Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
March 30, 2007
BASEBALL: While The Iron Is Hot

The Hated Yankees have named Carl Pavano their Opening Day starter, I suppose on the theory that if they wait 4 more days he might not be available.

UPDATE: I should note that I have been expressing concern about Pavano's durability since April 2001 and May 2002, and warned in November 2004 that he was a bad investment.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:36 PM | Baseball 2007 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
March 29, 2007
BASEBALL: Spring Samples

The Mets' decision to give Mike Pelfrey the fifth starter job is, actually, a rare example of a situation in which the team properly considered spring training performance. Let me explain why.

The problem with relying on spring training performance is threefold. First, the spring is just a month - anybody can have a good or bad month. Small sample sizes don't tell you what you need to know compared to the years-long track records most players bring to camp. Second, the level of competition is uneven - especially in the first half of the spring, a lot of playing time goes to minor leaguers, and the ability to beat them may not be as indicative or as evenly distributed as playing major league competition. And third, pitchers in particular in the spring may not mix their pitches the same way they do in the regular season when they are playing for real money - they may be more apt to experiment with pitches and less apt to use their best pitch sequences.

That said, the Mets' fifth starter competition was a perfect storm for allowing spring results to matter. The Mets had in camp two prospects who they planned to make long-term parts of the rotation, Pelfrey and Phil Humber. Also on hand were three guys with at least intermittent success as big league starters - Chan Ho Park, Aaron Sele and Jorge Sosa - but whose performance in recent years would not justify making them part of any long-range plan in the rotation. The questions were, (1) whether Pelfrey and/or Humber were ready enough to contribute in the short run and not get ruined by being sent in over their heads, and (2) if not, whether any of the others at least had enough gas to give the Mets 10-15 decent starts before the prospects were ready or before a midseason deal could be swung.

In that situation, it makes perfect sense to let the spring tell you what it can: not who is better than who, but who is in a better groove right now. If Park, for example, was throwing the ball really well in the spring, that may tell you nothing about October, but it might suggest he was primed to have a solid April, and if you get one or two good months from a stopgap solution, that's a thing of value in itself.

As it turned out, the competition was lopsided: the three veterans pitched poorly, Humber got clobbered, and the best long-term pitcher of the group, Pelfrey, was lights-out. So maybe the small sample size was just the same as a larger one, this time.

In other Mets news, as I've advocated it before, I'm happy to see the Mets try David Wright in the #2 hole. Even though Lo Duca turned out well batting second last season, at 35 it's unrealistic to expect him to hit .318 again, and he lacks the walks, power, or speed to compensate if he hits .280.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:27 AM | Baseball 2007 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
WAR: RedState in Iraq

Two of my colleagues at RedState, Jeff Emanuel and Victoria Coates a/k/a Academic Elephant, are traveling to Iraq shortly and need to raise $10,000 to fund the trip. You can read more here and here. Pitch in if you can; it's a great chance to get bloggers on the ground to do firsthand reporting. It's a return trip for Jeff, who fought in the original invasion, and Victoria has established herself as a leading voice at RS on defense issues and the war.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:20 AM | War 2007-12 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BLOG: Hooked on Phoenix

I'm just catching up now after a business trip to Arizona; regular blogging should resume soon. I had not been to Arizona before; definitely a new experience for an East Coaster, from the unnaturally clear skies (the moon being visible pretty much all afternoon) to the everything-takes-30-minutes-by-car sprawl.

Also, got to see my first live spring training game, Teusday's Giants-Mariners game that ended 9-8 Giants on a late Seattle rally that wasn't enough to overcome Horacio Ramirez getting pasted. A few thoughts on that. First, as a Mets fan I'm sad to see Ramirez no longer pitching for Atlanta; Seattle is highly unlikely to get equal value after dealing Rafael Soriano for him. Second, up close in person Barry Bonds and Ichiro look even less like big league ballplayers (especially next to a monster like Richie Sexson) - Bonds looks, at most, like a retired athlete, while Ichiro looks like a miler. But Bonds hit the ball with his customary authority (a double that would have been a homer but for a 25-30 foot high center field fence) and seemed to be moving OK, albeit at spring training coasting speed. And third, I never, ever expected to attend a baseball game and see Rey Ordonez play again.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:07 AM | Baseball 2007 • | Blog 2006-13 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
March 26, 2007
POP CULTURE: In Honor Of Tonight's Episode of 24

A potentially relevant provision of the US Constitution:

(Note: Spoiler involved for those of you who are not caught up. Double note: I won't see tonight's episode until later this week and have not seen seasons 2-5 or the second half of season 1, so please don't spoil anything for me, either)

Read More »


Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:22 PM | Pop Culture | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: 2007 AL West EWSL Report

The third of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2007 revisions to the age adjustment discussed here and rookie adjustments here). Bear in mind as always that (1) EWSL is a record of past performance, adjusted by age to give an assessment of the available talent on hand; it is not an individualized projection system; (2) individual EWSL are rounded off but team totals are compiled from the unrounded figures; and (3) as demonstrated here and here in some detail, nearly all teams will win more games than their EWSL total because I'm only rating 23 players per team. Further disclaimers and explanations are in my AL East preview here; my AL Central preview is here.

The Angels

Raw EWSL: 239 (80 W)
Adjusted: 257 (86 W)
Age-Adj.: 243 (81 W)

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C25Mike Napoli*513
1B24Casey Kotchman22
2B23Howie Kendrick*39
SS32Orlando Cabrera1613
3B29Chone Figgins1917
RF31Vladimir Guerrero2622
CF32Gary Matthews1614
LF35Garret Anderson1510
DH31Shea Hillenbrand1110
C232Jose Molina65
INF30Robb Quinlan66
OF28Juan Rivera1415
1326Macier Izturis910
SP128John Lackey1516
SP224Jered Weaver*715
SP324Ervin Santana#810
SP431Kelvim Escobar108
SP534Bartolo Colon86
RP125Francisco Rodriguez1618
RP231Scot Shields1210
RP333Justin Speier75
RP437Hector Carrasco77
RP526Joe Saunders*24

Injuries are a huge issue with the Angels right now. Colon is still rehabbing, and Weaver won't be ready for Opening Day, giving Saunders, at least, room in the rotation, and possibly Dustin Moseley. Figgins could be out several weeks. Dallas McPherson is sidelined for a year.

I could have used a subjective adjustment to bump up Kotchman, but then he has an injury history himself, and EWSL is also rating Rivera and Izturis high based on their prior playing time, and the Angels have a lot of flexibility to slide people between OF, 3B, 1B and DH. If Kotchman can't establish himself, Kendry Morales will eat his lunch. Also expect Brandon Wood to enter the picture, probably as a result of Cabrera getting dealt.

I'm pretty pessimistic that a 35-year-old Garret Anderson will produce and last in left; the sooner they get Rivera out there, the better. End of the day, the Angels are division favorites on the strength of their starting pitching - if the starters can get healthy, they will be formidible, if not they don't have the offensive firepower to overcome that loss.

Oakland A's

Raw EWSL: 232 (77 W)
Adjusted: 238 (79 W)
Age-Adj.: 220 (73 W)

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C33Jason Kendall2018
1B27Dan Johnson#67
2B30Mark Ellis1413
SS27Bobby Crosby1011
3B29Eric Chavez1816
RF27Nick Swisher#1415
CF29Milton Bradley1312
LF33Shannon Stewart87
DH38Mike Piazza128
C235Adam Melhuse22
INF31Marco Scutaro119
OF30Bobby Kielty87
1331Mark Kotsay1513
SP125Rich Harden810
SP226Danny Haren1212
SP326Joe Blanton#911
SP435Esteban Loaiza85
SP528Joe Kennedy77
RP123Huston Street#1215
RP229Justin Duchscherer109
RP332Kiko Calero64
RP426Brad Halsey55
SP524Chad Gaudin44

It's not hard to be optimistic about the A's when you look in the "age" column - besides Piazza, Kendall and Loaiza, this team's key guys are as close to the sweet spot as any team since the 2002 Angels. A lot needs to go right for this team to win 90+ games, but when you load your lineup with guys in that age range, good things do happen. Dan Johnson is really in a do-or-die situation at age 27, and ought to pay off for the A's if he really has gotten his eyes fixed. Bradley is in his walk year. Crosby, who has stagnated with injuries, is more worrisome.

Also on hand: Antonio Perez, Erubiel Durazo, and a handful of pitching prospects (Jason Windsor, Shane Komine, Dan Meyer) who could step up if Joe Kennedy continues to struggle, as he has this spring.

Seattle Mariners

Raw EWSL: 215 (72 W)
Adjusted: 229 (76 W)
Age-Adj.: 213 (71 W)

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C31Kenji Johjima*1017
1B32Richie Sexson1815
2B23Jose Lopez1015
SS25Yuniesky Betancourt#811
3B28Adrian Beltre1920
RF27Jose Guillen108
CF33Ichiro Suzuki2421
LF35Raul Ibanez2014
DH32Jose Vidro1110
C223Rene Rivera*23
INF30Ben Broussard1211
OF26Jeremy Reed45
1329Willie Bloomquist44
SP121Felix Hernandez*711
SP232Jarrod Washburn107
SP330Jeff Weaver87
SP427Horacio Ramirez55
SP536Miguel Batista108
RP130JJ Putz119
RP229Julio Mateo54
RP329Chris Reitsma43
RP430George Sherrill22
RP525Jake Woods#35

Also on hand: Mike Morse, Arthur Rhodes, Jon Huber, Sean Burroughs.
Broussard is presumably first in line if Vidro isn't up to DH standards, but since Broussard isn't really a significantly better a hitter than Vidro, that may not matter.

I have very little faith in Seattle's rotation beyond Hernandez; even if Hernandez makes the Big Leap this season into Johan Santana-land, he will be dragging the rest of these guys behind him. The bullpen is deep, although questions about Putz's health make it look a lot less so.

A stable lineup and rotation heading into March is usually a sign of a strong team, and sometimes even a leading indicator (I noticed the same thing about Detroit before last season). Seattle did come into the spring with players in relatively well-settled roles, and in some cases, as with the double play combination, that can signify a potential strength beyond the numbers on the page. But even if the Mariners are improved in 2007, they still have too few real offensive strengths and a pitching staff with too many big holes to seriously contend.

Texas Rangers

Raw EWSL: 175 (58 W)
Adjusted: 192 (64 W)
Age-Adj.: 180 (60 W)
Subjective Adj.: 185 (62 W)

13
POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C27Gerald Laird33
1B27Mark Teixera2627
2B25Ian Kinsler*615
SS30Michael Young2725
3B26Hank Blalock1618
RF26Nelson Cruz*23
CF40Kenny Lofton127
LF30Brad Wilkerson1312
DH35Frank Catalanotto11
C232Miguel Ojeda22
INF22Joaquin Arias+14
OF29Marlon Byrd43
1326Jason Botts+14
SP132Kevin Millwood128
SP229Vicente Padilla98
SP323Brandon McCarthy#45
SP425Robinson Tejeda45
SP525Kameron Loe#45
RP131Eric Gagne54
RP235Akinori Otsuka106
RP327Frank Francisco11
RP426CJ Wilson#22
RP530Rick Bauer43

I'm bumping Laird up subjectively to 8 WS. You can call me a pessimist for leaving Sammy Sosa off here despite indications that he will start off the season as the everyday DH, but it wouldn't affect the Rangers' status as the clear preseason favorite to finish last, given their weak pitching and questionable outfield. This despite still having one of the best infields in baseball, maybe the best given the current status of the Yankees and Cardinals.

I expect Teixeira to bounce back this year and Kinsler to step up; Blalock is a more dauting puzzle, reaching the point where he needs to either go forward or abandon hope of making it as a star.

I assume Gagne will still be Gagne when healthy. If there is an upside on this team, it's with Gagne, Blalock, Wilkerson, McCarthy, Kinsler, Teixeira, Botts and Tejeda - come to think of it, a pretty long list.


Check out previous AL West previews from 2006, 2005 and 2004.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:02 AM | Baseball 2007 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 25, 2007
FOOTBALL: One Ring To...

New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft's wife on how Vladimir Putin ended up with Kraft's Super Bowl ring:

As Kraft tells it, she and her husband were in St. Petersburg with Sandy Weill, then the chairman of Citigroup Inc., their "good friend" the media mogul Rupert Murdoch, an oil executive, and a physician. That group, all except for Kraft, met at Konstantinovsky Palace with the Russian president, and when she next saw her husband in their hotel room, he confessed he had a problem. "They were getting up for formal pictures, and Sandy said to Robert, 'Why don't you show the president your ring?'" she says. "So Robert never wears the ring, [but] sometimes, in certain instances, he'll have it in his pocket, he'll take it out. Putin put it on his finger, and his first comment was 'I could kill someone with this,' which was a little bit of an unusual comment, and then they took pictures, and Putin put it back in his pocket and walked out."

Then the fuss began. The story leaked to the media, and Robert Kraft issued a statement: "I decided to give him the ring as a symbol of the respect and admiration that I have for the Russian people and the leadership of President Putin."

Myra Kraft even has an explanation for the official story. "Sandy called and said, 'You've got to do something to put this at rest,' so Robert said 'fine' and came up with some statement about the warm fuzzy feelings he had being in Russia. Of course, his forebears were probably raped and pillaged by these people, but Robert had to make it sound good," she says. "That's what it is. And so he got another one."

The article also has some Holy Cross-related anecdotes, for those of you who are interested.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:26 PM | Football • | War 2007-12 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Bloggers Use New Technique

If by "New Technique" they mean "actually reading stuff before writing about it." But this article is correct that a lot of the news-management techniques of the Clinton White House, which were predicated upon manipulation of the behavior and habits of the mainstream media, would have been markedly less effective if there had been a blogosphere back then.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:23 PM | Politics 2007 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Yes, Virginia (and New Mexico), There Is Such A Thing As Voter Fraud

Stuart Buck notes a DOJ report detailing 95 people charged with voter fraud in the United States between 2002 and 2005, leading to 55 convictions.

And those are just the ones who got caught, and by prosecutors willing to make these difficult cases stick.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:21 PM | Politics 2007 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
POP CULTURE: These Are Their Stories

Jonathan Last noted last week that Law & Order may actually be in danger of getting cancelled. That seems daft to me - while people like Jerry Orbach and Sam Waterson have been major factors in the show's success, the Law & Order format doesn't depend on keeping particular writers or cast any more than, say, the Tonight Show, Saturday Night Live, or the Evening News do - if the show isn't working, the answer is to replace the people, not cancel the show.

That said, obviously if the show were to go off the air, Fred Thompson - who is increasingly being urged to run for president by Republicans dissatisfied with the 2008 field - might have one less reason to stay out of presidential politics.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:18 PM | Politics 2008 • | Pop Culture | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The End of an Unsuccessful Career

David Pinto offers a damning assessment of Travis Lee's career as it appears to have ended with his release by the woebegotten Nationals:

He didn't get on base, he didn't hit for power, all he could do was pick up throws at first base. And yet he parlayed that into a nine year career and made about $11 million dollars. Lee always struck me as someone who possessed talent for the game but not a passion for the game. When Leo Durocher said nice guys finish last, he was talking about Travis.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:04 PM | Baseball 2007 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 22, 2007
POLITICS: The Roving Eye

At least one Reuters cameraman might consider moving his focus a little higher:

Legs.jpg

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:45 PM | Politics 2007 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
LAW: Sarbanes-Oxley Upheld Against Constitutional Challenge

The US District Court for the District of Columbia has rejected the Free Enterprise Fund's lawsuit seeking to have Sarbanes-Oxley declared unconstitutional (the FEF argues that the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board violates the Appointments Clause and the Non-Delegation doctrine).

The opinion is not yet online.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:52 AM | Business • | Law 2006-08 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
March 21, 2007
BASEBALL: Headline of the Week

"No Putz No Glory"

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:25 PM | Baseball 2007 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: 2007 AL Central EWSL Report

The second of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2007 revisions to the age adjustment discussed here and rookie adjustments here). Bear in mind as always that (1) EWSL is a record of past performance, adjusted by age to give an assessment of the available talent on hand; it is not an individualized projection system; (2) individual EWSL are rounded off but team totals are compiled from the unrounded figures; and (3) as demonstrated here and here in some detail, nearly all teams will win more games than their EWSL total because I'm only rating 23 players per team. Further disclaimers and explanations are in my AL East preview here.

Detroit Tigers

Raw EWSL: 250 (83 W)
Adjusted: 267 (89 W)
Age-Adj.: 246 (82 W)

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C35Ivan Rodriguez1913
1B32Sean Casey1412
2B31Placido Polanco1715
SS31Carlos Guillen1916
3B30Brandon Inge1615
RF33Magglio Ordonez1412
CF26Curtis Granderson#1216
LF30Craig Monroe1312
DH38Gary Sheffield1813
C234Vance Wilson44
INF27Chris Shelton#811
OF30Marcus Thames76
1325Omar Infante79
SP124Jeremy Bonderman1111
SP223Justin Verlander*816
SP342Kenny Rogers1413
SP429Nate Robertson119
SP529Mike Maroth76
RP139Todd Jones119
RP222Joel Zumaya*615
RP330Fernando Rodney65
RP441Jose Mesa66
RP530Jason Grilli22

The Tigers feel like last year's fashion, and inevitably a few things will go wrong that didn't last time around; Pudge and Rogers are old, Guillen may be off a little from last year, the team's general lack of plate patience and lack of a true leadoff hitter could bite. But this is still and up-and-down solid team with some real depth (players not shown here include Zach Miner and Brent Clevlen), the addition of Sheffield should help the offense, and the power trio of Bonderman, Verlander and Zumaya are a very stable foundation for the present as well as the future, especially if Zumaya can be moved into the rotation at some point. Bonderman in particular has yet to really put up the kind of ERAs that his K/BB numbers suggest he has in him.

I would imagine that Casey will be sent packing once Shelton gets back on track; certainly the Shelton of 2005 is superior to anything Casey is likely to produce at this point. Which is not to say Casey's acquisition was a bad idea, given the Tigers' needs at the time, but when you take into consideration the double plays, he's really only been a productive hitter once in the past five years.

Cleveland Indians

Raw EWSL: 214 (71 W)
Adjusted: 234 (78 W)
Age-Adj.: 240 (80 W)

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C28Victor Martinez2021
1B26Ryan Garko*37
2B24Josh Barfield*923
SS25Jhonny Peralta1620
3B23Andy Marte*26
RF33Trot Nixon119
CF24Grady Sizemore2126
LF33David Dellucci119
DH30Travis Hafner2422
C227Kelly Shoppach*23
INF27Hector Luna77
OF33Casey Blake1110
1331Jason Michaels109
SP126CC Sabathia1414
SP228Cliff Lee1111
SP329Jake Westbrook1210
SP424Josh Sowers*47
SP536Paul Byrd97
RP136Joe Borowski54
RP442Roberto Hernandez66
RP332Rafael Betancourt64
RP425Fernando Cabrera#23
RP526Tom Mastny*11

It seems ridiculous to list Mastny as a second-year player with just 16.1 innings of big-league experience, but the man had 7 save opportunities in the major leagues last season (he was second on the Indians in saves), so he really isn't a true rookie. Josh Barfield is probably overprojected here for the same reasons I discussed regarding Melky Cabrera in the Yankees comment, but that is offset by the fact that the EWSL figures for Garko and Marte are lowballed by their half-seasons of experience last year, so I left them all as is.

As you probably know, the Indians underperformed their "Pythagorean" record by a whopping 11 games last year, so they ought to improve just standing still. Of course, it was the bullpen that did them in most of all last year, and while the new pen looks to be a little better, it hardly inspires confidence. If there had been the kind of relievers on the market this offseason that there were entering 2006, you have to figure the Indians would have laid out some serious cash - the Indians were a better team than the Blue Jays last year, by runs scored and allowed, but won 9 fewer games. You do the math and tell me if the money Toronto spent on BJ Ryan would have been a worthwhile investment for the Tribe.

This is probably the year that this officially becomes Grady Sizemore's team, assuming he stays as indestructible as in past seasons. Cliff Lee has been ailing this spring, but if Cleveland's Big Three can stay healthy they should have the starting pitching to run with the AL Central elite. Probably the two most important guys on the team are Peralta, who is still young and needs to show us whether 2005 or 2006 or somewhere in between is his real level of ability, and Sabathia, who seems perenially due for a breakout year if he is healthy. And, of course, the more games they can stand Victor Martinez' defense behind the plate, the better.

One thing I've noticed in recent years is the decline of platooning, driven both by the ability of managers to neutralize platoons by going righty/lefty/righty from their bullpens ever earlier in the game, and by the need to carry fewer non-pitchers to make room for those overpopulated bullpens. The Blue Jays, though - always an organization on the forefront of platooning - used outfield platoons to great effect last year, and the Indians seem set to do the same, with Nixon/Blake and Dellucci/Michaels platoons in the corners. Shin-Soo Choo is also a fine hitter, and may yet surpass the struggling Hee Seop Choi as the best position player to come from Korea. That depth should be more generally helpful and may put their offense over the top.

Minnesota Twins

Raw EWSL: 222 (74 W)
Adjusted: 230 (77 W)
Age-Adj.: 223 (74 W)
Subjective Adj.: 234 (78 W)

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C24Joe Mauer2329
1B26Justin Morneau1719
2B31Luis Castillo1916
SS27Jason Bartlett#911
3B29Nick Punto98
RF28Michael Cuddyer1516
CF31Torii Hunter1512
LF35Rondell White64
DH25Jason Kubel*11
C236Mike Redmond65
INF37Jeff Cirillo64
OF30Lew Ford98
1330Jason Tyner44
SP128Johan Santana2425
SP226Boof Bonser*36
SP328Carlos Silva88
SP434Ramon Ortiz43
SP523Matt Garza*11
RP132Joe Nathan1813
RP225Jesse Crain89
RP328Juan Rincon910
RP426Pat Neshek*36
RP530Dennys Reyes65

Note that the Twins' numbers may be artificially depressed a bit here for two reasons - Jason Kubel isn't going to produce just one Win Share as the everyday DH, and they actually have two other non-pitchers (Matt LeCroy and Phil Nevin), one or both of whom may make the team, with better EWSL numbers than Kubel and Tyner. Accordingly, I'm using the subjective-adjustment override to up Kubel to 8 WS to reflect that combination of factors, which also has the advantage of breaking the EWSL tie between the Twins and White Sox. I'm similarly using the adjustment to pop Garza up to 5 WS to at least equal what he would project at if he came into 2007 as a pure rookie.

The Twins are a classic "tweener" team - they have the bats to be a winner behind solid pitching, but not to carry a bad rotation even with a good bullpen. Yet, after Santana the rotation is two uncertain youngsters (Bonser and Garza, the latter with only about 200 innings in pro ball under his belt), and two veterans who have fallen long and hard from not being that great in the first place and are only a hope and prayer to be adequate. At least their lineup isn't starting in a self-inflicted hole the way they did last year, but unless they can come up with better starters (giving Scott Baker a shot over Ortiz would be a step in the right direction that they are still considering, but Baker's no more reliable than the other young guys), I can't see them repeating as a 90-win team without Francisco Liriano.

Chicago White Sox

Raw EWSL: 239 (80 W)
Adjusted: 249 (83 W)
Age-Adj.: 223 (74 W)

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C30AJ Pierzynski1312
1B31Paul Konerko2218
2B32Tadahito Iguchi#1616
SS27Juan Uribe1415
3B29Joe Crede1615
RF33Jermaine Dye2018
CF25Brian Anderson*36
LF31Scott Podsednik119
DH36Jim Thome1813
C231Toby Hall76
INF28Alex Cintron77
OF33Darin Erstad87
1331Rob Mackowiak108
SP128Mark Buehrle1516
SP235Jose Contreras138
SP327Jon Garland1615
SP430Javier Vazquez119
SP524Gavin Floyd00
RP126Bobby Jenks#810
RP230Mike MacDougal54
RP330Matt Thornton44
RP424Andy Sisco#22
RP525David Aardsma*25

The White Sox probably need to stop coasting on 2005 and get Podsednik out of the lineup if he can't keep his OBP above .350 and his stolen base percentage above 70%; he just doesn't bring anything else to the table.

Chicago has another deep bench, and will undoubtedly use it if Anderson can't win back Ozzie Guillen's confidence.

Floyd is a major crapshoot - with him, Jenks, MacDougal, and Sisco around, White Sox fans will get plenty of heartburn. It would not surprise me, if Floyd doesn't pan out, to see Sisco get a run in the rotation. He's still a major talent despite last year's not-entirely-shocking setbacks.

Kansas City Royals

Raw EWSL: 145 (48 W)
Adjusted: 168 (56 W)
Age-Adj.: 156 (52 W)
Subjective Adj.: 159

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C26John Buck89
1B27Ryan Shealy*46
2B37Mark Grudzielanek149
SS29Angel Berroa87
3B23Alex Gordon+011
RF24Mark Teahen#1218
CF27David DeJesus1415
LF32Emil Brown1311
DH33Mike Sweeney109
C233Jason LaRue119
INF29Esteban German*610
OF39Reggie Sanders97
1331Ross Gload33
SP128Gil Meche77
SP230Odalis Perez44
SP330Luke Hudson43
SP426Brian Bannister*23
SP523Zack Grienke33
RP133Octavio Dotel32
RP230David Riske54
RP326Jorge De La Rosa22
RP428Todd Wellemeyer22
RP531Joel Peralta#33

On the subjective adjustments, I topped up Ryan Shealy from 6 to 9 WS to reflect a conservative estimate of his value with increased playing time. I considered doing the same for Brian Bannister, but it's better practice not to make assumptions about any pitcher's ability to pitch more than he did last year. They would pick up a Win Share or three if you spotted in Joey Gathright in place of Gload.

Amazingly, EWSL rates the Royals even lower than it did last season, when I was certain that they would lose at least 110 games (they lost 100). In part that's because this team is even younger and its veterans even further removed from their primes, neither of which is really bad news for the franchise, but both of which provide a caution that the revival of long-term optimism that has bloomed lately in KC may not yet be matched by anything tangible on the field.

Mike Sweeney is only 33? He seems a lot older. He's a good guy and a hometown favorite, but it's probably near time to plan for a future without him. As for John Buck, he's only 25 and I still think he has a chance to turn into a decent hitter (he'll need a mite more plate discipline), but I take LaRue's arrival as a sign that the Royals are not unlimited in their patience with Buck. Then there's Angel Berroa, who just sucks the life out of this team on both sides of the ball. Get as excited as you want about Gordon and Teahen, but the Royals aren't getting out of the cellar as long as Berroa is the everyday shortstop.

That said, I do think the Royals will be improved this season - they're much like the Devil Rays (albeit behind them on the curve), developing a bunch of talented young position players under the guidance of a new GM, but without any basis beyond hope and prayer to think they are making progress towards fixing their abysmal track record with pitchers. They probably need to reach into the farm system and bring up people not listed here to get to 70 wins - Billy Butler, for one, and maybe Justin Huber.

Check out prior years' AL Central reports for 2004, 2005, and 2006.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:05 PM | Baseball 2007 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
March 20, 2007
POLITICS: Why I Love Megan McArdle's Blog

Just go read the latest in her back-and-forth with Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias on school choice. (Better yet, read the whole series).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:57 PM | Politics 2007 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
WAR: A Corporate Lawyer's View of Venezuela

Authorized corporate blogs are rarely interesting, but the blog by Mike Dillon, General Counsel of Sun Microsystems, is occasionally candid enough to be worth reading; his description from last month of the challenges of trying to actually do business in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela is illuminating:

The current congress in Venezuela has given their president broad powers to unilaterally enact laws for a period of 18 months in a wide range of areas. The result is that new laws and changes to existing laws are issued almost weekly. Last month, Venezuela's president announced plans to nationalize the country's oil, telecommunication and electricity companies. There are concerns that he may go further.

I spent over an hour meeting with a group of eight local attorneys in Caracas to discuss this fluid political situation and how it impacts their work. They represented a cross-section of the local legal profession - lawyers from firms and in-house with IT, energy and telecommunications companies. They very openly described the challenges of trying to advise their clients about laws that appear first in the morning newspaper with no prior legislative debate or announcement. Many of these new enactments were described as inconsistent or ambiguously drafted. This forces citizens to seek prior approval from the government before taking any action. And, there is no stare decisis to be relied upon for guidance.

It's a very anxious environment in which uncertainty pervades most aspects of life.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:16 PM | Business • | Law 2006-08 • | War 2007-12 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
March 19, 2007
BASEBALL: 2007 AL East EWSL Report

The AL East is yet again the first stop in my annual division-by-division roundups, powered by Established Win Shares Levels (EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2007 revisions to the age adjustment discussed here and rookie adjustments here). Bear in mind as always that (1) EWSL is a record of past performance, adjusted by age to give an assessment of the available talent on hand; it is not an individualized projection system; (2) individual EWSL are rounded off but team totals are compiled from the unrounded figures; and (3) as demonstrated here and here in some detail, nearly all teams will win more games than their EWSL total because I'm only rating 23 players per team (I'm not convinced going to 24 or 25 would make the system more useful, since it would tend to overrate teams that stuff their back bench slots with aging ex-regulars). As always, the depth charts here are drawn from a number of sources and modified to list the guys who will do the work (e.g., if there are two guys battling for a fifth starter spot I'll often list one of them with the relievers if I think they'll both end up pitching), but I take responsibility for any errors. It's still a fluid time for rosters.

The Hated Yankees

Raw EWSL: 279 (93 W)
Adjusted: 295 (98 W)
Age-Adj.: 270 (90 W)
Subjective Adj: 256 (85 W)

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C35Jorge Posada2215
1B33Doug Mientkiewicz65
2B24Robinson Cano#1319
SS33Derek Jeter2925
3B31Alex Rodriguez2924
RF33Bobby Abreu2824
CF33Johnny Damon2320
LF33Hideki Matsui1614
DH36Jason Giambi2015
C229Wil Nieves00
INF30Andy Phillips*11
OF22Melky Cabrera*729
1333Miguel Cairo65
SP135Andy Pettitte148
SP238Mike Mussina129
SP327Chien-Ming Wang#1012
SP427Kei Igawa+05
SP531Carl Pavano44
RP137Mariano Rivera1716
RP231Kyle Farnsworth86
RP332Luis Vizcaino74
RP430Scott Proctor54
RP538Mike Myers33

There is, sadly, a difference between doing baseball statistical studies professionally and doing them in your spare time, and one of them is that when you discover a methodological problem that should send you back to the drawing board, it's too late to change. EWSL more than doubles the Win Shares for a 22-year-old non-pitcher, based upon my experience with 15 such players over the past three seasons. Unfortunately, most of those 15 were guys who were working their way up to a full season of playing time; when the age adjustment is applied to a guy who played regularly for one season at age 21, it has a serious risk of over-projecting improvement. We will see this especially graphically when we get to the NL East.

Here, EWSL values Melky Cabrera as the best player in the AL East. Urk. It's true that Melky's ability to post a .360 OBP, have a nearly 1-to-1 BB/K ratio, and crack 26 doubles in 524 plate appearances at age 21 are all suggestive of a high-quality player who should take impressive strides forward this season. But there is simply very little chance that he will play regularly this year, let alone play a lot more than he did in 2006, and so for the first time (other than a 50% haircut I applied in 2005 to the injured Barry Bonds) I'm applying the Band-Aid solution of using subjective adjustments where appropriate to bring particular teams into line with what should be their reasonable expectations (you can still see and compare the purely objective ratings if you prefer them - I'll flag the players being adjusted with italics). Here, what I'm doing is shaving Melky down to 15 EWSL - still high for a bench player, but he's backing up three or four 33-year-olds (depending whether you think Giambi can slot in at first in a pinch) and a 36-year-old, so he should still get close to 400 PA. (Josh Phelps and Todd Pratt should take the remaining roster spots).

As for the team as a whole, the Hated Yankees' status as favorites may seem as fixed as one of Newton's Laws, but eventually we will find out whether they need to take some lumps like mortals when they can no longer rely on Jeter, Rivera and Posada as their anchors; we'll be asking those questions soon about the latter two. This is an old team - it's been an old team for years and has been shedding the oldest guys only gradually, and (as in the case of Gary Sheffield) replacing them with players who are likewise past 32. We saw last season what risks that carries even when you invest in players with previously bulletproof health records.

That is this team's only major weakness, though there are a number of smaller ones - Pavano's health, some questions about the bullpen and the bench beyond Melky, Minky's bat (although he'll be useful if he's platooned and hits like he did in 2006) - and there are young pitchers on the way, led by super-prospect Philip Hughes. Even with Cano sliding back a bit in his batting average and Jeter likely to return to his usual self, this team will score loads of runs and should have adequate starting pitching to take the AL East.

Boston Red Sox

Raw EWSL: 245 (82 W)
Adjusted: 263 (88 W)
Age-Adj.: 235 (78 W)
Subjective Adj: 240 (80 W)

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C35Jason Varitek139
1B28Kevin Youkilis1314
2B23Dustin Pedroia+111
SS31Julio Lugo1815
3B33Mike Lowell1513
RF31JD Drew1916
CF27Coco Crisp1415
LF35Manny Ramirez2920
DH31David Ortiz2823
C236Doug Mirabelli43
INF31Alex Cora86
OF25Wily Mo Pena911
1329Eric Hinske88
SP140Curt Schilling1312
SP226Daisuke Matsuzaka+05
SP327Josh Beckett1111
SP426Jon Papelbon#1113
SP540Tim Wakefield109
RP128Joel Piniero22
RP241Mike Timlin98
RP335Brendan Donnelly53
RP425Manny Delcarmen*24
RP534Julian Tavarez64

I've adjusted Matsuzaka, as a very high-quality foreign entry, up to 10 EWSL from the usual 5 for rookie starting pitchers. Valuing Matsuzaka at 10 and Kei Igawa at 5 may still be conservative, but you can rarely go wrong being conservative with rookie starting pitchers, whatever their pedigree, and especially in the American League.

The BoSox have two things going for them as against the Yankees. On the one hand, they have more upside from their established performance levels - any of their front four starters could be outstanding, with their ace, Schilling, perhaps having the lowest odds of a big leap forward (a lot has happened to him since 2004). JD Drew could always be healthy and rip off a "Lynn in 79" season. Piniero could turn his value around, freed of the workload of a starting pitcher. Crisp could have a huge year at age 27 after last season's regression.

On the other hand, the Sox have more depth, at least in the lineup, to withstand injury; Cora, Hinske and Pena give them more credible alternatives than the Yankees, who can only play Melky at one position at a time. Bullpen options besides those shown here include Craig Hansen and JC Romero (I still wouldn't bet against Hansen ending up the closer by mid-season; Piniero hasn't impressed this spring). Backups in the rotation are more questionable, as one wouldn't want to bank on Matt Clement or Jon Lester being ready to go any time in 2007, and that leaves us last year's collection of failed emergency options.

Overall, though, the Sawx are most likely competing for the Wild Card. The rotation could unravel due to health issues; Father Time could finally make some inroads on Manny at age 35, immaturity not being a defense to aging. Even if neither of those things happens, they don't have the guns to run with the Yankees unless the Yankees really get the aging bug badly or the Sox' rotation steps up in a big way.

Toronto Blue Jays

Raw EWSL: 217 (72 W)
Adjusted: 225 (75 W)
Age-Adj.: 209 (70 W)

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C36Gregg Zaun108
1B30Lyle Overbay1816
2B25Aaron Hill*1015
SS37Royce Clayton96
3B30Troy Glaus1716
RF26Alex Rios1315
CF28Vernon Wells2122
LF30Reed Johnson1312
DH39Frank Thomas1411
C230Jason Phillips33
INF26Russ Adams67
OF23Adam Lind+24
1339Matt Stairs108
SP130Roy Halladay1714
SP230AJ Burnett98
SP326Gustavo Chacin#79
SP431Tomo Ohka65
SP530Shaun Marcum*24
RP131BJ Ryan1613
RP229Jason Frasor54
RP324Brandon League#33
RP425Jeremy Accardo#34
RP531Scott Downs54

I don't recall if Bill James ever formally listed the signs of a bad organization, but you would think that employing Royce Clayton as an everyday player (at age 37!) would qualify. JP Ricciardi is a smart guy, but if there's a method to that particular madness it eludes me.

Lind was sent down to AAA on Saturday, but I still expect him to play a big role in the outfield, as he's a serious hitter. Remaining roster slots should go to John McDonald, John Hattig and Jason Smith, or possibly Sal Fasano. Several experienced starting pitchers are on hand as additional options, including Josh Towers, Jon Thomson and Victor Zambrano, plus a bunch of the young arms who got exposure last season. I expect League to contribute more than EWSL suggests, and he could well be preferred over Frasor as a primary setup man.

The Jays, like the Sox, could exceed reasonable expectations if their starting pitching stays healthy and steps forward, but even if that happens and Frank Thomas is healthy, these guys will be hard pressed to match last season's 87 wins.

Baltimore Orioles

Raw EWSL: 214 (71 W)
Adjusted: 225 (75 W)
Age-Adj.: 204 (68 W)

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C31Ramon Hernandez1614
1B30Jeff Conine1312
2B29Brian Roberts1917
SS31Miguel Tejada2521
3B35Melvin Mora2014
RF23Nick Markakis*617
CF27Corey Patterson1112
LF34Jay Payton1413
DH30Jay Gibbons1010
C235Paul Bako21
INF36Chris Gomez54
OF35Kevin Millar139
1332Brandon Fahey*25
SP128Erik Bedard1011
SP226Daniel Cabrera#77
SP329Adam Loewen*24
SP436Steve Trachsel54
SP531Jaret Wright65
RP125Chris Ray#710
RP229Denys Baez87
RP332Chad Bradford53
RP435Jamie Walker53
RP536Todd Williams43

Nick Markakis, by the way, is precisely the kind of player EWSL's sharp upward slope for very young regulars is based on - he was in and out of the lineup in the first half last season due to his mediocre performance, but picked up his power stroke in the second half, and anyone who saw him play after the All-Star Break expects significanly better full-season numbers from him in 2007. By contrast, Corey Patterson's EWSL hasn't changed a whit from last year, as he is basically topping out.

The Orioles' lineup is wall-to-wall adequate, but Tejada and perhaps Markakis are the only star-level contributors, and Tejada may yet break Jim Rice's single-season GIDP record. And the starting rotation, even with Bedard progressing nicely and the talented Loewen not far behind, is basically a burnt offering to Leo Mazzone. The Orioles will perform respectably for a fourth-place team, but have little to recommend them as anything more.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Raw EWSL: 108 (36 W)
Adjusted: 147 (49 W)
Age-Adj.: 159 (53 W)
Subjective Adj: 164 (55 W)

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C23Dioner Navarro#47
1B29Ty Wigginton109
2B25Jorge Cantu912
SS26Ben Zobrist*12
3B28Akinori Iwamura+011
RF21Delmon Young+111
CF25Rocco Baldelli911
LF25Carl Crawford2127
DH26Johnny Gomes910
C232Josh Paul32
INF22BJ Upton24
OF34Greg Norton54
1326Brendan Harris+04
SP123Scott Kazmir1010
SP225James Shields*37
SP330Jae Seo65
SP429Casey Fossum43
SP527Brian Stokes+15
RP126Seth McClung11
RP227Ruddy Lugo*47
RP331Shawn Camp33
RP436Dan Miceli32
RP536Al Reyes33

There's a saying about Brazil that it's the country of the future and always will be . . . so it seems with Tampa, which has done a fine job scouting talented youngsters (at least non-pitchers) but never seems to yield much in the win column.

This team should not be as terrible as its EWSL profile suggests, even with a subjective adjustment of Ben Zobrist from 2 to 7 EWSL to account for the fact that he has a steady job. The profile of Tampa's lineup looks a lot like last year's Marlins, no track record but a fair amount of talent. Of course, your guess for the Dan Uggla in this picture is as good as mine, and I don't see a Josh Johnson even if Kazmir plays Dontrelle...basically, the Rays should score a decent number of runs, especially if Upton slots in somewhere as a regular and shakes off 2006's apathetic performance with the bat, but there are too many question marks, too little patience and power here to make a really to-flight offense even if everything goes right, and too few credible major league pitchers (even trying the control-challenged McClung as a closer is a sign of desperation) to project them at much more than 75 wins as a best-case scenario.

You can compare the prior AL East roundups for 2004 here, 2005 here and 2006 here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:25 AM | Baseball 2007 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
March 16, 2007
BASEBALL/WAR: True Confessions

Been busy doing baseball stuff with my free time instead of posting, but here's a quick thought: there's a common thread in the recent confessions of Pete Rose (who admitted betting on the Reds every day) and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad (who started off confessing to terror plots and ended by admitting responsibility for everything but killing JonBenet and shooting J.R.).

Ordinarily, we view confessions as credible because, in legal parlance, they are against interest - you usually don't confess falsely (unless you are crazy or seeking attention) to something bad.

Here, though, there are reasons to suspect that both men might be overstating their culpability for reasons strategic. In Rose's case, a manager betting on his team every night is actually less troublesome than betting on them selected nights, for a variety of reasons ranging from more even and rational use of his pitching resources (i.e., not burning out his pitchers one night to the detriment of a game he's not betting on, or resting Eric Davis when he has no money on the line) to not signalling other gamblers by his selections. Of course, Rose used his bullpen as if he had money riding on every game, to the arguable detriment of the team. (More on Rose here from back in 2000 when I was still in the BIll James-influenced camp of Dowd Report critics - although I still stand by the analysis of why Rose belongs in Cooperstown).

In Muhammad's case, the incentive issue is a different one - he's been held in sufficient isolation for long enough that he really can't have any idea which of his fellow jihadists have been captured and which have not, so it's in his interests - given that he knows we know enough about his culpability to hold him indefinitely anyway - to claim as large a role as he can for himself and by doing so avoid implicating additional people who might be at large, beyond those he's already given up.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:16 PM | Baseball 2007 • | War 2007-12 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
March 15, 2007
POP CULTURE: All I Want Is To Have My Peace Of Mind

Boston lead singer Brad Delp's death has been ruled a suicide by carbon monoxide posioning. Delp was 55; his body was found by his fiancee. Boston did little enough of note after its legendary first album, but that's more than enough memories for one lifetime. Rest in Peace.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:16 PM | Pop Culture | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
LAW: No Fundamental Right to Medical Marijuana - Yet

The Ninth Circuit, on remand in Raich v. Gonzales (9th Cir. March 14, 2007), held yesterday that there is no fundamental Constitutional right to smoke pot, no matter how sick you are - but there might be later, once we have all expanded our minds just a little more:

Though the Lawrence [v. Texas] framework might certainly apply to the instant case, the use of medical marijuana has not obtained the degree of recognition today that private sexual conduct had obtained by 2004 in Lawrence.

+++

We agree with Raich that medical and conventional wisdom that recognizes the use of marijuana for medical purposes is gaining traction in the law as well. But that legal recognition has not yet reached the point where a conclusion can be drawn that the right to use medical marijuana is “fundamental” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.” ... For the time being, this issue remains in “the arena of public debate and legislative action.” ...

As stated above, Justice Anthony Kennedy told us that “times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress.” Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 579. For now, federal law is blind to the wisdom of a future day when the right to use medical marijuana to alleviate excruciating pain may be deemed fundamental. Although that day has not yet dawned, considering that during the last ten years eleven states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, that day may be upon us sooner than expected. Until that day arrives, federal law does not recognize a fundamental right to use medical marijuana prescribed by a licensed physician to alleviate excruciating pain and human suffering.

Translation: they will let us have our democracy a little while longer. Note that, as usual, the discussion assumes that the meaning of the Constitution can be changed by legislative action of a number of states that is smaller than the number expressly required to change the Constitution itself in Article V.
Granted, had the Supreme Court held - as it should - that the regulation of purely intrastate pot sales and use is beyond Congress' Commerce Clause powers, this issue would be where it belongs, with individual state governments. But in any event there is no warrant for declaring that a fundamental constitutional right is being grown under the Ninth Circuit's heat lamps.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:01 AM | Law 2006-08 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
March 13, 2007
WAR: Son of Oil-for-Food

What would you say if I told you that a UN agency was undermining U.S.-led diplomatic and economic sanctions by funnelling untraceable cash to a dangerous rogue regime?

Shocking, I know. But this time it's not the Iraq Oil-for-Food program, nor for that matter is it UNRWA providing cover for Palestinian terror attacks on Israel. This time, it's North Korea:

The United Nations Development Programme office in Pyongyang, North Korea, sits in a Soviet-style compound. Like clockwork, a North Korean official wearing a standard-issue dark windbreaker and slacks would come to the door each business day.

He would take a manila envelope stuffed with cash -- a healthy portion of the UN's disbursements for aid projects in the country -- and leave without ever providing receipts.

According to sources at the UN, this went on for years, resulting in the transfer of up to $150 million in hard foreign currency to the Kim Jong Il government at a time when the United States was trying to keep North Korea from receiving hard currency as part of its sanctions against the Kim regime.

"At the end, we were being used completely as an ATM machine for the regime," said one UN official with extensive knowledge of the program. "We were completely a cash cow, the only cash cow in town. The money was going to the regime whenever they wanted it."

Is the UN interested in getting to the bottom of this?

Earlier this month, the development program, known as UNDP, quietly suspended operations in North Korea, saying it could not operate under guidelines imposed by its executive board in January that prohibited payments in hard currency and forbade the employment of local workers handpicked by the North Korean government.

But some diplomats suspect the timing of the suspension was heavily influenced by a looming audit that could have proved embarrassing to the UN.

Documents obtained by the Tribune indicate that as early as last May, top UNDP officials at headquarters in New York were informed in writing of significant problems relating to the agency's use of hard foreign currency in North Korea, and that such use violated UN regulations that local expenses be paid in local currency. No action was taken for months.

Then, under pressure from the United States, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on Jan. 19 ordered an audit of all UN operations in North Korea to be completed within 90 days, or by mid-April.

The Board of Auditors, the UN body tasked with the audit, made no movement on the audit for 40 days after Ban's order. It sent out its notification letter for the beginning of the audit on the same day the development program announced the closure of its office--March 1.

That timing, combined with past concerns about the UNDP's transparency, has raised suspicions that suspending operations would be a way to hamstring the audit, the results of which may prove damning to the organization.

"The office was closed precisely for that reason," said another UN official with extensive knowledge of the program. "With no operations in place, first of all, you have no claim to get auditors into the country. Second, it will take months and months to get documentation out of the office there, to transfer to somewhere else like New York."

Again: shocking, I know. Maybe this was rogue UN officials acting outside of their organization's policy?

UNDP spokesman David Morrison said the use of hard currency and the hiring of staff through local governments was standard practice in authoritarian countries like North Korea.

So is there anyone in this picture who is willing to stand up for accountability and integrity?

"I don't think this is an audit you can whip through in 30 days; this may take some time," John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the UN until the end of last year and a staunch critic of the world body, said when contacted by the Tribune for a reaction to the newspaper's reporting of the cash payments. "But I think for the reputation and integrity of the UN system, it's critical that it proceed without delay."

There will be more talk, of course, in the coming months, of UN economic sanctions against Iran. Just remember where the Iranians will go whenever they want to get around those sanctions.

The simple fact is, stories like this one are not about UN programs being subverted by rogue employees, but rather about the inherent structure of the UN. The UN is a trade association of heads of state and de facto states like the Palestinian Authority, staffed by people who have dedicated their careers to an organization separate and apart from loyalty to their own home countries. Nobody at the UN draws their authority, or depends for their salary, on the consent of the governed. Thus, inevitably, when push comes to shove, the UN staff will - even more than is usually true of bureaucracies - serve the interests of heads of state, of the status quo, of the international "community," and of the UN as an institution - the common people and the goals of particular policies don't merit a place on that list. And this will always be true of organizations structured in this way - so long as they draw their power, money and legitimacy without ultimately having to answer to the people.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | War 2007-12 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
March 12, 2007
WAR: LA Times Slams Democrat Efforts to "Micromanage" War

The LA Times Editorial Board is not where you would look for support for a Republican Administration in a debate about war, unless the answer is so screamingly obvious that the newspaper doesn't want to lose credibility even with liberal readers by siding with the Democrats.

Guess what?

This morning's LAT carries a remarkable editorial entitled, "Do we really need a Gen. Pelosi?" that criticizes the House Democrats' latest effort to hamstring the war effort in Iraq without openly taking responsibility for demanding retreat:

AFTER WEEKS OF internal strife, House Democrats have brought forth their proposal for forcing President Bush to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by 2008. The plan is an unruly mess: bad public policy, bad precedent and bad politics. If the legislation passes, Bush says he'll veto it, as well he should.

It was one thing for the House to pass a nonbinding vote of disapproval. It's quite another for it to set out a detailed timetable with specific benchmarks and conditions for the continuation of the conflict. Imagine if Dwight Eisenhower had been forced to adhere to a congressional war plan in scheduling the Normandy landings or if, in 1863, President Lincoln had been forced by Congress to conclude the Civil War the following year. This is the worst kind of congressional meddling in military strategy.

As the LAT points out, Congress has the power to stop the war - but only if it really means it and is willing to take responsibility for doing so:

If a majority in Congress truly believes that the war is not in the national interest, then lawmakers should have the courage of their convictions and vote to stop funding U.S. involvement. They could cut the final checks in six months or so to give Bush time to manage the withdrawal. Or lawmakers could, as some Senate Democrats are proposing, revoke the authority that Congress gave Bush in 2002 to use force against Iraq.

But if Congress accepts Bush's argument that there is still hope, however faint, that the U.S. military can be effective in quelling the sectarian violence, that U.S. economic aid can yet bring about an improvement in Iraqi lives that won't be bombed away and that American diplomatic power can be harnessed to pressure Shiites and Sunnis to make peace — if Congress accepts this, then lawmakers have a duty to let the president try this "surge and leverage" strategy.

Amen to that. Of course, the editorial contains the usual nods to criticism of Bush, Rumsfeld, et al, but at the end of the day, the LAT hears the sawing and isn't especially willing to stay out on the limb Nancy Pelosi is on. Looks like her modified, limited slow bleed is losing her troops in the media.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:08 PM | War 2007-12 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
LAW: Picture of the Day (Spring Training Edition)
Alitoball.jpg
"One of the things I am asked is if I believe in a living Constitution," Alito said in his speech, referring to a thought that the Constitution can reflect the times. "Umpires face this very same problem. For example, do we want a living strike zone?"

I guess he doesn't want to see Questec imposed on the federal courts...

Link. H/T.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:17 PM | Law 2006-08 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASKETBALL: Cinderella Time

So, Holy Cross will play in the West Regional 4-13 game against Southern Illinois in Columbus, Ohio on Friday, looking for its first NCAA Tournament victory since defeating Navy and Wake Forest in 1953. This is the highest seed for either HC or Southern Illinois in recent history.

Just to recap, HC lost by 4 to Kentucky in 2001, led in the second half against Final Four team Kansas in 2002, and led in the second half and lost by 4 against Final Four team Marquette in 2003; Patriot League rival Bucknell beat Kansas in 2005.

It's time for a win.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:33 PM | Basketball | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Starting Early

I was watching the Mets-Marlins preseason game yesterday (the one that ended a 5-5 tie in 11 innings) and caught the tail end of an ad touting one of Eliot Spitzer's initiatives, I think his health plan, and saw this tagline at the end: "Paid for by Spitzer 2010."

And people say the presidential candidates are starting early.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:14 PM | Politics 2007 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The Baseball Economist

BaseballEconomist.jpgThis Thursday, a new title aimed at the analytical-minded baseball fan will hit the shelves: The Baseball Economist, by J.C. Bradbury, who writes the Sabernomics blog. I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy of the book.

Now, I will admit, first of all, that I find "business of baseball" issues dreary and depressing (that's one of the two reasons I rarely write about them here, the other being that my law firm does too much work for companies engaged in the business for me to discuss them without wading into a hornet's nest of conflicts). Something like a third of this book is devoted to "business of baseball" issues, and I have thus far only skimmed those parts. Your mileage may vary as to your interest level in the topic.

The title notwithstanding, though, the book isn't principally a book of economics but a book applying the analytical tools used by economists to statistical and other data about baseball. On the whole, I found the book incisive and well-written, as you would expect from Bradbury. Probably the best chapter (the book is basically a collection of 16 essays on distinct subjects) was a careful study of the case for Leo Mazzone for the Hall of Fame. There are also particularly interesting reviews of manager lobbying for ball and strike calls (using a comparison of data from Questec and non-Questec parks) and the demise of left-handed throwing catchers.

The book isn't perfect; as tends to happen sometimes with sabermetric authors trying to figure out what to write for general vs. experienced audiences, there's a chapter called "How to Judge a Hitter or a Pitcher," most of which will be old hat to most people who have read a Bill James or Rob Neyer book along the way (which is most of the people who will buy this book). Then again, as I said I'm probably giving short shrift to the economic stuff in here. For those of you looking for a thoughtful supplement to your annual baseball reading list, check it out.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:15 AM | Baseball 2007 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 9, 2007
LAW: Justice Thomas Speaks

*Business Week has a rare interview with Justice Thomas, mainly about his Holy Cross days. H/T Stuart Buck. Thomas comes out swinging right away on why he doesn't talk to the press much (although, as I can attest, he can be warm and accomodating in meeting with visitors to the Court):

One of the reasons I don't do media interviews is, in the past, the media often has its own script. One reason these stories are never told is that they are contrary to the script that people play by. The media, unfortunately, have been universally untrustworthy because they have their own notions of what I should think or I should do.

Thomas on his job as a Justice:

Isn't this where you want to be, where you can have the greatest impact?

Nah. I don't think you should do these jobs with that in mind. I don't think you should relish affecting people's lives like that, because you don't know whether you have the right answers. Along the way, you learn that.

Thomas also speaks warmly of friends at HC, including Ted Wells (who's been in the news lately defending Scooter Libby, though Wells himself is no Republican). On Holy Cross compared to Yale:

You went to Yale later on. Would you have wanted to do your undergraduate degree there?

No. No, I belonged at a school like Holy Cross. In fact, in today's world, I probably belonged at a place like the University of Georgia. Holy Cross was perfect for me at that time. I had enough on my platter.

Do you feel a sense of fraternity with the people you went to school with?

In a distant way, I absolutely do. We don't pal around. I absolutely admire Ted Wells and he and I are quite different. He's one of the finest lawyers in the United States. But you know what? It's not unpredictable. It's something that could have been predicted. Think of the people who took chances on him.

There was a wonderful fraternity-The Cross. When you were a crusader, you looked after each other-no matter where you were. That doesn't mean they would always be in a position to do you a favor. But they were there, just as a friend. I've never been turned away by a graduate of The Cross.

How did you find your experience at Yale?

Let me put it this way: It wasn't the kind of environment Holy Cross was and I would not have done well there. I don't fit in there. It wasn't about them. I just didn't fit. I don't fit in an orchestra. I don't care how great the orchestra is. It's nothing against Yale. I'm extraordinarily pleased that through serendipity or, I like to think, almost divine providence, I wound up at Holy Cross.

(I should add, having been both at HC and Harvard, that I feel exactly the same way).

Read the whole thing, there's a lot more there.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:52 AM | Law 2006-08 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
LAW: Justice Thomas Speaks

Business Week has a rare interview with Justice Thomas, mainly about his Holy Cross days. H/T Stuart Buck. Thomas comes out swinging right away on why he doesn't talk to the press much (although, as I can attest, he can be warm and accomodating in meeting with visitors to the Court):

One of the reasons I don't do media interviews is, in the past, the media often has its own script. One reason these stories are never told is that they are contrary to the script that people play by. The media, unfortunately, have been universally untrustworthy because they have their own notions of what I should think or I should do.

Thomas on his job as a Justice:

Isn't this where you want to be, where you can have the greatest impact?

Nah. I don't think you should do these jobs with that in mind. I don't think you should relish affecting people's lives like that, because you don't know whether you have the right answers. Along the way, you learn that.

Thomas also speaks warmly of friends at HC, including Ted Wells (who's been in the news lately defending Scooter Libby, though Wells himself is no Republican). On Holy Cross compared to Yale:

You went to Yale later on. Would you have wanted to do your undergraduate degree there?

No. No, I belonged at a school like Holy Cross. In fact, in today's world, I probably belonged at a place like the University of Georgia. Holy Cross was perfect for me at that time. I had enough on my platter.

Do you feel a sense of fraternity with the people you went to school with?

In a distant way, I absolutely do. We don't pal around. I absolutely admire Ted Wells and he and I are quite different. He's one of the finest lawyers in the United States. But you know what? It's not unpredictable. It's something that could have been predicted. Think of the people who took chances on him.

There was a wonderful fraternity-The Cross. When you were a crusader, you looked after each other-no matter where you were. That doesn't mean they would always be in a position to do you a favor. But they were there, just as a friend. I've never been turned away by a graduate of The Cross.

How did you find your experience at Yale?

Let me put it this way: It wasn't the kind of environment Holy Cross was and I would not have done well there. I don't fit in there. It wasn't about them. I just didn't fit. I don't fit in an orchestra. I don't care how great the orchestra is. It's nothing against Yale. I'm extraordinarily pleased that through serendipity or, I like to think, almost divine providence, I wound up at Holy Cross.

(I should add, having been both at HC and Harvard, that I feel exactly the same way).

Read the whole thing, there's a lot more there, as well as a longer feature story on Justice Thomas' African-American classmates at HC.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:52 AM | Law 2006-08 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: BABIP Where?

Alex Carnevale at Baseball Prospectus looks at seasonal variation in batting average on balls in play for hitters. It's a good writeup, but fails to address two issues:

1. Doubles and triples. Are they equally variable year to year as singles, which we know tend to vary more annually even for hitters than other hitting skills?

2. Home parks. It's funny, everybody with any sabermetric background knows to apply home field adjustments to a player's overall statistics, but suddenly we forget that when doing partial statistical analyses like BABIP. Is BABIP more, or less, affected by home parks than other components of offense? Carnevale doesn't say, and I suspect probably it is affected quite a bit. I ask this in particular because he identifies Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado as two players likely to improve this season because they had lower than usual BABIP last year - but every Mets fan knows that Beltran and Delgado had massive home/road splits, hitting far better on the road, whereas both had spent their careers through 2004 in hitter-friendly AL parks. (Delgado is also 35 and recovering from offseason surgery - fantasy league buyers, beware!).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:35 AM | Baseball 2007 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: A Population Comparison

File this under "hard data": one of the issues that always comes up when Governors run for president is how big a job they really had. And while state population isn't the only variable, it's a useful shorthand. For example, when Howard Dean ran for president, I pointed out that Manhattan has individual police precincts that have a third of the population of Vermont. (I would argue that densely populated areas are also more challenging to govern than rural areas with more self-reliant populations - just look at the size of New York City's 37,000-man police force).

Anyway, with a former Mayor of New York City (Rudy Giuliani) and current and former governors of Massachusetts (Mitt Romney), Arkansas (Mike Huckabee), Wisconsin (Thommy Thompson), Virginia (Jim Gilmore), and New Mexico (Bill Richardson) among the at least semi-serious contenders for president (no, I don't take George Pataki seriously), I thought it would be useful just to lay out the populations of New York City, the 50 states, DC and a bunch of independent countries in the same general size range, just for comparison purposes:

Read More »


Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:30 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
March 8, 2007
BASEBALL: Swinging Shawn

Cerrone looks at news reports that the Mets are using a computerized program to analyze Shawn Green's swing. I bet if you put Milledge in the box, the program would declare the batter's swing fixed . . . Green could still surprise us, like Valentin last year (in that his power's only really been gone for a year), but my guess is that he will gradually lose his grip on his job by midsummer. Hopefully, Milledge will be ready by then. I'm still more optimistic than most Mets fans about how far away Milledge is from being ready.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:07 PM | Baseball 2007 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
WAR: Why Terrorists Are Too Dangerous For U.S. Prisons

Pepe.jpgYesterday's news that Congressional Democrats, led by Virginia Congressman Jim Moran, plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and bring the terrorists held there to be held in the U.S., is a terrible idea for several reasons, but for one of them, you need look no further than to ask Louis Pepe, the former prison guard at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan who was attacked on November 1, 2000 by Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, a high-ranking Al Qaeda terrorist who was awaiting trial for the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania:

Prosecutors allege that Salim jabbed a sharpened comb, purchased in the MCC commissary, into the eye of corrections officer Louis Pepe. Pepe was blinded in the eye, paralyzed in half of his body, and rendered unable to speak clearly.

The jail no longer sells combs to inmates.

The attack, prosecutors allege, was part of a plan to take guards hostage and escape from the jail.

Pepe's detailed description of the attack paints a horrific, if all too familiar, portrait of the brutality of the jihadists behind bars:

Pepe said he will tell the judge how he properly handcuffed the inmates before they slipped free, blinded him with hot sauce, beat him repeatedly and even tried to rape him before stabbing him to get his keys in a bid to free other suspected terrorists. "Both of them did it, not just one," Pepe said excitedly, his right eye wide open and a piece of gauze resting in the socket where the left eye used to be....Pepe said the attack lasted an hour, rather than the 20 minutes that prison authorities maintain it took for help to arrive from less-isolated parts of Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center.

Pepe described how he resisted throughout the attack, even giving the inmates his house keys when they demanded his prison keys. He said the inmates scrawled the sign of the cross in his blood on his chest before they left him for dead. In the end, Pepe walked out of the cellblock, the sharpened comb still stuck in his eye.

According to a 2004 interview, he has suffered terribly since the attack:

For more than two years, Pepe was hospitalized. He suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed, along with pneumonia, a collapsed lung, seizures, infections, a blood clot and high fevers. He underwent brain surgery and spent three weeks in a coma...

Pepe sleeps on a small donated bed and maneuvers his wheelchair across worn floors. Almost no one visits him. Pepe said his pain, from the collapsed left side of his head to the stroke-damaged legs, is chronic. "Every day it hurts so much that it feels like I'm going to be dead," he said.

It should not surprise us that men who are willing to strap bombs to themselves, fly airplanes into buildings, decapitate women and massacre schoolchildren would be willing to perform extreme acts of cruelty and violence to escape from confinement. At Guantanamo, their prison is on an island, the sea to one side, a fortified border to a brutal and paranoid Communist dictatorship on the other. There's nowhere to go. Put these guys in Jim Moran's district, or your home town - whether in a civilian prison or a military brig - and they will do anything in their power to do to more prison guards what they did to Louis Pepe.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | War 2007-12 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
March 7, 2007
BASEBALL: Rocker on HGH?

So says this report, albeit supposedly on doctor's orders. Plus, this tidbit about some people in hot water in my old hometown:

Steven and Karen Lampert of Anti-Aging Centers in Nanuet pleaded not guilty in an Albany County, N.Y., courtroom and were released without bail. They are charged with submitting prescriptions to a Florida pharmacy — some "obviously forged" according to the district attorney — for drugs totaling more than $50,000 for people without a medical need.

Steven Lampert is charged with 20 counts, his wife with two.

"It seems as though our clients have much less involvement than the others," said Jay Golland, a lawyer for Karen Lampert.

Prosecutors describe the Lamperts as "criminal associates" of Signature Pharmacy in Orlando, Fla. Albany County District Attorney David Soares says Signature was at the center of a web of businesses and doctors that illegally wrote prescriptions for steroids.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:07 PM | Baseball 2007 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Speedy Delivery

Joe Posnanski uses a super-secret version of speed scores to rate the fastest players in baseball, and ranks Jose Reyes #1. (H/T Geoff Young). It's basically "baseball speed," not raw speed, and offensive speed, at that - the fact that Kenny Lofton makes the list and Carlos Beltran doesn't underlines the fact that Posnanski's formula doesn't include defensive statistics (Beltran's stopped stealing bases but he still runs very well and uses his speed highly effectively on the bases and in the field). It's a fun list, and I'd agree that speedy players make the game more fun, even if they aren't always as useful as they appear.

There is a contrarian, Moneyball-ish theory (theory, I say; I haven't looked empirically at the issue) that a guy like Reyes or Carl Crawford is that much more valuable precisely because they are rarer in today's game and thus - in particular - you are more likely to encounter teams that can't stop the running game in the postseason, whereas in, say, 1975 a team that couldn't stop the run at all was more likely to be an unsuccessful team. It's true in general that whenever a skill goes out of fashion, the people with that skill who remain become more useful.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:01 PM | Baseball 2007 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Buy The Book!

It's the Hardball Times 2007 Season Preview - and yours truly authored the team comment on the Mets. As you can see from THT's list, I'm in illustrious company. The book also has projections and other stuff I haven't had a chance to digest myself. You can buy it in book form or downloadable 184-page PDF.

This is the first time I've directly contributed content to a published book - I was part of armies of researchers on a few legal directories the summer after college and on Lawrence Tribe's Con Law treatise, and I co-edit a chapter pocket part these days in a commercial litigation treatise, but it's not the same thing.

FYI, I'm hoping to start rolling out my preseason previews fairly soon, time permitting.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:01 PM | Baseball 2007 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
March 6, 2007
LAW: Sidelining The Courts in the Culture Wars

It may not be enough anecdotes to constitute a trend, but a look at appellate court decisions over the past week gives reason to hope that the courts may finally be beginning to weary of interfering in the culture wars - but also offers some cautions about the consequences of each step towards an activist judicial role in those battles. A single step into the fray can take a log time and a lot of litigation to cabin.

We begin with two decisions from the DC Circuit. In the first, DKT Int'l Inc. v. U.S. Agency for Int'l Development (D.C. Cir. Feb. 27, 2007), a recipient of federal funds under a federal program designed to fight HIV/AIDS in the developing world filed suit, arguing that its First Amendment rights were violated by a condition that groups accepting funding certify that it has a policy opposing prostitution and sex trafficking. Yes, you read that right:

DKT alleged that it refuses to adopt a policy opposing prostitution because this might result in "stigmatizing and alienating many of the people most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS - the sex workers . . . "

The DC Circuit sensibly noted that compelling recipients of federal funds to agree with the message they were being paid to promote was well within the government's rights (as my Con Law professor used to say, "It's the government's nickel"):

In this case the government's objective is to eradicate HIV/AIDS. One of the means of accomplishing this objective is for the United States to speak out against legalizing prostitution in other countries. The Act's strategy in combating HIV/AIDS is not merely to ship condoms and medicine to regions where the disease is rampant. Repeatedly the Act speaks of fostering behavioral change, see, e.g., 22 U.S.C. § 7601(22)(E), and spreading "educational messages," id. § 7611(a)(4). The Act's stated source of inspiration is the success in Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni "spoke out early, breaking long-standing cultural taboos, and changed widespread perceptions about the disease." Id. § 7601(20)(B). The Act details the program Museveni instituted, which primarily involved a "message" about "a fundamental change in sexual behavior." Id. § 7601(20)(C). "Uganda's success shows that behavior change . . . is a very successful way to prevent the spread of HIV." Id. § 7601(20)(D). Spending money to convince people at risk of HIV/AIDS to change their behavior is necessarily a message.

+++

The government's brief summarizes these points: "It would make little sense for the government to provide billions of dollars to encourage the reduction of HIV/AIDS behavioral risks, including prostitution and sex trafficking, and yet to engage as partners in this effort organizations that are neutral toward or even actively promote the same practices sought to be eradicated. The effectiveness of the government's viewpoint-based program would be substantially undermined, and the government's message confused, if the organizations hired to implement that program by providing HIV/AIDS programs and services to the public could advance an opposite viewpoint in their privately-funded operations."

A victory for democracy (this is an act of Congress supported by the Bush Administration), and for common sense as well, although the court noted (in footnote 4 on p. 9) that the government's policy could just as easily have been evaded by DKT if it simply separately incorporated its pro-prostitution organization and the organization receiving federal funds.

The second decision involved an effort to change behavior closer to home: the court in Decatur Liquors, Inc. v. DC (DC Cir. Feb. 27, 2007) rejected a challenge to a zoning rule in one ward of DC (sponsored by the now-Mayor of DC) barring the sales of single containers of beer, on the theory that single-container sales "were especially likely to lead to public drunkenness and other antisocial behavior." The court found that there were no substantial federal Constitutional bars to this rule, in particular rejecting an equal protection challenge to the fact that the rule encompassed only a single ward:

Council Member Fenty identified reasons why public drunkenness and other concerns were particularly acute in Ward 4, and, again, there can be no doubt that a link exists between the sale of alcohol and public drunkenness. Thus, plaintiffs' equal protection claim is insubstantial.

Now, one can agree or disagree with the policy, as with USAID's policy on prostitution, but in both cases the court gave room for democratically elected officials and their appointees to make a policy determination and implement it, so they could be judged on the results of that policy rather than being tied up in court trying to justify the rationale in abstract terms.

Next up, a decision from an intermediate appellate court in California, California Family Bioethics Council v. California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (Cal. App. 3 Dist Feb. 26, 2007), in which the court rejected a battery of challenges to Proposition 71, the initiative establishing taxpayer funding for stem cell research. The challenges included technical attacks (such as violation of the "single-subject rule" for ballot initiatives, a favorite of courts that disapprove of ballot initiatives, and various California Constitutional challenges) and charges that the initiative was misleading or misunderstood by the voters. The court rejected these arguments. First, the court noted that the proponents of the initiative had had to concede that stem cell research will provide uncertain benefits:

As the Attorney General observes, the ballot materials repeatedly stressed the speculative nature of any savings from research or earnings to the state from licensing royalties under the Cures Act.

More fundamentally, though, the court refused to second-guess the voters:

To say that the issues surrounding Proposition 71 and the issues surrounding stem cell research generally were well-aired prior to the election undoubtedly would be an understatement. Though many voters probably do not understand the science underlying somatic cell nuclear transfer, therapeutic cloning, and in vitro fertilization, they are not required to grasp the intricacies of this research frontier to intelligently decide whether to support a measure providing funding for such research. The ballot materials included a box entitled "Stem Cells and Stem Cell Research" that provided objective nontechnical answers to three questions: "What Are Stem Cells?," "What are Embryonic and Adult Stem Cells?," and "Why do Researchers Want to Study Stem Cells?" No more was required to permit voters to vote intelligently.

Unlike the DC Circuit decisions, the California decision won't make social conservatives happy - but it springs from the same basic principles of restraint. The voters were asked, the voters decided.

Then there's the Second Circuit, which was asked by a teachers' union in Port Washington Teachers Assn. v. Board of Ed. of the Port Washington Union Free School Dist. (2d Cir. Feb. 27, 2007) to strike down a policy promulgated by the school superintendant requiring teachers and staff to notify students' parents if they learn that the student is pregnant. The Second Circuit rejected the challenge, finding that the teachers and staff lacked standing, because they could not show that the policy placed them in direct conflict with confidentiality obligations (the policy "advises staff members to inform students that conversations about student pregnancies will not be held in confidence," is not mandatory, and the threat of suit by students is speculative).

The court's decision isn't a clear-cut victory for restraint: the Second Circuit avoided a premature decision on the constitutionality of the policy, but it also neutered the policy by concluding that it was outside the superintendant's powers under New York's Education Law.

Another ambiguous case comes from the Supreme Court, which in the case of Harper v. Poway School District, No. 06-595 (U.S. Mar. 5, 2007), reversed a Ninth Circuit decision from last April that had denied First Amendment protection to a high school student who claimed a constitutional right to wear T-shirts to school that read, "BE ASHAMED, OUR SCHOOL EMBRACED WHAT GOD HAS CONDEMNED" handwritten on the front, and "HOMOSEXUALITY IS SHAMEFUL" handwritten on the back. A divided Ninth Circuit panel, in an opinion by Judge Reinhardt (with Judge Kozinski dissenting), had exercised restraint, of a sort, by lifting a preliminary injunction against the school district. In a saner world, the court might have been able to say that schools have an inherent right to tell students whatever they want about appropriate attire, and that students have no business using their torsos as sandwich boards. But the court expressly declined to address the school dress code as a whole, or to establish a bright-line rule that discouraged litigation of this sort. Instead, the Ninth Circuit ruled on the particular content of the shirt, stating that its content could be banned out of concern over "psychological attacks that cause young people to question their self-worth and their rightful place in society," and declared a rule that protects some students more than others from provocative or insulting speech:

Speech that attacks high school students who are members of minority groups that have historically been oppressed, subjected to verbal and physical abuse, and made to feel inferior, serves to injure and intimidate them, as well as to damage their sense of security and interfere with their opportunity to learn. The demeaning of young gay and lesbian students in a school environment is detrimental not only to their psychological health and well-being, but also to their educational development.

As Eugene Volokh pointed out at the time, this is classic viewpoint discrimination (the court also cited Confederate flags as a type of speech the schools may properly ban, while glossing over the fact that the shirt was worn to protest a school-sponsored Gay-Straight Alliance "Day of Silence"), holding that some students are entitled to greater protection from competing viewpoints than others. It's also a distinctively activist posture - Judge Reinhardt left the door open for students with more favored opinions to file t-shirt suits.

As it turns out, the Supreme Court (with only Justice Breyer dissenting) ended up vacating the Ninth Circuit's opinion, but on the narrow ground of mootness, without ruling on the merits - robbing the Ninth Circuit opinion of its precedential value, but going no further.

Finally, we turn to the progeny of Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 decision in which the Supreme Court announced a constitutional right to sodomy between consenting adults, premised upon a right of sexual privacy:

The statutes do seek to control a personal relationship that, whether or not entitled to formal recognition in the law, is within the liberty of persons to choose without being punished as criminals.

This, as a general rule, should counsel against attempts by the State, or a court, to define the meaning of the relationship or to set its boundaries absent injury to a person or abuse of an institution the law protects. It suffices for us to acknowledge that adults may choose to enter upon this relationship in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons. When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring. The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice.

Unsurprisingly, the Lawrence decision has spawned to a battery of attempts to expand its rationale to other laws governing sexual conduct of one sort or another. First, the Supreme Court this past week declined to review the decision of the Supreme Court of Utah in State v. Holm (Utah May 16, 2006), which among other things rejected (over a dissent) a claim that Lawrence invalidated Utah's prohibition on bigamy. The court first stressed the Lawrence Court's drawing of lines intended to limit the decision's application:

Despite its use of seemingly sweeping language, the holding in Lawrence is actually quite narrow. Specifically, the Court takes pains to limit the opinion's reach to decriminalizing private and intimate acts engaged in by consenting adult gays and lesbians. In fact, the Court went out of its way to exclude from protection conduct that causes "injury to a person or abuse of an institution the law protects."

The Utah court found that the threat presented by bigamy to the institution of marriage justified a departure from Lawrence:

In marked contrast to the situation presented to the Court in Lawrence, this case implicates the public institution of marriage, an institution the law protects, and also involves a minor. In other words, this case presents the exact conduct identified by the Supreme Court in Lawrence as outside the scope of its holding.

First, the behavior at issue in this case is not confined to personal decisions made about sexual activity, but rather raises important questions about the State's ability to regulate marital relationships and prevent the formation and propagation of marital forms that the citizens of the State deem harmful.

+++

[A] marriage license significantly alters the bond between two people because the State becomes a third party to the marital contract. . .
[M]arital relationships serve as the building blocks of our society. The State must be able to assert some level of control over those relationships to ensure the smooth operation of laws and further the proliferation of social unions our society deems beneficial while discouraging those deemed harmful. The people of this State have declared monogamy a beneficial marital form and have also declared polygamous relationships harmful.

The Connecticut Supreme Court, in State v. McKenzie-Adams, (Ct. Feb. 27, 2007), rejected a similar effort to extend Lawrence to the case of a male teacher who had consensual sexual relations with two 16-year-old female students and claimed a "right to engage in noncommercial consensual sexual intercourse with individuals over the age of consent." The court found that the teacher-student relationship is "an inherently coercive relationship, . . . wherein consent might not easily be refused." The Connecticut court, like the Utah court, found it necessary to place a limiting construction on Lawrence, albeit one that is in some tension with the Utah court's reading of the case:

We conclude that the defendant's reliance on Lawrence is misplaced because, contrary to the defendant's claim, the court in Lawrence did not ignore the relationship between the participants to the prohibited sexual act. The court merely cautioned that, when reviewing a statute criminalizing private noncommercial consensual sexual conduct, it is improper to focus on the right to engage in specific sexual acts, as the court had done in Bowers. Instead, the court should focus on the right to foster certain intimate relationships. Accordingly, pursuant to Lawrence, the critical inquiry is whether the prohibited intimate relationship is within the liberty interest of the participants to choose, not on whether a right to engage in sexual conduct exists generally.

Finally, the Ohio Supreme Court, in State v. Lowe (Ohio Feb. 28, 2007), rejected (again over a dissent) an effort to use Lawrence to strike down a ban on consensual sexual conduct between a stepparent and adult stepchild. The Ohio court stressed that Lawrence did not announce a new fundamental right, and thus concluded:

[T]the state in this case distinguishes Lawrence as being limited to consensual sexual conduct between unrelated adults. Lowe and his stepdaughter were not unrelated. The state argues that since Lowe has no fundamental right in this case, and the state has a legitimate interest in prohibiting incestuous relations and in protecting the family unit and family relationships, the rational-basis test should apply. . .

. . . Lawrence did not announce a "fundamental" right to all consensual adult sexual activity, let alone consensual sex with one's adult children or stepchildren.. . .

Ohio's statute serves the legitimate state interest of protecting the family unit and family relationships. While it is not enough under the rational-basis test for the government to just announce a noble purpose behind a statute, the statute will pass if it is reasonably related to any legitimate state purpose. . . . Ohio has a tradition of acknowledging the "importance of maintaining the family unit." A sexual relationship between a parent and child or a stepparent and stepchild is especially destructive to the family unit. R.C. 2907.03(A)(5) was designed to protect the family unit by criminalizing incest in Ohio. Stepchildren and adopted children have been included as possible victims of the crime of incest because society is concerned with the integrity of the family, including step and adoptive relationships as well as blood relationships, and sexual activity is equally disruptive, whatever the makeup of the family. . . . [P]arents do not cease being parents - whether natural parents, stepparents, or adoptive parents - when their minor child reaches the age of majority.

Accordingly, as applied in this case, R.C. 2907.03(A)(5) bears a rational relationship to the legitimate state interest in protecting the family, because it reasonably advances its goal of protection of the family unit from the destructive influence of sexual relationships between parents or stepparents and their children or stepchildren. If Lowe divorced his wife and no longer was a stepparent to his wife's daughter, the stepparent-stepchild relationship would be dissolved. The statute would no longer apply in that case.

(As Howard Bashman has noted - and as the Utah court discussed footnote 10 at page 23 of its opinion, and the Connecticut court addressed as well - there have been other challenges based on Lawrence as well. In one, a recent 11ith Circuit decision that upheld Alabama's ban on sale of sex toys on the grounds that unlike Lawrence "the statute at issue in this case forbids public, commercial activity" but also explicitly concluded that "public morality survives as a rational basis for legislation even after Lawrence, and we find that in this case the State's interest in the preservation of public morality remains a rational basis for the challenged statute." In another, the same issue presented in Lawrence was decided the opposite way in the context of the military's ban on sodomy by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (discussed here by Phil Carter)).

As it turns out, both Rick Santorum and his critics can claim some measure of vindication from the Utah, Connecticut and Ohio decisions. Santorum (who, you will recall, gave his famous interview before seeing precisely how the Supreme Court would frame its decision) has been proven right about the flood of efforts to use Lawrence to overturn well-settled prohibitions on sexual conduct long thought to be uncontroversially subject to criminal sanction, as well as about the fact that members of the judiciary (including the dissenters in Utah and Ohio) would find those arguments appealing. Santorum's critics can point to the fact that the courts have, in fact, found ways to draw lines to keep Lawrence from having such slippery-slope effects.

At the end of the day, though, the stronger criticism of the Lawrence decision, like the Ninth Circuit's decision in the T-shirt case, is that it sucks the courts into making a whole new body of law to distinguish between conduct that is favored and protected by the Constitution, and conduct that is disfavored and properly subject to societal sanction or regulation through the democratic process. But that body of law is not based on anything in the Constitution, but rather in the courts' value judgments about social interests in the family, or the protection of students - judgments the legislatures are equally competent to make in a way that reflects the collective wisdom and experience of society. That's why even the victories over efforts to expand the Lawrence decision are signs of defeat for judicial restraint in the culture wars.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Law 2006-08 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
March 5, 2007
POLITICS: Anathema

Following up on my initial reaction here, I agree with this 100%, and this too. An excommunication of Ann Coulter from the organized conservative movement is overdue, both for tactical reasons and as a matter of basic moral hygeine.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:32 PM | Politics 2007 | Comments (21) | TrackBack (0)
March 2, 2007
POLITICS: Friday Afternoon Poll: Electric Al Gore Edition!

Take the Goreland poll:

What is Al Gore doing in his house to use all that electricity?
Playing Dr. Frankenstein.
Trying to make the Earth warmer on purpose so people will believe him.
Frying himself peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Creating something even more awesome than the internet.
Turning a DeLorean into a time machine.
Posting lots of comments on lefty blogs about BusHitler.
Playing Donkey Kong until his eyeballs bleed.
Developing weapons of mass destruction. We must invade!
Recounting the votes, over and over and over and over.
  
Free polls from Pollhost.com
Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:16 PM | Politics 2007 | Comments (39) | TrackBack (0)
LAW/POLITICS: Bad News For Libby

Bad news, I think, for Scooter Libby:

Jurors asked for the definition of "reasonable doubt" Friday after completing a shortened, eighth day of deliberations Friday in the perjury trial of ex-White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

"We would like clarification of the term 'reasonable doubt,'" jurors wrote. "Specifically, is it necessary for the government to present evidence that it is not humanly possible for someone not to recall an event in order to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

I think that's bad news for Libby because Judge Walton will tell them no, the standard for conviction isn't that high, and that will swing the one/several/all jurors who are leaning to acquit under that definition.

My guess is, that note was written in pique to get an answer that can be used to bludgeon a holdout into voting to convict. If you own shares in Libby getting acquitted, sell.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:52 PM | Law 2006-08 • | Politics 2007 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
March 1, 2007
WAR/POP CULTURE: I'm Not A Torturer But I Play One On TV

Kiefer Sutherland is headed to West Point to explain to rabid "24" fans among the cadets that torture isn't OK in real life.

While I remain deeply skeptical - putting aside for a second the moral and legal arguments - of claims that torture is never the most effective way to get information, there's no question from what I've seen (bear in mind I've only started watching the show this season) that 24 way overstates the practical case for torture - Jack Bauer basically never gets any useful information until he starts abusing people, and always gets more (and it's always accurate) when he turns the screws on them. I have no problem with that as a theatrical convention, but the real world is a lot messier.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:00 PM | Pop Culture • | War 2007-12 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
POP CULTURE: Go Vote

FTTW is holding a poll on the funniest film comedy ever.

UPDATE: Of course, I voted for Holy Grail.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:01 PM | Pop Culture | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
BASKETBALL: Have Team, Have Wins, Need Fans

I'm guessing that alumni of places like Duke and Kansas don't get email messages like this one I just received from Holy Cross:

Your men's basketball team is having a fantastic season, and they need your support as they are now just two wins away from another trip to the NCAA Tournament!

The Crusaders are 23-8 after a victory over Lafayette in the Quarterfinals of the Patriot League Tournament on Wednesday night, and now will face American University in the Semifinals this Sunday, March 4th, at 2 PM at the Hart Center.

Unfortunately the academic calendar has the student body -- who have made the Hart Center an unbelievable home court advantage this year -- away on spring break. WE REALLY NEED YOUR HELP! The weather forecast is good so please give some thought to making the drive to Worcester and supporting the team. You can call the ticket office in advance (508-793-2573) or you can buy tickets at the door.

The Crusaders' excellent regular season efforts were well recognized by the League - as senior Keith Simmons won Player of the Year, senior Torey Thomas was the Defensive Player of the Year, and head coach Ralph Willard was selected as Coach of the Year.

But now all that matters is the next two home games. A victory on Sunday would lead to a championship game against the Bucknell/Army winner on Friday, March 9 at the Hart Center . It would be a 4:30 p.m. tip off with the winner guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

We need your support and we hope to see you, and hear you, at the Hart Center this weekend.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:31 PM | Basketball | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Let's Play To...46?

Bleed Cubbie Blue has a lengthy and interesting profile of Ernie Banks, rated #1 on the site's list of the 100 greatest Cubs of all time. Via Geoff Young at Knuckle Curve. This part is very intriguing:

Ernest Banks was born in Dallas on January 31, 1931. Or maybe he wasn't -- in the last few years, some unconfirmed research has indicated that he might have been born on that date in 1925. Ernie's mother is still living, aged 95, and perhaps the birth date was altered in order to save her the embarrassment of people knowing she had given birth at age 19.

If Banks actually was six years older than believed, that changes the story of his baseball career considerably. Banks was signed by Buck O'Neill of the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues in 1949, was in the Army in 1951-52, and became a major league regular in 1954. If you believe his current birthdate, he was 18 when he started playing pro ball, 21 when he got out of the Army and 23 when he became the Cubs' everyday shortstop, so neither the slow pace of integration nor his military service really cost him much of his productive years in the majors. O'Neill said he didn't really showcase his power until he returned from the military. Then again, once he had a full season to adjust to major league pitching he became a monster, smacking 44 homers at age 24 in 1955 and probably being the best player in a talent-rich National League between 1955 and 1960. But in 1961, at age 30, he moved to first base due to knee injuries and spent a long coda as a league-average hitter at first base. Thus, Banks is recalled as a guy with a long career but a short prime (more on that here in my Hall of Fame middle infielders column).

But replay that story for a Banks born in 1925, and you have a man who was already 22 when Jackie Robinson broke the color line, 24 when he was discovered by O'Neill, 26 when he got out of the Army and 29 when he finally got a regular major league job. That's a guy who lost a lot of productive years, and could well have hit 600+ home runs if not for the artificial barriers of segregation and mandatory military service. It's also a guy who was 36 already when he moved to first base, plenty old enough to be getting out of the middle infield, and was 44 when he had his last 100 RBI season in 1969 (it also means Leo Durocher sent a 44-year-old man out there to play 155 games in a tight pennant race, which would explain still further why Banks, who had 15 homers and 79 RBI at the All-Star Break, batted .233/.391/.281 with 8 HR and 27 RBI in the second half that season, including .208/.333/.245 in September - come to think of it, that was a bad idea even if Banks really was 38).

Anyway, it's an intriguing question about a guy whose career really hasn't had a lot of detailed examination. But there's a lot more interesting stuff in the profile besides the age issue. Read the whole thing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:20 AM | Baseball 2007 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)