"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
January 31, 2005
BASEBALL: Self-Delusion Watch
January 30, 2005
BLOG: Choice and Reason
I got a complimentary copy about a week ago of "Choice, the best of Reason," a collection ostensibly showcasing the best of Reason Magazine, the hip monthly with a libertarian point of view. Being easily bought by free goodies, I started reading it right away so I could post about the book.
As a collection of lively and interesting magazine pieces, "Choice" doesn't disappoint. There are three pieces here I'd already read on the web - the interview with Dave Barry, Matt Welch's profile of Vaclav Havel, and the "35 Heroes of Freedom." I'd highly recommend the Barry and Havel profiles. In fact, much of what's in here is profiles, not all of people who fit in the libertarian box: there's also a perceptive and highly sympathetic profile of Clarence Thomas, plumbing the roots of his anger* leading up to the infamous "high-tech lynching" speech, as well as interviews with Milton Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, John Stossel, Norman Borlaug, and Drew Carey. More expected, there are skeptical looks at the War on Drugs, Gulf War Syndrome, the child-safety culture, and medical underuse of pain medication. The book is far less of a primer on libertarianism; you won't find anything here that reads like John Galt's speech in "Atlas Shrugged," and any number of issues are uncovered.
But one facet of the book is perhaps unintentionally revealing: while "Choice" is presented as "the best of Reason," more than half of the magazine's 35-year history is absent here; I believe the Thomas piece from 1992 is the oldest in the book. Annoyingly but tellingly, neither the table of contents nor the opening of each selection gives you the date, which appears only at the end of each article (the Hitchens interview, dated "November 2001," is either misdated or was conducted well before its publication, as I can't imagine Hitchens being interviewed in November 2001 and failing to mention the War on Terror while calling the war on drugs the most important issue in the world today). Editor Nick Gillespie apologizes, in the book's introduction, that many of the issues covered by the magazine's early years now seem "almost quaint." But it is inconceivable, by contrast, that, say, National Review would publish a retrospective limited exclusively to the past 15 years; the urge is too great, even in current issues of NR, to pay homage to forbears, recount battles won and foes vanquished, and otherwise invoke tradition and conservatism's ancient historical bona fides. I believe it was Burke (it's been variously attributed) who said, "experience is the school of mankind, he will learn at no other." Libertarianism, by contrast, seems remarkably unschooled by experience; as Hitchens notes in the interview, "I can't . . . picture a libertarian analysis of 1848 or 1914." In part, this is of a piece with the difficulty of finding a coherent "libertarian" view on foreign policy (domestic-policy libertarians are all over the map on foreign policy).
I'll write more again another day on why I'm not a libertarian, but this is part of why; libertarianism, to me, is more a useful set of questions than a workable portfolio of solutions. But those questions are worth asking, and this book asks a few good ones.
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* - I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas in 1992, and while he was engaging and very funny in person, it wasn't hard to see the bristling anger still there not far at all below the surface.
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WAR: Another Milestone
Hard to find much to add to today's events in Iraq, but to say that, judging by the goals I set out in June, we've taken another important step. It's truly historic to see the determination of so many Iraqis to brave threats to vote - really the first time since Saddam's regime fell in April 2003 that the Iraqi people have put their heads up and made such a statement on their own behalf.
WAR: Secular Media Bias=Progress
Was just watching CNN's surprisingly upbeat coverage of the Iraqi elections, and Christian Amanpour was interviewing an Iraqi policeman who was speaking hopefully about the future . . . I noticed that the first word of his response, before the translator's voice-over kicked in, was "insh'allah." Now, if I know five words of Arabic it's a lot, but even I know that that roughly translates as "God willing," yet the translator's rendering left out all references to God.
Still, I guess if oridnary Iraqis have to start worrying about the Western media looking down on their religion, well, that'll be real progress from the things that have plagued them in the past.
LAW: The Caption Says It All
From earlier this week: Frank J. celebrates the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
WAR: New Instability
January 28, 2005
BASEBALL: Obi-Wan Speaks
Blez at Athletics Nation has a great three-part interview with Billy Beane (it says something about Beane that he'll do an interview with a blog) here, here, and here. I really envy bloggers who do interviews; even if I bought the necessary tape-recording equipment I just don't type fast enough to transcribe something of this length.
You really should read the whole thing; I excerpt some of the highlights. Beane on blogs:
I've always felt this incredible support from the cyber-world. We joke about it. Myself and Paul (DePodesta). The one thing I have that Paul hasn't really acquired yet in Los Angeles 'cause it takes time, is that kind of support. . . . [Getting beyond knee-jerk reactions is] what I love, for lack of a better word, about the blogger's world. There is a tendency to really analyze things in detail. Ultimately, because there is so much conversation and investigation on a site like yours, people may not ultimately agree with it, but they stumble onto what you're trying to do. Someone emailed me something written on a Cardinals' blog, and they had nailed all the things we were talking about. The economic reasons, the personnel reasons and the reasons we made the exchange. The world of a Web log will lend itself to a lot of investigation. And you will often stumble across the answer more than someone who has to write in two hours to meet deadline just to make sure something is out in the paper the next day.
I think the most interesting thing, in terms of deviation from the conventional wisdom in many sabermetric circles, is Beane's conviction that the business realities don't allow him to strip the team down to nothing to rebuild from scratch, and that this is precisely why you start the rebuilding process while you still have the horses to win:
I'm not sure it's good management as a GM to rebuild, rebuild probably isn't the right word, but to start to make changes only after you've hit rock bottom. Because it takes five, six, seven years to get out of that in a small market. . . I'm not sure that any of our fans want me to stand up at the podium and say, "Hey, we're getting rid of everybody. We're going to lose 100 games over the next three years, now come and enjoy the show." What we're trying to do is make sure that any dip in performance doesn't happen for five or six years and I've seen professional sports franchises do that. . . Back in 1992, . . . [w]e made the mistake of trying to bring the entire team back and it took us seven years to recover. Our market is not going to handle that. Understand that attendance percentage is basically based on winning. Everything you can do to make sure that any dip in your performance in a year, you minimize that. Because when you put together back to back to back losing seasons, then you've created a very apathetic situation that's very difficult to recover from. If you're worried about what a couple of sportswriters say and let them make the decisions for you, you're an absolute coward and a fool.
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*On Daric Barton, acquired in the Mulder deal:
Blez: I've read plenty about him and people mention Albert Pujols when they talk about him.
On whether money was an issue in the Hudson an Mulder deals:
To put it bluntly, we weren't going to be able to return the entire team we had in 2004 and not be far above our means . . . what we knew is that if these pitchers left, we had to have an answer for them. And the answer wasn't going to come via the free agent market.
On Jason Kendall and the value of a veteran catcher to a young staff:
One of the questions I've heard, and I almost found it comical, was, "Why did you get Jason Kendall?" . . . Jason Kendall was an exchange of Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes for Kendall. No disrespect to those two guys, but I'm going to make that deal every time. . . The other thing is that, had we not made that deal, our catcher would've been a rookie with no experience because of the cost. As far as the makeup of the team, we're going to spend what we have. Given the fact that we had three young pitchers coming into the rotation, we were going to try and protect them as much as possible in every way shape and form. Listen, I'm not stupid, I learn something every year. I've seen the value of a great bullpen. One thing about acquiring bullpen guys is that you can work from the end of the game back as opposed to the starters working from the front and going towards the ninth. So the cost of working from the ninth down is a little cheaper and with our young pitchers, it will give us an opportunity to win. And if you notice the relievers we've brought in, they're more than one inning-type of relievers.
On people saying Beane's success is driven by being fortunate to have the Big Three pitchers:
Well, thank God we were there to select them. (Laughing) . . . There's always going to be something out there and there's always going to be someone who's going to find a reason that isn't the real reason why an organization is successful. It usually someone who hasn't quite had the success they've expected themselves.
On why the A's picked Zito to keep and deal the others:
The one thing you can't undervalue is that Barry has never missed a start, nor come close to missing a start.
On possibly dealing Eric Byrnes (some rumors have had him going to the Mets for Mike Cameron, which would be typical highway robbery by Beane):
I've seen that. I would say the bulk of our offseason is over, but we're more likely to go into camp with this team than we are to make too many changes to it.
On Beane's best and worst moves (he also mentions Mark Kotsay as one of the best):
Blez: What would you call your best move and conversely, what would you call your worst move?
(Why am I not surprised there was a deal at the Mets' expense in here?)
Blez: Well, any that you look back on and kind of cringe?
Again, a great job by Blez. Read the whole thing.
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WAR: No, No Natan?
Chris Suellentrop pens a silly, silly article for Slate on Natan Sharansky's book "The Case for Democracy" - much lauded by President Bush - and "where Sharanksy disagrees with the president's policies." The underlying silliness is that Suellentrop is trying to discredit Bush's overall strategy here by pointing out tactical disagreements. The details are sillier.
Let's review the charges:
1. "Sharansky directly criticizes the administration's haste to hold elections in Afghanistan and Iraq." Fair enough, although that's an issue on which a lot of fair-minded people can disagree, and we won't know the answer for many years.
2. "Sharansky also questions the legitimacy of the Palestinian elections won by Mahmoud Abbas" . . . Sharansky rips the "road map," . . . "Sharansky says Mahmoud Abbas desires only a "temporary truce" with Israel." Of course, Sharansky is looking at peace talks with Abbas from the Israeli perspective and asking if this will work. Bush has a broader issue to consider: will renewing talks with Abbas help alleviate anti-U.S. tensions elsewhere? Talking to Arafat truly was useless. But Abbas was elected, apparently reasonably fairly, and he has publicly called for a stop to terror. I understand well Sharansky's point - Abbas isn't renouncing Arafat's overall strategy, just shifting tactics. But there's reason enough to believe that Abbas may be a practical man we can do business with - like Gorbachev, who similarly wanted to change tactics in the face of reality - and it's worth finding out. In any event, Suellentrop isn't interested in these nuances, he's just trying to drive a wedge in the traditional "even Bush's closest advisers disagree with him" mold.
3. Check this one:
Sharansky sharply criticizes the way human rights "has come to mean sympathy for the poor, the weak, and the suffering," because "sympathy can also be placed in the service of evil."
Is Suellentrop really accusing Bush of being too concerned with battling international poverty? Boy, liberalism sure has changed.
4. This is a doozy:
Criticizing U.S. Policy Provides Aid and Comfort to Whom? Page xii: Reading The Morning Star, a London Communist daily, "would prove highly subversive" for young Sharansky. Rather than absorbing the content of the paper, he was astounded by "the very fact that people outside the Soviet Union were free to criticize their own government without going to prison.
C'mon, it has never been the Bush Administration's policy that all criticism is aid and comfort to the enemy, and I doubt you could ever find a quote where Bush says anything like that. That's an absurd canard. Yes, Republicans have argued that the tone and volume of some criticism, particularly the media drumbeat of negativity, has been a boon to our enemies. But how this shows Sharansky disagreeing with Bush's policy of promoting democracy is beyond me.
5. And this:
Let a Thousand Frances Bloom! Page 95: "The democracy that hates you is less dangerous than the dictator that loves you."
That's different from our policy of promoting democracy how? It's not like we're trying to replace Chirac with a Musharraf type.
6. Suellentrop also goes after a quote in Sharansky's book:
Sharansky says Arthur Schlesinger Jr. opined in the 1980s that "those in the United States who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse, ready with one small push to go over the brink are wishful thinkers who are only kidding themselves." But Sharansky's footnote for this remark declares vaguely, "Schlesinger is reported to have made this statement after his return from a trip to the Soviet Union in 1982."
Well, I don't have an original source for that quote either, but a simple Google search shows it coming from a 1999 book and subsequent articles by Dinesh D'Souza; it's not like Sharansky made this up.
WAR: The Future of War
Check out Tom Barnett's op-ed on The Command Post. He's not overly kind to Rumsfeld, but gives him his due; at a minimum, Barnett aptly cuts to the core of the debate between air and ground power and the need to maintain both for differing purposes. This part resonated:
BLOG: Digital Bagpipes?
WAR: Who's Winning The Iraqi Elections?
Patrick Ruffini looks at an overlooked question. Of course, Sadr isn't Dennis Kucinich, he's Al Sharpton.
POLITICS: Giving Hersh the Boot
According to Bart Gellman of the Washington Post (a real investigative ace), Rumsfeld has created a new spy unit to make up for the CIA's deficiencies. Gellman's Jan. 23 story has all sorts of specifics that the New Yorker piece lacks, including the unit's name (the Strategic Support Branch). Hersh's contribution is to spin this into something nefarious by including anonymous speculation that military operatives might sponsor foreign "execution squads" or even carry out "terrorist activities." Umm, guess we'll have to take your word for it, Sy.
Hersh's credibility may not be zero, but it's pretty close.
And speaking of bad journalism, I had an exchange with a reader in the comments the other day that got me thinking. Whenever you cite anything from the Washington Times, you can be sure to get some lefty going on about the nuttiness of Rev. Moon, who owns the paper. Now, OK, Moon is nuts. But I really don't see what that has to do with the day-to-day operations of the Washington Times. I've certainly never heard of Moon getting involved in daily editorial decisions. Instead, it seems more like an effort to just wish away everything unpleasant reported by the Times: "Moon, Moon, Moon, I'm not listening . . . "
Don't get me wrong: I don't think the Washington Times is the greatest of newspapers; if you ranked the major dailies of national visibility in terms of credibility, I probably wouldn't rank it in the top half. But that record of credibility is based on the work of each paper's reporters and editors, not ad hominem attacks on the ownership.
What's funny about this is that the folks who rag on Moon never seem too interested in, say, the politics of the New York Times' ownership. Or CNN, which was founded and long run by Ted Turner. You want nuts? Turner's got an endless supply, witness his latest tirade as just the latest . . . Turner spoke at my law school graduation, and he was either drunk, off his meds or both, going on and on about how "we should never have split the atom. Those are dangerous little buggers" and similar rants. Certainly, Turner's left-leaning politics are no secret. At the end of the day, though, CNN, like other news outlets - and like the likes of Seymour Hersh - should be judged by the news it produces and the people who produce it. Just give the Washington Times the same respect.
January 27, 2005
BLOG: Quick Links 1/27/05
*Remember the big terror alert in Boston? HOAX.
How about an amendment to the Patriot Act whereby any information gathered under its provisions cannot be used in a court of law unless it can be tied to terrorist activity?
That sounds reasonable, and in theory I'd support it. In practice, though, you would want to make sure it doesn't become one more procedural trap to tie down the government. In particular, there are bound to be cases where the government brings charges unrelated to terrorism against someone as to whom it has good reason to believe is tied to terrorist groups (the Al-Capone's-taxes strategy). In such situations, particularly where the government hesitates to bring terrorism charges for fear of exposing its sources, it may be appropriate for the government's showing to be limited to an in camera submission to the court (i.e., the defense doesn't get to see it), and not bound by the strict rules of evidence.
*The Daily News has some amusing anecdotes from Bono about his meetings with Bush and Clinton, including Bush pounding the table to get Bono to shut up and listen and Bono's observation that Clinton "looked more like a pop star than I did. And I thought he might be thinking that, too.". There's also an interesting item on James Earl Jones backing Bill Cosby's recent comments about parental responsibilities.
*I see dead people and give them green cards. (Hat tip: Powerline). Our immigration system still seems to be the worst of both worlds, with a nativist, Kafka-esque approach to legal immigrants and a laissez-faire approach to illegals.
*Next time you hear someone try to draw a moral parallel between the US and the UN or the rest of the world, think of this account of what the USS Abraham Lincoln and its crew have to put up with to deliver aid to tsunami victims in Indonesia, from deadbeat, resource-hogging UN layabouts to aid recipients in Osama bin Laden T-shirts. (Hat tip: Mudville Gazette, where Greyhawk somehow manages more blogging from Iraq than I do from my own home).
*Let Democrats fume about "Memogate" (anything to distract from what was actually in the Senate Democrats' memos about who really calls the shots on judicial nominees), the Wall Street Journal reminds us it wasn't so long ago that House Democrats got caught doing precisely the same thing.
*Jane Galt notes the decline in last year's deficit, although this year's numbers are headed back up again thanks to Medicare prescription drugs and the war. Remember, always, the First Rule of Government Financial Forecasts: they are always, always, wrong.
*Stefan Sharkansky has more on King County voter irregularities. Washington Democrats are gonna need a bigger boat.
*Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post has a detailed look at the Palestinian problem and related issues facing Israel. Note her discussion of Egypt's nuclear program.
*Another one from Greyhawk: his Abu Ghraib quiz. Test your knowledge! I got 7 out of 10 right.
Of course, the last sentence of this excerpt grabbed me:
[P]ublic records indicate that Graner had troubles at work as a correctional officer in the state prison system in Greene County -- a history of disciplinary actions that culminated in his firing in 2000. He was later reinstated by an arbitrator.
You had to know the insanities of our legal system would show up somewhere in there.
*Did you know that Larry David's show freed a man wrongfully accused of murder? I didn't. (Hat tip: Will Carroll).
*Wonkette, of course, had the best reaction to Michael Chertoff's nomination as Homeland Security director. (UPDATE: Link appears to be busted). Amazing a guy would give up a lifetime post as an appeals judge to be Homeland Security chief. At least that guarantees a quick confirmation (what Democrat, other than Hillary!, will vote against removing a Bush judge from the Third Circuit?). Note how Bush's two appointments, both from New Jersey, make clear that he wants to head off the drift of DHS into a red-state pork dispenser. The appointment may also set up Chertoff as a possible Attorney General (if that's not a step down from DHS) or Supreme Court appointee some day.
*Apparently, to Harry Reid, stupid just means anti-Nevada. (Hat tip: Taranto).
January 26, 2005
BASEBALL: Our Man Scott Erickson
The Dodger Stadium grounds crew could be even busier this summer.
Yesterday, Scott Erickson, the former 20-game winner and (as the Associated Press dutifully reminds us) loving husband of sportscaster Lisa Guerrero*, agreed to a minor league contract with Los Angeles and received an invitation to spring training. This signing, while financially low-risk, came with its share of questions. After all, Erickson only pitched 27 innings last season, as he battled back from shoulder operation. His injuries, combined with his age (36), hardly made him a prototype for a Dodger pitching staff that had Brad Penny, Darren Dreifort, and Edwin Jackson go out in pain.
But, at the same time, we shouldn't be surprised to see Paul DePodesta roll the dice, given the statistic du jour: groundball-flyball ratio. Derek Lowe, last year's AL leader in grass destroyed, is a prime example of how the Dodgers are valuing this category. So are Jose Valentin and Jeff Kent, both of whom have a penchant for hitting the ball in the air (indeed, the former had the lowest G/F in the majors at 0.53). Erickson, as some of us may recall, is himself adept at inducing grounders. In 1997 and 1998, he led the AL with ratios of 2.88 and 2.85. In 2002, his most recent full season, he posted 2.31 against a league average of 1.16. For his career, the number stands at 2.44.
It remains to be seen whether Erickson will find renewed success under Jim Colborn's tutelage, just as Wilson Alvarez and Jose Lima have. But, if he makes the team, Erickson can at least add to DePodesta's sample size and help the team figure out just how significant G/F truly is at Chavez Ravine.
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*Incidentally, I met Ms. Guerrero at Dodger Stadium three or four years ago, when she participated in the Hollywood Stars game -- Billy Crystal's favorite park promotion.
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BASEBALL: Think Mink, Thinkity Minkity
So the Mets missed out on Carlos Delgado. I'm disappointed, but after the Pedro and Beltran signings, you can't win 'em all. The bad news is that he's signed with the Marlins. Frankly, I didn't like the idea of the Mets offering Delgado a fourth year, and I gather they only did so because he was talking to a team in their own division.
Instead, in a deal that will give fits to transaction-column proofreaders everywhere, the Mets traded A-ball first base prospect Ian Bladergroen for Doug Mientkiewicz. (Hint to beat writers: Alt-M. Trust me on this one). Minky was, in my view, the best of the available first base alternatives: younger and healthier than John Olerud (who's coming off surgery and even before that couldn't beat erosion in a foot race), and without Travis Lee's long record of being an awful player. It's possible that Minky could bounce back with a big year: recall that Olerud was coming off three straight disappointing seasons when he came to the Mets, and Sean Casey, another similar player, was stuck in reverse for two years before last season. Then again, Olerud was 28, Casey 29; Minky is 31.
Minky's Established Performance Levels entering 2005:
Not encouraging numbers, but if Minky can bounce back by about 3% and get to a .400 slugging and .370 OBP, he'll be useful. Yes, you'd like a first baseman who can bop, but at least he gets on base, which is a skill the Mets are in much greater need of, and unlike Olerud he's not a complete clog of the basepaths. And I like the idea of adding yet another top-shelf defensive player; except for Floyd's range and Piazza's throwing arm, this should be an exceptional defensive team.
Of course, I don't know much about the about-to-turn-22 Bladergroen, who's coming off an injury and who will ultimately be the guy who determines whether this is too expensive a deal for a stopgap first baseman. Baseball America is high on him:
Don't forget about Bladergroen just because a wrist injury (ligament damage) ended his season in July. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound slugger was doing it all in a .342-13-74 season for low Class A Capital City. "He was aggressive and would chase a bit like a young slugger," said Charleston (W.Va.) manager Ken Joyce, "but he had a real nice swing and legitimate big-time power. His swing path put the bat in the (strike) zone for a long time."
His full stats are here, adding up to .313/.505/.376 in a full season's worth of professional at bats, all in A ball. Which looks like a guy who's not a star-caliber player at the moment, but definitely has that potential in a few years if he doesn't develop a Nick Johnson-like penchant for wrist and hand injuries.
January 25, 2005
BLOG: Quick Links 1/25/05
*"No turbans in the government": Pejman notes an encouraging political development among the Shi'a in Iraq in advance of this weekend's elections.
*I found a few things amusing about last Thursday's profile of Lileks and his new book in the Washington Post. First, this quote on Lileks' own home in his youth:
The shag carpet, he lamented during a recent phone interview, was "an unusual brown, where if you ran your hand through it, it turned a light brown. A sofa was added, characterized by an unusually florid design that made the rococo period look like Mondrian. It was beige, white, black, brown, orange and cream, with flowers that would have come to God in a fever dream. As though we understood there was something wrong about it, the pattern was instantly covered with thick, translucent plastic to protect it."
Second, the phrase "Home Desecrations" - the author couldn't even get the title of the book right twice in one column.
Well, under the mainstream media radar except for having a job as a columnist for the largest newspaper in Minnesota, that is.
*AnkleBitingPundits, the former CrushKerry.com, nails Barbara Boxer on misrepresenting the Iraq war resolution. On the other hand, ABP's speculation that Boxer may be dreaming of a 2008 Presidential run seems overwrought; it's just as likely she has her eye on other ways of becoming a power broker, perhaps running for governor or vice president or pushing for a leadership role within the Senate.
*"Let us trim our hair in accordance with Socialist lifestyle"! (via Dave Barry). I guess Kim doesn't want anyone to compete with his bouffant.
*Howard Fineman welcomes his new blogging overlords. (via Instapundit) As well he should. Bloggers won't soon replace the mainstream media's ability to, say, get news footage from around the globe or entree to world leaders. But the sort of source-free conventional-wisdom-dispensing punditry offered up by Fineman is definitely threatened by the ability of amateurs to do the same.
*Who's the only major league ballplayer - still active - born in Saigon? Answer here.
*Quote classic: "Bananas would be something normally that would make monkeys go bananas." Read the whole thing.
BLOG: New Blood
I'm very pleased to announce a new contributor to the Baseball Crank site. I noted over the weekend that Robert Tagorda was shutting down Priorities & Frivolities and moving over to Outside the Beltway, but I also noticed that he was still looking for a home for his baseball blogging. He has now graciously agreed to bring his blogging on the Dodgers, and baseball in general, to this site. You can check out his baseball work from 2004 here. Welcome aboard!
January 24, 2005
POLITICS: Happy Birthday to The Corner
I had meant to write this up at more length, but Happy Third Birthday to The Corner at NRO, which Jonah Goldberg opened on January 24, 2002. Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus and Josh Marshall had already been in business for some time by then (as had Lileks), and people like Instapundit had already caught on after September 11; The Corner wasn't even the first blog I read daily (that would be Best of the Web Today, which started July 28, 2000). (More thoughts here from Patrick Ruffini and commenters). But like a lot of people on the Right, it was NRO that really introduced me to the world of bloggers and got me in the habit of reading blogs. The Corner is, in fact, a much underrated milestone in the blogosphere's history.
POLITICS: Budgeting Commerce
When Republicans took over Congress in 1995, there was much talk of abolishing Cabinet-level departments, particularly Education (an area of government that most conservatives feel shouldn't be handled at the federal level) and Energy (a Cabinet-level agency created in the hated Carter years). These hopes failed terribly, and there has not since been any serious talk of removing a Cabinet-level agency.
Which seems too bad; one would like to see somebody, somewhere, send the message that government can shrink as well as grow sometimes. But, of course, government agencies are very shrewd about entangling essential functions with those that are less so, and eliminating a department without eliminating its underlying functions wouldn't do much for the budget. Thus, the trick of finding agencies or departments that can be pulled up root and branch is harder than it sounds.
The department I've long thought should be abolished is the Commerce Department. Commerce would seem to fit perfectly the profile of a department the Right and Left could agree to do away with. Its publicly identified purpose - promotion of economic growth - is one that is quintessentially the province of the private sector. Its heads in the past (e.g., Don Evans, Ron Brown) have often been chosen primarily on the basis of their ability to raise money for the president. It caters to Big Business in ways that easily bring to mind the phrase "corporate welfare," most notably by means of the Secretary of Commerce's trade promotion trips with CEOs. And, of course, Commerce also rides the point for protectionism.
Anyway, that's what I've been saying for years, but I finally decided to take a closer look at the Commerce Department's most recent budget, for Fiscal Year 2004, as detailed in a "Budget in Brief" summary on the Commerce Department's website. Here's what I found.
1. The first thing you notice about the Commerce Department's budget, in the context of the budget at large, is how tiny it is: approximately $5.5 billion, a pittance compared to, say, the Defense Department or the Department of Health and Human Services. In fact, the incoming Secretary of Commerce, the former CEO of Kellogg's, may find this a bit of a step down - Kellogg's had sales of $8.8 billion in 2003. It wouldn't save much in terms of money, but in terms of size alone you could easily justify merging a department this size into one of the bigger departments.
2. The Bush Administration has, for the past few years, at least tried to hold the line on the Commerce budget, with the department's budget authority rising from $5.545 billion in FY 2002 to $5.519 billion (estimated) in FY 2004, with a dropoff in between in FY 2003. However, actual discretionary outlays have risen from $5.316 billion in FY 2002 to $5.791 billion in FY 2003 to $5.780 billion in FY 2004. The projected outlays only get worse, rising to $5.972 in FY 2007 and then leaping to $6.353 billion in FY 2008 due to a run-up in projected expenses at the Bureau of the Census in anticipation of the 2010 census.
3. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Commerce Department is the breakdown of where it spends its money, best seen on page 9 of the "Budget in Brief" document. Of a $5.78 billion budget in FY 2004, $3.323 billion - (57.9%) - goes to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, which whatever its virtues has little enough to do with Big Business, per se. Although the NOAA's functions are varied, it seems to break down into two major types of functions: collecting weather, satellite and natuical data, and managing fisheries. Only the latter, which I suppose caters to Big Fish, is really business-promotion function. While I'm sure you could easily find examples of money not well spent in those areas (and there may well be good privatization arguments as to some of these functions), the "Budget in Brief" buries them fairly well in anodyne descriptions. Either way, I'd bet you didn't know that more than half of the Commerce Department's budget is dedicated to weather data and fishing.
The next largest area of Commerce's budget ($673 million, 11.7%), and also one having nothing apparently to do with commerce, is the Bureau of the Census, whose core function is required by the Constitution.
Third on the list ($652 million, 11.4% and falling - we've now accounted for more than 80% of the department's budget) is the National Institute of Standards & Technology. This one, at least, looks like a better target for budget-cutters (as it apparently has been), as its functions are described (at p. 112) in vague terms like "providing the measurements, standards, verified data, and test methods required for new technologies and competing in the global economy," "assists industry to invest in and develop high-risk, innovative technologies," "assists small manufacturing establishments in assimilating new technologies and manufacturing practices," and, my favorite, "a highly visible quality management program focused on instilling the principles of continuous quality improvement in U.S. businesses and educational and healthcare organizations." (emphasis added). All of which sounds like something that should be done by trade associations, not your (and my) tax dollars.
After that, you get better targets like the "Economic Development Admistration" ($440 million, 7.7%, down $19 million in FY 2004 after a sharp increase in FY 2003), which lists among its chief methods (at p. 36) "promoting a favorable business environment," the mischief-making "International Trade Admistration" ($370 million, 6.4%), and a bunch of smaller programs, including the Patent and Trademark Office, which actually makes money for the government (by collecting fees), turning a $366 million profit in FY 2003, $87 million in FY 2004.
4. You also have to remember what isn't there - the Small Business Administration. The SBA seems like the classic example of an agency that you would expect to find within a department devoted to the development of American commerce, but not so. It's actually structured as a stand-alone quasi-government entity outisde the purview of any Cabinet-level department, like the Postal Service or the FDIC.
Conclusion: If you are looking to cut fat from the federal government, the Commerce Department certainly seems like a potential target - but it's simply not where the big money gets spent, and wholesale elimination of its functions does not seem like a realistic goal given how much of its budget is dedicated to functions like the Census and the collection of weather data, although I would remain open to arguments on how much of the weather and fishery-management functions could be privatized.
WAR: Looking Ahead
Three decades before Al Qaeda destroyed the World Trade Center with planes, a secret presidential panel warned that Islamic terrorists might blow up U.S. jetliners or contaminate cities with radioactive "dirty bombs."
January 23, 2005
BLOG: Balancing Priorities With Frivoloities
One of the sad things in blogging is when people give up due to the time demands of running a blog. Fortunately, there's an answer for the talented but busy blogger: join up as a co-blogger to a more prolific blog. Robert Tagorda has now gone that route, shutting down regular operations at Priorities & Frivolities and joining forces with James Joyner at Outside the Beltway. Tagorda's a good blogger, so it's encouraging to see he won't be quitting altogether.
January 22, 2005
BASEBALL: Now, Leading Off . . .
After this morning's comment about the Mets not having a leadoff man, I decided to take a look at how many true leadoff hitters are out there, or at least at my general sense that there aren't as many as there used to be. To come up with a profile of a true leadoff man, I decided to look for guys with a good OBP (.375 or better), not so much power they'd be moved to the middle of the order (below .450 slugging), and decent speed (20 steals a year, not a lot but enough to indicate some foot speed), in a decent number of at bats (400 a year). Using Aaron Haspel's search engine - which, if he's not going to update, he should consider selling to Baseball-Reference.com or somebody - and filling out the rest at ESPN.com, I ran a list of players who met that criteria season by season, then - to deal with the fact that there were often as few as 2 or 3 a year and never more than 8 in a season, I grouped them in four-year periods:
.375 on base percentages are much easier to come by in high-offense years, which skews the usefulness of these types of comparisons over time and says a lot about why you see more guys do this in the late 90s than the early 70s. Also, the numbers were depressed for the 1981 and 1994 strike seasons and to a lesser extent the shortened 1995 campaign. Still, you can definitely see a dropoff in the last four years in the number of guys who fit the traditional leadoff profile.
BASEBALL: 87 in 05?
Mike's Baseball Rants looks at the Mets roster if they sign Delgado and sees 87 wins, based on projections from 2004 Win Shares totals. I'll have to get to work on all the adjustments to my Established Win Shares Levels formula to give my own assessment, but that sounds fairly reasonable. There's a lot of "ifs," but at least the Mets are entering a season where as many of the ifs are about young players as old ones.
I should add, however, that the Mets still have one glaring absence they haven't even tried to remedy: a leadoff hitter who gets on base.
POLITICS: Not Good Enough For Government Work
This story about federal employees with diplomas from bogus colleges is just amazing - although in one sense the story about Laura Callahan does suggest that the Clinton White House's claims of computer incompetence may have been genuine after all. (via CrimProfBlog by way of Instapundit)
January 21, 2005
WAR: Bully Pulpit
One of the core convictions that separates conservatives from liberals - and, to some extent, libertarians as well - is the importance conservatives place on strong law enforcement, a strong military and a tough foreign policy. In his Second Inaugural Address yesterday, President Bush said something that really cut to the core of that conviction:
Now, I got pushed around a lot when I was younger, and probably the main reason I became a conservative, even before I started thinking through the other aspects of conservatism, was the realization that conservatives know how to deal with bullies, which is to say not through negotiation or paying them off, but by confronting them with superior force.
On the other hand, this struck me as going too far, and something Bush will live to regret:
Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world:
There is, it is true, no question that the Bush Administration's sympathies will lie with everyone who fights for liberty and democracy, and that the White House and the State Department will issue nice little press releases on their behalf, which is better than nothing. And it's also true that our end objective is to promote liberty and democracy everywhere.
But we shouldn't pretend that we will stand up equally for dissidents against every regime, because we won't. Winning a long-term global war means picking our battles and, among other things, deciding where we can live with unsavory allies for a time. That means, in practical reality, that we're not going to do very much to support pro-democracy forces in, say, Turkmenistan, because we have bigger fish to fry at the moment.
This fact is why I give no credence to complaints that the U.S. is somehow hypocritical in promoting democracy in some places while making alliances of convenience with nasty dictators in others. Our long-term goal of promoting democracy and liberty is unchanged, but we have to get there by starting somewhere. Complaints about hypocrisy are like the case of a man who decides to repaint his house from blue to green, and his neighbor comes by a few weeks later and says, "You hypocrite! You said you wanted a green house, but here we stand weeks later and the whole back of the house is still blue, while you lavish green paint on the front; why can't you put green paint on all sides of the house equally?" Naturally, the man will reply, "you idiot! I'm trying to finish painting the front of the house, and get that job done right, before I start the back."
Bush, unfortunately, made it sound yesterday like we intend to paint all sides of the house equally, which we can't, shouldn't and won't.
On the other hand, I did like Jonah Goldberg's line about the speech: "I wish someone would wrap a dead fish with it and drop it off at the Saudi embassy."
BASEBALL: DIPS It!
Don't forget to drop by Jay Jaffe's place and check out the final Defense Independent Pitching Stats (DIPS) Numbers. (via Pinto)
Buyers of Al Leiter, beware!
BASEBALL: Rip van Sox Fan
WAR: Watch Your Back, Jack
Jack Kemp needs to choose his foreign friends and clients more wisely (Jay Nordlinger's recent NR piece on Hugo Chavez had an embarrassing episode involving Kemp as well, flacking for Chavez). This is how Kemp's buddy Jude Wanniski wound up marginalized in conservative circles.
January 20, 2005
FOOTBALL: Scandalous Picks
THIS IS THE BEST STORY OF THE DAY. In the Friday editions of the Boston Globe during football season, several Globe sports writers pick the winners for the following weekend's action. Thus some eyebrows were raised this weekend when the Globe's lead football correspondent Ron Borges picked the Patriots in Friday's paper and then on TV Sunday morning he picked the Colts. When challenged by one of his on-air interlocutors over the inconsistency, Borges said he didn't make the pick that was in his name in Friday's paper.
POLITICS: Going Off The Fritz
Opinion Journal's Political Diary, which is a daily must-read and worth the price, had some hilarious quotes from outgoing and often outrageous South Carolina Democrat Fritz Hollings:
In his farewell address last month, he mourned that the Senate was a duller place than when he first came in 1966. "There's nobody drunk here today," he drawled. He also complained that too many Senators were afraid to speak candidly now, and the country was the worse for it.
POLITICS: Why Didn't Someone Check This Before?
A story that won't die: Will Collier links to a Washington Times piece that points out yet another reason to regard as a fabrication the claim that Bush refused to take a National Guard physical when ordered to do so:
[F]or the weekend that 1st Lt. Bush was supposedly ordered to report for his physical, May 13-14, 1972, the Ellington Air Guard Base was closed. It was Mother's Day. Except for emergencies, Air Guard units never drilled on Mother's Day; the divorce lawyers would be waiting at the gate.
Good sleuthing there. Read the whole thing.
POLITICS: Iowa and New Hampshire
Patrick Hynes of CrushKerry.com and Daily Kos have been having an unsurprisingly bruising debate over whether the Democrats should abandon the privileged position of Iowa and New Hampshire on the primary schedule. Hynes, taking the parochial New Hampshirite view, opened with this op-ed piece in the Union-Leader, NH's most influential newspaper, arguing that
[T]hese efforts to reform the nomination process will force candidates to compete in more states conterminously, thereby driving up the cost of running for President. And the fringe elements behind such plans know that they can dominate the entire nomination process by driving up the cost of running for the Democrat nomination.
Kos responded with his usual ad hominem attacks and venom, but also took on a few of the key arguments along the way:
Small states allow for 'retail politics' Wonderful. Retail politics. Too bad the general election has nothing to do with retail politics. Give me the guy or gal who can best use the media to communicate an effective message.
Hynes fires back here, noting, among other things:
Kos is stuck in the 90's. Retail politics is back. With micro-targeting, individual contact is more important now than perhaps at any time since 1948.
Kos isn't necessarily wrong just because he's Kos. The primary season is, in many ways, like reality television or the bar exam: it's a series of sometimes pointless-seeming challenges we expect presidential contenders to overcome because, traditionally, we've learned something about them along the way that helps us pick the right guy. In that vein, I do think there's something useful about kicking off the process with a round that forces the contestants to do some retail politics. The fact that the president will spend the next four to eight years in a bubble hiding behind spokesflacks and the instruments of mass communication is all the more reason to require him (or her) to first slog through the humbling task of kissing up to oridnary Americans one at a time. It's a useful reminder that the president works for us.
Kos' real gripe is the undue influence that the Iowa victory had on Kerry's air of inevitability in 2004. But the problem wasn't Iowa; the problem was that the compressed nature of the primary schedule didn't give adequate time for anyone else to build anti-Kerry momentum after that first victory until Kerry all but had things sewn up. And, I should add, the mood of the Democratic primary voters was a desperate hunger to settle quickly on a candidate and start gearing up for the fall. The solution to that problem has little to do with who goes first.
I'm more sympathetic to some of the anti-Iowa points: that the Iowa caucuses are run in an undemocratic, unrepresentative fashion and that Iowa in particular tends to use its status to extort support from presidential contenders for parochial pork issues (ethanol, ahem). That's the natural hazard of having the same small states at the top of the calendar every four years.
Kos doesn't mention another common talking point on the Left: That Iowa and NH are unrepresentative of the Democratic electorate because they are nearly all-white states, and he doesn't get to the core question of whether he thinks that other states would produce a more or less left-leaning electorate.
On the other hand, it's sort of ironic that the effort to attack these two states would come now, at a time when IA and NH are two of the most closely divided swing states in the union, with IA one of just two Gore states to go for Bush in 2004, NH the only 2000 Bush state to go for Kerry, and both decided by razor-thin margins in 2000 and 2004. This is why I think changing IA and NH's status would be a bad idea for the Democrats at this moment in time, regardless of the abstract merits of the idea. If the Democrats are serious about finding a candidate who can appeal to swing state rural voters, you could hardly pick two better places to campaign, especially with the added appeal that a candidate gets name recognition early in a state he'll need to win later, a factor that clearly helped Kerry in both states (in fact, a rational party would simply look at whichever states were most hotly contested in the previous election and stick those at the top of the calendar). Turning with blind fury against the very states the Democrats need to win, in favor of an effort to rig the process to favor a left-wing insurgency with no base in any swing state, is not a prudent strategy.
WAR: Fear Comes To Boston
Jeff Quinton has a roundup of the latest news on the terror alert in the Boston area focusing on four named Chinese nationals.
Could the current scare be linked to this story, especially given that law enforcement apparently has a tip that the suspects crossed the border from Mexico?
January 19, 2005
BLOG: San Antonio
So, if you were wondering where I've been (OK, pretend you were wondering), I spent last Thursday through Monday in San Antonio for a family wedding. Of course, traveling is always a stark reminder of how big this country is and how little of it bears any resemblance to Manhattan. For the ninth largest city in the United States, San Antonio feels remarkably like a small town, with none of the heavy traffic and skyscraper canyons that I deal with back home. When we arrived on Thursday afternoon, the place seemed almost deserted.
Naturally, we took time to see the Alamo, the one can't-miss tourist attraction in the city. If you've never been there, well, I had a mental image of the Alamo as you might picture it from movies, surrounded by open land. In fact, it's right in the middle of the city, across the street from drug stores, shops and restaurants on all sides. Of course, the Alamo itself and one or two other structures are still standing, but the "long barrack" that formed a wide defensive perimeter around the old mission, and which served as the front line for the defense of the Alamo from January-March 1836, is long gone, with only a few segments preserved for posterity.
To the modern eye, the numbers of soldiers involved in the Battle of the Alamo, and indeed in the Texas Revolution as a whole, is astonishingly small. As I've mentioned before, I recently read John Keegan's book on the First World War (more on that later), and after a while you get numb to another 100,000 men dying every other paragraph or so; it was jarring to see that the Texan force defending the Alamo was just 180 men at the end, and Santa Anna's Mexican force was less than 4,000.
We also spent time at the Riverwalk, San Antonio's other big tourist destination. The Riverwalk is nothing much to see, just a narrow channel of shallow greenish water bounded on each side by a sidewalk. But it's still a pretty cool destination because of the long strip of restaurants (many with outdoor seating and hospitable weather) and stores, much like the South Street Seaport in Manhattan or Quincy Market in Boston.
Of course, the "welcome to a red state" effect - which we saw, for example, when the priest at Sunday Mass went off on people who file lawsuits against school prayer - was magnified by the presence of the U.S. Army-All American Bowl in San Antonio the weekend we were there, a high school all-star football game sponsored and, apparently, heavily attended by Army personnel. It seemed like every third person on the Riverwalk was a soldier in uniform, which among other things made me feel very, very old, given how many of these guys are just skinny teenagers. (A waiter actually asked me whether I was a captain or a major, which believe you me is the first time I've ever been mistaken for a soldier; I was able to set him straight on that one, but it's true that guys my age in the Army are getting up to those ranks). Of course, as for the wedding itself, the groom was my wife's cousin, who's a surgeon in the Air Force and was in Iraq for several months last year, and the bride is also an Air Force doctor; the groom's brother used to be in the Army, and the bride's brother was back on leave from Afghanistan. A little different group, there.
Anyway, I've been swamped at work lately; even this post was sitting half-written for the past day and a half, and I'm cutting it off here a bit arbitrarily. Hopefully, I'll be back to the blogging routine in another day or two.
January 17, 2005
BLOG: Small, Small World
It's always a little surprising to see people you know, even people you don't know that well, show up in the newspapers. This woman is a friend of my wife, has kids in our kids' classes (as does the author of the piece, for that matter). This guy is the husband of a former lawyer with my firm. This guy, a former college classmate, has a new reality show coming up for CBS called "Fire Me, Please," which is apparently based on a BBC show called "Sack Race." This guy, the creator of (and loosely-based inspiration for) this short-lived prime time show, is the brother of another friend of my wife and I from college.
Of course, the most disturbing example I've had (other than September 11) of someone you know showing up in the news was the time an elderly former next-door neighbor of ours here in Queens was identified in the NY Daily News as being targeted for deportation because he had been identified as a Nazi prison camp guard.
January 12, 2005
BLOG: Quiet Period
I've been utterly swamped at work lately, and I'll be unable to get to the blog between now and next Monday evening (the 17th) at the earliest, so things should be quiet around here for a few days. Unfortunately, I'm back to basically a one-man band again now that the Mad Hibernian has finished school and started a job where he's not comfortable being heard from online (I keep telling him he can stick to baseball if he wants, but the greater blog itch is hard to scratch).
I've been pretty quiet on the politics front myself since the post-election rush wore off, partly due to time pressures, partly because there's been so much baseball news, and partly for some of the same reasons as Gerry Daly cites in explaining why he was on hiatus so long:
I found that there was little that was coming into my head to comment on, that I was not finding commented on elsewhere in a manner that I found sufficient. In other words, I was not finding much that I could bring to the table that was not being brought elsewhere. If I am going to spend time blogging, I want to be providing added value to the blogosphere, rather than simply taking advantage of whatever credibility I earned during the election run-up. For the pew months, I did not feel confident that I was in a position to do so.
There's no way I can top Tom Maguire's coverage of Social Security, for example. (Welcome back Gerry, by the way; now if we can get Avkash to come back - his site is now so dominated by nothing but spam comments it's getting blocked by my filter at work)
Anyway, if you're dropping by while I'm out and you're not a long-time reader, check out the columns and "Greatest Hits" linked along the side, wander through the archives, or just hit the blogroll and come back after the 17th.
POLITICS: Loser Take All
I didn't realize that Jon Corzine's already signed up Bob Shrum for the NJ governor's race. I guess Corzine will be "fighting for the people against the powerful."
LAW: Great Moments in Opening Statements
Michele has a doozy. Why lawyers use analogies that are this easy to distinguish is beyond me.
January 10, 2005
BASEBALL: Patience, Young Jedi
One of the key issues with projecting Carlos Beltran, as I've noted in comparing him to similar players from the past, is whether he can sustain his improved plate discipline over the past two years. A similar issue arises in the Mariners' signing of Adrian Beltre; as I've noted before, Beltre's decline in 2001-03 was accompanied by a regression in his plate discipline, a trend that was reversed with his great leap forward in 2004. (As I've also noted in the past, improved plate discipline has benefitted sluggers far better than Beltran or Beltre). Take a look at both players' BB and K rates, prorated to 600 at bats*:
Obviously, Beltran is a better bet than Beltre to hold onto his gains in this area because he's shown consistent improvement over a three year period, rather than a 1-year recovery from a 3-year slump. (Not that Beltre is a bad gamble, given his apparent youth and tremendous power).
* - Yes, prorating per at bat rather than per plate appearance does magnify the changes in walk rate.
January 9, 2005
BASEBALL: Instant Gratification
Jim Caple asks the timeless question of peak vs. career value, "Who would you rather have, Sandy Koufax or Bert Blyleven?":
Say you are a general manager in an alternate universe and you can choose a clone of either the 19-year-old Koufax or the 19-year-old Blyleven, knowing ahead of time that both will perform exactly as they did in our major leagues. Wins, losses, ERA, innings -- all those stats on the backs of their Topps baseball cards will be exactly duplicated. The key aspect to keep in mind, however, is that free agency is still banned in this alternate universe. In other words, you'll not only get the pitcher for the start of his career, you will have lifetime rights to him (just as the Dodgers did with Koufax). He's your indentured servant for as long as his arm can still pitch.
It's a worthwhile debate, but of course, in the real world, you know and I know that any GM would choose Blyleven. Why? Well, both pitchers came up at age 19, bringing the best curveball of his generation to a winning team - Koufax for the Dodgers, winning their first World Championship, Blyleven for the Twins, winning their second straight division title. But from age 19 to age 24, Bert won 95 games (while losing 85), throwing 1611.1 innings with a 2.78 ERA (ERA+ of 134). Over the same age period, Koufax won just 36 games (while losing 40), throwing just 691.2 innings with a 4.10 ERA (ERA+ of 101). Any GM would take the instant payoff.
Then, of course, Koufax became Koufax. Interestingly, through age 30, when their arms gave out, the two had about the same number of career wins: Blyleven 167, Koufax 165. That's hardly to suggest that they were even: Bert had lost 148 games to Koufax's 87, and had a 2.95 ERA (ERA+ of 128) in 3000.2 IP to Koufax's 2.78 ERA (ERA+ of 131) in 2324.1 IP. In other words, the volume vs. quality debate was already in place.
The difference: Koufax retired after age 30. Blyleven, who missed most of his age-31 season (1982) with an arm injury, had modern medicine on his side, and returned to be the best starting pitcher in the AL in 1984 (19-7 for a last place team), be the last man to throw 290 innings or 20 complete games in 1985, pitch for a World Champion in 1987, and go 17-5 as late as 1989. In short, Blyleven had a second act to his career that Koufax never got, and had several of his best seasons in his 30s. You wonder, had he pitched 10 years later, how that would have been different.
BASEBALL: New(?) Look
Hey, wait, when did Bob Raissman shave?
Now, as I've long argued, the fact that a thing is indefensible, illegal and wrong does not always make it a capital offense. But let us not lose sight of the fact that when a thing is indefensible, wrong and almost certainly illegal, we should denounce it.
In that vein, I can't imagine what defense there is for the Bush Administration using $240,000 of taxpayer money to buy the support of a conservative radio host for the No Child Left Behind Act, and if I were Armstrong Williams, I'd get myself a good criminal lawyer real fast, because the federal criminal laws can be very broad when it comes to taking something the government should not have been giving out. Shame on him, shame on whoever authorized the payment, and - though this should not be a defense - shame on any prior administration that did the same thing. This is way beyond the usual esoteric question of, say, the president traveling to drum up support for his policies, or some such example of politicians using our money to promote the policies we elected them to enact. This is just graft, and should be treated accordingly.
UPDATE: Williams tells his side of the story, which he frames as accepting paid advertising:
In 2003 Ketchum Communications contacted a small PR firm that I own, Graham Williams Group, to buy ad space on a television show that I own and host. The ad was to promote The Department of Education’s “No Child Left Behind” plan.
I wonder how many ads the federal government airs to promote its policies - the most obvious would be the anti-drug ads.
BASEBALL: Beltran Aboard
The Mets put the extra money on the table to nail down Beltran, 7 years, $119 million. Yes, it's too much money - as ESPN notes, this is the first deal to crack $100 million since Jason Giambi in December 2001, and we know how that went - and yes, as I've noted, the Mets will live to regret that seventh year.
One thing I like here is the idea of the superior outfield defense the Mets will have when Mike Cameron returns from injury and can play next to Beltran. Although Cameron is the better defender, I assume he'll be the one to move to right field, given Beltran's youth and larger contract. Of course, they'll still have the largely stationary Cliff Floyd in left, although Floyd at least is fairly dependable on the balls he can get to.
BASEBALL: Houston Grounded
Last night's deadline came and went and the Astros didn't sign Carlos Beltran, leaving the Mets in the driver's seat. It's time to close the deal. I'm excited by this - the Mets' moves under Omar Minaya haven't been brilliant - to the contrary, they're expensive and fraught with risk - but at least adding Pedro Martinez and pursuing Beltran are the right kind of risks, chasing after top-of-the-market talents, in Beltran's case a guy who's still young, healthy, durable, in good shape and a good defensive player: the anti-Mo in every way.
January 7, 2005
POLITICS: The Gift That Keeps On Giving, Part LXIV
David Rosen, Hillary Clinton's campaign finance director and a fundraiser for Wesley Clark, indicted for filing false reports during Hillary's 2000 Senate campaign.
BLOG: Come Over To The Geek Side
Nothing quite says "I'm cool and I know it" like the willingness to publicly admit - and document! - that you are, in fact, a big giant nerd. I am, of course, insanely jealous: although I have certainly spent my share of time building Lego sets lately, if I tried to build this thing, it would wind up scattered about the basement with the rest of the kids' Harry Potter and Star Wars Lego sets, and I'd spend the rest of my days hunting for the pieces.
The difficulty of the task is clearly illustrated by the switch from empty wine bottle to empty Coke cans in mid-stream. Of course, the good news for the rest of us is that VodkaPundit is back in business.
BASEBALL: Crystal Beltran
With the Mets currently agonizing over whether to give Carlos Beltran a six or seven year contract, I thought it would be useful to take a season-by-season look at the career paths of the most-similar players to Beltran through age 27, as determined by Baseball-Reference.com. Looking at the comparable players, I eliminated 5 of the 10 who didn't, on a closer look, seem genuinely similar: Harold Baines and Gus Bell just weren't the kind of 5-tool athletes Beltran is, Jack Clark's legs were breaking down on him by age 27, Johnny Callison's career was already in decline at that age, and Gary Sheffield was always too good a hitter to be a useful comparison to Beltran. That leaves me with 5 guys who seem like much the same kind of all-around player as Beltran: Dave Winfield, Andre Dawson, Reggie Smith, Bobby Bonds, and Shawn Green. Beltran is a year younger than Winfield and Bonds were when they came to the Yankees and Smith when he left Boston for St. Louis, a year older than Green when he left Toronto for Los Angeles, and a few years younger than Dawson when he left Montreal for Wrigley. Let's look at how these five fared, on average, over the seven seasons from age 28 to 34 (leaving off Green after his age-31 season in 2004).
Notes - I multiplied Winfield's 1981 stats (age 29) by 1.5 to adjust for the strike. OBP includes HBP and SF, which are not displayed here.
Now, you can quibble with some of the particulars of the comparisons here - certainly none of these guys other than Bonds was the kind of base thief Beltran is, and Bonds got caught stealing about five times as often. Dawson also drags down the group's OBP. But overall, I think this is at least a useful experience-based look at how a guy like Beltran might age (especially when you factor in that if he came to Shea he'd be moving to a tougher place to hit, just as Smith, Green and Winfield did), and while the overall picture is one of consistent productivity, it's not spectacular.
None of these guys was as consistent season-to-season as they were when averaged out, not even Winfield - they had higher highs and lower lows. But one thing is clear: while it may be a business necesity to offer Beltran a seventh year to seal the deal, as a strictly baseball matter, you would really rather avoid paying him at age 34 if you can avoid it.
January 6, 2005
BASEBALL: Sorry Son, It's Gone, Gone Gone
Scott Miller is right - with the losses of Jeff Kent and Wade Miller already under their belts, and having traded Octavio Dotel for a few months of Carlos Beltran, if the Astros can't re-sign Beltran and Roger Clemens retires, things are really going to look grim for the Astros. With Jeff Bagwell in gradual decline and Craig Biggio a few steps ahead of him, the days of title contenders in Houston may be going in to eclipse for a few years. Which is, of course, every reason to suspect that the Astros won't go quietly from the Beltran sweepstakes.
POLITICS: Everything You Wanted To Know About The Virginia Governor's Race
I'm late linking to this one, but John Behan at Commonwealth Conservative has an exhaustive look at the 2005 Virginia governor's race. My only quibble is with his suggestion that this year's race in New Jersey will be uninteresting; to the contrary, a showdown that could potentially come down to Jon Corzine against Bret Schundler could be a fascinating race, and should be something of a referendum on the New Jersey Democrats' manipulation of the election laws (Frank Lautenberg, ahem, and the timing of Jim McGreevey's exit) and general corruption (the cause of Jim McGreevey's exit).
WAR: Boston Street Gang Linked to Al Qaeda
An ominous development: the Boston Herald reported yesterday that federal law enforcement agencies have warned the Boston police that an East Boston street gang with roots in El Salvador is cooperating with Al Qaeda:
A burgeoning East Boston-based street gang made up of alleged rapists and machete-wielding robbers has been linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, prompting Boston police to ``turn up the heat'' on its members, the Herald has learned.
The theory that Salvadoran criminals manage to smuggle people over the border was bolstered this month when two Boston men described as MS-13 leaders were spotted on the North Shore days before Christmas - a year after they were deported by Boston Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators for gang-related crimes.
Read the whole thing. Of course, while I'm generally pro-immigration, the connection between control of smuggling of illegal immigrants from Mexico and smuggling of Al Qaeda terrorists across the border is enough to give even the most ardent open-borders types pause.
BASEBALL: So Close, Yet So Far
I don't generally do rumors here - I have enough trouble finding time to follow things that actually happen - but it certainly looks like the Mets are at least making a serious run now at Carlos Beltran. Of course, I'll believe that deal closing when I see it.
UPDATE: Dr. Manhattan sends along a link to NYFansites, which claims to have Mets sources who say that Beltran to the Mets is a done deal.
BLOG: Getting off the Boeing
So, now we have the reverse of bloggers hitting it big: Dave Barry, who's been publishing newspaper columns and books for two decades and is - and I dare you to provide a better example - the funniest writer in the history of the English language - is going on a potentially permanent hiatus from his syndicated column. But, he is apparently keeping his blog.
Then there's Richard Posner and Gary Becker, who had matching op-eds in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday (hardly a first for either man), and listed their joint blog there, in what almost looks like an effort to use the WSJ platform to promote the blog.
POLITICS: Mouths of Babes
So my son, who's 7 and has been interested in the whole presidential race, asked me who was running in 2008, and among other people I mentioned Kerry. And my son asked me, "Doesn't he know that people didn't want him to be president?"
Which about says it all.
January 5, 2005
BLOG: Hugh Hewitt Melted My Brain!
I'm sure Lileks must realize that if My Size Barbie remains in that position against the radiator long enough to read Hugh Hewitt's entire book, her head will melt. If I were Hewitt, I'd be worried about the symbolism there . . .
BASEBALL: Stop Him Now!
I agree with Matt Welch that the Hall of Fame voters need some serious education on why, when next year's weak roster of new candidates comes up, they should elect Bert Blyleven and Goose Gossage and under no circumstances put Andre Dawson in the Hall.
UPDATE: And, of course, my contribution to the mainstream of Dawson-bashing can be found in Bill Simmons' Hall of Fame column.
BASEBALL: Hall of Pretty Good Pitchers
You will recall that last month I took a look at the best pitchers in baseball history by ERA+, translated into a common 4.50-league-ERA environment, ranging from Pedro Martinez at 2.69 to a couple of pitchers at 3.46. But I decided to look at the other end: of the pitchers in the Hall of Fame, which ones fare most poorly in measuring their ERAs relative to the league and park? I came up with a list of 13 pitchers with ERAs that would be no better than 4.00 (an ERA+ of 112 or worse). Here they are, the least effective pitchers in the Hall of Fame, ranked from the bottom up:
A few of these guys are truly embarrassing Hall of Famers - Marquard, Haines, Chesbro. Hoyt, Pennock and to some extent Ruffing are in the Hall mainly because of Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio, and in fact, Chief Bender was also the beneficiary of spectacular offensive support, while carrying workloads that were unremarkable for his day.
The case against Catfish just grows: his numbers look good at first glance, but only because he bunched all his best years in a row and had them pitching for a great team in a pitcher's park in a pitcher's era. For his career, Catfish Hunter was 129-79 with a 2.70 ERA at home, but just 95-87 with a 3.92 ERA on the road. There's little doubt that Catfish would have ended up nowhere near Cooperstown if he'd pitched for the teams that Nolan Ryan, Bert Blyleven, Tom Seaver or Steve Carlton pitched for between 1970 and 1975 (there's a reason, even besides his ERAs, why in 27 years in the major leagues, Ryan never once finished as far as 7 games over .500).
In my view, some of these guys still merit a spot in the Hall due to their extreme durability outweighing their less-than-greatness: Galvin, Ryan and Sutton all cleared 5200 innings and 320 career wins, with Ryan enduring for 27 years, Sutton scarcely missing a turn in the rotation for more than two decades, and Galvin averaging 55 starts and 481 innings over an 11-year period, a consistently heavy workload even for his day. You could make a similar argument for Wynn.
Also, if you're wondering, here's how five of the major pitchers on the Hall's outside looking in stack up:
Yet again, Blyleven does well, Morris poorly and Tiant better than you might think when you look at their ERAs, and Blyleven stands at the fore in innings as well, coming in just south of the 5000 inning mark.
WAR: Claiming Credit
Which, translated out of UN-speak, means the Sri Lankans can go screw themselves.
As always, read the whole thing.
January 4, 2005
BASEBALL: Boggs and Sandberg
Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg get the nod to Cooperstown. Bruce Sutter also reached 2/3 of the vote, which likely puts him in next year. Scandalously, Goose Gossage got just 55% of the vote, and Bert Blyleven is not even among the top candidates listed by ESPN.
BASEBALL: Yes, Steroids Help
Unless you take the strong libertarian position - that there should be no restrictions on what ballplayers can ingest regardless of the impact on themselves or the game - the debate about what to do about steroids in baseball really revolves around three questions:
1. Does taking steroids help make you a better baseball player? (If not, there's no point in banning them).
2. Is taking steroids harmful to your health? (Again, if not, there's no reason to ban them)
3. Is there a feasible way to test for steroid use or otherwise enforce a ban?
I recognize that there are serious people who disagree about the second and third questions. But I submit that, if you think about it honestly, what we do know about the first point is quite clear: steroids* can and do help performance in baseball, and specifically help in hitting for power.
* - I refer here colloquially to "steroids" to include other hormone-altering performance-enhancers like human growth hormone. As often happens in debates about drugs, precise definition of the substances involved is itself a whole sub-field of debate.
The Available Types of Evidence
Part of the confusion over the link between steroids and performance derives from the different types of evidence we use to answer these types of questions. To illustrate, let's compare this question to one with a settled answer: whether throwing the ball faster will help a pitcher strike out more batters.
One sometimes hears the argument made that we can't and don't have direct evidence of how steroids help performance. This is true enough, as far as it goes. For example, we can show directly how velocity helps a pitcher get strikeouts: you can measure batters' reaction times and show how increasing velocity makes it harder to make contact. Or, you can simply watch a guy who throws 95+ blow pitches even past guys who are looking for them. That kind of "see the causation with your own eyes" evidence doesn't exist for steroids and performance in baseball.
Where direct evidence of causation isn't available, of course, statistical proof of correlation can be good enough. A classic example of this from the intersection of law and medicine is the fact that we still don't have direct evidence that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer (i.e., scientists can't show how it happens), but the statistical evidence shows a fairly overwhelming connection between smoking and increased likelihood of getting lung cancer.
Statistical proofs of correlation are pervasive in baseball - to use our example above, it would be easy to do a study showing that pitchers who regularly throw above 95 mph get a lot more strikeouts, and are much more likely to generate large numbers of strikeouts, than pitchers who rarely or never crack 90+ mph. That correlation is so powerful that it will show up in almost any study.
Other correlations are trickier, which is why a reliable study has to use a large enough sample size to be able to generalize, and has to ensure that truly comparable players are being compared, so that different outcomes can't be explained away by some other factor.
Here, there are two problems with studying steroid use. One is finding large and otherwise truly comparable sets of players (comparing the same player before and after isn't useful because of the interfering factor of age, which ordinarily is, of course, very powerfully correlated with declining performance after about age 28 or so). But the bigger problem is that steroid use, by virtue of being illegal, is done in secret; we have so little reliable information about who uses what, when and in what amounts that for the foreseeable future, it will be impossible to do statistical comparisons with any degree of confidence.
The fallacy in many arguments over steroids in baseball is to note the lack of direct or reliable statistical evidence and declare the question unresolved. But this is not consistent with how human beings make decisions in everyday life, in law, medicine, politics or in baseball. When the best forms of evidence are unavailable, we look at what remains: at circumstantial evidence, and logical connections to be drawn therefrom. For example, even if we couldn't see fast pitches going by hitters and read the evidence of the same in box scores, what we do know about hitting a baseball - you have to time your swing to make contact - is itself strongly suggestive of the fact that a faster pitch will be harder to hit.
I would submit that that evidence is more than sufficient to persuade us that steroids help performance in baseball. Let's once again break this down to a few questions:
A. Do Steroids Help Build Strength?
This much is not seriously disputed, which is one reason why steroids are banned in the NFL and the Olympics, where physical strength and speed can be shown to connect directly to performance. There are certainly debates about precisely how and to what extent steroids help, but few serious people would debate that taking them helps build stronger muscles.
B. Does Strength Help In Hitting A Baseball?
This is really the crux of the argument. It is often said that you can't take a drug to help you hit a curveball, which is true but totally beside the point. The issue isn't whether steroids will help you or me become a major league ballplayer; the issue is whether guys with the pre-existing skills to play professional baseball will have those skills enhanced. To deny that, among other things, you have to argue that strength has no impact on the ability to hit for power. Of course, this is ridiculous. Since the introduction of the home run as a regular part of the game in the 1920s, it has always been the case that big, strong guys with powerful chests and arms have tended to be home run hitters, and skinny little guys have not. To deny that steroids have an impact on hitting for power in particular, you have to look at all the home runs hit by the Gehrigs and Foxxes and Mantles and Kluzewskis and Killebrews and all the singles hit by the Willie McGees and Vince Colemans and Nellie Foxes of the world, and argue that it is just a coincidence that physical strength has always been so strongly correlated with home run power. You have to not only look at Bonds and Giambi and all the other guys who have been placed under one sort of cloud or other and say that whatever they took or were given didn't matter; you actually have to say that all the muscle Barry Bonds has added has had nothing to do with his power surge, that Jason Giambi's increased power production as he gained muscle was just a coincidence. Sorry, I'm not buying that.
Basic physics: force equals mass times
C. Do Steroids Help In Conditioning?
Strength is the core of the debate. But correct me if I'm wrong here - I believe most of the analyses I've seen have similarly shown that steroids can assist more broadly in conditioning - beyond pure muscle mass - by assisting in the ability to train at greater length without injury, at least in the short run.
D. Does Superior Conditioning Help In Baseball?
The question, again, essentially answers itself, and doubly so for aging players seeking to stave off declining bat speed (or declining velocity, for pitchers, but pitchers and steroids are another day's debate). Honus Wagner lifted weights; Ty Cobb was a conditioning fanatic. It could be a coincidence that they lasted into their 40s in a day when few others did.
The Bonds Issue
I would stress, again, that I don't have anything but the sketchy information in the public record on what Barry Bonds took and when, and how it helped him. And it's true: Bonds' late career surge has had other causes, from better bats to a greater uppercut in his swing. But I've been disappointed at some of the efforts from otherwise reasonable people to obscure the fact that Bonds' increased strength has had an impact on his unprecedented late-30s power surge.
I meant to get to this when it ran in mid-December: the New York Times editorial by Will Carroll of the Baseball Prospectus (discussed here on his blog). I like and respect Carroll from his work at BP, but the Times piece has some serious issues. One is the point I make above: Carroll essentially implies that he is agnostic on whether strength helps with power hitting, contrary to 85 years' experience:
[W]e have little or no idea what these drugs accomplish. Do stronger players hit the ball farther, swing the bat quicker or throw the ball harder? Does using steroids reduce fatigue so that they can do any of those things more effectively than "clean" players?
Much more problematically, Carroll uses some seriously misguided examples to imply to the Times' readers that Bonds' power surge is not so unprecedented:
What of this late-career surge? Certainly we can point to that with an accusing finger, sure that Bonds's numbers in the record books have been written with some "cream" or "clear" substance. It's much easier to point than to find facts.
According to Clay Davenport, a researcher at Baseball Prospectus, Hank Aaron's best year for home runs - when he had the most homers per at bat - was 1973, when he was 39. His second best was in 1971, at age 37. Willie Stargell had his best seasons after age 37. Carlton Fisk put his best rate in the books when he was 40. Even Ty Cobb had his best home run rate at age 38, though the end of the dead-ball era helped that. It is not uncommon, according to Mr. Davenport, for a slugger to change his mechanics as he ages, swinging for the fences as his ability to run the bases declines.
These are terribly bad examples. First of all, Aaron in 1973, Stargell in 1978 and 1979 and Fisk in 1988 all had one thing in common: none of them were full-time, 500+ at bat players any longer, as they'd been in their primes. It's a lot easier for an older player to improve his production if he has a third to half of the season to rest as opposed to the years when he was playing every day, a fact that has absolutely zero to do with Barry Bonds.
Let's take Stargell first, as he's the most egregious example. Willie Stargell's career best slugging percentages, both absolutely and relative to the league, came at the ages of 26, 31, and 33, well within the normal range. Stargell's home run rate improved slightly in 1978-79, at age 38 and 39, but his doubles - also a key power stat - dropped off sharply from 43 in 1973 to 18 and 19 in 1978 and 1979. Was he really hitting for more power? Also, Stargell had another thing going for him: while he wasn't, strictly speaking, platooned (his backup, John Milner, was also lefthanded), the decline in his playing time allowed him to see a much more favorable mix of pitchers: Stargell had 30.5% of his at bats against lefties in 1978 and 30.7% in 1979, as opposed to 39.5% in 1971 and 33.1% in 1973. For a guy with Stargell's big platoon splits, that's a significant advantage.
Then there's Aaron. If you know the game's history, you already know that Aaron's late-career power surge was an illusion created by the improved offensive conditions of the 1970s as opposed to the 1960s, combined with his move in 1966 into homer-friendly Fulton County Stadium and out of pitcher-friendly Milwaukee County. Aaron hit 52 homers on the road and 37 at home in 1962-63; in 1971 and 1973, those figures were more than reversed to 55 at home and 32 on the road. But it doesn't stop there; with just 392 at bats in 1973 at age 39, the right-handed Aaron saw 44.4% of his at bats against left-handed pitching, up from 30.9% in 1971 and 26.5% as a full-time player in 1969.
Then there's Fisk, whose "best" home run season was 253 at bats in 1988. Do I really need to explain why a catcher might hit better playing half the time? And yes, the right-handed Fisk faced lefties 36.5% of the time in 1988, compared to 22.9% in his actual best season, 1977.
(Ty Cobb, whose career high in home runs was 12 but whose career high in slugging average was at age 24, is not even worthy of discussing at length).
None of these guys - indeed, no other player in baseball history - compares remotely to what Barry Bonds has done, and it does no service to the debate to pretend otherwise. Prior to 2000, Bonds was 34 years old and had a career slugging percentage of .559, with his two best slugging percentages (.677 and .647) coming at age 28 and 29. Since then, he has slugged .781, a 40% improvement on his career average and a 15% improvement over a five-year stretch compared to his career best season. Neither Carroll nor Davenport could find an example anywhere, certainly not outside of guys who straddled the arrival of the lively ball in the 1920s, of an established player who had anything like a 40% improvement in his power numbers from age 35 to 39. (Bonds has also batted .358 over the past three years, compared to batting above .320 just once through age 35, also nothing like a normal aging pattern).
Carroll's argument would have been better served by recognizing the fact that what Bonds has done is totally unprecedented and clearly not unrelated to his dramatic improvement in physical strength in his late 30s. Pretending otherwise does no one any good.
January 3, 2005
BASEBALL: Beane Counted
Jurgen at Some Calzone for Derek suggests that I could take a look at the incoming and outgoing A's (including prospect Dan Meyer, coming in to fill the Hudson/Mulder gap in the rotation) by Established Win Shares. He finds the A's losing 21 wins worth of Win Shares and gaining 20, measured by last year's numbers. How do things look from an EWSL view?
Total: 73 Win Shares (24.333 wins)
Total: 48 Win Shares (16 wins)
# - Rated only on 2003 & 2004
Note that Meyer doesn't figure in the weighted age because he has no established major league track record. It says here the A's have lost 8 wins worth of talent this offseason; that sounds about right. Jurgen is underestimating that because he's valuing Kendall and Ginter off of good years and Hudson and Rhodes off of weak ones.
That doesn't mean that's how it will play out on the field. Meyer could easily give the A's anywhere from 5 to 12 Win Shares worth of performance - although young pitchers are tricky - and Thomas' 9 Win Shares last season are a half-season's worth of performance. Haren should also get an opportunity, although just looking at his numbers the past two seasons at AAA and the major league level I'm not that impressed with his odds of making an immediate impact:
Haren could well be another good long-term prospect, I just don't see a guy who's going to jump into the rotation without some real growing pains.
Overall, the arrival of Kendall, the fact that Thomas looks like a guy who could be an immediate improvement over the oft-injured Dye, and the bullpen help the A's are getting should help soften the blow. But I don't think you can deny that the A's took a significant step backward this offseason.
January 2, 2005
POLITICS: Caracas, Kiev, Seattle
SoundPolitics has been the place to follow the increasingly bizarre re-recount in Washington, with this being the most recent of Stefan Sharkansky's efforts to sniff out some real problems in King County (Seattle).
But I agree wholeheartedly with Jim Miller and Tom Bevans that the GOP, as a matter of principle, needs to set a very, very high bar for challenging an election. No election is perfect, and a big part of conservative principles as a whole is a willingness to live with the results of a process as long as the rules are set out clearly in advance.
There's also another factor at work in Washington. If Christine Gregoire winds up on the outs, she's got nowhere to go for four years until Dino Rossi is up for re-election. But Rossi, like John Thune in 2002 and like the Missouri GOP in 2000 - both of whom rebounded to knock off incumbent Democratic Senators - has another day to fight on: if he loses to Gregoire, he can, if he chooses, position himself to run against one of Washington's two Democratic Senators, Maria Cantwell, who won in 2000 with 48.73% of the vote, the lowest vote total of any Senator running for re-election in 2006. Yes, Cantwell has the advantage of being a liberal in an increasingly liberal state. But a Dino Rossi who goes out with his dignity and is perceived by the public as having been robbed would be Cantwell's worst nightmare as an opponent.
It's just astonishing to think that an undersea earthquake off the coast of Sumatra could be the largest natural disaster in the history of Sweden:
There are more than 3,000 visitors from Sweden among the missing in Thailand, and the Scandinavian nation is braced for what could be the worst natural disaster toll in its history. . .
Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Saturday many of those who were still listed as missing were likely to be dead. . . "Of the 6,500 missing, it is likely that they could mostly be dead as many days have passed."
While only 59 Swedes have so far been confirmed dead, authorities are fearing this tragedy may well become the worst natural disaster in the nation's history.
With a population of only 9 million, Sweden's expected loss of life proportionately matches that of Indonesia, and is exceeded only by Sri Lanka.