Thursday, January 31, 2013


      The older I get, the more I like baseball, partly because I'm sick of the cheating in other pro sports. There simply is not that much on-the-field cheating in baseball. It's not possible. In other sports, however, the cheating is intentional and crude and disrespectful of the game itself.

      When a basketball player is driving for the hoop and another player grabs his jersey in a way the ref can't see, I don't think, “Wow! What a wily old veteran!” Instead, I think the guy should be thrown out of the game and maybe banned for the rest of the season. Ditto the defensive back in football who knows he is not allowed to hold a pass receiver but does so anyway, cleverly, subtly. I hate those guys. Their sport has given them fame, prestige and tons of money, and now they are pissing on it.


      One consequence of a centralized and hierarchical organization is that it becomes difficult to evaluate lower-level members of the organization. Since all decisions are made at the top, the only performance measure on which underlings can be judged is their ability and willingness to follow orders. In a rigid hierarchy, this is an important quality, of course, but it provides no evidence of a talent for independent judgment. This is true even of important executives in the organization, those with responsibility for directing a large number of employees. They may be so constricted in what they can do with their minions, it can be difficult to evaluate them as decision-makers.

      Presidential debates would be much more civilized with a stage, two candidates, two microphones, and no moderator. Any rules would be agreed to by the two debaters alone. When I suggest this, people often say it would result in chaos, but I doubt it. Putting people on their honor often works better than depositing them in a legalistic framework where outsiders have to enforce the rules since that tends to relieve the participants of any responsibility for their own behavior. In Europe, there are towns that have eliminated traffic control signs altogether, and they are often safer than similar burgs in the US full of Stop signs and Slow signs and Prepare to Stop signs and Stop Sign Ahead signs.


      I saw it again today (12-9-12) in the NY Giants – New Orleans Saints game. The Saints were trailing 35-20 late in the 3rd quarter, scored a touchdown to make the score 35-26, and then kicked an extra point to pull within 8 points. This is a fundamental strategic mistake, and every coach in the NFL makes it. It has been at least ten years since I have seen a coach, down 15 late in a game, score a touchdown and go for a 2-point conversion, though it is the only rational play.

      When asked about this (and these days they are never asked), a coach will say he wanted to position his team “within one score,” by which he means 8 points. The problem is that 8 points is not “one score.” Seven points is “one score” because one can assume the extra point after a touchdown, but no one can assume a 2-point conversion. In the NFL, a 2-point conversion is a 50-50 proposition. It's a coin flip.

      The point is this: 15 points is not two scores; it is two scores plus a coin flip. It might be three scores---you just won't know until you try your 2-point conversion. Similarly, 8 points is not one score; it is one score plus a coin flip. It might be two scores. And if you, as a coach, need a coin flip to catch up and force overtime, don't you want to flip that coin as soon as possible?

       In the context of the NY – NO game, when the score is 35 – 26 and you are deciding whether to kick for one or run a play for two, WHY WOULD YOU DELAY FINDING OUT WHETHER YOU NEED TWO MORE SCORES, OR ONLY ONE? Why don't you want to know now? And if you want to know now, what possible reason could there be to kick a single extra point just for the pleasure of being down eight points?


      Believing as I do in the burning bush and the resurrection, I'm reluctant to mock other people's theology as goofy or illogical, but I do find certain faiths difficult to take seriously.

      Beliefs and rituals and festivals about food are so human, so hard-wired into all of us, that a religion without them makes me suspicious. Catholics have the Last Supper, the Seven Fishes, the meatless fast days. Jews have their Seder and their bitter herbs and their Jewfood obsessions (e.g., brisket). Muslims butcher meat in prescribed ways, and long for the sundown meal during Ramadan.

      Now consider the Quakers. They've been in America for 350 years, centered in Philadelphia, which is a food town if there ever was one, but have somehow managed NOT to put their stamp on any distinctive cuisine. Is there a Quaker-style fried chicken? Is there a catfish-a-la-Betsy-Ross? What is “Quaker food,” anyway? Oatmeal?

      Then there's the Mormons, who are only marginally more chow-conscious than Quakers. Utah consumes more Jello per capita than any other place on earth, for example. Perhaps the height of Mormon gastronomy is something called “funeral potatoes,” (a fun-loving name for a dish if ever there was one). These consist of frozen,shredded potatoes, canned cream of chicken soup, sour cream and crumbled cornflakes, all baked at approximately 1650 degrees Fahrenheit for three hours and twenty minutes (or until done).

    My son shares an apartment in Salt Lake City with two young Mormon gentlemen. Stacked in several spots around the abode are a number of 25-lb boxes of “RICE” and “OATS” and other no-frill staples. The LDS church recommends this, you see. Everyone is supposed to have a least six months of provisions against the inevitable societal meltdown or Rapture or apocalypse. That reflects the fundamental attitude of Mormons toward food. It's all about survival. Mormons are allowed to have fun, but not by eating.


Saturday, January 26, 2013


In an email a few days ago, I wrote to a friend that when the NCAA fined Penn State $60 million for the Sandusky scandal, the only honorable response of Governor Corbett would have been to tell the NCAA to piss up a rope. My friend replied, “Piss up a rope???”

This surprised me. I do not remember a time in my life when I did not know this expression and I have assumed that every adult in America was aware of it. I was wrong about that. Over the past week, I have asked a couple dozen people the following question: “Have you ever heard the expression 'Piss up a rope'?” For a clear majority (about two-thirds), the answer was no.

Everyone who hears it instantly understands what it means. It's a bit cruder than “Go jump in the lake,” and a bit more polite than “Go f*** yourself,” but it means the same thing. Leave me alone. Go away and perform a pointless or impossible act.

But attempting to track down its origins doesn't get you very far. There are dozens of websites offering information on words and phrases and their roots, and I've been to a lot of them. A site called Wordwizard reports simply that it is American, from the early 20th Century, and it cites Cassell's Dictionary of Slang. Another discussion thread (in a chat room, not an academic site), says, “I heard it in SE Asia in the military back in the 60s.”  And that's about it.

There might be something to this military angle, however. A female friend thinks her source might have been her father, an American sailor in WWII. The military, of course, is the source of much slang, but it is also a linguistic meetinghouse or melting pot where choice words and phrases get passed around even though they may not have originated in the military itself. A regional expression from Georgia, if it gets the job done, can wind up in Oregon or Vermont in this fashion.

I do believe it's American rather than British or Australian or Canadian, simply because there doesn't appear to be any evidence of foreign roots.

Those who are familiar with it are predominately male and white and older, and most of the women who know the term are married to them. In other words, women hear it from their husbands, not their hairdressers. Also, several guys told me they hadn't heard it used for years and suspect it's archaic, or at least fading. On the other hand, the country band Ween recorded a song in 1996 entitled---you'll never guess---”Piss Up A Rope.” And while they may never win a Grammy for it, they still tour and they still do the song, which features the immortal line: “I'm sick of your mouth and your 2% milk,” as well as these heart-rending lyrics:

My dinner's on fire while she watches TV
And if you've ever wondered what it's like to be me
She takes all my money and leaves me no smokes
Yells at my buddies and insults my folks

I'm breakin' my back, doin' the best that I can
She's got time for the dog and none for her man
And I'm no dope, but I can't cope
So hit the fuckin' road and piss up a rope


Thursday, January 24, 2013


HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Gov. Tom Corbett said Tuesday he plans to sue the NCAA in federal court over stiff sanctions imposed against Penn State University in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.
The NCAA sanctions, which were agreed to by the university in July, included a $60 million fine that would be used nationally to finance child abuse prevention grants. The sanctions also included a four-year bowl game ban for the university's marquee football program, reduced football scholarships and the forfeiture of 112 wins but didn't include a suspension of the football program, the so-called death penalty.
---ESPN, 1-2-13

Some in the media and the sports world have praised Governor Corbett for the antitrust suit he has belatedly filed against the NCAA. Let me suggest another approach to the question of how this multifaceted mess should have been dealt with, and how we should view the governor's actions.

At this point we all know the basics of the story. Crimes were committed, repeatedly, in the shower rooms of Penn State athletic facilities and other places. Young boys were sodomized and otherwise sexually abused by a respected member of the university community, and the crimes continued for a number of years. Other adults in positions of authority looked the other way or didn't want to believe the stories or instinctively protected the culture of secrecy that allowed this situation to develop. They bear some moral culpability, and maybe some criminal culpability, for the outrages that occurred. While the responsibility of the predator himself may be quite clear, the extent to which other men should be held accountable is less so. Some may be entirely innocent. Others are weak and perhaps corrupt, but should be allowed to slink away in shame. A few should go to jail. Much of that must still be sorted out.

Here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we have trustees who oversee the universities and we have policemen and courts and judges and legislators. All of these individuals have certain responsibilities, defined by our laws, and all of them have a legitimate role to play in bringing bad people to the bar of justice and crafting policies that will prevent future crimes of this type. That, at least, is how the system is supposed to work. Today, however, we have become so accustomed to being bullied by NGOs, community organizers and advocacy groups that we have apparently forgotten what it is that has made us strong as a nation, and has made us the envy of people around the world. It's the rule of law and the enshrinement of due process principles in our legal system. But those concepts are so very complicated, aren't they? The rule of law? Due process? What does that stuff really mean? So instead, we routinely succumb to the caterwauling of those with big hearts and no legal authority.

Therefore, when the NCAA shows up and says, "Give us $60 million---it's for the children," we do. We all roll over. The president of PSU immediately agrees. The trustees agree. Corbett agrees. "It's only fair," they tell us poor slobs in the cheap seats. "We'll pay the money and then the healing can begin."

The only honorable response to the NCAA's demand for $60 million was to tell them to piss up a rope. Where does such a number even come from? How did they arrive at it? Is there some secret pederasty accounting software locked away in the NCAA's vault? Can we see it? Can we run the numbers ourselves? Why sixty? Why not $58.7 million? Why not $82.3 million? Why not a billion?

The abject acquiescence to the NCAA's demand for $60 million contains a lesson on why it's important to believe in something, why it's important to have values and know why you have them. If Tom Corbett, lawyer, Governor and former Attorney General of Pennsylvania, had any understanding of or appreciation for the rule of law, he would have rejected these NCAA demands instantly. He would have mocked them and named these faceless bureaucrats and demanded they resign from the NCAA.

He did not, of course. Corbett deserves no congratulations here. He has disgraced himself in this affair. The correct response to this attempt to extort money from the taxpayers of Pennsylvania was not a close call. It should not have been a difficult call, certainly not for a former attorney general.

The NCAA's action cannot withstand even a minute of consideration and analysis, which means that our Governor did not give it a minute's thought but simply wilted under the political exigencies of the moment. I mean, if somebody tells you to pay a $60 million fine, don't you even ask to see the law or the rulebook or the code of regulations? Governor Corbett didn't.

We all know the NCAA has a rule against giving a kid a free Jeep, right? And we all know there's a rule against giving a linebacker an A in English when he never went to class. Also, we have seen what happens when a car dealer gives a $20,000 no-show summer job to a college basketball player. Can't do that.

But where's the rule here? CAN WE SEE IT PLEASE? Where is the rule that says if one of your assistant football coaches screwed little boys in a locker room twelve years ago (events with no connection to the current players or coaches), the school has to pay the NCAA $60 million and have its football program hobbled for the next decade? If there's a rule that says that, and Penn State agreed to be bound by that rule, well, OK. We'll pay the money. But show us the rule, and show us the procedures you followed to determine we were guilty of violating this rule, and show us the calculations or decision-making process that was used to determine that $60 million was the appropriate penalty. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but it seems to me that sixty million bucks used to buy a lot more transparency than it does today. Inflation, I suppose.

Any lawyer worthy of the name would have seen the due process issues crying out for attention. This is not hard stuff. It's what lawyers do---they see issues, even if they do not immediately know how those issues should be resolved. But Tom Corbett, former Pennsylvania AG, did not. "Sure," he said. "Sixty million? Great. No problem." Only now is he having second thoughts. Only now, six months later, has our esteemed Governor figured out that HE was the kid in the shower.

Copyright2013Michael Kubacki

Thursday, January 17, 2013

2013 NFL PLAYOFFS---Conference Championships


Remember when Princess Diana got killed in that car in Paris and we all suddenly had to stop making nasty remarks about bulimia and adultery? I guess it's the same sort of thing with Ray Lewis. C'mon Ravens! One more win for Ray, so he doesn't have to retire! Apparently, he's the grand old man of linebacking now and nobody's allowed to mention the murder indictment in 2000 or the two guys who got killed in Atlanta at a Superbowl party that year. But I still wonder about the white suit Ray was wearing that night---the white suit that has never been found. Fashion tip---don't wear a white suit 1) after Labor Day or 2) when you're going to stab people.

New England is heavily favored and New England will win. Sorry, Ray. However, I can't see laying nine or ten points in a spot like this. For one thing, Conference Championship games are rarely blowouts. The teams that get there have usually proven themselves worthy by first getting to the playoffs and then clearing away the wild-card dross. Here, New England, in Foxboro, beat a pretty good Houston team. Indeed, the Patriots thumped them. Baltimore's achievement was even more impressive---going to Denver and wearing down the best team in the conference. The Ravens were supposed to be crushed in that game, yet they responded to challenge after challenge and finally prevailed.

In their recent match-ups, the Raven beat the Pats 31 – 30 in Baltimore on September 23. And, of course, in last year's AFC Championship game, the Pats won in New England, 23 – 20. So how do you lay nine or ten points in a game like this?

In terms of the numbers, New England has a much more potent passing offense and a slightly weaker pass defense. In some ways, it's the same sort of challenge the Pats faced with Houston, where the question was (as it often is in New England), can Brady outscore these guys? He probably will, but if I were forced to bet this game, I would have to take the Ravens and the points. Instead I pass.


Penn Charter is the oldest Quaker school in the world. It was founded in 1689 by William Penn. It's very expensive. It has a lovely campus and beautiful buildings. It's three blocks from my house. Matt Ryan went to high school there. He played quarterback.

It is difficult for people outside of Philadelphia to understand the loathing most normal Philadelphians harbor for Quakers, the Quaker establishment in Philly, the American Friends Service Committee and schools like Penn Charter. Maybe it's the bow ties. Maybe it's the absence of anything one might call “Quaker food.” Maybe it's that they are better than the rest of us and have a lot more money than the rest of us but will occasionally stitch together a quilt for us if we're really down and out and smelly. For me personally, it's the way they claim to be “pacifists,” but actually just root for the other side in every war.

Kinky Friedman once noted that they're not making Jews like Jesus anymore. Well, they're not making Quakers like Betsy Ross either.

So I'm biased. That's why I'm telling you this. I'm disclosing my bias. I think Matt Ryan is a mutt, but maybe that has something to do with my feelings regarding Quakers in general and Penn Charter in particular. For me, though, letting a Penn Charter quarterback play in the Superbowl would be like letting Haaa-vard play Alabama for the BCS.

And it's hard to be impressed with Atlanta's win over the Seahawks, isn't it? They're at home, they've had a week off, they're up 20 in the fourth, and then they need a miracle comeback to squeak out a win??? This is not how good teams get to the dance. By contrast, San Fran fought off a tough, gritty performance by the Packers and finally managed to dominate in the final quarter. San Francisco beat the Packers because they were the better team. As for Seattle vs. Atlanta, well, who can be sure?

As for the all-important yards/pass numbers, San Francisco is the best team in the NFC while Atlanta is no better than fourth. Green Bay was much more dangerous than Atlanta will be. The 49ers will be going to the Superbowl this year after a (relatively) easy win over the Falcons. Lay the points.


Thursday, January 10, 2013



These are the hard ones, of course. Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle, Green Bay---no one (outside of Massachusetts and Colorado) would be astonished to see one of these teams win the Superbowl, so the two winners this weekend are anybody's guess. Both lines, by gametime, will be close to a field goal, with Atlanta favored over Seattle and San Fran favored over the Pack.

I see a real edge for Seattle in its game against Atlanta. Offensively, their passing attacks are both very efficient but the Seattle pass defense is significantly better than Atlanta's. Seattle's defense, in fact, is largely the reason Seattle outscored its opponents by 167 points this year, while Atlanta outscored its foes by only 120.

On the other hand, Atlanta had a week off and gets to play at home.

Prognosticating ain't easy (that's why they pay me so much money), but I have to go with the Seahawks. When a team that is demonstrably superior is getting points in a playoff game, you must take that team.

I pass on the other contest. San Fran's yards/pass numbers are a wee bit better than Green Bay's and the 49er's are legitimate favorites in this game. They also are at home, of course, and there's no tundra in the “city by the bay,” even in January, so there's no reason NOT to bet the 49ers. But I won't. Maybe it's Aaron Rodgers and how cute he is in those insurance commercials. Maybe it's the specter of that game on September 9, the first game of the season, when San Francisco beat Green Bay IN GREEN BAY by a score of 30 – 22. Maybe it's my loathing for Nancy Pelosi. I don't know. I just can't climb aboard the San Francisco bandwagon just yet, though I acknowledge they have put up the best numbers in the NFC.


These, by contrast, are the easy ones. I will be amazed if New England and Denver do not win, and so will you. Each is favored by more than a touchdown, and they deserve to be. These are point spread games, so the question is whether either game will be a true blowout or whether the underdog will be able to keep it close.

Denver dominates Baltimore in yards/pass, both offensively and defensively. Let me reiterate part of that: Denver's pass defense is a LOT better than Baltimore's, despite the primitive Jungian memories buried deep within all of us of extraordinary Baltimore defenses going back to the Pleistocene Era. Forget that. Denver is much better, on both sides of the ball, which is why the Broncos outscored their opponents by 8 points more per game than the Ravens did. Denver is scary, while Baltimore went 10 – 6 in a weak division. This game is over in the third quarter. I lay the points with Denver.

If you follow football at all, you have probably noticed the slightly creepy similarities between Bill Belichick and Richard Nixon. The jowls. The forehead. The paranoia. The smile that, like Nixon's, always looks like somebody just told him to “Smile!” so he tries to do so even though he doesn't quite know how and he wouldn't like it much even if he did. Have you noticed that as Belichick ages, the physical resemblance is increasing?

What am I trying to say here? I acknowledge Belichick is a football genius (though it doesn't hurt your status as a genius to have Tom Brady as your QB).  New England's continuing dominance under Belichick is an amazing story of sports success. They will almost certainly beat Houston. And yet....

I just don't trust the bastard. He's the kind of guy who, if his bowels are out of whack this week, might start bombing Cambodia rather than game-planning for Houston. Psychologically, Belichick is trouble. I'm not sure I trust Giselle either, for that matter. New England is a twisted team, mentally speaking, for a number of reasons.

And when I look at the numbers, the game could be close. New England is the second-best team in the AFC in yards/pass, point differential, etc., but Houston is third. In addition, Houston's pass defense is clearly superior to that of the Patriots. Then there was that 42 – 14 whipping the Pats put on Houston on December 10th. Houston remembers that game, and if that debacle helps anyone, it helps them, not the Patriots. The 42 -14 score is not an accurate reflection of the relative strengths of these two teams.

New England wins. Maybe they win big. But I'm not touching it.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013


No shot: Washington, Minnesota, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Cincy

Can get lucky: Atlanta, Green Bay, Houston

Seriously good: SF, Seattle, Denver, New England


Somebody from the NFC will play in the Superbowl this year and they will probably lose to either Denver or New England. The best of the NFC lot are San Fran and Seattle, but Atlanta, Green Bay (and even Washington) are all worthy of some respect. The only real throw-away in this group is Minnesota, the sort of running-back-centered squad that never goes anywhere in the playoffs.

In the yards/pass sweepstakes that matters so much in the tournament, San Francisco and Seattle stand out from the pack. Atlanta, as the #1 seed, gets to play at home, and they are not a fraud, so they have a chance. Green Bay? Well, their yards/pass numbers are decent, and their quarterback is a winner and they won eleven games and.... They are in a wild-card game and that's not normally a path to the championship, but Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers and the tundra is still the tundra and I can't hate them.

In the wild-card games, take Green Bay to cover, even though it's a big number. Also take the Seahawks over RGIII. Washington has had a wonderful year and RGIII is a very nice young man, but their defense is thin and this is one of those teams for whom just making the playoffs is a dream come true. I like these guys a lot, but it's over now.


On September 17, the Denver Broncos traveled to Atlanta and lost by 6 points to the undefeated Falcons. The following week, at home, Denver lost (again by 6) to Houston. Two weeks later, in New England, the Broncos lost to the Patriots 31 – 21. Since then, Denver has won eleven games in a row, and only one of those games was as close as 7 points.

Three losses in the season's first five weeks to what may be the league's three best teams (other than Denver itself), all at a time when Peyton Manning was still shaking off a year's worth of inactivity and learning a new offense. Since then, there has not been a single misstep. Denver is this year's favorite to win the Superbowl.

Trivia question: how did Denver get to the playoffs last year? The magic of Tim Tebow? Well, no---not really. It was actually the Denver defense that dragged Tebow and the rest of Denver's dreary little offense along for the ride. That defense is still there, but now a healthy Peyton Manning is running the other piece of the show. Peyton must feel he stepped in something wonderful at last. In all his years at Indy, he never had a defense like the one he has in Denver this year. This is the best pass defense in the playoffs (though Seattle and San Fran are close), and the Broncos are also one of only seven teams this year to give up fewer than 100 yards rushing per game. Denver is also the only AFC team this year to give up fewer than 300 points in the regular season.

Peyton has the best yards/pass numbers in the playoffs and he has the rare luxury of a strong defense as well. Why don't we just hand them the trophy right now?

Well, one reason is the Patriots. They have once again scored a ridiculous number of points (557, to be exact), and scoring points is the most important thing you have to do in January and February. While the Patriot defense is nothing special this year, Brady is so good and so efficient that he can often prevail simply by racking up point totals lesser QBs cannot. Also, while it is possible to beat New England, you cannot beat them up. They lost only four games this year by a total of eleven points. This means that even against strong opponents, they will have the ball in Brady's hands at the end of a close game. Denver is the NFL's best this year, but New England is still dangerous. One must note, however, that the Patriots are only the #2 seed. To get to the Superbowl they will have to win in Denver.

The AFC wild-card games feature Cincinnati at Houston and Indianapolis at Baltimore. Both home teams are favored and both should win but it's hard to find much value in the pointspreads of these games. Baltimore only went 10 - 6 this year, had a relatively weak schedule, and lost four of their last five, so it is tempting to take the points and jump aboard the Andrew Luck train. I remain skeptical of any team in 2012, however, who was capable of losing to the NY Jets by 26 points. Pass.