IN SEARCH OF THE SIMPERING DEBUTANTE! Whos the actual debutante here? Our vote is in—Michael Kinsley! // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2006
WHY NOT THE BEST: Unlike Kevin Drum, we werent real surprised when Southern Cal fell to the Bruins on Saturday. Yes, the Trojans had trampled the best of the rest, beating Arkansas, Nebraska and Notre Dame by an average of 25 points. But they struggled within the potent PAC-10—they went 7-2, with several close calls—and UCLA was always capable of beating them. The real pain of this weekends games? Being forced to hear all that tired old pap about the SECs manifest greatness.
Thats right—the nations most self-pitying region never surrenders its victimhood claims. But now, even Kevin, a USC fan, has been driven mad by their blubbering! He wrote the following after a weekend of listening to Florida cry:
DRUM: Since college football is fundamentally a conference-based system, with most teams playing only three non-league games each year, I've always figured the BCS should match the two best teams from different conferences. So putting USC's last minute meltdown to one side, the BCS turned out just the way it should have this year, matching Ohio State against Florida rather than mounting an all-Big 10 rematch. Its the only way we'll ever know if Ohio State and the Big 10 are really as good as everyone thinks.Omigod! Such west coast self-loathing! Charlie Pierce kisses the SECs garments too. But Kevin even pimped the Big 10!
Lets start with a small-but-significant error. Kevin! The members of our mighty PAC-10 play nine league games and three out-of-conference. But other circuits are a bit slicker. In particular, SEC and Big 10 teams play eight league games and four out-of-conference. (Ditto the ACC and Big 12.) Why does the SEC do such a thing? Of course! This lets them schedule four non-league cupcakes, as opposed to just three. And the SECs fearless teams take advantage. This was Floridas non-conference schedule:
Southern Mississippi (8-5 in the second-tier Conference USA)You can see how they used those four games to just load up their schedule. It wasnt Floridas fault that Florida State was so weak this year, but thats an unexciting slate. But so what? The country is full of scribes who will praise the SEC, no questions asked. For example, here was Michael Wilbons summary in Mondays Post:
WILBON (11/4/06): Florida played nine conference games [this included the SEC championship game] in the toughest conference in the country. Theres no question the SEC is the best league, and Florida won at Tennessee, and also defeated Alabama, LSU, Georgia and South Carolina. Out of conference, Florida defeated legit big boys in Southern Mississippi and rival Florida State. They played only one patsy, Western Carolina. And of course, Florida's only loss was at Auburn.Of course, Southern Mississippi isnt a big boy; Florida State was barely mediocre; and unmentioned Central Florida was a big cream puff too. But so what? Wilbon was discussing the SEC, and theres no question that its the best league, he says. Indeed, he says this every year, even when its obviously bogus.
Was the SEC the best conference this year? Quite possibly, although several of the BCS computers have the mighty PAC-10 on top. But the Big 10? Kevin! Stop the madness! By now, the major conferences play so few games against each other that its hard to judge their relative strength. But tomorrow, well reveal how they did this year, using our own helpful system.
Was the SEC best? Were not sure. But leaving four slots for cupcakes, instead of just three, does boost the circuits won-loss records. Their fans see more lousy games, of course. But theyll never realize—theyre SEC fans!—and our sportswriters wont catch on either.
TOMORROW: Perhaps you recall when the SECs wailing began. Warning! A comical tale!
SAGARIN RANKS THE CIRCUITS: Jeff Sagarin runs one of the six computer systems the BCS uses in making its rankings. Because his work runs in USA Today, his is likely the most high-profile system. How does Sagarins computer rank the major conferences this year? Sorry, Wilbon; PAC-10 first, SEC second. (Big 10 fourth.) Last year, when the season was done, he ranked the PAC-10 fourth—and the SEC fifth. Remember, this includes every team in a conference—not just those in the Top 25. And of course, your opinion may differ.
If you click here, you can access Sagarins conference ratings back to 1998. Youll have to go back to 2001 to find the SEC ranked first. Tomorrow, a comical tale.
IN SEARCH OF THE SIMPERING DEBUTANTE: As weve long told you, its the type of story the corps just adores—the type of story where they get to imagine. Neither Michael Kinsley nor Richard Cohen saw the recent, not-worth-discussing exchange between George Bush and Jim Webb. They dont know what the two men really said. They have no way to judge tone of voice. But when has that ever stopped our press corps from offering its thoughts to the peons?
Lets think back. In 1997, Al Gore made a fleeting remark about Love Story to a pair of major reporters. Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich werent present, of course. They didnt know what Gore really said. (As it turned out, hed been slightly misquoted.) They had no way to judge tone of voice. But so what? They had a story they wanted to type—and so the twin savants started typing. Two years later, Times Karen Tumulty—she had been present to hear Gores remark—said that she was sort of appalled by the very unfair way the press corps had played it. But by then, the pointless remark that no one observed had been used, for two solid years, to turn Gore into a delusional crackpot. It fit the tale the press corps wanted to tell—and so, for two years, they took turns telling it. And yes, it helped send Bush to the White House. Today, Cohen and Kinsley are in the Post, explaining another pointless incident—another event they didnt witness, for which they have no tape. (For Cohens column, click here.)
Is there a way to get dumber than this? If so, these twin pundits will find it.
But Kinsleys column is especially dumb because of its focus on Bushs twin daughters. Is there a way to get dumber than this, the ending to his column?
KINSLEY (11/5/06): [N]o amount of eloquence can overcome the bald contrast between [Bushs] rhetoric and how his own family lives. His daughters are over 21, and he can't control them, but that doesn't let them off the hook. They are now independent moral actors, and their situation requires that they either publicly oppose their father's war or do something to support it. Is it unfair to expect Jenna and Barbara to shape their lives around their father's folly? Of course its unfair. If this is war, then unfairness comes with the territory.But why does unfairness come with the territory? Dont ask—and Michael wont tell! Meanwhile, Kinsley, a man who has nothing to say, wants Bushs daughters to say bold things for him. Of course, not long ago, Kinsley was calling you a blithering fool if you cared about those Downing Street memos (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/13/05). Now, hes thinking long and hard about how these young women, whom he doesnt know, should think, speak, act and live their lives. He knows all about how morally serious Webb was. And he knows all about Bushs daughters.
But uh-oh! Kinsleys column is especially dumb because of his thoughts about Jenna Bush. Early on, he lets us know that he and his kind are finer than Jenna Bush, finer by far:
KINSLEY: As for the twins, we actually know next to nothing about them...Throughout that passage, Kinsley announces his vast superiority to Bushs dumb-ass daughters. Meanwhile, he shows his own mind-rotting dumbness. We know next to nothing about the twins, Kinsley says—and then, he sets out to prove it. In the passage above, we see that Jenna Bush is interning for UNICEF in Latin America. But so what? Moments later, Kinsley somehow types this:
KINSLEY: No one thinks that the president should have to give up a child to prove that his family is as serious about freedom as these other families he praises. But it would be reassuring to see a little struggle here—some sign that the Bush family truly believes that American soldiers are dying for our freedom, and that it's worth it.In this passage, he wonders if Bush might have wanted his daughters to join the Red Cross, or the Peace Corps, or something like that. But he asks this immediately after reporting the fact that Jenna Bush has done something like that. In fact, she taught at a D.C. charter school for a year and a half, and now seems to be working for UNICEF in Panama. (We admire people who do things like this. For more information, click here.) None of this is Kinsleys business, of course; in a world chock full of serious topics, none of this was worth discussing. But Kinsley has long had nothing to say, so he wastes his time with this—and, by now, he has grown so dumb that he cant even seem to process info found right in his own column.
As chance would have it, we have a family member, slightly older than the Bush sisters, who interned for UNICEF in Latin America too (actually, in the DR), then worked for UNICEF there several years. Prior to that, when still in high school, she spent a summer at elevation in the Andes, showing indigenous kids how to brush their teeth; today, shes finishing her public health doctorate. For the record, she met her husband while in the DR; he was there on loan from Cuba, coaching the Dominican track team. So yes, she and her globe-trotting friends conducted social lives all around the world too, a fact which may trouble poor peeping-tom Kinsley. Theyve also worked all over the world, engaging in various public health projects, some of which may occasionally work, although theres no reason to think so. This seems to be like what Jenna Bush is doing—although Kinsley, too tired to read his own copy, doesnt yet seem to have heard.
What is Jenna Bush really like? We—and Kinsley—dont have any idea. Despite that, Kinsley knows and tells all! He knows about what Jim Webb did—in an exchange he didnt observe. He wonders if Bush told his daughters to serve—while failing to notice that one of them does. None of this was worth discussing, but Kinsley seems to have reached the point where he doesnt even read his own column. Ah yes, our celebrity press corps! Is any group on earth more empty? More driven by consummate air-heads?
Whos the real simpering debutante here? Our vote is in—Michael Kinsley!
MORE SEMI-INFORMATION: For more semi-information, click here. We note that Barbara [Bush] spent at least several weeks doing low-profile volunteer work at a hospital in South Africa last summer.
IMAGINE ALL THE PEOPLE: We humans love to imagine. And when we do, our own tribes come out best. Heres a letter in todays New York Times about the Bush-Webb fandango:
LETTER TO THE EDITOR (12/5/06):Who was rude here? Theres no way to know! (Maybe both men. Maybe neither.) But we humans love to imagine. Kinsleys cohort imagined weird things for two solid years during Campaign 2000—and thereby doomed the U.S. to Iraq. Jim Webbs son is in Iraq because of the things they imagined.
In the long run, progressives would be smart to say this: Hey, debutantes! Enough is enough! Debutantes, please! Dont imagine!