Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Murdoch Mistake

Rupert Murdoch apologized for the NY Post monkey cartoon after a defiant half-apology by the Post itself. Did it satisfy the race merchants led by the Walking Venereal Disease Al Sharpton himself?

Of course not.

Never apologize when you are not wrong. It weakens your case and throws red meat to the opposition.

If we reduce ourselves to not expressing what others MAY find insulting we mock freedom and we mock our values. The cartoon was clearly intended to dually satirize the massive hodgepodge of a stimulus bill and the tragicomic story of the pet chimpanzee who nearly killed the friend of the owner.

So are we never allowed to depict a monkey in an unflattering way because SOME folks might construe it as an insult?

We might as well do away with freedom of speech.

"State of the Union"

A few quick thoughts on the anointed one's speech last night:

1. What is this rhetoric about 'encouraging' or forcing banks to lend? This is what got the financial system in trouble in the first place. Certainly there is an overreaction to the previous promiscuity but advocating marginal lending decisions is not the right prescription.

2. If the government wants to encourage lending so much - perhaps it should buy the operations of a large bank and create the "Third Bank of the United States" - then it can lend to its heart's content? [musing here]

3. Obama's message is unmistakably one of big government and government can and should make many more key decisions. A hallmark of the Democratic Party of the last fifty years. Compare that to Governor Bobby Jindal's subsequent speech which encouraged private initiative.

4. Governor Jindal was good but paled behind the President who addressed Congress with full pomp and ceremony while the Governor had to stand someward awkwardly in front of the camera. It looked odd, think it would have looked better had he had a podium or was sitting behind his desk. I must say the Democrats always put on a better 'show' than the GOP. The Hollywood connections perhaps?

5. Speaker Pelosi must have had her proverbial knickers in a twist given the number of times she leapt to her feat to applaud the Messiah.

6. Poor Joe Biden who had to get out every time Pelosi stood. He looked rather put out. And he looked he had used a lot of Botox.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The forgotten bicentennial: Abraham Lincoln 1809-1865

As Matthew Franck notes, there is a surprising dearth of coverage in the media relating to the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birthday. And that's just a tragic failure to remember our history and one of the men most responsible for shaping it.

Lincoln is consistently rated as the best or second-best president in American history by scholars and historians (The Monk's list says: Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Reagan, Truman). He fought to keep the United States united, defeated the Confederacy, and issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

His birthday used to be a holiday all on its own, which is how it should still be. But Congress opted for giving everyone a three-day weekend instead of honoring Lincoln on Feb. 12 and Washington on Feb. 22. Thus, it created the travesty holiday of Presidents' Day, which presumably also honors such asinine fools as Carter, Wilson, LBJ and Hoover, no-effect presidents like W.H. Harrison and Garfield, overrated presidents like JFK and FDR, and presidents who affirmatively helped plunge the nation into Civil War like Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan.

The Monk offers his salutations to the man who saved the Union, and preserved the United States. Happy Birthday President Lincoln.

In remembrance, here's the text of the Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here.

It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The new Jet mess, the A-Rod fallout

Messy few days in New York sports. Let's go in order of actual team impact and in reverse order of caterwauling:

(1) This morning Brett Favre's agent told the Jets that Favre would retire. The Jets are now without a legitimate QB for next year. Of course, Favre's immediate predecessor is with the Dolphins -- the AFC East champions of 2008. So the Jets had to trade a mid-level draft pick, release their starting QB, obtain a season's worth of not-quite-good-enough QB play that left them two games short of the playoffs and now have only Kellen Clemens as a potential starter for 2009. All this after guaranteeing vast sums on free agents in the 2008 offseason. The best thing the Jets have going for them now is that their failure to reach the playoffs means they have a chance at Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford or Mark Sanchez in the draft (Stafford is the least likely to fall to the Jets' pick). An expensive and rudderless team for 2009.

(2) A-Rod is still a Yankee. And despite the insane commentary that includes suggesting the Yanks cut him loose and eat the $270M they owe him, he will remain a Yankee. And that's ok. A-Rod is one of the hardest working players in the game, he produces (often at astounding levels), and that's what a top talent should do. The steroid use is five years in the past (no positives since 2003) and predates his Yankee days, in which he's hit 208 homers with half his games in the Stadium -- no friend to righties.

He did the right thing in coming (mostly) clean in his interview with Gammons Monday. He has to face the fallout. He has to handle the situation as well as he can. And he'll do what he does -- play hard, produce large numbers, and hopefully bonk less in clutch situations. He's still a Hall of Fame player.

The Steroids Era in baseball is like the swingin' 70s -- full of excess, largess, illegal activity, immorality, and abject idiocy. But baseball doesn't really care because its revenues rose so high that the negative publicity is just a cost of doing business that is easy to absorb. Baseball press is now marked by poseur moralizers who easily forgive NFL transgressions (Shawne Merriman) and marveled at the sudden Brady Anderson and Luis Gonzalez power surges that resulted in these two wiry outfielders popping 50+ homers in 1996 (Anderson - 50) and 2001 (Gonzalez - 57), even though neither would reach even 30 thereafter.

Either the whole era is a farce or it's marked by performance aberrations that reconfigure the requirements for career accolades like the Hall of Fame (and which make Pedro Martinez's 1997-2000 seasons even more outstanding). I say the latter -- the performance enhancers may have improved performances by 10-20% for the top hitters and pitchers, not by 100% as they likely did for less elite players. A-Rod is a 40-homer per year man even in the Stadium without the juice. McGwire is a 50+ homer threat even off the andro. Bonds was a Hall of Famer by 1998, when he allegedly began juicing. So the moralizing needs to stop.

And Gene Orza needs his comeuppance.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Feds sink A-Rod

Ken Davidoff at Newsday has a good view on the Alex Rodriguez steroid story.

It doesn't shock that a man who is obsessed with being the best didn't use performance enhancement materiel when significant numbers of competitors were using it.  But was he using it in 2007, perhaps his most dominant year?  Almost certainly not.   He was wasn't using in 2005 either.  

Bonds would have been a Hall of Famer without steroids.  Arod certainly is.  That he used is perhaps a sin but it didn't make the difference between HOF and a good, everyday player.

Disturbing Behavior

It is a fine thing that most Americans do not hate or want to dispossess the rich.   In fact most Americans WANT to be rich.  One of the unfortunate by-products of the financial crisis is the change, at least at the margin but probably more widespread that being rich, is bad.   As liberal Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) remarked recently to a Wall Street executive hauled before his committee: "Get it through your head, people HATE you."  

Washington politicians, with the conservatives and free market disciples on the ebb or silenced, are doing their level best to encourage that this is a valid opinion.  It starts with Messiah Obama who last week termed $18 billion dollars in Wall Street bonuses 'shameful'. 

The President followed this up with an executive order this week decreeing that going forward the senior executives of any firm receiving 'exceptional financial aid' would be limited to a salary cap of $500,000 a year.  This is almost certainly pure political grandstanding because the implications for this order, if leakproof, is staggering.  It would lead to further drastic cuts in compensation than has already occurred AND it would accelerate the drain of talent fromm firms who need help to those who do not.  And as anyone who works on or adjacent to Wall Street will tell you, a limit at the top will be an excuse to cut comp down the line.

And I'd remind the President and his minions that about 33% of that $18 billion goes to fill federal government coffers and that the top 1% of all earners pay about 60% of the income tax.   Wreck the folks who are doing well and your revenue drops and you risk making that permanent if you disincentive wealth creation.

Washington, on both sides of the aisle, is happily peddling the story that greedy Wall Street executives caused this crisis.  While their unconscionable lending practices were the precipitating cause, the risible actions of the ratings agencies, horrid decisionmaking by citizens in general and a bipartisan government' unwillingness to regulate the worst practices are more to blame.  

But encourage people to hate the rich and it will come back to haunt this country.

By the way John Thain deserved the multi-million dollar bonus he did not get.  He recognized the risk that Merrill had and when only two buyers showed up willing to buy Lehman, he intercepted Ken Lewis, saved Merrill and probably contributed mightily to the Lehman bankruptcy.

Monday, February 02, 2009

NOT the greatest of all time -- Super Bowl notes

Yes, The Monk watched last night's Super Bowl and, contrary to the usual idiocy that follows a close game (SI's Don Banks, most of the ESPN crew covering the game), it was NOT the greatest of all time. I've been watching Super Bowls since SB XII -- the Cowboys' thrashing of the Broncos -- and this one was a far cry from some of the best, including the two close ones the Giants won, the two times the Niners topped the Bengals, the Broncos' upset of the Packers and the two others that Kurt Warner played in.

Why? First, because for the first three quarters, the game was a choppy mess. The fourth quarter was fantastic, the Harrison TD was fantastic (although as soon as I saw his convoy and the amount of running room he had coming out of the end zone, I thought he'd go the distance), the Fitzgerald TD was a shock, and the Holmes tap-tap TD was great. The game as a whole (mistakes, bad execution, 17 penalties) . . . not as much.

Second, until the last four minutes of the game, it lacked the tremendous drama of other matchups. The Steelers dominated the game for more than three quarters and then blew it -- the 13-point lead they coughed up was the largest deficit a team had even come back from to take the lead in a Super Bowl (other teams rebounded from larger deficits to tie the game but lost: 1999 Titans [16-0], 2001 Rams [17-3]) but it never seemed they would actually give up the lead until midway through the fourth quarter when the Cards established an offensive rhythm against the Steelers' defense. Contrast that to the two Pittsburgh-Dallas four-quarter long heavyweight fights in the '70s; the underdog rising up to beat the heavy favorite aspect of the Jets', Chiefs', Broncos' (v. Packers), Giants' (v. Patriots) and Patriots' (v. Rams) wins. The Arizona offense -Pittsburgh defense matchup was also less compelling than the immovable force/irresistible object aspect of the Giants-Bills game where a dominant offense (which Arizona was not) collided with a dominant defense.

Third, it lacked overall importance. The Steelers' quest for ring #6 was far less momentous than the Patriots' attempt to cap an undefeated season, the Broncos' shocking upset of the Packers to break the NFC's 13-year winning streak, the Dolphins' successful finish to their 17-0 season, the Jets' and Chiefs' drubbing those allegedly superior NFL teams, or even the Steelers' own greatest glory when they won their fourth Super Bowl in six seasons 29 years ago.

But the fourth quarter last night was still fantastic.

More thoughts:

(1) Not counting one-win wonders (Steve Young, Phil Simms), Kurt Warner is the second-greatest Super Bowl QB ever, behind only Joe Montana. Seriously. He led a stiff 9-7 team to the Super Bowl and within 2.5 minutes of winning it. He has the THREE top passing yardage games in Super Bowl history (yesterday was #2, the SB 34 win over the Titans is still the only 400+ yard passing game by a QB in SB history). And he has been THE offense for each of his three Super Bowl teams. In 1999, the Rams ran 59 plays and called 47 passes despite probable Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk on their team and at the apex of his career (it was the second of his four-straight combined rushing/receiving 2000-yard seasons). In 2001, the Rams called 47 passes out of 69 plays. Yesterday, the Cards called 45 passes in 57 plays. Warner's teams won one Super Bowl and lost two others on end-of-game drives against his teams' subpar defenses. This season, the Steelers' defense gave up 300+ yards just once, and allowed no 300-yard passers. The Cardinals had more than 400 total yards and Warner threw for 377.

(2) Good stage-setting by John Madden before the Steelers' final drive -- he said the Steelers' defense, even though it was the best in the NFL, had the season in its hands and failed to stop the Cardinals and now the Cards' defense could show that even though it was low-rated it could prove its worth and win the game.

(3) Best stat I heard, courtesy Colin Cowherd's radio show this morning: when the Cards sent 4 or fewer pass rushers, Roethlisberger was 11-20; when they rushed five or more, he hit 10 of 10. Give Big Ben big credit, he made plays that he failed to make three years ago and showed why he has become an elite QB.

(4) Three times in the past five years the Super Bowl MVP has been a wide receiver; the two non-WR MVPs were related to Archie Manning. Before SB 39, only three wide receivers had won the MVP. This shows both the greater importance of the passing game over the years, and the ability of the voters to better determine the player who had the greatest value to his team. After all, it's a bit odd that Terry Bradshaw won his second SB MVP in a game where he threw three interceptions. Early QB MVP awards also may reflect the importance of the QB to the game plan -- Joe Namath threw for just 206 yards and 0 TDs, but he called his own plays. Ditto Len Dawson (17-22-141, 1 TD, 1 INT).

(5) ESPN's top 10 plays of all Super Bowls was ridiculous. THREE from last night's game? What about the Otis Taylor TD that iced SB 4 and proved the AFL was the NFL's equal? What about the Elway TD run in SB 32 that ultimately broke the NFC's stranglehold on the Super Bowl? What about the Mark Ingram catch on a 4-yard pattern that he turned into a 3rd-and-14 conversion by breaking four tackles against the Bills? What about the Isaac Bruce 73-yard TD that won SB 34 -- a much better play than the Fitzgerald catch-and-run last night? At last check, Jerry Rice won three SBs, and Joe Montana won four -- neither made one of the greatest plays in SB history? Kudos to Cris Carter and Keyshawn Johnson for blasting their own network and saying the David Tyree catch, which helped upset the best team to not win the Super Bowl on a drive where the Giants needed to score a TD, was a greater play than Holmes' game-winning TD last night, on a drive where Pittsburgh only needed to get a field goal to keep its season alive.

And a bonus thought: after 11 games, the Giants were 10-1 and had beaten the Cardinals, Eagles and Steelers on the road and blasted the Ravens at home. Then Plaxico Burress became a complete idiot. Thereafter, the Giants stank -- a home loss to the Eagles when the division title and a first-round bye would be clinched with a win; a no-TD 20-8 beating from the Cowboys, who would allow 77 points in their last two games and miss the playoffs (it was the Giants' first no-TD performance since their terrible 23-0 loss to the Panthers in the '05 playoffs); and another no-TD game in a desultory home playoff loss to the Eagles. With Plax, the Giants rolled 36 points on Philly; without him, they scored 25 in two games with 9 of those on defense or special teams. Brandon Jacobs said during the week that the Giants would be gunning for 18-1 and another SB title if not for Plax's idiocy. There's a lot of support for that notion.