Friday, January 09, 2004

Delay of game

The City Council decides to punt the public employees issue, delaying its vote until Attorney General Brian Sandoval rules on the constitutionality of dual service. (The decision is expected by the end of the month.) During the council debate, Lynette Boggs McDonald reiterated the principal reason city employees can't also be lawmakers: The state constitution forbids it. City attorney Brad Jerbic all-but-ratified her view, which may have persuaded Mayor Oscar Goodman to vote the right way. (Goodman also noted that whatever Sandoval decides [IMHO, Sandoval -- establishment to the core -- won't find anything wrong with double-dipping] would merely interpret state law and could easily be overruled in court.)

Meantime, council members Janet Moncrief, Michael Mack, and Lawrence Weekly -- with collective IQs perhaps reaching the triple digits -- remained oblivious to any potential conflict with the state's governing document ... notwithstanding the fact that Boggs McDonald reminded her colleagues they had taken an oath to defend it. Members Gary Reese and Larry Brown seemed uneasy with the prospect that their personal views (which would continue to allow city workers to sit in the Legislature) might not be legally permissible as a matter of policy. So odds are, they'll defer to Sandoval's opinion.

Perhaps acknowledging the, shall we say, intellectual shortcomings of a few of her colleagues, Boggs McDonald issued several other objections to continuing dual service: It's a management nightmare and it may jeopardize federal funds to the city. On the first point, she noted that city workers who are also lawmakers don't stop being influential people when the Legislature is out of session. The Legislature meets on an interim basis nearly full-time, anyway, dealing with budget and policy matters outside the regular, 120-day, every-other-year cycle. And every lawmaker/bureaucrat wields full-time power over his full-time city bosses. Dual service blurs the distinction between manager and subordinate, unless, of course, you have a no-show job like that held by Wendell Williams. On the funding front, Boggs McDonald pointed out that any city worker who's a lawmaker could well run afoul of the federal Hatch Act (a problem now confronting Assembly Speaker/Henderson cop Richard Perkins). More than 10% of Las Vegas' general fund budget is comprised of federal money. Is the city willing to risk losing that funding just to let some of its employees serve as informal lobbyists in Carson City?

Good points, all, but they may have fallen on deaf ears (or been too sophisticated for the intended audience). Had the council voted Wednesday, my guess is the motion to bar dual service would have failed, 5-2. If Sandoval gives public employees a pass, it'll fail 6-1. If hell freezes over and he actually enforces the constitution, the motion might squeak by, 4-3. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

The Williams Saga, next chapter

Haven't we been here before? Wednesday, the Las Vegas City Council will decide whether to establish policies governing city employees who wish to serve in the Legislature. City Manager Doug Selby says the council will have two options: Ban city workers from the Legislature altogether, which would conveniently comport with the state constitution; or let city workers serve a second master but force double-dippers to take unpaid leave while they're in Carson City and take other steps to minimize potential conflicts. The former is, of course, the only legitimate choice. But given statements made by council members over the past couple of months, it's impossible to say how many (other than Lynette Boggs McDonald, who gets it) are smart enough to figure this out.

Meantime, the Las Vegas Sun, oblivious as usual, opines in favor of the latter option, completely ignoring the state constitution ... in fact, failing to even mention that rather germane document. The folks there wouldn't recognize Occam's Razor if it cut them. Stay tuned.

Mickey Kaus shows his coastalism

I got XM satellite radio for the car this year (Thanks, Santa!), and it's been a wonderful thing. I did this for a couple of reasons: 1) I have eclectic music tastes; 2) I enjoy listening to radio in the car, because I appreciate the possibility of hearing something surprising (rather than music recorded by me): but 3) Vegas radio blows.

You'd think a city of more than 1 million people would offer something interesting on the dial. But no. UNLV doesn't really have a college radio station. The campus possesses a frequency, and it broadcasts jazz during the week. I love mainstream, "straight-ahead" jazz, the kind they play on my favorite station, K-Jazz (Long Beach State). But the jocks at KUNV determine the playlists, and (when I'm listening, anyway) more than one actually think "smooth jazz" is something you can listen to without projectile vomiting. The other stations in town are your basic Infinity/Clear Channel losers with tiny playlists or inane, chatty jocks.

I suppose, ideally, I'd own an MP3 player and have about 10,000 files downloaded, so I could set the player on "random." But I don't. So I have XM.

I chose XM over Sirius after soliciting comment from friends. It's possible that Sirius offers better programming ... by that, I mean, deeper playlists and fewer repeats. But I'm a bit concerned that Sirius won't make it, meaning any hardware I bought would be worthless. And I was not that impressed with the hardware Sirius now offers, which is clunkier than that now available from XM.

Case in point:. I bought the XM Roady receiver. It's $120 and includes everything -- a tuner (about the size of a wallet that you can attach to the dash or center console); connection cables to a power supply (the cigarette lighter) and your existing car stereo (via the cassette deck); and a magnetic antenna (maybe 1 inch by 1 inch by 1/8 inch deep) that attaches to the exterior of the car. I'm a klutz and I installed the thing myself in maybe 20 minutes. Other XM options run upwards of $200, requiing professional installation, too.

As for the programming ... My tuner has 30 presents, but I primarily listen to the alternative country and blues channels, occasionally checking out the "XM Lab" prog-rock station or one of the classic rock or "adult album alternative" alternatives. There's repetition on each; I'm guessing 25-40 songs get pretty heavy rotation, each getting played several times a day, with literally hundreds of others mixed in. It's not freeform radio by any means, but my tastes mesh pretty well with those of the programmers', so the repetition isn't a turnoff. The XM folks like Duke Robillard, and Dave Alvin, and Hank III, and my man "Icepick" James Harman (who played our wedding reception ... I kid you not), and Ruth Brown, and Lightnin' Hopkins, and Bill Kirchen. Me too.

The "Deep Tracks" classic rock channel is now playing the "Essential 4004" album cuts of all time, in alphabetical order. On the ride home today, I heard, among others, Inside (Jethro Tull), Instant Amnesia (Ringo Starr), Instrumental Illness (Allman Bros. Band), and Interstellar Overdrive (Pink Floyd). I suppose the proof of how deep these tracks really go will come after the countdown is over. I am pleased that the classic rock channels play new releases from older artists. Just try to find that on your local Clear Channel station. And XM broadcasts plenty of live performances, some of them recorded at the XM studios.

Unfortunately, Mickey Kaus is not convinced. (Check out the entry dated Dec. 25. After asking why anyone would pay $200 for a radio and $10 a month for programming when you can hear similar stuff for free, Mickey reveals he's a coastalist:

I'll stick with college radio, where they seem too amateurish to be corrupted. ... (In Los Angeles, that means KXLU , 88.9 FM; in New York there's that weird station from New Jersey. [Update: WFMU 91.1 FM]) ...

How nice for you. But not everybody lives in New York ... or West L.A. When we resided in Culver City, I listened to KXLU's "Bomb Shelter" every Friday night. Where else could you hear in-studio performances from Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys bookended by '60s ska or '50s "race records"? But if you're stuck in Lodi, or Vegas for that matter, KXLU is not an option ... unless you're near a high-speed Internet connection. And you still can't hear it in your car.

OK, it's not genuine freeform, community radio, the type fellow Tar Heel and Reasoner Jesse Walker waxes poetic about in this article and his fine book Rebels on the Air. But I'm happy with it so far. And who knows: By the time we buy a new car, I may go for that MP3 player after all ... or switch to Sirius. Even so, I'm fairly certain that other than getting traffic reports, I'll never listen to "regular" radio again.

Henderson fixes the BCS

Thanks to the CBS/SEC hookup, I saw LSU play a bunch this year, and for my money, they were the nation's best college football team. The Tigers improved as the season went along and played their best in the big games. OTOH, AP columnist Jim Litke claims that "Southern Cal could beat [LSU and Oklahoma] -- back-to-back -- and still make it to the beach in time to catch the sunset."

Who's right? We'll never know, thanks to those wacky folks who devised the BCS. Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, who was in charge of this year's circus, admits the current system is flawed, but until the college presidents agree to some sort of playoff, any system could fail to determine a "true" national champion. But changes will be proposed. Among them: An additional game pitting the two top-ranked winning teams of BCS games; elimination of computer rankings; and keeping the current system in place but with the guarantee that only teams that win their conference championships could participate in the BCS title game.

It's possible nothing will happen, though of these alternatives, I like the final one best. With that in place this year, LSU would have met USC and we would have crowned a "true" champion. Besides, requiring teams to win their conferences to qualify for a national championship is nothing new. That's how college basketball operated until the mid-1970s (you couldn't get invited to the Big Dance unless you won your conference), which made the postseason tourneys so interesting. And I support the notion of using measures like strength of schedule to determine bowl rankings. It serves as a disincentive for second-tier teams in BCS conferences (yes, I'm specifically thinking of K-State, N.C. State and Clemson) to load up their nonconference schedules with cupcakes, thus inflating their total wins.

Still, few were fully satisfied with what happened this past weekend, so here's MY SOLUTION. It's a modified playoff that adds no games to the bowl schedule but requires one additional week. And it lets the current BCS games continue to hog the glory.

Here's how it would work: At the end of the season, the top four teams (as determined by some variation of the current BCS formula) would participate in a two-week tournament. In the first week, #1 would play #4, and #2 would meet #3. The winners would play for the championship the following week. The four BCS games would host the tourney. But since only three games will be needed each season, the games will rotate year-by-year. So, for example, the Rose Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl would host the semifinals (to be played the Saturday closest to Christmas) and the Sugar Bowl (played the Monday closest to New Year's) would host the championship game. The Orange Bowl would host a match between #5 and #6. The tournament sites would rotate each year, so that each bowl would host the championship every four years (and would also not be involved in the tourney at all every fourth year).

The potential downside? None that I can envision, but I'll address possible objections anyway.

Minor bowls: The conferences would still be free to affiliate with bowls for their non-BCS teams.

Longer season: The tournament would extend two teams' seasons for an additional game, but that appears to not be a problem for schools in Division I-AA, Division II and Division III, where "student-athlete" is not an oxymoron. Those schools participate in true, three-round playoffs, and you don't hear those presidents complaining about a negative impact on academics.

Disrupting the "bowl season's flow" (whatever that is). This season, we had minor bowl games after the BCS began, and I have no doubt the teams involved and their fans were just as focused on winning as partcipants in those games had been in years past.

Eliminating marginal, bowl-eligible schools. The tournament would reduce by two the number of slots for bowl-eligible teams ... but that most likely means that two more BCS schools with 6-6 records would be expected to stay home (unless, of course, some other city decides to create a new bowl game on its own).

To be sure, my concept could be expanded to an 8-team tourney with three rounds, or more. But this is a modest approach ... and it could work without getting too many people's shorts in a bunch.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Snow addendum

The Review-Journal's Web site is offering a bunch of photos taken by staff photographers and readers of the recent snowstorm. The link is here.