Readers blitz Barra on McNabb.

Readers blitz Barra on McNabb.

Readers blitz Barra on McNabb.

What's happening in our readers' forum.
Oct. 3 2003 1:52 PM

Bum Rush the Show

Readers blitz Barra on McNabb.

The Academy of the Overrated: Diane Keaton's Mary Wilkie included Vincent Van Gogh and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Last Sunday on ESPN, Rush Limbaugh nominated Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. Why? "The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback can do well—black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well."Allen Barra ("Rush Limbaugh Was Right") agrees in Sports Nut.

The discussion has taken on a trifurcated prism:

1)  Is Donovan McNabb overrated?

2)  If yes, are the sentiments of those doing the overrating racially motivated?

3)  Should Rush Limbaugh have lost/resigned his pulpit on "Gameday"?

Focusing on question one, CaptainRonVoyage doesn't know "where to begin." He gets started by picking apart four of Barra's central points, including:

Brad Johnson is a better quarterback than McNabb.

Offer the Bucs GM McNabb for Johnson straight up, and see what his reply will be. But be careful when you do this, because his hand will actually reach through the phone a la Bugs Bunny to sign the transaction. Yes, Brad Johnson has a Super Bowl ring, but Barra must have missed watching that actual game, because 3 billion football fans across the globe could tell you that the QB who really earned the title for Tampa was not Johnson but Rich Gannon, he of the 5 INTs on Super Sunday. Brad Johnson would have "won" the game for Tampa if he had come out of the tunnel wearing a tutu and decided at gameday to throw every pass underhand. Barra is correct, though, in his assertion that rings are always the most important measure of talent; this is how we know Trent Dilfer is a definitively better QB than Dan Marino.

TheNewSnobbery draws an interesting delineation between " 'outdated analysis' and 'racism' ":

Phrenology is 'outdated analysis', the Bell Curve is 'outdated analysis'. You could say a lot of things in 1989 that get you in trouble today.

If Rush had simply said: 'Lots of people (including members of the typing class) root for McNabb because he's black', no one would have cared. I guarantee it. Lots of Chinese people root for Yao because he's Chinese. Or Sosa, or Dirk or anyone else who is perceived to be breaking boundaries. We are still waiting for The Great Black Quarterback. That doesn't make us liberal sheep!

But Rush made us feel like we were chumps and idiots for hoping. He told us we were wrong or part of a conspiracy or some nonsense like that.

Dougtheavenger1957 effectively makes a correlative argument, zeroing in on question number two:

Who here wishes to assert that the press isn't actively seeking a black Steve Young, Patin Manning, Joe Namath, etc, etc?

Who here believes that the press does not sometimes ignore real stories in their search for a preconceived story?

Who here has not heard the expression, "If they can't find a story, they'll make one."

Here, jkl wonders why Cubs Manager Dusty Baker got off easy when explicitly suggesting that black and Latino players could withstand the heat of summer better than their white counterparts.

Others who offer sound theories of McNabb's overvaluation exclusive of color include Adam_Masin here ("Insert lousy team with new QB and no matter why the team wins, the QB will get a lot of the credit because the QB is the de facto leader of the team and its most visible player."), aloofman here ("McNabb suffers from not having a good offensive scheme and complimentary players."), and CaliforniaDave here ("it's because he was a highly touted draft pick and a superior college talent.").

MaineCoon devours question two with aplomb:

it's one thing to say that McNabb is overrated, but an utterly different one to say the reason for this is because the media wants a black man to succeed. What about all the other black quarterbacks? Are they all also willed into success by a wishful media? Will the media's raging hunger ever be sated? How many black quarterbacks will it take?! The fact is, it's much more likely that if McNabb is overrated it's because he plays a dynamic and attractive style of game that happens not to be as effective as one might think.

Reminding us that Limbaugh "merely said McNabb owed his reputation, not his job, to preferential consideration," bananas_foster writes:

Those who have their knickers in a twist regarding Limbaugh's assessment of Donovan McNabb are motivated not by their self-congratulatory high-minded principles but by rabid allegiance to the bankrupt creed of affirmative action, which long ago achieved the status of an entrenched religion in America. The high priests of affirmative action demand not only that some individuals be given preferential treatment but also that no one else dare wonder aloud if those individuals have attained their station on merit alone.

Stay or Go? Limbaugh can find solace in Sissyfuss1, a self-confessed "liberal" who feels that "the hounding out of Rush Limbaugh illustrates a scourge on contemporary American liberalism—political correctness." More from Sissyfuss1 here, who asks:

What is the operational difference between criticizing the substance of Limbaugh's comments and throwing a PC punch on him? Well, I guess the critical element is whether or not you think he should be fired for what he said.

Less concerned with the stat-head element of the debate, echoguy presents a unique argument here ("Free Market does in Rush") on the resignation issue:

Limbaugh spoke. (He didn't exercise his "first amendment rights," the moron. The first amendment protects an individual's free speech rights against the state.) ESPN is not committed to giving anyone a voice — you, me, King Harald of Norway. It makes this choice (in conjunction with the NFL…) based on some fundamental principles.

Do you know what the NUMBER ONE principle on which the NFL and Disney makes such decisions? $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. It's simply not desirous for the NFL and Disney to have Rush performing his schtick on Sundays. The NFL has a cauldron of problems; they don't need another. Broadcast programming is the league's incontrovertible gem. Rush flouted that and he was slapped for it.

Limbaugh has made a fortune in broadcasting; he should know better. As Al Pacino says in GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, "Don't open your mouth until you know what the shot is." Limbaugh didn't know the shot. He thought he was in the Premiere Radio Network Studios. He wasn't. He didn't take inventory of his bosses, his employers, his co-workers, the milieu. The so-called liberal media didn't do him in. Nor did the NAACP. The Byzantine laws that govern the market did.

The market giveth ... KA10:40 a.m.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2003

The Press Box Plumbers: Today's VP comes courtesy of the clairvoyant Sissyfuss1 who called the Plame donnybrook back in July. This morning, S1 diagnoses the leakage here:

Leak #1: Bush drew flak (unfairly, I think) for ducking under the table on Sep 11, and not returning to Washington promptly. A story was soon leaked to the press (and corroborated by Fleischer later) about a phone call received by the authorities delivering a "credible threat" to Air Force One. The caller apparently knew the code for the Presidential plane. The story stifled criticism quickly—not surprising at a time of national trauma—and was never followed up. In all the sundry 9/11 investigations, the question of how terrorists got hold of the code (whatever that is) for Air Force One seems blissfully ignored! Would it be if the claim was real?

The most notable thing about the alleged threat is how illogical and improbable it is. If terrorists wanted to target the Presidential plane, why will they give advanced warning to jeopardize their plan? The WTC and the Pentagon received no such warning, and in retrospect, the 9/11 conspiracy seems characterized by secrecy and meticulous planning, not foolish bravado. If it was an Al Qaeda prank, it occupies a singular place in the organization's repertoire for such humor.

Whoever thought this up has some strange notions of what inspires credulity.

Leak #2: When ABC aired interviews with disgruntled soldiers in Iraq, a "sources in the White House" leaked to Matt Drudge that the reporter is gay and Canadian! Again, what is notable is the leaker's belief that these two traits will somehow undermine the credibility of the ABC story. It could, if the issue was different, but for a viewer to doubt testimony on tape about troop discontent because of this leak, s/he has to be homophobic, xenophobic and an idiot, all at once. The leaker's belief that many ABC News viewers will think along these lines is significant. (An alternative motive is retribution and deterrence as in 3(b) below, but even in that case, the belief that revelation of nationality and sexual preference can be damaging to a national network reporter is interesting in itself).

Leak #3: The Plame Game. It is not immediately clear whether the leaker's principal motive was to reveal that (a) Wilson's wife set him up in the job, as part of a conspiracy to malign the Bush administration, or (b) she is a secret CIA agent. If (a), the attempt is to undermine Wilson's credibility. If (b), the motive is revenge through inflicting personal harm and/or setting an example for others.

Consider (a). If attacking Wilson's credibility was the goal, there must have been at least ten other ways to do so, none of them so lame, felonious and politically risky. When Wilson went to Niger, the possibility that his trip will have the political relevance it later acquired was contingent on so many events, that to have anticipated all of them would have been prophetic. To give just one example, if Bush had left those sixteen words out of his SOTU speech, nobody would have heard of Wilson today. What kind of mind thinks others will find this plausible—that a career professional with the CIA is practically a Democratic mole with the prescience of Nostradamus? It must be a mind so steeped in political scheming as to be living in some alternative reality.

Wilson's credibility is best attacked by pointing to his expressed anti-war and anti-Bush views (see locdog's post from yesterday). A simple charge of bias without forethought would have served much better than the suggestion of a fantastically improbable preconceived conspiracy.

If the motive was (b), it appears at least more sane. Still, the cost (risk of a major scandal—should have been foreseen, given the nature of the disclosure) seems disproportional to the benefit in this particular case. Political cost-benefit doesn't explain it fully—vindictiveness for its own sake must have played a role. The fact that the leaker kept tossing it out to so many reporters also shows a recklessness typical of emotion rather than pure calculation.

What is interesting for me is how all these leaks seem to bear a similar fingerprint, and what they reveal of the leaker's mind (think plural if you really insist). They are incredibly ham handed jobs, often betraying a risky taste for vendetta rather than calm strategic sophistication. The plots and storylines they try to project belong in dime novels, not reality. There is a serious misunderstanding of people's credulity. (It is interesting that of the half a dozen journalists approached with the Plame tip, only a proven fool like Novak decided to take it up. I don't think that's because of a high minded concern for an agent's cover. The lack of relevance of the information to anything of consequence is apparent to any logical mind).

Great reputations are sometimes built on flukes and surprisingly flimsy ground. Is the boy genius Rove more a boy than a genius? Is he trapped in his own hyper-reality, more Harry Potter than Machiaveli? Conventional wisdom doesn't say so, but conventional wisdom has occasionally got it wrong. Wasn't Nixon supposed to be smart? (Further, the dichotomy between smartness and delusion is not so sharp).

Two final points. Journalists often move heaven and earth to discover what one official said to another behind closed doors. It is funny that six journalists (and possibly several colleagues) are sitting on a major scoop, unable to utter a word. The treasure needs no hunting, it is sitting in your own vault, but you are no richer for it. Of course there is sound journalistic strategy behind this, but isn't there sweet irony too?

Second, I'll allow myself a doodahman. I said long ago, this one ought to be big!

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Monday, September 29, 2003

East of Eden: Not to be left out of the melee, Slate wine critic, Mike Steinberger, piles on California (" Sour Grapes"). Steinberger regards the state's entire wine yield as swill with "nothing worth drinking for under $15." Slate film critic David Edelstein has a confession. He:

love[s] the super-ripe and funky Central Coast Pinot Noirs like Au Bon Climat and maybe Morgan. And Calera's low-priced Central Coast Pinots are, to my palate, delightful. It's also fun to see more Rhone styles in CA. And, at the other end of the spectrum, I love a lot of the Pinot Gris coming out of California and the Pacific NW: great barbecue wine, most of it under $15.

I am, in short, a vulgar American in the Parker tradition. No, I'm more vulgar than Parker.

Zathras steps up with a full-bodied post, giving Edelstein a waiver, while agreeing "with much of what this Steinberger fellow says about California wines: most of what is good is not cheap, most of what is cheap is not very good, and much of what is supposed to be good because it is not anywhere near being cheap is overvinified and way overpriced." Nevertheless:

[A] red flag goes up in the course of reading a column about California wine by someone who admits he has boycotted California wine for some time. Might the picture being painted be left deliberately incomplete, to make a point?

In the same Edelstein thread, Swift jumps in with a couple of angles, including:

The market collapsed a couple years ago. They've been giving away good wine for a couple years …

During the "irrational exuberance," California winemakers discovered that preying on snobbery was a good way of parting people from their money. The same lessons as were being taught to Wall Street sharpies were taught to the winebuyers with more money than good sense.

But the real issue for Swift is the underlying premise of oeno-criticism:

The reason why writing about wine is such crap is that it's as ineffable as writing about what's a good orgasm.

File under: Dancing About Architecture.

Frederick Wiseman, Eat Your Heart Out: Ang_Cho wails onSlate Cultural Editor, Meghan O'Rourke (" Life Lessons From Joe Schmo"):

So Matt is "turning the tables" on the producers, by being a genuine person? Yuck. Genuine people are tedious and the only people who find this guy inspirational are maudlin TV critics like O'Rourke.

"Real" reality shows work because we see "real" people become compelling characters (or rather, caricatures). What's the fun in seeing a bland person being himself? We should praise him for not "taking the bait?"

Here, Nuclear_Cloaca doesn't loathe Matt for his earnestness, but worries for him:

Matt is more than just a dupe, or a rube. He personifies the trusting innocence that many lose as they travel life's roads. He becomes skeptical, much as a child will after being disabused of the Tooth Fairy, or Santa. But, he reflects the actions of the average person thrust into strange surroundings—he seems to mirror behaviors to reduce the possibility of outright conflict.

One can hope that Matt is only a very good actor—I fear his sanity may be damaged, his innocent belief in the sincerity of people blown away forever by an idea that is marvelous, and terrible (like in terrible lizard) in its scope.

Zelig or Zero? You decide ...

Department of Astral Affairs: The next wave—Mike_Murray, TheNewSnobbery, MikeBeers, NeoCon, Inkberrow, gtomkins, Ang_Cho ... KA12:05 p.m.

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Friday, September 26, 2003

Who's on the Other Side of those DirectTV Screens? Travel guru, Edward Hasbrouck, "The Practical Nomad," writes into Chatterbox ("Lay Off JetBlue") to huff, "I'm not sure why you are so obsessed with how the jetBlue Airways privacy scandal came to light." For those scoring at home, Hasbrouck claims to have scooped both Wired and the Times here

After posting my own story, I alerted reporters at both Wired News and the New York Times (among others) to the document I had found. Wired News picked up the story two days later, properly ackowledging me as the source: hereAP picked it up from Wired, a day later, and the Times a day after that. AP correctly credited Bill Scannell for "bringing attention to the issue on his Web site, DontSpyOnUs", which is true. The AP story said nothing about who uncovered the document or where the expose was first published.

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Wired's Ryan Singel takes issue with Noah's attribution of the JetBlue story, as well. He enters the Fray to deliver his sequence of cries and whispers, stating that the first published piece by Wired on Sept. 16 was merely an inchoate report. According to Singel, the info:

came to light after a number of conservatives who are concerned about government surveillance met with the TSA's head, Adm. James Loy.

Follow the trail from Free Congress Foundation's Paul Weyrich to Wired here.

Tim Noah responds to both claimants by setting the record straight here

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Judge, Jury, Elocutioner: The thread of the day doesn't emanate from armchair analysis of the Democratic bloodletting at Pace, but from the virtues of an injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Edward Nottingham on the Federal Trade Commission's "do not call" list.

"As a conservative," locdog applauds the decision. Why? 

[T]he heart of the judge's ruling was something that all conservatives can and should embrace: the FTC, a federal agency, overstepped its bounds and needed to be put back in its place.

From the other side of the spectrum, raprap agrees—though citing it as a first amendment issue ... so to speak:

It is the right of everyone, including charities like the Fraternal Order of Police and the VFW to be treated like the Assholes they are.

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... and a principle of the free market:

Let the market kill telemarketing.

DamnRight, a self-described conservative, sees it differently from locdog:

I detect less of a concern on your part regarding the similarly relentless intrusion of business and commerce into my life, as in their constant thumbing of their noses towards my continually diminishing right to some sort of privacy in my life.

[W]hat is the correct action to take towards preventing the invasion of my home by unsolicited calls from people I have absolutely no interest in talking with?

That, too, is a conservative/libertarian goal, no?

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PubliusToo aptly points out that this is precisely when the populace should welcome the incursion of government:

Would you prefer to have the courts enforcing rules against telemarketers invading our privacy by means of individual or class action lawsuits? A do-not-call list makes so much sense, I find the cries of over-regulation difficult to understand. Apparently, an overwhelming majority of Congress, and at least 50 million Americans, agree with that assessment.

How much small government is too much small government? ... KA6:55 p.m.   

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Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Why go? What was accomplished? Is the coffee really that good in the coffee shop off First Avenue? 

On Tuesday, President Bush reiterated the case for the American invasion of Iraq, while inviting other nations—in a manner of speaking (his manner of speaking, to be certain)—to "contribute greatly to the Iraq self-government." The entirety of the speech can be found here.  

Was it the right speech for the wrong reasons? The wrong speech for the right reasons?  J_Mann here:

The core question is whether giving the UN increased power over the fate of Iraq would actually help to transform Iraq into a stable state.

Bush obviously believes the answer is no—ruling by committee won't help, neither will allowing the UN member states, many of which have ulterior motives, to decide what happens in Iraq.

Now Bush may be right or wrong. Time will tell whether we can do it right under his plan, and, if we go with his plan, we'll never know if the UN would have done a better job.

Nevertheless, given Bush's premise, his speech was exactly the right choice diplomatically.

1) It made clear that the US means well in Iraq, and that we're going to do the job with or without the UN's help, but it did so in a way that wasn't openly confrontational.

2) It also reminded the UN that there are a ton of issues on which the UN wants the US's help: aids, the sex trade, et al. This gentle reminder isn't necessarily a "harmless bromide" or whatever Kaplan calls it—it may well be a simple that the UN depends on the US, and that the UN's ability to accomplish its goals in the future depend on rapproachement with the US.

In short, it was classic diplomacy. A little stick, a little carrot, and a clear statement of our priorities.

Thrasymachus sees no relevant context to the United Nations address, nothing distinctly diplomatic other than the olive marble:

Why did Bush give this speech? He won no friends, but then he asked for none. He explained no errors, but then he admitted none. He changed no attitudes, but then he didn't really try.

He gave a speech that might have gone over well as an address to the American people, but the U.N. delegates wanted answers to some very specific questions, and they didn't get those answers today.

In the world of this speech, September 11, 2001 was "yesterday", and Bush just finished waging a successful war with the sanction and support of the United Nations, and was in the process of smoothly and efficiently rebuilding that placid and pacified nation.

If we really inhabited that world, there would be no need for Bush to address the U.N. at all. In the world we inhabit, he should have sent a different message.

The hawks in the Bush Administration still favor a unilateral approach to Iraq, and see no reason to seek or accept any help from the U.N. if it comes with strings attached. They won't be pleased that Bush addressed the United Nations.

The doves in the Bush Administration think that the U.S. is in over its head and needs all the help it can get if the price is bearable. They won't be pleased by the speech either, or by the fact that Bush just said "nucular" on the floor of the U.N.

In rebuttal, J_Mann offers Thrasymachus this explanation:

I can't believe someone named Thrasymachus is even asking the question.

Why did Kruschev speak to the UN? Tarik Aziz? Yasser Arafat?

As I posted above, Bush's speech basically said (1) "We intend to go ahead in Iraq, and plan to do good there;" and (2) "Don't forget that the UN, with US help, does a lot of other important things."

It's good diplomacy - the UN is basically in the business of appeasing whichever country has the biggest stick. Bush said "Appease me, and we'll set up a free society in Iraq, fight AIDS, feed the world's hungry, etc. If not, well . . ."

Thrasymachus would have approved.