"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
August 31, 2002
POLITICS: Wabbit Season
This link tells the story, the details of which have begun to fade from memory, of Jimmy Carter's epic battle with a ferocious swimming bunny rabbit ("Look at the bones, man!"). Unfortunately, the picture in the story doesn't seem to load on my computer.
BLOG: Bad Neighbors
A friend sent me this link a while back - it's a pretty amusing story about a neighbor from hell.
August 30, 2002
WAR: Act Now!
Quote of the week, from The Onion: "The time to invade Iraq is now. If we wait, cooler heads might prevail."
POLITICS: Laughing Right
Following up on the thoughts in my Bruce post of yesterday, I ran accross this article on Slate arguing that the Left has grown boring and dour while the Right has all the fun. Of course, the author works from a piece that picks on The Nation - which was never exactly National Lampoon to begin with, given the difficulty of finding Stalinists with a good sense of humor - and compares it to The Weekly Standard, which isn't even the most entertaining of right-wing screeds, not even close. Jack Shafer notes hypersensitivity as a leading cause of this humor impairment, but the fact is that postmodern, oppression-is-everywhere dogma and sackcloth-and-ashes environmentalism are the real culprits. The Left lives in terror of optimism; heck, the entire liberal establishment rests on the idea that the civil rights movement is proof positive that some things, only the federal government can accomplish - yet that same establishment would die rather than admit that any progress has been made on race relations since 1955, since that would prove that maybe the dark, sinister powerful forces don't impose their false consciousness on everybody after all.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have a different form of dishonesty that the Left didn't create but commonly uses to its advantage: inauthentic emotional one-upmanship. The incomparable Mark Steyn has the goods on this one in his plea to separate the genuine grief and righteous anger of September 11th from the phony, it's-so-sad sap that surrounded the death of Princess Di. While I may rail, as I did below, against people who rip Bruce Springsteen for his emotionalism, there's a world of difference between Bruce's heartfelt emotion and, say, a croon from some boy band over lyrics some staff composer churned out for them, and it's the same thing here. We can feel our own pain. Sometimes, pretending to feel someone else's is just bunk.
POLITICS: NEWT FOR SENATE?
Instapundit linked earlier to this fine Michael Barone analysis of why Cynthia Mckinney lost and how it was different from the race that brought down Bob Barr. The interesting thing was his speculation at the end:
"The only possible bad news here is that McKinney has said she may run for the Senate in 2004. The seat that is up is currently held by Zell Miller, who never really wanted to be a senator anyway (he was appointed to fill the vacancy caused by the unexpected death of Republican Paul Coverdell) and who turns 72 in 2004; he is widely expected to retire. Miller would obviously clobber McKinney in a primary, but she could conceivably finish first in a multicandidate primary. She would lose the runoff, of course."
I suppose she would, but if the Georgia GOP would have one heckuva golden opportunity if she didn't. Note Barone's calculation that McKinney, even running against an African-American liberal Democrat, drew just 5% of the white vote in the primary. With those odds, nearly anyone's a good bet to beat her. Know any ambitious, young, retired Georgia Republicans who might be itching for a new challenge by 2004? And boy, wouldn't that be an entertaining campaign.
Take this quiz, please . . .
BASEBALL: Wiley Plays The Card
One of my favorite games with internet columnists is to look at the headline of a Ralph Wiley column and try to guess (1) how far into the column until he makes a veiled reference to race and (2) how far into the column until he comes right out and starts talking about it. This one, I guessed it would be pretty early. I was actually a bit ahead of the game, but after a brief detour to bash New York, Wiley didn't disappoint: number 7 on his list rips "Media gets some steroid phoniness by then smearing the likes of Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, but never questioning the likes of, say, Bret Boone," to which my response is, Ralph Wiley and I are reading different media. Didn't, like, every single article about Boone discuss how suddenly and inexplicably he had bulked up? Yeah, Rick Reilly beat a dead Moral High Horse into the ground with his assault on Sammy Sosa, and as much as I hate Bonds it's unfair to move from the guy in the bar saying "Bonds fits the steroid profile" to the guy in the newspaper saying "I bet Barry didn't get that way eating his Wheaties." But really, most of the speculation I seem to see about 'roids focuses on white guys in their mid-30s.
Then he gets to OJ . . .
WAR: NEVER FORGET
BASEBALL: It Was Almost This Bad
This is the kind of hideous publicity baseball avoided by inking a last-minute deal. Really, we all knew they were going to take this down to the wire, and they'll do the same damn thing in 2006.
BASEBALL: NO STRIKE!
BREAKING NEWS (11:59 am EST): Baseball has reached a deal. WFAN reports there will be no strike.
LAW: Article V
You know, I touched on this in my 8/23 Atkins post below, but using a "consensus" of counting state laws to determine what is constitutionally acceptable strikes me as a flagrant violation of the spirit (to say nothing of the letter) of Article V of the Constitution, which sets out very rigorous requirements for state legislatures to amend the constitution. Make no mistake: if enough state legislatures (2/3 of them) demand a Convention for the purposes of changing the Eighth Amendment, and if enough state legislatures (3/4 of them) further ratify the resulting work of such a Convention (bearing in mind that, in modern practice, no such convention is called as long as you have enough ratifications), presto! The Constitution prohibits executing people whose names begin with the letter "M", or whatever else those states may desire. To use an "emerging consensus" based on differing statutes passed in less than that number of states, and on the basis of statutes that were not debated with the gravity of a (generally permanent) constitutional amendment, is a direct attack on the Article V procedures.
LAW: First Amendment Exclusionary Rules
Apparently the California courts are looking into whether you have a First Amendment right to link to websites that facilitate the theft of intellectual property, and the business community is in an uproar. This subject fascinates me, although I haven't dealt with it much in practice; I did my third year law school paper on "First Amendment Exclusionary Rules," and they come up all the time. We have lots of rules (going back to common law causes of action for fraud and defamation) that impose restrictions on speech that is demonstrably false. But there are also a lot of areas of the law, nearly all of them fraught with uncertainty, that govern restrictions on truthful speech that conveys information that was obtained through some sort of illegality, from trade secret law to military intelligence to inside information about stocks. Our speech is not so free as we pretend, and in many cases there are good reasons why.
August 29, 2002
This article speaks volumes about how economists think, but this guy obviously does not live in Manhattan if he thinks people don't walk, and walk fast, up (and down) escalators.
WAR: Arab Military Culture
I've lately been reading David Pryce-Jones' "The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs." It's a deeply depressing book. This two-part article (NRO linked to it a few days ago) is chock full of anecdotes and analysis along a similar line, explaining why the culture of Arab countries is such an obstacle to effective action by complex organizations or effective use of modern technology - in this case, in the military. The whole article is worth reading; a priceless quote:
"On one occasion, an American mobile training team working with armor in Egypt at long last received the operators’ manuals that had laboriously been translated into Arabic. The American trainers took the newly minted manuals straight to the tank park and distributed them to the tank crews. Right behind them, the company commander, a graduate of the armor school at Fort Knox and specialized courses at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds ordnance school, promptly collected the manuals from those crews. Questioned why he did this, the commander said that there was no point in giving them to the drivers because enlisted men could not read. In point of fact, he did not want enlisted men to have an independent source of knowledge. Being the only person who could explain the fire control instrumentation or bore sight artillery weapons brought prestige and attention."
And one more:
"Prior to the 1973 war, Sadat was surprised to find that within two weeks of the date he had ordered the armed forces be ready for war, his minister of war, General Muhammad Sadiq, had failed to inform his immediate staff of the order. Should a war, Sadat wondered, be kept secret from the very people expected to fight it?"
The $64 million question, of course - one that Pryce-Jones seems to answer in the negative in his book but in the affirmative in his National Review columns - is whether this culture will change when and if the Arab countries are reconstituted politically to provide for a democratic process of peaceful sharing of power (the European model) or peaceful transfers of power (the American model). Frankly, I don't know enough about the region to really answer that one.
HISTORY: REVISE YOUR HISTORY BOOKS
Just in time for the first test of George W. Bush's pre-emption doctrine, comes news that the United States fired the first shot at Pearl Harbor.
LAW: Stevens' Poll-Watching Continues
Justice Stevens isn't done applying the "apparent consensus among the States and the international community" as the standard for interpreting the Constitution. (Warning: Link is to a PDF file)
POLITICS: Rapping Against Wellstone
Here's a bizarre story from the American Prospect about Citizens Opposed to Racism and Discrimination (CORAD), a conservative group in Minnesota that's running ads against Paul Wellstone and put out a rap CD (!) full of what can only be described as right-wing propaganda in an effort to break the Democrats' hammerlock on African-American voters in the Twin Cities. TAP's problem is that it can't seem to decide whether or not CORAD is actually accomplishing enough to be newsworthy.
POP CULTURE: DISSING THE BOSS
It's always been easy for people who fancy themselves to be cool and sophisticated to bash Bruce Springsteen. Bruce's work has always been highly emotional, and his appeal visceral, with none of the too-cool-for-school detatchment that is the signature of rock poseurs everywhere. That's what made him such a man of the moment in the flag-waving 80s and such an easy target in the Seinfeldy, irony-ridden 90s. And, contrary to what some people seem to think, the unguarded sincerity of Bruce's music is precisely what makes him once again a vital force in the post-September 11 world, the world where even David Letterman got choked up on national television.
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Everyone's entitled to dislike his music, of course, but dedicated Bruce-bashing -- the type that isn't content to dislike the guy and his songs but wants you to feel bad for liking him too -- is, like, so September 10. Bruce and his devoted fans are a big target because irony is always most effective against people who take things seriously. Bruce takes things seriously. He even takes having fun seriously: listen to a song like "Badlands" or "Dancing in the Dark" or "Born to Run," for example, and you can see that Bruce is talking about having fun, having friends, having faith and making love not because life is wonderful, but precisely because life is hard and we only come this way once. Bruce's lyrics are the kind of stuff you hear from people who get weepy after a couple of drinks. I read one review that criticized "Mary's Place" on the new album, as well as the entirety of the "Born in the USA" album, for matching upbeat music to downbeat lyrics. But that's always been the point - Bruce is telling us to go out and have a blast when times are toughest.
The Boss' critics on the political Right, as well as some of his fans on the Left, tend to miss the fact that, as a result of this mixture of sincerity and optimism, Bruce's fan base tends to be much more socially and politically conservative than the nation, or the record-buying public, as a whole. This is an issue of temperment as much as anything. It's hard to be a Bruce fan if you are the type of person who snickers reflexively at the flag, or soldiers and cops, or the Church, or other institutions that take serious things seriously. It's hard to be a Bruce fan if you are the type of woe-is-everyone Leftist who moans on about how all our institutions are a fraud designed to prop up a corrupt, racist, homophobic patriarchy and we should all say NO to making better lives for ourselves, wear black all the time and live like the bonobo chimpanzees. How many Critical Race Theorists, or 'womyn' who celebrate "V-Day," could say with a straight face that "it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive"?
Penn of Penn and Teller gets this, as does Stanley Kurtz. I think Bruce gets this too, which is why he's so careful to thread the needle on controversial topics in a way that preserves his credibility with his friends on the Left without alienating his fans. "41 Shots" is a good example of this - Bruce presents the Diallo shooting as a tragedy, not a crime, but he also makes sure that his white, blue-collar audience remembers the story. And to my mind, Bruce was as guilty as anybody for the misinterpretation of "Born in the USA," a song that broke dramatically with the 70s-era Leftist tradition of bashing the Vietnam vets: if he didn't want it to be heard as a hymn to underappreciated patriots, he should have thought twice about releasing a video full of warm, fuzzy Americana where he played in front of the flag; about putting Old Glory on the cover of the record, and as the backdrop to the stage show, and as the backdrop to the tour posters, all at a time when the "USA! USA!" chant was at its highest ebb. But Bruce could play that game precisely because he isn't really of the modern Left so much as the old-time liberalism; he believes America can do bad things, but he obviously doesn't believe in his heart that this is an evil, corrupt country. And to conservative fans, that's all we ask - artists are allowed to have their own politics. We don't have to vote for the guy.
In the same the-personal-is-political vein, the main criticism of "The Rising" on the Right is that it gives short shrift to the epic battle between Good and Evil that was revealed by September 11. In a sense, Bruce - who had kind words for the US operation in Afghanistan in a recent interview, in contrast to his Gulf War mopery in "Souls of the Departed" - is threading that needle again, but so what? It's always stupid to criticize somebody for the songs they didn't write; it's stupider for criticizing a musician for avoiding a political topic about which he obviously has nothing useful to say. Bruce also wrote songs principally about the World Trade Center rather than about the Pentagon or Flight 93 - so what? He's in New Jersey. People in his town died at the Trade Center. He wrote what was around him, and did it well. Picasso's Guernica (one of the few paintings I know anything about and appreciate) didn't tell the whole story of the Spanish Civil War, either. It didn't have to to be great art. Springsteen wasn't likely to improve on Neil Young's Flight 93 record, "Let's Roll," anyway, which gave powerful voice to the need to do battle with evil. To take the Picasso analogy to the breaking point, Young's song, like the Leftist intellectuals (such as Orwell) who went off to fight in the Spanish Civil War, is a clarion call to fight Islamist fascism that's all the more powerful because it comes from a dyed-in-the-tie-dyes peacenik, the guy who raised hosannas to Jesse Jackson in the great garage-rock anthem "Rockin' In the Free World" and sang derisively in the same song about America's "kinder, gentler machine gun hand." But Bruce didn't have to say that; what he did say, about hope and faith in the face of grief, was quite enough.
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BASEBALL: A WORLD OF GLOVE
This is a fun one to look back at, from the now-defunct (but apparently still posted) Sportsjones.com: the difference between Mo Vaughn and John Olerud with the glove explains so much about the current Mets.
August 28, 2002
WAR: Saudi Manners
Apparently, in addition to their other vices, nobody tells Saudi princes not to sit on the arm of a chair.
BASEBALL: Travis Goes Home
POP CULTURE: Dixie
Is it just me, or does this picture make the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks look like a dead ringer for Sally Struthers?
BASEBALL: The Players League Rides Again
"Some details would have to be worked out, of course. TV and concession profits would have to be diverted to charities correctly. Players' expenses would need to be covered, and an escrow account could be set up to liberally compensate them for any injuries. Maintenance could be continued, so stadiums wouldn't deteriorate."
This dramatically understates the problem; finding stadiums was hard enough in 1890, when the major leagues played in parks that would embarrass a modern college team, but the infrastructure required today to play major league quality baseball doesn't spring up overnight. Do you think that any park controlled by pro sports owners would be willing to rent to strikers? This is as unrealistic as the perennial call for a fan strike (which if you think about it, is as meaningful a punishment for striking as using the death penalty on suicide bombers - if you don't play the games, we won't watch them!!!)
WAR: Al . . . Qaeda
Al Qaeda is apparently Osama bin Laden's Rosebud.
WAR/BLOG: 'Very Smart Inactivist'
I'm obviously still at the stage of just dropping some archival and random stuff in here while I figure out whether there's time in my schedule to blog. Here's one of my little scraps of broader publicity: an email I sent to Jonah Goldberg that got posted in The Corner on the National Review Online.
FOOTBALL: Randall To Canton??
NFL Hall of Fame debates usually leave me dry, but . . . Randall Cunningham? I'm speechless. I thought Dan Dierdorf said it best when he said that Cunningham was "not afraid to make the stupid pass."
August 27, 2002
BASEBALL: Projo Column Up
August 25, 2002
BASEBALL: Baseball Mom
Baseball, the sages tell us, is a game for fathers and sons. From games of catch and Little League coaches all the way to the big league world of Alomars and Ripkens and Bondses and Griffeys, we often think of how the game ties together generations of men. All of this is true, of course; hey, I got choked up at the end of "Field of Dreams" the first time I saw it, too.
But let's not overlook one of the best gifts a boy can have growing up as a baseball fan: the Baseball Mom.
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My father has been a baseball fan since the 1940s, and baseball has always been something we talked about; but in my house, at least, it was my mother who was even more important in shaping me, my brothers and my sister as baseball fans, as Mets fans. Ours was not a house where Dad had to battle to get sports on TV.
My mother was an old Brooklyn Dodgers fan, and sufficiently set in the National League ways that when my parents got married, she converted my father to a Mets fan from his prior allegiance to the Hated Yankees -- not an easy feat, in the early 1960s. She always pulled for the National League in the World Series and the All-Star Game, even when the Mets and Dodgers weren't involved.
There are different types of baseball fans. Some fans are the hard-core stat-heads, box score readers, rotisserie players and the like -- people who get into the history, the facts and figures. Some are guys who play ball themselves, and love the mechanics of the game. Some are season ticket holders who go to every game. Some are just casual fans who only get interested when the team is going good and the race is heating up.
My mother was another kind of fan -- the kind who follows every game team faithfully on the radio and TV, and forms most of her opinions about the players from what she sees. She loved listening to Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner and Lindsey Nelson. She knew generally who was a .300 hitter or a 20-game winner or held the famous records, but she didn't pore over stats or think of the players in terms dictated by the numbers. She always remembered the guys who tortured the Mets, like Mike Easler and Bob Knepper, and always preferred the scrappy little players like Mookie Wilson and Wally Backman and had little use for big sleepy lumbering sluggers like Dave Kingman, John Milner, George Foster, Darryl Strawberry, Kevin McReynolds, Bobby Bonilla and Mo Vaughn. I never asked in so many words, but I think her favorite player was probably Jerry Koosman, or maybe Gil Hodges or Rusty. She always said the best baseball games were the 4-3 games, just enough scoring to keep things interesting. She stuck by the Mets during the times in the mid-90s when even I was too disgusted and depressed to watch, and even in the worst years they always seemed to win when she made it out to Shea. And she always liked to talk about the Mets or just listen to us talk, even about our rotisserie teams -- and there are few topics in this world that get old faster than listening to somebody else talk about their rotisserie team.
But the fans who follow the game religiously for the sheer fun of it, for the love of their favorite team -- those are the backbone of the game, the way the guy on the couch with the beer in his hand is the backbone of the NFL. Unlike basketball and hockey, baseball's fan base isn't so much threatened by pricing its core fan base out of the seats and pulling all the games off free TV; but the one thing baseball can only survive so many times is plain ill will. Baseball needs to raise a younger generation of fans like my mother, and it's not going to do that if the game isn't there when we need it. The continuity of the game, the steady rythm of a game on the radio every night in the summertime -- my mother would listen to the games on the radio while doing jigsaw puzzles -- that matters, a lot.
My mother got to see her favorite team win the World Series four times -- the Dodgers in 1955 & 1959, the Mets in 1969 & 1986. If I could ask her today, I'd say the only regret she had as a baseball fan was never seeing a Mets pitcher throw a no-hitter even with decades of power pitchers like Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Dwight Gooden and David Cone, even a guy like Hideo Nomo who threw them before AND after being a Met. She always mentioned how the perennially optimistic Bob Murphy ("if Doug Flynn can get on here, that will bring the tying run into the on deck circle") moans about that one absence in Mets history. I hope she's watching when somebody finally throws one. I hope the game gets its house in order and doesn't let somebody else's Baseball Mom down. I'll still be watching. I'll just miss watching with her.
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August 23, 2002
WAR/LAW: MILITARY RECRUITERS ALLOWED BACK AT HARVARD LAW SCHOOL
Dean Clark says the feddle gummint made him do it by threatening to take away the University's allowance. Oh, yeah, and there's some patriotism stuff thrown in at the end. Of course, somehow I don't think that the safety of the Republic will depend any time soon on Harvard lawyers storming the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates, but it's a start.
WAR: Good PR?
Go the next to last item here and ask yourself: who came up with the name "Adopt a Minefield" for a charity?
LAW: Atkins Away
It's easy to make fun of the Supreme Court for relying on such ephemera as public opinion polls and "international opinion" in construing the Constitution - recall that when the Constitution was written, "international opinion" (which then, as now, meant "Europe") was very, very much against democracy and the separation of powers, while barely a decade later the Continent was awash in the bloody tide of the guillotine - but what to do about it? Well, to stop this type of thing in its tracks, Congress could pass a statute simply stating that no court shall consider certain things in construing the meaning of the Constitution or federal statutes - such things to at least include public opinion polls or any "consensus" from outside our borders or that depends on, say, legislative enactments in a smaller number of the States than is required to amend the Constitution's text in Article V. (You'd have to draw the thing more carefully than I'm doing now, but you get the idea).
Of course, the Atkins decision itself may likewise be easy to evade, since in at least some circumstances it appears to give state legislatures the wiggle room either to define who is "retarded" or easier yet to turn the question over to juries, who might yet be able to find that the nature of the crime (including what the Federal Sentencing Guidelines refer to as "more than minimal planning") is evidence that the perp is not retarded. Since the Court has already held for some time that juries must consider retardation as a mitigating factor at sentencing, this is not a real sea change. In addition, because the sole focus is on the "mentally retarded criminal," the decision does not appear to bar executing people like Rickey Ray Rector, the guy Clinton fried during the 1992 campaign, because Rector was not retarded at the time of the crime (he apparently lost a lot of brain when he shot himself in the head following the crime).
BUSINESS: Is Not Good
You can tell things are really going badly in the markets when business journalists are leaping to their deaths.
It's official, as Bill Simmons would say: Adrian Beltre has made The Leap. Here's his line since his breakout game July 26 against the Giants:
(UPDATE: As you can tell, I'm going to have some trouble figuring out how to do stat lines on the Blogger software. Bear with me!)
UPDATE after moving to MT: Finally learned the code to fix all the stat tables!
August 22, 2002
BLOG: Here We Go
It's The Baseball Crank's blog! Will it work? I'm not making any promises about the regularity of content at this site, but this medium is too good to pass up. Some of you may know my work from Bill Simmons' "Boston Sports Guy" website, where I got my start as an internet pundit on things baseball, or from my allegedly weekly column (barely monthly, these days) at the Providence Journal's website (which, sadly, is now registration-only, although it's still free). Some may also know me from the Baseball Primer website, where I participate in posts every once and a while and where my article on the simple solution to baseball's competitive balance issues appeared. If I can find the time, I'm hoping to make this site a place for posting those of my short thoughts on baseball, politics and anything else that I deem web-worthy. Thanks for stopping by.