Thursday, September 20, 2018

Random Thoughts Before a Long Weekend

Later this afternoon, a jet will carry the Kitten and me to Vienna on an overnight flight. We'll land, have a few hours to catch our connection, and then head a few hours back west to Paris where we'll land early Friday afternoon. This is an inefficient route, but when one cashes in airline points to travel, one's options are few.

The occasion for this trip is a comment of the Kitten's from several months ago, when she for the ten-thousandth time in the past eleven years said "I love surprises". Having listened now for nearing a dozen years to this comment, I decided it was high time to act upon it, if for no other reason than to see if perhaps doing so will make it go away. Monthly trips to the West Coast having contributed mightily to my airline status/miles account, I decided to whisk my best girl off for a long weekend in a city that she loves and which I had never visited.

Oh, I've been to France. Several times, as a matter of fact, courtesy of the U.S. Navy. I've had wonderful visits to a number of places along the Mediterranean coast, but I've never had the time or the inclination to visit Paris. I once carried on a conversation with a French woman in Cannes at a formal luncheon wherein the city's grandees feted a group of officers from my ship. She was seated next to me, an attractive woman of about 40 (I was 30ish), while her husband was seated across the round table. He was older than she, jowly and sullen. He was French and spoke no other foreign languages. She was French and also spoke German but no English. I speak English and German, but no French. Once we discovered that we could communicate -- I was treated to a tale of tired boredom as her midday wine intake increased, and eventually slipped a telephone number which I declined to exploit.

This was the same trip in which I enticed a number of my shipmates to unknowingly (we were young-ish) commit horrible relationship fouls. I had a few months earlier, come to know the charms of a young woman who wore a perfume (Boucheron) that was unusually attractive, if you know what I mean. And you do. She did not last, but the memory of her perfume did. There we were, seven or so Lieutenants and below, strolling along the main drag of Cannes--when we happened upon a Boucheron store. That's right. An entire store. So I convinced my (unknowing, soon to be troubled) shipmates to come in and "smell this stuff", which they did, and several of them reached the same conclusion that I had. This led to the brilliant conclusion that they would purchase some of it for their own sweeties. Which they did.

It was after we got home a few months later that the first inklings of dismay began to arise when one of the guys came by my stateroom to tell me about the big fight he had with his girl, and why he bought her perfume that reminded him of another woman. Apparently, "no honey, that wasn't it, the Operations Officer introduced it to me" was not an answer that held water. He was apparently not the only one to be so persecuted, and I learned a solid lesson from all of it. Interestingly, my inamorata at the time was a good sport and tried to wear the perfume "for me"-- but she was astoundingly allergic to it (and other perfumes, apparently) and so died my Boucheron fascination. Although I did keep a little perfume tester strip bearing the whiff of it in my wallet for some time thereafter...

This trip is a quick one, we'll return Monday. The surprise element of the master plan failed a few weeks ago when The Kitten consulted her own miles account and saw that there was a reservation to Paris. A calculated error in adding her number, I know. But once the cat was out of the bag, it relieved me of any other planning responsibilities, as she has gleefully ran with how to spend 72 hours there. Further evidence of my good fortune in having convinced this woman to accept me into her life is that we are sharing a single carry-on bag (don't hate, Tom).

First things first though. Our two black labs need to be transported to their luxury spa experience at our favorite "pet resort". The dogs (Baloo-7, Zuzu-5) lose their minds whenever they get into an automobile of any type, but when they realize that they are at the pet resort they are beside themselves with joy. This place is great--in the woods, lots of dogs, big play yard, the kind of joint I would want to be shunted of to were I a dog.

My only regret this weekend is that the trip coincides with a UVA home game (v. Louisville) in which we are favored. I would not bet this game, were I a gambler, but it is nice to think Vegas sees something in my team that I don't yet see.

Have a good weekend, folks.

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Silver Lining in the Darkest of Clouds

I have watched the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh with a mixture of revulsion and amusement, as Democrats and activists (but I repeat myself) beclown themselves in earnest desire to show themselves to be the wokest of woke for their increasingly leftist voter base. This is the equivalent of Trump campaign rallies, which really were performative theater based at a specific brand of voter who then delivered big time for him. It remains to be seen whether the Democrats will be able to catch lightning in a bottle, but they are certainly trying.

I believe the Trump Presidency to be an absolute calamity, and I actively desire its termination, either through the ballot or some other Constitutional means. As it decays, the true nature of its incompetence and chaos will become further known, although why anyone of sound judgement would need additional evidence of the rot is unknown to me. The assaults on norms, civility, international relationships, free trade, and free speech have been damaging, and will continue to be damaging to the civic life and national security of this country.

But what comes next is going to be equally damaging. The lurch to the left that follows this dumpster fire is going to be an assault on every political virtue conservatives hold dear, and they will accomplish it through political processes. They will have the votes. They will have convinced enough Americans that their way is best, because the fat, apolitical middle will have had enough of the ghoul-show that is the Trump Administration.

And what will be there to stand up to the assaults on freedom and liberty sure to follow? The judiciary. A judiciary whose absences will have been filled for at least two years and perhaps four, by a Senate run by a nominally conservative party whose leader was positively excoriated by the Trumpkin "burn it all down" set for being a RINO and GOPe, from lists compiled by the GOPe'est of GOPe organizations--the Federalist Society--lists that were compiled during the campaign as a direct consequence of the desire to box a wildly inconsistent President in with respect to judicial appointments (remember the President ruminating on the fitness of his sister for the bench? I do).

When I think about the storms to come, I think about the bulwark being constructed around the Constitution by Mitch McConnell and the incredible importance it will have when the shiny objects of Trumpism have dimmed and his voters return to their dulled rage states and Infowars consumption, as the hungry leftists gain power and engage in their version of norm breaking (ok, re-engage, as Barack Obama/Harry Reid were masters of this). When this happens, and I am as politically isolated as I am today in the Age of Trump--the judiciary will be there to stand in the way of leftward madness.

So on this Friday, I give thanks for Leader McConnell and the wisdom of our Founders. Because winter is coming. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Mutiny, Treason, or Patriotism: The NYT Op-Ed, Considered

We are in the midst of one of those tsunamis that would once have seemed unthinkable, but which in the current circus atmosphere have become routine. It seems a "senior administration official" has written an op-ed in which he or she assures us of hard work on the inside trying to move forward the tenets of movement conservatism against the glandular lurches of an unfit President who not only hasn't a conservative bone in his body, but who would not understand the reasons behind a conservative idea if served in a Happy Meal. We are further assured that this person is not alone, and in one stroke, the "resistance" has its mole(s) on the inside publicly proclaiming their work. Forgive me if I don't cheer out loud.

Don't get me wrong. When I read the op-ed yesterday, there was a part of me that said "ah, at long last. Signs of hope" as if I were in the NASA control room waiting for communication from a distant satellite orbiting a far-away body. The word that came to mind was "remarkable", which the Google tells me means "worthy of attention; striking" without further value judgment. This was indeed a remarkable letter, if only because the New York Times does not regularly print anonymous op-eds. Adding to the the perception though, was the content and purported provenance of the essay. A "senior administration official" was sending signals in the clear to the "resistance" to the effect of "never fear, we are here and we are helping to restrain this monster." Those opposed to the President (me) are presumably to take great comfort from this person's activities and those of others of like mind. 

Some important thoughts up front. First, I have to assume that this person is either senior White House staff or a cabinet officer. The risk to the New York Times by printing this is so immense (reputationally) that to offer the space to the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the Department of Commerce would be illogical. Second, I believe that this person exists and that he or she wrote this essay. This is not "fake news" or any of the other ridiculous mutterings emanating from the sausagey fingers of our unfortunate President. No--I truly believe this person exists and that they chose this moment to send their bat signal to the resistance. What I can't quite figure out is WHY? 

I've seen some elsewhere characterize this person's actions as "mutiny"; one person--familiar with my chosen career earlier in life--was incredulous that I did not see this action as mutinous. Putting aside for the moment that I had not rendered any opinion to that moment other than that it was "remarkable" (see above), and furthermore that mutiny is an actual charge and crime under the Uniform Code (which unless this person is uniformed, they would not come under), I do not see this as mutinous for a very important reason. This person's boss or bosses have not seen his or her actions and job performance as such. If this person were considered unloyal or mutinous, would there not be actual--you know--actions that would rise to this level? Actions that would be noted and questioned? Were there such actions--and having first hand knowledge of the depth of animus this crowd holds for those who oppose the President--do we really think this person would still be around to write such an essay? Of course not. 

So then, is this treason? No, at least not under any definition of the word with which I am familiar. Conveniently, we have such a definition close at hand, as the crime is defined in the U.S. Constitution, Article III Section 3 as "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court." I am no Obama-like Constitutional scholar, but writing this op-ed does not seem to rise to this.

Was what we read yesterday patriotic? This one is a little more difficult to arbitrate, as patriotism is a matter or personal taste. I am sure that the author of the piece thinks they are being patriotic. Many readers will see this as a patriotic act, as there is within both the resistance AND the lukewarm Trump supporter community this notion of men and women of good character and sound conservative principles toiling day by day to restrain the President's "...most reckless impulses..." (as Brit Hume put it). Calling it "God's work", Hume goes on to suggest that while the quiet, subversive activities carried out by this person are fine--laudable even--anonymously crowing about it in the New York Times is considerably less praiseworthy. Again--we must willfully suspend the disbelief of just why it is a President's reckless impulses must be restrained and whether that person remains fit for the office in order for this role to be meaningful. But I digress.

So, where exactly do I come down on all of this? After having a night to sleep on it, I come down thusly. The author of this op-ed is guilty of neither mutiny nor treason. That said, what the author has done is not in the least bit patriotic, nor is it worthy of praise or honor. It is self-serving. It is an attempt to get on the record a sterilized version of whatever impulses led this person to serve, and then remain serving in spite of the accumulating evidence that the President is unfit and should be removed from office. This is because this person's identity will one day be known to us, to all of us. Probably sooner, rather than later--as the value of having written something like this diminished greatly over time. No--this was not an honorable act. It was an act of great dishonor.

Which brings me to my final main point. The continuing hope and desire of the anti-Trump crowd and the lukewarm Trump crowd that men like Chief of Staff Kelly and Secretary Mattis are serving as great superhuman patriots constraining the President is a fiction and ought to be dispensed with. There was a time when this was an attractive notion, one from which many likely found comfort. But that time is long over, they are now complicit in the perfidy. That Bob Woodward's book recounts for us exactly the same kind of exasperated views of the President made by these men that others have reported makes their continuing and active denials not only ring hollow, but rise to the level of dishonesty. 

If Mattis and Kelly and Pompeo and the author of this op-ed truly believe that their roles are to constrain/restrain this President, in light of what we have seen now over 18 plus months in office, it seems that they are only being minimally successful. Whatever patriotic stirrings led them to accept these offices must now turn to the realistic understanding of the situation, and that is that whatever grand powers they believe they have, the President's are grander, and he is always a Tweet away from statements that have considerable consequences. Respect for the Republic and a desire to serve it require these people to "walk and talk". Resign en masse with letters addressed to the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Explain publicly the extent to which your efforts were required to restrain the "reckless impulses of the President". Then let the political process of impeachment--or not--play out.

I stand ready to accept the charge that I am advocating "undoing" the results of the last election. I'm happy to do so as I have the Constitutional process of impeachment to fall back upon to support my view that the Framers gave us the means so to undo, and specifically placed those means within the legislative branch rather than the judicial, recognizing the overtly political nature of the act. It is time for men and women of honor to stop the leaking and the anonymous bullshit. Act now, or forever be tarred with the dishonor of having aided and abetted this dark period in our history. 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Weekly Wrap Up

It is 0545 on a Saturday morning, and I have been awake for over two hours. Normally I am a great sleeper, and last night was a solid night's effort (six hours). But when I woke this morning, it was wide awake, and so I decided to press through. My mind was quite full upon startup, and I suppose that's why I was unable to get back to sleep. Here are a few of the things that I pondered.

Kitten #1 is headed off to a seven week Outward Bound program in the wilds of North Kakalaky. She and The Kitten had a 0500 wake up to get to the airport, and I imagine their impending departure and the thought of anyone in my house not waking to their alarm both conspired to create the early wakeup. Her departure and the fact that Kitten #2 is off at school creates (at least for a time) an "empty nest" here, and that was also something I was pondering. I concluded that clean(er) counters and fewer dishes in the sink are unlikely to compensate for the lack of giggles and smiles and girly conspiracies.

I also thought about the weather in Charlottesville for today's game, with reports of scattered thunderstorms moving in just about the time Rob and I sit down for our pre-game meal at The Virginian. I've sat through a number of rainy games, and being prepared really does make a difference in how enjoyable the experience is.

The drive to Charlottesville also popped into my head. I thought about how many times I've made the trip, how godawful I-95 is (gotta go this way to pick up Rob in Richmond), how I need to bring my 9mm along on one of these trips so I can stop off at Clark Brothers in Warrenton, how I need to download a few podcasts for the road, how I need to buy some bourbon, etc.

My Friday activities popped in. I made the trip in to DC and stood in line for a bit to pay my last respects to John McCain. I thought about how great the Capitol Dome looks since its multi-year renovation. I thought about how the dome looked from the inside gazing upward. I thought about the flag-draped coffin and the slice of Americana who joined me in the hot sun for hours in order to spend 90 seconds with John McCain for one last time. I thought about the protests in DC over the past year, and my social media pondering about just what would bring me to actually protest (me being a conservative and all and not prone to public displays of political theater). I realized that what I did yesterday was--in fact--a form of protest, a form of public display. It was me, standing in the sun in a dark suit and black tie sweating straight through an undershirt, dress shirt, and tie--resolved to be part of a crowd gathered to remember duty, virtue, honesty, bravery, and civility-- in contrast to the immaturity, incivility, bombast, irresponsibility, and incoherence emanating from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

I thought a little about upcoming travel. The Kitten and I are going to Paris in a couple of weeks for a long weekend, a city I've never seen. I've been to France quite a bit (thanks Navy!) but never to the City of Lights. I pondered the carb induced gluttony that awaits me. I wondered if we could pack a single carry-on between us (of course). I quietly bitched about not yet being able to select seats for the flights.

The blog popped into my head. I wondered why I keep it live, and why I decided to contribute to it again this week after months of idling. How the book I keep meaning to write derived of the best of the blog's offerings remains only partially written. How the things I like to write about most--politics and policy--are the least popular things I write about here. I get more feedback from my thoughts about everyday life than I do about the things I agonize over. Maybe a lesson here.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

UVA Football--Hope Springs Eternal

Because it has been a while, I feel the need to reacquaint readers with the central place the University of Virginia and its sports teams play in this blog. Huge. Humongous. Out-sized. Perhaps obsessively large. But a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

For most of the past 31 years I've attended at least one football game a year, and for many of those years I've been season ticket holder. Two of my best friends in the world and I each have two tickets in a block of six in the upper deck behind the goalpost opposite the jumbotron/hill at Scott Stadium. As we aged and gained economically, I suppose we could have gotten better seats, but we like these just fine.

My "in-person" obsession with UVA sports until the last few years was restricted to football. Some of you know that UVA has had a few lean years, but there were some glimmers of hope last year with a team that won six games (only to be keelhauled by Navy in a regrettable bowl appearance). The rise of UVA men's basketball as a national powerhouse has added to my in person watching, though I've only seen two or three regular season games in person since leaving school. At this point, it is fair to say that I am a big UVA Football fan, and an obsessive UVA Basketball fan.

Rob, Tom, and me with young fans. 
The football gameday ritual has been refined over the years, but generally follows this pattern. I drive 3-3 1/2 hours from Easton MD to Richmond VA to pick up Rob, one of my two fellow season ticket holder friends. We'll visit for a bit at his house and exchange comments about the propriety of whatever obnoxious bit of "Hoo-Wear" one or the other of us have on. We'll make fun of the third member of the triad (Tom) for whatever it is Tom should be made fun of, and we'll wonder aloud how much of the game will have passed before he finally shows up.

Rob and I drive to Charlottesville together, usually timed to arrive 2.5 hours or so before the game--for our "Pre-Game Meal" at The Virginian. I like to park down on the Corner because it gives us the chance to walk the Lawn on the way to the stadium and back. It is hard for me to walk the Lawn without getting a little misty, even today. We try to get an outside table at The Virginian for a couple of reasons. First, it's just damn pleasant if the weather is nice. Second, we will almost always have some old friend happen by and stop to talk with us for a bit, something we miss if we're inside. Third--there is the "scenery", but I'll keep my lechery to myself.

The UVA Fraternity man in his natural environs
As I am Rob's designated driver for these events, he generally has a beer or a bloody (for the midday games) or two, which help lubricate his already winning mien. We are somewhat pathetic, Rob and me. We repeat the SAME DAMN things year after year--most of which were enshrined in our patois during college ("Chicks dig John Shea", "Fall....that's all!" etc.) and we loll about taking up prime tables that others eye wantingly.

Then we head over to the stadium to join a tailgate. This has become increasingly more difficult over the years, as our friends have pulled up lame when it comes to providing us with tailgates we deserve (I'm looking at you Mark Senell, Fred Helm, Hunter Woods, etc). One hopes that last year's campaign brings these fair-weather tailgaters back this year. We usually show up for the first game with a bottle of some ridiculously named, overpriced bourbon to thrust upon the tailgatemeister, with the expectation that this grants us continuing access to the tailgate for the remainder of the season. This unspoken arrangement suits us fine. We are unaware of how it is viewed by others.

About twenty minutes before gametime, we head up to our seats. Of late this has been a quick walk, as the "crowds" at the gate are somewhat less than they were when we were a better team. Security measures have also changed over the years, so it is a crapshoot whether or not you'll get held up at the gate. On the way to our seats, I espy the various concessions, and am moved to great emotion when the "funnel cake" purveyor is on the scene. Not that I am hungry at this point, mind you, after a pre-game meal at The Virginian, and some fried chicken/ham biscuits at the tailgate (when at full-strength). No, the funnel cake is consumed second half, when a bit of room is cleared in the upper part of my digestive system.

Tom usually shows up sometime in the first quarter with some portion of his family with him. Rob and I generally go solo and then pass our extra tickets to Tom. Various women in my life have over the years made noise about wanting to come to a game with me, but this noise generally ceases after I bring them. It is a long day, but also one filled with odd practices and boolah-boolah, and often featuring Rob or my descent into immaturity as a result of team performance.

After the game Rob and I make the long walk back to the corner to grab the car and head back to his place in Richmond. It is never easy getting out of C'ville after a game, but compared to getting out of Annapolis after a Naval Academy game it is positively SPEEDY. Depending on the time of day, we sometime stop and buy Chinese food to ensure our tummies are filled for bedtime. I mostly always bunk in Rob's basement crypt  bedroom for the night and then wake quietly and steal away without waking him or Jen.

One great recent addition to my game watching has been the re-emergence of old friends into my life whose children attend UVA (the littlest kitten is in the mix....but my influence campaign is on the downlow. Except for the fact that I buy her UVA swag every time I come to C'ville). I love meeting up with them and their kids.

So--hope springs eternal. No one is expecting much from this team this year, but I'm predicting six wins again. We'll see how it goes. On Saturday morning I'll wake up and start the whole ritual over again. In the meantime, WAHOOWA!

Monday, August 27, 2018

On the Death of John McCain


When I left the Navy in 2008 and began to be a bit more...well, vocal about my politics, Senator John McCain was not my favorite person. You see, in those days, I was a Republican first, and a conservative second. Because my party was sufficiently conservative, I concerned myself largely with the business of winning....elections, policy matters, etc. Senator McCain seemed then only nominally concerned with such matters, preferring (in my view) to stake his own claim and to be the "Maverick" his supporters. Because he so often questioned his own party, he was celebrated as what I called "every Democrat's favorite Republican". This of course, lasted only until McCain became the 2008 Republican nominee, at which point he became what all Republicans are painted as, racist and unconcerned with the plight of the downtrodden. I also did not like McCain's jihad against "pork" in the budget--not because I loved pork (ok, I loved some of it) but because the institution of Congress needed ways to lubricate the system, a system that now (without pork) has ground to a halt. It always bothered me that someone with such institutional regard could not see this. Finally, there was campaign finance. McCain and I could not have been farther apart, and I am glad to see the Supreme Court came to agree with me.

I left the Navy in April of 2008 and started this (sometimes interrupted) blog in late June of that year. McCain was in the midst of a heated battle with Barack Obama, who would of course go on to win the election and cool the earth/restrain the rising waters etc. I was supportive of Senator McCain, but not overwhelmingly so. Of course I would rather have poked my eyes out than vote for Obama. I was on vacation with my (then new) family at a dude ranch in Wyoming when McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate. I thought it an inspired choice for about a month, and then realized the error of my ways.

I guess what all this rambling adds up to is that I was not a huge fan of Senator John McCain.

But John McCain? My God, I idolized the man. And I am deeply, deeply saddened by his death.

I was probably too tough on Senator McCain because of how deeply I admired John McCain. It all began in the mid-90's when I read the great Robert Timberg's "The Nightingale's Song", a book that traced the lives of a series of prominent Naval Academy graduates, including McCain. It was here that I learned about McCain--the wise cracker, the trouble maker, the average pilot, narrow escapes from death, prison and torture, return, divorce, rise, renewal. Hie thee to Amazon as soon as you can and order this book if you have not already read it. I watched him as a candidate in 2000 (where I supported Bush, quietly, on active duty) and like everyone else, was transfixed by his ease and honesty, and the way he absolutely OWNED the press. I remember watching his young family by his side on the campaign trail, obviously with no idea that I would later in life befriend one of them--Jack--whose own young life brought great joy to his father. My heart aches for my friend.

Even when I disagreed with Senator McCain--which was often--I continued to admire John McCain. I admired how dogged he was. I admired how honorable he was. I admired how funny he was. I admired how uncompromising he could be where principle was concerned, and how compromising he could be where practicality was possible. I admired his character, which shone brightest during his 2008 campaign when he defended his opponent's patriotism against early signs of ugliness in the GOP that would grow to full (im)maturity eight years later. And I admired how much he loved his family.

The last two years have been among John McCain's finest. His distance from a divisive and damaging presidency, and his willingness to criticize it and the President--even though of the same party--has served as a beacon of political bravery in an atmosphere of rampant and ruinous cowardice. As I write this, a President who publicly questioned McCain's status as a hero is hunkered down in a White House that this morning raised the flag to full mast after an announcement on McCain's death that was beneath even the miscreant in the Oval Office. The contrast in character between John McCain and Donald Trump could not be more clear, and it is my fervent hope that the solemn activities this week and the reflection they cause bring more Americans to once again value political virtues from which we have become distanced. Honesty. Clarity. Honor. Bravery.

McCain will lie in State at the Capitol on Friday. I will join him there.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

In Which I Confront UVA's Latest Epic Collapse

I'm not sure I'm completely ready to do this yet, the agony having only occurred a day and a half ago. Avoiding most media yesterday was helpful, as was spending the day with a good book. The Kitten and I had a wonderful dinner in St. Michaels last night, and then a quiet evening watching Netflix re-runs of "Cheers", a show that coincided with my college years and the first four in the Navy, a time where TV watching wasn't high on my list. I have not watched a single second of basketball since the loss, and I suppose that might be the case for the remainder of the tournament.

The loss to UMBC the other night was devastating. Putting aside the fact that #1 seeds had been 135-0 before the game, the character of the loss should be remembered. We were horsewhipped. And worse, the UVA tournament choking narrative received a colossal shot of energy, just when it looked as if there were finally a group of players who could put it to bed.

I have been a UVA basketball fan for 37 years; Ralph Sampson's 3rd and 4th years there mapped with my junior and senior years in high school, and exposure to that phenomenon brought UVA onto my radar screen which led to my application. These earlier salad days of UVA hoops--it must be remembered--included 0 ACC titles and 0 NCAA titles. Riding on the back of the three-time college player of the year, the best UVA could do was one Final Four appearance. My first year there (Ralph's first in the NBA) brought a Cinderella performance in the tournament leading to the Final Four. But most of the 37 years have been frustrating. Solid, but frustrating.

Then came Coach Tony Bennett in 2009, and since the 2011 season, UVA has steadily emerged as an ACC powerhouse, with six NCAA appearances and 3 ACC regular season titles, two of which also included ACC tournament victories.  But success in the NCAA tournament has proven elusive for Bennett's teams. Actually, that's not a comprehensive way to describe it. Bennett's teams have under-performed in the NCAA Tournament, so much so that a narrative has emerged in the college basketball world. And that narrative is that UVA simply cannot get it done in the Tournament. Worse--they choke there. I won't recount the past wounds, the present one occupying such a prominent place in the pit of my stomach. But Google it.

This narrative would be bad enough to deal with if Virginia played like other teams. But it doesn't. It plays a unique style of basketball that thrills its adherents (including me, mostly), frustrates its opponents, and for much of the Bennett era--bores the basketball writers to the extent that many openly criticize UVA's approach as "bad for bastketball". When UVA has lost in the NCAA's, these writers cluck and tut in a "we told you so manner" while teams UVA beat earlier in the season (UNC, Duke, Villanova) go on to win national titles. Am I painting a picture yet of the frustration?

This year seemed different. First of all, no one expected UVA to be very good. We lost our leading scorer, three guys transferred, and not one of the starting five scored in double figures last year. Writers picked us to finish 6th in the ACC, and based on what the five in front of them were bringing back from last year, I couldn't argue with them.

But then the games began, and Virginia began to build momentum. The first big win was over Carolina at home, and then we went to Duke and beat them there. As time went on, writers began to publicly acknowledge their mistake in overlooking UVA, and the team earned greater respect. But always....always....there was the narrative. They'll choke at the big dance. They can't score fast enough to beat a hot shooting team. Everyone plays high-level defense during the tournament. Perhaps worst of all--this narrative was my own head.

When they became the #1 team in the country after terrible, flat loss to Virginia Tech (game film of which surely was consumed by the UMBC coaching staff who essentially mimicked the gameplan), I scratched my head--but then again, the other possible #1's had bad weekends too. They stayed there for a month and then dominated the ACC tournament. This team looked like it was the one to finally break the narrative. And then began the unraveling, in a manner familiar to UVA fans who've seen late season injury and illness (Justin Anderson, Isiah Wilkins) before.

ACC Sixth Man of the Year and likely someday NBA first rounder De'Andre Hunter broke his wrist in the ACC Tournament, and the announcement was received by UVA fans with a collective gasp of horror. The narrative....the curse.....was alive. At least it felt that way. Sure, some did a good job of trying to mathematically prove how we could still score and defend enough to make a deep run....but I think deep in the heart of all but the most over-the-top Homers--there it was. We were snakebit.

Not that this meant what happened Friday night. I suppose many of us thought that were we to lose, it would be in the round of 16 or the round of 8--a game effort without the "glue guy" who really helped us to the 31-2 record. But Friday night. Friday night was different. It is a nasty gaping wound in the collective psyche of UVA basketball fans. Not getting to the Final Four in 2018 can fairly be attributed to the loss of a key part of the team. Losing to a 16 seed in the first round cannot. So then--what can it be attributed to? What can account for this team's recent gaudy runs through league play only to lose frustratingly in the NCAA's?

Coaching. I'm sorry, but there it is. Coaching. Preparation. "The System".

Let's get a few things out of the way. I love Coach Tony Bennett. I think he is a very, very good basketball coach. He is also--from all accounts--a superb human being. UVA fans are fortunate to have him, and I wouldn't trade him for any other coach in the country. We are consistently winning in the best league in the country with a clean program and guys who graduate.

But--and here is the big finish--you cannot logically and coherently attribute UVA's regular season and ACC tournament success since 2011 to the creation and sustainment of a "system" and then look the other way when the team consistently under-performs in the NCAA tournament. Pointing this out DOES NOT MEAN THAT TONY BENNETT ISN'T A GREAT COACH OF THAT I WANT ANYONE ELSE TO BE OUR COACH. It simply means that for this program to reach the next level, the coach and the system are going to have to improve, to change. Do I know what that means in implementation? No. Of course not. I'm a fan, not a coach. After the game, Bennett said of UMBC that they ran an offense against which UVA has been susceptible this year. Ok--then don't be susceptible.

Writer John Feinstein had two Tweets this morning that speak directly to what I am writing here, so I'll include both so that I can respond.

And then,

My point here is that if anyone believes Coaches Smith, K, and Wooden DID NOT MAKE CHANGES or improve as system architects over those years--they are kidding themselves. We can--as fans--simultaneously hold in our minds the two separate ideas: that we are fortunate to have Bennett as our coach AND that there is some serious work to be done by the coach for the team to reach the next level and for him to be considered in the class of the coaches just named. 


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