"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
November 30, 2006
LAW: Chutzpah at the NY Times
It is a joy and a pleasure to have Beldar back in the blogosphere. He has two posts up (here and here) dealing with a case I blogged about back in August: Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury subpoena aimed at the Times' 2001 disclosure of upcoming searches and asset freezes to the targets of those searches, two foundations that were raising money for terrorists. The Supreme Court declined recently to grant emergency relief to stop the Times from having to comply with the subpoena. This post in particular is a must-read, as Beldar patiently explains why a recent Times editorial is so thoroughly disingenuous in its treatment of the Times' own legal position.
BASEBALL: Drew Sox
Word is that JD Drew is signing with the Red Sox for 4 years and 56 million. Drew's an outstanding offensive player - he's a real upgrade compared to Trot Nixon - and the star-studded Sox shouldn't need him to be an emotional leader, which he obviously isn't.
That said, $14 million a year for a guy who has qualified for the batting title just twice in 8 years and has missed more than 50 games in a season three of the past six years is awfully pricey, even considering how badly inflated the free agent market has been thus far (it sure makes Aramis Ramirez at $15 million a year look like a steal). What is alarming is the idea that the Sox might use Drew to replace Manny. Manny's contract at this point is cheaper - $38 million over two years. If you look at Runs Created, for example, Manny's established performance level over 2004-06 is 127 runs created compared to 88 for Drew (9.20 per 27 outs compared to 7.69 for Drew). Now, there are ameliorating factors. Drew played in Dodger Stadium and Turner Field, not Fenway. And Drew is 31, while Manny at 35 is entering a serious danger zone, especially for a guy who is coming off an up year - the odds are way more than 50/50 that Manny is due for a serious falloff in 2007. But even for all of that, Drew's fragility and lesser offensive skills still make him worth a lot less than 74% of Manny (which is where their salaries stack up).
BLOG: Quiet Time
OK, I know content has been slow here lately - it's been busy at work and the baby's not been sleeping well, and that eats away at my blogging time from both ends. I'm also working on some longer-term projects that don't hit the site right away. The good news is, my tech guru has finally come up with a way to close comments on older entries, which seems to have solved the spam problem once and for all, so when I do have time I'm able to focus again on writing.
November 29, 2006
Jay C at Toys in the Attic makes a good point about John Edwards' lame attempt to use his six-year-old son as a prop in his assault on Wal-Mart. Of course, I don't object to the fact that Edwards, like the rest of us, wants his kids to believe the things he believes - but the fact that the kid parrots Dad's opinions doesn't make those opinions any more valid.
November 28, 2006
BLOG: Things You Learn By Reading Slate
November 27, 2006
BASEBALL: Wins, Losses and ERA
One of the many fancy new features rolled out at Baseball-Reference.com lately is the ability to get career and year-by-year splits, in more detail than they have previously been available even at Retrosheet or through David Pinto, because they are derived from a newly completed database of all box scores dating back to 1957. It's a goldmine, the potential of which I have not yet fully absorbed.
One cool feature is the splits showing how pitchers over the course of their career pitched in their wins vs. their losses. I started examining some recent pitchers of interest and decided to do a comparative study.
I looked at 58 pitchers, including every 200-game winner to start his career since 1957, plus three Hall of Fame pitchers for whom all but their first two years are available (Koufax, Drysdale and Bunning), plus a bunch of other guys who cleared 150 wins and/or 2500 Ks or were otherwise notable: Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Dave Stewart, Fernando Valenzuela, John Smoltz, Andy Pettitte, Al Leiter, Kevin Appier, Bret Saberhagen, Ron Guidry, Rick Sutcliffe, Mark Langston, and Sam McDowell. The group is a cross-section of the top pitchers from the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, Nineties and today. Some conclusions:
1. I was amazed at quite how dramatic the difference was between these guys' average ERAs in their wins and losses. Yes, you expect a big separation - but of the 58, all but 12 had ERAs below 2.00 in their victories, and all but three had ERAs above 5.00 in their losses. The lesson: yes, starting pitching matters quite a lot in determining wins and losses, in case you still had any doubt.
2. The 12 who posted ERAs above 2.00 are obviously weighted more towards the post-1994 period and almost exclusively towards good teams. In order: Kenny Rogers (2.39), Pettitte (2.33), Jamie Moyer (2.30), Jack Morris (2.29), Sutcliffe (2.26), David Wells (2.25), Mike Mussina (2.17), Langston (2.10), Appier (2.07), Charlie Hough (2.06), Dennis Martinez (2.06), and Stewart (2.05).
The guy who jumps off that list is Morris - he played in the 1980s, not the 1990s, but always had superior offensive firepower at his back. The relatively high ERAs in his wins suggests that his W-L record should be viewed with a bit of skepticism, which I have argued for years as being a reason to doubt his Hall of Fame credentials. The same doubts, to a lesser extent, may be raised about Mussina, depending how his career record ends up, and especially since Mussina lacks Morris' reputation as a big-game pitcher.
Appier was more surprising, until you remember that he got a disproportionate number of wins with the A's, Mets and Angels after his prime, as opposed to his best years in KC. Appier also posted a solid 3.50 ERA in his no-decisions, but more on that below.
(If you are wondering, Steve Trachsel had a 3.97 ERA in his wins in 2006, 2.23 career).
3. The three guys with the lowest ERAs in their losses should not be surprising, though I was mildly surprised. One was Bob Gibson (4.69), who pitched in the pitcher-heaven Sixties (in 1968 he had a 2.14 ERA in his losses and a .500 record when not throwing a shutout despite pitching for a first-place team). One from the same era who surprised me more, since he always had good Mays-and-McCovey offenses, was Juan Marichal (4.94), but then you have to figure that Marichal lost a lot of his games to Gibson and both lost a lot to Koufax and Drysdale. The third, unsurprising given his teams, was Tom Seaver (4.92).
4. The very best pitchers in their wins were the extreme power pitchers and guys who won a lot in Sixties-era pitcher's parks: Koufax (1.34), McDowell (1.43), Nolan Ryan (1.45), Drysdale (1.48), and Pedro Martinez (1.49). But the next rank, the guys in the 1.50s is a mixed bag: Jim Palmer (1.52), Gaylord Perry (1.54), Tommy John (1.57), Jerry Reuss (1.58), Gibson (1.59). Bert Blyleven was next at 1.60, if you were wondering.
5. The worst pitchers in their losses - Rogers (7.39), Wells (7.27), Pettitte (7.18), Leiter (7.04), Mussina (6.73), Sutcliffe (6.70), Stewart (6.62), Langston (6.57), Moyer (6.55), Gooden (6.54). Leiter (1.90-7.04) and Rogers (2.39-7.39) have the biggest differences between wins and losses, though Reuss (1.58-6.24) has perhaps the biggest percentage difference (I didn't run the numbers on that).
6. A fascinating field of study would be to look at these guys' no-decisions, but that proved labor-intensive and I may wait and see if further changes on the site make it easier to compute. One problem is that there is as yet no way, outside of reviewing individual games, to separate no-decision starts from no-decision relief appearances - for example, Koufax had a 6.90 ERA in 118 games where he appeared without a win, loss or save, but only 64 of those were starts, and much of the rest was probably early-career mopup work.
Anyway, while the results of this study can't be separated out from the various other influences on a pitcher's ERA and W-L record, I did find it interesting and illustrative.
POLITICS/WAR: So You Say John Kerry Was Only Joking?
I want to make it abundantly clear: if there's anyone who believes that these youngsters want to fight, as the Pentagon and some generals have said, you can just forget about it. No young, bright individual wants to fight just because of a bonus and just because of educational benefits. And most all of them come from communities of very, very high unemployment. If a young fella has an option of having a decent career or joining the army to fight in Iraq, you can bet your life that he would not be in Iraq.
Sure, some people join the military because the best way of advancement available to them, and maybe that's particularly true in Rangel's Harlem district - it was true of Rangel himself, by his own account (though I somehow doubt that that is the only motivator even for soldiers from Harlem, either). But the incoming Chairman of one of the House's most powerful committees has been in Congress for 36 years, and has no excuse for his ignorance about the nature of the all-volunteer military.
UPDATE: A commenter at RedState linked to this November 2005 Heritage Foundation study of the economic background of military enlistees (it also quotes Rangel making the same point four years ago):
Put simply, the current makeup of the all-voluntary military looks like America. Where they are different, the data show that the average soldier is slightly better educated and comes from a slightly wealthier, more rural area. We found that the military (and Army specifically) included a higher proportion of blacks and lower proportions of other minorities but a proportionate number of whites. More important, we found that recruiting was not drawing disproportionately from racially concentrated areas.
Notably, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the data shows a distinct shift away from lower-income, less-educated recruits after September 11 - which is unsurprising. People who join the Army mainly to get job training and education, after all, are the ones who are less likely to enlist during a war.
November 26, 2006
BLOG: Comments Resolution
Here is where things stand:
*I wanted to get rid of the spam, but it seems there is no workable solution right now for adding registration without a huge hassle. However, I may get in the habit of shutting off comments when I know I'll be away from my computer for more than a day or so, so I don't get inundated.
*In the meantime, to keep the spam from ending up on the site, I've instituted a form of comment mediation: the Whitelister (hat tip to Chaz Hill of Dustbury). Basically, your comments will go into moderation unless I have your email address on a list. I already entered the addresses of the last 20 or so commenters here, which should include most of the regulars, but if you leave a comment and it doesn't show, email me (if I don't catch it right away myself) and I'll add you to the list of trusted commenters. It stinks, I know, but the goal here is not to become a spam farm.
Anyway, I'm still hoping for the day when most of my blogging time can be spent, you know, blogging.
November 25, 2006
POLITICS: Now, Why Did He Do That?
An article in the New York Times, discussing the fact that nothing has changed on the NSA wiretapping front - the program to listen to international al Qaeda phone calls (even ones entering or exiting the U.S.) continues with no Congressional action to give it clearer legal authority and no resolution to the court cases - begins oddly:
When President Bush went on national television one Saturday morning last December to acknowledge the existence of a secret wiretapping program outside the courts, the fallout was fierce and immediate.
If you didn't know the history, you'd almost believe that the President up and spilled the beans on this secret program on his own initiative - curiously absent is the role of the Times itself in revealing the program, an essential part of the news story (as well as of the political controversy) that the Times can't bring itself to mention.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:50 AM | Law 2006-08 | Politics 2006 | War 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
November 24, 2006
POLITICS: Why They Should Be Thankful
SCIENCE: Nuclear Family
Thiago's mom, Natalice Olson, initially was leery of the project, even though the only real danger from the fusion machine is the high voltage and small amount of X-rays emitted through a glass window in the vacuum chamber -- through which Olson videotapes the fusion in action..
POLITICS: Election's Not Over
The last Democrats trailing in close races are gradually throwing in the towel (most of the similarly situated Republicans did so a while ago). That leaves two races:
In his FREEZER, people.
November 22, 2006
BASEBALL: Today's Trivia Question
Comments may be down but you can still amuse yourself. Derek Jeter slugged .483 this year and finished second for the MVP Award, leading to the question: how often has a player won the MVP and slugged below .500?
Well, since 1969, it's been done
Read More »
These are mostly controversial selections, not least because three of them were OF/1B and none of them really drew a ton of walks. Munson, despite a low OBP, may well have deserved the award in a year when the league lacked a dominant hitter and the best batting year was by Hal McRae as a DH, and Larkin's best competition was Mike Piazza. But Rose clearly robbed Willie Stargell and may not have deserved the award ahead of teammate Joe Morgan; Garvey was not as valuable to the Dodgers as Jimmie Wynn or Mike Marshall, and the best player in the league was probably Morgan, Mike Schmidt or Johnny Bench; and Ichiro had no business finishing ahead of Giambi and A-Rod, nor even Roberto Alomar or Bret Boone.
UPDATE: I forgot Gibson; hat tip to Ricky West for pointing that one out. Gibson, of course, robbed Darryl Strawberry, who deserved the award in 1988.
« Close It
BLOG: Comments Down Again
Well, it was nice to have the comment section back, but 500 spam comments overnight convinced me to shut them off again over the holiday weekend, at least until we can install the permanent fix.
November 21, 2006
Justin Morneau wins the 2006 AL MVP Award; my pick, Joe Mauer, the first catcher to lead the majors in batting average since Deacon White in 1875, finishes sixth, Derek Jeter (who unlike Morneau was clearly one of the two best players on his own team) finishes second, David Ortiz (who unlike Morneau was one of the three best hitting 1B/DHs in the AL) third, Frank Thomas fourth. Jermaine Dye fifth. Once again, the MVP voters fall under the hypnotic sway of RBI.
AL batting leaders are here; Morneau finished seventh in batting, sixth in slugging, eighth in OPS, fifth in Total Bases, and seventh in Hits (he wasn't among the OBP, Homers, 2B, or Runs leaders). AL Win Shares leaders are here (Morneau tied for fifth with Raul Ibanez).
Lots of baseball stuff to catch up on the past two weeks or so.
*Judging by the search engine traffic, a lot of people are looking for my take on the 2006 NL MVP race, the 2006 AL MVP race, and the other postseason awards; go here for that. The big surprise to me in the NL voting was Lance Berkman finishing third. Given Carlos Beltran's spectacular defense and superior baserunning, I have little doubt that Beltran was more valuable; then again, it's good to see Berkman get some overdue recognition.
*It can't have been lost on the agents for Ryan Howard and Miguel Cabrera that Alfonso Soriano finished sixth in the balloting, behind their clients, while having a career year. Soriano's 8-year, $136 million ($17 million per year) contract with the Cubs is utter madness. I know I was too hard on Soriano for his huge home/road splits in Texas, and it's true that (a) he's a tremendous athlete, and athleticism does matter in projecting how a player ages, and (b) under Frank Robinson's tutelage he drew 67 walks, more than he had drawn the prior two seasons combined and almost 30 above his career high. If Soriano can sustain most of that (his 16 intentional passes will probably fall off), he will remain a very dangerous hitter into his 30s, not only because he will get on base more but also because he will be less susceptible to pitchers taking advantage of his aggressiveness.
But that's a big "if" for $136 million (the Mariners made the same gamble on Beltre and look how that worked out), and Soriano remains either a bad second baseman or a mediocre left fielder (the Cubs apparently plan to keep him in the outfield), plus Lou Piniella wants to bat him leadoff, which is nuts. And even if he does repeat 2006 a few times, that's an awful lot of money and he is unlikely to be worth it by age 35, 36, 37 and 38. Perhaps the Cubs expect such salary inflation under the new collective bargaining agreement that $17mil for a 36 year old left fielder batting .270/.485/.340 with 18 stolen bases will be a bargain, but I doubt it.
And the Soriano signing represents a larger failure to come to terms with the organization's persistent inability to take a pitch. I was OK with the Aramis Ramirez re-signing, which was cheaper and for a younger player who plays third base, but the two in combination tie up a lot of resources in aggressive hitters. Consider, since 1986, where the Cubbies have placed in the NL in walks:
Although Sammy Sosa eventually learned patience, the tendency to import guys like Andre Dawson and Sosa and make them the team's signature veteran leaders has not helped this. Simply put, the Cubs will continue to underachieve as long as they fail to make use of the free pass.
*I'm yet again not thrilled with the Mets' signing of Moises Alou, which together with the money thrown at El Duque and Jose Valentin establishes a rather ominous pattern of over-investment in geriatric players (Glavine too, but Glavine's worth it). Replacing Cliff Floyd with Alou is six of one for half a dozen of the other in terms of their injury histories, and at 40 Alou is more likely to decline or get hurt again; I'd give Floyd a 60/40 chance of having a better year in 2007 than Alou. In an ideal world, you would platoon them and get rid of Shawn Green, who unlike those two has almost zero chance of slugging .500 again. Green was a necessary stretch drive pickup but with a full offseason to work with he should not remain penciled in as a regular.
What is doubly concerning is the implication that the Mets are looking to dump Milledge, who I discussed at some length here. I'm fine with trading Milledge if the Mets get major value in return, but telegraphing their interest in dealing him is probably the first step to giving up way too soon on a guy who is just 21 and (so far as I can tell) has no problems that maturity can't fix.
*The Mets also had a couple deals under the radar. They brought in Damion Easley, another 37-year-old infielder, which isn't great news but I'm inclined to trust Minaya on this one, as he has had a decent record locating veterans to stock the bench. I'm less happy with dealing minor league relief stud Henry Owens, who the Mets gave up on after 4 major league innings, for Jason Vargas (the deal also includes Adam Bostick from Florida for Matt Lindstrom; I know nothing about either except that Lindstrom is three years older and both have had trouble throwing strikes in the minors).
LAW/POLITICS: I've Been MSM'd!
You can read my coverage of the Federalist Society Convention at RedState here and here. At lunch at the convention on Thursday I sat down and started chatting with the other people at my table, one of whom introduced himself as Neil Lewis of the New York Times. I introduced myself by my name and city (as well as giving him my impromptu RedState.com press pass and giving him permission to quote me by name) and we talked about the aftermath of the elections; it was obvious that he was working on a story that would include the reactions of Federalist Society members to the Democratic takeover of Congress. Lewis seemed pretty much a Times reporter from central casting, a pleasant middle-aged bearded guy in a suit, with a bit of a tone of pretension in his voice and quick to quibble with a woman at our table who said she enjoyed Fox News and found it fair and balanced.
Let's see how Mr. Lewis quoted me in Sunday's paper:
How glum was the mood? "Well, I guess I've just about climbed back from the ledge - the one I was about to jump off of," said Daniel McLaughlin, a New York lawyer who attended the convention. Mr. McLaughlin said he could not stop fretting over who would be confirmed to the federal bench in the next two years.
The part in quotes is, in fact, an accurate quote, albeit leaving aside the smile I delivered it with. (I should add that I thought that the line about coming in off the ledge was self-explanatory; I added the latter part when he asked for clarification). "Could not stop fretting" is another matter. As I have said to several people, I told him that I was more concerned about the loss of the Senate than the House because I'm concerned about getting the president's judicial nominees confirmed, but I didn't intend to leave him with the impression of despair; what I added was that since there were still 52 Senators left who voted for Justice Alito, my main concern was getting floor votes. That part didn't fit the theme of Republicans hanging their heads in defeat, I guess, and so it was blurred into "fretting".
All in all, a fairly typical mainstream media treatment - not a fabrication, no made up words; nothing so dramatic. In fact, as I said, the part in quotes is accurate, and might have bothered me a bit less if it stood on its own. And yet, there had to be a bending and selective truncation of my words to fit a pre-selceted narrative. Which, by now, is not news.
November 20, 2006
BLOG: Back in Blog
Lots to catch up on here - the blog is now once again operational after an upgrade to Movable Type 3.33. Comments should be working again soon, but I may be instituting registration. It pains me to do that, but I'm sick and tired of spam-busting, and most of the comments here tend to be from a handful of regulars anyway.
UPDATE: Comments are open and working for now, but I will probably put in some sort of registration or authentication system once I figure out how to get one to work.
POLITICS: Newt Running His Ideas For President
Hopes Voters Will Want The Man, Too
"I'm going to tell you something, and whether or not it's plausible given the world you come out of is your problem," he tells Fortune. "I am not 'running' for president. I am seeking to create a movement to win the future by offering a series of solutions so compelling that if the American people say I have to be president, it will happen." So he's running, only without yet formally saying so.
"My hope is to create a wave that sweeps through that entire system, and in a context that obviously includes the presidency. Even if he's not the nominee, Gingrich says he plans to throw the weight of what he's built behind a "winning-the-future presidential candidate."In other words, Newt has adequately assessed his main strength as a candidate (his ideas, which are often spot-on and always provocative) and his main weakness (Newt's own unpopularity and personal failings), and is running a "movement" campaign. Will it work?
Most "movement" candidates end up losing (even ones like Reagan in 1976 who later get the brass ring), and I'm sure that Newt knows that. The key question for an idea-driven "movement" candidate is whether he can gain sufficient traction to compel the ultimate nominee (or future nominees of the party) to adopt some of his ideas. Thus, Barry Goldwater in 1964 ran a movement, won the nomination, got crushed in November - but future GOP nominees adopted his philosophy. Thus, Steve Forbes ran a movement campaign in 1996 and 2000 that prompted both Bob Dole and George W. Bush to embrace major tax cuts and Bush to press (with varying degrees of vigor) other elements of the Forbes platform, like private Social Security accounts, school choice and health care savings accounts. Thus, key elements of Ross Perot's 1992 campaign platform - notably his emphasis on balanced budgets - were adopted by both the Contract for America and the Clinton Administration. Thus, social and religious conservative campaigns have often held GOP nominees' feet to the fire on social issues. Candidates like George McGovern, Jesse Jackson, Jerry Brown and Howard Dean have played similar roles on the Left, although perhaps with less influence on their party's successful candidates, who have mainly been those who avoided embracing those ideas.
The odds against Newt '08 remain prohibitively long - one would search long and hard for evidence that a majority of the general electorate remains open to persuasion by Newt - but the terrain of the current candidate field is enormously favorable to an influential Gingrich candidacy. With George Allen having essentially self-destructed, the field as it sits features three main frontrunners (Giuliani, McCain and Romney) whose past records or rhetoric paint them as varying degrees of moderate. All three will be focusing much of their attention on convincing skeptical conservative primary voters that they will, in fact, govern close enough to mainstream conservatism to be worth following into battle. Several of the lower-tier potential candidates (Huckabee, Frist, Pataki, Hagel) also have major vulnerabilities on their right flank. And with Jeb Bush and others like Haley Barbour sitting this one out, the roster of possible conservative champions are mainly little-known, haven't gotten started yet, are unlikely to run, or have limited appeal (Sam Brownback, Duncan Hunter, Mark Sanford, Tim Pawlenty, Tom Tancredo, Mike Pence, etc.).
But politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and Newt's name recognition guarantees that if no standard-bearer emerges to unite the GOP's Right, he can stay in the race as long as it takes to force the eventual frontrunner to deal with his ideas. Which is good to know. Because like it or not, sometimes the best candidate for a particular campaign may not be a lifelong movement conservative. But successful general election campaigns are run on clear and principled platforms that represent the prospective administration's promises, and not just the natural inclinations of the presidential or vice-presidential nominee. Thus, the reality that the best person for the job may not be the most conservative should not prevent the primary season from putting conservative ideas and priorities on the national agenda for 2009-2012.
POP CULTURE: Flippers Down for "Happy Feet"
If you have small children I would highly recommend that you not take them to this movie (if you don't, you surely won't go anyway). First off, the film is often dark, depressing or scary, probably too much so for kids under 8 or 9. Second, the second half of the film is basically an extended diatribe in favor of a UN ban on fishing in the Antarctic. As with so many cartoons today featuring talking animals, carnivores and humans are uniformly evil (well, except for the penguins themselves - the fish they eat are not anthropomorphized). And the anti-human, anti-fishing messages are not subtle but heavy-handed and preachy.
The film had other weaknesses, of varying degrees of obviousness. The bouts of sexual suggestiveness among the penguins were reasonably subtle enough to sail over smaller kids' heads, and to some extent necessary to a film the first half of which centers on penguin mating rituals. There were Hollywood stereotypes abounding: unfavorable characters were given Southern or Scottish accents, misguided religious superstitions and a bluenosed insistence on tradition and conformity (even though the film's beginning dramatically emphasized the reality that tradition and conformity are essential to the survival of emperor penguins), while favorable ones got Latino accents, rythym, a sense of humor and a lust for females; and the scene in a penguin house in a zoo may turn kids against the joy of watching penguins in the zoo, something my kids love. (These would all be minor grievances - I'm not suggesting I'm outraged about giving penguins ethnic accents - if the movie was funnier or less preachy). The movie also never explains why the lead character ends up with blue eyes and a permanent adolescent fuzz, although presumably this is just to let audiences keep him straight from the other penguins.
This is not to say that the movie is all bad. The animated landscapes and action scenes are breathtaking, for example. The voicework is pretty good, notably by Robin Williams in dual roles. But inhuman (or at least, anti-human) environmental propaganda wrapped in the veneer of a kids' movie is not the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon with the family.
November 17, 2006
BLOG: Out of Service
Blog will be down a few days for repairs. In the meantime my political stuff can still be found at RedState.
November 15, 2006
LAW: Words Fail Me
OJ will explain how, just hypothetically speaking, the real killer would have gone about killing Nicole and Ron Goldman if, just for the sake of argument, the real killer was OJ, hypothetically speaking.
BASEBALL: Moose Not Loose
Yankees re-sign Mussina. I agree with David Pinto that the 2-year, $22.5 million price tag is a reasonable one for a guy of Mussina's age and effectiveness, especially for the Hated Yankees. Glavine should command about the same ballpark - in fact, he will probably want more than Mussina given his superior durability.
Signing Gil Meche, as the Yankees are contemplating, I don't understand. Talk about being doomed to repeat your mistakes. Meche was an exciting prospect a few years ago and his 32 starts and revived K rate this season (7.52/9 IP) suggest a guy who may finally be healthy, but his health record is certainly no better than Carl Pavano's and Jaret Wright's were when they signed with the Yanks. His ERAs even pitching in SafeCo the last four years are 4.51, 5.01, 5.09, and 4.48, and he wore out in the second half last year (3.83 ERA before the break, 5.42 after; his career ERA after the break is 5.03). Meche hasn't actually pitched well in seven years.
WAR: The Way Forward In Iraq
It is a truism that war is unpredictable, and as a result it is necessary from time to time to reconsider tactics, strategy and even the overall mission. Changing facts on the ground, the changing of the guard at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill, and the imminent arrival of the Iraq Study Group report (the leaked potential contents of which are discussed here, h/t), all make it necessary that we revisit yet again first principles about why we are in Iraq, what we hope to accomplish there and what should be the conditions of our ultimate departure.
I have been a supporter of the Iraq War from the beginning, for reasons I explained at length in this February 2003 post, this June 2004 post examining where we then stood on our objectives, and this August 2006 post on democratization in Iraq (I also heartily endorse the global strategic vision laid out by Steven den Beste in this July 2003 "Strategic Overview of the War on Terror"). The short summary is that (1) Saddam Hussein's regime presented a multifaceted threat to the U.S. and its allies and had a history of irrational aggressiveness that was inconsistent with any prospect of reliable deterrence, (2) there was simply no way we were ever going to win the War on Terror with Saddam Hussein's regime still in place, and (3) Saddam Hussein's regime openly cheered the September 11 attacks, which I regard as intolerable. Nothing that has happened in the three and a half years since has convinced me that leaving a regime of that nature in power would have been a good idea.
But regardless of the rightness of the original decision, the question remains: what now? I'm not an expert on military tactics, so all I can do is go back to first principles. Here are the principles that should remain our guides in the months and years to come:
I. Identify and Defeat the Enemy
As a general principle, as I have explained many times before (see here, for example), the essential condition for sending American troops anywhere is that you identify an enemy or enemies and gear all of your efforts to defeating the enemy, by destroying his capacity and/or willingness to fight. That, in a nutshell, is the difference between war and armed social work, the difference between rebuilding a conquered foe into an ally and nation-building for its own sake. Military organizations are designed to destroy the enemy; that gives them purpose and direction and enables them to determine whether or not they have achieved victory. Don't talk to me about "securing" this or "stabilizing" that or "guarding" some other thing - all those may be important parts of the mission, they may even be things that need to be done on the way out the door before handing over the keys, but they are not the mission itself, and the moment they become the mission you have lost your way.
Who is the enemy? There are three main enemies that, to my mind, must be substantially defeated before we can leave, although once Iraqi forces are up to the task of finishing the job we can leave the mop-up work to them.
A. Saddam's Regime
The original enemy we entered Iraq to defeat was the regime of Saddam Hussein. That regime was broken and dispersed by May 2003; its leader was captured in December 2003 and sentenced to death in November 2006; its heirs apparent were gunned down in July 2003.
There is a fair question as to whether some part of the Sunni forces still fighting at this stage represent a genuine hard core of Ba'athist refuseniks, and to the extent that we can so identify such a force it is appropriate to stay and crush it. But I am not inclined to automatically assume that every problem in the Sunni Triangle is necessarily a sign of an organized guerilla campaign, or that US troops should have a permanent job putting down every uprising in the area. Iraqi-vs-Iraqi violence is fundamentally a matter of the new government exercising sovereign authority, and in that regard our role should, at most, be training and handing over the reins (as we have in the two least problematic of Iraq's 18 provinces) rather than trying to insert ourselves in between warring internal factions.
B. Foreign Jihadis
You have heard the President say it often enough: Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. From the summer of 2003 through the summer of 2006, this was indisputably true. Foreign extremists poured into Iraq, mostly congregating around Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq (AQIZ) organization, which was at a minimum affiliated with, modeled on and financially supported by al Qaeda itself. As I have said before, this "flypaper" strategy, in which we would attract terrorists and Islamic extremists to Iraq and kill them in battle, was always a silver lining to the insurgency, not an affirmative reason to want an insurgency to fight. But once an openly declared enemy enters territory you hold, you fight.
Leaving Iraq to the mercy of Zarqawi, as the Howard Dean faction would have done in 2004 or 2005, would have been foolish, irresponsible madness. America can not be seen to run from these guys. But all that changed starting in June 2006, when a U.S. airstrike killed Zarqawi, and our capture of the dying Zarqawi and his bodyguards, paperwork and computers yielded an intelligence bonanza that led to rolling up much of his network.
Today, there are still foreign extremists in Iraq - but are they still a significant threat? It is hard for us to declare victory over these guys, since that seems an invitation for more to come in just to prove us wrong. But if ever there is a situation where we ought to have been able to say "Mission Accomplished" about the insurgency, it is the destruction of Zarqawi and his network. The extent to which our leaders in the field feel comfortable declaring Iraq reasonably free of foreign extremist organizations, and its military capable of dealing with the remainder, is perhaps the most important goalpost in determining when our job is done.
C. Sadr and the Iranian Threat
I have always thought, and have written before, that Muqtada al-Sadr reminded me uncomfortably of the early careers of Saddam, Khomeini, Hitler, Lenin, Castro, and other obstreperous and charismatic troublemakers whose sheer ability to survive eventually helped nourish their arrogance, hate and extremism into full-blown megalomania when they finally seized power. All were frequently underestimated and counted out, exiled, imprisoned, even sentenced to death, but never actually finished off, to the great later grief of millions.
In another way, I will admit I was wrong about this one: after U.S. forces routed Sadr in Najaf in the spring of 2004, I thought it was enough that we destroyed his forces and left to the Iraqis the decision what to do with him (See here and here).
While I don't agree with all of his diagnoses of the Iraq situation, Ralph Peters is dead on the money (also here and here) that Sadr must be killed and it is up to us to do it, because Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is clearly afraid of Sadr and accedes to his demands. If we do not kill Sadr now, we will live to regret the decision.
Sadr is an enemy for three reasons. First, of course, he has from the outset been virulently anti-American and made open war against our troops. Second, he is the chief progenitor of Shi'ite violence, especially in Baghdad, and the chief rival to the elected government for the allegiance of Shi'ites. And third, it is increasingly clear that his resources come from Iranian support, and therefore he cannot be regarded solely as a domestic Iraqi problem. And if we allow an Iranian proxy to make war on us without consequence, this does become like Vietnam, where the nation that landed at Normandy, Okinawa and Inchon was never willing, even after smashing the North Vietnamese military in the Tet offensive, to land a major force up the coast, seize Hanoi and force the enemy to its knees.
It may be that we don't actually need to invade Iran, even in "hot pursuit" of Iranian agents and suppliers entering Iraq, but if we are to contain Iran, we need to make clear to Ahmadenijad that we will decapitate his armed proxies, starting with Sadr and eventually Nasrallah as well.
I won't repeat here everything I said in the prior posts linked above, but I continue to believe that the attempt at democratization in Iraq was and is a worthy strategy. It is not the chief goal of the mission, never was. It is unfortunate that the way things played out on the WMD front, it has been difficult to sell the mission publicly since the invasion as anything but a democratization project, thus placing more of our prestige behind Iraqi democracy than we should have preferred.
But I also said from the very outset in February 2003 that the models for Iraq should not be New Hampshire and Wisconsin or even Germany and Japan, but rather the new democracies that arose in the aftermath of the collapse of the Communist empire in Eastern Europe, Russia, Central and Southeast Asia, Central America, and sub-Saharan Africa. Many of those democracies have had a rough go of it since then; Benjamin Franklin said that our own democracy was "a republic, if you can keep it," and not everyone who received the opportunity for democracy in the 1986-93 period kept it. Some, like Vladimir Putin's Russia, maintain the forms of democracy (elections, term limits) but the actual practice is on life support, with no free press, massive organized crime, spotty and politically driven law enforcement, and an economy in shambles outside of the oil business.
But nearly all of the post-Communist states, even ones that elect people like Daniel Ortega to public office, are better off now than they were before, and less dangerous to the United States. We should continue to offer what support we can, of the non-military variety, to Iraq's democrats. And as in Eastern Europe and other post-Communist areas, we should continue to encourage democratization throughout the Muslim and Arab worlds - it won't work everywhere, and will backfire in some places, but the places it takes root will be long-term potential allies or at least stabilizing forces in the region.
But our military forces in Iraq are there to defeat enemies, not to force democracy to work. As with the Cold War, the battle for Iraqi democracy will be waged in Iraq by Iraqi democrats and their foes long after we have won the victory we came for and gone home.
The proposals from the ISG that have been leaked thus far appear to involve the Mother of All Sellouts, a negotiated peace with Iran and Syria that not only validates their interference in Iraq but simultaneously compels Israel to hand over land to the Syrians. This is foolish and reckless.
I have made this point before, more times than I can count (see here for a sampling and more links): negotiations are war by other means, and will fail if not backed by a credible threat of new or continuing hostilities to the disadvantage of the other side. Treaties are contracts, and contracts only work if the remedies for violation are clear and credible. Iran and Syria are now meddling in Iraq, and have been for quite some time. The Bush Administration has not been willing to visit any adverse consequences on them for this, at least not publicly, and will not admit that we are at war with them. Their proxies make war on us and our allies without the consequence of the proxies' destruction.
How can we make credible peace with them when we will not even admit we are at war? How are they now suffering from U.S. involvement in Iraq, and if not, what incentive do they have to make concessions? And what conditions will bring us back to the field - Iran has been careful to avoid an open casus belli by using proxies rather than an open invasion. If Sadr's militia acts up again, the Iranians won't be falling over themselves to admit complicity, and how will an American president then rally the nation to fight?
Never make peace with anyone who can't be held directly responsible if war resumes.
IV. Other Issues
There are other issues I don't have time and space to deal with here. I regard partition of Iraq as a thinkable but unfortunate last resort, and one that is really more up to the Iraqis and to us, though we do at a minimum owe our support to the Kurds, who remain the most advanced and pro-American faction in the country. McQ has some useful thoughts about oil revenues and moving forces into Kurdistan, both of which I file under the same general heading.
Winning the War on Terror will be a long, hard struggle. We can't lose heart or will, but we also can't allow a loss of clarity about the mission in Iraq to destroy public support for the long war. Keeping focused on the main goals is essential. I close with the full version Churchill quote I use as my tagline; his message about Germany then applies as aptly today, but also as a cautionary tale, since Churchill spoke these words during the First World War, the one that did not end the battle with German militarism:
So it is today.
November 14, 2006
BASEBALL: The Duque of Flushing
Mets re-sign Orlando Hernandez for two years and $12 million, through an age known only to his Maker. This, like the Valentin signing, seems to be a signing a bit like the Kris Benson deal, driven more by fear of the market and complacency with 2006 than a cold-eyed analysis of the future. Of course, Omar Minaya is blunt about the fact that the second year was the price of the first:
"The way the marketplace is, I didn't think it would be realistic to sign Orlando Hernandez for one year. He stays in shape. He's a hard worker. If you wanted to get him, you were going to give him two years."
Yeah, I like El Duque too, and he can still pitch. But he's also a 41-or-so-year-old pitcher with a checkered record for durability, who was signed for the purpose of pitching in the playoffs and then pulled up lame and missed them, and who posted a 4.66 ERA in the regular season. That may well be a pitcher worth bringing back, but for twelve million dollars?
POLITICS: Onion Classics
POLITICS: Don't Build The Fence?
Mickey Kaus sees signs that the Democrats will try to prevent the border fence from being built. This would be an obvious example of overreaching - while the politics of immigration are vexing and the public may be willing to accept a compromise solution including legalization of existing illegals and a guest worker program, public opinion will turn very quickly against the view that there should be no additional enforcement on the border.
(Of course, knowing the Dems they will counter the perception of lax enforcement by adding a bunch of additional funding for new Border Patrol agents but no meaningful authority for them to accomplish anything, thus treating enforcement of the law as just another jobs program for unionized government workers)
LAW: Weldon Amendment Survives Legal Challenge
The DC Circuit this morning rejected a legal challenge to the Weldon Amendment for lack of standing. The Weldon Amendment prohibits recipients of federal grant funds from discriminating against individuals or entities that refuse to provide or refer for abortions. The court rejected claims that the amendment is so vague that an organization could have it struck down as a whole without proving that any of its members had actually been threatened with loss of federal funding. The court noted similar provisions that have been on the books for years without creating any vagueness issue, and invited the plaintiffs to seek clarification of the regulations under the statute from HHS.
POLITICS: Dead George Walking
George Pataki basks in the glow of the potential presidential candidate. I can't see how he thinks he could get anywhere; can you seriously imagine who would vote for Pataki in a GOP primary when Rudy Giuliani is running? Then there is this:
The governor said Democrats took control of the Senate and House Nov. 7 because "they tried to appear as the uniters."
Besides the obvious untruths here, Pataki is missing lesson #1 of presidential primaries (or any primaries): you don't win primary elections by running against your own party.
POLITICS: Too Little, Too Late
Bush meets with the heads of the Big Three automakers. Why? I can't imagine. The meeting is just empty theater. And the Democrats in Michigan killed the GOP candidates for Governor and Senator over Bush's failure to stage this pointless meeting before the elections. Holding it now accomplished nothing. Holding it in October, when it might have mattered, would have been something else.
POLITICS: Abortion and Illegal Immigration
"We hear a lot of arguments today that the reason that we can't get serious about our borders is that we are desperate for all these workers," [the panel's chairman] said. "You don't have to think too long. If you kill 44 million of your potential workers, it's not too surprising we would be desperate for workers."
What's interesting is that the Washington Post article presents this argument as something of a curiosity, but is unable to identify any possible counterargument, relying on Missouri Democrats who called the report "ridiculous and embarrassing" and "a little delusional".
Now, you could argue - not persuasively, I would add - that illegal immigration is not caused primarily by the available supply of cheap labor and demand in a labor market that wants more of it. Or you could argue, somewhat more persuasively, that the real driver is the demand for illegal labor, i.e., a labor black market in workers who will underbid the minimum wage and other expensive labor laws, in which case more American workers would not matter that much. Or you could affirmatively argue, albeit rather cold-bloodedly, that keeping the population of workers down through abortions is good because it drives up wages. But it seems hard to argue with the more general observation that the nation has fewer workers available as a result of 47 million abortions.
POLITICS: Looking On The Bright Side
For conservatives, we should look at the silver lining in Democrats taking over Congress: it should renew our lack of faith in government.
November 13, 2006
BASEBALL: Valentin's Payday
Jose Valentin returns for a 1-year deal for 2007, estimated at $3 million. You gotta have a second baseman, and it's hard to cut Valentin loose after the tremendous bounce-back year he had. But I have a feeling that the Mets will be shopping for a replacement by July.
BASEBALL: 11/13/06 Notes
*The Cubs really had no choice but to re-sign Aramis Ramirez to retain credibility with their fans, especially as a big-market team that could obviously afford to do so. While I obviously prefer more patient hitters and the Cubs in particular have a longstanding problem in that regard, Ramirez is too valuable a property, as a 29-year-old who hits for big-time power and a good batting average, to blame him for the things he doesn't do.
*I have to regard the Jaret Wright trade as a sign of hubris on the part of Leo Mazzone. Perhaps Wright is best suited to middle relief work, given his utter inability to go past 5 innings with any regularity. As for the Yankees, they eat the bulk of yet another ill-considered contract, a luxury few of even the other rich teams have.
*I just gotta say: if you had tried at the All-Star Break to name the members of the traveling Major League all-star team that would visit Japan at the end of the season, how long would you have been guessing to come up with John Maine on the roster?
*The Rookie of the Year awards will be handed out this afternoon. The NL field is just an embarrassment of riches (the Dodgers and Marlins alone were loaded with quality rookies), but I have to regard the top three as Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Johnson. I'd give it to Ramrez very narrowly over Zimmerman, for having a slightly more impressive year, but both will - health and contract issues permitting - contend with Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, David Wright, and Miguel Cabrera for many years to come for the title of best SS and 3B in the NL East (in fact, Ramirez and Reyes are almost even as is). Dan Uggla had a fine year and may win the award but wasn't as good as his double play partner this season and doesn't have as bright a future - Ramirez is four years younger, had the same slugging percentage and an OBP 14 points higher, plays a more demanding defensive position, had more plate appearances, and stole 51 bases to Uggla's six.
In the AL, I don't really have a quarrel with Justin Verlander, who seemed to become the consensus choice after Liriano went down, although it's easy to forget that Jonathan Papelbon is also eligible for the award; Papelbon will head to the rotation next year, which combined with Keith Foulke being cut loose raises some interesting questions about what the Red Sox bullpen will look like.
*My picks for the other major awards are discussed here.
UPDATE: Ramirez and Verlander win, with Zimmerman, Uggla and Johnson finishing 2-3-4 in the NL and Papelbon and Liriano 2-3 in the AL. Well done by the writers.
November 12, 2006
Can it really be possible that Keith Law ranks Barry Zito behind Mike Mussina, Ted Lilly, and Gil Meche?
I like and respect Law, but someone needs a remedial lesson on the value of durability.
HISTORY: Gerald Ford Still Not Dead
November 11, 2006
WAR/POLITICS: The Last Don
In many ways the summary announcement Wednesday that Don Rumsfeld would be stepping down in favor of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense was more distressing than the elections themselves. It's not entirely clear exactly how much Rumsfeld was fired as opposed to quitting, but at a minimum it's obvious that he wasn't begging to leave and Bush wasn't begging him to stay, so given the timing immediately following a bad election the public is reasonably interpreting this as Rumsfeld being sacked.
Was it time for Rumsfeld to go? Maybe. Certainly Rumsfeld had his characteristic flaws, specifically that as a former Navy pilot his zeal for flexibility and mobility in warfare sometimes seemed to give short shrift to the value of infantry. Equally certainly, his critics were often motivated by the most parochial of interests, as his quest for modernizing the military made many enemies among those wedded to the status quo. An outsider to the Pentagon can never truly assess the value of each of his initiatives, though it seems unfortunate that a man of his energy and institutional knowledge will not be around to see to the end his program of reform.
In the specific case of Iraq, while the Bush Administration is losing a man with tremendous faith in the mission and unmatched determination, at the end of the day the importance of Robert Gates is secondary; Gates is, whatever his other virtues and vices, the classic professional manager. If President Bush keeps faith with the mission, I have no doubt that Gates will carry it out; if he doesn't, it would take more than Don Rumsfeld to set him straight.
What is dismaying is the timing and handling of the announcement. It came too late to help embattled Republican moderates in districts and states unhappy with the Iraq war, yet too soon after the elections to be read as anything but a show of weakness and capitulation to Bush's political enemies. Perhaps it is true that the Democratic takeover of the House made it necessary that Rumsfeld dedicate himself full time to appearing at investigative hearings while someone else takes the reins of the war, but concessions to a party more interested in score-settling than in winning the war do not inspire confidence in President Bush's steadiness in the final two years of his term.
Then again, like it or not, Rumsfeld himself would be the first to admit that you can't win wars without the support of the public and the Congress and a decent effort at media relations. With all three now having turned decisively against Rumsfeld, his ability to do his job going forward was probably fatally compromised anyway.
Despite the shabby treatment he received from the president, I can't weep too much for Rumsfeld himself, for two reasons. First, Rumsfeld is a veteran bureaucratic infighter who has himself been the moving force behind more purges and palace coups than you could count; just to name a few, he has variously been suspected of engineering the 1965 overthrow of House Minority Leader Charles Halleck by Gerald Ford, the 1970 purge of the notorious Terry Lenzer from the Office of Economic Opportunity, the 1975-76 purge of moderates and "realists" (including Henry Kissinger and Nelson Rockefeller) from the Ford Administration, leading to promotions for Rumsfeld to Secretary of Defense and Dick Cheney to White House Chief of Staff, as well as numerous power plays within the Bush Administration, resulting in Rumsfeld outlasting Colin Powell, Jay Garner, Paul Bremer, Andrew Card, and a constellation of generals, among others. He's the ultimate grownup, he knows how the game is played, and his turn was due to come eventually. Hs will retire to a position of great prominence and personal wealth and with the respect and loyalty of many in Washington, the military, and the GOP.
And second, of course, he has had a tremendous run. He started once upon a time as the youngest Defense Secretary in the nation's history and ends as the oldest, and he will leave office having held the job for the longest continuous tenure as well as the longest total tenure, having been the only man to serve in the post twice. He has been hugely influential in many ways within Washington since his arrival as a congressional staffer in 1957, and his protege remains as the Vice President. His legion of aphorisms have entered the popular consciousness, from "known unknowns" to "you go to war with the army you have," to of course the sneering phrase "Old Europe" and the stir it created within Europe itself. And in the end, the fate of the Iraq project will guarantee Rumsfeld's place in history for good or ill, regardless of the circumstances of his departure, just as MacArthur is judged today mainly on his conduct of the war in the Pacific, the occupation of Japan and the landing at Inchon rather than his losing battle with Harry Truman.
There are tough decisions ahead about Iraq, as the reality on the ground has changed over time and the strategies needed to meet that reality will have to be adjusted just as they have been adjusted in the past. It is unfortunate that a man as gifted, energetic and knowing in the ways of the Pentagon as Don Rumsfeld will not have a place at the table to make those decisions. But then, the genius of the American system of war-making is that no one man is indispensable.
BASEBALL: Sheffield's Welcome Wears Out Again
Gary Sheffield becomes the first major player move of the offseason, shipping out to Detroit for three minor league pitchers. Interestingly, while the Yankees concluded that they had too many big, exorbitantly-paid veteran sluggers with big egos, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs was eager to claim one of those sluggers. Go figure.
From the Yanks' perspective, the deal probably had to be made. Sheffield wasn't going to fit well in the lineup unless he was willing to play first base, and while few of the pricey Yankee vets can really be moved, Sheffield was the one with the longest and best-known arsenal of methods to make himself a nuisance in the clubhouse. Even with Sheffield's departure, if Giambi can't play first base, the Yanks are stuck with nowhere to put Melky Cabrera unless he, Abreu, Damon or Matsui parks his wheels at first.
I don't know that much about the pitching prospects, Humberto Sanchez, Kevin Whelan and Anthony Claggett. The 23-year-old Sanchez, a starter, is the top guy for now, the closest to the majors but having missed the last two months of the season with an elbow injury. His numbers suggest a guy just mastering his stuff, as his career minor league BB/9 rate is 4.56, but under 4 in 2005 and 2006; in 2006 he struck out 129 batters in 123 innings between AA and AAA. The 22-year-old Whelan, a reliever, is behind him in progress, having walked 4.26 per 9 innings for his career without advancing beyond 78.1 career innings A ball, but his 110 career whiffs (12.68 per 9) suggest a live arm. Claggett is a college reliever with a little over a year of pro experience, but good results so far. To an organization starved for young arms, this is a good deal.
For the Tigers, Sheffield is an investment in taking a 1-year miracle and turning it into a credible contender, as with the White Sox' acquisition of Jim Thome a year ago. And certainly Sheffield's history (a lifetime .297/.525/.398 hitter in over 9500 plate appearances) suggests that he should immediately become the defending AL champs' best hitter. But they had to sign him to a 3-year deal through age 40, a risky proposition for a guy coming off a season nearly wiped out by injury and whose durability without the aid of performance-enhancing substances is questionable. It's a calculated gamble, and an expensive one.
BASEBALL: You Belong To The Citi
The big Mets news of the day is that the new ballpark to open in 2009 will be named CitiField, thanks to an 8-figure deal with Citigroup (the parent company of Citibank) estimated as much as $20 million per year. (More here). While it would have been nice to follow my suggestion that the Chock Full O' Nuts coffee company pay to name the place Jackie Robinson Stadium, I'm basically fine with this, and not just because Citigroup (1) is a major client of mine and my firm's and (2) holds the mortgage on my house. Four points about stadium names:
1. You get a new stadium, you get a new name. Let's have none of this "New Shea"/"Old Shea" nonsense. Shea Stadium is a place with its own identity and its own place in the history of the game and the hearts of Mets fans. You tear it down to build a new stadium, you get a new name.
2. I don't, in principle, have a problem with corporate stadium names (ballparks have been named after companies, egomaniacal owners, or some combination of the two - see "Wrigley Field" and "Turner Field" for examples - as long as there have been ballparks). $20 million a year can make the Mets more competitive, and that is a good thing. I'm fine with corporate names subject to points #3 and 4.
3. No ridiculous names. CitiField isn't a ridiculous name, like the Poulan Weedeater Independence Bowl, the rather wimpy-sounding Minute Maid Field, or abysmal phone company names like SBC Field. There is a certain affinity between "Citi" and "Metropolitans," after all. Citibank is a longstanding New York-based business and in an industry (banking and Wall Street investment banks) that has deep roots in the city.
4. No names that change every few years. In fact, were I negotiating a stadium deal, I would add in a substantial premium and an escape clause for renaming rights. That's my big issue with naming stadiums after banks and phone companies, as well as new and unstable companies (see: "Enron Field"). But the First National City Bank of New York has been known as "City Bank" or Citibank for decades, and given its size and brand equity, should be for the forseeable future.
November 8, 2006
POLITICS: The Day After
Well, that was no fun. Some disjointed thoughts:
*We lost the battle. Now, it's up to the President to make sure that doesn't result in losing the War.
*It's been a long time since Republicans have had a bad mid-term loss, so we forget that this is normal. Certainly 2006 was not significantly worse than 1982 or 1986. Ask President Dukakis if a Democratic sweep in the sixth-year midterms is an omen for the next election.
*There are three things Republicans should not do that separate us from our adversaries in how we handle defeat.
First, we should not blame the voters. While I continue to believe that sticking with the GOP was the right decision, the bottom line is that our leadership and candidates just gave people too many reasons to vote against them. I can't blame the voters for rejecting them, even if in some cases they took their more general frustrations out on good and decent public servants like Jim Talent. (Well, OK, I do sorta think the voters in Michigan will get what they deserve for deciding they want 4 more years of Jennifer Granholm's economic policies, but other than that).
Second, we should not mutter darkly about voter fraud, voter "intimidation," etc. Where there are specific and provable problems, as there sometimes are, we should highlight those. But we should not undermine faith in the process just on vague suspicions and fantasies that we were robbed in secret.
Third, we should not try to win with lawyers and vote-counters what we could not win at the polls. On that, I agree 100% with Leon Wolf.
*A sign of how bad last night was in New York is that even the scandal-plagued Alan Hevesit won after Spitzer renounced him and all the New York .
*John Cole should get his wish: a Congressional majority that combines the fiscal discipline of Robert Byrd and the integrity of Alan Mollohan.
*The defeats that hurt the worst: Talent, Santorum and presumably Steele in the Senate, and Ehrlich in Maryland. All of them are real stars. A couple of the good House conservatives also bit the dust, along with a fairly long list of deadwood. The silver lining is that nearly all the people with ethics or personal scandal problems got swept away.
*There were a few bright spots. Tim Pawlenty, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mark Sanford all won their governor's races, Pawlenty surviving narrowly in Minnesota, and good Republicans won the governor's mansions in Florida and Alaska (I know less about the new GOP governor in Nevada). In the House, Roskam defeated Duckworth, Heather Wilson seems to have survived, Bachmann beat Wetterling, Musgrave and Shays won (if anyone doubted that there is still a big tent), Reynolds, Kuhl and Walsh won in upstate NY.
On the VP side, Condi Rice's stock probably dropped, as any 2008 GOP candidate will want at least a cosmetic degree of separation from Bush on Iraq; the stock of Pawlenty and Sanford as VP candidates is through the roof this morning, and one of them may even be tempted to run for the top job.
*On the D side, harder to discern winners and losers, but remember this: Hillary ran under the best possible conditions, in a deep blue state in a Democratic year, with tons of money against an overmatched and underfunded opponent who got no media traction. Those conditions allowed Eliot Spitzer to draw 69% of the vote (Chuck Schumer got 71% in 2004). Hillary drew 67%. Which goes to show that she starts with a guaranteed third of the electorate that just will not pull the lever for her under any conditions. Apply that nationally to states less Democratic than New York and conditions less favorable than 2006, and see where it gets you.
*Speaking of George Allen, the moment when the Allen-Webb Senate race turned from a low-level longshot bid to a nail-biter was, of course, the "macaca" controversy triggered by a young Webb staffer looking to provoke a confrontation with the candidate.
The anti-Allen campaign escalated that recently with a heckler shoving people over to get close to the candidate so as to hurl an unsubstantiated accusation at him and provoke a confrontation with the candidate. This resulted in the heckler getting (well-earned but probably hoped-for) rough treatment from Allen's staff and a spate of additional bad publicity for Allen.
My prediction: if Webb hangs on to what looks like a victory (though all the ballots have not been counted yet), these kinds of tactics will be validated, especially among the lefty activist base, and we will see a lot more efforts to generate controversy by hecklers and other "guerilla" campaigners seeking verbal and physical confrontation. Whether or not one of them crosses the line to Travis Bickle territory, that is likely to lead to ever more stage-managed and security-controlled events and ever fewer genuine, open interactions between our elected officials and the people they work for.
*There is, as there ought to be periodically in any movement, some soul-searching to be done after yesterday's setbacks, and I agree with the general view that for the most part, with only limited exceptions, Republicans suffered at the polls less for what we believe in as conservatives than for the failure to live up to those ideals.
But in our haste to blame the leaders of the party, let us not overstate the case. I hear it said sometimes that President Bush is somehow not really a conservative. Now, it is true that Bush has not governed as a small-government conservative, and the cause of smaller government is certainly an important one for conservatism. President Bush has failed to stand up for conservative principles on a few other fronts, and it is right for us to point that out. But conservatism is a philosophy, not an all-encompassing litmus-test-intensive ideology, and it has many different elements (I have a long-brewing essay on that topic that I should try to finish some time over the next several weeks). As I said the other day, Bush is the second-most-conservative president we have had since Coolidge, and he has taken principled stands on a number of key conservative priorities and stuck by them, notably on national security and war, lower taxes, and the nomination of conservative judges. And his doing so won him election in 2000 and re-election with a majority of the voting public in 2004.
In 2008, we will again run candidates for the White House and Congress who are conservatives in broad outline and on key priorities, but who may compromise on some specific issues. Perhaps, as is quite likely, they will offer different compromises than President Bush has. I can live with that, if the compromises are ones I can live with. Getting back to first principles is important and worthy, even necessary. But we should not pretend that absolute purity will be necessary to do so, or even feasible in rebuilding a majority coalition and winning national elections.
November 7, 2006
1. Yes, I know comments are still down. I'm pursuing options for a more permanent solution, but I'd like to see if I can do it without leaving Movable Type. Among other things I hate having to get a whole bunch of new permalinks to the old entries.
2. Unsurprisingly, I expect to be doing mostly politics for the rest of this week, while we pore over the election results and before the offseason begins in earnest.
3. Tonight, I may or may not be blogging here; if I'm not posting here I may be over at RedState.
POLITICS: Today Is Our Day
Even here and now, on Election Day, you can still hear the grumbling of disaffected Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians who will tell you that our elected representatives in Washington, and their leaders, deserve to lose this election. Many of us have felt the same way at some point or another over the past two years.
But this is not their day. This is our day. You can hear that in the GOP's emphasis on GOTV - an acknowledgement that, in those states and districts where the politicians have failed to persuade the persuadable and swing the swingable, the job of saving our majorities at the end comes down not to the party's leaders but its voters. They vote all year long; we vote for representatives in Washington but once every other year. And we live with who we vote for.
The question you have to ask yourself, or ask of anyone you know who still feels that way, isn't what the politicians deserve. It's what we deserve. Why should we and our posterity be punished for their mistakes with the kind of folly that a Speaker Pelosi and a Majority Leader Reid would visit upon us?
Today is our day. Don't vote for the politicians on the ballot. Vote for yourself, your family, your country.
BLOG: Toad Sucking Dog
November 6, 2006
BASEBALL: Fremont Dreaming
The A's are about to ink a deal to build a new stadium in nearby Fremont, leaving Oakland and the Coliseum behind. Not clear yet whether the former Philly/KC franchise will take the name of its fourth city or, NY Giants and Jets style, stay the Oakland A's. Could this be an end to 106 years of boom-and-bust financial cycles for the A's?
WAR: See No Evil, Hear No Evil
As we head into the voting booth it's worth considering one of the most crucial elements of the War on Terror: gathering intelligence. Both parties agree, in theory, that the gathering and analysis of intelligence is hugely important. In a word of shadowy threats that dare not confront us openly, of secret trade in weapons and the infiltration of open societies by terror cells, we must use every means at our disposal to make sure we stay a step ahead of the bad guys - and don't shoot the innocent along the way. Indeed, few Democratic criticisms of the war effort in general and the Iraq War in particular have been given more prominence than the charge that we failed to get the truth about weapons programs that were a closely held secret within a police state.
Yet, at every turn, howls of outrage have been raised on the Left at efforts to gather intelligence. Just think - how do you learn what extremists and hostile states are up to, here and abroad?
*Electronic surveillance? President Bush has sought to expand the use of surveillance both by legislation (the Patriot Act) and through clandestine programs (the NSA program to track Al Qaeda phone calls into the U.S. and the SWIFT program to track international banking transfers). For this he has taken years of intense carping and the media and disgruntled critics within the government have responded by leaking the details of secret surveillance programs on the front pages of the NY Times.
*Questioning captives? Again, the Bush Administration has been subjected to a continuous storm of abuse from its opponents for taking an aggressive tack in questioning detainees, even those at the very top of the Al Qaeda organization or on the tip of the spear of the insurgency in Iraq.
*Informants and turncoats? Democrats in the 1990s, led by NJ Senator Bob Torricelli, sought restrictions on our ability to work with undercover infiltrators of extremist organizations. And, of course, critics of the Iraq War have been arguing for years that we should give no credence to defectors.
*Boots on the ground? The very best intelligence comes from having a continuous military presence in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. The air strike on
True, not every Democrat has been willing to vote against these measures, much as their base and the media have egged them on. But many of the worst of the Democrats on these issues, especially in the House, will ascend to leadership positions if they regain the majority. And the pressure to close our eyes and ears comes from their side, a side that will be ever emboldened by victory tomorrow. Which is why we do well to bear in mind the words of President Bush (h/t Geraghty):
If anybody has any doubts about the differences of opinion in Washington, D.C. between Republicans and Democrats, I want them to analyze the recent votes that took place on these important programs. When it came time to renew the Patriot Act, more than 75 percent of the House Democrats voted against it.
November 5, 2006
POLITICS: Wabbit Season
Dick Cheney is nothing if not a man who doesn't care what the polls, focus groups and anything else resembling public opinion says about him: he's going hunting on Election Day.
POLITICS: Who Ya Gonna Call?
If you had any doubt that, even if he survives Tuesday, George Allen will not be a candidate in 2008, look no further than the fact that he called in Rudy Giuliani, one of the 2008 GOP frontrunners, to stump for him in the campaign's final weekend.
POLITICS: Predicting Tuesday
Such a typical headline that we have seen lately; the Left and the media (but I repeat myself) seem utterly certain of a GOP collapse.
There are a lot of reasons to question that certainty, which I won't get into here except to say that while it could be the case, way too many people have been way premature on the Democrat side in declaring victory in the Congressional races (the governor's races are, in fact, trending strongly Democratic). And the foreign press has been the worst of all, and will face the rudest awakening Wednesday morning if the GOP manages to hold on against the tide with a majority in the House and 52 or more GOP Senators.
If you put a gun to my head, I'd say the most likely result is a Republican setback of a lower order than, say, 1986 - a net loss of between 20 and 25 House seats, giving narrow control to the Democrats, and of 4 Senate seats, leaving a 51 seat GOP majority (how stable that would be depends on whether Lincoln Chaffee is one of the survivors). And as this RedState diary aptly explains, at least a handful of the potential Democratic gains are odd one-off races like Bob Ney's seat, Tom Delay's seat and Mark Foley's seat, heavily Republican districts that are likely to come home in 2008.
Anyway, I'm not ready to do the postmortem on why Republicans did so badly or did better than expected until we see what actually happens. But I do think the people taking victory laps before the race has been run are the ones who seem most likely to regret it.
BASEBALL: No, Please, Go Away
Really, I was never a huge Sosa fan but I never actively disliked him, either. And unlike some people I'm not calling for Sosa, McGwire, Bonds, Sheffield and Palmeiro to be barred from Cooperstown. Like the great spitballer Ed Walsh, or like the cheat-any-way-they-could Orioles of the 1890s, they were creatures of the conditions of their era.
But baseball needs to turn the page on that era. We're stuck with Bonds - he hit too well last year and is too close to the record for him to end up blackballed this offseason - and for a little longer we will be stuck with Sheffield, as well perhaps with other veteran sluggers yet to be unmasked. But we don't need any more of those guys playing in the aftermath of the steroid revelations than we have to.
November 2, 2006
POLITICS: Great Caption
Spiderman doesn't look like he quite gets what is going on.
LAW: I Don't Re...What Was I Saying?
Motion of Scooter Libby to introduce an expert witness on human memory is denied. A sample of the proposed testimony:
To support his faulty memory defense, the defendant seeks to introduce at trial the testimony of Dr. Bjork "to show that it is entirely plausible, given how memory has been found to function, that Mr. Libby or the government witnesses - or both - have innocently confused or misremembered the conversations on which this case turns." Def.'s Mot. at 2. Specifically, Dr. Bjork would testify about thirteen scientific principles concerning human memory, including the process by which memory is encoded, stored, retained, and retrieved and various scientific bases for memory errors including "content borrowing," source misattribution, subsequent recall, divided attention, and "retroactive interference."
Now, while it's entirely possible that Libby may have at least a partial defense based on faulty recollection, I generally regard the proposal of an expert of this type as a bad sign for the defendant. It just reeks of quackery.
POLITICS: The 109th Congress
With the re-election of the second-most-conservative Republican president of the past 75 years, the retention of a solid Republican majority in the House, and 55 Republican senators including a raft of new Republicans elected in 2002 and 2004, it was understandable that conservative hopes for the 109th Congress would be sky high. To hear some people talk, we were supposed to have the Big Rock Candy Mountain of Conservatism, where conservative judges hang from the trees, you can pick constitutional amendments on social issues right off the vine and bathe in pools of entitlement reform, where it rains tax cuts in the morning and spending cuts in the afternoon, and you can go to sleep on a bed of tort reform to the gentle hum of tough border enforcement off in the distance.
Congress, of course, doesn't work that way, never has. If you don't believe me, look at all the years over the past four decades when the Democrats held both Houses of Congress and the White House was in the hands of a Democrat or a politically weak and beleaguered Republican, and they still couldn't even get legislation on national health insurance to a floor vote.
That's not to say that conservatives lack for reasons to be disappointed in the fruits of the majority. But as disgruntled conservatives consider whether to come home and vote Republican again on November 7, they also have to remember that there have been reasons to be happy with the accomplishments of the 109th Congress (even aside from the mischief that the very fact of a Republican majority prevents a Democratic majority from doing). I present a short but significant list of areas in which the 109th Congress has gotten results for us. A number of these came with some or even significant bipartisan support, but in nearly all cases the results would have been very different under Speaker Pelosi, her team of arch-liberal committee chairs, and a Senate run by Harry Reid and Dick Durbin with key committees chaired by Patrick Leahy, Ted Kennedy and Carl Levin.
This list focuses only on accomplishments that actually got passed into law, although some good bills passed the House but not the Senate. And the GOP caucus also in one case (federal funding for embryonic stem cell research) provided the votes to sustain a presidential veto. Also, for those who are focused on the charge of a "do nothing" Congress (an oldie from the 40s! old slogans never die!), I haven't mentioned here other legislation whose merits for conservatives are more debatable, like the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, the SAFE Port Act, and the Pension Protection Act.
1. The Courts.
In two short years we have seen the Senate confirm John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Roberts' ascension to Chief Justice solidified the legacy of William Rehnquist, while Justice Alito should be a more reliable judicial conservative than Sandra Day O'Connor. Plus, the existence of a solid GOP majority was undoubtedly a factor in convincing President Bush to drop Harriet Miers (Reid's preferred candidate) in favor of then-Judge Alito.
Despite Democratic obstruction and delay, we have also seen the confirmation of 15 Circuit judges: Bill Pryor, Janice Rogers Brown, Brett Kavanagh, Priscilla Owen, Kimberly Ann Moore, Jerome Holmes, Neil Gorsuch, Bobby Shepherd, Michael Chagares, Thomas Griffith, David McKeague, Richard Griffin, Sandra Segal Ikuta, Milan Smith, and Susan Bieke Nielson (Judge Nielson has since died). Many, though not all, of these are well-known judicial conservatives. The Senate has also confirmed 35 federal District Court judges. You may not think that's enough, but it's more than would get through a Democratic Senate; of that we can be sure.
2. National Security
The President has particular authority and responsibility for military and foreign policy matters. But Congress has a role to play too. Some of that comes in the form of appropriations to continue the war effort, appropriations that could be held up by Democratic committee chairmen in the next Congress. But it is also reflected in legislation. This Congress passed two significant pieces of legislation. In March 2006, Congress renewed the Patriot Act, which was due to expire and which provides essential tools to fight the War on Terror. Just the past month, Congress - in a deal brokered among two factions, both led by Republicans - passed the Military Commissions Act, resolving by statute a difficult and knotty set of questions about the handling of detainees, questions that will be with us for the duration of the war.
No, Congress has not passed comprehensive immigration reform - but then, there are legitimate reasons why not, given deep divisions in the public and even among members of the Republican coalition on this issue. But as neoliberal commentator Mickey Kaus spent months arguing, there is a strong consensus on building a fence along the border with Mexico as at least a first step towards reducing the torrent of illegal immigrants crossing that border. Sometimes, starting with the easy questions makes sense, and so at the end of its term in October the 109th Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, which provides for 700 miles of fencing in the areas of the border that the Border Patrol has the most difficulty policing. Some may argue that the Republican leadership only got this done because the voters they depend on at election time were demanding that something be done about immigration. To which I respond: precisely. Because Nancy Pelosi's caucus would not see the same necessity.
Given the major cuts in the income, capital gains, dividend and estate taxes in 2001, 2003, and 2004, it is not surprising that new and additional tax cuts have not been a major priority for this latest Congress. And for now, the Bush tax cuts are not quite in danger of expiring in the immediate future. But at least one significant tax bill passed in this Congress, with the passage in May 2006 of the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act, which extended the capital gains and dividend tax cuts out from 2008 to 2010, created relief for 2006 from the Alternative Minimum Tax, and offered tax breaks on the conversion of traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs.
The battle over making the remainder of the tax cuts "permanent" (i.e., so that Congress can't raise taxes merely by letting them expire) will go on - if there is a Republican majority to carry it on.
The federal budget is a massive and ever-expanding thing, and to be frank, the fight against overspending has been suppressed by dynamics at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue: Congress is institutionally set up to demand federal spending in every state and district, and President Bush simply hasn't led any battles for major reductions in spending.
For all of that, though, this Congress did manage to pass into law or rule three steps towards restraining the runaway spending train. In February 2006, the Deficit Reduction Act was signed into law, bringing with it a projected savings of $40 billion (more here from the CBO and here from the Heritage Foundation on the House version of the bill). Even granting the congenital unreliability of government budgetary forecasts and even though about a quarter of the savings come from projected revenues from an analog spectrum auction by the FCC (which doesn't count as a spending cut in my book), the Deficit Reduction Act did at least trim tens of billions of dollars from entitlement programs, which is the biggest part of the budget and the hardest one to cut.
Two other spending reforms were passed in September of this year. The first was a new rule of procedure in the House of Representatives, H. Res. 1000, which requires a list of earmarks and the Representatives requesting them, even (or perhaps especially) earmarks dropped into bills at the conference stage (i.e., when the House- and Senate-passed bills are being reconciled). Per the "Boehner protocol," at least as long as the current Majority Leader is in place, H. Res. 1000 will be applied broadly and without loopholes to all new bills containing earmarks, regardless of form.
The other was a bill, passed and signed as the culmination of a campaign begun in the blogosphere, entitled the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, a/k/a the Coburn-Obama bill, which provides for a public database of federal grants and contracts.
H. Res. 1000 and the Coburn-Obama bills don't cut a dime by themselves, but anybody who knows Washington can tell you that changing the procedures is half the battle; by providing increased public and media oversight over earmarks and pork-barrel spending - as well as simply a better mechanism for Members to see what they are voting on and at whose behest - the rule and the bill together provide a first step towards getting the pork problem under at least the beginnings of control.
6. Free Trade
This Congress passed two significant free trade acts, the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act (CAFTA), signed in August 2005, which opens markets in Latin America, and the United States-Oman Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act in September 2006, which eliminated trade barriers for an ally in the Middle East. That is, if you are keeping track, two more examples of less government and more liberty - and with the benefit of making more friends abroad. Given the anti-free-trade tilt of the post-Clinton Democrats, a Republican majority is crucial to getting trade deals done.
Free trade pacts with Peru and Vietnam remain pending for the next Congress.
7. Lawsuit Reform
This is perhaps the one I'm most intimately familiar with, and one that has had immediate practical significance - the Class Action Fairness Act, passed in February 2005. Like a lot of subjects on this list, reform of the civil justice system will likely take many incremental steps, but this one went right to work, immediately re-routing scores of multimillion-dollar nationwide class actions with nationwide effects out of the handful of plaintiff-friendliest state court jurisdictions and into federal court to be governed by uniform national procedural standards (including the fact that federal courts are less likely to apply a single state's law to a lawsuit involving people from all over the country). Though it operates to transfer power from state to federal government, CAFA is actually a significant boon to federalism by reducing the ability of any single state to export its laws and the biases of a particular locale to the nation as a whole.
Not such a terrible job for two years' work, two years in which much attention was consumed by natural disasters at home and war abroad and during which the House leadership underwent a significant mid-course reshuffling. More can, and should, be demanded of future GOP majorities. But much less should be expected if those majorities don't survive November 7.
November 1, 2006
BASEBALL: No To Mota
Guillermo Mota suspended 50 games for failing a steroid test. Indians fans in particular will be amazed to hear that Mota was taking performance-enhancing drugs. People who remember his clashes with Mike Piazza may not.
I'm ambivalent about Mota as a pitcher anyway, and this certainly complicates his free agency, as did blowing the lead in Game Two of the NLCS. On the other hand, if the Mets can re-sign him for cheap as a result, this may be a blessing in disguise.
Note that middle relievers remain seriously over-represented among the guys who get caught.
POLITICS: The First Law of Holes
No time to write this morning except to note that this whole Kerry story is helped along greatly by Kerry's utter inability to ever admit he is wrong. I will leave you with something I wrote two years ago this week in the closing days of another election:
[W]here, I would ask, is the evidence that Kerry is better at admitting mistakes than Bush? This is a guy who brought all sorts of political grief to himself by stubbornly refusing for three decades to admit that he was wrong to repeat false charges, under oath and on national televison, that smeared his comrades in Vietnam as guilty of pervasive war crimes. Has Kerry admitted he was wrong to oppose nearly every aspect of the foreign policy strategy that President Reagan pursused to great effect in the closing and victorious chapter of the Cold War? Has he admitted he was wrong to oppose the use of force to kick Saddam out of Kuwait in 1991? Maybe I missed something, but I don't even recall him admitting he was wrong for trying to slash the intelligence budget in the mid-1990s following the first World Trade Center bombing. Indeed, one of the most common threads throughout Kerry's behavior in this campaign has been his unwillingness to take any personal responsibility for mistakes, from blaming his speechwriters for things that come out of Kerry's own mouth to picayune things like blaming the Secret Service when he falls down on the slopes. As Jonah Goldberg notes, Kerry's "liberal hawk" backers may argue that the decades of bad judgment in Kerry's past are rendered inoperative by September 11, but Kerry's stubborn insistence that he hasn't changed in response to September 11, and that he had the right answers all along even when he wrote a book in 1997 that barely mentioned Islamic terrorism, gives the lie to the notion that Kerry is a model of self-reflection. Even the man's own supporters can't seriously defend the proposition - on which many of them heaped well-deserved scorn during the primary season - that Kerry has been consistent from the start on whether Saddam was a serious threat that justified a military response. Yet there Kerry stands, insisting to all the world what nobody believes, that he hasn't changed his position. Preferring Kerry to Bush because Bush won't admit mistakes is like preferring fresh water to salt water because salt water is wet.
BLOG: No Comments
Yes, for some reason the comments are out of service again. The percentage of my blogging time that I spend on spam and site maintenance just keeps rising.
UPDATE: It appears that the comments were shut down by Host Matters precisely because the waves of spam attacks were overwhelming the server. Really, no punishment is too harsh for spammers...I've been told I now need to upgrade to another version of Movable Type, as if I have nothing better to do with my time than tinker with the behind-the-scenes technical stuff, most of which I don't understand anyway.