Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Out with '13, in with '14.

Tonight, a number on the calendar will flip and Millions of people will head out to bars where they'll pay much money for pedestrian sparkling wine in clubs that are too crowded to dance in while other people who have overpaid for the same sparkling wine will slosh it all over them.

This apparently, is all done in the name of fun.

We like fun here at Your Drink Order Please and wish everyone well in having it, we hope that those of you who are of a clubbing persuasion as the year rolls over take the time to pre-plan your revelry and designate a driver or procure a limousine or a cab for the evening.  Safety first ladies, gentlemen and the rest of you.  Safety first.

For many, the New Year is a time of resolution, a chance to make promises to yourself for a better life or, if you work for the media, a time to make promises regarding the tax money of others. It's also a time for predictions (which, if they come true, require no apologizing for), remembrances and some mile lecturing. The thread running through all of these is that they, on some level, hope for things to be "better" provided you define better as "the way I want things to be" that is.

Now, you might think this post is yet another missive on how horrific New Year's Eve really is. You could not be further from the mark.  I like New Year's because it's the best day in the world for College Football (at least, it used to be, before ESPN ruined it.) it's a day for most to spend with family (and, given the state of society we NEED time with our families) and it's a time of hope (we all know we need hope). So New Year's for me is a grand thing. I just choose to spend it at home, marveling at the devolution of New Year's Eve television.

All of this brings me to the point of this post, which are things that I'm hoping to see in the New Year. These are not predictions mind you, or resolutions. Instead they're hopeful thinking on my part.

First, I'd like to see the return of common sense in society.  We've devolved to a point where it's not all that common to find common sense any longer.  I'd also like to see a modicum of professionalism in our politicians. I'd like to see a return of the media in a true watchdog role, and I'd like them to remember that they're supposed to have a natural distrust of the system.  I'd like to see a return of civility, and the ability of people to admit when they are wrong. It'd be nice to see an end to the forced apology, but even my optimism has limits.  I'd like to see Houston's leadership remember the things that got it on all of those "best cities" lists and try to partially return to them.  Finally, what I'd most like to see is America remember what it is that made her great, and take some real steps to return to those principles.

Minus that, I'd like to see more of the inside of a gym, and for someone to finally invent a calorie-free pizza that tastes great.  Hangover-free alcohol would also be on the list. I'm not getting any younger.

For the blog, I'd like to see a time when I can turn comments back on. I don't miss them but I do miss letting people weigh in with meaningful talk, rather than just passive-aggressive chastisements that I don't think as they do.  I'd also like to see many fun stories that will keep me in content.  I've a feeling I won't be let down on the latter.

Happy New Year, thanks for reading.

Monday, December 30, 2013

It took a while but, finally, pictures from St. Thomas

The wife and I visited St. Thomas for our birthdays in October.  Yes, I'm finally getting around to uploading the pictures.  You can see them here:

St Thomas Image set 2013

Overall I liked St. Thomas. The people were friendly and the climate was great.  The food and customer service on the other hand were, unfortunately, sub-standard.  Most of the waiters/bartenders are mainlanders who have relocated to the Isle because it's known as a party destination. So while they're going to be friendly, there's also a very slim chance they understand the basics of customer service.  In other words, you're going to have to wait a minute to get a refill on your water, and your drink might run dry while they're talking/flirting with someone at the other end of the bar.

The restaurants in St. Thomas are 100% geared toward the mostly older crowds coming in from the cruise ships. This means that things tend to be bland, and the menus are surprisingly Lower 48 American.  Gone are the island staples that you might want to try, replaced with hamburgers and chopped beef "steak" and dry grilled chicken.  You can still find conch fritters but they're watered down to the point that you might as well be eating a hush-puppy.  The food is edible, and in some places outstanding, but you're not going to find the island classics there that you wanted to find.

Amazingly, the best food we ate was at The Bluebeard's Castle Resort specifically The Greek food at Room with a View, (it's off menu, typically offered as a special) and the breakfast at the pool bar.  The huevos rancheros at the pool bar, cooked in the back, on a skillet and hot plate FWIW, were among the best I've ever had.

Great places to visit include Bones Rum in the central shopping district of Charlotte Amelie, and Duffy's Love Shack in Red Hook the former for their pour your own rum drinks and the latter for their arrangement of specialty rum drinks that come with their own glass you can keep. Right across the street from Duffy's is a pretty decent Irish Pub, with good bar food to provide you with some much needed filler to soak up all the rum you're going to drink.

Overall my takeaway from St Thomas was this: God did his job, making the Island stunningly beautiful, and then man came along and messed it up with terrible poverty and a high crime rate that make most of the island an undesirable place to be at night.  Outside of duty free shopping, the biggest industry on the island appears to be pan-handling, at times this can get aggressive.  While we were there (over 4 days) there were 5 reported assaults of different types at night.  It's too bad because St. Thomas has a lot of natural beauty.

So, if you go, be sure to stop in at most restaurants that appear to be dives, take lots of pictures of natural beauty, buy duty free and take a trip up to Bluebeard's and eat some food.  You're better off buying a bottle of rum at duty free and a 2-liter of Coca-Cola to drink in your room then you are heading out to a bar at night.  You'll save money and it's a lot safer.  Nothing good happens on St. Thomas after midnight.

It is stunningly beautiful (in parts) during the day though, especially when the sun is shining and the water is blue.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Today's Texas Bowl Exhibit A in Argument for Reducing Number of Bowl Games

Today's 27-21 victory by Syracuse over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl was arguably the most boring bowl game we've seen so far this year.  Neither offense was any good, the coaching was atrocious, and the defenses were nothing spectacular despite having some good numbers. What marked this game was bad play, bad football and bad TV played out in front of a 1/3 full Reliant Stadium on dodgy turf in a spectacle that didn't do much to promote Houston, or Texas for that matter.

The argument FOR these games is simple, they're to reward the players for a successful season.  Just remember, successful in the upside-down world of College Football is .500.  Because of this there are 35 post-season games, all but one being meaningless.  It's time to cut that number in half, raise the minimum standard of "bowl-eligible" to 8 wins and bring all of the games within 48 hours of New Year's Day again.

Back when bowl season was bowl season, you had 9-10 games on New Year's Day. The holiday would consist of waking up early in advance of your hangover, watching the Tournament of Roses parade and then spending the remainder of the day with multiple TV's or picture in picture trying to get in as much College Football as humanly possible.  This was fun, it improved the remote control skills of many a growing boy and helped beer sales across the country.

Today, we're saddled with "Capital One Bowl Week" which, like Houston Restaurant Week, is really Bowl Week(s) and removes from us the ability to watch another, good, game while the dog is on another channel. So now we're saddled with 35 bowl games only 5 or 6 of which are going to be very good. We're stuck with teams of middling quality who only are in the game because the slot needed to be filled. Even worse, the population of bowl representatives with bad polyester coats is getting out of control. In many cases these are public-private partnerships which means that some of your tax dollars might have gone to buy Fred  Hilden, President of the local Chamber of Commerce, a bad jacket that he's only going to end up spilling cocktail sauce on at the after party.

I would say that it's imperative this stops and we get back to bowl sanity but this is never going to happen because of one thing: Money. For the most part these bowls make tons of it and, for lack of anything better to do, people watch.  Until we all ban together and tell the bowl committees  that we're not going to put up with it any longer these things are never going to change.

I nominate the Texas Bowl to throw themselves on the sword first.  Let's end this mess of a bowl and go back to just watching instead of rolling out the red carpet for a couple of major conference teams with sub-five hundred in-conference records.  If nothing else, it'd be MORE world class to NOT have the game than it is to play it. And we all know how much Houston loves anything perceived to be world class right?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Houston: An unevenly regulated mess whose elected leaders have forgotten basic services

On a recent business trip to Denver the rental car company messed up and assigned me a minivan with no GPS system to guide me around town. As a result of this mix-up, with an assist from some calm protestations, I wound up with a BMW 528i for the few days I was in town. By any measure, this is a great car. Easy to drive with tons of power and, for the most part, good on fuel economy I enjoyed the climate control, heated leather seats and comfortable ride when I had the traction control set in "comfort" mode.

It only took me a couple of minutes to figure out that "Sport" mode was not going to work. Not on Denver's roads. After a few miles of pot-holes I decided to make a change, so I turned the traction control system off. This didn't work either so I went with the Comfort setting and found myself easily navigating Denver's spotty freeway system. For a City like Denver, dodgy pothole repair is unfortunate but at least somewhat explainable. While I was there the temperature was in the 60's and the recent heavy snowfall was still piled up on the side of the road. Given that the next storm was fast approaching I wasn't surprised to find pothole work done as if the repairman poured in a bag of Quickrete and evened it out with the back of a garden rake before moving on.

The problem is that you don't just see this in Northern cities such as Denver, but in relatively mild-climate cities such as Houston as well. This is a problem because, if you're not lucky enough to drive a BMW 528i set to comfort on Houston streets you run the risk of self-homogenization. Seriously, you could churn butter on some Houston streets right in the back of your car. Then, when I come back to Houston I notice a group of news stories that (partially) explain the situation.

Over the last few days we've seen that a Houston jury granted residents near the Ashby High Rise $1.7MM in damages that haven't occurred yet apparently, a large portion of citizens think this is a good thing. I'm willing to bet (although I have no proof) that many of those in favor of such events are also proponents of re-making the near North side, and displacing those without sufficient incomes to put up a legal fight. On top of this, we find that our non-gay-rights-spokesperson Mayor is facing lawsuits over her very gay-rights-vanguard policy that appears to run counter to both the City Charter and existing State Law. We also find out that several anti-human trafficking groups have serious issues with the 16 strip club bribe settlement that allows them to resume lap-dancing and eliminates the 3 foot rule in favor of some handy cash payments to the Houston Police Department. This settlement brings an entire new meaning to "Pay to Play".

And still, Houston's roads look more similar to a picture of the moon than something indicative of a first world transportation system in a city that touts itself as a place "where business gets done". One thing that's not getting done are audits from the City Controller's office. Remember during the election when, then candidate, Ronald Green announced a flurry of audit findings after being questioned about not doing them? Of course then, as Candidate Green, he ASSURED you that the timing of those audits weren't political. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that we have gone back to not hearing a peep from him since he got re-elected as well. Given his prior history I think you can say there won't be much from Green's office until he decides to run for office again. It's an open secret that he wants to be the next Mayor, and I've a feeling he might win should he run.

Why is that you ask? Houston's current Mayor didn't really distinguish herself as a fiscal watchdog during her stint as Controller. Green is just taking a page out of the Up-the-Houston-Political-Ladder playbook.

Taken on their own, each of these examples reveal a stunning lack of focus among City of Houston elected officials in the area of basic services. Public Works is a travesty, the "rain tax" fund is collecting piles of money, but has yet to roll-out any projects, and for all of the magazine accolades about Houston a real, meaningful point is always overlooked: The infrastructure and regulatory environment in the city are getting worse, not better.

Normally, if things were falling apart, I'd turn to the media to fulfill their watchdog mission and report on these issues fully and in a forthcoming manner. In this case, we live in Houston and the former newspaper of record seems content to inundate us with odd anti-male rants, missives that things are grand despite several warning signs that may not be doing that fine after all and a continuing flood of sex and Side Boob! pictorials.

And we can't even blame snow fall and de-icing chemicals for our bad roads.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A short break and (by the way) this Texans team has quit.

I'm going to be taking a short blogging break to attend to some stuff in the real world, and to enjoy the Christmas season with family and friends. No, I will not be having a health care "conversation" with them. Sorry Obama, Christmas is about more than your petty politics.

One quick observation before I focus elsewhere: This Texans team has 100% quit. Yes, they're saying the right things after losses, talk about how gutted they are and how frustrating it is, but the performance on the field is that of a team that just doesn't care. Between a flood of penalties and missed assignments lies a deep streak of who gives a f.......?

Sure, it's safe to say that Wade Phillips hasn't quit. He's trying everything to eke out a win or two and prove he deserves the head job. Case Keenum hasn't quit, he wants to be the QB of the future, but the evidence is piling up that he's not up to the job. Ben Tate hasn't quit, he's running for his next contract with another team after all, but the O-line in front of him has shipped it in and the rest of the offense seems to be going through the motions. The defense is a shambles, with only JJ Watt really playing but being nullified by double and triple teams, while everyone else is either a penalty or blown assignment waiting to happen. When things do go right it almost feels if it's done by accident.

I didn't watch all of Sunday's game, I decided my day would be better spent doing other things, and I doubt I'll watch another game this year. When the team has quit on you, then I think it's OK, as a fan, to quit on them.

So to all of you, Texans fans and no, enjoy the Christmas and Holiday season and remember to not let it get to you too badly.

After all, there are plenty more important things in life than football.

Merry Christmas all, if I'm not posting before then.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

You're either for Texas Monthly, or with the chili terrorists.

In the often absurd world of Texas political media it's sometimes hard to tell whether a news agency is seriously considering leading a meaningless charge or just trying, unsuccessfully, to use sarcasm and hyperbole to mock the Texas system. The Texas Monthly drive(?), led by diminishing political writer Paul Burka, to right the wrongs of the 77th legislature and replace chili with brisket as the official dish of Texas is one of those times. Maybe they're serious, maybe they're not? Any suggestion that they aren't is sure to draw a quick insult but no real clarification. That's the thing about these imported New Yorkers, they don't handle sarcasm well at all. (Obviously I could care less if people subscribe to them or not, and I obviously would not call for people to cancel their subscriptions over chili.)

Whatever the cause, there was reason enough for The Chili Appreciation Society, International (who knew?) to write to Burka telling him to go stick his head in a smoker. This resulted in Burka reaffirming the intention of Texas Monthly (another of the many fading Texas institutions) to push for an actual legislative change in 2015.

As for me, I like both chili and brisket. This is not an issue where one has to choose sides, as in the Gubernatorial election. Nor is it fair to call either names. While the Democrats and Republicans have given us Governor good hair and abortion Barbie, when it comes to chili there's no reason to go passed either "A Bowl of Red" or "wet" (as opposed to "dry"). Why we would need to tie up resources to change something this inconsequential is beyond me but, whatever floats your political boat.

On a positive note, if Burka is preoccupied during the next Legislative session with this issue, maybe he'll be too busy to provide us with his on again/off again anger at the inner workings of the chambers, and we can spend more of our time focusing on the devolution of the Texas Lock-Step Political Media into full-on News-ish mode? With Hearst Corp all but ceding Austin coverage to the Texas Tribune and the DMN, it will be interesting to see where the future of (sub-par) Texas political coverage settles. My bet is an increase in advocacy in place of journalism. No longer are young, idealistic, progressive reporters going to be satisfied reporting the news, when they've been told by older, idealistic, progressive editors (with out-sized egos and pretty impressive eyewear) that they should instead focus on driving the agenda, to make the news.

To conclude however I think it's best to take a strong, hard look at this chili/brisket issue. I note that this was silent until the revelation that New York City now considers itself a Bar-B-Q Mecca surpassing Texas. When your political reporting is driven by a longing for attention from New York and DC, it only makes sense that your political causes would reflect their current tastes.

Of course, at the end of the day none of this really matters, much like most reporting from Texas Lock-Step Political Media. After all, what we're all waiting for is the old white vote to die-off, thus ushering in a wave of Democrats so bent on fixing the Republican damage that they fail to realize what's actually been working. This reporting might speed things up however, chili being more nutritious of a meal than is fatty brisket.

Wait.....So they ARE trying to kill of Republicans..........

Monday, December 09, 2013

Something Jeff Smisek and United don't want to hear.

It's bad enough for your company when your recent merger keeps popping up in media reports on the competition's merger as a cautionary tale but now United Airlines (floundering under the leadership of Jeff Smisek) has this fact to consider......

No fare hike if......CEO of New American Airlines. Matthew J. Belvedere, CNBC.com
American as well as United and Delta have global strength with access to the main business centers of the world. So airline competition will be based on how good the in-flight experience is for travelers, Parker said on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

The "Squawk on the Street" crew discuss the close of the U.S. Air and American merger creating the world's largest airline and what it means for investors. Also, a United passenger has an unfortunate experience. "The three of us have now the ability to take people pretty much anywhere in the world. What used to be a business where it was purely on schedule, if you have the ability to take people everywhere, you have to compete on product. And we're prepared to do that," said Parker, who had been the CEO of US Airways before the merger.

Given that United has fallen behind the industry when it comes to installing wi-fi, still has planes flying with NO In-Flight Entertainment and is decreasing not only the hard product in economy but also diminishing the value of their customer loyalty program, you would think they don't want to hear that flying has now become a commodity where price and perceived value are the top determinants of the buying decision.

Maybe that "second-tier" strategy isn't sounding so smart right about now?

Dumbing down the definition of wealth (or: the other side of income reporting)

Earlier I discussed the issues inherent in the way our media and ruling class are reporting on and treating poor Americans. Now I think it is a good time to review problems with how they're presenting the well-off, or....supposedly well off. While the opinion pages are full to bursting with stories that seem to create a helpless underclass, newspapers and television news are beginning to be flooded with stories that are now telling us what's wrong with the new "rich" who really aren't, because the metrics are skewed.

Rising Riches: 1 in 5 US reaches affluence. Hope Yen, AP via Chron.com

Fully 20 percent of U.S. adults become rich for parts of their lives, wielding outsize influence on America's economy and politics. This little-known group may pose the biggest barrier to reducing the nation's income inequality.

The growing numbers of the U.S. poor have been well documented, but survey data provided to The Associated Press detail the flip side of the record income gap — the rise of the "new rich."

By "rich" these news reports seem to focus on people who have the ability to purchase products that create the illusion of luxury instead of luxury itself. Brands such as Louis Vuitton, Coach, and Cartier have long been associated with luxury but are, in fact, hazy reflections of true luxury goods, many of which are not household brand names. In short, we've allowed Madison Ave. and other marketers to sell us on the illusion of luxury through branding. This is disturbing because it skews the discussion of wealth in a negative direction, as do studies based on income alone.

The true measure of "rich" is net worth, not income. Wealth can also be inflated due to (still) relatively easy attainment of credit. By linking wealth with income the media and many analysts are missing the impact of debt on personal balance sheets. For example, a family making a combined $150,000 with a $300,000 mortgage and $30,000 in revolving debt balances is not "rich". Certainly they're not poor, having purchasing power and many opportunities not open to those with lower incomes, but they're not rich either. What they offer up is the illusion of true wealth, an illusion being sold by marketing firms to America as "having it all". In this world Lexus is a luxury brand, as is Mercedes, despite the fact that each offers up many vehicles for less than $50K. Individuals driving these mass-marketed cars to their jobs while wearing Cole Haan, or Tory Burch shoes and clothes from Michael Kors are viewed as "rich" but may not be. Especially when you consider that many "luxury" brands are purchased at deep discounts during sales at either big-box department stores or in outlet malls.

It's important to note that I'm not making the case these people are poor. Certainly not. But they're not rich either. One of the great laments in America today is that the minimum wage (a fallacy that's accepted as fact) is not indexed to inflation. It's just as wrong that our definition of "wealth" is not so indexed as well. If that were the case much of what we are classifying as rich would fall squarely in the middle class. Yes you can trot out the 2% income statistic and other fake metrics but the best determinant of wealth is not income, but net-worth. Unfortunately that's a metric that's all but ignored in the debate.

These facts underscore the biggest problem with income and wealth disparity reporting today. Not only are the media and politicians providing Americans with an inaccurate picture of what is rich and poor, but they're doing so intentionally to drum up support for programs designed to do nothing more than maintain the status quo and save their trough-feeding jobs. A focus on real wealth creation would not only be detrimental to America’s retail-economy but it would also call into question our politician's insistence that we have a right to stuff. If owning cell-phones, shoes and clothes with the correct labels and cars with the correct badge are no longer considered indicators of wealth (which they're not FWIW) then these promises for a better life become meaningless and banal and will be exposed for everything that they are not.

It is very easy to accept the default wisdom that evil big corporations are at the wheel and driving America off a cliff but the reality is that the (also corporate) media and our (corporate backed) politicians have a hand on the till as well. While retailers and marketers have convinced us that we need iPhones and Cartier rings the media and politicians have also pushed for that by glorifying their existence in glossy style sections and by lavishing praise and giving undo credence to their spokespersons. Every time that Barack Obama takes an audience with a Hollywood star the illusion is strengthened. Kal Penn was a member of the Obama Government and Angelina Jolie has been held up as a policy diva. Being star-struck is not just something for the poor, it's increasingly being glamorized by our politicians as well.

And our media, the former watchdogs of waste and corruption now spend more time and resources on side-boob and the goings on of the rich and famous than they do the nuts and bolts hard-news of politics and daily life. In Houston, the citizenry knows, courtesy of Chron.com and CultureMap, more about the price of Louboutins then they do about who is spending their tax money at the City, County or at a variety of local pseudo-governmental taxing authorities. I'm sure that less than 1% of Houstonians understand that Christof Spieler, who is on the Metro Board, is making spending decisions with their tax money despite, seemingly, having no clue about budgeting or accepted business spending practices. However, I'm willing to bet that a larger amount know how designer Michael Aram feels about holiday decorations. Why? Because Houston's former newspaper of record considered the latter to be more newsworthy than the former.

With "reporting" such as this, is it any wonder a J-school graduate would pen a missive so wrong about what it means to be rich? And, given that logic, is it any wonder society is voting for politicians who continue to get it wrong as well? Continuing this line of reason is it any wonder our economy (and country) is in the shape it is in? C'est la vie one would say.

Does granstanding of this type really help the poor?

Marvin Zindler used to say it best: its hell to be poor. Of course, Zindler never really knew about being poor because he was a very well to do news personality who embodied the term "local celebrity" and never had to wonder where his next meal came from. As a child he grew up in relative privilege. His father owned a retail store and set up a trust for his children upon his death. I was a fan of Zindler, and appreciated his unique version of journalism, and I think the work he did for the poor was laudable. That said, I think it's fair to say that he really didn't understand what it means to be poor and just how much of a true hell it really is.

Fast forward to today, where a bunch of Austin liberals have decided to run a "challenge" to see just how difficult it is to live on $4.50 per day in food stamps.

Living on $4.50 a day for food. James Harrington, Chron.com

That's the question 22 of us staff of the Texas Civil Rights Project asked as we began the "SNAP Challenge" for a week in mid-November. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is the new name for food stamps.

We did it to understand what it is like for so many poor and low-income people in our society who have to live this way every day - 15 percent of Texans get SNAP food assistance. We, of course, had the luxury of knowing there was a light at the end of the tunnel, that we only had to do it a week, and then back to our eating habits.

We learned it is extremely difficult to live like this, and we went to bed hungry every night. Most of us spent our $31.50 for the week on lentils, beans, bread, peanut butter, crackers, tuna fish, cheese and some salad items, but little meat. It was a far cry from how we're accustomed to eating, and it meant no afternoon or evening snacks. Our stomachs growled a lot. There was no eating out with friends, no afternoon soda (that was one-third of the $4.50), no coffee shop visits and so on.

So you see, more people with little idea as to what it means to be truly poor telling us that the way to 'help' the poor is to give them more hand-outs so they can have an afternoon soda (which the same liberals will tell you is driving the obesity epidemic and must be made even more expensive through taxation) and afternoon visits to the coffee shop. In other words, being 'poor' to these people is not having access to the things White people like. That's sad.

The first error made is one of definition. The "SNAP Challenge" uses the "Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program" as a food budget in its entirety. This ignores the basic goal of the program which is to "supplement" incomes to provide basic foodstuffs, allowing the remainder of income to go to purchasing meats, possibly a soda (unless it's taxed out of the range) and an occasional coffee here and there. And I'm not even sure that any of these are needed.

Firstly, Americans eat too much meat. This is not the ranting of a crazy vegetarian its truth. If you look at the serving size for meat (about the size of a deck of cards) and then look at the average size of a steak at your local grocers (I'm not even talking about restaurant steaks) you can see that the average steak is upwards of 3 servings. While we're told that it's our "right" to have our steak and eat it too, we forget that it's not always necessary to have an individual stead for each person. Afternoon snacks? Well, if you portion your meals correctly you can probably have these as well. Granted, they probably won't be meal bars or something fancy such as that, but an apple or a pear? Yes, this can be done. Can it be done for $31.50/week, probably no, but it certainly could be done for $50, which is entirely reasonable considering the supplemental nature of food stamps.

Lest you think I don't know what I'm talking about I can assure you that, not too long ago, the wife and I were poor. When we first started out we had a 1 bedroom apartment (in Branson MO) furnished with a mattress and box springs that family gave to us, hand-me-down dressers, pots and pans and dishes that were wedding gifts, and used utensils that were also gifts from our families who weren't using them any longer. Our food budget was $35/week. Granted, this was in the mid-to-late 90's where foods (and gas) were much cheaper, but we still weren't eating steak on a nightly basis. As a matter of fact, I learned a LOT during those times on how to save money at the store. We clipped coupons, we purchased meat on sale, we almost always selected the cheaper cuts, we learned about frozen vegetables and how to prepare them. We splurged and purchased a $5 steamer at an outlet mall which cooked most everything. We bought cookbooks on clearance at the outlet bookstores and we made ends meet. Never once did we accept food stamps or anything of the sort. We survived on a diet of vegetables, rice, beans and on occasion meat. We drank a lot of water and made a lot of Sun tea. In short, we survived.

I don't give the above example to belittle those who find themselves using the SNAP program, everyone has a different experience and attitude about being poor. But it's not fair to lump all of the poor into one bucket and just state that they all need more handouts to allow them to do the things you take for granted. I rarely drink soda, although I will admit to being a sucker for Dr. Pepper made with sugar, nor do I think having an afternoon soda should be a concern to someone who's struggling to make ends meet. While a lot of my co-workers make the afternoon run to Starbucks for a 1/2-caff, no sugar, soy-milk latte with an extra shot of espresso I rarely join them, although I will darken Starbuck's door when they release the pumpkin spice and egg-nog lattes. But I can also make coffee at home, using a $9 French Press, a .99 cent small bottle of HEB egg nog and $4.99/lb coffee. As a matter of fact, almost all of the Starbucks flavors can be replicated using fairly cheap flavorings that are available at your discount grocers.

All of this brings us to the point (finally): Does grandstanding by relatively well-off liberals and politicians really do anything to "help" the poor. My feeling is no. If anything, it hurts them because it lends to the stereotype that the true poor want increases to be able to afford the luxuries deemed important to the liberal elite. While this might be the case in some instances, I would imagine that the large majority of poor people are not yearning to spend their days pecking away on an iMac while sipping a coffee and looking for all the world like an extra in Reality Bites. Neither is it helpful to perpetuate the idea that the poor should be totally reliant on a supplemental food program for all of their nutritional needs. Not only does this remove the onus to pay our way from a large segment of society, but it also strips away the incentive to do better.

This, above all other things, is what I believe to be the most debilitating part of these desperate calls for attention from the unproductive class. If we begin to allow ourselves to view the poor as hapless and too stupid to pull themselves up from their condition then we are, in fact, doing them a disservice. It's a trend that's perpetuated, in part, by so-called advocacy groups and the media elite (Jeff Cohen, the diminutive editor of the Chron Editorial page plays golf frequently at a Country Club) who know very little about what it is to be truly poor. The insistences of these groups, as well as politicians who are mining the underclass for votes, create a perpetual cycle of poverty from which there is no hope for escape. Cutting back on a supplemental food program might not be ideal, but stripping an entire economic class of hope might be the greatest crime of all. Shame on them.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Quick Houston Aside: Perhaps the problem lies not with the masses, but with the mass transportation itself?

I found today's story by ChronBlog Transportation reporter Dug Begley (hidden behind the Chron's pay wall) to be interesting solely due to its wrong-headedness.

Study Finds Houston won't Curb its Driving Desires, Dug Begley, HoustonChronicle.com ($$$)

In keeping with fair use, a quick blurb:
Though transit, biking and other alternatives to driving have always been a tough sell in Houston, similar cities with harsh climates and sprawling urban footprints far outpaced Houston's slight decline in the percentage of people driving to work.

In short, the problem Houston, lies with you, and your infernal insistence on remaining anchored to your car, and continued insistence on electing folks who don't see things the way your intellectual betters feel you should. While I understand the argument that's being made and, at least in part, agree with it, there are other factors that need to be considered that I believe are even stronger drivers of Houston's car dependence.

The first of these, is HoustonMetro itself. Whether you're referring to "Old" Metro or "New" Metro the results are the same. In many cases the "New" Metro is even worse. To be blunt, the transit plan is a shambles. The agency is teetering on the verge of fiscal collapse there is increasing evidence that some of those currently in charge lack basic skills in budgeting and an understanding of transportation planning and the insistence on Inner-Loop, at-grade light rail has severely damaged the organization ability to provide basic transit service. Lest we forget, HoustonMetro is a regional organization. That they are a regional organization that's focusing 90% of their resources on approximately 40% of their covered region is something that's not widely discussed either in ChronBlog, by ChronBlog's Rah! Rah! transportation reporter, or many of the other local outlets who pretend to report the news.

The bus routing, something that would be key to promoting commutes by public transportation, is a sham, designed only to funnel bus riders downtown to force boardings onto the toy train to run a handful of blocks before getting on another bus that will take them back out to their destination. Don't believe me? Take a spin on Metro's trip planner and try to get from the Northwest side to either the Galleria or Greenway Plaza. The fact is, you cannot do this without going downtown, hopping on the DangerTrain before boarding another bus to be (eventually) dropped off at somewhere (sort of) near your final destination.

On top of that, with the new focus on ridership, Metro wants to make it harder, not easier, for those who need transit the most to make use of Metro's services. I've long stated, on previous blogs, that the true goal of the sardine urbanists, the unproductive class consisting of Houston Tomorrow and other groups of that ilk, really want to relocate the poor out of the city center and then devote the majority of transit resources to the so-called creative class. I've dubbed it the Paris model, where the city center is beautiful but the ring communities are full of mainly the poor who, through clever engineering, find it difficult to travel to the center and then can't find a place to park their cars when they get there. Sound familiar?

But let's be honest. Even IF Houston had a robust public transit system that served regional needs there'd still be a large portion of people who would not give up their cars. My guess is that would fall somewhere around 85-90% give or take. So from that point of view building out an expensive, working regional system doesn't make a lot of financial sense. It makes more sense then building a network designed to cater to 6% of the population however, which is what Metro is currently capturing. While it's easy for Metro advocates such as Houston Tomorrow, the Citizen's Transportation Coalition or ChronBlog to shake their heads and blame those mouth-breathers in the sticks, the real problem lies within their own ranks, with people who can't see the forest for the trees and lack the intellectual flexibility to understand that life in the suburbs is just as viable and sustainable as life in the City Center provided the busses and trains take people where they need to go. In Houston, those places are varied and not limited just inside Loop 610.

Until they fully understand this Houston's transit population will continue to stagnate, all of the finger pointing at politicians and those who don't choose to live life in a manner acceptable to the urbanists will actually make things worse. Who wants to get on a train with a humorless scold?

Texans Recap: OK, THIS is rock bottom

Fourteen penalties for one hundred and seventy seven yards. Let me put it a different way: 14 penalties for 177 yards. The Texans had more penalty yards in last night's 27-20 loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars than Case Keenum (159) had passing yards. They almost eclipsed Matt Schaub's (198) as well. They had more yards in penalties than Andre Johnson had receiving (154). Just when it seemed that it couldn't get any worse, #BeardedSchaub became a thing on Twitter.

This is how you know the Texans are at rock bottom. This is the low point, when the National media are rhetorically piling on there's not much lower you can go. I'm not talking about radio talk idiots like Travis Rodgers or Pete Prisco, those bottom feeders don't matter anyway. (Note to radio heads: if you think that a team being bad has any reflection on the city in which it's geographically located [and, in the case of Rodgers, where your show was an unmitigated bust] you're doing it wrong.) I'm referring to wise football folks like Rich Eisen, who wondered aloud on Twitter how this team could have fallen so far. I'm referring to game announcer Brad Nessler who, after the third personal foul penalty on DJ Swearinger said "Just say number 36, we know". The sad thing was we all know. We knew while the game was going on and we know this morning. It's time to clean house and fumigate the Texans facility, this era is done.

Now, you might not think that if you're trying to troll the city, as is John McClain of the Chron, who wrote before the game that a Texans housecleaning would be foolish and then tweeted during the game that the Texans should fire everyone before the game was over, that's not journalism, it's trolling. Remember, this is the same McClain that, despite all indications to the contrary, continued to push the "Texans to the Super Bowl" story even after the team was 2-2 and things were starting to unravel. This is the same group of Chron 3 stooges that have repeatedly told Texans fans everything was going to be all right, until things were obviously not all right and it was clear this team had fallen apart.

Last night, after Schaub led the Texans to a touchdown on his first drive of the game, Chron beat writer Brian T. Smith tweeted that Schaub's (single) drive proved that Kubiak and Co. were correct in saying that Keenum's inconsistency was a problem and that "Schaub was the right guy for right now". After that all Schaub did was lead the Texans to a field goal, throw an interception and fetal position into a sack to end the game.

The line on "Mr. Right now?" 17-29 198 1 TD 1 INT. QR 76.5
The line on "Mr. Inconsistent?" 16-29 159 1 TD 1 INT QR 68

Schaub coming back into the game gave the local CheerMedia exactly what they wanted. It was a poke to the eye of a certain portion of the fan base that wanted Case to succeed. It was better than a Texans win, it was a bad loss to a bad team and now, they can gloat that they were "right all along" by saying that Case doesn't have what it takes.

And, to be fair, he probably doesn't. At least not right now, with this coaching staff, running this (limited, predictable) offense behind this offensive line. I tend to agree with NFL Network color analyst Mike Mayock's assessment "Case is a backup NFL quarterback who you'd feel very comfortable having on your roster". He's Chad Henne but a little more mobile and with a little better arm. This is not a bad thing, but it means that the Texans don't have one starting quarterback on their roster because, at this point in his career, Schaub is a backup QB as well.

Even more troubling last night were all of the Texans penalties, especially those committed by DJ Swearinger. What we're seeing now is that DJ Swagg Boi is nothing more than a limited box safety with poor tackling skills and an overinflated sense of self. When you're a 2-11 team, mired in a 10 game losing streak, your ability to trash talk has been revoked. Permanently. If fans are growing weary of JJ Watt's salute, then they're weary of your act DJ. Just stop.

Above all this, the worst thing that the Texans are facing now is 100% fan apathy. The fans are done, finished, reduced to pulling for losses so that the Texans can secure the first selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. The ship be sinking. The bad news is it appears that Bob McNair is seriously considering retaining the services of the ship builder while (possibly) firing the captain. Does anyone have confidence that Rick Smith is the guy to lead the Texans to championship glory? I've made it clear that I don't. I just wonder (outside of McNair) who does?

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Bread and Circuses (with much emphasis placed on the side show)

Two of my favorite historical figures are Decimus Junius Juvenalis (Juvenal) and Socrates, the former for the fine line he had to toe in a society that did not recognize the concept of free speech nor allow any criticism (real or imagined) of the Caesars and the latter for his response to hearing that he was the smartest man in the world.

Juvenal presented us with two of the greatest political concepts of all time. First came Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes or "Who guards the guards themselves?*" and Panem et Circenses or "Bread and Circuses". Socrates, upon hearing from his friend Chaerophon that he was the wisest man in Athens (which made him, at that time, the wisest man in the World per the Greeks) set off on a quest of wisdom that led him to determine that he was only the wisest because he understood how little he really knew.

In modern times, the theories of these two historical figures have never been more relevant. Today, Fast-food workers across the country are putting on a circus that's ostensibly asking for more bread. In reality, they're being used to create an election year issue by the Democrats who are looking for anything to distract the country from the failure that is Obamacare. Want to grab the poor vote? Throw them some crumbs. Then put on more circuses, the light bulb for instance the green movement has been a godsend for those of an authoritarian ilk who feel that the populace need be shepherded into place. Meanwhile, your location is being tracked while you are force-fed a diet of dehumanizing shock-media from the very group that's supposed to be watchdogging the watchdogs.

Of all the things I write about, the abdication by the media of their government watchdog role is the most concerning. You can talk about Republicants or Demoncrats, use anti-gay vulgarities to mock your political opposites but none of this matters if the real story is not being told. What we're getting now from the media is NOT news. It's increasingly Panem et Circenses to distract us from our loss of freedoms. Think about this, America (Land of the Free) has the highest (known) incarceration rate in the world. (omitting North Korea, who probably has a higher rate but about which little is known.) Texas, considered by many to be a rather free "Red" state was using roadside checkpoints to detain and question motorists without probable cause until public outcry caused them to reverse their stance, temporarily, until they can get authorization pushed through the Legislative process. Not wanting to seem "soft on crime" our so-called conservative Republican "leaders" seemed primed to codify this intrusion in the next legislative session. Another historical favorite of mine, Benjamin Franklin, weighed in on that idea about 300 years ago when he said "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Far from being a bastion of freedom or liberty, America has become a nation where it's been decided that no problem is small enough that a large government intrusion won't fix it. That most of these fixes don't solve the problem is not of importance. All you need to know is that there is a growing group of people out there who have been told by their fellow travelers that they are the smartest people in the world. Instead of this knowledge launching a mass Socratic wave of self-examination, modern Progressives have decided that each of them is correct. What this has led to is an influx of uncritical thinking where a few who consider themselves the intellectual high water mark sit in mock judgment on a supposed underclass. Blue-collar work, once considered the backbone of the American Way is now derided as unworthy of serious thought. The political class has become the incubator of knowledge while the private sector has digressed into something that is to be mocked, and tightly controlled. President Obama, believed the media who crowned him "the smartest guy in the room" forgetting along the way that the last "smartest guys in the room" (the Executive group behind Enron) are now ridiculed and are being pulled through the criminal system for making bad business decisions.

The problems inherent within the intelligent learder theory manifest when things go wrong. Now that Obamacare is being proven to be a massive error the smartest guy in the room is seemingly incapable of coming to terms with the fact that he's not. When your default defense mechanism is to lie, point fingers and then throw a temper-tantrum more closely identified with a two-year old there's bound to be questions as to whether or not you're competent to be the most powerful elected official in a (formerly) free Country. Unfortunately, again, given that our media has put-aside their watchdog role, these questions are hidden behind a veil of false charges of racism and classism. The expectation of intelligent leadership has moved to a point so low that Al Franken is considered a bright spot in an otherwise dim authoritative body.

At a State level Texas is careening along a path of financial destruction because our elected officials are buying their own press. State Sen. Dan Patrick recently stated that the people should not be trusted to elect their federal senators yet there was no Republican backlash. Think about that for a second. A supposed capital C Conservative proposes, with a straight face, removing the power of the electorate to directly choose their representatives and, except for a few Conservative bloggers, nary a peep. That's dire, although not as dire as things in the City of Houston, where unelected bureacrats with no knowledge of budgeting or (by appearances) any practical experience are being allowed to play with a taxing entity as if it's a shiny new toy opened on Christmas morning. Want accountability? You won't find it in the former newspaper or record where any change designed to move Houston into world classiness is enthusiastically applauded no matter how daft. Bread and circuses to the people while Rome crumbles from within.

But hey, Side Boob!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Houston's CheerMedia must be researching the definition of insanity.

There's a lack of knowledge, and then there's just being knowingly obtuse. I have to think that Chron Three-Stooges CheerMedia columnist John McClain is intentionally trolling the City of Houston this week.

First, he ranks the Texans 32nd, and dead last in his weekly NFL power rankings and then he follows up with today's missive stating that firing Head Coach Gary Kubiak and General Manager Rick Smith would be a dumb move. Granted, the title, and the beginning of his column makes reference to "House-cleaning" or, pretty much getting rid of everyone and starting from scratch, but it's clear in the piece that McClain doesn't think ANYONE should be dismissed for this failure.

That's either the definition of insanity or intentionally anti-Texan. There have been rumors in Houston that the latter is true. Yes, his Twitter feed has become comedy legend over the course of this year. Whether he considers the Texans to be "pathetic", "horrendous" or the "worst he's seen in over 30 years of football" (which indicates that he hasn't been watching all that closely) the angry old man act that McClain puts on has been rumored to be intentional, a poke in the eye to the Houston fan who he has a very real grudge against for not treating (in his mind) Bud Adams right before he spirited the Oilers out of town. In other words, McClain is a Titans fan, and revels in the misery of Houston's team and its fans. In this McClain is not alone. There are many members of the CheerMedia who are known to actively root against Houston's hometown teams, either because it makes for easy sports talk or because they've developed a dislike of the fans over the years. It's much the same with the University of Houston whose fans, to be fair, have brought a lot of that upon themselves.

Much of the blame lies with the CheerMedia, because there are still too many journos trotting out the old saw that the Texans are "the most talented 2-10 team in the league" forgetting for a moment that they're the ONLY 2-10 team in the league, the argument is ridiculous at face value. Admittedly, I didn't see a 10 game losing streak, complete and total meltdown coming this year but at least I had the foresight to see that this wasn't a "Super Bowl" year as many in the media predicted. I had them pegged at 9-7, making the playoffs via wild card and losing in the first round. After the first six games it became readily apparent that something was wrong, something that Kubiak and Co had no idea how to fix.

Which brings us to the point. (Finally) If you have a team that's listing and the current coaching staff and football personnel don't seem to have an idea how to fix it, then it's time to clean house. What's happening now are the same mistakes every week. From busted coverage to poor offensive line play to just outright stupid penalties we're not seeing different problems every week, we're seeing the exact same things happen (no halftime adjustments for instance) that are driving fans crazy. All we hear in press conferences from the football leadership is how "frustrated" they are. That's much like a doctor who "feels your pain" but doesn't have a damn clue what to prescribe to end it.

In McClain's world you're just supposed to sit back and endure. Never mind that teams like Kansas City have made a one year turn-around while the Texans fall to the cellar, never mind that, for several years running now, there has been at least one team go from 6-10 to 10-6 or better (while the Texans made slow, incremental progress and ultimately stagnating), what you're supposed to do is just sit down, shut up, and bear another 7 or so years of 7-9, 8-8 or 9-7 with an early flame out in the playoffs because changing things around would just be too risky.

As a San Francisco 49ers fan I can tell you that cleaning house is often the way to go. It was done with Harbaugh and, after making the Super Bowl last year and then suffering a rash of injuries, the team seems primed to make a deep playoff run again. A house cleaning for a bad organization is usually needed. The Texans are a bad organization who need both an intellectual and talent infusion immediately.

Unless, that is, you want them to lose. Then you might think that staying the course is the best way to go. It's either that or we have to all agree that McClain, despite 30 plus years of covering the league, really hasn't learned anything about the sport on which he's reporting.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Texans Recap: All's well that ends well

For the first time ever (not counting pre-season) the wife and I attended a Texans game last Sunday. Luther, the co-owner of Black Jack's Bar & Grill in Cypress (our "local" bar of choice) had two tickets that he couldn't use and offered them to us since he knew that we were fans of football in general and that we both followed the team because they were local. If you're up that way I suggest you check out Black Jack's, not only for a decent beer selection (including many Texas beers) but also for some pretty good food. (Try the fried pickles and they have great steak specials from time to time). One word of caution however, this bar is outside the City limits so people can, and do, smoke. If you sit on the restaurant side however you will avoid most of that.

Having said that (Thanks again Luther!) on to the Texans. But first, a word of caution about the day-after media coverage. it's bad. In some cases, mind-numbingly bad, bordering on historically bad in some places and just obviously bad in others. Considering what you saw on the field Sunday there's really just no excuse for stuff like this.

That said, we did learn a few things about the team on Sunday, let's start with the good.

Keenum is improving Sitting in (very good) field level seats it was very evident that Keenum has made progress sitting back in the pocket and identifying blitzes sooner rather than after he has been knocked on his keister. Yes, he made one VERY bad throw for an interception, but overall he stood in the pocket much more confidently and made plays, until the last drive.

DeAndre Hopkins is getting better as well Besides his one long catch (the subject of an entire "doing well article") there were several occasions where Hopkins was streaking down the sideline wide open, only to be missed by Case (more on that later)

The O-line ran-block well They really did. A couple of the holes Tate ran through were massive. They also did a good job, on a couple of occasions, blocking on the edge for Dennis Johnson, the pass blocking was improved as well.

The bad.....

Case is still locking onto, and staring down, receivers. Earlier I stated that Nuk was flashing open down the sideline on a few occasions. Unfortunately Case never looked his way. This was a problem with Schaub as well so I'm assuming this is a lack of coaching that's inherent with Kubiak's staff.

Nuk is still running bad routes Or, the wrong routes, I'm not sure which. There were several occasions where he was running into the exact same area as another Texans receiver rendering them both covered, often by one defender.

Graham is going to be a good player but... I watched Graham on a lot of plays and he runs good routes and seems to be able to find holes in the defense. That was a plus in this game. However, he also quit on a route or two and really needs to work on consistency. He should also be a better player in the red zone.

Andre Johnson is still amazing But the Texans aren't continuing to use the things that work. At the beginning of the game Andre was having much success flashing open on crossing routes. He would be left by Talib and then the Patriots secondary would lose him. For some reason, after the 2nd QTR, this route was nowhere to be seen.

The ugly.....

The offense is terribly predictable While some would say it's not fair to compare any offense to a Belichick offense, I tend to differ. Watching both teams play out there it was painfully obvious that the Patriots route schemes were light years ahead of what the Texans had drawn up. If Kubiak really is an "offensive guru" then I would expect to see some high-level route running. Instead the Texans became more basic as the game progressed. Granted, some of this might be due to young players running wrong routes, but that (again) falls on the coaching staff.

The Patriots weren't spying, The Texans defense is poor. How many issues? Well, Gronkowski lined up uncovered twice, several times (including his TD grab) Brooks Reed drew single coverage and the Patriots, in the second half, had no problems developing schemes that overloaded the Texans defensive backfield, especially when the Texans blitzed. It was so bad that fans in the stands knew what bad things were coming before they came.

Shut down JJ Watt, shut down the Texans defense Watt was double or triple teamed on almost every play. Once the Patriots nullified him the rest of the defense just couldn't get to Brady. Yes, watching Brady throw the ball is an amazing thing, but on their 2nd touchdown Brady had almost 10 seconds standing along in the backfield with no pressure.

It's not all that bad however, because the Texans are now in prime position to grab the first pick in the 2014 NFL draft. That said, unless the team undergoes a major overhaul I've serious concerns whether or not it's going to matter. On Sunday the Texans were not outplayed, they were outcoached and out-schemed. That's not piling on it's just the truth. Wade Phillips defense has an annoying tendency to line up wrong and then no one seems to recognize the problems. When you have two receivers on one side and one DB in coverage (with the LB blitzing) you're bound to have bad results. The offense, despite the coaching issues, played hard and well and the run game was spectacular. Keenum made enough big plays to keep the game close while handing it off to Ben Tate, who is now running for his big contract (with another team). I still think the Texans have a huge talent gap, especially on defense, some of this is due to injury but most of it is due to bad personnel decisions. The offensive line played better, but still needs more talent. Special teams, for all of the attention they're being paid, were hit and miss with every good play (a long Martin return) being negated by a bad play (a long Patriots return).

The most concerning issue to me however remains the issue of coaching. In short: This is a poorly coached team that, surprisingly this late in the season, continues to have obvious busts on both sides of the ball. There are zero signs of improvement, and the team continues to do things that don't appear to be in their best interests. There's no doubt the Texans are playing hard as the coaches continually say, but there's increasing evidence that this is not enough because they're being out-coached from the start, with the coaching gap increasing as the game continues.

There were signs of some improvement, but this is very likely the worst team in the NFL so that's not saying much.

College Football (Week 14) Results

Any way you look at it Week 14 of the 2013 College Football season was one of the best weekends in recent memory. So many things to discuss but, first: I went 5-3 straight up (now at 87-40 for the season) and 4-4 against the spread (achingly close to .500 at 62-63-1). There were a couple of games that hurt me (Auburn, USC) and some games I got close to right (Duke). Despite all of that the Iron Bowl ending, the ending to "The Game" and just a very strong scheduled weekend all the way around made not winning A-OK with me.

Without further ado:

1. - The Iron Bowl - With all of the talk surrounding the dominance of 'Bama and Saban's advantages I too will admit to being sucked in. I probably should have picked 'Bama to win, but not cover. Rivalry games are like that from time to time. And what an ending.

2. - The Game - I have to admit, I've been more pessimistic about this game since Rich Rod took over and bathed Michigan in an inglorious series of losing seasons. That said, I'm extremely proud of the team for sucking it up and putting up a (literal, at times) fight. I don't blame Hoke for the decision to go for two, I think it was the right call, I do blame Al Borges for a terrible play call that resulted in an INT. My hope next year is that Hoke stays but is forced to make changes at coordinator.

3. - Rice - Congratulations to the Owls who will host Marshall in the C-USA championship game. I've stated all year that they would be in the running for this, and they have a good team that is capable of knocking off Marshall, but will need some good bounces to do so.

4. - Duke - How about the Dukies? Not only did they win the closest thing they have to a football rivalry game (Duke/NC is really a basketball rival) but they win the ACC Coastal Division and have a date with Florida State for the Championship. The thought is that Florida State will roll to victory, but I've a feeling the Blue Devils might be able to keep it a little closer (in losing) than the experts think. David Cutcliffe for coach of the year.

5. - UCLA/USC - I'm a little surprised that UCLA came out and dominated USC as they did. I thought the Trojans were starting to roll and would win. You can't say enough about the resilience of the UCLA Bruins or the toughness of USC this year. Ed Orgeron should be the USC head coach next season, but I've a feeling the Trojan brain trust is going to mess this up.

6. - Missouri - Coming into this season aTm was given all the hype as a potential participant in the SEC Championship game while Missouri was an afterthought. Big mistake. Last year's Mizzou team faced a ton of injuries akin to what Georgia faced this year. They were a good team, with a good offense that played solid defense as well. Compare that to aTm which has suddenly lost the public spotlight due to their seeming inability to make a tackle. Add into that the weaker side of the SEC and Mizzou is much better positioned than aTm to continue its winning ways.

And finally......

7. - The B(C)S - There's so much to say about this that I'm not sure where to start. Let's start here: If anything this final year has the potential to illustrate just how terrible the system has been from the start. Open to politicking and manipulation it was no better than the former polling system in determining a champion, and in many ways much, much worse. We got a peek at just how much worse in 2011 when Nick Saban manipulated his ballot to push his team into the Championship game. And this season there's room for even more chicanery. It's also led to fewer inter-conference games, which has led to the belief that the SEC has a far greater gap over the remaining conferences than I think they really do.

Of course, we're still a LONG way from knowing anything for certain, but if FSU and OSU remain undefeated then that should be your B(C)S Championship game, no Miracle at Jordan Hare if and's or but's about it. If Auburn wanted in, they should have beaten South Carolina, period.

That's not to say that the proposed "fix" of a 4 team playoff would be any better. Looking at this year, who would be #4? And before you default to "Bama" think about if Mizzou beats Auburn, if Michigan State beats Ohio State, and then there' Okie State and the eventual PAC12 champion to consider. There are a lot of theories as to how to determine the champion but the only one that makes sense is an 16 team playoff with every conference champion and 5 at-large bids. Yes, you can make the argument that the C-USA, MAC, Sun Belt, Mountain West and Amway champions don't deserve to be there, but you can also make a case that the Big Twen and B1G champions don't either. This year, with Florida State, is one of the few years that the ACC Champion has obviously been worthy of inclusion, and there have been years that the PAC12 wasn't worthy either. And while it's easy to look at the SEC every year and say they're the best in the land, this was not always the case and won't always be the case in the future. While there's little chance the lesser conferences will win, there's zero chance right now that they will. Using the same logic March Madness would be a tussle between the major conferences every year and most of the public would have no idea that Butler, Gonzaga and VCU even exist.

What keeps the smaller conferences out of the B(C)S is money pure and simple. There's no other way to honestly state it. The idea that, by including the small schools in a playoff system, you're somehow going to reduce that pot of money is ridiculous. The television and advertising revenues alone would ensure profitability. Actual butts in the seats has very little to do with it. All of the hyperbole regarding students missing classes is just so much gibberish spoken in a world where reality is excused for some fantasyland argument making. While many feel the B(C)S controversy has been a good thing for College Football, I can assure you it hasn't. Television ratings for the non-championship bowls have been plummeting as the public just doesn't care. Were these games part of a win-or-go-home playoff system however suddenly the public would care, and that's the best thing about it. Always has been, always will be.

Top 5

1. Florida State
2. Ohio State
3. Auburn
4. Alabama
5. Missouri

Championship week is coming. Then, in a changeup, I'll do a bowl Pick 'em based on the lines. After my rough year I'm going to need a good bowl season to pull into plus .500 territory.