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Charlie Weis, Tyrone Willingham, and structural racism

[ 0 ] December 3, 2008 |

It’s being reported that Notre Dame is going to bring back Charlie Weis for a fifth season, despite the fact the team racked up the most losses in any two-season stretch in the 109-year history of the program in Weis’s third and fourth years.

Weis’s record is, by any reasonable measure, worse than that of his predecessor Tyrone Willingham: he has a worse winning percentage, and he’s been blown out more often (Weis’s teams have lost no less than 15 games over four seasons by two or more touchdowns: Willingham lost a total of 15 games in his three seasons). Weis has never defeated a top 20 team, and Notre Dame’s record against top 50 teams — an extraordinarily liberal definition of what constitutes a decent opponent — is a wretched 8-16.

Yet Weis is getting a fifth year, while Willingham (who is black; Weis is white) got only three.

Now it would be a crude oversimplification to say Weis isn’t being fired because he’s white, while Willingham was fired because he was black. First, Willingham is a crappy coach — a lousy recruiter and a generally low-energy guy — who deserved to be fired. After being fired at Notre Dame, he went on to produce by far the worst team in the University of Washington’s football history.

And it’s not exactly true that Weis isn’t being fired because he’s white: he’s not being fired because his contract contains an absurdly gigantic buyout clause, reported as being somewhere between $10 million and $20 million dollars (Kevin White, the athletic director who negotiated the contract, seems to have been guilty of gross incompetence — no other coach in college football has anything like such a huge buyout).

But racism did play a role in all this, in the following way: Weis signed his preposterous contract extension — for ten years and approximately $30 million not to mention the absurd buyout — seven games into his first season, at a time his team was 5-2, and had just lost a close game to #1 USC (this loss is still by far the most impressive game on Weis’s lousy resume). After seven games at Notre Dame, Tyrone Willingham had a record of 7-0. He didn’t get a ten year fifty trillion dollar extension, however. My guess is that he got a nice fruit basket from Kevin White for a job well done.

See, Tyrone Willingham had to prove he was a good coach. (It turned out he wasn’t). Charlie Weis didn’t have to prove anything. All he had to do was talk a good game and act like he was the second coming of Knute Rockne, and the Notre Dame AD threw piles of money at him and his amazing 5-2 record (Weis had no head coaching experience prior to taking over at ND. He had been the offensive coordinator for the Patriots when the Patriots had below average offenses and were winning Super Bowls with their defense).

Now it turns out Weis is an enormous fraud, but Notre Dame is stuck with him, because they bought his — and their own — hype. They would have been a lot more skeptical about a black guy, because the fact the guy was black would have reminded them that seven games into a head coaching career with what is essentially still someone else’s team doesn’t really mean a thing, especially when you’ve lost a couple of those games.

But Weis just “seemed” like he must be some sort of football genius. There was just something about the guy . . .

Update: To clarify: I don’t think Notre Dame behaved in an unusual way in these situations, and I certainly don’t believe any conscious racially discriminatory thinking was at play. That’s why it’s a structural problem: ironically, unconscious racial bias may have led to Willingham being held to an appropriate standard of evaluation, while Weis ends up being the beneficiary of what ends up being a kind of reverse affirmative action in the worst sense — a ridiculously underqualified clown who falls flat on his face but can’t be fired because he blustered his way into a multi-million dollar sinecure.

New Cold War

[ 0 ] December 2, 2008 |

I have a piece at Guardian: Comment is Free on the International Security Advisory Board report on China. Long story short, it’s Team B revisited.

The Chinese will be Insulted if We Don’t Name a Die-Hard Maoist as Ambassador!

[ 0 ] December 2, 2008 |

I agree with Henry and Tim. Bainbridge’s critique of Doug Kmiec as Vatican Ambassador has nothing to do with Kmiec’s actual policy views, but rather with the fact that Kmiec vocally supported Obama. Bainbridge further argues that Kmiec’s support allowed Obama to win over all the fake Catholics, and consequently that real Catholics will be insulted by his appointment. The result of this argument seems to be that Obama needs to appoint a real Catholic, the measure of which will be that said person didn’t support Obama.

Indeed, I think Henry’s being far too kind to Professor Bainbridge when he refers to this argument as “puzzling”. As far as I can tell, there’s just no way to make this make sense. Bainbridge’s latest argument is that Kmiec clearly likes Obama better than he likes Pope Benedict, and as such he’s unqualified for the post of United States Ambassador to the Holy See. Again, it’s hard for me to find the nougat of a sensible argument here; it just seems kind of silly.

Which is it?

[ 0 ] December 1, 2008 |

Is Amity Shlaes stupid, dishonest, lazy, or all of the above?

As a somewhat-related bonus, this is also good:

Paul Krugman Sets the Bar Far too Low…

…when he says that Keynes’s greatness is illustrated by the fact that he understood things that George F. Will does not. A six year old child could write more intelligent columns about economics than George F. Will. The fact that Fred Hiatt has not yet fired George F. Will and replaced him with a six year old child is yet another piece of the wreckage of the crashed-and-burned Washington Post detritus scattered around the landscape.

Blog Reader Survey…

[ 0 ] December 1, 2008 |

The Man demands that we collect data. If you have a moment, we’d appreciate it if you could fill out the Blog Reader Project survey.



[ 0 ] December 1, 2008 |

Matt Duss and I diavlog away, touching upon such subjects as piracy, the Clash of Civilizations, turkey, the Sound of Music, and Matt’s prospects for replacing Alan Colmes:

Harper’s Blunder

[ 0 ] December 1, 2008 |

Despite their ideological dissimilarity, Stephen Harper seems to be emulating the parliamentary strategery of Joe Clark, which apparently will lead to Canada’s left-leaning electoral majority retaking power. A couple notes:

  • This was really an incredible blunder on Harper’s part. Did he think that the opposition parties would just fail to notice the key triggering proposal — an end to public party financing — would have left them at a huge disadvantage? You can get away with that kind of thing in a typical Canadian majority government, but of course Harper didn’t have one. It should also be noted that this policy was embedded in an idiotic neo-Hooverite budget package, which was as bad on the merits as it was bad politically.
  • As Yglesias notes, this could represent a significant shift in Canadian politics, as outside of wartime Canada has not had European style coalition governments. Because there isn’t a PR system even pluarolity votes generally produce parliamentary majorities, and in relatively rare cases of minoritiy governments pluaralities have governed through informal arrangements with other parties. Should the current fractured party system endure, however, coaliton governments seem inevitable. (One would think that such a party system won’t endure without PR, but Canadian federalism may provide an exception to the general rule.)
  • Since the Conservatives had already withdrawn the policies must unacceptable to them, though, I wonder why the Liberals are choosing this particular time to bring down the government; it might seem more logical to wait until new leadership was in place. But I guess they saw the oppurtinity and took it, although perhaps they may decide at the last minute to bide their time. Let me just say: no Ignatieff.

The Superfluous Man

[ 0 ] December 1, 2008 |

Kim du Toit — winner of the most prestigious blogging award ever — has apparently tired of blogging. He muses:

Somebody wrote to me and said, very graciously, that he now knows how people felt when Albert Jay Nock passed away. While that’s all very flattering, I am not fit to fill Nock’s pen, let alone be an heir to his astonishing legacy of thoughtful, philosophical and intellectual discourse. And I suspect that, like Nock, my writings will fade into obscurity, with only occasional memories thereof that might linger in the consciousness of a small few.

Oh, we couldn’t let that happen. Here:

I dunno. Some people are going to say (not in exculpation, but in explanation) that my fascination for bodacious tatas stems from my early adolescence, which, as it happens took place in the 1960s, at the precise moment when women decided that they were going to Burn Their Bras And Let It All Hang Out, Baby. The ghastly coincidence of the arrival of metric tons of teenage hormones along with universally-apparent boobs should not be downplayed.

And I admit that I do sometimes feel ashamed of myself. Really—it’s not some PC-inspired mea culpa here, I genuinely want to beat myself over the head when I discover that my glance has shot unerringly towards, say, someone’s maiden aunt’s topside. The age of the owner, as you may gather, doesn’t seem to matter to my eyeballs (or, more correctly, to my brain’s simian impulse which directs the gaze).

Hell, ”simian” used in that sense is an insult to apes, because they don’t spend most of their waking hours gawking at the herd’s females’ upper danglies.

From Colony to Superpower: New Neighbors

[ 0 ] December 1, 2008 |

On to chapter IV of From Colony to Superpower…

Herring clearly prefers the last of the Virginia Dynasty to the previous two. Much of the credit for Monroe’s foreign policy competence goes to John Quincy Adams, who Herring (among others) gives place of honor among US Secretaries of State. Monroe and Adams pursued a far more “realist” line than their predecessors, although it’s fair to argue about whether their form of realism deserves a capital letter. It’s also reasonable to wonder about the division of labor between Adams and Monroe. Monroe seems not to have been overly interested in foreign policy, and thus allowed Adams a reasonably free hand. This suggests that the successes of the administration belong to Adams. On the other hand, the quality of competent delegation is an under-stated Presidential virture, and Monroe deserves credit for picking the best guy and letting him do his job without too much interference. It’s not hard to argue that the interventions of Jefferson and Madison into foreign policy worked out poorly, thus putting Monroe’s hands-off approach in a good light. That said, Washington and the first Adams took a strong personal interest in foreign policy, which generally worked out to their credit.

The United States didn’t win the War of 1812, but the conflict nevertheless led to what amounted to the normalization of US relations with the rest of the world. In part, this is because the rest of the world became more normal; the end of the Napoleonic Wars led to a long period of general peace in European affairs, rendering many of the conflicts that developed in earlier periods of US foreign policy moot. The United States also became more “normal”, abandoning the revolutionary pretense that characterized the Jefferson administration and that was still present in the Madison period. Adams had little patience for revolutionary pretense, and dropped the

This is not to say that the revolutionaries all went away, or that the revolutions ceased. Weakened by the Napoleonic Wars, the Spanish Empire in America substantially crumbled on Monroe and Adams’ watch. Adams tried to maintain an arms-length relationship with the South American revolutions, fearing British intervention and using US support as a negotiating chip with Spain and Russia. Others within the government (including Adams eventual Secretary of State, Henry Clay) preferred a more activist role, seeing the revolutions as a positive good and something that ought to be encouraged by the United States. The Monroe Doctrine was the product of ambivalence as much as empire building; the United States shared with the new Latin American states a genuine fear of European intervention, but at the same time could make only clumsy efforts to act as a regional leader.

From the 1830s on, the United States would expand substantially at the expense of Mexico. For the most part, territorial imperium in the Americas ended there; while some enthusiasts envisioned further expansion to the south, American elite opinion settled, according to Herring, around the idea that Latin American was culturally antithetical to the United States. The United States was an English speaking, largely Protestant country; the Latin American states were full of Catholics with questionable ethnic origins. The idea that Catholic states posed certain key difficulties for US foreign policy persisted for quite some time, and colored US relations with France, Spain, the independent colonies, and even Russia (Orthodox was apparently worse than Catholic, although Herring discusses American enthusiasm for the Greek Revolution). The shared concern over Catholic monarchism probably smoothed over differences in Anglo-American relations during this period, in spite of the fact that the two states continued to have trade and territorial disputes.

Herring mentions, but doesn’t explore at length, the relationship between the United States and Pax Britannica. The United States was born and developed under the umbrella of British maritime dominance. This dominance was occasionally tested by the French, and was in some regions only intermittent, but nevertheless the United States could largely count, from independence until roughly 1900, on ocean transit secured by the Royal Navy. This absolved the United States of certain maritime responsibilities; although the United States Navy grew during the Monroe-Adams period, it did not approach in size or capability the important (and even not so important) navies of Europe. The US, dependent as it was on maritime trade, was in a position to uniquely benefit from this security. Had a multipolar (in the maritime sphere) system existed, the United States might not have been able to free ride on Great Britain’s provision of security, and consequently might have suffered economically.

More later, especially on the Jacksonian period.

How Bipartisan!

[ 0 ] December 1, 2008 |

To follow up on Glenn Reynolds’s impeccable logic, I would like to announce that, as someone with impeccable credentials as a Nelson Mandela Republican, I have no choice but to cross party lines and endorse Jim Martin. I can assure that it’s painful to abandon my long-standing party loyalties like that, but sometimes you have to put principle ahead of partisan interests…

Let the Eagle Soar

[ 0 ] December 1, 2008 |

Steve Conn:

[P]erhaps the nomination which best demonstrated just how inept this administration would prove to be was John Ashcroft. You will recall that Ashcroft got the job of running the Justice Department because he lost his Senate seat in the 2000 election. To a dead man. The reward for failing to beat the deceased Mel Carnahan was the job of Attorney General. It was the first example of what became all too common: for Bush, our MBA president, no failure is so great that it doesn’t deserve a promotion . . . .

Ashcroft’s nomination told us all we needed to know about the coming administration – its contempt for brains, for integrity, for competence, its true-believing zealotry.

This is true, but it’s important not to forget that Ashcroft lost in no small part because he stood up on the Senate floor in October 1999 and denounced Ronnie White, a judicial moderate who had been nominated for a federal district court position. In his bizarre and ultimately successful campaign against White’s nomination, Ashcroft distorted the Missouri Supreme Court Justice’s record and engaged in just enough race-baiting to bring the state’s black voters out in what Eric Boehlert later described (in a fine piece about the whole affair) as “one of the clearest cases of retaliation voting” in recent political history. Ashcroft simply made shit up about White’s views on crime and the death penalty and then — even though he could have crushed the nomination before it reached the Senate floor — allowed White to be humiliated, as he became the first District Court nominee in fifty years to be defeated in a full Senate vote. Then he lost to a dead guy.

Every now and then, I hear someone remarking that for as bad as Ashcroft was, Alberto Gonzales was surely worse. That’s true so far as it goes, but therein lies the essence of Bush’s greatness; just when you figure you’ve scraped the bottom of the well, there was always something even more infuriating a few clicks down the road.

A Scandal on Multiple Levels

[ 0 ] November 30, 2008 |

I hope you’ve all read David Barstow’s very important (if depressing) story. It is, first of all, the tale of a truly shameless hack. But that’s not the most damaging thing; probably not many people have the integrity to turn down large amounts of money for undemanding work; it’s just that most of us aren’t in a position to be asked. The bigger story is NBC’s apparent belief that it should be able to put paid shills on to serve as objective analysts because, after all, the anchor and the shill have a “close friendship.” (Well, I’m convinced!)

But there’s an even deeper scandal here — the extent to which the McCaffreys and Williamses of the world form part of the military-welfare-queen complex. In a time period with immense strains on the public fisc, all military spending remains essentially beyond criticism. In this remains true even though as a description of the relationship between much of the spending and national security “diminishing returns” is a gross understatement.