Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tiger Woods is a golfer, that’s all

Tiger Woods has come clean, publicly confessing the worst kept secrets since John Edwards’ love child. Tiger earned his humiliation and there’s no reason to feel sorry for him. He made his bed--pardon the pun--and he can do whatever he does in it.

However, the Woods saga isn’t Pearl Harbor or the moon landing. So why has Tiger received such in-depth coverage? What purpose is there beyond the sense of fulfillment that some people receive from a celebrity’s disintegration?

I reviewed Tiger’s press conference and found it totally predictable. There was the compulsory attempt to separate his family from media scrutiny, which is impossible. Public infidelity affects a family, kids included, even if you’re the world’s best golfer. That’s reality. If Tiger cared about his family’s well-being he should’ve kept his ball out of the rough.

The typical platitudes were presented. “I have let down my fans.” “I am the only person to blame.” Tiger’s speech was the prototypical I-got-caught-with-my-pants-down celebrity apology.

Tiger has been reviewed, prodded and analyzed more than a man undergoing a complete proctologic examination (which he might enjoy, who knows?). Let’s not waste any more time or energy in that area. Instead let’s focus on what Tiger is, what he was made to be and what can be expected from him in the future.

Tiger Woods is a golf pro, nothing more. He’s rich because he can hit a ball into a cup better than anyone else on the planet and people will pay to watch him do it. Tiger didn’t force anyone’s admiration. He didn’t make the public grant him the hero status he once enjoyed. What’s more, his loose morals have no affect on you and me beyond what we’ll allow.

What about Tiger’s role model status? Off the golf course that status existed only in the public’s imagination. He is by no means the husband of the year. But being a personal role model isn’t a professional golfer’s purpose. Tiger’s larger than life status is mainly the fault of a culture consumed with celebrity.

The fact that the public made Woods a mythical pillar of virtue is more their fault that his. Sure, Tiger helped cultivate that false image, but he never made a single person watch him play. He never made us buy his sponsor’s products and he never forced a single person to like him. Mr. and Mrs. Public, you did all of that on your own.

If you’re angry at Tiger’s moral failings it’s likely because you allowed yourself to believe he was something he wasn’t. Now you feel foolish. We don’t like playing the fool, do we?

Despite his turpitude Tiger can be a role model if he’s kept in perspective. There are few athletes in any sport with Tiger’s drive and will to win. His competitiveness is unquenchable and his coolness rivals that of Michael Jordan, Joe Montana and--dare I say?--Jack Nicklaus.

Woods can be a role model for winning attitudes and excellence in a chosen profession. Don’t make him more than he is or can ever hope to be.

Aside from the initial reports of Wood’s affairs this whole story was much ado about nothing. Tiger Woods doesn’t owe apologies to you and me. He owes apologies to his wife and children, the PGA Tour, his sponsors and, most of all, to God. But Tiger Woods has no tangible affect on you and me unless we grant him that power.

In the future let’s be more careful how we elevate people to mythical levels of ethics and virtue simply because they’re rich and famous.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

On palm pilots and Teleprompters

In politics, spin is life. Politicians and their handlers will state their case even when it’s apparent they haven’t a leg to stand on. Too often, accepting the spin as fact or dismissing it as fiction depends on whether or not the hearer agrees with the political party that created the swirl.

Sarah Palin’s palm notes are a prime example of such a political vortex. Conservatives and Republicans--they aren’t necessarily one and the same--rushed to her defense. This is a natural reaction. People will defend politicians who appear ideologically similar.

The problem conservatives face with the Palin palm notes story arises from repeated criticisms heaped upon President Obama’s use of the teleprompter. For Obama, the teleprompter is a techno palm note that keeps him focused during speeches. For conservatives, Obama’s prompter is the butt of jokes and a sign of fraud. Therefore, a hint of hypocrisy exists when conservatives defend Palin for essentially the same act.

The fact is that many, perhaps most, effective public speakers use reminders when behind the lectern. It can be the Barack Obama teleprompter or the Sarah Palin palm note. Or, it can be the small index card preferred by the great communicator, Ronald Reagan.

Reagan would conceal the cards when he walked onto the stage. Once he began his address he would glance at the cards to maintain focus and cadence. Yet the 39th President was neither ignorant nor uninformed, and using notes certainly didn’t render him an ineffective speaker.

However, the palm notes do exacerbate an existing problem for Sarah Palin. Writing notes on one’s palm is considered a grade school trick, which lends to the idea that Palin isn’t prepared for the national stage. Too, Palin’s delivery is more than a little irritating, not unlike fingernails on a chalkboard. Her folksiness and accent are fine, but she sounds whiny. A Palin speech doesn’t inspire great confidence unless the political spin sways you toward that end.

Left-wing pundits and the White House spin machine wasted no time seizing on Palin’s perceived gaffe. If only they were so quick to identify and denounce Muslim fanatics who try to blow up jetliners on Christmas Eve. The “mainstream” media also ridiculed the Palin palm pilot. Yet when Robert Gibbs lampooned Palin before the media what do you think he did? He used notes. And would you believe he wrote them on his palm?

Granted, Palin’s crib notes conjure images of adolescence. Yet Gibb’s palm note episode is much worse than Palin’s. Whether Gibbs’ intent was to ensure his accuracy or to take a pot shot at Palin is immaterial. Either way, his actions were far more immature than were hers. Gibbs’ behavior was downright childish.

For all the ideological spin surrounding Teleprompters and palm notes, conservatives are less hypocritical with their condemnations than are liberals. Why, you ask? No one claims that Palin’s speaking ability spurred her popularity. For Obama, his entire persona centers on his speechmaking prowess.

To hear supporters gush over Pres. Obama you’d think he is the greatest orator since Cicero. Obama’s image was created around his speaking skills. He is intelligent, clean and articulate, or so we’ve been told. His speeches are an intellectual breath of fresh air. And he is all of that, while on the teleprompter. However, off prompter he stammers, stalls and searches for words just like the rest of us.

Critics of Obama’s teleprompter are on slightly more solid footing than critics of Palin’s palm notes only because Obama is marketed as a solid speaker. Palin is not. But the criticisms and defenses offered from both sides of the matter prove that spin trumps substance in the political theatre.

The incontestable tenets of the “green” church

If discussing politics and religion should be avoided at all costs, then science must join the list. Much of today’s “settled science” or “scientific consensus” is actually religion in its purest sense. The scientific faithful are proselytizing, pronouncing woe to anyone who questions their doctrine.

Too many scientists are High Priests in the First Assembled Reformation Church of Environmentalism, or FARCE for short. They and their followers defend their god--the environment--with the same zeal that fanatical Muslims defend Mohammad.

Actually, to grant FARCE church status is a bit kind; it is a cult. Non-believers can have rational discussions with Christians, Jews, Mormons, etc. The same holds for most Muslims, too. Avoid the Al-Qaeda/Hezbollah sect and you’ll be fine. But you can’t have a sensible debate with a cult follower. Fact, history, precedent, logic, common sense; none of it matters to the cultist. Therefore, it doesn’t matter to the FARCE member.

If you question a FARCE tenet, even to the slightest degree, you’re a heretic. Publicly denounce FARCE’s core belief--that mankind drives cataclysmic climate change--and you’re a global warming denier. Blind obedience, without the slightest hint of individual thought or reason, is required.

For example, the FARCE has declared that flat screen televisions are an environmental hazard. If you have one you’re destroying the planet. Use a light bulb that hasn’t been blessed by a FARCE priest and you’re chief among sinners. And you don’t want to contemplate your eternal destination if you drive an automobile that’s not on the FARCE list of doctrinally acceptable vehicles.

A quality common to cults is the demand for absolute compliance. Within faiths and religions you’ll find divergent opinions. These become denominations. Denominations will hold to basic principles even while disagreeing about specific doctrines. Not so with cults.

Environmentalists allow no disagreement. The “green” activist will ignore any evidence or argument that contradicts their belief system. Dissent is intolerable, even sacrilege, and ignored as if it never existed. And no, I’m not exaggerating. Let’s look at the evidence.

At the 2008 UN global warming conference in Poland over 650 scientists questioned the accuracy of man-made global warming science. The Petition Project--instituted by Frederick Seitz, past president of the National Academy of Sciences--has collected over 30,000 signatures from qualified professionals questioning man’s impact on climate.

The FARCE will not tolerate such heretics. Apostate scientists have their character assassinated, their voice silenced and their scientific credentials dismissed out of hand. In short, they’re excommunicated from the FARCE, which is the climate change community.

A little common sense will land you in hot water, too.

In California, regulators have proposed banning wood burning stoves and fireplaces. Wood smoke and soot, apparently, are health hazards and environmental contaminants. But unless I’m mistaken, wildfires burn California to the ground every other year and man has burned wood for about 1.5 million years. Let’s take the matter of fire a little farther. The Indians—whom the FARCE considers to have been at one with the earth—burned wood.

You’ll waste your time confronting a FARCE disciple with this argument. You’d have a better chance getting a Jehovah’s Witness into a Baptist church. The “green” apostle will simply charge you with wanting to destroy the earth. End of discussion. They’ll never explain where you will live if you succeed in destroying the earth. Doesn’t matter. Their doctrine is unquestionable.

Other topics are verboten within the FARCE, too. Scientists have skewed global warming data and conspired to conceal the process. The IPCC’s report on the disappearing Himalayan glaciers is decidedly flawed. Temperature monitoring data is manipulated to indicate warming trends. So what? Facts are lies within the FARCE.

Nothing is valid that doesn’t fit the environmental creed. Only the canon is real. Global warming exists, earth is doomed and heretics will be sacrificed on the nearest FARCE altar. Sound like a witch hunt? Cotton Mather couldn’t do it so well.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Super Bowl XLIV promises to be a shootout

When the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints were on winning streaks that had the ‘72 Dolphins sweating bullets, experts labeled both teams as Super Bowl favorites. It’s official; the dream match up is here. Now let’s look at which team will live the dream, which won’t and why.

Colts Offense vs. Saints Defense
Payton Manning’s presence is enough to like the Colts’ offense against New Orleans. The hard facts solidify that position. Indy boasts the NFL’s 9th best overall offense even without a semblance of a running game. Indy ranks first in 3rd down efficiency, commits few penalties and limits turnovers.

Look for Manning to challenge the Super Bowl record for passing yardage (414 yards, Kurt Warner, Super Bowl XXXIV). That’s not an exaggeration. Payton leads a potent passing game (282 ypg) against the 26th rated pass defense. Don’t look for the Saints to pressure Manning much, either. Indy’s offensive line allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL. If the Saints can manage to get to Payton, Dallas Clark (100 rec.) and Joseph Addai (51 rec.) provide more than adequate safety valves.

There is one upside for the New Orleans pass defense and it’s one they must utilize. Only two teams intercepted more passes than the Saints. Darren Sharper had nine picks himself, returning three for touchdowns. All told the Saints defense produced eight touchdowns in 2009. In an offensive shootout, and this promises to be one, a defensive score will amount to a 14-point swing.

About the best that can be said for the Colts’ running game (32) is they’re facing the Saints rush defense. New Orleans allowed 122 yards per game (21) and 4.5 yards per carry (24-T). Indy’s running game is too weak to take full advantage. However, Colts runners can make a difference in a couple of areas. Only Green Bay and San Diego lost fewer fumbles than Indianapolis and the Saints were dead last in forcing fumbles.

Just three teams allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Saints this season while Indianapolis’ offense ranked 12th in that department. This gives the Colts runners a chance to relieve pressure from the passing game. New Orleans must respect the run to some degree inside the red zone, meaning they can’t pack the secondary to cut off the passing lanes.

Saints Offense vs. Colt’s Defense
The story doesn’t change much when New Orleans has the ball. Drew Breese should find passing opportunities aplenty. Look for receivers Marques Colston and Robert Meachem to have big games. The Saints have the NFL’s best offense (403.8 ypg) and a plus-11 turnover differential. What’s more, they convert 45-percent of their third downs while Indy’s defense was abysmal in that area (31).

The Saints explosive passing game is about as secret as a John Edwards sex tape. But the key to the passing game lies in the Saints completion percentage (1), interceptions (6) and sacks allowed (4). The Colts defense ranked 26th, 15th and 16th in those categories respectively. Combine those stats with Indy’s third down defense and the Saints should sustain drives.

The wildcard is Dwight Freeney (13.5 sacks). His ankle is a question. He isn’t practicing and was listed as “questionable” on Saturday morning. If he can’t go, or is ineffective, the Saints can double Robert Mathis (9.5 sacks) and effectively eliminate Indy’s pass rush.

If the Colts have an advantage on defense it’s that no team surrendered fewer long pass plays. Being forced into a dink and dunk passing attack could frustrate the Saints, who like to stretch the field. Breese averaged 8.5 yards per attempt (3) this year while both Colston and Meachem averaged more than 15 yards per catch.

What’s often overlooked is that New Orleans can run the football. They average 131 yards per game (6) while Indy is 24th against the run and yields 4.3 yards per carry. Just as the Saints don’t throw interceptions they don’t fumble, either. And the Colts ranked 27th in forced fumbles. A solid rushing day from the Saints could make Sunday night seem endless for Colts fans.

Special Teams
Special teams offers no decisive advantage for either club. Both ranked in the bottom third of the league in field goal percentage, even with both kickers working predominantly in domed stadiums. That could be worth remembering if the game hinges on a kick, or if the weather turns sour.

There’s only one distinct special teams advantage and it belongs to New Orleans. Their kickoff return team was the NFL’s fourth best, averaging 24.4 yards per return. They were also fourth in returns of over 40 yards. The return game should keep the Saints in control of field position, forcing Manning and Co. to take the long route to the end zone.

With neither team counting a dependable advantage on defense and the Saints’ special teams edge slight at best this game comes down to offense.

Keys for New Orleans
Look for the Saints to run the ball when they need to, which will make life much easier for Drew Breese. New Orleans must remain patient and work the underneath passing routes. A little ball control will loosen and tire the Colts defense. New Orleans should move the ball with relative ease, especially in the fourth quarter.

On defense the Saints opportunistic secondary must capitalize on any Manning mistake. There aren’t likely to be many. A defensive touchdown is a distinct possibility and a welcome bonus.

Keys for Indianapolis
Indy’s defense must find a way to get off the field. They don’t force turnovers and are woeful on third down. Drew Breese will get his yards. Fine, the Colts need to stop the run. As the old saying goes, there are three possible results in the passing game and two of them are bad. A little rest would be an unexpected blessing. The Colts offense was 31st in time of possession, an overrated stat but useful in this case.

Offensively the Colts simply need to do what they do. The lack of a running game leaves them one dimensional. But so what? It’s worked all year. Plus, Manning can dissect and exploit any blitz or stunt package the Saints care to run. Protect Payton and allow him to read. If he can decipher the Jets top-ranked defense he should have little trouble exposing the Saints. Payton, Wayne, Collie and Clark stay on the same page. They know what each looks for in nearly all situations. The result Sunday evening should be key third down conversions and a few big plays downfield.

The Pick
Most statistical categories where there is a clear-cut advantage lean toward the New Orleans Saints. But this game promises to be the Gunfight at the Sun Life Corral. No offense to Drew Breese, but he’s playing a Clanton to Payton Manning’s Wyatt Earp.

Indianapolis Colts 38
New Orleans Saints 35

Want to make the BCS worse? Add government!

I’ve found very little common ground with President Obama. His policies are statist, his attitude is condescending and his tone is arrogant. Yet I’ve managed to find one area of agreement with the President; I’m no fan of the Bowl Championship Series, either.

Arguments favoring the BCS ring hollow. Will student athletes miss too much class time under a playoff system? Not really. Student/athletes involved in BCS games practice throughout December until their January games anyway. Players wouldn’t miss significant class time even when traveling for Saturday playoff games.

The Football Championship Subdivision has a four-week playoff. If missed classes are the issue, why doesn’t it matter at those schools? What about March Madness and the College World Series? Are academics less important for those athletes than for BCS football players?

Another pro-BCS argument is the bowl system tradition. That’s a laugher if ever there was one. If college football is so dedicated to preserving the tradition and integrity of the bowl games, why isn’t the Cotton Bowl played at the Cotton Bowl? Why aren’t the Orange, Sugar, Cotton and Rose Bowl games played on New Year’s Day? Why isn’t the BCS Championship Game a part of the bowl system, like it was when the BCS began? Why have traditional bowl names been sacrificed to corporate sponsorships?

I’m not against businesses sponsoring bowl games--revenue is revenue--or using the games to promote their brands. Just don’t sell me the Champs Sports Bowl, the Outback Bowl, the Capital One Bowl and the Bowl and then crow about preserving tradition.

Oh, that’s right. Those aren’t BCS games, are they? Then how about the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, or the FedEx Orange Bowl? Then there’s my favorite “tradition”, the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi, sponsored in part with bailout dollars no doubt. There’s nothing like “tradition” is there?

There’s much to dislike about the BCS and college football’s attitude toward a playoff system. Even so, there’s more to dislike about government involvement in the matter, especially when it comes to mandating change. Here’s where the President and I part company. Obama favors a government solution to the BCS. And why not? He favors a government solution to everything.

Obama wanted college football to adopt a playoff system even before he took office. He even promised to “throw my weight around” toward that end. Thus the Justice Department is now considering investigating the BCS for antitrust violations. Perhaps antitrust charges have merit. The BCS does seem more interested in preserving the status quo and protecting major conferences than in promoting competition.

However, politicians and bureaucrats are less interested in enforcing antitrust laws than in spewing rhetoric. There are calls for legislation to prompt a championship playoff. Justice Department officials have bandied the idea of a governmental commission to analyze the costs and benefits of a playoff system. This is populist pandering, nothing more.

If there’s any entity that should be held to antitrust laws it’s government. But that’s another topic. To be blunt, I’m aware of no constitutional basis for Congress to force college football to adopt a worthwhile championship system. Furthermore, why trust government to conduct a cost/benefit analysis?

In a 2005 edition of the Economist’s Voice, Edward Glaeser estimated that the federal government would spend enough money on Katrina relief efforts to provide each New Orleans resident with a $200,000 check. The 2010 federal budget will spend $31,000 per US household. Leaving government to conduct cost/benefit analysis is like allowing a fox to determine the value of chickens.

President Obama is right; college football needs a playoff. But he is dead wrong in thinking it’s government’s job to make it happen. Frankly, it doesn’t appear government is up to the challenge anyway.