Was this in the pledge?

Editor’s note: Yes, I realize this is way behind the news cycle…but I wrote it, then had to set it aside for a while. I spent a lot of time on it and I don’t want it to go to waste. Humor me, please.

With crystal clear focus and laser precision, the Republican party made sure we knew it was gonna be different this time.

It’s hard to believe it was just six months ago when the Grand Old Party unveiled its “Pledge To America,” a 21-page document that outlined the its governing agenda. Just 11 grafs in, it’s spelled out in simple language: “The need for urgent action to repair our economy and reclaim our government for the people cannot be overstated.”

That, apparently, includes taking away funding for public broadcasting. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a measure recently that would prevent stations from buying programming from National Public Radio – or any other source – with the $22 million they receive from the federal government.

So…is that repairing our economy? Or does that reclaim the government?

It’s interesting to see a party that blamed, in part, a “polarizing political environment” for “fraying the bonds among our people and blurring our sense of national purpose” spend so much time passing bills that they know will never pass the Senate, let alone get signed by President Obama. This measure, just like “repealing” the Affordable Health Care Act, is nothing more than red meat for the conservative base, designed to stir them up as we approach the run-up to the 2012 presidential election.

One could try to declare this a great victory for fiscal conservatives, but look at that figure a few grafs up: $22 million. Barely a dent in the federal budget. No less than Rep. Ron Paul took to the house floor to criticize the move, saying:

“The very most they might save is $10 million, and that’s their claim to fame for slashing the budget. At the same time they won’t consider for a minute cutting a real, significant amount of money. All empires end for fiscal reasons, because they spread themselves too far around the world – and that’s what we’re facing.”

“That’s their claim to face for slashing the budget.” This is the root of what the Republicans are doing. They are returning to this focus on divisive wedge issues that helped drive me from the party in the first place. The attempt to cut funding from Planned Parenthood was just the beginning.

Public broadcasting, specifically NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, have long been conservative targets, considered to be far too liberal. The 228 Republicans who passed this measure will indeed brag to their constituents about cutting the budget while sticking it to the liberal elite at the same time. They may have accomplished neither.

Mike Durbin, the author of Principled Thoughts, asked me “If NPR is so great, how come it can’t be privately funded”? That, I told him, was the wrong question…and not just because NPR gets only about $5.4 million per year from the federal government. The majority of its $65 million budget comes from local stations, which pay for the programming (you’ve heard the pledge drives…I know you have). So it’s entirely possible that, minus this money, NPR will survive. But again, this is the wrong question.

Here’s the right question: Why does the United States need public, non-commercial, news broadcasting and reporting? It was answered in a far more eloquent manner than I could achieve in the pages of The Washington Post by Leonard Downie, Jr., a professor of journalism at Arizona State University, and Robert G. Kaiser, an associate editor at The Post. It’s well worth a read. Here’s a key snippet:

“…equally important to us is local news coverage, which has been even more severely weakened by shrunken reporting staffs and ambitions at newspapers and commercial stations in too many cities and towns. We have long believed that Americans benefit when powerful institutions and important issues in their lives are scrutinized by good reporters on their behalf. Yet this kind of ambitious local news coverage by commercial media has diminished in community after community in recent years.”

I have a clear bias here. Every paycheck I ever collected as a sports editor came from a community publication. While national and regional news organizations do wonderful things, there is no replacing what local, feet-on-the-ground, immersed-in-the-community reporting can offer a town of any size. And no group is better prepared to than a group that doesn’t have to rely on advertising revenue to survive. Those are the journalists who are able to take risks, to go after stories that might make advertisers or members of the local government uncomfortable.

James Fallows wrote a piece on “Why NPR Matters” back during the Juan Williams debacle, well before this bill was introduced. It’s timely now, though, as he points out:

“In their current anti-NPR initiative, Fox and the Republicans would like to suggest that the main way NPR differs from Fox is that most NPR employees vote Democratic. That is a difference, but the real difference is what they are trying to do. NPR shows are built around gathering and analyzing the news, rather than using it as a springboard for opinions. And while of course the selection of stories and analysts is subjective and can show a bias, in a serious news organization the bias is something to be worked against rather than embraced. NPR, like the New York Times, has an ombudsman. Does Fox? [I think the answer is No.]”

But perhaps my whole rant here is overthinking things a bit. This is not a serious bill introduced by the Republicans. They have to know – like repealing health care reform – it will never make it through the Senate or get signed by the president. They don’t necessarily want it to, though. This is a chance to stir up partisan feelings in preparation for the 2012 elections. Plain and simple. And it’s exactly the kind of thing they pledged to us they wouldn’t do. They are just continuing to fray the bonds among our people and blur our sense of national purpose.

And yes, Michael, I know you favor cutting all federal funding to private organizations. I know this won’t sway you. But this is my honest answer.


Have a laugh, please…

So, the unintentional hiatus is over, as is my goal of blogging at least once a week. Gah!

My faith in our modern society was shaken a little bit the other day, which almost led me to keep the hiatus going. But then I saw a good friend of mine has started a blog and I had to share it. So please go read the comedy stylings of the great Nichole Morrison. It will make you laugh, which Heaven knows I needed.


No bubbles or bracketology for me

Judging be the e-mails and calls to local sports talk radio shows as well as tweets by fellow Missouri State fans, I’m a lot less interested in this whole bubble watch and bracketology thing. I’ve paid as little attention to it as possible. Spoiler Alert: The Bears are highly, highly unlikely to be included in the 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship Tournament when the bracket is announced in a couple of hours.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t be, just that they won’t. The highly-trusted Joe Lunardi has said as much, so it’s likely a done deal, right? It’s not because Missouri State’s a bad team, or doesn’t have a pretty good resume. It’s because MSU is a mid-major, and the selection system seems to be pretty regularly manipulated to ensure the high majors fill the brackets.

At one time, 20 wins was the magic number as far as NCAA resumes go. But there’s MSU with 25 wins, on the outside looking in. USC has 19 wins and is assumed to be in. Then I learned that your RPI has to be low, or you won’t get in. MO State is sitting at 44. The last four in, according to Lunardi? St. Mary’s (46), Clemson (55), Virginia Tech (60) and USC (68). Missouri State owns three of the five best RPIs to be left out of the NCAA Tournament – including the No. 1 spot (21, back in 2006). We know the RPI is a hot steaming load.

Top 50 wins are important, supposedly. This, too, skews towards the big boys, who are often reluctant to schedule mid-majors in non-league play and certainly don’t want to play them on the road. The signature wins this season for Clemson and VA Tech? All of them are conference opponents. Clemson is 0-5 against the Top 50. VT is 2-4. The knock against MSU is that even though they don’t have any really bad losses, they don’t have any really good wins. The Bears lost a close one at Tennessee, a projected 10 seed, early in the year. That win may have helped boost the resume, but it’s no guarantee.

This season should sit as a learning moment for Missouri State. They’ve got 20+ wins and a good RPI. They showed an ability to win away from home. They don’t have any horrible losses. These are all good things. But there’s no marquee win. There’s no body of work against Top 50 RPI teams. The non-conference schedule strength is kinda weak – though no worse than some teams that are in. *coughMissouri’sIs297ButMissouriState’sIs195cough*

It’s time to schedule up. Pat Hill put Fresno State football on the map with an “Anyone, any time, any place” mentality. You’re going to take some lumps, but you’re also going to increase the chance of picking up a marquee win. Don’t always hold out for a home-and-home. Take some 2-for-1s. Take some neutral floor games. as Ric Flair says, “To BE the man, you’ve got to BEAT the man! Whoooo!” Go beat the man, Bears.


Friday Soundtrack, or is this Fiasco’s fiasco?

There are very few artists that, when they put out a new album, I will buy sound unheard. One of the dropped a new joint – as the kids say – this week.

Lupe Fiasco, born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco and raised in Chicago, first caught my attention with his 2006 debut, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor. He’s a different kind of MC than people are used to. That album’s lead single, for instance – called “Kick, Push” – was a skater-boy-meets-skater-girl love story. One of my personal favorites from that album is a track called “Daydreamin’,” featuring the divine Jill Scott. That song mocks the excesses of most rap music and its videos before Lupe says “I had to turn my back on what got you paid / I couldn’t see half the hood on me like Abu Ghraib / But I’d like to thank the streets that drove me crazy / And all the televisions out there that raised me…”

Fiasco continued to do his own thing on 2007’s The Cool, which was nearly a concept album, building off a couple of tracks on Food & Liquor. As AllMusic.com said, “a fatherless boy is raised by supernatural characterizations of the streets (named the Streets) and the game (named the Game), squanders his potential, becomes motivated by greed, turns to dealing drugs, gets caught up on a few levels.” This album continued to distance Lupe, a clever lyricist, from the hip-hop morass.

So it was with great anticipation that I waited for Lupe’s next album…and waited, and waited. The album, Lasers, was delayed several times and Fiasco had to make several artistic concessions before the label would finally release it to an audience so eager to hear it, that 30,000 of them signed a petition demanding Atlantic release the album and many other fans held a protest outside Atlantic’s offices.

What did Lupe Fiasco’s fans get? Depends on who you ask. Some Web sites have given it horrible reviews, while AllMusic.com gave it 3 out of 5 stars. Rolling Stone, however, loved it. They gave it 4 1/2 stars (out of 5), saying “Lasers, is shorter, brighter and — most admirably — more optimistic. It places Lupe in a tradition that runs from Marley to M.I.A.: the soul rebel who refuses to believe righteous struggle has to be a grind.”

I, of course, will make up my mind for myself. This Friday Soundtrack is the lead single from Lasers, “The Show Goes On.” Here Lupe reworks the chorus from Modest Mouse’s “Float On” and defiantly raps that, even when people try to bring him down or mistreat him:

…I don’t switch up I just laugh
Put my kicks up on they desk
Unaffected by they threats, then get busy on they ass
See that’s how that Chi-Town made me
That’s how my daddy raised me
They glittering may not be gold, don’t let no body play me
If you are my homeboy, you never have to pay me
Go on and put your hands up, when times are hard you stand up…

Good stuff from Lupe, bright and optimistic as Rolling Stone said. This one’s going to power my weekend. Enjoy yours.


Beware the company you keep

I got this e-mail today from a conservative. I’ve seen it before – a couple of times probably – but it never fails to make me giggle. I get the point it tries to make, but I wonder if the conservative thinkers who pass it on consider the countries they’re saying we should be more like. Here’s the content of the e-mail [sic’d]:

Let’s see if I got this correct?

If you cross the North Korean border illegally you get 12 years hard labor.

If you cross the Iranian border illegally you are detained indefinitely.

If you cross the Afghan border illegally, you get shot.

If you cross the Saudi Arabian border illegally you will be jailed.

If you cross the Chinese border illegally you may never be heard from again.

If you cross the Venezuelan border illegally you will be branded a spy and your fate will be sealed.

If you cross the Cuban border illegally you will be thrown into political prison to rot.

If you cross the U.S. border illegally you get!

A job, a drivers license, Social Security card, welfare, food stamps, credit cards, subsidized rent or a loan to buy a house, free education, free health care, a lobbyist in Washington, billions of dollars worth of public documents printed in your language, the right to carry your country’s flag while you protest that you don’t get enough respect, and, in many instances, you can vote.

I just wanted to make sure I had a firm grasp on the “situation”!

It’s time to wake up America!

Yes. Exactly! Why can’t we be more like North Korea? Or Iran? Or China? Those are the countries we should be comparing ourselves to. Those are our peers, right?


Friday Soundtrack, or Fight for vict’ry

It’s Game Day.

Arch Madness – the Missouri Valley Conference’s men’s basketball tournament – tipped off last night in St. Louis and Missouri State joins the fray today, at noon, playing Southern Illinois for the right to advance to the semifinals.

That’s the inspiration for this week’s Friday Soundtrack. The song is best known as the “Missouri State Fight Song,” but it’s actual name is “The Scotsman.” It’s history was discussed in this thread over at MSU Bear Nation. Mighty MO State is the only school to use “The Scotsman” as its fight song, though my alma mater shares the song with Utah State University. That school’s Wiki page claims “The popular Scotsman song was composed by student Ebenezer J. Kirkham, class of 1918, though a similar song had been used by other colleges for at least a decade.” USU’s version of The Scotsman is arranged differently than MSU’s, and the Aggies use it as a supplemental song, not their primary fight song.

MSU’s version, meanwhile, was officially adopted in 1960, though it was likely used unofficially used prior to that, and the lyrics have evolved along with the name of the school.

That part kind of disappoints me. The original version has a charm to it and I like it better than what we sing right now. Today’s version involves too much spelling, in my opinion. I might be in the minority on this one. I’ve posted the original lyrics – which could be updated a little bit to say something like “True-hearted Bear from Missouri” – so you can make up your own mind.



“The Scotsman”

Show me the Scotsman
Who doesn’t love the thistle,
Show me the Englishman
Who doesn’t love the rose,
Show me the true-
Hearted man of Springfield,
Who doesn’t love the sport.


Way down where the
Ozarks zephyrs blow.

Arch Madness Bracketology

It ranks as probably the best gem the legendary George Wilson dropped on me during my years covering his College of the Ozarks Lady ‘Cats:

“It’s hard to beat a team three times in one season…then again, sometimes it’s not.”

Let it sink in for a second, then note this: If Wichita State or Missouri State are going to cut down the nets at Scottrade Center March 6 and accept the Missouri Valley Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, they’re going to have to beat as many as two teams for the third time this season. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Or is it?

Let’s take a look:

Adam Leonard - Missouri State

To the victor go the spoils, and for Missouri State that means a bracket that includes two of the three worst teams in the league, a No. 4 seed that is fading after the loss of a key player, and a No. 5 seed that hasn’t won a game away from home in two months.

But there are some that feel this is the harder of the two brackets, specifically because of that No. 5 seed, Creighton. The Jays went just 5-5 down the stretch (5-4 in Valley games), but they lost at Wichita on a buzzer beater and clipped UNI in the regular season finale. Greg McDermott is a quality head coach and his boy, Doug, is a legit weapon as a freshman. They also played Missouri State tough in Springfield, leading the whole way – by double digits at some points – before fading down the stretch and losing on a last-second layup by Valley Player of the Year Kyle Weems. Can a team that’s 3-10 on the road and 3-7 in games decided by 5 or fewer points really make a title run?

The bigger question, though, is can Missouri State beat them three times in one season?

Creighton might be better equipped than No. 4 Northern Iowa, who has suffered since losing 6-foot-9 brute and weird-beard aficionado Lucas O’Rear to a broken ankle back on Feb. 2. The Panthers are 1-6 since then, winning by 10 at Bradley Feb. 15. They had won 8 in a row – including at both MSU and WSU – before the injury. They, too, seem like a long-shot to pull an upset (but don’t tell that to ESPN).

Missouri State has some added incentive to beat UNI – the Panthers stole a 60-59 decision from the Bears on a late rebound foul…a play Weems and the Bears have not forgotten. MSU and UNI split their season series, but that was at full strength.

No. 8 Southern Illinois and No. 9 Bradley round up the northern half of the bracket. Missouri State swept both of those teams in the regular season, though it wasn’t always easy. The Bears fared better on the road both times.

David Kyles - Wichita State

Wichita State, meanwhile, will have to wrap up two sweeps and avoid getting swept if they want to win the Valley tournament for the first time since 1987. The second-seeded Shockers are 8-0 against their side of the bracket. They’ll open with either No. 7 Drake or No. 10 Bradley, a pair of teams I’m glad are on the other side of the bracket. Drake is a puzzler. The Bulldogs went 5-5 down the stretch, scaring the bejeesus out of MSU and beating both Creighton and Northern Iowa. But they also got housed by Bradley, 90-64, in the regular season finale. Which Drake team shows up is anyone’s guess. Bradley, meanwhile, features the league’s top scorer, in Andrew Warren. The Braves – like the Bulldogs – split their last 10, with Drake and CU being the only wins of note.

If the Shockers finish up a sweep of either of DU or BU, it’s on to a more challenging foe: No. 3 Indiana State or No. 6 Evansville. ISU figures to be a dangerous team. The Sycamores were red-hot to open league play, winning 7 of their first 8 Valley games, and are perhaps the pound-for-pound hardest working team in the league. But the Sycamores dropped a 93-83 triple overtime decision at Wichita State on Jan. 22, a loss that seemed to – pardon the expression – shake the Trees. Indiana State is just 5-5 since that loss. They dropped the rematch with WSU 70-54 and lost to Evansville 66-63, both on their home floor. ISU, it seems, is in the opposite position of WSU. The Sycamores were swept by both teams they’ll need to beat in order to advance to the finals.

Evansville is 2-0 against Indiana State this season, winning 64-59 at home. The Aces have been hard to figure this season, going 1-4 to open league play, then winning 7 of their next 9 – including a 77-65 triumph over Missouri State. But just when the Aces seemed to have it going on, they went 2-5 down the stretch, managing to beat only wounded Northern Iowa and ninth-place Illinois State.

If the good Aces show up, it’ll be hard for Wichita State to beat them three times in one season. But,then again, if the good Aces show up…

So let’s say both Missouri State and Wichita State survive and advance. Then we have another sweep/no-sweep scenario on our hands, and this is a case – unlike some in the earlier rounds – where it’s gonna be a whale of a lot harder to beat a team three times in one season. The Bears and Shockers have played a pair of classics this season, with Missouri State besting Wichita both times. Adam Leonard hit go-ahead 3-pointers in both games, one with 3:37 to play at Wichita and one with 49 seconds to play in Springfield. Wichita led or was tied with MSU in the final four minutes of both games, but never could find a way to bury the Bears.

Given a third look at them, odds are Wichita State will finally pull it off because it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season…but, then again, sometimes it’s not.



Reflections on Missouri State’s basketball championship


Missouri Valley Conference Champions - Missouri State Bears (Photo courtesy Springfield News-Leader)

The date was March 1, 1990. I’d been 12 years old for all of one month when the Southwest Missouri State Bears defeated Northern Iowa 94-86 in overtime at Hammons Student Center to wrap up another Mid-Continent Conference championship. The Bears went to the NCAA Tournament that year, falling to North Carolina – my other favorite team as a kid – 83-70 to wrap up another great year of basketball in Spoon’s Temple of Doom. SMS, under the direction of Charlie Spoonhour, won its fourth straight conference title and advanced to the postseason for the fifth straight season – not bad for a program that had been in Division I for less than a decade.

“This is awesome,” 12-year-old me thought. “It’s always gonna be just like this.”

I had no idea.

That win over UNI was the Bears’ last Mid-Con victory. SMS left for the Missouri Valley Conference the following season and fit right in. The Bears went 11-5 their first season, finishing second in the league, and advanced to the finals of the MVC tournament. They didn’t win, but their 22-12 mark was good enough to get them into the NIT Tournament.

Next season was more of the same. The high-flying Rodney Perry-led Bears went 23-8 overall, 13-5 in league play (good enough for third) and upset Tulsa 71-68 to win the league tourney and get back onto the Big Dance floor for the fifth time in six years.

It would only happen one more time in the next 17 seasons. In the meantime, the Bears would never win another regular season conference championship. During that drought the school went through a name change, hired four university presidents as well as four head coaches and moved into a brand new arena.

So you’ll have to forgive me if I shed a few tears last weekend, after Missouri State held off Wichita State 69-64 to win the Missouri Valley Conference championship, the first MVC regular season title in 21 seasons in The Valley. I stupidly didn’t check a calendar when I agreed to cover a shift for a co-worker that day, so I didn’t get to witness history in person (something I’ll always regret), but I stayed up until the wee small hours Sunday watching the replay on ESPN3, reading every account of the game I could find on the Web, and living vicariously through fan photos and YouTube videos. And shedding a few tears – especially when I watched Bill Rowe, Mr. Missouri State Athletics, wipe a tear from his eye during the post-game celebration.

My oldest daughter is just a bit younger now than I was the last time the Bears were conference champions. The last time the Bears were in the NCAA Tournament, I hadn’t even started dating her mother. This has been a long time coming, and I have savored it for five days now. I’m still partying like it’s 1999. Or 1990.


Of cheeseheads and mortar boards

I’ve yet to weigh in on Wisconsin, but something has really caught my attention, so here we go…

The new GOP talking point seems to be the salaries that teachers in the Badger State take in. Rush Limbaugh was on it today, and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard it from other people too, though The Daily Caller’s Matthew Boyle wrote about it more than a week ago. Are you ready to be outraged by Wisconsin’s teachers? Here we go:

“Wisconsin’s 2010 Teacher of the Year, Leah Lechleiter-Luke of Mauston High School… makes $54,928 in base salary and $32,213 in “fringe benefits,” which includes health insurance, life insurance and retirement pay. …Per the Department of Commerce, in 2009, the average personal income for all Wisconsin workers was $37,398.”

Are you OUTRAGED?!?!?!? Because I’m not. So what?

Boyle’s piece doesn’t specify, so allow me a bit of conjecture here: When he says “all Wisconsin workers,” we’re going to guess he means all human beings in the state of Wisconsin who hold a job. That’s a big group of people, ranging from doctors, lawyers, etc. on the high end, to – I’m guessing – janitors, food service employees, etc. on the other. And what one thing that usually separates those on the high end from the low? An education.

A quick Google search reveals that Lechleiter-Luke holds degrees from both the University of Wisconsin-Osh Kosh, and Viterbo University in La Crosse. That information comes from this document, a list of the 2009-10 Wisconsin teachers of the year. Perusing that list reveals that all of them have at least one degree, and one of them is currently working on a Masters.

What does this have to do with salary? A lot. CNN noted in 2006 that a “survey found that adults 18 and older with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $51,554 in 2004, compared to $28,645 for those with only a high school diploma.”

Go back to this Wisconsin numbers again for a second:$54,928 in base pay for one of Wisconsin’s teachers of the year (who holds two college degrees) compared to $37,398 for all workers. Not that far off, are they?

Here’s another document for you, this one from Wisconsin’s Technical Colleges. It lists 10 occupations typically requiring a bachelors degree. The average salary of that group is $48,472.

So, yes, Wisconsin’s teachers don’t do too shabby when it comes to salary, but it’s not way out of line when compared to other workers with bachelor’s degrees.

Listen, Conservatives…if you want me to get on your side here – and I’m open to that idea – don’t attack teachers for making salaries commensurate with their education. No offense, but I’m not dumb enough to fall for that.