Big Ten, Big Lame

The Big Ten — having ditched decades of tradition by deciding to split into divisions and play a conference championship football game — has decided to make matters worse by giving the divisions the lamest names imaginable.

I am not exaggerating.  One division will be called “Leaders” and the other will be called “Legends.” Seriously, who came up with these names?  Did the Big Ten actually pay some marketing gurus for these ludicrous efforts?  And were the names tested before focus groups of teenage nerds who love Dungeons and Dragons?  Why settle for “Leaders” and “Legends”?  Why not call one division “Ring of Power” and the other “Battleaxe of Gondor”?

The Big Ten Commissioner tried to lessen the excruciating embarrassment by saying that “Legends” refers to the many Heisman Trophy winners and College Football Hall of Fame members from the Big Ten, and “Leaders” recognizes the leadership position of Big Ten schools.  That explanation is the skimpiest fig leaf ever.  It’s obvious that whoever devised these names doesn’t know beans about the Big Ten or its history.  If you have to have a “Leaders” division, wouldn’t one of the teams any knowledgeable person would automatically put in that division be the University of Michigan — whose well-known fight song egotistically refers to the Wolverines as “the leaders and best”?

These pathetic division titles make the Big Ten look like some desperate wannabe that hopes to build its rep through big-sounding names rather than through actual gridiron accomplishment — like the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza tried to encourage people to call him “T Bone.”  C’mon, Big Ten!  Leave such humiliating social-climbing antics to the lesser conferences, like the Big East or the Mountain West.  If you want to be the Big Ten, it’s time to act like it.

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Exploring The Limits Of Constitutional Power

Today a federal district court judge in Virginia ruled that the “individual mandate” provision of the “health care reform” legislation — that is, that portion of the statute that would require people to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty — is unconstitutional.

Judge Henry Hudson concluded that the individual mandate “exceeds the constitutional boundaries of congressional power.”  He found that the commerce clause, which gives Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce, does not permit Congress to regulate a person’s decision not to purchase a product.  Although there are other court rulings that have upheld the “health care reform” legislation, Judge Hudson’s decision is significant because it reflects an interesting approach to skirting the broad powers afforded Congress through the commerce clause.  In effect, Judge Hudson is saying that if individuals choose not to purchase a good or service they are not engaged in commerce, and therefore they necessarily are beyond Congress’ regulatory power under the commerce clause.

Of course, this issue will be addressed by federal appellate courts and, ultimately, will be decided the Supreme Court.  Until then, it is an issue that Americans of all political stripes may well want to consider.  Supporters of the “health care reform” legislation want that law to be upheld — but do they really want a court ruling that says that Congress can force Americans to buy products or take other actions in furtherance of commerce?  In other instances, federal law requirements are simply attached to a decision and therefore become part of the individual decision-making process.  If I want to work, for example, I have to pay Social Security and have income tax withheld from my wages.  If I don’t want to pay Social Security, I can choose not to work.  With the “individual mandate,” however, there is no choice.  Simply by virtue of being an American, you become obligated to buy health insurance.

When we speak of constitutional doctrine, we have to take the long term view and look past the relative merits of the statute at issue.  If the Supreme Court rules that Congress has the constitutional power to force us to buy health insurance, what’s next?  Smoke alarms?  Government bonds?  Subscriptions to the Congressional Record?  And if we think the corruption and influence of lobbyists is out of control now, what will it be like if corporations and interest groups learn that, through some deft lobbying work, they can achieve passage of legislation that will require us to spend our money for their goods and services?

To Tree Or Not To Tree?

That is the question.  Whether ’tis . . .  Well, you get the idea.  We’re trying to decide whether to put up a Christmas tree this year.  It’s a tough decision that surely would give Hamlet pause.

On the pro side, I like the look of a tree.  It’s festive, it’s colorful, and it’s traditional.  We’ve had many of our ornaments for years, and they have some real sentimental value.  A pine tree in the house smells good.  (I would never get a fake tree.)  And, I don’t want to seem like a Grinch.  If you’re celebrating the holidays, why not go the whole nine yards?

On the con side, a Christmas tree is a pain to lug home, put up, and take down.  My initial job is always to bring the tree in and get the trunk of the tree into the tree stand.  I wrestle the tree through the door and leave a green trail of pine needles from the door to the corner where we put up the tree.  Then I get on my belly, scuttle under the tree while getting poked by pine needles and soaked by tree droppings, and try to figure out how to configure the stupid screws in the tree stand against the knots and burls of the tree trunk to hold the tree in true upright position.  Inevitably, despite my finest screw-related calibrations, the tree tilts and falls down, unleashing a torrent of unseemly language that is utterly antithetical to such fundamental Christmas concepts as joy and peace.

After the tree is finally up, we have to find the Christmas ornaments in the basement, get the tree lights out and see if they work, and schlep all the stuff upstairs.  While we are decorating the tree, Penny is clamping down on low-lying ornaments and pulling them off the tree or, worse, pulling the tree down for good measure.  Even Good King Wenceslas would be feeling uncharitable by this point.

This year I’m inclined to nix the tree and go with the stockings, perhaps a poinsettia or two, and maybe a candle arrangement.  Call me Scrooge.  And I just know I’ll feel guilty about it.