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Original Issue

Bush League

Mixing politics with sports can be a recipe for disaster

LAST WEEK President Bush gave ESPN his World Series pick: the Tigers. Bush said he liked Detroit's chances now that "they've got the flamethrower Zumala back." Two problems: It's Joel Zumaya, and he's still on the DL. Politicians often try to score some common-man points by talking about—or participating in—sports. But they also run the risk of looking terribly out of touch by misstepping or misspeaking. Here are a few memorable gaffes:

Tricky Dick Nixon drew up a trick play for Redskins coach George Allen—who rarely employed gimmicks—to use in a playoff game. Nixon's reverse lost 13 yards, killing a Washington drive. The fallout: The Redskins lost to the 49ers 24--20. The next year the District of Columbia went to McGovern by a huge margin.

Jimmy Carter's fishing trip in Plains, Ga., took a turn for the macabre when he had to defend himself with an oar from an aggressive, swimming rabbit. The fallout: PRESIDENT ATTACKED BY KILLER RABBIT, one headline blared. Carter was hounded by bunny questions for weeks. Shedding the wimp label became even tougher six months later when he collapsed from exhaustion during a 10K race.

During a congratulatory phone call to the clubhouse of the World Series champion Royals, President Reagan called Kansas City closer Dan Quisenberry "Jim." The fallout: Always a good sport, Quiz forgave Dutch when the two met at the White House a week later. When Reagan apologized, Quisenberry said, "That's O.K., Don."

Tory leader David Cameron and Labour bigwig Gordon Brown dissed each other's fan credentials during the World Cup. Brown scored the biggest blow when he pointed out that Cameron once admitted he didn't know the name of England's starting goalkeeper, Paul Robinson. ("Martin something?" was Cameron's guess.) The fallout: Brown breezed into office as prime minister earlier this summer.

Taking a page from Cubs/Yankees fan Hillary Clinton, New Mexico governor and presidential hopeful Bill Richardson—who once claimed to have been drafted by the A's, though he hadn't—declared on Meet the Press, "I'm a Red Sox fan.... I'm also a Yankees fan." The fallout: Richardson's already shaky campaign has slumped since; he trails even Dennis Kucinich in most polls.

What's the deal with...


BAD NEWS FOR eight-year-old nieces and old guys in the park: Canadian computer scientists have developed Chinook, a program they say is unbeatable at checkers. Chinook, which was 18 years in the making, is the brainchild of Jonathan Schaeffer and his colleagues at the University of Alberta, who at times had as many as 200 computers working to analyze every possible move in the game. (There are something like 500 billion billion.) "We've taken the knowledge used in artificial-intelligence applications to the extreme by replacing human-understandable heuristics with perfect knowledge," Schaeffer said. What's that mean? We're not sure. But what is clear, now that Schaeffer and friends have challenged the program in every conceivable way, is this: Chinook—which won the human world championship in 1994—can't lose, even if its opponent has the first move. Schaeffer is not planning to market Chinook, but players can challenge it for free at For his next trick Schaeffer is eyeing a more lucrative sport. He's working on Polaris, a computer that plays poker.