30 April 2008

If It Ain't Broke ... Why Even Talk About It?

(From BCS Guru)

So the head honchos who run college football went to Hollywood (Florida, that is) and, after a few days in the sun and too many pina coladas, they reached this shocking conclusion:

The BCS is beautiful as it is. Why mess with it?

With that, the Guru breathes a huge sigh of relief, knowing that I won't have to fold up shop after the 2009 season. Heck, the way this meeting went, I should be able to count on lots of buffo business well into my retirement. (Don't worry, I'll just mobile in my blogs from Lanikai -- if "mobile" and "blogs" are still relevant in 2030).

But rather than offering a typical ESPN-esque explanation as to why the BCS conferences -- with input from the smaller ones and Notre Dame -- opted for conservatism over revolution, the Guru considered the issues more deeply. And the reality is so much more than the powers-that-be's allergy to any sort of playoff talk.

So much more ... like 120 million more.

The only alternative on the table, presented by SEC commissioner Mike Slive, was rejected out of hand. The problem with his "plus-one" model was not so much that it resembled a playoff, but because its existence would threaten the financial well-being of some of his fellow travelers.

While it was well-known that the Big Ten and Pac-10 passionately opposed any alterations to the current format, the Big 12 broke its silence and threw its weight behind the status quo. And you can add the Big East to the mix as well. That makes four out of six BCS conferences. Slive's proposal was DOA before the first drink was poured.

The Big Ten and the Pac-10 want to keep their lucrative Rose Bowl deal in tact, and any sort of a "playoff" would jeopardize that. The Big Ten-Pac-10-Rose Bowl triumvirate worked very hard to keep their little cartel going -- they reluctantly joined the BCS after spurning the Bowl Coalition and Bowl Alliance, and they extracted a lot of concessions when they finally entered the arrangement. Last year's USC-Illinois farce in the Rose Bowl was all you need to know about their protectionism.

Besides, the current system works out just fine for the two conferences. A team from either conference has played in the BCS championship game in five of the last six years -- and the year they didn't, USC won the AP title anyway. The Big Ten especially has been fat and happy, placing two teams in BCS bowls in five of the last six seasons, far more than any other conference.

For these guys, the system is working like a charm.

The Big 12 has different issues. Although a football power, the Big 12 is a distant fourth wheel in the BCS structure, behind the Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC. Aside from the University of Texas, none of the member schools is a strong draw in a big media market. So the BCS cash is critical. The current system works fine for the Big 12, too, as it's played in half of the 10 championship games in the BCS era.

That leaves Slive barking up the wrong tree. The SEC is pressing the "plus-one" because it is the most insecure conference about the current system and probably has the most grievance against it. Without a couple of huge upsets -- USC to UCLA in 2006, West Virginia to Pittsburgh in 2007 -- plus a computer-generated escape by LSU in 2003, the SEC would've been shut out of the BCS title game the last nine seasons.

As the strongest conference, in terms of balance, the SEC has more to worry from fratricide under the current regime than it would in a four-team format. In the latter scenario, the SEC will almost always be assured of a spot in the football version of the Final Four; and it would be content to let its representative(s) play their way to the championship.

So the plus-four died a swift death not so much because the P-word is malodorous, but because it potentially could hinder some very cozy relationships and access to fast cash. The smaller conferences and Notre Dame, with no chance of playing for the national championship (and I write this with a straight face) but with low thresholds to qualify for a BCS bowl and thus, a big-time payout, also want to leave well enough alone.

It's just as well. Slive's proposal was highly flawed anyway. It was no improvement over the current system and would've invited no less controversy. For example, in last year's scenario, Ohio State would've faced Oklahoma in one semifinal and LSU against Virginia Tech in another. More deserving teams such as USC and Georgia would've been shut out anyway and you'd still had the LSU-Ohio State championship game -- only now it'd take two weeks to reach the same mess. Why bother?

Since the BCS is all about the jack, we should just recognize that until someone can come up with a system that can guarantee more dough to more people, then we've reached an impasse. Don't forget that the "national championship" is a mere illusion and in this industry it's only incidental to the big picture.

We're not here to crown a champion. We're here to stuff our wallets. That's why this thing is called the Bowl Cash Series.

29 April 2008

Ordinary Man, Extraordinary Life (Part II)

(From Sinotaneous)

(Continued from Part I)

By 1986, Mr. Chi had indications that there might soon be a way for him to at least get in contact with the remnants of his family, if not reuniting with them. Through intermediaries, he was able to receive and send letters to his two now adult daughters. It was from the correspondence that he found out his wife had died in the 1960s, during the tumultuous times of the Cultural Revolution.

A few years went by, after a slowdown precipitated by the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the opportunity to visit China finally presented itself. Not having seen his family for more than 40 years now, Mr. Chi was determined to go at the first chance he got.

With Taiwan also relaxing its restrictions on contact with China, Mr. Chi finally made the trek back to his birthplace and ancestral home in 1993, nearly 50 years since he last set foot there. It was an emotional reunion. His two daughters, now in their 40s, both have been married and have children of their own. The living conditions in Yifeng was far from ideal, and Mr. Chi took steps to make sure they improve.

With a somewhat generous pension from the KMT and years of frugal living in Taiwan, Mr. Chi freely dispensed with his cash on his children and grandchildren. He helped to fund the building of two three-story concrete and stucco buildings as single-family homes for his two kids. And with his brother also taking part, they built a kindergarten — big enough to accommodate 100 local children — in yet another adjacent building.

He and my grandfather made a triumphant return to Yifeng in 1997 to see the fruits of their labor. Now both in their 80s, the journey from Taiwan was quite an ordeal. First, a 90-minute flight to Hong Kong. Then a long overnight train ride from Hong Kong, through Guangzhou, to Nanchang. From there, it was a four-hour car trip on mostly unpaved roads.

But Mr. Chi wasn’t going back. He had decided to come back to Yifeng and stay. He bid my grandfather goodbye, with both knowing that it would be the last time they’d see each other. My grandfather had made Taiwan his home, and to this day, he would not want to have anything to do with Communist China.

Since coming home to Yifeng, Mr. Chi learned many painful details of his family’s plight. His older brother, deciding to stay in China and hoping to ride things out, was summarily executed by the communists when they entered town. His ancestral home, a modest brick and masonry building with a small courtyard, was nearly demolished for being a reactionary element before being divvyed up and distributed to various communist party apparatchiks and other locals.

His extended family scattered about China for a time before finally returning home. A couple of his nephews spent years in re-education camps for sins of being a “landed elite.” Kids a generation down could not enroll in schools or get decent jobs because they were deemed class enemies and incapable of being “reformed.” Life was hard.

Things got better in the 1980s. Communist orthodoxy lived on in name only. To get rich was glorious, even for those previously blacklisted. Money opened doors, even if it came from the KMT, the communists’ sworn enemies for much of the 20th century.

Mr. Chi lived out another decade in the Yifeng house he built. He endured yet another tragedy when in 2007, one of his daughters died of breast cancer. He had to bury his hard-luck child in the hills not far from Yifeng — in a place he had reserved for himself.

I last visited him in 2006. He was nearly blind and very hard of hearing, but he was glad to see me. He was too frail to accompany me to the kindergarten down the street, yet I sensed that it was truly his pride and joy. I shared with him some photos of my own family, and a letter from my grandfather that I had promised to deliver discreetly.

Two year later, Mr. Chi finished a journey that was full of turbulence and turmoil. He lived in a time that saw China taking a dramatic leap from a insulated feudal society to a giant economic engine. He saw democracy sprout and flourish in Taiwan and withering, yet not dying, in mainland China. He bore witness to the transformation of the Sick Man of Asia, to emerging global superpower.

Yet, at the end of the day, the most important development in his life was being reunited with his family after half a century of separation. Despite all the heartbreaks and heartaches, that’s what made it worth living. It made him whole again.

I will miss you, er gon gon. R.I.P.

24 April 2008

Ordinary Man, Extraordinary Life

Chi Xia-Sheng (漆俠生)passed away on April 22, 2008, in his native Yifeng, Jiangxi, China. He was 96. I can think of few lives that symbolized the heroic struggles and monumental changes that took place in China over the century than Mr. Chi's.

His story is one that I know intimately well. He was my great uncle.

Born in Yifeng in 1912, Mr. Chi's birth coincided with the founding of the Chinese republic. But the most turbulent time in modern Chinese history was just beginning. His native province Jiangxi was a fertile ground first for warlords and then the nascent communist insurgency. It was in the poor villages of Jiangxi where Mao first set up shop, looting and shooting, all in the name of revolution. One of the unfortunate souls, whose lifeless body was dragged around the streets of Yifeng in 1927, was Mr. Chi's mother -- my great grandmother.

As did the rest of his family, Mr. Chi became an ardent anti-communist and joined the Kuomintang. Chiang Kai-shek, fresh off a successful Northern Expedition that nominally united China, was beginning his chase for Mao. It was during this time that Mr. Chi and my grandfather, his younger brother, joined the KMT. They spent a few years flushing the Reds out of Jiangxi, as Mao embarked on his Long March.

With the Communists out of Jiangxi, Mr. Chi took on new duties to reform the countryside. But the time of tranquility proved short lived. The Japanese invaded China in 1937, and within two years, Nanchang, the provincial capital of Jiangxi, fell. Mr. Chi, as with the rest of the KMT forces, fell back, first to Changsha, then Chungking, China's wartime capital after the fall of Nanking.

During the protracted retreat, Mr. Chi was unable to maintain constant contact with his family, who was left in the Japanese-occupied Jiangxi. He finally returned home in 1945 following Japan's surrender, but again peace proved fleeting. The guns roared once more as the Chinese Civil War broke out. And within four years, it was to swallow China whole.

By the fall of 1948, a storm was sweeping China from north to south. The Communists, nearly vanquished by Chiang before the Japanese invasion, now had emerged as an irresistible force. Mr. Chi's various postings took him to Shanghai, Nanking and Wuhan. But by the beginning of 1949, it was nearly certain that Mao's troops would emerge victorious.

The fall of KMT in mainland China was stunningly swift. By April 1949, the Communists crossed the Yangtze River, the last natural barrier in their quest of a complete victory. The remnants of KMT fell back, first to Chungking, then Guilin and finally, by the end of 1949, to Kunming, in the southwestern corner of China.

This was when another tragedy, and a dilemma, awaited Mr. Chi. My grandfather, by then had risen through the ranks to become the adjutant of Chiang Ching-Kuo -- son of Chiang Kai-shek -- was able to bring along his family during every step of KMT's retreat. And a large family it was -- his pregnant wife (my grandmother) and four children, with my father the eldest. Mr. Chi, in contrast, had to leave his own wife and two young daughters behind.

By this hour, there was neither time nor opportunity for Mr. Chi to retrieve his family. He had two choices: Help my grandfather to shepherd along his family to the next safe haven; or return to his family in Jiangxi but face certain torture and death as an officer in the KMT army, and one with intimate connection to the Chiangs. After a few agonizing days, he made up his mind.

It was a decision that would haunt him for the next half century. With the governor of Yunnan Province about to switch allegiance to the Communists, Mr. Chi and my grandfather's clan boarded one of the last few flights leaving Kunming on a chilling December morning. By nightfall, the Reds' takeover of mainland China would be complete.

Along with my grandfather's family, Mr. Chi would settle in Taiwan, facing an uncertain future. While a Communist seaborne and airborne invasion never materialized -- thanks to the outbreak of the Korean War, for the most part -- there was a sense that, for the 2 million KMT refugees who followed Chiang to Taiwan, they would never see China again.

It was against this backdrop that Mr. Chi went about his business. I was born in 1969, and got to know him as a toddler. Whereas my own grandfather was stern and demanding, my great uncle was just that, great. He was optimistic and gregarious. He loved to travel but was hemmed in by the political isolation of Taiwan. Going to China, of course, was out of question.

He never let on how much he regretted leaving his family behind. But he struggled daily with this decision. With no contact whatsoever between China and Taiwan for 30 years, he had no way of knowing whether his family members were even alive, let along well.

A breakthrough, finally, came in the 1980s, as China reopened its doors to the outside world, as well as Taiwan.

(Continued in Part II)

15 April 2008

Free Tibet? Enough Already!

Whenever I see a "Free Tibet" bumper sticker on the back of a car, I just want to gag. Actually, I want to pull the driver out of her car and demand that she find Tibet on a world map. Five bucks say she can't. Five more bucks say she can't name one Tibetan city besides Lhasa.

So what is this all about? Free Tibet is a favorite left-liberal cause. Hollywood types love to triangulate between Cuba, Tibet and Palestine. Pretty senseless, really. One is one of the planet's last totalitarian communist regimes, one is under the armed occupation of another communist regime, and one freely elects a terrorist organization to govern.

But without a doubt, Tibet is a cause celebre of the activist types. For the life of me, I can't quite figure this one out. If you're truly interested in liberating people from an oppressive regime, why not look at the billion Han Chinese first?

Unbeknownst to most of the Free Tibet rabble rousers, Communist China has traditionally treated Tibet with kid gloves (comparatively speaking, of course). Since the invasion of Tibet in 1950, there may have been hundreds killed and hundreds jailed in over a half century on the Roof of the World. Communists frequently murder and incarcerate that many in China proper, in a single day.

The Beijing Olympics, with the world-wide torch relay, have become a convenient target for the Free Tibet movement, even before the riot/protest in mid-March. After the crackdown, Tibet will be a hot topic throughout the Olympics, foreshadowed by a potential boycott of the Games.

A boycott of any sort will serve only to enrage the Chinese -- more than just the communist rulers, but the ordinary Chinese within and outside of China. A groundswell of anger over Tibet will not only fail to improve the situation in Tibet, but embolden the Chinese government to treat the dissident Tibetans harshly. Indeed, it's been rightly speculated that the Beijing regime is under far greater domestic pressure in its dealings with Tibet.

That's why it would be foolish for President Bush to snub the Chinese at the Olympics. The Beijing regime needs an excuse to lighten up on Tibet and Bush's presence will provide that cover. Of course, while he's there, he'd need to do more -- for example, standing up for the dissidents, jailed journalists and a cornucopia of political prisoners.

But this is where the carrot should carry the day, not the stick. No matter how boisterous and in-your-face the Free Tibet crowd gets around the world, their protests will be pointless except to potentially strengthen the Chinese government. By boycotting the Olympics over Tibet (or even more senselessly, Darfur), the Free Tibet circus may only unwittingly entrench the position of the communists among the Chinese citizens.

The point, which obviously escapes the frenzied leftist Tibet-mongers, is that in order to truly help the Tibetans, they need to help the Chinese do away with their government first. Without a Free China, there will never be a Free Tibet.

07 April 2008

Olympic Boycott? Only a Matter of Size

You can almost hear the muttering and moaning inside the Zhongnanhai compound. The Chinese Communist leadership knows its dream Olympic showcase is slowly turning into an unfathomable nightmare.

The fuse was lit by a small and somewhat organized riot/protest in Lhasa in mid-March. After some killing and shooting, it's become a worldwide spectacle. First, London. Then, Paris. Tomorrow, San Francisco. Unless China and the IOC decide that they've had enough and send the torch straight to Hong Kong and never wander outside of the Bamboo Curtain again.

But this had to happen. Even if it's for all the wrong reasons. Yes, China's oppression in Tibet is deplorable. Yes, China's continued enabling of the Sudanese regime is regrettable. But at the end of the day, China's most egregious violations of human rights occur everyday in China proper. If anything, the protests really should be about the billion-plus Chinese who are not free.

China has chucked all of its promises -- the promises that won it the Games in 2001 -- into the vast cesspool of the Three Gorges Dam. Press freedom? What are you talking about? One more word out of you it'd be jail time, or deportation if you're fortunate enough to have a non-PRC passport. Respect for human rights? Sure, but if you don't toe the company line then we'll try -- and certainly convict -- you for treason and subversion.

For all their meticulous scheming, the Chinese Communists never made much contingency for this kind of spontaneous, globe-trotting combustion, timed precisely to ruin their best-laid plans. All the activists out there, whether their cause is Tibet or Darfur, have been licking their chops at this opportunity to make China squirm. All the better for them, they're getting maximum press coverage while exercising their freedom of speech in the friendly confines of western cities.

Short of shutting down the torch relay now, there is no way that the Chinese government can contain a worldwide opposition to its hosting of the Olympics at this point in time. There will be more trouble ahead in New Delhi and Canberra, and maybe other points in between.

And disruption of the torch relay now serves merely as a prelude. French president Nicolas Sarkozy has suggested snubbing the Opening Ceremonies. Attendance by President Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also has become a hot topic of discussion. With it, a number of western nations will have to seriously consider boycotting the Games all together.

The Chinese Communist leaders are in full damage-control mode. Is it possible for them to stifle all dissent within China, including Tibet, until August and allow all this furor to die down? It's possible. But in this internet age, even a totalitarian regime cannot be certain of controlling all information to its liking. Should there be more bloodshed or more show trials, the rest of the world will find out about them soon enough. And when it does, China will pay the price.

The train has left the station. The 2008 Beijing Olympics promise to be the most politically charged Games since the semi-aborted affair in 1980. The question is: Will they be befallen by the same fate that doomed the Moscow Games?

Yes. A boycott is all but a certainty, only the size of the boycott is in question.