20 October 2013


Bum Phillips died this week on his Texas ranch. Even though he didn't manage to bring the Saints to its first .500 season, his .391 career winning percentage was at the time the high water mark for Saints coaches. The early Saints were plagued by institutional ineptness. Owner John Mecom loved the team, but in the end he was a dilettante.

Early Saints teams were awful. In their first eleven seasons, they managed between two and five wins eleven times.

After watching a succession of untested coaches fail, Mecom made a high profile hiring. Hank Stram, who had a Super Bowl and three AFL championships under his belt, couldn't overcome the lack of talent. He gave up after two years with no success on the field to show for it.

Dick Nolan followed, and building on Stram's squad produced the two most successful seasons the Saints had experienced to that date. The Saints were expected to contend for a playoff spot in Nolan's third season, but instead suffered their worst season ever, and Nolan was fired after the team lost its first twelve games.

Phillips had been fired by the Houston Oilers in spite of leading them to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. His first draft with the Saints produced an impressive list of perennial starters: Rickey Jackson, George Rogers, Hokie Gajan, Frank Warren, Hoby Brenner and Jim Wilks. His first season was a rebuilding one at 4-12, and his second season was the strike shortened 1982 campaign. That year the Saints missed their first playoff spot by the narrowest of margins, the Detroit Lions advanced on a tie-breaker.

Phillips had been a true innovator on defense. Unfortunately he was also intensely loyal; and time can ruthlessly punish loyalty in professional athletics. Phillips attempted to replicate his Houston success, often using the same players. He traded quarterback Archie Manning, the team's most popular player, for the once excellent offensive lineman Leon Gray. He signed 37 year-old Ken Stabler from the Oilers, then gave up a first round pick for Earl Campbell. Campbell rushed for fewer than 1000 yards over two seasons before retiring, hardly a first-round contribution.

Under Phillips, the Saints had again returned from its historical ineptitude to competitive. They weren't quite good enough for the playoffs, but at least had left the realm of comic relief. Phillips's last season started OK; they were 3-2 after five games, but the team deflated and ran off six consecutive defeats. The Saints won in week twelve, and Phillips chose to go out on a winning note. He was replaced by the team's defensive coordinator, his son Wade.

Less than a year after Mecom sold the Saints to Tom Benson, Bum followed his old boss to retirement in Texas. More so than with Nolan, Bum's Saints felt like they might really finally deliver a winning season and maybe even the playoffs. Had Phillips not filled the roster with Houston's jetsam, they might well have. The following season saw the hiring of Jim Mora and the first real success of the New Orleans club. But that success was possible because of the players drafted by Phillips.

08 October 2013


I'd really like to be talking about some mundane part of my life like my running or a new cocktail recipe. Unfortunately, I can't escape a feeling of doom. I just see little reason for long term optimism. I'm not worried about the shutdown which, while stupid and ultimately pointless, is unlikely to do significant permanent damage. I am worried about the "debt ceiling" nonsense, because the people forcing the issue seem so blithely ready to ignore the fourteenth amendment or the economic realities of sovereign debt.

Nominally, the current government shutdown is supposed to be about fiscal responsibility. Republicans think the government spends too much (and they're half right), and so they're not bothered by paralyzing the government. Except now they've guaranteed that all furloughed employees will get back pay. Which means that we're actually accumulating more debt in exchange for, well, nothing.

The hurricane trackers (before the back pay guarantee) were working for free. Because they care about doing their jobs (saving lives). Congress apparently considers them non-essential. Sorry, "non-exempt".

Some Republicans, speaking out of both sides of their mouths, have said "see, we shut the government down and no one notices" and "what an outrage that children aren't allowed into our national parks". Most of the "non-exempt" jobs might not be so immediately evident. But researchers have been sent home from the National Institute of Health.That means that they're not working on next year's flu vaccine. What's the worst that could happen?

A non-trivial part of the right apparently has been so adamant about the second amendment because they believe they'll have to overthrow the government. That almost makes me feel conflicted about the NSA overreach.

I think it's time for reasonable Republicans to disavow the tea party. But there's no sign of that happening. The only hope I have is that eventually, demographics are going to overwhelm the right. Hopefully though we won't just be trading the loonies from the right with counterparts from the other side.

05 October 2013


Depressing article at the Atlantic.

Who's really behind the mess? The districts that are electing, and more importantly, continuing to encourage these guys.

03 October 2013


OK, so...

The "non-excepted" part of the US Federal government is shut down because of a budget dispute. This isn't over an actual, you know, budget. That is literally too much to hope for at this point. No, this is over a "Continuing Resolution" which basically says that we can't agree on a current year budget so we'll keep using the last one that was approved.

Anyway, Congress has not passed a Continuing Resolution because it hasn't voted on one. The problem is that a small number of Republicans have said that they will only support a bill that defunds the Affordable Care Act (often called Obamacare). Of course, the White House has far too much political capital invested to stand for that. This small group (apparently 30-40) are threatening House speaker Boehner if he doesn't do what they want. As a result, even though there are enough votes to pass a Continuing Resolution that excludes the ACA defunding, Boehner will not present a "clean" Continuing Resolution for a vote.

This is political terrorism. A small group is threatening to blow everything up unless they get everything they want.Here's the thing, though. Terrorists don't generally garner a lot of sympathy.

There's a false equivalence, born from people who, absent a careful examination of the facts, assume that a deadlock involves a degree of blame on both sides. As a parent, I can sympathize with that impulse.But whereas most people might assume that it's 50-50 or 45-55 (and thus blame both sides), in this case, it's not so much a right vs left problem as a right vs far right problem. And I put the overwhelming majority of blame on the far right.

ACA is a flawed solution to a real problem, a real problem that the Republican party has steadfastly refused to address. Having failed to prevent its passage, having failed dozens of times to repeal it, a handful of zealots are now holding the government hostage. But again, when was the last time you felt sorry for a hostage taker?