, here's my best stab at it:

The Micro-Problem(s): Iraq and Afghanistan. These are the two countries where we've gotten directly involved in a military sense to try to start up some kind of sustainable democracy. In one of them the situation, as I've said, has degenerated into near-hopelessness; in the other, we've still got the chance to accomplish something. First of all, I want to confess that that linked post, about "losing hope" in Iraq, was written in a very emotional moment and probably overstated the case more than it should have, and to that extent I apologize. I don't want to yank every last American soldier out of Iraq and leave the country to rot for all eternity, but my main point is that things are never going to improve there unless the Bush administration concedes that things are in dire straits there and commits to solving that problem -- which, given their track record, will probably happen about the Twelfth of Never. I don't know that I can offer anything truly helpful on Iraq, but I'm open to the idea of redeploying troops into Kurdistan and focusing their reconstruction and democratization efforts in a region where they might actually do some good. I hate to even utter this out loud, and I don't even know whether I fully believe it, but it's possible that a Shiite-Sunni civil war is simply something the rest of Iraq simply has to get out of its system before a more wide-ranging democratization effort can be undertaken. By no definition is that a good thing, but we may have so badly bungled the Iraq war by now that we just have to accept it. We may have to simply do what we can in the Kurdish areas and keep a contingent of troops around just to keep a civil war in the rest of Iraq from spilling over into a wider area.

Meanwhile, there is a country where all hope is not lost, and that's Afghanistan. But we're going to have to start paying a lot more attention to this forgotten war if we want that to happen. Part of what made me so furious about the Iraq war is that we basically used it as an excuse to treat Afghanistan as the forgotten red-headed stepchild of our foreign policy, and sure enough, nearly five years after the initial invasion Afghanistan is a place where the citizens still aren't truly safe, the infrastructure is decrepit, and the Taliban has been doing its level best to bounce back. If we really want to see stable, prosperous democracies emerge in the Middle East, Afghanistan has to be one of them, and that means upping U.S. troop levels there to squash the Taliban resurgence and speed up the rebuilding of the country. We're also going to have to be prepared to spend a lot more money on that country to make sure that the people actually have electricity and running water, and it might be nice to expend some effort on clearing it of its debilitating concentration of land mines.

Right now Afghanistan is still our best hope for creating what the Bush administration claims to want -- i.e. a reborn democracy that will serve as a model example to the rest of the Muslim world. But it's not going to happen unless we start investing more sweat and dollars into it. If the last three years are any indication, the Bush administration doesn't seem to be interested in this; the Democrats are going to have to be the influence that forces him to start taking an interest again.

The Mini-Problem(s): Israel vs. Hezbollah, and Iran vs. Everybody. These are the conflicts in which the U.S. has not gotten directly, militarily involved but could still have wide-ranging effects on the entire Middle East; for that reason, they may not have the immediacy (at least for us) that Iraq and Afghanistan do, but we're still going to have to formulate some kind of strategy. In the short term, there has to be a cease-fire in Lebanon -- which both the Israeli people and the Lebanese people seem to want -- and after that, the United States needs to take the lead in strengthening the Lebanese government and military so that they can root out the Hezbollah element and become independent of them in the same way that they declared independence from Syrian influence a year and a half ago. As I've said before, the Lebanese people's repudiation of Syrian control instantly made them another golden opportunity for the kind of model democratization we've been praying for in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that'll never come to anything if Israel manages to reduce the entire country to rubble in its justified, but not terribly well-thought-out, hunt for Hezbollah. In many ways, the Lebanon situation is analogous to that of Afghanistan: You've got a country where instability has allowed the rise of a movement (the Taliban/Hezbollah) that has provided some benefits to the people (law and order, for instance) but overall has been a hugely detrimental presence and one that the country's people would just as soon be rid of. Rather than an adversary, Lebanon is a golden opportunity to make another ally. Unfortunately, they're still not strong enough on their own to get rid of Hezbollah themselves, so the U.S. and Israel are going to have to join together to help rebuild the country, provide advice and resources to guide the government to self-sufficiency, and grow the Lebanese military into a force capable of defending the country on its own. These measures alone won't destroy Hezbollah, of course, but if Hezbollah can be marginalized within the Lebanese borders, it'll still make it that much harder for them to threaten Israel.

As for Iran . . . well, I'm still not sure what to do about them. If we're already hip-deep in Iraq and Afghanistan, trying to mount a third simultaneous military operation is out of the question, at least for now. This won't make the kill-'em-all-let-God-sort-'em-out Gen. Jack D. Rippers in the radical-neocon camp happy, but I think at this point all we can feasibly do is continue negotiation efforts, continue to monitor Iran's activities through IAEA inspections, and in the meantime do what we can to support the liberalization movement that was actually making some pretty inspiring progress until Bush decided to throw the Iranian people under the bus with the rest of the "Axis of Evil" back in 2002. I won't even go so far as to say that military can never be an option regarding Iran, but only a fool would think it's something we can undertake with operations already going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, and given my natural caution about war-starting in the wake of the Iraq fiasco, I don't think I could conscion a full-scale invasion until the threat becomes at least somewhat more imminent than it is now. If that makes me an anti-war, Chamberlain-loving "pussy," so be it . . . but howsabout you tell me how you plan on invading Iraq without starting World War III (or IV, or whichever one we're on at this point).

The Macro-Problem: Islam, the West, and how we all can just get along. Obviously, this is an even thornier and more complicated issue than either of the other two, and the whole thing pretty much revolves around the issue of Israel v. Palestine. All parties involved seem to have recognized the inevitability of a Palestinian state, which is a start, but I think that Israel is going to have to allow eastern Jerusalem to be the Palestinian capital if there's ever going to be any kind of peaceful coexistence betwen Israel and Palestine. They can build a massive Berlin Wall-type structure down the dividing line and fortify it with a hundred thousand IDF troops if they have to, but that's what's going to need to happen. And before anyone jumps on me about wanting Israel to "give up" even more territory than it already has, keep in mind that even the United States doesn't recognize West Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. There may also have to be some kind of black-and-white reckoning between Israel and Palestine on the questions of Israeli settlements and Palestinian refugees' right of return, which, to my mind at least, seem linked: If Israelis still have free reign to settle in the occupied (or even once-occupied) territories, is it really fair to bar Palestinian refugees from reclaiming land they once owned that is now part of Israel? Or, to turn the question back on the Muslims, how can you demand a Palestinian-only Palestine if you won't allow an Israeli-only Israel?

Granted, that kind of simple logic rarely factors into a conflict that's gotten as violent and emotional as this one, but the U.S. is still going to have to be willing to mediate those kinds of disputes, and they're going to have to be willing to do so from a position that is as objective as possible. I know this is going to get me branded as anti-Israel, a terrorist-lover, or worse, but the United States has to stop approaching every aspect of the Israel-Palestine conflict with the attitude that the Palestinians are wrong and Israel is 100% right. I can't help but think it's that kind of de facto bias that drives otherwise rational Palestinians into the arms of radicals like Hamas (and if you're going to leave some nasty comment on here about how there's no such thing as a rational Palestinian, go away and leave your comment at Little Green Footballs or something; this is clearly not the blog for you).

That brings me to a larger point, which is that America as a whole is going to have to get over the idea that the entire Muslim world is a crazed, bloodthirsty society cravenly seeking the destruction of non-Muslim innocents wherever they reside. Yes, there are a lot of Muslims who do seek that, but to believe that every single Muslim in the world feels that way is to resign our society to a global, inescapable holy war against the entire Muslim world. I know there are some radical nut jobs in this country who are spoiling for that; I'm not one of them. I believe some kind of peaceful coexistence can be struck between the West and Islam, and has to be, or else we've basically consigned ourselves to a new Crusade that will, unless anyone has a better idea, rage for all eternity.

Andrew Sullivan is, to some extent, correct when he says that the Muslim world as a whole has not done a good enough job of shouting down the freak shows like al-Qaeda who think that the wanton slaughter of innocents is a legitimate tactic, but that doesn't mean all Muslims feel that way. Has anyone noticed, for instance, that the tip that helped expose the recent airliner-bombing plot in the UK came from Britain's own Muslim community? Clearly, there are Muslims in the world who are just as repulsed by al-Qaeda's tactics as we are, and there's no point in antagonizing those people or acting like we see them as terrorists themselves. Instead, they need to be cultivated and given the opportunity to become full partners in our society, and thus full partners in the effort to rid the world of terror.

On a similar note, whenever we mount any kind of operation -- military, humanitarian, or a little of both -- in the Mideast, we need to have a very clear idea which parts of the operation are terrorist-killing and which parts are democracy-building, because those two tasks use a pretty divergent set of tactics. I know I've harped on this at length, but I'm going to keep harping on it until it sinks in: The strength and coherence of our operation in Iraq has been consistently hurt by our inability to decide whether we're there to bring democracy to the poor benighted Iraqis, or whether we're just there to kill as many of them as possible. These sorts of dilemmas should sort of clue you in as to why democracy can't be bestowed at the point of a gun, but be that as it may, if we're going to declare as a country that bringing democracy to Muslims is a worthwhile effort, then we're going to have to concede that maybe, just maybe, we shouldn't go around jonesing for the fiery death of every Muslim we see. George W. Bush, for all his carelessness, truly seems to understand this; I only wish the same could be said for some of his acolytes -- and I'm not just talking about psychopaths like Ann Coulter, I'm talking about people in our own Congress.

Then, of course, there are the other things we need to do to separate ourselves from the old way of thinking vis-a-vis the Middle East, number one among them being an honest effort to end our dependence on foreign oil (actually, ending our dependence on oil period wouldn't be such a bad thing to shoot for, either). This is going to require a gigantic level of sacrifice on the part of the American people -- a level of sacrifice that both the ruling Republican party and most of the Democrats in Washington have been either too lazy or too chicken to ask for -- but it's not like America has been asked to sacrifice much of anything else over the past few years. Hell, we've invaded two entire countries and appear to be giving serious thought to invading a third, and not only are we not forcing Paris Hilton to give any of her tax cuts back, we're trying to figure out how we can give her more.

And on a completely separate track, we need to get real and start spending some serious time and money making our own country more secure, from our airports to our seaports to our borders. The whole "We're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" has been a real cute, glib way for our present administration to convince the public that the Iraq war is still worthwhile, but eventually we're going to have to wise up and consign that line to the ash heap of history along with "no new taxes" and "I did not have sex with that woman," because as long as we have to take off our shoes or dump all our liquid cosmetics before we get on a freaking flight to Cleveland, we are fighting them over here in our own way. And we're going to have to start doing a much better job of it, too, because there's still very little keeping a particularly ambitious al-Qaeda operative from smuggling a backpack nuke into Baltimore aboard one of those container ships we're still not willing to spend the money to inspect.

So anyway, that's my plan, or at least my first attempt at one. It's certainly not perfect, it's not yet as fleshed out as I'd like it to be, and it's damned sure going to be expensive -- but if you can figure out how to win wars and protect our country without dropping some pretty major money, I'd sure like to find out how. Actually, that reminds me of another thing we as a country need to do -- while we're throwing stuff on the ash heap of history, we need to toss Donald Rumsfeld's "revolution in military affairs" on there with them, specifically the part that insists we can fight wars leaner and meaner with fewer actual soldiers. Again, if we want to not just toss out "evil" regimes but also rebuild their countries afterward, then we're going to need a whole lot of manpower to do that, and I hope the Iraq war has taught us that no matter how powerful the U.S. military appears to be, there's no such thing as a quick-'n'-easy invasion.

This is something I'm going to continue to think about and refine over the next few weeks and months, so don't think it's a final draft of anything. But whatever I come up with later on, two main ideas are going to remain constant: One, we need to be realistic about the fact that the entire Muslim world can't be rebuilt and reformed all at once, and two, war, no matter how necessary it may look, isn't automatically the answer to a given problem.

At any rate, I hope this will keep people like Andrew Sullivan from thinking that all lefties are being "irresponsible" and "narcissistic" about the issues at hand. Incidentally, had Sully bothered to look beyond his own apparently ingrained (and robustly mainstream-media-reinforced) preconceptions about Democrats being unserious about security, he might have noticed that the Dems are trying to come up with just such a plan. As Kevin Drum notes in the link, there's a whole lot about their "Real Security" plan that's amateurish and facile, but at the very least it gives the lie to the idea that the Democrats are simply trying to ignore the global security issue at all costs -- and it's certainly more of an actual, coherent plan than anything the Republicans have come up with, which seems to be nothing more than the three meaningless words "stay the course."

So. These are my ideas. What are yours?

Friday, August 11

Friday Not-So-Random Ten, Surface of the Sun Edition.

If I seem like I've been in a little bit of a pissy mood lately, it's because -- in what is evidently becoming an annual event in my household -- my air-conditioning window unit gave out at some point in the middle of the day Tuesday. So in the middle of the summer in Birmingham, Alabama -- one of the hottest summers on record, no less, in which the heat index has been well into the triple digits all week -- I get to sit around in a sweat lodge waiting to see if a repairman is ever going to grace me with his presence. For that reason, this week's Friday Random Ten is dedicated to the sensation of sitting in a third-floor apartment full of 100-degree stagnant air, marinating in one's own sweat.

1. Bananarama, "Cruel Summer"
2. Cex, "It's Not Working"
3. DT8 Project, "The Sun Is Shining (Down On Me)"
4. Jamiroquai, "Canned Heat"
5. Pet Shop Boys, "What Have I Done to Deserve This?"
6. C+C Music Factory, "Gonna Make You Sweat"
7. Fugazi, "Burning"
8. Johnny Cash, "Ring of Fire"
9. Modern English, "Melt With You"
10. Chemical Brothers, "Leave Home"

And a bonus 11th:

11. Dead Kennedys, "Let's Lynch the Landlord"

Still, there are some reasons to smile, including DeepSouthSports' rundown of the hottest SEC coaching wives (and yes, I'm almost positive Katharyn Richt drives either a Yukon XL or a Suburban) and What's the Good Word's version of a Chan Gailey appearance on "Inside the Actor's Studio" that should make Tech fans happy. In the process, WTGW's Dan manages to coin an exciting new term, "taint-worshipping ass snackery of the highest magnitude," which can be defined as "the only level of fawning adulation directed toward one's coach and/or program that most college football fans will be satisfied with."

Your own Random Tens and/or offers to donate new air-conditioner units in the comments.

Thursday, August 10

The Thursday Not-So-Random 25.

Today I put the finishing touches on my first ballot for the BlogPoll, and as per the BlogPoll rules I'll be putting these up each week so that my ignorance and/or hubris can be viewed that much more plainly and ridiculed more directly. As the BlogPoll rules dictate, these rankings are not meant to predict where I think these teams will end up at the close of the season, just how good I think they are now. Obviously, I'll be rooting against many of these teams regardless, but anyway, here's the list:

1. Ohio State
I'm not 100% confident about having the Buckeyes up here, and in fact I probably would've put Oklahoma in the top spot before Rhett Bomar got himself booted off the team. But somebody's gotta go in the top spot, and based on what I've seen from Jim Tressel's defenses in the past, I've got a sinking feeling that returning only two starters on defense isn't going to hurt the Buckeyes nearly as badly as a lot of people are hoping.

2. Texas
Kinda iffy on this one, too, since there's no way losing Vince Young isn't going to cause at least a few Saturdays' worth of Excedrin headaches, but aside from that I just don't see where the Longhorns have a lot of weaknesses, and their coaching staff is well poised to make the most of all the talent they've got. The defense alone puts them in the top 10.

3. Auburn
Auburn looks incredibly dangerous this year, and down here in Alabama there are already scores of Tiger fans penciling AU in for an undefeated season and a national-title shot. Yeah, remember what happened the last time y'all did that? High expectations have never been the Tigers' friend, and I don't expect them to be this year.

4. LSU
Let me go on record right now as saying it would not be the least bit surprising to me if LSU punked Auburn again and ended up going to the SEC title game. If JaMarcus Russell and Alley Broussard prove to have made a strong recovery from their injuries, they could be a serious dark-horse contender.

5. Notre Dame
ESPN is already furiously pumping out propaganda to convince us that this is the new OMG WTF Hottest Team EVAR, but . . . well, I'm not buying it until the Irish's secondary steps up. Still, I'm betting they win enough games to snag another BCS berth, even if it means muscling some quite-possibly-more-qualified-but-less-nationally-marketable team like Iowa or Auburn out of the way in the process.

6. Southern California
I'm ready for USC to have a 7-5 season and fall off the map. Really, really ready. But under Pete Carroll I just don't see it happening, unless the Big One hits and Los Angeles floats off into the ocean or Carroll converts to Scientology and brings Tom Cruise in to give the team pregame pep talks about Xenu and the need to cleanse themselves of Thetans.

7. Iowa
The first real surprise of the bunch, but I just got a feeling about these guys. Plenty of returning talent, lots of good guys at the skill positions, and it doesn't seem like anybody has been talking about them yet.

8. Louisville
Their offense is plain ridonkulous, they only lost five starters from a team that went 9-3 last year, and I'm guessing their coach isn't going to be distracted by job offers from Auburn this season (though they might come from elsewhere). I would be only slightly shocked to see them beat Miami and West Virginia (both of whom they get at home) and end up 12-0.

9. West Virginia
Yes, as the fan of a team that got the mother of all surprise beatdowns from WVU in the Sugar Bowl last season, I probably ought to show the 'Eers a little more respect, but I've got sincere doubts about their ability to deal with suddenly astronomical expectations, and I'm not the only one. They're going to have a much harder time sneaking up on people this year, especially if they don't discover the forward pass sometime soon.

10. Florida
As explained earlier, this is predicated entirely upon whether the team starts to figure out Urban Meyer's offense and whether the O-line starts to gel. I think they'll take another step toward getting there, but still not quite enough to be considered real national-title contenders.

11. Miami
To my mind, the most unpredictable team on the list other than perhaps Tennessee. They could run the table and play for the national title; they could go 7-5 and play in the Champs Sports Bowl. They've got all the talent in the world and a murderous defense, but at the same time, a 40-3 dismembering in the Peach Bowl and an assistant-coach housecleaning to close out one season does not generally bode well for the following one.

12. California
If anybody can knock off USC this year, it's clearly the Bears, but they better have their QB situation completely sorted out by then. Actually, they better have it sorted out the minute they take the field, what with their first game being in Knoxville and all. But if they can manage that, it doesn't require too much suspension of disbelief to envision them hoisting the Pac-10 championship trophy this year.

13. Michigan
Another one of those terrific-on-paper teams whose outlook is smudged by some unsettling intangibles -- namely, that they've found a way to knock themselves out of the national-title race by the end of September in each of the last five seasons. As good as they should be this season, they still might be only the third-best team in the conference.

14. Virginia Tech
I have a bajillion relatives who went to Tech, and I owe all of them an apology, because I completely left the Hokies off the first draft of my ballot. I have a feeling I'm not the only one, since embarrassing controversies like Marcus Vick's have a way of overshadowing everything else. Yet forget about the Vick headlines for a minute, and what have you got? A team that may be fairly vanilla on offense (with the possible exception of the running game) but will still be superb on defense and special teams. That sounds kinda like every team VT has had since the first Vick left Blacksburg, and they seem to have done just fine.

15. Georgia
I think this is pretty safe for a team that has some major re-jiggering to do in the passing game but is very solid everywhere else. I just hope Mark Richt doesn't fall into the trap of pulling the same kind of constant QB-switching that killed Tennessee last year.

16. Florida State
Yeah, still not sold on these guys. Drew Weatherford is good, but not so good that Jeff Bowden can't find a way to completely screw things up, and the defense got pillaged by the NFL draft, particularly in the secondary. I'll pencil them back into the ACC title game because I'm just not confident in the ability of any of their division rivals to knock them out, but I'll bet they're not in the top 10 come December 2.

17. Oklahoma
Like I said earlier, I had these guys at #1 before Rhett Bomar decided to mount a candidacy for the 2006 Maurice Clarett Award for Potentially Superstardom-Ruining Stupidity, and while I wondered if 16 spots wasn't too big of a penalty for them, their offense is definitely going to require some retooling. And it won't matter how good Adrian Peterson is if the new QB, whoever he ends up being, doesn't give opposing defenses something to respect.

18. Texas Tech
Mike Leach could put me in at quarterback and he'd probably find a way to get me to throw for 5,000 yards. He can worry about defense some other time.

19. Tennessee
Except for maybe Miami, probably the hardest team to peg in the entire list. There's a chance that David Cutcliffe's return could immediately give the Vols a surge of confidence and leadership that sends them to 11-1 and an SEC title; however, there's probably an equal chance that the program has hit a trough and, even with Cutcliffe, can only muster six or seven wins this year. I'll split the difference and say they win eight or nine. Cutcliffe is definitely an improvement over Randy Sanders, but one man isn't enough to instigate a wholesale championship-winning turnaround, and the Volunteers' problems are not limited to the QB position.

20. Utah
A potential BCS sleeper, again, though I've got to be careful not to put too much stock in their Emerald Bowl blowout against a team that had clearly given up before opening kickoff. Still, it's kind of interesting how everyone decided to completely forget about these guys the minute Urban Meyer's moving van left for Gainesville.

21. Boise State
A proven offense and tons of returning talent across the board -- the only question is whether new coach Chris Peterson can engineer a smooth transition from the Dan Hawkins era, but as Hawkins himself proved, dropping a new coach into this system is hardly a death sentence for the Broncos. Probably the second-biggest threat to crash the BCS after Utah, which should make their face-off on September 30 one of the best (and probably most underrated) of the year.

22. Boston College
Don't they always seem to end up ranked somewhere in this region? They've always got way more talent than you think but never quite enough to knock off the perennial conference powerhouses, and I see that as pretty much being the case this year.

23. Oregon
Losing Kellen Clemens hurts, but the guys backing him up on the depth chart weren't exactly total novices, and at the very least they'll have a terrific offensive line to work behind.

24. Clemson
Everyone's pegging this as the year the Tigers finally break through and displace FSU atop the division, but how are they going to do that with an almost-brand-new quarterback? I'm also still not completely sold on Tommy Bowden, even though I like the guy, as a coaching genius.

25. Texas Christian
For some reason I don't see them as being nearly the BCS-crashing threat that Utah is, but they're easily the biggest threat to Utah's march for the Mountain West title. After a couple very shaky years, the Horned Frogs' defense seems to be getting back to what we typically expect from them.

And five in the "Honorable Mention" category, teams that I may later regret not having included in my official top 25 ballot:

Arizona State
Kind of in the Michigan mode of the team that looks great on paper but always finds a way to blow it early. Their offense should be tremendous this year, but I see them getting caught in a whole bunch of shootouts, which of course would be such a shock coming from the Pac-10.

Lots of people took last year's Alamo Bowl upset as a sign that things were finally turning around for the Huskers, but I'm gonna need to see more than one last-minute pulled-out-of-one's-ass win to convince me that Bill Callahan is fully on top of things in Lincoln. There's no reason for Nebraska not to win the Big 12 North this year; if Callahan can't manage that, it might be time to start asking some serious questions.

South Carolina
OK, I know I said these guys are still a year or two away from being true conference contenders, but even last year they were dispensing with the likes of Tennessee and Florida, and with Spurrier at the helm I could see similar things happening this year.

Georgia Tech
On paper, this is the best team they've fielded since Chan Gailey became the head coach, but . . . so what? Yes, Calvin Johnson is a freak of nature, but this offense is never going to be anything more than satisfactory as long as Reggie Ball is running the show. And it's been a hallmark of Gailey's tenure that no matter how many big upsets they notch during the season, they'll still find a way to lose to enough eminently beatable opponents to remain stuck at 7-5. No reason to think that won't be the case this year.

Penn State
Hard to say where the Nittany Lions are going to end up now that Michael Robinson's gone, and I'm not entirely confident that it's not going to be a repeat of 2003, when they lost Larry Johnson to the NFL draft and everything went conspicuously downhill. I foresee another strong defense but some real struggles by the offense until the O-line really starts to gel.