Monday, March 30, 2009

NCAA Tourney Weekend 2 = what we learned

For the first time since 1987, the Big East has two Final Four teams. It was favored to have three -- but Louisville lost to Michigan State with an awful performance. Since the last time the Big East actually had two Final Four entrants, the Big Eight/12 has turned the trick three times, the SEC three, the ACC four, and the Big T(elev)en five times. So now, we can welcome the Big East back to the group of MAJOR major conferences and raise it from the second tier major status it had held with the Pac-10 and the C-USA (before Louisville, et al. left for the Big East).

As for the stat geeking -- a neutral result this year. The offensive efficiency ratings for UNC, UCon, Villanova and MSU are 1, 12, 19 and 23; their defensive efficiency ratings are 18, 3, 15 and 9. That's a slight edge for defense, but not much because once again all the Final Four teams are Top 25 offenses. Contrast that with the fluke year of 2006 when three of the Final Four teams were outside the Top 25 in offensive efficiency.

As for The Monk: any year whose final two digits are divisible by 3 is just a disaster. In '03, I went 1-for-4 (Texas, although I got 6 of the Final Eight), in '06 I went 0-for-4 (no mitigating factors) and this year I hit just 1 of 4 Final Four teams (UNC, but I hit five of the Final Eight). Yeesh.

Some quick hits for the coming weekend.

(1) Carolina should win. It has the best team and the most talent. Oklahoma was a #1 seed threat all year, and the Tar Heels dismantled the Sooners just as much with Tyler Hansborough on the bench as it did with Psycho T on the court, and also stretched its lead from 19-12 to 61-40 while Blake Griffin took over for OU and scored 23 points in the last 28 minutes of the game. BTW, Carolina shelled Michigan State 98-63 at Ford Field, the Final Four site, earlier this year. And no, you should definitely not expect Villanova to come out and run UNC off the floor like KU did last year.

(2) I'm officially tired of UCon -- that's one "n" not two. If the Huskies don't get a year in the NCAA brig for their recruitment of Nate Miles, I'd be very displeased considering that the hands of their coaching staff are dirtier than Syracuse's when the Orange went in the dock for 1993 for recruiting violations relating to the recruitment of (the late) Conrad McRae. Unlike SU, a UCon (former) assistant coach (Tom Moore, now Quinnipiac's coach) has not only been caught with recruiting violations, but admitted them. And I'm tired of Jim Calhoun being a perpetual grump.

(3) This is the third straight year that all four #1 seeds survived to the Final Eight. That also happened in 2003 and 2001. But don't bet the straight #1 seed line for the Final Four in the future. In 2001, '03, '07 and '09, only 7 of the 16 #1-seeds won their regional final and those #1 seeds are just 5-9 against teams seeded #3 or #2. Add in last year's all #1 Final Four, and the #1 seeds are 11-9 in those seasons, but 8-9 against teams seeded #3 or #2 (in '01, Mich. State beat a #11; in '03, Texas beat a #7; in '08 KU beat a #10).

(4) If you needed any reinforcement even after UNC's Tourney title in 2005, the top team in the ACC is North Carolina. Not Duke. This reality had been in the works from the day Roy Williams took over at UNC, but the turnaround is complete. Carolina is a choked lead in the 2007 regional final away from this season's appearance being its third-straight in the Final Four. Duke hasn't escaped the third round since Williams' first year at UNC. And next year, Duke's main recruits are . . . a big white beanpole center and a face-up power forward, the exact type of players that the Blue Devils have not won with for five years running.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ron Silver, 1946-2009, RIP

Hollywood character actor Ron Silver died on the ides of March at age 62 from esophageal cancer. I remember Silver from his role on Blue Steel opposite Jamie Lee Curtis. A talented character actor, Silver was one of the very, very few in Hollywood for whom September 2001 was a life changing event.

A liberal Democrat for many years, his vocal support of the struggle against Islamofascism won him the admiration of many Americans including the President but cost him jobs and friends in Hollywood.

Requiescat in pace.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Orange crushed

As I said yesterday, if you're gonna go down, might as well be in flames.

Exhibit 2: SU's loss to Oklahoma.  SU knew OU wanted to get its top shooter to hit 3-pointers and have Blake Griffin dominate inside.  And sure enough, Tony Crocker shot like a top marksman after about 9 games where he'd been slightly better than Betty Crocker.  Griffin had a 12-15 shooting night on layups and dunks.  Overall, the best laid plans of the Orange disintegrated as OU rolled off a 20-2 run spanning the half that blasted a 28-24 lead into 48-26 with SU bricking three-pointers (0-10, first half) and Jonny Flynn hampered by an injury.  

It really sucks to watch when you know exactly what the opponent wants to do and your team can't prevent it from executing its game plan.

Overall, however, it was a nice season for the Orange: 28 wins, a return to prominence, victories over KU, Memphis, UConn, Marquette and a Sweet Sixteen berth.  Hopefully, they can improve their defense (40th in defensive efficiency = not a Final Four quality team) and build on this season.  The biggest offseason question: will Flynn be back?

As for the other games: UNC and Louisville look like title contenders, don't they?  Especially the Heels after a rout of the perennially overrated Zags.  And that KU-MSU game reminded me why I hate the brutal bloodsport that is Big T(elev)en basketball.  

Friday, March 27, 2009

Downgrading Duke and Tourney notes

The Monk's bracket went down last night. And as long as you're going down . . . FLAMES it is!

My two semi-upset picks for the Final Four got whacked. Memphis lost its defense somewhere between the C-USA tourney and last weekend, and allowed Mizzou to hang 100 on it. And Duke looked like crap. The Monk thought that Villanova would be the biggest hurdle for Duke in the region, and Duke didn't even compete. That game may have been just a 26-23 'Nova lead at the half, but it felt like all one team needed to do was start hitting some shots and it would become a blowout. And, while watching that game, The Monk thought 'Nova would be that team.

For all The Monk's NCAA Tourney stat-geeking, the one that got past me was this: since it won its national title in 2001, Duke has NOT defeated a team seeded higher than #5 in the NCAAs. In the eight Tournaments from 2002-2009, Duke has been a 1, 3, 1, 1, 1, 6, 2, and 2 seed. In the last eight Tournaments, Duke's elimination has come against a lower seeded team SEVEN times (exception: '03, when second-seed KU beat 3-seed Duke). A couple of the losses have been pure choke jobs where Duke should have won ('02 loss to Indiana, '04 loss to UConn), but most just occurred because Duke got beat by a team that could run, jump and defend better than it even though the opponent had a lower seed ('05 Mich. State, '06 LSU, '08 WVa, '09 'Nova).

Colin Cowherd called Duke the Notre Dame of college basketball (gaudy record against familiar competition, getting beat by the big boys) and there is now truth to that. In 2001, Duke had five SOLID NBA players starting for its national title winner: Battier (top defender), Boozer (all-star), Dunleavy (11-14 ppg in NBA), Williams (a star to be until he crashed his motorcycle) and Duhon (starting pg). In 2004, its Final Four team (the only Duke team to even beat a team seeded as high as a #5 since 2001) was led by JJ Redick and Shelden Williams (combined ppg in NBA = < 11). The talent dropoff had begun.

Duke's biggest problem has been recruiting players for today's game -- bigger, stronger, heavier. Duke has always been a finesse team that relies upon speed and skill. It still recruits the quintessential BigWhiteStiff -- the overrated white power forward or center who gets his lunch handed to him by more athletic African-American players (Bryan, Bilas, Palmer, Newton, Beard, Meek, Domzalski, Burgess, Randolph, McRoberts, Singler). There was only one Christian Laettner among that dross. And those stiffs have hurt Duke's recruiting because it gets labeled as a program that cannot develop these players -- all of whom were highly rated (and usually McDonald's All-Americans) coming out of high school. Notably, since 1995, Duke's three Final Four teams have all featured a large, powerful, African-American back-to-the-basket post player (Brand, Boozer, Williams).

Its preferred lineup has consistently been one power forward who can play facing the basket, not just a post player, surrounded by three wing players, and a point guard. Often, the power forward wasn't that powerful (Ferry, McRoberts, Randolph, Newton, Singler). The combination of speed, skill, Coach K's coaching and the fear factor of other ACC teams has allowed Duke to continue its conference success (but notably, not against UNC since Roy Williams' arrival) even as it falters in the NCAA.

Today's top teams have more bulk, more length and more athletic ability than Duke. Villanova is smaller than the other top Big East clubs (Louisville, UConn, Pitt), but still had a size advantage over the Dookies last night. Big guys who can run and jump will beat on skill guys who cannot.

The Duke for the Final Four pick was the one I doubted the most. And with good reason. Should've listened to my doubts over my hopes for a UNC whupping of Duke in the Final Four.

Some quick notes:

(1) Memphis' defense crumbled in the Tournament. Coach Calipari will have to figure out why, but 70, 70 and 102 are not the points allowed levels that team is accustomed to.

(2) Oklahoma's top three-point shooters are better than Syracuse's, the Sooners shoot over 35% as a team from 3-point range, and Blake Griffin is the best player in the country. But in 2003, Oklahoma shot 39% from 3-point range, and both its top guards -- Hollis Price and Quannas White -- shot better than 43% from 3-point range. In the East Regional Final, SU held OU to 5-for-28 from 3-point range and won by 16. Then again, OU didn't have a Blake Griffin.

(3) Syracuse has caused 15 turnovers total in the NCAA. A good turnover rate for a defense is about 15 per game.

(4) The Big East is guaranteed to have a Final Four team for the second time in three years and the fourth time in the past seven years. Other than 1982-87 and 1984-89, the Big East has not had at least four Final Four teams in seven Tournaments. Remember, but for Syracuse's breakthough in 1996, which broke a six-year Final Four drought for the conference, UConn's 1999 title would have been the first time in 10 years that a Big East team had reached the Final Four. And this will also change: since 1990, Big East teams other than UConn and Syracuse are 1-9 in the Final Eight; including UConn and SU raises the record to 5-14 (UConn 2-5, SU, 2-0). Pitt/Villanova will give the Big East a 2-10 record in the Final Eight for non-UConn/SU Final Eight games, which will improve to 3-10 or drop to 2-11 depending on what Louisville does to Mich. State/KU.

(5) If the seeds hold, the Big East will have one-half of the Final Eight. If SU upsets OU, it will have five of the Final Eight (Louisville is going to beat Arizona -- bet your mortgage on it). I don't care if UNC runs through three Big East teams to win the title, the Big East is still the best conference in the country and there's no arguing otherwise.

(6) UNC's biggest question: can Ty Lawson handle two games in 1.5 days on his bad toe? UNC has the late game tonight and an afternoon game on Sunday (if it wins).

(7) The Monk frequently prefers the Final Eight to the Final Four. The Final Four has been accorded such a mythic quality that reaching it seems to be more important to some teams than winning the title. We heard a week's worth of hype when Marquette made the Final Four in 2003, only to see the Warriors flop miserably and lose in the first ten minutes. Last year, it was all about UNC/UCLA or UNC/Memphis . . . until KU ran out to a 40-12 lead against the Heels. And no matter how pretty Cinderella looked at the ball, George Mason got wiped out early by Florida in '06. In '05 and '06, the Final Four matches were dreadful, but in '05 three Regional Finals were classics and the fourth merely a great game. And the Final Eight consumes a whole weekend, the Final Four is just one night.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Clean-up items

Some items on various topics.

First, the famile du monq went to New York last weekend and The Monk saw the three sides of his family -- the Jews, the Chinese and the Italians. The Jews are MaMonk's side, the Chinese are Wongdoer & brood (the kids call me "uncle" so he's my brother from another mother), and the Italians are PaMonk's group (my sibs, niece and bro-in-law).

The big news is a new addition: MonkCuz1 is pregnant. Actually, she's been for a few months and the debut of the new one is set for late June/early July. Evidently 'e (sex unknown, so not he, not she) has great antioxidant qualities because MonkCuz1 calls h(im/er) the Blueberry. Monk et al. expect to see smallish nonblue human when next we go to the sizeable apple. [Funny thing that -- Monk has neighbor who used to be colleague of Monkette, live down the street, have son three weeks younger than Monkling and never seen the kid even though Monk walks around neighborhood with Monkling on his shoulders about 3-5 times per week and they're on Monk's most common route. Monk famous in neighborhood for that -- neighbors say "oooooooooooh, I've seen you lots of times with Monkling on your shoulders. So, Monk sees cousinish child before neighborish child in all likelihood.]

More interestingish is that Blueberry will surpass Monkling in German blood level in family. MonkCuz1hubby is German (yeah, like you're perfect) and looks it. Monkette is about 1/2 German (see? that's love -- Monk marrying Monkette despite definite personal flaw). So that's two Jews marrying 1.5 Germans. Only in America.

Second, The Monk hit 14 of 16 Sweet Sixteen teams in his pool. I went more conservative in my pool picks than in my pre-Tourney post because I only submit one bracket and there's STUFF at stake. The misses = Arizona (had Utarr) and KU (had West Va.). So the two I whiffed on gave two of the WORST performances in the Tourney to date. And yes, I did have the stones to pick Cleveland St. over Wake in my pool (Western Ky. over Illinois was a given -- Illins had no point guard).

Third, how would it feel to be a boy completely eclipsed by your younger brother's abilities? The Monk had a friend in elementary school whose younger brother was usually viewed as much brighter. The younger one got into Monk and Wongdoer's high school (must pass admissions test), the older wasn't close. Think about David Cone (borderline Hall of Famer) and his older brother, or Cooper Manning and his two younger siblings (names are Peyton and Eli, at last check). Or worse: have an identical twin who is a star while you struggle, even as you take the same steroids (Ozzie and Jose Canseco).

The Monk asks because it must have been an interesting life in the Griffin family. Both sons play for Oklahoma, but older brother Taylor is a support player (9.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, season high = 22 points), while younger brother Blake is the best player in college hoops (22.4 ppg, 14.4 rpg, .646 FG rate). The Monk reviewed Blake's game-by-game stats and said to himself "self, that Griffin kid doesn't seem to shoot the ball very often." And he doesn't -- no 30 shot chuck-and-duck Allen Iverson specials for this kid. So he's as efficient as he is proficient as a scorer. Plus, his field goal rate is astounding -- 64.6% when Griffin is the focus of every defense he faces.

Finally, The Monk is quite glad that the Monkling is so dang cute. He will personally restore UK-US relations in the wake of Pres. Obama's disdainful treatment of Gordon Brown. Monkette said today that Obama looks positively disinterested and dismayed to be present when dealing with foreign dignitaries -- the complete opposite of how he is around sycophants like the women on The View. The Monk is convinced that Pres. Obama is ultimately an arrogant and self-righteous person who presents himself exceedingly well because he is tall, thin, and superficially engaging.

Wongdoer = 39

Happy belated birthday to Wongdoer, who turned 30 for the tenth and final time on Sunday.

All this remains true (and no, he didn't produce new issue before his 39th birthday, there are just three Wongdoerlings to date), so why not re-run what I continually re-run -- previous birthday salutes:

turns 38 today. My birthday salute from last year worked so well, I
should re-run it. Unlike last year, Wongdoer had no happy additions to
the Wongfamily, but thankfully no unhappy losses either. Perhaps he'll
announce before his 39th birthday that Wongling 4.0 is on its way . . .
Here's last year's entry:

Today is Wongdoer's 37th birthday. That means he caught up to both me and his cradle-robbing wife (who's 47 days older than him). It's also the Silver Anniversary of the day both he and I received our admission
letters to our magnet high school in NYC. Here's what I wrote last year and it holds true today, nearly 25 years after I met the little bugger who would greet his classmates in 7th grade with the salutation "Vote Republican!"

Today is Wongdoer's 36th birthday, so he's now caught up to me (3-3-70) and his wife (2-3-70). Twenty-four
years ago today, Wongdoer received a letter from the admissions department at our magnet high school informing him that he had passed the admissions test and could matriculate in the Fall of '82. Imagine:
a 12-year old child who hadn't even learned English until six years before had passed the most difficult test in the City -- the admissions test for our high school, a one-time opportunity for sixth-graders to
gain admission to the most exclusive magnet high school, which ONLY allowed matriculation into the seventh grade, no transfers in at any other time. It was just what his parents had worked for: toiling at
various jobs in the Chinese community of NYC to ensure that their lone son would have great educational opportunities. They succeeded: he did.
More importantly, he took advantage of it: best high school in NYC,
ridiculously high grades, SAT scores that qualified him for MENSA, Harvard grad, then legal money-launderer (currency trader) for various major banking institutions. And a good son: he takes care of his ma and
pa, and they take care of his kids during the day -- a level of access to grandkids that makes other retirees (or general oldies) weep in jealousy.
So here's to Wongdoer, whom I've known for nearly 24 years, on his 36th birthday. Happy Birthday.

Last year I also noted "the rich life of Wongdoer (college sweetheart wife, three Wonglings, six built-in babysitters between his mom, her parents and her sisters, numerous friends -- all he needs is henchmen and
sycophants and he'll take over the world soon). And as always, there's our good friend and basically our brother, Wongdoer."

And it remains true.

Happy Birthday.

Monday, March 23, 2009

NCAA Tournament Weekend #1 -- no spoilers need apply

Unless you're a dope like Seth Davis (WAKE for the Final Four? Seriously?), all your Final Four teams should be alive and kicking today after the most upset-free NCAAs in recent memory. Only two of the top 16 seeds (the 1-4 slots) are out (the dishonor roll = Wake, Washington, both of whom The Monk said would bonk early). And the Thursday/Friday games this week have many top-notch matchups: UNC-Gonzaga, Villanova-Duke, Michigan State-Kansas, Syracuse-Oklahoma, Pitt-Xavier.

Some quick notes:

(1) The best team over the weekend was Connecticut, and it's not close. UConn drubbed the obligatory first-round fodder and then crushed Texas A&M by 26. Compare that with Pitt (combined margin of victory, 18 points) and Louisville (27). Even North Carolina needed Ty Lawson to take control to overcome LSU, the regular season champ of the worst major conference. Such first weekend dominance doesn't necessarily translate to ultimate success. After all, UNC averaged winning its four East Regional games by 22.8 points last year, and Kansas killed it quick in the Final Four. (Even harder fall from grace: 1993 Kentucky rampaged through the Southeast Regional by 31 ppg and lost in OT to Michigan in the Final Four.)

(2) The worst team to survive the weekend, or more appropriately, the biggest underperformer, was Pitt. Villanova won its two games by 33 points, including a 20-point thumping of UCLA; Syracuse won its two games by 26. Those are 3-seeds. Pitt was neck-and-neck with 16-seed ETSU in round one and barely beat mid-Big 12 entry Oklahoma State in round two.

(3) The best performance to save a team's collective season: Robert Sallie. He had never topped 13 points in a game before, but in Memphis' first-round game against Cal State Northridge, he hit for 35. That's ridiculous. And the only reason Memphis won.

(4) Worst performance of the weekend: Wake. Bad enough that it was the only 1-4 seed not to win a game, the Deacons got whupped by Cleveland State by 15. Honorable mention to Utah (blown up by 12-seeded Arizona) and West Virginia (only Big East team to lose in round one, and to a lower-seeded stiff from the A-10).

(5) Best conference: Big East. After all the hype, the Big East performed. The three #1 seeds did what they're supposed to do, Villanova regained its footing against American then waxed Maryland, and Syracuse had only a minor challenge from ASU. The Selection Committee could have come under some fire for seeding Syracuse with a 3 (SU's RPI was 12, its ranking was lower), but SU performed well.

(6) Most overrated conference: ACC. Four first-round losers among its seven entrants and then Maryland was done by the end of the first half in its second round game against Memphis. That's the same Memphis that would've lost to a 15-seed. Worse yet, all four first-round losers were higher seeds. Two were blown out (BC, Wake) and two lost to lower-seeded Big T(elev)en teams (FSU, Clemson) and the Big T(elev)en is supposed to suck worse than the ACC. If Duke and Carolina do make the Final Four, that means nothing about the strength of the ACC -- this year, they're just two good teams who happen to play in that conference.

(7) Team I'd least like to be in the next round: Purdue. That flat-footed Big T(elev)en style is no way to prepare for a team with the speed and strength of Connecticut.

(8) Intriguing matchups: (a) Duke/'Nova -- they're similar outside-oriented teams with similar styles; (b) UNC-Gonzaga -- put up or shut up time for the Zags after surviving Western Kentucky in a near-home game (Portland, Oregon); (c) Michigan State-Kansas -- MSU is one of the few Big T(elev)en teams that can run to any degree; (d) Oklahoma-Syracuse -- a rematch of the '03 East Regional Final when SU thumped the Sooners by 16 (and SU could have won by 25 if it hadn't been sloppy -- 24 turnovers); this OU team has the best forward in the country and a much better coach than its '03 counterpart (Jeff Capel, whose dad was a coach and who played for the nation's best coach, Coach K; versus Kelvin Sampson who left sh-tstorms in his wake at OU and once-proud Indiana), and SU doesn't have Carmelo Anthony . . . but Jonny Flynn doesn't stink.

Responsible Journalism 101

Compare and contrast two columnists and their profiles of Syracuse guard Eric Devendorf. Devo is the new antichrist of college hoops -- a white trash-talking tattooed thug-looking player for SU who has been voted the most hated college hoops player by The Big Lead (whatever that is).

Devendorf is a college senior with junior eligibility who missed most of last season with an ACL tear (he applied for and received a medical redshirt exemption for the season). That cost SU about three wins and an NCAA berth. He's a decent outside shooter, playmaking ballhandler and one of the better fast-break finishers in the game (especially considering he doesn't dunk). In December, he was suspended and the SU student judicial committee recommended tossing him out of school for the rest of the year after an altercation involving a female student.

In Pat Forde's column (linked above), we learn that the woman recanted. In Jeff Passan's column, that wee bit of information is absent.

So Passan allows the unchallenged view that Devendorf is a misogynist who smacks women around. Forde gives context (Devendorf says he acted in self-defense [yeah, sounds odd]) and given the recantation there is no unchallengeable claim that Devendorf smacked the woman around.

The relative quality of the reporting speaks for itself . . .

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bracket Breakdown, Monk-style

Because Wongdoer needs so much help, The Monk sets out his annual what will happen in the NCAA Tournament post today. To understand just how lucky you are, consider The Monk's record:

2008 - picked three of the Final Four.
2007 - picked whole Final Four, would've won Wongdoer's ginormous pool if OSU had topped Florida.
2005 - picked three of Final Four, co-champ of Wongdoer's ginormous pool
2004 - picked three of Final Four, third place in Wongdoer's ginormous pool

We don't discuss 2006. Freak-a** year.

And picking far into the future of the bracket is key. Your buddy's 5-year old daughter may have shocked the world by nailing all five of the first round shockers in the tournament, but if you hit all Final Four, you're in good shape because the point values are higher.

So here are some keys to consider.

(1) More than one team from the same conference will make the Final Four. This is a 70% bet -- 17 times since the field expanded to 64 teams (24 years), there have been two (or more) teams from the same conference in the Final Four. Only five times in those 17 years have two teams from the same conference played in the national semifinals: 1985, 1987, 1989, 2000, 2001. On four of those occasions, the better seeded team won (Georgetown > St. John's, SU > Providence, Mich. St. > Wisco, Duke > Maryland; 1989 is the outlier because Michigan beat Illinois; and yeah, I know GTown and St. John's were #1 seeds, but St. John's was shipped west, GTown stayed in the East). Double entries for a conference in the Final Four occurred every year from 1999-2006. In the 12 years that the two teams from the same conference made the Final Four and didn't play in the national semis, only ONCE has there been an intra-conference national title game -- 1988, when Danny and the Miracles upset Oklahoma. By contrast, on five occasions, the national champion had to beat the double entries: 1990, UNLV beat Ga. Tech and Duke; 1992, Duke beat IU and Michigan; 2003, Syracuse beat Texas and Kansas; 2003, UConn beat Duke and Ga. Tech; 2005, UNC beat Mich. State and Illinois.

So who will have two Final Four teams this year? Either the Big East or the ACC, and it all depends on the Villanova/Duke game in the Sweet 16. You heard it here first.

(2) Don't be stupid. Only three teams seeded lower than a 2 have won the Tournament since 1990 - Arizona ('97), Syracuse ('03) and Florida ('06). And I had SU winning its regional that year (in my head, not on paper because I never do that -- SU's 1-seed scored 12 points in the second half of the Big 12 title game, and its 2-seed sucked). So go with the major trends -- top schools win NCAA titles. The selection committee may screw up seedings in the middle, but rarely does so at the top (*cough*2006 Kansas*cough*).

(3) Don't ignore efficiency statistics -- teams in the top 25 in offensive and defensive efficiency (basically, points per possession) win the tournament. This is a stat mathematically tracked by Ken Pomeroy and it is a good predictor of possible Final Four teams.

And now, on with the show.

The Midwest is the Louisville Invitational. The Cards play the usual #16 stiff before they dump either a young Ohio State team or feisty Siena. Thereafter, they play in Indianapolis, which is 115 miles up I-65 from Louisville. The dingdongs who think Wake (no defense, surprisingly inefficient offense) or Michigan State (lost by 35 to UNC in Detroit) have a chance are just wrong. The best challenge for Louisville would be Kansas, the defending champ, which has the guards to pull an upset. But KU faces West Virginia in the second round, and that's no fun for the Jhawks. If Louisville does the expected, it will be only the fourth Big East school to reach the Final Four since 1990 (SU, 1996, 2003; UConn, 1999, 2004; Georgetown, 2007) and only the sixth Final Four appearance for the conference in 20 tournaments.

Monk's Sweet 16: Louisville, Utah, West Virginia, Michigan State.

No shock if this upset happens: Cleveland State beats Wake (it beat SU on a freak shot in the dome earlier this year).

Regional disappointment: Boston College to bow out in the first round.

Burn the bracket if . . . Dayton makes a run -- injury problems should forestall that.

The West will be a Memphis-UConn showdown. The others are just playing bit roles. UConn should win the region. It's easily the best team even injured. And the Huskies certainly had enough rest after the 6 OT game against Syracuse. But The Monk did not like Calhoun's reaction to that loss and wonders if the team's psyche is where it should be. I think not, just as the Huskies were just a wee bit off in 2006 when they bonked in OT to George Mason. They can be had.

Memphis is the top defensive team in the country, but its offense is weak. This region has three of the top eight defensive teams in the country (Memphis, UConn, Mizzou). And Memphis' defense is really an order of magnitude better than anyone else's. Yes, basketball is an offensive game, but considering the issues UConn is having, Memphis should win the regional if it gets past Mizzou.

Sweet 16 entrants: UConn, Memphis, Mizzou, Mississippi State

Shock and awesome: Mississippi State to biff both Washington and Purdue.

Stiff of the region: Washington to lose in the Pacific Northwest

Burn the bracket if . . . Cornell wins its opener.

The East is usually a tough region and this year is no different. Pitt is a Big T(elev)en team that plays in the Big East, Duke is the ACC champion again and Villanova is probably the best #3 seed. In overall balance, Duke is the best of the bunch -- #4 in offense, #17 in defense. And Pitt is surprisingly low in the defensive stats (#34). Duke and Villanova are similar: drive, draw, dish, pop the three, etc. I'd trust Coach K with extra planning time for Villanova. If Duke can get any rebounds against Pitt, it can reach the Final Four. I especially don't like Pitt's collapse against West Virginia in the Big East tourney. And number of 1-4 seeds that Pitt has ever beaten in the NCAA Tournament: zero.

Sweet 16: the top four seeds

Shock and awesome: I have the region following form until the Sweet 16, with Xavier to top Pitt.

Bonk of the bracket: either VCU to fail in its bid to upset UCLA (a favorite pundit pick) or the thrashing Wisconsin gets from FSU that begs the question why the h--l did the Big T(elev)en get seven bids?

Burn the bracket if . . . the two Big T(elev)en stiffs make the Sweet 16. Then again, one is coached by Tubby Smith (Minnesota), so a half-burn is possible.

Finally, the South should be the Carolina Invitational but for Ty Lawson's injury. Two years ago, I said the East would be the Carolina Invitational but for Hansborough's broken beak and predicted Georgetown to win. I was right. This year . . . Carolina will win. Here's why: (a) #2 seed has been off its game for weeks since Blake Griffin's concussion; (b) #3 seed (SU) is defensively porous due to severe rebounding deficiencies; (c) #4 seed is Gonzaga, the perennially overhyped; (d) Lawson's injury should be vastly improved by the second weekend of the Tourney; (e) Um, talent -- it helps teams win and UNC has tons of it.

Oh yeah, the last time UNC bonked in the ACC semis was 2005. The 2005 NCAA champion was . . . UNC.

Sweet 16: UNC, Oklahoma, Syracuse (dang well better be), Western Kentucky (you heard it here first)

Surprise, surprise, surprise: W. Ky to beat Illinois and Gonzaga.

Bonk du draw: the Illins. Another Big T(elev)en stiff that can't score (lost one game 38-33!)

Burn the bracket if . . . Michigan makes a run. John Beilein has made chicken salad out of his chickencrap talent level, but if this team gets past both Clemson and Oklahoma, then one of Beilein's counterparts needs to be fired.

There you have it: Louisville, Memphis, Duke, UNC. With UNC over Louisville in the Final.

Man, I'd love to see Duke-UNC 3 in the Final Four. I just keep thinking . . . it won't happen.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On Bonuses

A quick primer on Wall Street bonuses:

1. Normal 'bonus'

For revenue generators, primarily sales and trading, the bonus is the prize for which folks work. Wall Street base salaries typically run from $100,000 to $250,000 but the bonuses can be, well, zero to multiples and sometimes many multiples of that. These bonuses are DISCRETIONARY and PERFORMANCE BASED. Depending on the specific market, e.g., interest rates, equities and specific products, e.g., cash, derivatives the bonus is typically a percentage of what you produce for the firm. A 5-10% payout would be typical so revenue production of $1 million would net the employee $50,000-$100,000. $20 million in production would beget $1-2 million.

Remember that these bonuses are DISCRETIONARY which means that number is decided by the firm and the number will be affected by how well the group, the section and the overall institution performs. This is generally a tax, i.e., subtractive.

2. 'Guaranteed' bonus

Guaranteed bonuses are typically offered to entice the employees of a competitor to come work for you. These are often guaranteed for one to two years and is likely a premium over what the target had been earning at his previous job. For instance if a trader had a total compensation of $500,000 the previous year and was considered a strong producer a competing firm may offer $750,000 guaranteed for one or two years. There are two important things to note about these types of guarantees:

i. they are typically paid in the same way the firm pays the rest of its bonuses- specifically if the firm decided that 60% of payout would be in cash and 40% in deferred shares over 3 years, unless it is otherwise written, the guaranteed would be paid this way.

ii. the bonuses are not paid if the employee is fired FOR CAUSE which would include going over risk limits, leaking information, sexual harassment etc.

Why guaranteed bonuses? Generally guarantees pay for the risk of moving firms AND must make up for FOREGONE DEFERRED BONUSES from the previous firm. Let's treat each in turn. Firms typically pay bonuses between January 15 and March 15. Assume February 15, assume also a minimum of 30 days of gardening leave (during which the departing employee cannot work for the new firm while he is being paid base salary by the old firm) so essentially at the minimum the transferring employee has lost three months of the year. In practice a transferee loses 3-6 months and would want to be guaranteed compensation for that. Not to mention the additional risk of going to a new shop.

Secondly, any deferred compensation not yet vested will be lost and is typically repaid either in cash or equivalent value in shares by the new firm.

Finally, if the new firm goes bankrupt, e.g., Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers the employee becomes simply AN UNSECURED CREDITOR OF THE BANKRUPT FIRM. Oops.

3. 'Retention' bonus

These tend to be quite a bit more infrequent than the first two and are typically given to keep key employees after a merger or as a counter to an employee who is about to leave to join a competitor. These can be paid upfront (now more valuable than ever) with a clawback provision should the employee leave before the covered period.

I don't know the details of the bonuses that were paid out to employees of AIG Financial Products but it is very likely that they involved contracts that were previously agreed and perhaps spanned more than one year. If any of the employees were involved in a fraud they should be terminated for cause and not be eligible. However in most of these cases this comes down to the sanctity of the contract. If you do not honor contracts, you do not honor property rights and without property rights we are finished as a functioning free society.

On a smaller scale any firm that doesn't honor contracts will find it very difficult to hire good talent in the future without ever larger more airtight contracts.

The fact that [mostly] Democrats and Republicans are trying to legislate a gigantic surtax on bonuses > $10,000 at AIG FP is truly a joke. It's the same lack of understanding that bemoans that a lot of the bailout money [WHICH ARE LOANS CONVERTIBLE INTO EQUITY NOT GRANTS] went to other banks. AIG sold insurance to those banks and is bound to honor those 'contracts'. If AIG defaults to its counterparties then we negate the value of the entire bailout to begin with.

Congress will legislate punitive surtaxes on AIG and others. And the Obama administration will only be too happy to sign it.

It was a great Republic while it lasted.

AIG money and the bonus fiasco

Let's set aside AIG's devotion to the inviolability of contracts and the government's idiotic populist furor over the $165M (out of $170B bailout, less than 1/10 of 1%) that AIG paid to certain senior executive as bonuses. Instead, assuming that AIG does have contractual obligations it is adhering to, let's ask the real question:

Why are these people entitled to the money?

In other words, what bonus system is so perverse that it effectively rewards colossal failure? How are such bonuses calculated? Is the incentive only to make a deal, without regard for whether the deal financially benefits or harms the company? Did the employees of AIG's financial products unit only have incentive to churn financial products without regard for whether those products benefited the company?

Wongdoer supposedly could shed light on some of this -- he's been a Wall Street stooge for decades. But the fundamental issue remains: how bad are these contracts that the executives can be contractually entitled to large bonuses when they affirmatively harm their employer?

Monday, March 16, 2009

NCAA Tourney what to watch for

It's starting already -- the Gonzaga hype. Luke Winn is first on board, claiming the Zags could be a dark horse in the South Regional. It's the same thing every year: the sports journos want the little guy to win and make a great run in the Tourney, so they hype the Zags because once, a long time ago, Gonzaga went to the Elite Eight (1999). The Zags made the Sweet 16 in 2000 and 2001. Each time, Gonzaga overperformed based on its seeding (#12 in '99, #10 in '00, #12 in '01) -- if you're a 1-4 seed, you should make the Sweet 16, minimum; 5-8 = make the second round; 9-16, fail in the first round.

Since 2002, when the NCAA committee gave Gonzaga higher seedings based on its (often good) preconference schedule, the Zags have had an unremarkable-to-poor record in the NCAA.

2002, lost in the first round as a 6-seed
2003, lost in second round as a 9-seed (to their credit, in a great 2OT game against Zona)
2004, CRUSHED in second round as a 2-seed by a 10-seed
2005, lost in second round as a 3-seed
2006, lost in Sweet 16 as a 3-seed
2007, lost in first round as 10-seed
2008, lost in first round as 7-seed

From a perspective of meeting or surpassing expectations, Gonzaga has met expectations three times and underperformed four times in the last seven years and never beat expectations. That's 0-3-4. Not so good.

Pitt's profile is similarly bad:

2008, fourth seed, second round loss
2007, third seed, Sweet 16 loss
2006, fifth seed, second round loss (to a #13)
2005, ninth seed, first round loss
2004, third seed, Sweet 16 loss
2003, second seed, Sweet 16 loss
2002, third seed, Sweet 16 loss (to a #10)

That's 0-4-3 but it's worse -- adjusting Pitt's expectations based upon its opponents in later rounds means Pitt is 0-2-5 based on evolving expectations where it failed to beat teams it should have in later rounds.

And my own Orange, 2000s tourneys only:

2000, fourth seed, Sweet 16 loss
2001, fifth seed, second round loss
2003, third seed, NATIONAL CHAMPS
2004, fifth seed, Sweet 16 loss
2005, fourth seed, first round loss
2006, fifth seed, first round loss

This is more difficult to quantify. SU is 2-2-2 based on expectations, but has an odder history. In '04, they beat a #4 but lost to a #8. So they exceeded expectations by one round, and underperformed their adjusted expectations by one round. In '03, they beat a #1, #1 and #2 in their final three Tourney games, so they beat expectations by four rounds (a 3-seed is supposed to lose in the Sweet 16, not win the whole thing); but they played a #10 seed in the Sweet 16, so beat adjusted expectations by three rounds.

I'm still trying to forget about 2005. UGH, what a bad game for Boeheim.

Ultimately, what I'm showing is that Pitt and Gonzaga are serial underperformers and have been for at least seven years. That's why I have Pitt as my first #1 seed out right now.

Man, will I be peeved if Pitt turns into another 2006 Florida (although I'm doubting that -- UF was #2 in offensive efficiency, #5 in defensive efficiency that year; Pitt is #2 on offense but just #35 on defense and since 2004, no team below #25 in defensive efficiency has made the Final Four).

First impressions on the NCAA brackets

For the first time since the NCAA began seeding teams, one conference has three No. 1 seeds -- The Big East. Louisville, the regular season and conference tourney champ (overall record in Big East games 19-2) is the #1 overall seed for the Tournament. The #4 overall is Connecticut. CBS indicated Pitt is the #2 overall, but based upon the arrangement of the brackets, it looks like UNC is #2 and Pitt #3, as I'll explain below.

The seeding is done on an S-curve. The Tournament Committee sets each of the regions side by side, puts the teams 1-4 in the #1 slots, then reverses the bracket fill-in for teams 5-8 in the #2 seeds. Thus, the overall #4 team gets the #5 overall team as the #2 in its bracket; the top overall seed gets the #8 as the 2-seed in its bracket and then they reverse again such that the #9 team overall is the 3-seed in the top team's bracket, the #13 team is the 4-seed in the last 1-seed's bracket.

Memphis is the #5 overall and the top 2-seed -- it's the 2-seed in Connecticut's region. Michigan State is the #8 team overall and the last 2-seed because it's the 2-seed in Louisville's bracket. Pitt has ACC Tourney champ Duke as its 2-seed; UNC has Oklahoma as its 2-seed. Because Duke would be higher ranked than Oklahoma, it is likely the #6 overall team. That means Syracuse is a higher 3-seed than Villanova -- a surprise because 'Nova beat the Orange twice this year.

And this shows just how much a good run in a top conference tournament will boost a seeding for a team that may have been in the middle of the top tier in its conference (ask the 2006 SU team that went from bubble-sitter to a 5-seed after winning the 2006 Big East tourney; ditto 2004 Maryland, which won the 2004 ACC tourney after entering it needing to win two games to even get an NCAA bid and landed a 4-seed). Those conference tournament runs will boost RPI ratings dramatically: SU was projected as a 6-seed or borderline 5-seed entering the Big East tourney this year. A win over UConn, win over W. Va. and tough neutral-court loss to Louisville meant a nice promotion.

This year's selection committee also seemed to value the full season of each team more than prior committees. That explains why Arizona (early wins over Gonzaga and Kansas) is in the field even though it lost five of its last six games. It also supports SU's 3-seed -- the Orange beat Kansas in Kansas City and Memphis at Memphis earlier this season. During the course of KU and Memphis' conference seasons (both won their conference regular season titles), SU's RPI went up and up.

And this committee seems to have somewhat devalued intraleague upsets. Penn State (10-8 conference) beat Illinois twice, Purdue once, and Michigan State on the road, but played a bunch of stiffs outside the Big T(elev)en and lost at home to the only decent non-conference team it played, Temple. Florida (9-7 SEC) won 23 games, but beat only Washington outside of a weak SEC and lost to SU and FSU. The lesson: play a decent nonconference schedule even if you're a major conference team because a decent conference record won't guarantee you a spot in the Tournament.

The plethora of conference quarterfinal chokers among top teams (KU, OU, UConn, Pitt, Wake) also makes picking regional winners more difficult. In 2003, Texas won a weak regional after getting dumped in the Big 12 quarters, but that's a rarity. Just ask 2006 UConn, which choked against George Mason in the regional finals in the same year Syracuse shocked the Huskies in the Big East quarters.

On first blush, The Monk's national title match is Louisville-North Carolina. Louisville has an easy region that should net Coach Pitino another Final Four team (it would be his sixth = 1987 Providence; 1993, '96, '97 Kentucky; and 2005 Louisville). In the East, Pitt has a history as a serial underachiever in the Tournament (it has never defeated a team seeded higher than 5), Duke is still Duke, Villanova is explosive, and both Xavier and FSU have enough players to beat Pitt. In the West, UConn has no challenges until it would have to face Memphis in the regional final. Memphis' road is only slightly tougher because it has Mizzou, but Missouri is a paper tiger (or Tigers).

As a Syracuse fan, little could repay SU for that horrendous snub it had in 2007. That said, the Orange has its best draw since 2004 (the year after it won the national title -- a weak 4-seed, and a terrible 1-seed blocked SU's path to the regional final and a probable loss to UConn; SU bonked in the Sweet 16 against upstart 8-seed Alabama, which took a beatdown from UConn two days later) because 2-seed Oklahoma has had trouble playing consistently since probable National Player of the Year Blake Griffin had a concussion a couple of weeks ago and SU should be able to get past its second round opponent, either Arizona State or Temple (it doesn't even need repeating that SU should win its first-round game). And as for the 2006 exhaustion factor where SU seemed worn out after a four-game/four-day run through the Big East tournament -- unlike 2006, SU has a Friday first round game, not a Thursday matchup, and there have been no reports that Jonny Flynn played on a stress fracture like Gerry McNamara did three years ago.

[Stat of the night: ESPN flashed that SU is 8-2 as a 3-seed. Whoopie! Take out the 2003 title run, and that means SU is 2-2 as a 3-seed -- 1-1 in 1984 (Sweet 16 loss to upstart Virginia) and 1-1 in 1988 (second round loss to Rhode Island)].

Fuller predictions later after more analysis. My early Final Eight is Louisville-MSU; UConn-Memphis, UNC-Syracuse/Oklahoma, and Duke-Xavier.

UPDATE: Seth Davis is barking. WAKE in the Final Four? Seriously? One key predictor of Final Four teams is offensive efficiency -- the number of points a team scores per 100 possessions. Ken Pomeroy analyzes this extensively and his calculations account for FG%, FT%, rebounding, turnovers, etc. Wake, an up-tempo team that plays specifically to maximize offensive possessions, is #40 in offensive efficiency this year. That means it is a better bet as an upset victim than a Final Four team.

Basketball is ultimately an offensive game. There are no shutouts and if you can't score when you must, you cannot win. All four Final Four teams last year were in the top 10 in offensive efficiency. Three of the Final Four from '07 were in the top 10 that year (UCLA was not, and Florida creamed it in the national semis). In 2005, all four Final Four teams were top 10 in offensive efficiency; in 2004, three of the Final Four. And of the last five years, only in 2006 has a Final Four had a team outside the top 30 in offensive efficiency made the Final Four. Note that 2006 was a complete freak year in the NCAA Tournament and the lone Final Four team in the top 10 in offensive efficiency, Florida, drubbed both of its Final Four opponents to win the national title.

And Davis also picked Pitt. That's a trend pick and very dicey considering Pitt's history. Then again . . . I ripped Florida in 2006 as a serial choker.

Finally three comments regarding Jay Bilas. First, all this "warrior" and "courage" talk is a bit much when describing college basketball players perservering through a multi-overtime game. I'm as big of an SU apologist as just about anyone, but to call the kids courageous for fighting out back-to-back overtime wins is bad hyperbole. Men born 4-8 years before PaMonk stormed the beaches at Normandy and Sicily at the same age of these kids who are playing basketball on scholarship and are revered, feted and protected on campus. Who's courageous again?

Second, kudos to Bilas for being direct. Saturday night, as he and Dan Schulman discussed Syracuse's fatigue as Louisville turned the Big East title game in its favor, Bilas said, "Let's be clear, Louisville's the better team but Syracuse has had opportunities that it has not capitalized upon." That's a good comment.

Third, good for Bilas for standing his ground against Dickie V and Doug Gottlieb on the alleged "snub" of St. Mary's by the tournament committee. Bilas took on the biggest bloviator's appeal to morality and fairness, and Gottlieb's more pointed criticisms discussing how it wasn't St. Mary's fault its schedule was so weak.

UPDATE II: I'd love it if Dan Wetzel is right and Syracuse makes the Final Four. But I'll only be betting my TARP bailout on it.

PaMonk at 79

I wrote this three years ago and it remains true today as PaMonk at 79 retains his capacity for puttering around golf courses, traveling the world, and now enjoying his grandson, the Monkling.

Seventy six years ago today, MonkGramps and MonkGran welcomed their second baby boy into the world. Unlike his older brother, this baby thrived and prospered. He served his country in the USAF defending the UK during the Korean War. He returned to the US, had three kids, got a plum job as a teacher in the second-best public high school in NYC and found the woman of his life on the second try -- MaMonk, 43 years ago this June. In 1970, he had his fourth and final progeny -- The Monk.

PaMonk is not just my Dad, but what a Dad should be: a figure of respect and to be emulated (for the most part); knowledgeable and sharp -- we don't go to bars, we go to ballgames; we never talked smack about women -- that was for me and my friends (before Monkette2B domesticated me). He's a history and politics reference today, just as he was when I was in my developmental stages. Supportive, smart, demanding, disciplined. In all cases, he was my Dad first and foremost and that's what a son needs.

So here's to the PaMonk -- 76 and still hoping to match his age on the golf course (that may take another two decades). Happy Birthday Pop, I love you.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Six OTs and the shrinking NCAA champion list

First things first: The Monk set his DVR for three hours last night for the Syracuse-UConn game. I knew the first 30 minutes would be lost to the end of the previous Big East quarterfinal (the TV listings never set this up properly) and so I built in 30 minutes at the end for an OT. I also knew that SU tended to play UConn tougher in the Big East Tournament (see 2005, 2006) than it did in regular season games in Storrs (and this year, SU got whupped 63-49). So I anticipated a potentially good game despite the beatdown UConn delivered earlier this year.

Fair enough.

By the time I started watching the "tape" at 10:10 CDT, SU and UConn were heading to the last few minutes of the actual game. About 75 minutes later, my recording ended (I'd skipped the commercials, etc.) and SU was down one in OT with Charles Robinson on the line. So I went to Yahoo! Sports to see how it ended.

It hadn't -- the scoreboard said 104-104 4OT.

In the end, SU outlasted UConn 127-117 in SIX overtimes. And SU didn't lead in any of the first five extra periods! That's worth a wow. So is the double twenty that SU's 6-foot-3 (if that) forward Paul Harris put together -- 29 points and 22 rebounds! And, as you could almost expect by now, Jonny Flynn was outstanding (34 points, 11 assists, 6 steals, played 67 of 70 minutes!). Kudos to the Orange for that win.

BTW, the Monk thought it a bit inappropriate for Jim Calhoun to beef about his team's free throw shooting (bad) and turnovers (also bad) after his kids played their hearts out for 70 minutes. It's not like his team (16 blocked shots, 31 offensive rebounds, five players with 10+ rebounds, 69-56 rebound edge) rolled over and played dead. There's a time and place for it, and Calhoun was lucky his team even had the overtime opportunities to win because SU's Eric Devendorf sank a miracle shot at the end of regulation that BARELY missed beating the buzzer (the ball was in his fingertips and he was releasing his shot as the clock his 0:00).

But what this means in a larger sense is: four of the top eleven teams in the country are essentially guaranteed to not win the NCAA Tournament even before it has started. Here's why: no team that has lost in the quarterfinals of its conference tournament has ever won the NCAA Tourney. The last one to bonk in its conference quarters and make the Final Four is Texas (2003). And through just yesterday, before the SEC, Big T(elev)en and ACC quarters had been played, four teams projected to be no worse than a #3 seed in the NCAAs had been bounced from their conference tourneys: Pittsburgh (74-60 loss to WVa), Oklahoma (lost to Ok. State), Kansas (lost to Baylor) and UConn. Pitt, UConn and Oklahoma are among the six teams most likely to get one of the four #1 seeds in the NCAA Tourney (with UNC, Louisville and Memphis).

So if you bank on anything, bank on this: the NCAA Tournament champion in 2009 will not be Kansas, Pitt, UConn or Oklahoma. Your instincts in favor of UNC are looking better every day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Kudos Sarko

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has decided to return France into NATO's military command after 43 years.

Sarkozy is the most Atlanticist of probably any French politician in recent worry.

Well done.


I just saw Slumdog Millionaire, winner of 2008-09's Oscar for Best Picture. It was well done, mostly plausible, introduced a very attractive new star, Freida Pinto, who may become nearly as popular in the West as Zhang Ziyi.  I enjoyed it.

But my immediate and primary reaction to this movie was:


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Losing faith in an old man's wisdom

When I was younger (and decidedly thinner), Wongdoer and I were essentially intellectual disciples of our favorite teacher, the head of the Social Studies department at our high school. Self-dubbed the Old Bastard (or the "O.B."), he was the political antithesis of the general student body, which polled in favor of Mondale over Reagan 79%-21% in 1984. The O.B. has been gone for more than 14 years, but we both were heavily influenced by his genial, realistic, and honest conservative worldview.

It's not like the O.B. worked from unmolded clay. When we started in high school (which went from grade 7-12), Wongdoer and I had the same homeroom at the beginning of the day. He'd get to school at around 8 a.m. and greet many of his fellow students with a cheery "Vote Republican!" shout. At this time, Wongdoer was 12. Some things change little in 27 years. My own inclinations were anti-Carter and anti-Soviet. My strong pro-Israel views developed as I became more involved in the world as a whole and not just my small slice of it.

My second-biggest influence (sorry, but it's true, not first) was my old man. Yes, he had been a union shop steward equivalent for the local UFT branch and was a 1.5-generation immigrant (my grandma came from the old country, grandpa was born here to immigrant parents), but he voted conservative and met the middle-class, ethnic, veteran profile of the Reagan Democrat before Reagan's 1980 nomination. He lived through the Cold War, knew what the Soviets were about, and hated those Commie bastards. He is a huge Anglophile, an attitude that I adopted so fully that my son is named after my #1 political hero, Churchill (and my son is named after my dad too). My siblings all took after him politically too. Both brothers voted consistently Republican, and were probably further right than the old man. My sister may be a bit less strident, but usually no less reliable on such matters.

[As for my mom: she's a New York Jew and votes like one. She's lived through the whole Cold War and still hasn't smartened up -- kind of like VP Biden and Sen. Kerry. I love her dearly, but she's completely hopeless. And her side of the family makes her look like a moderate.]

So I was worried last year when the old man was decidedly non-committal about voting for McCain. I didn't love McCain and never have -- his economic outlook is squishy, he's been a Senator too dang long to have many coherent political principles, he is happy to sacrifice First Amendment protections in the windmill-tilting attacks on the corruptive effect of political advertising -- but I understood the choice Americans had in the election. And all I really needed to know to cinch my vote for McCain came when the Russians invaded Georgia, McCain lambasted the Putineers before Pres. Bush even formulated a reaction, and Obama stood mute.

My old man elided certain discussions and spoke in generalities about his vote. But my suspicions were confirmed by his reaction to David Brooks' column in the NY Times last week. My reaction was that Brooks is an idiot (click link to get to Brooks' column); he should have seen this coming. Dad's reaction was to point me to the piece and say "this is interesting and worrisome." That proved it.

Dad voted for Obama.

Ultimately, he confessed. And his reasons are the same ones people used to justify hope over reality: Obama's young, the US should have a new face, not a grumpy old bugger like me, he'll moderate his views once in office, and he can't really be THAT liberal, right? My siblings had the same view -- they went with Obama too; which just proves that when I beat my eldest brother for the top SAT score in the family, it was not an aberration.

They're all wrong. Obama IS that liberal. And only us right-wing troglodytes were right.

I am not, and never have been, one to shy away from my beliefs in the face of tremendous opposition. Want to know why I idolize Churchill? Read The Gathering Storm. I may share much of his outlook, but unfortunately I am not a Great Man as he was and yes, I do believe that history is shaped by Great Men and Great Women.

I also know some things are right. I was the 1 in 5 who supported Reagan at my high school. I know Reagan won the Cold War. I know Iran's nukes are a threat to US security. I know Israel is not an apartheid state nor is it the cause of hostilities in the Middle East. I know that lowering the corporate income tax from 35% would raise corporate income tax revenues. I know that if one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, the latter is a da*n fool. I know Che Guevara was evil, just as Stalin was. I know abortion kills a human being regardless of the political issues.

And my Dad knows all this too.

And he voted for Obama.

And that's a shock.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Obama disgrace

President Obama treats the staunchest enemies of the US with more respect than he does our greatest ally. Obama has treated the British worse than any American president since Andrew Jackson (then a general) won the Battle of New Orleans.

And the Brits have noticed. After all, this is not a good policy prescription, as Iain Martin noted (see link): "the next time you need something doing, something which impinges on your national security, then try calling the French, or the Japanese, or best of all the Germans. The French will be able to offer you first rate support from their catering corps but beyond that you'll be on your own."

Seriously disgraceful, and thoughtless, as Mark Steyn (title link) noted:

British prime minister Gordon Brown thought long and hard about what gift to bring on his visit to the White House last week. Barack Obama is the first African-American president, so the prime minister gave him an ornamental desk-pen holder hewn from the timbers of one of the Royal Navy’s anti-slaving ships of the 19th century, HMS Gannet. Even more appropriate, in 1909 the Gannet was renamed HMS President.

The president’s guest also presented him with the framed commission for HMS Resolute, the lost British ship retrieved from the Arctic and returned by America to London, and whose timbers were used for a thank-you gift Queen Victoria sent to Rutherford Hayes: the handsome desk that now sits in the Oval Office.

And, just to round things out, as a little stocking stuffer, Gordon Brown gave President Obama a first edition of Sir Martin Gilbert’s seven-volume biography of Winston Churchill.

In return, America’s head of state gave the prime minister 25 DVDs of “classic American movies.”

And as Steyn pointed out, but so few others covering the story did, US DVDs don't work on UK DVD players -- they have different codes. So Obama gave Brown 25 unreadable discs. Nice.

Now I have a great deal of faith that our 20-month-old-to-be son can repair the special relationship when we visit London next month just by wandering around and flirting at the English ladies (he looks like his momma, so he's preternaturally cute). But this attitude, which seems to be the Obama Administration's view of the UK, is intolerable and reprehensible:

The real views of many in Obama administration were laid bare by a State Department official involved in planning the Brown visit, who reacted with fury when questioned by The Sunday Telegraph about why the event was so low-key.

The official dismissed any notion of the special relationship, saying: "There's nothing special about Britain. You're just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn't expect special treatment."

If Britain is the same as NKor, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Cuba, who should the free world turn to for leadership now that the US has abandoned its post?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Happy Birthday Monk

Wishing my dear cantankerous friend a very happy day on the xxth anniversary of his debut.

Health, wealth,  more time to write, a George RR Martin offering, and a Yankee championship for you this year.


I told you so, you f*cking fools

This past week has been revelatory -- the true Obama has revealed himself as a far left-wing liberal, redistributionist, appeaser and neo-Carter. From his Secretary of State accepting Chinese lies about China's human rights record, enabling North Korea, calling for Israel to effectively subsidize the Hamastan in Gaza, to abandoning our allies in Eastern Europe to appease the Russians, to the never-ending and never-effective talk-talk-talk with the Iranian tyrants to the $3.6 TRILLION budget he proposed that would start to communize health care, over-tax capital, discourage work, and even destroy the futures of poor children in D.C. who finally had a chance to obtain good educations outside that city's decrepit education system -- Obama is a far-left liberal whose policy preferences are anathema to American interests in the world and to the American economy.

And I told you so.


And here.

I did so with time for you to avoid screwing up. Yes you, Chris Buckley, son of William F. Buckley, Jr., who has finally figured out he f*cked up with his vote in the 2008 presidential election. And you too, David Brooks, who voted on faith and not fact.

This wasn't hard to figure out: Obama had the most liberal voting record in the Senate. He was against the Surge. He was a "community organizer" with ties to one of the most radical and most anti-capitalist left-wing advocacy groups in the nation, ACORN. I had no monopoly on perspicacity, but I certainly did not fall into the idiotic trappings of self-delusion that blinkered Buckley, Brooks, Kathleen Parker, Doug Kmiec and Peggy Noonan.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Left Gone Looney

I have no interest in defending former Royal Bank of Scotland CEO Fred Goodwin, former financial impresario who made one deal too far with purchase of ABN Amro and was forced to resign late last year.   The British government has had to inject over 20billion dollars into the bankIt has since turned out that Goodwin is due a 650,000 pound pension per annum for life.  He doesn't need it and may not deserve it but appears that he is contractually entitled to it.

This comment by Deputy Labour chief Harriet Harman is shocking and a good example of the core beliefs of the political Left:

"Sir Fred Goodwin should not count on being 650,000 pounds a year better off, because that's not going to happen," Harman told BBC's Andrew Marr show.

"The prime minister has said that it is not acceptable, and therefore it will not be accepted," she added.

"It may be enforceable in a court of law, this contract, but it is not enforceable in the court of public opinion. And that is where the government steps in."

So the government should be accountable to public opinion and not to the law or to property rights which lie at the bedrock of democracy??  This is rule by Jacobite mob.