Friday, November 17, 2006

Bob Klapisch: Yanks Hoard Money

Friday, November 17, 2006

NAPLES, Fla. -- There's not much that can shock the dollar-hardened baseball fan these days, but see if this doesn't flex your eyebrows: With free agency about to explode (again), the Red Sox are already the market's most aggressive check-writers, while the Yankees are actually sticking to a sensible business plan.

Must be some alternative universe we've been transported to. The Sox' $51 million posting fee for Daisuke Matsuzaka is only the beginning of what will ultimately turn into an $80 million transaction -- a stunning transformation for a team that didn't want to shell out $22 million for Bobby Abreu last summer.

The Yankees? They offered $31 million for Matsuzaka, and even that sum made them nervous. According to one major league official familiar with the Bombers' thinking, general manager Brian Cashman was already experiencing buyer's remorse about having spent too much -- and was secretly relieved that the Sox blew away the field with their historic offer.

Cashman insists "we made an aggressive offer," but concedes Boston made "a more aggressive offer." Which leads to the obvious question: Since when do the Yankees allow themselves to be out-bid for a can't-miss free agent?

It's all part of Cashman's blueprint to bring sanity back to the Yankees' fiscal empire and, as he put it, "to keep us at a championship caliber for years to come."

It worked for them last winter, when the GM successfully waited out Johnny Damon's demand for a seven-year contract. Cashman ultimately prevailed over agent Scott Boras, getting Damon to agree to a four-year, $53 million deal. And once again, the Yankees are laying low while the market accelerates.

The Blue Jays, for instance, are finalizing a deal with Frank Thomas for two years at $23 million -- a huge payoff for the production he gave the A's last year. The real time to sign Thomas, of course, would've been last year; now it's too late for shrewd bargaining.

The Mets similarly had to overpay for 40-something Orlando Hernandez and his fragile bones; more than $6 million a year through 2008. And now Barry Zito, another Boras client, is looking for a seven-year deal for at least $15 million per.

At that rate, there's virtually no chance the Yankees will engage Zito. Instead, they'll find pitching help on their own roster, including Carl Pavano and Phil Hughes and even Scott Proctor, who will be converted into a starting pitcher this spring.

"We have choices in-house," Cashman said at the conclusion of the general managers' meetings. "The have-to-do-something [option] has been eliminated. That's why we can be aggressive, but on our terms. We can pick our spots."

Since when has a Yankee GM spoken so logically about money? For the last decade the team has been baseball's equivalent of Microsoft, yet Cashman appears ready to close out the era of blowing out the budget. Maybe it's better that way: Imagine the national outrage had it been the Yankees, not the Sox, who emptied the coffers for Matsuzaka.

For now, Cashman seems determined to curtail spending and keep his payroll under $200 million. It's not just that the Yankees want to save money (and increase profits), but Cashman himself decided in midseason that the unrestrained spending wasn't helping the on-field product, anyway.

The turning point came after George Steinbrenner publicly put Cashman and Joe Torre on the hot seat, saying the two men were responsible for the Yankees' successes and failures. Cashman told colleagues that if he was going to take the blame, then he was going to run the franchise his way.

Indeed, one person in the organization said, "The days of the [Steinbrenner] signing a player because Billy Connors likes him are definitely over."

Now, the Yankees' transactions have Cashman's fingerprints all over them. Bench coach Lee Mazzilli was summarily dismissed. Mike Mussina is coming back, but for a 33 percent pay cut.
The Yankees traded Gary Sheffield to the Tigers for a promising pitching prospect, Humberto Sanchez. And they moved Jaret Wright to the Orioles with the hunch that the right-hander's run of over-achievement in the second half of the season wouldn't carry over into 2007.

What remains to be seen, of course, is whether Cashman's financial maturity will deliver the Yankees to the World Series. It's been six years since their last championship and, in the past, every impatient urge has been met with the same response: fire up the ATM.

But that philosophy only filled the roster with mistakes like Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez and, to a lesser degree, Randy Johnson. Pavano's tenure in New York has also been a disaster, although Cashman keeps insisting the right-hander will be reborn by spring training.

The problem is that the magic bullet doesn't really exist from the Yankees' perspective. Zito, they believe, costs too much and is probably better suited for the National League. And Matsuzaka was just a blind date that made Cashman nervous.

That's why the Yankees weren't particularly panicked or embarrassed at how they were smoked by the Red Sox this week. In this brave, new world of watching your millions, the Yankees were happy to let the Sox bleed instead.

Whether Boston was very smart or very reckless in its pursuit of Matsuzaka, Cashman wouldn't say. But his thin smile spoke volumes: Sometimes the best check is the one you never write.


Film Review: 'Casino Royale'

Renewing a License to Kill and a Huge Movie Franchise

The New York Times
Published: November 17, 2006

The latest James Bond vehicle — call him Bond, Bond 6.0 — finds the British spy leaner, meaner and a whole lot darker. Now played by an attractive bit of blond rough named Daniel Craig, Pierce Brosnan having been permanently kicked to the kerb, Her Majesty’s favorite bad boy arrives on screens with the usual complement of cool toys, smooth rides, bosomy women and high expectations. He shoots, he scores, in bed and out, taking down the bad and the beautiful as he strides purposefully into the 21st century.

It’s about time. The likable Mr. Brosnan was always more persuasive playing Bond as a metaphoric rather than an actual lady-killer, with the sort of polished affect and blow-dried good looks that these days tend to work better either on television or against the grain. Two of his best performances have been almost aggressively anti-Bond turns, first in John Boorman’s adaptation of the John le Carré novel “The Tailor of Panama,” in which he played a dissolute spy, and, more recently, in “The Matador,” a comedy in which he played a hit man with a sizable gut and alarmingly tight bikini underwear. Mr. Brosnan did not demolish the memory of his Bond years with that pot, but he came admirably close.

Every generation gets the Bond it deserves if not necessarily desires, and with his creased face and uneasy smile, Mr. Craig fits these grim times well. As if to underscore the idea that this new Bond marks a decisive break with the contemporary iterations, “Casino Royale” opens with a black-and-white sequence that finds the spy making his first government-sanctioned kills. The inky blood soon gives way to full-blown color, but not until Bond has killed one man with his hands after a violent struggle and fatally shot a second. “Made you feel it, did he?” someone asks Bond of his first victim. Bond doesn’t answer. From the way the director, Martin Campbell, stages the action though, it’s clear that he wants to make sure we do feel it.

“Casino Royale” introduced Bond to the world in 1953. A year later it was made into a television drama with the American actor Barry Nelson as Jimmy Bond; the following decade, it was a ham-fisted spoof with David Niven as the spy and a very funny Peter Sellers as a card shark.
For reasons that are too boring to repeat, when Ian Fleming sold the film rights to Bond, “Casino Royale” was not part of the deal. As a consequence the producers who held most of the rights decided to take their cue from news reports about misfired missiles, placing their bets on “Dr. No” and its missile-mad villain. The first big-screen Bond, it hit in October 1962, the same month that Fleming’s fan John F. Kennedy took the Cuban missile crisis public.

The Vatican later condemned “Dr. No” as a dangerous mixture of violence, vulgarity, sadism and sex.

Ka-ching! The film was a success, as was its relatively unknown star, Sean Connery, who balanced those descriptive notes beautifully, particularly in the first film and its even better follow-up, “From Russia With Love.”

In time Mr. Connery’s conception of the character softened, as did the series itself, and both Roger Moore and Mr. Brosnan portrayed the spy as something of a gentleman playboy. That probably helps explain why some Bond fanatics have objected so violently to Mr. Craig, who fits Fleming’s description of the character as appearing “ironical, brutal and cold” better than any actor since Mr. Connery. Mr. Craig’s Bond looks as if he has renewed his license to kill.

Like a lot of action films, the Bond franchise has always used comedy to blunt the violence and bring in big audiences. And, much like the franchise’s increasingly bloated action sequences, which always seem to involve thousands of uniformed extras scurrying around sets the size of Rhode Island, the humor eventually leached the series of its excitement, its sense of risk. Mr. Brosnan certainly looked the part when he suited up for “GoldenEye” in 1995, but by then John Woo and Quentin Tarantino had so thoroughly rearranged the DNA of the modern action film as to knock 007 back to zero. By the time the last Bond landed in 2002, Matt Damon was rearranging the genre’s elementary particles anew in “The Bourne Identity.”

“Casino Royale” doesn’t play as dirty as the Bourne films, but the whole thing moves far lower to the ground than any of the newer Bond flicks. Here what pops off the screen aren’t the exploding orange fireballs that have long been a staple of the Bond films and have been taken to new pyrotechnic levels by Hollywood producers like Jerry Bruckheimer, but some sensational stunt work and a core seriousness. Successful franchises are always serious business, yet this is the first Bond film in a long while that feels as if it were made by people who realize they have to fight for audiences’ attention, not just bank on it. You see Mr. Craig sweating (and very nice sweat it is too); you sense the filmmakers doing the same.

The characteristically tangled shenanigans — as if it mattered — involve a villainous free agent named Le Chiffre (the excellent Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen), who wheels and deals using money temporarily borrowed from his equally venal clients. It’s the sort of risky global business that allows the story to jump from the Bahamas to Montenegro and other stops in between as Bond jumps from plot point to plot point, occasionally taking time out to talk into his cellphone or bed another man’s wife. Mr. Craig, whose previous credits include “Munich” and “The Mother,” walks the walk and talks the talk, and he keeps the film going even during the interminable high-stakes card game that nearly shuts it down.

If Mr. Campbell and his team haven’t reinvented the Bond film with this 21st edition, they have shaken (and stirred) it a little, chipping away some of the ritualized gentility that turned it into a waxworks. They have also surrounded Mr. Craig with estimable supporting players, including the French actress Eva Green, whose talent is actually larger than her breasts.

Like Mr. Mikkelsen, who makes weeping blood into a fine spectator sport, Ms. Green brings conviction to the film, as do Jeffrey Wright and Isaach de Bankolé. Judi Dench is back as M, of course, with her stiff lip and cunning. But even she can’t steal the show from Mr. Craig, though a human projectile by the name of Sébastien Foucan, who leads a merry and thrilling chase across Madagascar, almost does.

“Casino Royale” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). The sex is demure, the violence less so.

Opens today nationwide.

Directed by Martin Campbell; written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis, based on the novel by Ian Fleming; director of photography, Phil Méheux; edited by Stuart Baird; music by David Arnold; production designer, Peter Lamont; produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 144 minutes.

WITH: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Eva Green (Vesper Lynd), Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chiffre),
Judi Dench (M), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter), Giancarlo Giannini (Mathis), Caterina Murino (Solange), Simon Abkarian (Dimitrios), Ivana Milicevic (Valenka), Sébastien Foucan (Mollaka), Jesper Christensen (Mr. White), Tobias Menzies (Villiers), Tsai Chin (Madam Wu), Lazar Ristovski (Kaminovski), Urbano Barberini (Tomelli), Veruschka (Gräfin von Wallenstein), Tom So (Fukutu), Ade (Infante), Charlie Levi Leroy (Gallardo) and Isaach de Bankolé (Steven Obanno).

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Michael Lewis: Coach Fitz's Management Theory

[I had the pleasure of meeting UNC soccer coach Anson Dorrance last evening and we wound up discussing Michael Lewis' book "Coach". This article appeared in The New York Times a couple of years ago and was later published in book form. It is a trechant assessment of current youth sports culture...I can't recommend this piece strongly enough. - jtf]

The New York Times
Published: March 28, 2004

When I was 12, I thought that when The New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote about the ''struggle for control of the West Bank,'' it meant the other side of the Mississippi River. I thought that my shiny gold velour pants actually looked good. I kept a giant sack of Nabisco chocolate-chip cookies under my bed so that they might be available in an emergency -- a flood, say, or a hurricane -- that made it harder to get to the grocery store. From the safe distance of 43, ''12'' looks less an age than a disease, and for the most part, I've been able to forget all about it -- not the events and the people, but the feelings that gave them meaning. But there are exceptions. A few people, and a few experiences, simply refuse to be trivialized by time. There are teachers with a rare ability to enter a child's mind; it's as if their ability to get there at all gives them the right to stay forever. I once had such a teacher. His name was Billy Fitzgerald, but everybody just called him Coach Fitz.

Forgetting Fitz was impossible -- I'll come to why in a moment -- but avoiding him should have been a breeze. And for 30 years I'd had next to nothing to do with him or with the school where he coached me, the Isidore Newman School in New Orleans. But in just the past year, I heard two pieces of news about him that, taken together, made him sound suspiciously like something I never imagined he could be: a mystery. The first came last spring, when one of his former players, a 44-year-old financier named David Pointer, had the idea of redoing the old school's gym and naming it for Coach Fitz. Pointer started calling around and found that hundreds of former players and their parents shared his enthusiasm for his old coach, and the money poured in. ''The most common response from the parents,'' Pointer said, ''is that Fitz did all the hard work.''

Then came the second piece of news: after the summer baseball season, Fitz gave a speech to his current Newman players. It had been a long, depressing season: the kids, who during the school year won the Louisiana state baseball championship in their division, had lost interest. Fitz grew increasingly upset with them until, following their final summer game, he went around the room and explained what was wrong with each and every one of them. One player had wasted his talent to pursue a life of ease; another blamed everyone but himself for his failure; a third agreed before the summer to lose 15 pounds and instead gained 10. The players went home and complained about Fitz to their parents. Fathers of eight of them -- half the team -- had then complained to the headmaster.

The past was no longer on speaking terms with the present. As the cash poured in from former players and parents of former players who wanted to name the gym for the 56-year-old Fitz, his current players and their parents were doing their best to persuade the headmaster to get rid of him. I called a couple of the players involved, now college freshmen. Their fathers had been among the complainers, but they spoke of the episode as a kind of natural disaster beyond their control. One of the players, who asked not to be named, called his teammates ''a bunch of whiners'' and explained that the reason Fitz was in such trouble was that ''a lot of the parents are big-money donors.''

I grew curious enough to fly down to New Orleans to see the headmaster. The Isidore Newman School is the sort of small private school that every midsize American city has at least two of -- one of them called Country Day. Most of the 70 or so kids in my class came from families that were affluent by local standards. I'm not sure how many of us thought we'd hit a triple, but quite a few had been born on third base. The school's most striking trait is that it was founded in 1903 as a manual training school meant largely for Jewish orphans. About half my classmates were Jewish, but I didn't know any orphans. In any case, the current headmaster's name is Scott McLeod, and, he said, the school he'd taken charge of in 1993 was different from the school I graduated from in 1978. ''The parents' willingness to intercede on the kids' behalf, to take the kids' side, to protect the kid, in a not healthy way -- there's much more of that each year,'' he said. ''It's true in sports, it's true in the classroom. And it's only going to get worse.'' Fitz sat at the very top of the list of hardships that parents protected their kids from; indeed, the first angry call McLeod received after he became headmaster came from a father who was upset that Fitz wasn't giving his son more playing time.

Since then McLeod had been like a man in an earthquake straddling a fissure. On one side he had this coach about whom former players cared intensely; on the other side he had these newly organized and outraged parents of current players. When I asked him why he didn't simply ignore the parents, he said, quickly, that he couldn't do that: the parents were his customers.
(''They pay a hefty tuition,'' he said. ''They think that entitles them to a say.'') But when I asked him if he'd ever thought about firing Coach Fitz, he had to think hard about it. ''The parents want so much for their kids to have success as they define it,'' he said. ''They want them to get into the best schools and go on to the best jobs. And so if they see their kid fail -- if he's only on the J.V., or the coach is yelling at him -- somehow the school is responsible for that.'' And while he didn't see how he could ever ''fire a legend,'' he did see how he could change him. Several times in his tenure he had done something his predecessors had never done: summon Fitz to his office and insist that he ''modify'' his behavior. ''And to his credit,'' the headmaster said, ''he did that.''

Obviously, whatever Fitz had done to modify his behavior hadn't satisfied his critics. But then, from where he started, he had a long way to go.

When we first laid eyes on him, we had no idea who he was, except that he played in the Oakland A's farm system and was spending his off-season, for reasons we couldn't fathom, coaching eighth-grade basketball. We were in the seventh grade, and so, theoretically, indifferent to his existence. But the outdoor court on which we seventh graders practiced was just an oak tree apart from the eighth grade's court. And within days of this new coach's arrival we found ourselves riveted by his performance. Our coach was a pleasant, mild-mannered fellow, and our practices were always pleasant, mild-mannered affairs. The eighth grade's practices were something else: a 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound minor-league catcher with the face of a street fighter hollering at the top of his lungs for three straight hours. Often as not, the eighth graders had done something to offend their new coach's sensibilities, and he'd have them running wind sprints until they doubled over. When finally they collapsed, unable to run another step, he'd pull from his back pocket his personal collection of Bobby Knight sayings and begin reading aloud.

This was new. We didn't know what to make of it. Sean put it best. Sean was Sean Tuohy, our best player and, therefore, our authority on pretty much everything. That year he would lead our basketball team to a 32-0 record; a few years later, he'd lead our high school to a pair of Louisiana state championships; and a few years after that, he'd take Ole Miss to its first-ever Southeastern Conference basketball title. He would set the S.E.C.'s record for career assists (he still holds it) and get himself drafted by the New Jersey Nets -- not bad for a skinny six-foot white kid in a game yet to establish a three-point line. Sean Tuohy had fight enough in him for three. But one afternoon during seventh-grade basketball practice, Sean looked over at this bizarre parallel universe being created on the next court by this large, ferocious man and said, ''Oh, God, please don't ever let me get to the eighth grade.''

As it turned out, eighth grade was inevitable, though by the time we got to it Fitz had moved on to coach at the high school. My own experience of him began the summer after my freshman year -- after he quit the Oakland A's farm system and became the Newman baseball and basketball coach. I was 14, could pass for 12 and was of no obvious athletic use. It was the last night of the Babe Ruth season -- the summer league for 13-to-15-year-olds. We were tied for first place with our opponents. The stands were packed. Sean Tuohy was on the mound, it was the bottom of the last inning and we were up, 2-1. (These things you don't forget.) There was only one out, and the other team put runners on first and third, but, from my comfortable seat on the bench, it was hard to get too worked up about it. The first rule of New Orleans life was that whatever game he happened to be playing, Sean Tuohy won it. Then Fitz made his second trip of the inning to the pitcher's mound, and all hell broke loose in the stands. Their fans started hollering at the umps: it was illegal to visit the mound twice in one inning and leave your pitcher in. The umpires, wary as ever of being caught listening to fans, were clearly inclined to overlook the whole matter. But before they could, a well-known New Orleans high-school baseball coach who carried a rule book on his person came out from the stands onto the field and stopped the game. He, the umps had to listen to: Sean Tuohy had to be yanked.

Out of one side of his mouth Fitz tore into the rule-book-carrying high-school coach -- who scurried, ratlike, back to the safety of his seat; out of the other he shouted at me to warm up. The ballpark was already in an uproar, but the sight of me (I resembled a scoop of vanilla ice cream with four pickup sticks jutting out from it) sent their side into spasms of delight. I represented an extreme example of our team's general inability to intimidate the opposition.
The other team's dugout needed a shave; ours needed, at most, a bath. (Some unwritten rule in male adolescence dictates that the lower your parents' tax bracket, the sooner you acquire facial hair.) As I walked out to the mound, their hairy, well-muscled players danced jigs in their dugout, their coaches high-fived, their fans celebrated and shouted lighthearted insults. The game, as far as they were concerned, was over. I might have been unnerved if I'd paid them any attention; but I was, at that moment, fixated on the only deeply frightening thing in the entire ballpark: Coach Fitz.

By then I had heard (from the eighth graders, I believe) all the Fitz stories. Billy Fitzgerald had been one of the best high-school basketball and baseball players ever seen in New Orleans, and he'd gone on to play both sports at Tulane University. He'd been a top draft pick of the Oakland A's. But we never discussed Fitz's accomplishments. We were far more interested in his intensity. We heard that when he was in high school, when his team lost, Fitz refused to board the bus; he walked, in his catcher's gear, from the ballpark at one end of New Orleans to his home at the other. Back then he played against another New Orleans superstar, Rusty Staub. While on second base, Staub made the mistake of taunting Fitz's pitcher. Fitz raced out from behind home plate and, in full catcher's gear, chased a terrified future All-Star around the field.
I'd heard another, similar story about Fitz and Pete Maravich, the basketball legend. When Fitz's Tulane team played Maravich's L.S.U. team, Fitz, a tenacious defender, had naturally been assigned to guard Maravich. Pistol Pete had rung him up for 66 points, but before he finished, he, too, had made the mistake of taunting Fitz. It was, as the eighth graders put it, a two-hit fight: Fitz hit Pistol Pete, and Pistol Pete hit the floor. But it got better: Maravich's father, Press, happened to be the L.S.U. basketball coach. When he saw Fitz deck his son, he ran out and jumped on the pile. Fitz made the cover of Sports Illustrated, with Pete in a headlock and Press on his back.

And now he was standing on the pitcher's mound, erupting with a Vesuvian fury, waiting for me to arrive. When I did, he handed me the ball and said, in effect, Put it where the sun don't shine. I looked at their players, hugging and mugging and dancing and jeering. No, they did not appear to suspect that I was going to put it anywhere unpleasant. Then Fitz leaned down, put his hand on my shoulder and, thrusting his face right up to mine, became as calm as the eye of a storm. It was just him and me now; we were in this together. I have no idea where the man's intention ended and his instincts took over, but the effect of his performance was to say, There's no one I'd rather have out here in this life-or-death situation. And I believed him!

As the other team continued to erupt with joy, Fitz glanced at the runner on third base, a reedy fellow with an aspiring mustache, and said, ''Pick him off.'' Then he walked off and left me all alone.

If Zeus had landed on the pitcher's mound and issued the command, it would have had no greater effect. The chances of picking a man off third base are never good, and even worse in a close game, when everyone's paying attention. But this was Fitz talking, and I can still recall, 30 years later, the sensation he created in me. I didn't have words for it then, but I do now: I am about to show the world, and myself, what I can do.

At the time, this was a wholly novel thought for me. I'd spent the previous school year racking up C-minuses, picking fights with teachers and thinking up new ways to waste my time on earth. Worst of all, I had the most admirable, loving parents on whom I could plausibly blame nothing. What was wrong with me? I didn't know. To say I was confused would be to put it kindly; ''inert'' would be closer to the truth. In the three years before I met Coach Fitz, the only task for which I exhibited any enthusiasm was sneaking out of the house at 2 in the morning to rip hood ornaments off cars -- you needed a hacksaw and two full nights to cut the winged medallion off a Bentley. Now this fantastically persuasive man was insisting, however improbably, that I might be some other kind of person. A hero.

The kid with the fuzz on his upper lip bounced crazily off third base, oblivious to the fact that he represented a new solution to an adolescent life crisis. I flipped the ball to the third baseman, and it was in his glove before the kid knew what happened. The kid just flopped around in the dirt as the third baseman applied the tag. I struck out the next guy, and we won the game.
Afterward, Coach Fitz called us together for a brief sermon. Hot with rage at the coach with the rule book -- the ballpark still felt as if it were about to explode -- he told us all that there was a quality no one within five miles of this place even knew about, called ''guts,'' which we all embodied. He threw me the game ball and said he'd never in all his life seen such courage on the pitcher's mound. He'd caught Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers and a lot of other big-league pitchers -- but who were they?

A few weeks later, when school started again, I was told the headmaster wanted to see me in his office. I didn't need directions. (My most recent trip, a few months earlier, had come after I turned on an English teacher and asked, ''Are you always so pleasant or is this just an especially good day for you?'') But this time the headmaster had good news. Fitz had just spoken to him about me, he said. There might be hope after all.

But there wasn't, yet. I had thought the point of this whole episode was simple: winning is everything.

I confess that the current headmaster didn't clarify matters for me. Fitz had modified his behavior -- he was, the headmaster agreed, mellower than before -- and yet his intensity was more loathed than ever. Anyway, his unmodified behavior is the reason his former players want to name the gym for him. The school had given me a list of every player Fitz ever coached, most of whom I didn't know. I called up about 20 of them to ask them how they felt now about the experience. Their collective response could be fairly summarized in a sentence: Fitz changed my life. They all had Fitz stories, and it's worth hearing at least one of them, to get their general flavor. Here is Philip Skelding, a 30-year-old student at Harvard Medical School, who played basketball for Fitz:

''I wasn't a natural athlete -- I had to work at it. It was my junior year -- the first year we won the state championship -- and no one thought we'd be any good. We had just finished second in the John Ehret tournament. When we got back to the gym, Fitz was pretty quiet in his demeanor and jingling the coins in his pocket, as he always would. He had our runner-up trophy in his hand. 'You know what I think about second place?' he said. 'Here's what I think about second place.' And he slammed the trophy against the floor, and we all flinched and covered our eyes, because these tiny shattered pieces were flying all over the place. The little man from the top of the trophy landed in the lap of the guy next to me. I loved that moment. We took the little man and put him up on top of the air conditioner. We touched the little man on our way out of the locker room, before every game. Second place: yeah, that wasn't our goal, either. . . . I still think about Fitz. In moments when my own discipline is slipping, I will have flashbacks of him.''
The more I looked into it, the more mysterious this new twist in Fitz's coaching career became.
The parents never confronted Fitz directly. They did their work behind his back. The closest to a direct complaint that I could tease from the parents I spoke with came from a father of one of the team's better players. ''You know about what Fitz did to Peyton Manning, don't you?'' he said. Manning, now the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts and most valuable player of the N.F.L. last season, played basketball and baseball at Newman for Fitz. Fitz, the story went, had benched Manning for skipping basketball practice, and Manning challenged him. They'd had words, maybe even come to blows, and Manning left the basketball team. And while he continued to play baseball for Fitz, their relationship was widely taken as proof, by those who sought it, that Fitz was out of control. ''You ought to read Peyton's book,'' the disgruntled father says. ''It's all in there.''

And it is. Manning wrote his memoirs with his father, Archie, and understandably, they are mostly about football. But it isn't his high-school football coach that Manning dwells on: it's Fitz. He goes on for pages about his old baseball coach, and while he says nothing critical, he does indeed reveal what Fitz did to him:

''One of the things I had to learn growing up was toughness, because it doesn't seem to be something you can count on being born with. Dad . . . says he may have told me, 'Peyton, you have to stand up for this or that,' but the resolve that gets it done is something you probably have to appreciate first in others. Coach Fitz was a major source for mine, and I'm grateful.''

Of course you should never trust a memoir. And so I called Peyton Manning, to make sure of his feelings. He might be one of the highest-paid players in pro football, but on the subject of Fitz, he has no sense of the value of his time. ''As far as the respect and admiration I feel for the man,'' Manning said, ''I couldn't put it into words. Just incredibly strong. Unlike some coaches -- for whom it's all about winning and losing -- Coach Fitz was trying to make men out of people. I think he prepares you for life. And if you want my opinion, the people who are screwing up high-school sports are the parents. The parents who want their son to be the next Michael Jordan. Or the parent who beats up the coach or gets into a fight in the stands. Here's a coach who is so intense. Yet he's never laid a hand on anybody.''

It was true. Fitz never laid a hand on anyone. He didn't need to. He had other ways of getting our attention.

It had been nine months since I'd established, to my satisfaction, my heroic qualities. I was now pitching for the varsity, and we had explicit training rules: no smoking, no drinking, no drugs, no staying out late. We signed a contract saying as much, but Fitz had too much of a talent for melodrama to leave our commitment to baseball so cut and dried. There were the written rules; and there were the rules. Over Easter vacation, half of adolescent New Orleans decamped for the Florida beaches, where sex, along with a lot of other things, was unusually obtainable. Fitz forbade anyone who played for him from going to Florida and, to help them resist temptation, held early-morning practices every day. Once, he discovered that two of our players had driven the eight hours to Florida and back, in the dead of night, between morning practices. He herded us all into the locker room and said that while he couldn't prove his case, he knew that some of us had strayed from the path, and that he hoped the culprits got sand in an awkward spot where it would hurt for the rest of their lives.

Graduating from Babe Ruth to the varsity with only the slightest physical justification (I now resembled less a scoop of vanilla ice cream than a rounder hobbit) meant coping with an out-of-control hormonal arms race. A few of our players had sprouted sideburns, but their players retaliated by growing terrifying little goatees and showing up at games with wives and, on one shocking occasion, children. I still had no muscles and no facial hair, but I did have my own odor.
I smelled, pretty much all the time, like Ben-Gay. I wore the stuff on my perpetually sore right shoulder and elbow. I wore it, also, on the bill of my cap, where Fitz had taught me to put it, to generate the grease for a spitball that might, just, compensate for my pathetic fastball.
Everywhere I went that year I emitted a vaguely medicinal vapor, and it is the smell of Ben-Gay I associate with what happened next.

What happened next is that, during Mardi Gras break, I left New Orleans with my parents for a week of vacation. I had thought that if I was a baseball success -- and I was becoming one -- that was enough. But it wasn't; success, to Fitz, was a process. Life as he led it and expected us to lead it had less to do with trophies than with sacrifice in the name of some larger purpose:
baseball. By missing a full week of practices over Mardi Gras, I had just violated some sacred but unwritten rule. Now I was back on the mound, a hunk of Ben-Gay drooping from the brim of my cap, struggling to relocate myself and my curveball. I didn't have the nerve to throw the spitter. I'd walked the first two batters I faced and was pitching nervously to the third.

Ball 2.

As I pitched I had an uneasy sensation -- on bad days I can still feel it, like a bum knee -- of having strayed from the Fitz Way. But I had no evidence of Fitz's displeasure; he hadn't said anything about the missed practices. Then his voice boomed out of our dugout.

''Where was Michael Lewis during Mardi Gras?''

I did my best not to look over, but out of the corner of my eye I could see him. He was pacing the dugout. I threw another pitch.

Ball 3.

''Everyone else was at practice. But where was Michael Lewis?''

I was now pitching with one eye on the catcher's mitt and the other on our dugout.

Ball 4.

The bases were now loaded. Another guy in need of a shave came to the plate.

''I'll tell you where Michael Lewis was: skiing!''

Skiing, in 1976, for a 15-year-old New Orleanian, counted as an exotic activity. Being exposed as a vacation skier on a New Orleans baseball field in 1976 was as alarming as being accused of wearing silk underpants in a maximum-security prison. Then and there, on the crabgrass of Slidell, La., Coach Fitz packed into a word what he usually required an entire speech to say: privilege corrupts. It enabled you to do what money could buy instead of what duty demanded. You were always skiing. As a skier, you developed a conviction, buttressed by your parents' money, that life was meant to be easy. That when difficulty arose, you could just hire someone to deal with it. That nothing mattered so much that you should suffer for it.

But now, suddenly, something did matter so much that I should suffer for it: baseball. Or, more exactly, Fitz! The man was pouring his heart and soul into me and demanding in return only that I pour myself into the game. He'd earned the right to holler at me whatever he wanted to holler. I got set to throw another pitch in the general direction of the strike zone.

''Can someone please tell me why Michael Lewis thinks it's O.K. to leave town and go . . . and go . . . and go? . . . ''

Please, don't say skiing, I recall thinking as the ball left my hand. Or, if you must say skiing, don't shout it. Just then, the batter hit a sharp one-hopper back to the mound. I raised my glove to start the face-saving double play at the plate, but with my ears straining to catch Fitz's every word. And then, abruptly, his shouting stopped.

When I regained consciousness, I was on my back, blinking up at a hazy, not terribly remorseful Fitz. The baseball had broken my nose in five places. Oddly enough, I did not feel wronged. I felt, in an entirely new way, cared for. On the way to the hospital to get my nose fixed, I told my mother that the next time the family went skiing -- or anyplace else, for that matter -- they'd be going without me. After the doctor pieced my nose back together, he told me that if I still wanted to play baseball, I had to do it behind a mask. Grim as it all sounds, I don't believe I had ever been happier in my adolescent life. The rest of that season, when I walked out to the pitcher's mound, I resembled a rounder hobbit with a bird cage on his face; but I'd never been so filled with a sense of purpose. Immediately, I had a new taste for staying after baseball practice, for extra work. I became, in truth, something of a zealot, and it didn't take long to figure out how much better my life could be if I applied this new zeal acquired on a baseball field to the rest of it. It was as if this baseball coach had reached inside me, found a rusty switch marked Turn On Before Attempting to Use and flipped it.

Not long after that, the English teacher who had the misfortune also to experience me as a freshman held me after class to say that by some happy miracle, I was not recognizably the same human being I'd been a year earlier. What had happened? she asked. It was hard to explain.

I hadn't been to a Newman baseball game since I last played in one. On a sunny winter day this February, Fitz had arranged for his defending state champions to play a better team from a bigger school, 20 miles outside New Orleans. His hair had gone gray and he was carrying a few more pounds, but he retained his chief attribute: the room still felt pressurized simply because he was in it. ''I definitely have a penchant for crossing the line,'' he said in his prison cell of an office before the game. ''And some parents definitely think I'm out of control.'' The biggest visible change in his coaching life was a thicker veneer of professionalism. His players now had fancy batting cages, better weight rooms, the latest training techniques and scouting reports on opposing players. What they didn't have, most of them, was a meaningful relationship with their coach. ''I can't get inside them anymore,'' he said. ''They don't get it. But most kids don't get it.''

By ''it'' he did not mean the importance of winning or even, exactly, of trying hard. What he meant was neatly captured on a sheet of paper he held in his hand, which he intended to photocopy and hand out to his players, as the keynote for one of his sermons. The paper contained a quote from Lou Piniella, the legendary baseball manager: he will never be a tough competitor. he doesn't know how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. ''It'' was the importance of battling one's way through all the easy excuses life offers for giving up. Fitz had a gift for addressing this psychological problem, but he was no longer permitted to use it. ''The trouble is,'' he said, ''every time I try, the parents get in the way.'' About parents, he knew more than I ever imagined. Alcoholism, troubled marriages, overbearing fathers -- he was disturbingly alert to problems in his players' home lives. (Did he know all this stuff about us?)

Fitz's office wasn't the office of a coach who wanted you to know of his success. There were no trophies or plaques, though he'd won enough of them to fill five offices. Other than a few old newspaper clips about his four children, now grown, there were few mementos. What he did keep was books -- lots of them. He was always something of a closet intellectual, though I was barely aware of this other side of him. I remember: when I first met him, he taught eighth-grade science and had a degree in biology. There were other clues that, as easily as he could be typecast as the Intense Coach, he had other dimensions: he was a devoted father. His wife, Peggy, was so pretty she made us all blush, and more to the point, she didn't seem to be the slightest bit intimidated by her husband. He had friends who didn't bite, and he even made small talk. Away from the game he had the ease and detachment of an aristocrat. But as a boy, I paid no attention to how he was away from the game. All I knew was that he cared about the way we played a game in a way we'd never seen anyone care about anything. All I wanted from him was his intensity.

''What really happened in your fight with Pete Maravich?'' I asked him.

And he laughed. He never beat up Pete Maravich. (The truly brave thing he did was ask his Tulane coach for the job of guarding Maravich.) And though he did appear with Maravich on the cover of Sports Illustrated, he was guarding him, not throttling him. He never chased around after Rusty Staub either. Why would he be chasing Rusty Staub? he wondered. They'd gone to the same high school, though not at the same time; Staub was a senior when he was in the eighth grade. He never walked home after his high-school team lost -- they seldom lost -- though he had once, at Tulane. (''I got to the parish line and thought, hmm, is this really a good idea?'') So where did they come from, these stories we told one another? They came from the imaginations of 14-year-old boys, in search of something even well-to-do parents couldn't provide.

In the corner of his office lay, haphazardly, an old stack of inspirational signs, hung by Fitz in the boys' locker room and removed for the current renovation -- the one that will leave the gym named for him. I picked one up and brushed the dust away: ''What is to give light must endure burning. -Viktor Frankl.''

He laughed. ''I don't think we'll be putting that one back up.''

Later, at the ballpark, a few of the fathers who had complained about Fitz clustered behind home plate. On the other end of the otherwise empty bleachers sat another man. His name was Stan Bleich, and he was a cardiologist who had grown up in Brooklyn. Both details were significant. He wasn't, like a lot of the dads, a lawyer. And he'd lived in New Orleans only 20 years, so by local standards he was an arriviste, an outsider. ''I've had three kids go through Newman -- I have 39 school years of Newman parent life,'' he said. ''And I've never once called the headmaster.''

That changed last summer. One of the fathers, upset about Fitz's speech to his son, called Stan to encourage him to join the group and file a formal complaint. Instead, Stan went to see the headmaster and make the case for the defense. ''The story had gotten so exaggerated,'' he told me. ''One parent said, 'Fitz called my kid fat.' But all Fitz said to that kid was, 'You promised me you'd lose 15 pounds, and you gained 10.''' Bleich said the parents told the headmaster that because of Fitz, the kids left with a bad taste in their mouths. ''I said: 'Wait a minute, shouldn't they leave with a bad taste in their mouths? They skipped practice. They didn't try.' The game when Fitz missed his grandson's christening, three of the kids took off for Paris.'' Stan said Fitz reminded him of a college professor he had -- and was grateful that he had. ''Ninety percent was not an A. One hundred percent was an A. Ninety percent was an F.'' He motioned to the group of fathers on the other end of the bleachers. ''A couple of those guys won't talk to me,'' he said, ''because I defended Fitz. But what can I do? My goal in life is not for my son to play college ball. Fitz has made my kid a better person, not just a better athlete. He's taught him that if he works at it, anything he wants, it's there for him.''

What was odd about this little speech -- and, as the game began, it became glaringly apparent -- was that Stan Bleich's son was far and away the team's best player. At last count more than 40 colleges were recruiting Jeremy Bleich to play baseball for them -- and he was still only a junior.
The question wasn't whether he would be able to play Division I college ball; the question was would he skip college to sign with the Yankees out of high school? He was a 16-year-old left-handed pitcher with a decent fastball, great command, a big-league change-up and charm to burn. He had no obvious baseball social deformity, other than his love for his coach, but that fact alone, it seemed, alienated him from his teammates. Someone had recently pelted the Bleich home with eggs. The older kids on the team poked fun at Jeremy but, in keeping with the spirit of their insurrection, never directly. ''I've never had anyone say anything to my face,'' Jeremy told me later. ''It's all behind my back. Like, last year, they started calling me 'J. Fitz.' I'm 15 years old and the seniors are making fun of me. I had no idea how to deal with it. They don't like me because I work hard? Because I care about it? I'm like, I can't change that.'' He never knows exactly what the other players might be saying about him, but he knows what they say about Fitz: ''They think his intensity is ridiculous.'' And maybe they do. Of course, one fringe benefit of laughing at intensity is that it enables you to ignore the claims that a new kind of seriousness makes upon you.

An invisible line ran from the parents' desire to minimize their children's discomfort to the choices the children make in their lives. A week after my trip to New Orleans, two days before the start of the 2004 regular season, eight players were caught drinking. All but one of them -- two team captains, two members of the school's honor committee -- lied about it before eventually confessing. After he handed out the obligatory school-sanctioned two-week suspensions to the eight players, Fitz gathered the entire team for a sharp little talk. Not two days before, he had the patience for a long sermon about the dangers of getting a little too good at displacing responsibility. (''You're gonna lose. You're gonna have someone else to blame for it.
But you're gonna lose. Is that what you want?'') Now he had the patience only for a vivid threat: ''I'm going to run you until you hate me.'' The first phone call, a few hours later, came from the mother of the third baseman, who said her son had drunk only ''one sip of a daiquiri'' and so shouldn't be made to run. She was followed by another father who wanted to know why his son, the second baseman, wasn't starting at shortstop instead.

There was always a question about whether Fitz controlled his temper, or his temper controlled him, or even if it mattered. In any case, the summer of 1976 was especially uncomfortable. Fitz had entered us in a new league, with the bigger, Catholic schools. Defeat followed listless defeat until one night we lost by some truly spectacular score. Twice at the end of the game Fitz shouted at our baserunners to slide, and perhaps not seeing the point when down by 15-2 in getting scraped or even dirty, they went in standing up. Afterward, at 11 o'clock or so, we piled off the bus and into the gym. Before we could undress, Fitz said, ''We're going out back.'' Out back of the gym was a surprisingly low-budget version of a playing field. The dirt was packed as hard as asphalt and speckled with shell shards, glass, bottle caps and God knows what else. Fitz lined us up behind first base and explained we were going to practice running to third. When we got there, we were to slide headfirst into the base. This, he said, would teach us to get down when he said to get down. Then he vanished into the darkness. A few moments later we heard his voice, from the general vicinity of third base. One by one, our players took off. In the beginning, there was some grumbling, but before long the only sound was of Fitz spotting a boy coming at him out of the darkness, shouting, ''Hit it!''

Over and again we circled the bases, finishing with a headfirst slide onto, in effect, concrete. We ran and slid on that evil field until we bled and gasped for breath. The boy in front of me, a sophomore new to Fitz, began to cry. Finally, Fitz decided we'd had enough and ordered us inside. Back in the light we marveled at the evening's most visible consequence: ripped, muddy and bloody uniforms. We undressed and began to throw them into the laundry baskets -until Fitz stopped us. ''We're not washing them,'' he said. ''Not until we win.''

Well, we were never going to win. We were out of our league. For the next few weeks -- seven games -- we wore increasingly foul and bloody and torn uniforms. We lost our ability to see our own filth; our appearance could be measured only by its effect on others. In that small community of people who cared about high-school baseball, word spread of this team that never bathed. People came to the ballpark just to see us get off the bus. Opposing teams, at first amused, became alarmed and then, I thought, just a tiny bit scared. You could see it in their eyes, the universal fear of the lunatic. Heh, heh, heh, those eyes said nervously, this is just a game, right? The guys on the other teams came to the ballpark to play baseball -- at which they just happened to be naturally superior. They played with one eye on the bar or the beach they were off to after the game. We alone were on this hellish quest for self-improvement.

After each loss we rode the bus back to the gym in silence. When we arrived, Fitz gave another of his sermons. They were always a little different, but they never strayed far from a general theme: What It Means to Be a Man. What it meant to be a man was that you struggled against your natural instinct to run away from adversity. You battled. ''You go to war with me, and I'll go to war with you,'' he loved to say. ''Jump on my back.'' The effect of his words on the male adolescent mind was greatly enhanced by their delivery. It's funny that after all these years I can recall only snippets of what Fitz said, but I can recall, in slow motion, everything he broke. There was the orange water cooler, cracked with a single swing of an aluminum baseball bat. There was a large white wall clock that hung in the Newman locker room for decades -- until he busted it with a single throw of a catcher's mitt.

The breaking of things was a symptom; the disease was the sheer effort the man put into the job of making us better. He was always the first to arrive and always the last to leave, and if any kid wanted to stay late for extra work, Fitz stayed with him. Before one game he became ill. He climbed on the bus in a cold sweat. It was an hour's drive to the ballpark that day, and he had the driver stop twice on the highway so he could get off and vomit. He remained sick right through the game and all the way home. When we arrived at the gym, he paused to vomit, then delivered yet another impassioned speech. A few nights later, after a game, in the middle of what must be the grubbiest losing streak in baseball history, I caught him walking. I was driving home, through a bad neighborhood, when I spotted him. Here he was, in one of America's murder capitals, inviting trouble. It was miles from the gym to his house, and he owned a car, yet he was hoofing it. What the hell is he doing? I thought, and then I realized: He's walking home! Just the way they said he'd done in high school, every time his team lost! It was as if he were doing penance for our sins.

And then something happened: we changed. We ceased to be embarrassed about our condition. We ceased, at least for a moment, to fear failure. We became, almost, a little proud. We were a bad baseball team united by a common conviction: those other guys might be better than us, but there is no chance they could endure Coach Fitz. The games became closer; the battles more fiercely fought. We were learning what it felt like to lay it all on the line. Those were no longer hollow words; they were a deep feeling. And finally, somehow, we won. No one who walked into our locker room as we danced around and hurled our uniforms into the washing machine and listened to the speech Fitz gave about our fighting spirit would have known that they were looking at a team that now stood 1-12.

We listened to the man because he had something to tell us, and us alone. Not how to play baseball, though he did that better than anyone. Not how to win, though winning was wonderful. Not even how to sacrifice. He was teaching us something far more important: how to cope with the two greatest enemies of a well-lived life, fear and failure. To make the lesson stick, he made sure we encountered enough of both. I never could have explained at the time what he had done for me, but I felt it in my bones all the same. When I came home one day during my senior year and found the letter saying that, somewhat improbably, I had been admitted to Princeton University, I ran right back to school to tell Coach Fitz. Then I grew up.

I'd gone back to New Orleans again. The Times-Picayune had just picked the Newman Greenies to win another state championship. The only hitch was that after the drinking suspensions, they didn't have nine eligible ballplayers. It was a glorious Saturday afternoon and they were meant to be playing a nonleague game, but the game had been canceled. Fitz said nothing to the players about the cancellations but instead took them onto the field out back and began to hit ground balls to the infielders and fly balls to the outfielders. His face had a waxen pallor, he was running a fever and he was not, truth to tell, in the sweetest of moods. He was under the impression that he was now completely hamstrung -- that if he did anything approaching what he'd like to do, ''I'll be in the headmaster's office on Monday morning.''

Nevertheless, a kind of tension built -- what's he going to do? what can he do? -- until finally he called the team in to home plate. On the hard field in front of him, only a few yards from the place where, years ago, another group of teenage boys slid until they hurt, they formed their usual semicircle. Fitz has a tone perhaps best described as unnervingly pleasant: it's pleasant because it's calm; it's unnerving because he's not. In this special tone of his, he began by telling them one of Aesop's fables. The fable was about a boy who hurls rocks into a pond until a frog rises up and asks him to stop. '''No,' says the boy, 'it's fun,''' Fitz said. ''And the frog says, 'What's fun for some is death to others.''' Before anyone could wonder how that frog might apply to a baseball team, Fitz said: ''That's how I feel about you right now. You are like that boy. You all are all about fun.'' His tone was still even, but it was the evenness of a pot of water just before the fire beneath it is turned up. Sure enough, a minute into the talk, his voice began to simmer.

''When are you consciously going to start dealing with the fact that this is a competitive situation? I mean, you are almost a recreational baseball team. The trouble is you don't play in a recreational league. You play serious, competitive interscholastic baseball. That means the other guy isn't out for recreation. He wants to strike you out. He wants to embarrass you . . . until your eyeballs roll over.''

The boys were paying attention now. The man was born to drill holes into thick skulls and shout through them. I was as riveted by his performance as I'd been 26 years ago -- which was good, as he was coming to his point:

''One of the goodies about athletics is you get to find out if you can stretch. If you can get better. But you've got to push. And you guys don't even push to get through the day. You put more effort into parties than you do into this team.''

He cited a few examples of parties into which his baseball players had put great effort. For a man with such overt contempt for parties, he was distressingly well informed about their details -- including the fact that, at some, the parents provided the booze:

''I know about parents. I know how much they love to say, 'I pay $14,000 in tuition, and so my little boy deserves to play.' No way. You earn the right to play. I had a mom and dad, too, you know. I loved my mom and dad. My dad didn't understand much about athletics, and so he didn't always get it. You have to make that distinction at some point. At some point you have to stand up and be a man and say: 'This is how I'm going to do it. This is how I'm going to approach it.' When is the last time any of you guys did that? No. For you, it's all 'fun.' Well, it's not all fun. Some days it's work.''

Then he wrapped it up, with a quote he attributed to Mark Twain, about how the difference between animals and people, the ability to think, is diminished by people's refusal to think. Aesop to Mark Twain, with a baseball digression and a lesson on self-weaning: the whole thing took five minutes.

And then his mood shifted completely. The kids climbed to their feet and followed their coach back to practice. He faced the most deeply entrenched attitude problem in his players in 31 years. His wife, Peggy, had hinted to me that for the first time, Fitz was thinking about giving up coaching altogether. He faced a climate of sensitivity that made it nearly impossible for him to change those attitudes. He faced, in short, a world trying to stop him from making his miracles.
And on top of it all, he had the flu. It counted as the lowest moment, easily, in his career as a baseball coach. Unfairly, I took the moment to ask him, ''Do you really think there's any hope for this team?'' The question startled him into a new freshness. He was alive, awake, almost well again. ''Always,'' he said. ''You never give up on a team. Just like you never give up on a kid.'' Then he paused. ''But it's going to take some work.''

And that's how I left him. Largely unchanged. No longer, sadly, my baseball coach. Instead, the kind of person who might one day coach my children. And when I think of that, I become aware of a new fear: that my children might never meet up with their Fitz. Or that they will, and their father will fail to understand what he's up to.

Michael Lewis is a contributing writer for the magazine. His most recent book, ''Moneyball,'' will be published in paperback next month.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Jonah Goldberg: Racism By Any Other Name

November 15, 2006 8:04 AM

It’s time to admit that “diversity” is code for racism. If it makes you feel better, we can call it “nice” racism or “well-intentioned” racism or “racism that’s good for you.” Except that’s the rub: It’s racism that may be good for you if “you” are a diversity guru, a rich white liberal, a college administrator or one of sundry other types. But the question of whether diversity is good for “them” is a different question altogether, and much more difficult to answer.

If by “them” you mean minorities such as Jews, Chinese Americans, Indian Americans and other people of Asian descent, then the ongoing national obsession with diversity probably isn’t good. Indeed, that’s why Jian Li, a freshman at Yale, filed a civil-rights complaint against Princeton University for rejecting him. Li had nigh-upon perfect test scores and grades, yet Princeton turned him down. He’ll probably get nowhere with his complaint — he did get into Yale after all — but it shines a light on an uncomfortable reality.

“Theoretically, affirmative action is supposed to take spots away from white applicants and redistribute them to underrepresented minorities,” Li told the Daily Princetonian. “What’s happening is one segment of the minority population is losing places to another segment of minorities, namely Asians to underrepresented minorities.”

Li points to a study conducted by two Princeton academics last year which concluded that if you got rid of racial preferences in higher education, the number of whites admitted to schools would remain fairly constant. However, without racial preferences, Asians would take roughly 80 percent of the positions now allotted to Hispanic and black students.

In other words, there is a quota — though none dare call it that — keeping Asians out of elite schools in numbers disproportionate to their merit. This is the same sort of quota once used to keep Jews out of the Ivy League — not because of their lack of qualifications, but because having too many Jews would change the “feel” of, say, Harvard or Yale. Today, it’s the same thing, only we’ve given that feeling a name: diversity.

The greater irony is that it is far from clear that diversity is good for black students either. Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, notes that there is now ample empirical data showing that the supposed benefits of diversity in education are fleeting when real and often are simply nonexistent. Black students admitted to universities above their skill level often do poorly and fail to graduate in high numbers. UCLA law professor Richard Sander found that nearly half of black law students reside in the bottom ten percent of their law-school classes. If they went to schools one notch down, they might do far better.

Kirsanow asks: “Would college administrators continue to mouth platitudes about affirmative action if their students knew that preferential admissions cause black law students to flunk out at two-and-a-half times the rate of whites? Or that black law students are six times less likely to pass the bar? Or that half of black law students never become lawyers?”

But all this misses the point. Today’s diversity doctrine was contrived as a means of making racial preferences permanent. After all, affirmative action was intended as a temporary remedy for the tragic mistreatment of blacks. But as affirmative action drifted into racial preferences, it became constitutionally suspect because racial preferences are by definition discriminatory. If I give extra credit to Joe because he’s black, I’m making things just that much harder for Tom because he’s white. The brilliance of the diversity doctrine is that it does an end-run around all of this by saying that diversity isn’t so much about helping the underprivileged, it’s about providing a rich educational experience for everyone.

When the University of Michigan’s admissions policies were being reviewed by the Supreme Court, former school president Lee Bollinger explained that diversity was as “as essential as the study of the Middle Ages, of international politics and of Shakespeare” because exposure to people of different hues lies at the core of the educational experience. That’s another way of saying that racial preferences are forever, just like the timeless works of the immortal bard. That business about redressing past discrimination against blacks is no longer the name of the game.

It’s difficult to put into words how condescending this is in that it renders black students into props, show-and-tell objects for the other kids’ educational benefit. There was a time when condescension, discrimination, arrogant social engineering along racial lines and the like were dubbed racism. And, to paraphrase Shakespeare, racism by any other name still stinks.

(C) 2006 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Bob Smizik: College presidents a greed apart

Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Imagine this: After the Steelers and Seattle Seahawks won conference championship games Jan. 22 of this year, the NFL announced the Super Bowl would be played not in two weeks but March 13.

Crazy, right?

What about this? After the National League Championship Series ended Oct. 19, it was announced the St. Louis Cardinals would begin play in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers Dec. 9.

Idiotic, right?

Why would any sport on any level wait more than seven weeks after determining the participants to play its championship event?

That's a good question for the NCAA, which abdicates the responsibility it accepts in every other sport by allowing the championship of Division I-A football to be run by people who don't have the courage to buck an archaic and anti-educational system and whose primary interest is financial.

Would the NCAA allow its basketball tournament to have regional finals the last Saturday in March and begin the Final Four in mid-May?

Of course, it wouldn't. But it is allowing Ohio State and Michigan, one of which will play for the national football championship, to play its final game Saturday and then take off 51 days before playing for the title Jan. 8.

There is no logical explanation for this other than it always has been done that way before.

Apparently bent on getting every possible dollar out of football -- the better to fund other sports -- and every possible mention in the news -- the better to attract more student applicants -- the presidents of the Division I-A football universities have no intention of changing this irrational system.

The underlings of these presidents -- coaches, athletic directors, conference commissioners -- never miss an opportunity to gush about what fine fellows these men are and how much their support means to college athletics. In reality, they're every bit as unscrupulous as the dozen or so coaches who face NCAA sanctions every year for cheating.

Let's not forget it was a segment of this group, the presidents of the member universities of the Atlantic Coast Conference, who didn't give a second thought in 2003 to an attempt to obliterate the Big East for no other reason than it might make them a few extra bucks.

Now they stand four square behind such unsound educational principles as a 12-game regular football season; a basketball season that opens around Nov. 1 instead of like it used to after Thanksgiving; a bowl season so expanded that what once occupied a few days at the end of the year now runs from Dec. 19 through Jan. 8.

They have no shame in adopting these professional practices, which is quite understandable considering the college game differs from the professional one only in the amount of money paid to the players. It doesn't bother these presidents that their football and basketball programs are not so much educational entities as they are minor-league systems for the NFL and NBA.

This year, there will be 32 bowl games, beginning Dec. 19 with the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia, and ending Jan. 8 with the title game. The minor bowls used to get out of the road before Jan. 1, but that's no longer the case. The International Bowl will be played Jan. 6 in Toronto and the GMAC Bowl Jan. 7 in Mobile, Ala.

There will be 64 teams participating in these game, which is more than half of the 119 colleges that are members of Division I-A. Whereas it once took an 8-3, maybe a 7-4, record to earn a bowl invitation, these days six losses will get you in.

These bowl games exist for one primary reason: To provide programming for ESPN. Twenty one of the 32 games will be carried by ESPN, which has an audience that never tires of college games, regardless of how meaningless. It is not too far-fetched to suggest that if ESPN can find the sites and the advertisers, in the not-too-distant future teams with losing records will be extending their seasons with a bowl game.

The upshot of this ridiculously overextended bowlmania is an extension of the season that takes away even more classroom time than the normal activities of a Division I-A athlete. There are more practices, more mental preparation, more toll on the body and less time for studies, less time to be a college student.

If the NCAA had the guts to take control of the football season, it could do away with much of this abuse. A 16-team playoff, beginning the first week in December, would have every team, or all but two, finished by the end of the month. Such a plan would end the season for 103 of the I-A teams in November, allowing those players to get back to their studies and have a chance to be a student.

It makes perfect sense to almost everyone but the ones who count: The greedy college presidents.

(Bob Smizik can be reached at )

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Jason Whitlock: NBA players need Stern's leadership

Posted on Sun, Nov. 12, 2006
The Kansas City Star
Previous columns

David Stern, the best friend black athletes have ever had, is under attack again for his efforts to protect NBA players from their own unprofessional, profit-killing behavior.

And, once again, I’m going to jump to the defense of the best, most-fair-minded commissioner in professional sports.

Stern has a reputation as a bully. He’s more than willing to pick up a phone and curse out a member of the media or anyone he believes has harmed his product. He’s a dictator. He needs to be.

He has quite possibly the most difficult job in professional sports. He lords over easily the most self-absorbed, spoiled, immature and hip-hop-influenced group of athletes on the planet.

It’s his job to clean up the image of the NBA so the league can experience growth. That’s the mandate given to him by his bosses, the league’s owners. His players, for the most part, don’t much care about the growth of the league. They’re rich beyond their wildest imaginations from shoe and team contracts, enjoy almost unlimited freedom and star power, and are surrounded by well-meaning, simple-minded entourages.

All of this forces Stern to eschew negotiation with his players when it comes to their on-court conduct. He passes rules. His latest basically forbids his players from confronting referees about foul calls. The refs have been instructed to T-up the offenders quickly.

It’s a good rule, one that should be adopted by high schools and colleges. The rule promotes good sportsmanship. It protects the league’s refs who became the focus of Dallas owner Mark Cuban’s NBA finals “Cuban Whistle Crisis” last season.

More importantly, the rule encourages the players to play basketball rather than stand at one end of the court and glare at the refs while play ensues.

One of the biggest knocks on the NBA is that the players don’t play hard all the time. Watching Rasheed Wallace (and others) yell at refs contributes to this negative perception. If you’ve attended or watched an NBA regular-season game over the last 10 years, you’ve seen countless players turn their attention away from play on the court and engage a referee.

Basketball is a continuous-action sport. It’s not baseball or even football. I’m sure focus groups revealed to Stern and the owners that basketball fans hate to see the players bicker with refs. It’s boring, frustrating and contributes to a negative image of the players.

Stern took the appropriate step to eliminate the problem. He acted in the best interest of his players. Not surprisingly, the players have reacted like Stern stripped them of some constitutional right or outlawed tattoos and strip-club visits. The players union considered suing the league. NBA player groupies in the media blasted Stern, and some even suggested that Stern is an old white man who can’t relate to his predominantly young black players.

Hmm. Young people in general, and young black men in particular, don’t need leaders who can relate to them. They need leaders who see their unlimited potential and have the courage to demand that they reach it.

Stern is demonstrating the exact kind of leadership we need more of in all walks of life. Rather than accept the poor behavior of his players and/or quicken the importation of easier-to-control-and-assimilate foreign-born players, Stern continues to enact rules (dress code, harsh penalties for negative interaction with fans) that make American-born players more marketable.

Stern is dealing with a group of young men in general who have been consumed with their physical development far more than their intellectual development since about age 10. Their physical gifts earned them the right to treat education as an afterthought. Many of his players come from dysfunctional, single-parent households or worse.

They’re not prepared for the NBA.

No one is prepared to be a 20-year-old millionaire celebrity performing in front of the world. Unlike football and basketball players, most NBA players don’t spend three or four years in college or in the minor leagues preparing for stardom. They show up at 18 or 19 with a childish posse in tow and visions of living a rapper’s life.

There’s a reason one-fifth of the Pacers roster was at a strip club at 3 a.m. packing guns and arguing with knuckleheads in the parking lot. Stern has been forced to beg his players to leave their guns at home. Why? Because their off-court behavior impacts the value of the franchises Stern is charged with making more valuable.

Stern’s next new rule might involve forcing his players to jog back on defense in the final seconds of a blowout. LeBron James, the league’s most marketable star, is predictably clueless about shouldering the burden of leadership of his team and serving as the game’s top ambassador.

In the sports world, David Stern is the principal from the movie “Lean On Me,” ‘Crazy’ Joe Clark. Stern is trying to create sanity in a world of chaos, and he’s doing a good job.

To reach Jason Whitlock, call (816) 234-4869 or send e-mail to For previous columns, go to

Springsteen Inc.: Business Lessons From the Boss

By Sandy Neiman
Pittsburgh Quarterly
Fall 2006

After 12 years observing The Boss,
a lawyer shares lessons from the best business model he's seen.

It was Christmas 1978, and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were playing at Pittsburgh's Stanley Theater. A mutual friend asked my wife to relay a message to sax player "Big Man" Clarence Clemons and ask him to call her. We had a notion of who Bruce was but had never heard of Clarence. Clarence answered his phone, immediately asked my wife how she looked and invited her to his room. He was disappointed to find that she was married but then said, "OK. Bring him too." When told that we had a sleeping child, he asked, "Where do you live?" Clarence's response seemed strange at the time. Those who know Clarence would see this as absolutely consistent with his gregarious nature.

Shortly thereafter, at 1 a.m., all six feet four inches, 275 pounds of Clarence arrived at our Shadyside home. An African-American wearing a big cowboy hat, his first words were, "It's not easy getting a cab in the middle of the night in Pittsburgh when you look like me." We spent the next four hours talking and laughing, as if we were old friends. I drove Clarence to the hotel at 5 a.m., and, as he had predicted, several young women were waiting for him in the lobby. We went to the show that evening. We were blown away by Bruce and amazed to see the audience go crazy every time Clarence played a solo. Over the next few months, we became close friends with Clarence, often visiting his house in Sea Bright, N.J. It took a day to recover for each day that we spent with him.

In 1983, Clarence asked me to help him with some business and legal matters. Later that year, I became his manager, just as his first solo album was to be released. That meant representing him in his business dealings with Springsteen's Thrill Hill Productions and the record label, as well as promoting his independent career. The initial period of this professional relationship lasted six years through 1989 with a second term from 1993-95. It included the hottest series of entertainment events of the 1980s, the 157-show "Born in the USA" world tour from June 1984 through October 1985. When tickets went on sale for the Washington, D.C., show, the ordering frenzy collapsed the phone system. Nine shows in the 90,000-seat Los Angeles Coliseum sold out in a few hours.

Over my 35-year career as a lawyer and business consultant, I've worked with firms of many sizes and stripes. I've seen good, bad and mediocre management. Of them all, though, the most impressive business operation I've seen close-up is the entertainment empire created and ruled by Bruce Springsteen. It's been over 30 years since the October 1975 day that Springsteen appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek. Since then, he has stayed at or near the pinnacle of the entertainment world. He has earned hundreds of millions of dollars, with a level and longevity of business success that ranks with the most successful corporations. Many of those corporate success stories have been studied and written up in the Harvard Business review and other journals. Consider what follows to be my own case study, based on observations of the principles that have made what I am calling "Springsteen Inc.," a business success.

hire well

The culture and tone of an organization generally reflects the person at the top. And Bruce should be considered the active, hands-on chairman of the board, with Jon Landau, his long-time manager and one of his producers, as the brilliant CEO. The chairman's belief in the CEO was such that Bruce was willing to interrupt his career for more than two years in the 1970s to litigate the termination of a previous management contract in order to work with Landau.

The wisdom of selecting outstanding executives, staying with them and valuing their opinions was never more evident than in the success of the "Born in the USA" album. It is recognized as the catalyst that took Bruce to super stardom. In retrospect, it might appear that six top-10 singles from that album made success inevitable. But album success in the mid-80s required substantial radio airplay for its singles. Bruce had only achieved one top-five single in his entire career before that album. He needed a smash first single. Landau and the executives at Columbia didn't believe they had it, when, after years of work, Bruce gave them what he believed was a finished album. Springsteen was angry when Landau told him he needed to write another song to be the first single. He trusted Landau, though, and wrote the breakthrough "Dancing in the Dark." Without that, the album clearly wouldn't have soared as high and jump-started a world-wide Bruce frenzy.

Landau, however, is only one example of individuals who run a "rock-solid" organization. Excellence encompasses the entire team: assistant manager Barbara Carr, road manager George Travis, personal assistant Terry Magovern and many others. Bruce has been with the same record label — Columbia — for his entire career. His attorney has been the legal giant Allen Grubman of Grubman Indursky Schindler PC. He has used Breslauer, Jacobson, Rutman & Sherman, the entertainment industry's leading money management firm. The entire organization's style is quiet efficiency and effectiveness, a remarkable blend of competence. Even when Bruce does a solo acoustic performance, he takes key team members with him. At one solo performance in Pittsburgh, he had Landau, Carr, Travis and Magovern to meet his needs. During the "Born in the USA" tour, the road crew included Bruce's accountants. Nothing is left to chance.

exercise control

Bruce Springsteen and George Steinbrenner are both known as the "Boss," and that is an appropriate description for both. Their organizations reflect their respective characters and characteristics. Steinbrenner exercises absolute control over the Yankees. It might surprise some to know that Springsteen exercises absolute control over his domain, albeit in a very different way.

A successful, enduring business enterprise requires maximum control of its environment, and Springsteen Inc. closely controls anything and everything it can. Through his publishing companies, Bruce owns the rights to all of his music. The Beatles lost control of their music and, consequently, the ability to control their musical heritage. Michael Jackson bought the Beatles' catalog, outbidding Paul McCartney for ownership of the Beatles' songs. For that reason, you see many commercials using those songs. It is inconceivable that Bruce would allow that to happen to him and his music.

On stage, Bruce and Clarence played the roles of buddies and almost equals. In business, The Boss closely oversaw what The Big Man did. I had to keep Landau informed about everything that I was doing and planning. A revealing example of the relationship related to Clemons' record deal with Columbia, Bruce's label, signed before I represented Clarence. The deal gave Columbia an option after two albums, allowing the label to abandon Clarence or continue the contract for two more albums.

In early 1986, I was told by a Columbia executive that the option was not going to be exercised. I then talked with other labels. One day after I told Jon Landau that Clarence would sign with another label, Columbia exercised its option. Springsteen Inc. did not want its key employees straying too far.

satisfy the customers

Every business publication currently features articles about how critical it is to be responsive to your customers' demands. Springsteen Inc. has always given fans superior recorded products and live performances. He records many times the number of songs that actually go on a released album. His four-hour concerts with the E Street Band are legendary. There are no opening acts there. As Clarence once explained the strategy, "We play until the audience is exhausted."

One time he fell short. In the fall of 1989, for personal and professional reasons, Bruce terminated his working relationship with everyone in the E Street Band except his wife, a back-up singer, and one other member. He later toured with another group of musicians, the equal of E Street. However, as well as Bruce performed with that band, it could not produce the same magical interactions that fans had come to love in a Springsteen concert. When the tour came through Pittsburgh in December 1992, there were not enough people interested for me to even use the tickets I was allotted.

Bruce assessed the situation and made a change. He brought the E Street Band together again for recording sessions in 1995 and to the enormous satisfaction of his fans, full-scale touring in 1999-2000 . The "Reunion Tour" included 15 sold-out shows at Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey. It culminated with 10 sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City. His 2002 album, "The Rising," recorded with the E Street Band, was a critical and commercial success, as was the tour to promote it.

maintain high quality

It helps that Bruce is a great talent, with many Grammys and an Oscar for the title track of the movie "Philadelphia." His commitment to quality is unwavering. And the result is remarkable customer brand loyalty.

Springsteen's commitment to quality limited his willingness to work on Clarence's solo albums. On Clarence's first album, Bruce allowed use of a song he had written, and he was a producer. He appeared in the first video for that album. With determination, he polished a car in his role as attendant in a car wash. Nonetheless, even for a friend, he wouldn't compromise his standards.
On the second album, he wouldn't sing a duet with Clarence that might have been a No. 1 hit. Narada Michael Walden, Grammy winning Producer of the Year, wrote a duet for Clarence with Bruce clearly in mind. Jackson Browne stepped in, and the duet, "You're a Friend of Mine," reached top-10 status in cities from the East Coast through the Mountain States for several weeks during the 1985 Christmas season. After reaching No. 18 on the Billboard chart nationally, it was not added to any major West Coast stations' play lists. That brick wall would have disappeared if Bruce had been involved. The duet would have continued to advance up the charts. I was very disappointed Bruce didn't do the duet, yet I couldn't fault him for believing that the song and Clarence's vocals, didn't meet his exacting standards.

stay loyal to the brand

Large corporations would do well to mirror Springsteen Inc.'s consistency in branding a public image. Although a multimillionaire for decades, Bruce is still seen as a working class hero. Neither he, nor his music, nor those close to him would ever be allowed to tarnish or distort the brand.

In August 1985, I met with Phil Dusenberry, vice chairman of BBDO Worldwide. He is the advertising genius behind Pepsi's victory in the Cola Wars with Coke. He authorized me to deliver a $6 million offer for Bruce to make a three-to five-second visual-only appearance in a commercial starring Clarence. I presented the offer to Landau. He promised to tell Bruce, but he told me Bruce would never tarnish his image with a commercial. After that rejection, I went back to Dusenberry and suggested "Ad Aid" with all fees contributed to charity. Dusenberry offered to establish a foundation Bruce would control and to which all fees would be contributed, including BBDO's, Clarence's and Bruce's. He promised the initial millions in fees would be supplemented by public fundraising. Even as revised, Landau said Bruce would not lend his name to a commercial venture.

Bruce did authorize Clarence to do an American Express print ad with renewal for a second year. I advised Landau that I was seeking other advertising gigs. He didn't tell me not to do that, because he obviously didn't believe I might be successful. But we landed a number of major advertisers. The best offer came from Diet Coke's agency. Clarence signed to do a commercial with the emerging star Whitney Houston in late January 1986. A sax was rigged so that flames would burst from it when Clarence leaped from a piano and began to play. Bruce stopped by the house the night before Clarence was to go to Los Angeles to shoot the commercial. He made it clear to Clarence this type of commercial was inappropriate for a member of his band. The next morning I had to call and cancel with the agency representative waiting for Clarence to arrive on the set. The agency thought his cancellation was related to Coke's sales to apartheid South Africa. They offered to make a grand gesture to placate Clarence. The ad was shot without Clarence. Landau later made clear Clarence could not have done the commercial and remained in the E Street Band.

Until the 2004 John Kerry candidacy, political affiliation was absolutely contrary to the brand. By then, Bruce was an entrenched icon. His uncharacteristic departure from his image and brand consistency was unlikely to adversely affect business. A more typical example of Springsteen Inc.'s approach to branding occurred during the 1984 presidential campaign. In mid-September, then-President Ronald Reagan's speechwriters superficially looked at Bruce's songs and invoked his name in a campaign speech. During a concert in Pittsburgh shortly thereafter, Bruce mocked the president's speech. This led Democratic candidate Walter Mondale to suggest that Bruce supported him. That produced an immediate denial from Landau and a retraction from the Mondale organization.

treat your employees well

The contemporary business wisdom says you must treat your employees fairly in order to have them deliver outstanding quality to customers. That's Southwest Airlines' highly publicized creed as it completes 35 years of growth and profitability. Springsteen Inc. has always operated this way. Bruce rewarded the E Street Band's loyalty by making them all multimillionaires via a percentage of net profits from the "Born in the USA" tour (ticket sales and merchandising) and from the subsequent Live album encompassing 1975-1985.

The band members' loyalty came principally from Bruce's leadership. Like soldiers following a great general into battle, band members believed in their Boss.

I once asked Clarence if he were surprised by the phenomenal success. He said, "From when I first joined Bruce, I always knew that this would happen." Unwavering faith in Bruce withstood early days of long, cold bus rides and plugs pulled on the sound system when they were opening a show.

Business leaders should learn this from Bruce Springsteen: Employees will accept tight controls and clear direction and even allow their egos to serve the leader, if they (a) passionately believe in the leader, (b) absolutely buy into the direction in which he/she is taking them, and (c) are generously compensated.

show character and will

Given the tightly controlled nature of the organization, business publications and MBAprograms may never be able to analyze Bruce Springsteen's business acumen. If they ever could, they'd find a man who would have become a successful leader in whatever industry he chose.

It boils down to character and will. In an age when corporate executives commit fraud and other crimes, the chairman of Springsteen Inc. and his management team stand out as exemplars.
This is especially remarkable in an industry in which offensive and boorish behavior is rarely punished and sometimes adulated. Bruce is a family man. He has kept his 55-year-old body in game shape. Like a veteran athlete, he remains at a world-class level long after most of his peers have retiredor are performing far below their peaks. He is a loyal friend, even to musicians who cannot possibly advance his career interests. For many years, he has worked, appeared and even toured with Pittsburgh's Joe Grushecky.

My wife and I got a special insight into the source of Bruce's strength and character when we stood next to his mother during an L.A. concert. 90,000 people listened in hushed silence while Bruce told a captivating, graphic story. Mrs. Springsteen exclaimed, "I don't care if he's the biggest rock and roll star in the world. If he says f___ one more time, I'm going to wash his mouth out with soap."

Sandy Neiman, a Shadyside resident, has been in private legal practice since 1981. Also is a business consultant, he managedÝClarence Clemons for 12 years.

Patrick Buchanan: Iraq - Historic Blunder, Ugly End

November 13, 2006
Patrick J. Buchanan

It appears the Beltway bombing halt agreed upon at the Bush-Pelosi summit is over.

The incoming chairmen of the Senate's armed services and foreign affairs committees, Carl Levin and Joe Biden—and Majority Leader Harry Reid—say a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq will be their first priority. Troop redeployment, says Reid, "should start within the next few months."

White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten counters: "I don't think we're going to be receptive to the notion there's a fixed timetable at which we automatically pull out because that would be a true disaster for the Iraqi people." [Democrats to Press Bush to Reduce Troops in Iraq, By Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, November 12, 2006] John McCain says we need more troops to crush the Mahdi Army and militias, and achieve victory. If we set a deadline for withdrawal, said McCain, we risk a Saigon ending, with Americans being helicoptered off the roof of the U.S. embassy. McCain appears to be adopting the George Wallace stance of 1968—"Win, or Get Out!"

And so we come to the endgame in a war into which we were plunged by Bush Republicans and those neoconservatives now scurrying back to their think tanks, and the Clinton-Kerry-Edwards-Biden-Reid-Daschle Democrats, who voted Bush a blank check in October 2002 to get the war issue "out of the way" before the elections.

America has been horribly served by both parties. And as the Democrats have now captured Congress, they assume co-responsibility for the retreat from Mesopotamia. Which is as it should be.

While our leaders never thought through the probable result of invading an Arab nation that had not attacked us, we had best think through the probable results of a pullout in 2007.

We are being told that by giving the Iraqis a deadline, after which we start to withdraw, we will stiffen their spines to take up greater responsibility for their own country. But there is as great or greater a likelihood that a U.S. pullout will break their morale and spirit, that the Iraqi government and army, seeing Americans heading for the exit ramp, will collapse before an energized enemy, and Shias, Sunnis and Kurds will scramble for security and survival among their own.

Arabs are not ignorant of history. They know that when we pulled out of South Vietnam, a Democratic Congress cut off aid to the Saigon regime, and every Cambodian and Vietnamese who had cast his lot with us wound up dead, in a "re-education camp" or among the boat people in the South China Sea whose wives and children were routinely assaulted by Thai pirates.
In that first year of "peace" in Southeast Asia, 20 times as many Cambodians perished as all the Americans who died in 10 years of war.

In Iraq, a collapse of the government and army in the face of an American pullout, followed by a civil-sectarian war, the break-up of the country and a strategic debacle for the United States—emboldening our enemies and imperiling our remaining friends in the Arab world—is a real possibility.

Yet what Edmund Burke said remains true: "[N]o war can be long carried on against the will of the people." And the American people are losing, if they have not lost, the will to continue this war. They are weary of the daily killing and dying, and of the endless talk of "progress" when all they see is death. They believe the war was a mistake, and they want to come home.

Our hawkish elites bemoan the fact that Americans seem ready to give up on Iraq when U.S. casualties are not 10 percent of those we took in the Korean War.

That is because they do not understand the nation.

Americans are not driven by some ideological vocation to reform mankind. We do not have the patience or perseverance of great imperial peoples. If an issue is not seen as vital to our own liberty and security, we will not fight long for some abstraction like democracy, self-determination or human rights.

It is a myth that we went to war to save the world from fascism. We went to war in 1941 because Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. That Hitler had overrun France, booted the British off the continent and invaded Stalin's empire was not a reason to send American boys across the ocean to die.

In 1990, Americans were not persuaded to throw Iraq out of Kuwait until Bush 1 got to talking about Saddam's nuclear weapons. Even after 9-11, Americans were skeptical of marching to Baghdad until we were told Saddam was building weapons of mass destruction and probably intended to use them on us. Americans have often had to be lied into war.

Democrats are probably reading the country right. Americans will not send added troops to Iraq, as McCain urges. They want out of this war and are willing to take the consequences.
But those consequences are going to be ugly and enduring. That is what happens to nations that commit historic blunders.

Patrick J. Buchanan needs no introduction to VDARE.COM readers; his book State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America, can be ordered from

The articles on are brought to you by the Lexington Research Institute and The Center for American Unity. We are supported by generous donations from our readers. Contributions are tax deductible and appreciated. Contribute...