Sunday, January 29, 2006


Houston 1836.

That's the name of Houston's new MLS soccer club. I think that the name and colors are a very bold statement - not catering to the "market-research-focus-group" trends, but classy, classic, and ... well ... bold. It took some courage to go with a name reflecting the history and foundation of the city of Houston, and to go with orange - neither are instantly popular nor easily accepted. But, I think, both will grow on folks and build a very distinctive soccer brand in Houston and the U.S.

It is very exciting that this is all actually about to happen - camp opens on Feb. 1, and the season kicks off on Apr. 1. We almost there - It's About Time!

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Tragedy of the Commons

The tragedy of the commons develops in this way. Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.

As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks, "What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?" This utility has one negative and one positive component.

1) The positive component is a function of the increment of one animal. Since the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal, the positive utility is nearly +1.

2) The negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing created by one more animal. Since, however, the effects of overgrazing are shared by all the herdsmen, the negative utility for any particular decision-making herdsman is only a fraction of -1.

Adding together the component partial utilities, the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another. . . . But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit--in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.

Garrett Hardin, The Tragedy of the Commons, 162 Science no. 3859, pp. 1243 - 1248, Dec. 13, 1968.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

MLS Houston

Now that we have an MLS team here in town - although we've got no name just yet - I thought I would go over a very brief history of the franchise, and spend a little time looking at the team we've got coming to town.

First off, the new Houston soccer club is the relocation of the old San Jose Earthquakes franchise. San Jose were an original member of MLS back in 1996, joining the league as the San Jose Clash. They spent the first few seasons as one of the worst franchises in the league (the positions below are total in league, not finishing playoff positions):

1996: 7th (of 10)
1997: 10th (of 10)
1998: 10th (of 12)
1999: 7th (of 12 - but missed playoffs due to 5th in West)
2000: 12th (of 12) - this is also the season that he franchise was re-branded as the Earthquakes

But then things got turned around...much due to a young 19 year-old kid by the name of Landon Donovan. In 2001, the Quakes finished 3d in the league overall (out of 10), and won the playoffs to raise their first MLS Cup, defeating their arch-rival LA Galaxy 2-1 in the Cup final.

The next season, 2002, the team stayed hot, finishing the regular season second in the league (out of 10), but were bounced out of the first round of the MLS playoffs.

In 2003, San Jose again finished the regular season second in the league (out of 10), but were able to crush the Supporter's Shield winner Chicago Fire in the MLS Cup final 4-2 to lift their second Cup in two years.

2004 turned into a down year for the defending champs, finishing 7th (of 10) losing once again in the first round of the MLS playoffs.

Coming off a down year, many expected the Quakes to really struggle in 2005. They had lost F/M Donovan - first to Germany, then heartbreakingly, to the LA Galaxy when Donovan came back to MLS. In addition, SJ had traded or lost many of the veteran leaders on the team for the past several years (including Richard Mulrooney, Jeff Agoos, Ronnie Ekelund, etc.). But manager Dominic Kinnear was able to keep the young team together, finishing 1st (of 12), winning the Supporter's Shield (regular season champion), and Kinnear himself took home coach-of-the-year honors. The season didn't end quite as well - losing in the first round of the playoffs to the rival Galaxy. But still, a very successful season overall.

But where is the team at today as it moves to Houston? Well, first, some general notes. The team is still quite young - with only 4 of the24 members of the roster over 30 years old.

How about roster changes to date? One of the few veterans just retired last week. Mark Chung - 10 year veteran of MLS and former US Nat - called it quits on his career. He was still very effective last year - picking up 6 goals and 7 assists - and not one of the worse left sided midfielders in the league. Another off-season loss has been Danny Califf, an MLS veteran central defender. 2005 was Califf's first year with the Quakes, after having spent the previous five years of his career with the Galaxy. Califf is an occasional US nat, but he only played in 20 games (career low) last year due to injury. Califf has signed to play for a club team in Europe (I believe in Denmark) and provided excellent depth, but should not be a devastating loss for this side.

So let's take a look at the roster going into the 2006 SuperDraft at the end of this month.

GK - The starter, Pat Onstad, has been one of the better GK's in the league for the past four or five years. The Canadian national team member finished 2005 with the best goals-against average in MLS, and garnered the MLS Keeper of the Year award. So, the Houston club is pretty set in the nets. The one concern is that Onstad is getting older, he will be 38 years-old this season. Houston does not have a lot of depth at GK, with Robby Fulton - who has absolutely zero MLS experience - the only other keeper on the roster. Depth at GK is one area that will need to be addressed going into 2006.

D - The defense was one of the clear strengths of this side in 2005. The back line starts with probably the best left back in MLS, Wade Barrett. Barrett came back to MLS in 2005 after a few seasons playing in Denmark. On the right is young Kelly Gray, who came over from Chicago to kick-start his career and claimed the right-back position as his own. In the center, as noted above, the team has lost Califf, but returns solid defender Eddie Robinson, who after a couple of injury plauged seasons finally claimed a starting spot in the defense. Replacing Califf in the middle will likely be Ryan Cochrane, a rookie last year who played in 14 games (starting 6), Cochrance will have to prove that he is up to the high standard of this defense. The other defenders on the roster are primarily quite young, including: the one vet, Craig Waibel, who has been in the legaue since 2000; third year pro Chris Aloisi; second year Kevin Goldthwaite; second year Brett Rodriguez; and second year James Twellman. The unproven youth of the defense is a concern, and will need to be addressed either by acquisition, or drafting of a top-flight, can't miss defender in the draft.

M - The new Houston club will have one of the most exciting and up-and-coming central midfield pairing in MLS. Kinnear made a decision last year to move forward Dwayne DeRosario back into an attacking midfield role, and it turned out to be a perfect move. DeRosario is a Canadian international who brings excitement and big-time GOOOOOAAAALLLLLAAAAZZZZOOOOO!!!!!!!!'s to the pitch game in and game out...and he has won the MLS goal of the year honors two years in a row - including a absolutely incredible free kick strike last year that bent three different times before hitting the top corner of the net. Pairing with DeRosario in the middle is young two-way holding midfielder Ricardo Clark. Clark never really found his place in NY with the Metrostars, where he was restricted to a rightback, or exclusively defensive midfield role. But giving the freedom of playing both ways in central midfield brought about the emergence of his career, and callups to US national camps. Out on the wings, the Houston club is very strong as well. Left midfielder Brad Davis started the season as one of the hottest players in MLS after coming to San Jose from Dallas (SJ being his third team in four seasons). He even earned a call up the the national team before suffering an injury that ended the rest of his season...and also saw the acquisition of Chung who was very good for the Quakes on the left. With Chung's retirement, Davis becomes the starter once again. On the right is M/F Brian Mullan, who has speed and fitness to burn, and blazes up and down the wing. Second year defensive midfielder Danny O'Rourke, first round pick in last year's SuperDraft, provides solid depth in the middle. Ian Russell is a long time veteran providing depth on the right wing. The rest of the midfield is again, very very young with very little experience, including second year Tighe Dombrowski; second year Aaron Lanes, and second year Chris Wondolowski.

F - The big man up front for the Houston club is occasional US international Brian Ching - maybe the best target forward in MLS. Unfortunately, Ching has struggled with injury problems, missing large portions of 2003 and 2005. But when he is healthy, he is one of the most prolific goal scorers in MLS. His partner up front is generally Venzuelan Alejandro Moreno who claimed the starting spot after coming over from the LA Galaxy where he had spent the last few seasons as a super-sub. Off the bench, the team will have longtime veteran forward Ronald Cerritos, and second year Julian Nash. Foward is another area that although strong (especially when DeRosario and Mullen are considered forwards), the depth could be addressed in the offseason.

My feeling is that depth is the biggest concern for this squad - depth at keeper, defender, and forward. But, going into 2006, Houston looks to have a solid squad with which to attack its first season in MLS.

Hearings, V.2...

One more quick hit thought on the confirmation hearings of Judge Samuel Alito:

I get the distinct impression from J. Alito's answers to these questions, that he has no deep rooted respect for - or belief in - stare decises, the theory that the Supreme Court will follow it's earlier decisions as settled law. He is only willing to say that something is precedent - no matter how uncontroversial or settled for decades - he is unwilling to say any issue is settled law, or no longer at issue due to stare decises.

That is good news for some, and bad news for others...but it is odd. And this is what makes me compare him with J. Thomas on this court - because J. Thomas gives stare decises no weight.

We shall see.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Doonesbury from Last Sunday...

Confirmation Report...

Good piece from Dahlia Lithwick on the confirmation hearings from yesterday. Here's the link, and a few excerpts:

Sam Alito has chosen to simply bore his way through, and as a consequence, two days into the hearings, the Democrats on the judiciary committee have hardly laid a glove on him. I count only three occasions today on which he refuses to answer a question; that's not going to be his way. His way is to drill down and answer in lengthy doctrinal detail; to justify his past decisions with technical legal analysis; to expound upon three-part tests and legal factors to be balanced. He never tells you the answer to the question, but he's always expansive on how he might get there.

Alito is crushing the Democrats with unrelenting tedium and a demonstrable love for material they don't really understand.

Anyone can manage to be boring on boring subjects; Alito has seemingly perfected the art of being boring on controversial ones. Executive power in wartime? Boring. His deeply felt passion for Robert Bork? Boring. His incendiary job application from 1985? So boring that he's actually forgotten it. His resistance to the constitutional principle of one man, one vote? It was based on some stuff his dad told him. He doesn't fight to defend these ideas, he just slumps even lower in his chair and looks more earnest.

The almost laughable Republican position throughout the hearings is that Alito can't possibly be anti-women/minority/criminal defendant/little guy because here are 3/4/7/whatever single-digit-number-of cases among almost 5,000 in which he sided with them. It's a twist on the "Some of my best friends are ... " line. And here I thought that line stopped working in the '60s. Right about the time when colleges let in women and started going downhill.

Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., an alleged ally, has begun to offer rambling speeches peppered with unanswerable queries on the issue of enemy combatants and executive authority in wartime. I would love to ask the nominee if eight consecutive hours of threats, coercion, good-cop/bad-cop, bad cafeteria food, and more threats constitutes torture under domestic or international law. But I suspect he could make even that answer boring.

Good stuff.

Alito Hearings

I have been able to listen to/watch a good portion of the Senate Judiciary committee hearings on the nomination of Judge Sam Alito to the Supreme Court. Here are a few of my quick hit thoughts/impressions:

1. These two days are pretty much a feast of law and politics for those of us interested in those things. One thing that strikes me is how much some of the questions/answers tracks a really basic Con Law class. I think that I was able to see in Alito occassionaly the fleeting thought - I'm so much smarter than you that this is a joke - while listening to a particular question of a Senator trying to sound smart. But being able to listen to a distinguished appeallate judge answer some of these questions is really exciting. In addition, I was able to see the Charlie Rose show last night where he had Charles Fried - solicitor general under Reagan and current Harvard professor, John Yoo - former executive branch attorney and now professor of law at Berkely, and Noah Feldman - professor of law at NYU discussing the hearings. For someone like me, it was an absolute field day. Boatloads of fun. Yes, I'm a geek. I'm fine with that. I love this stuff.

2. Even saying that, the hearings themselves could be much more interesting. First off, the "questions" coming from the Republican memebers of the panel are nothing more than a well organized defense of Judge Alito. Other than potentially Sen. Spector - and even then totally in defense - there is no probing of the judicial philosophy from the Republicans, it is simply tactical defenses to some of the more flashpoint issues facing Alito...which is essentially igorning vast areas of law which I think it would be interesting to go into. In addition, on both sides of the aisle, the "questions" sound much more like campaign speeches with an almost afterthought - "would you agree?" - stuck on the end. In particular, I was terribly frustrated by Sen. Lindsay Graham who simply would not let Judge Alito speak to answer his questions before jumping back in and answering his own question for himself, and diving into his next talking point. It was ridiculous. In addition, the long winding, politically slanted quesions allow Alito time to structure in his mind, carefully crafted answers which completely step away from the heart of the question being asked. Instead of direct questions calling for direct answers, they are winding questions so it becomes very easy to take one of the off-shoot bends off and spin it into an answer.

3. This "ethical issue" surrounding the Vanguard case is indeed a joke. The fact that the Democrats continue to press the issue demonstrates that for some of these senators, this is more about politics than the Supreme Court - and that makes me sad. The Dems have attempted to say its serious, and not a joke, and an issue that must be clarified...but in all reality it's a smoke screen - in many ways it really reminds me of President George Bush - there is no there, there.

4. And my final initial impression - movement conservatives have hit a home run. This guy is going to be an uber-activist-conservative Justice much more in the mold of Clarence Thomas than the Roberts/Rehnquist/O'Connor mold. ---Understand, a lot of legal scholars are saying the exact oppposite of what I'm saying, so take it with a grain of salt--- But what I'm hearing from this guy indicates that he will uphold essentially any executive action, will be oftentimes hostile to actions taken by the elected legislatures (what he's saying about the commerce clause this morning is highly worrisome to me), and will have ZERO qualms overturning precedent - along the lines of Thomas. He's much more (or less - depending on perspective) willing to resist making the basic vanilla, blanket statements, that Roberts was willing to make - to me this is his way of keeping the door open...not cracked but wide open.

My original impression was that Alito would be a very conservative justice, but more of a mainstream...what I'll refer to as a Roberts conservative (although I admit I don't know what that means just's more of an impression right now). After a day plus of hearings, I don't think so now. I think this guy will push Thomas for the right of the Court, and one day Scalia will shake his head at Alito's reasonings the way he does now with Thomas. This drags a very conservative court considerably further to the Radical Right.

It should come as no surprise that I would deeply disagree with that shifting of the Court. Having said that - Alito seems supremely qualified and seems to possess the requisite intellect and measure required of a Justice. By electing George Bush, the electorate should have known that this type of justice was a possibily - was what Bush promised.

Read also:
What the Alito Nomination Means for Constitutional Law...
Judicial restraint this nomination is not...
And Alito it is...
Rumors of the next nomination...