"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
October 31, 2009
LAW: For My Next Witness, I Call Mr. Peanut
From AmLaw Daily, a classic Halloween tale of sexual harassment litigation. Worth reading the whole thing, but this is undoubtedly the highlight:
Cognex and its CEO, Robert Shillman, retained Lukey, and she sat in on what she remembers as a six-day deposition of Shillman. That's when the case took a bizarre turn. Shillman--known for his sense of humor and his devotion to Halloween, Lukey says--wore a different Halloween costume to each day of his deposition. The get-ups included a priest costume (complete with garlic necklace to repel vampires) and, most memorably for Lukey, a full Mr. Peanut costume, top hat and all. One problem: The hat made the costume top-heavy, and Shillman at one point toppled out of his chair when he tried to lean back, Lukey says.
October 29, 2009
HISTORY: Ivory-Tickly Dick
BASEBALL: Pedro Ehmke?
Friend of the site Dr. Manhattan asks whether Pedro Martinez is a candidate tonight to do to the Yankees something like Howard Ehmke famously did to the Cubs in the 1929 World Series. As you may recall, Ehmke - a 35-year-old pitcher who started just 18 games in 1928 and 8 in 1929 - was sent by Connie Mack to scout the Cubs for the last several weeks of 1929, and then pitched a surprisingly dominating game against them in Game 1 of the 1929 World Series. Pedro, of course, hasn't had nearly as long to know who his opponent would be, and the Yankees won't be surprised to see him, but otherwise there is some similarity: Pedro started just 9 games this season, and his 2-hit, 7-shutout-inning performance on October 16 against the Dodgers is his only appearance this month. So he should be fresh, rested and have a well-thought-out game plan to attack the Yankees. Downside is that Pedro in recent years has struggled to be sharp in the first inning, which could be a real issue for a guy who hasn't pitched in almost two weeks.
I won't make any prediction. Generally, the home team that loses Game 1, unless it's noticeably the inferior team, is a good bet to win Game 2; on the other hand, the pressure will be all on the Yankees tonight, and that's the worst time to face a crafty speed-changing veteran with nothing to lose. At any rate, Pedro's return to the Bronx will undoubtedly be tonight's spotlight storyline.
As for last night's game, not much to add besides the obvious: Cliff Lee dismantled the Yankees lineup. It really had to be a fairly rough game for Indians fans to watch their two best pitchers facing each other in the Series.
October 28, 2009
BLOG: Quick Links 10/28/09
*Josh Painter looks at how the latest financial disclosure forms tell the story of the intense financial pressure put on Sarah Palin by the stream of bogus ethics complaints filed by left-wing bloggers, culminating in the complaint that prevented her from accessing funds raised for her legal defense. It certainly makes a compelling case why an ordinary person in Palin's shoes would step down rather than be driven under by the expenses. Whether that's enough to absolve her as a potential presidential candidate is another matter; we tend to expect potential presidents not to act like ordinary people. Of course, most politicians would have escaped the mounting debts by writing a book or giving speeches for money, but Palin may have felt, not without reason, that any such activities while serving as governor would lead to further ethics complaints that would tie up those sources of income as well. Meanwhile, Melissa Clouthier looks at a CNN poll finding 70% of the public currently thinks Palin unqualified to be president.
I'm not picking a horse for 2012 yet, nor will I until after 2010. It's unclear if Palin will run, anyway. I do know a few things. One, for reasons I've been through many times, I'd much prefer to support a more experienced candidate - we're not the Democrats, after all, who have permanently forfeited the right to say anything on this subject by backing Obama - and the fact that people in my position are even open to Palin at all at this juncture is a sign of the weakness of the field so far. Two, Palin has proven to be extraordinarily effective at retaining the public's interest and even at exercising her influence as a guerilla opposition leader armed with nothing more than a Facebook page; by mostly absenting herself from the public eye except for Facebook and a few op-eds and obscure speeches, she's kept 'em wanting more (witness the explosive early pre-orders for her book, which non-fiction publishing people viewed as unprecedented), while still driving the public debate (i.e., "death panels"). But the Newt Gingrich experience is vivid proof for Republicans that effective guerillas don't always make good leaders when they come into power.
Whichever way Palin chooses to go, the book tour (including the appearance on Oprah, who is naturally hostile but not really accustomed to tough interviews) will be a sort of second coming-out for her on the public stage that will be critical and should reveal whether she has spent well her time out of the limelight in terms of boning up for future policy debates. We'll be able to assess her future much better in a few months.
*Meanwhile, a man to watch if he gets persuaded to run is Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. (H/T) I'll have more on him another day...upside: Daniels is serious, tough-minded, won re-election in Indiana in 2008 (while it was carried by Obama) after being given up for politically dead in 2006 (when his low approval ratings were blamed as a cause for heavy GOP House losses in the state, paralleling a similar trend in Ohio and Kentucky). Downside: Daniels is as yet reluctant to run (recall how well that worked out with Rudy and Fred), and as a public speaker he's dry as dust.
*The Democratic circular firing squad over health care continues. And Jay Cost explains why the continuing threat to Lieberman from the Left has made it politically necessary for him to oppose the public option.
*Dan Riehl looks at how the GOP made the disastrous decision in the Congressional race in NY's 23d district to nominate Dede Scozzafava, who now seems likely to finish third in that race. Meanwhile, Newsbusters notices that the NY Daily News still refuses to acknowledge the existence of Doug Hoffman, the Conservative candidate in the race. Jim Geraghty is unsparing on the folly of Newt's continuing support for Scozzafava.
*George W. Bush, motivational speaker - without a teleprompter. The WaPo seems astonished that a man who won something on the order of 110 million votes in two national elections is actually a decent speaker. Key quote from Bush: "It's so simple in life to chase popularity, but popularity is fleeting."
*Naturally, he's retracted it, but you can't top Anthony Weiner's initial assessment of Alan Grayson as being "one fry short of a Happy Meal."
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:48 PM | Blog 2006-13 | Law 2009-13 | Politics 2009 | Politics 2012 | Pop Culture | Comments (19) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Science And Its Enemies On The Left, Part I
Liberals have dined out at length in recent years on the charge that the Bush Administration and the cultural Right spent the Bush years engaging in a "war on science." Since political power passed to the Democrats, President Obama has practically dislocated his shoulder patting himself on the back for "restor[ing] our commitment to science". But power in the hands of the Left is no boon to science. Quite the contrary.
Whatever one thinks of the validity of the "war on science" charge against the Right, the threats to scientific integrity and scientific progress from the Left are numerous, and they are very real. In this three-part series, I'll consider six major species of dangers to science and the role of the Left (inside and outside of government) in promoting them.
I. Junk Science
While definitions of science differ, most of us learned in grammar school and high school the basic concepts. Science is, as Karl Popper famously defined it, the testing of falsifiable propositions. In other words, you start with a hypothesis that seems to be supported by certain facts, but that would be proven false if certain other things happened, and you test to see if you can make those things happen. The process of experimentation - whether by laboratory experiments, statistical regressions, archaeological digs, or myriad other methods of testing hypotheses about past events or present processes - can take a variety of forms. But the mental approach to science should remain common: the scientist, being human, may seek a desired conclusion, but is expected to use a method of testing for the truth that keeps the finding of truth always as its ultimate goal (wherever the chips may fall). Perhaps more importantly, the process must be transparent in its methods, so that later researchers can replicate the method to ensure that the same test in different hands produces the same result. Scientists, to be scientists, must never say "trust me, I'm a scientist" or "I'm a scientist, don't question my work," and must never demand acceptance of theories that cannot be put to a test they could fail; they must share information and accept correction with a spirit of collegial search for a common and provable truth.
Those are the ideals; humans, being human, often fall short of them. This shouldn't shock us, but we should see the failures for what they are: bad science.
Probably the most pervasive cause of bad science, and one in which the Left and its component interest groups are heavily complicit, is junk science. Junk science is, broadly speaking, opinion or outright deception masquerading as science, for the purpose of persuading people of something that's untrue, unprovable or at least unproven. Junk science shows up in many places, but is most frequently encountered in the courtroom, and its motives are often more or less baldly about money.
The proliferation of junk science in the courts is notorious and widespread, and while the federal courts in particular have tried to crack down on it since the Supreme Court's 1992 Daubert decision authorized trial judges to act as 'gatekeepers,' the job of keeping junk science away from juries falls mainly to individual judges who may not necessarily have the scientific training themselves to spot all the charlatans. Much of modern litigation turns on expert witnesses of various stripes, from products liability experts to economists, and a good many of these are effectively professional testifying experts. That, in and of itself, need not be a bad thing; just as with lawyers, there are many honorable and principled professional experts, but many lazy hacks and cheap scam artists as well. Every lawyer knows that with enough monetary incentives, you can eventually find someone with a couple of degrees to say almost anything if you're not picky.
The personal injury plaintiffs' bar - one of the Democrats' core constituencies - is by far the most notorious offender in this regard. The incentives for junk science are especially powerful on the plaintiffs' side, since a novel scientific theory, in and of itself, can create from whole cloth an industry that will use governmental power to transfer millions or billions of dollars of wealth (a defendant can lose the battle of the experts but win a case on another basis, but a successful plaintiff must have an expert). There's an awful lot of money to be extracted through the use of junk science. It is no accident that it is customarily the plaintiffs' bar that resists efforts to have judges take a more active role in screening expert witnesses to determine the reliability of their processes. Asbestos litigation alone has produced more scientific scandals than one could possibly recount. Consider as a sample studies of vast disparities in diagnoses of asbestosis by unaffiliated and plaintiff-affiliated physicians. The Wall Street Journal has exhaustively catalogued the use of junk science to perpetrate a massive products liability fraud against Dole Foods in Nicaragua. The list could go on and on. Michael Fumento explains a typical example from the silicone breast implant litigation:
Consider the case of Dr. Nir Kossovsky of the UCLA, an inventor of one of the types of tests the FDA warned against. Kossovsky is one of the best-known critics of silicone implants, has testified at the FDA hearings that resulted in the essential ban on silicone breast implants, and is a regular expert witness for plaintiffs in implant- related trials.
More of the same here.
II. Quackery and Luddism
Another longstanding threat to science is the twin scourge of quackery and Luddism. While there is likewise a lot of money in quackery, and sometimes money in Luddism as well, there is a subtle difference in their genesis. Junk science may be principally driven by the needs of its suppliers, who know what they want to prove and need scientific experts to bend their processes to reach the desired results. But true quackery comes from somewhere different: it arises from existing demand, from the needs of people to believe things that science can't supply. Quacks prey on popular gullibility about quasi-scientific-sounding cure-alls, while Luddites (the heirs of the British protestors against the Industrial Revolution) thrive on irrational fears and superstitions about technological progress. The social, cultural and political Left is heavily complicit in both phenomena.
For a good illsutration of what this looks like, David Gorski has an exhaustive look at how the Huffington Post has made itself a haven for the opponents of modern medical science. It's worth reading the whole thing, which details the site's madness for anti-medical and anti-scientific quackery ranging from campaigns against vaccines to enthusiasm for all sorts of bizarre homeopathy, much of which is reflective of the Hollywood culture that pervades the site. The sort of quackery pushed by the HuffPo and its allies includes a lot of traditional junk science as well (for example, plaintiffs' lawyers pushing assaults on vaccine makers in the hopes of hitting a judgment jackpot in court) but the rot runs deeper than that, from the Left's neverending quest for substitutes for religion and commerce and its conspiracy theories about business.
We see all of this at work in the causes the HuffPo flacks for. Parents of children with autism need to blame some evil external force for their children's condition. New Age spirituality fills the gap created by rejection of traditional faiths, and offers the promise of patent-medicine style cures where modern medicine is short of answers. Diet gurus of every kind prey on the widespread chase for the magic weight-loss pill, just as the purveyors of sexual remedies prey on deeper insecurities. Some of these forces go beyond politics, but New Age hokum and hostility to vaccines and other successful products are unmistakably phenomena of the cultural Left. The campaign against vaccine manufacturers has drawn support from icons of the Democratic party:
US senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Chris Dodd of Connecticut have both curried favor with constituents by trumpeting the notion that vaccines cause autism. And Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a scion of the most famous Democratic family of all, authored a deeply flawed 2005 Rolling Stone piece called "Deadly Immunity." In it, he accused the government of protecting drug companies from litigation by concealing evidence that mercury in vaccines may have caused autism in thousands of kids. The article was roundly discredited for, among other things, overestimating the amount of mercury in childhood vaccines by more than 100-fold, causing Rolling Stone to issue not one but a prolonged series of corrections and clarifications. But that did little to unring the bell.
The hysteria - contradicted by numerous peer-reviewed studies - has real consequences:
In certain parts of the US, vaccination rates have dropped so low that occurrences of some children's diseases are approaching pre-vaccine levels for the first time ever. And the number of people who choose not to vaccinate their children (so-called philosophical exemptions are available in about 20 states, including Pennsylvania, Texas, and much of the West) continues to rise. In states where such opting out is allowed, 2.6 percent of parents did so last year, up from 1 percent in 1991, according to the CDC. In some communities, like California's affluent Marin County, just north of San Francisco, non-vaccination rates are approaching 6 percent (counterintuitively, higher rates of non-vaccination often correspond with higher levels of education and wealth).
Left-wing Luddism is also at work in the outright hysteria, especially in Europe, regarding things like genetically modified "frankenfood" and nanotechnology, here at home in the form of fear of nuclear power and food irradiation; in each case the unfocused, irrational fear comes first, and the pseudoscience used to justify it comes later. Thus, despite the sterling safety record of nuclear power everywhere outside the Soviet Union, and its crucial role in the power systems of countries like France and Japan, we have not had a nuclear power plant built in the U.S. since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.
The environmental Left is especially guilty of this sort of thing, creating bugaboos grounded in public fear and ignorance about technology ranging from 1989's notorious Alar scare to 2001's hysteria about microscopic quantities of arsenic in drinking water, to "Gulf War Syndrome." Over and over we see the Left pressing to convince the public that unseen forces of technology and business - from pesticides to power lines - are conspiring to make them sick, and insisting that once such an assertion is made, the burden is on the skeptic of such crazes to produce conclusive scientific proof to the contrary. The process of disinterested analysis of the evidence and testing of falsifiable hypotheses falls swiftly by the wayside. Science itself becomes the enemy. Anyone who spent time wringing their hands over Bush-era policies with any degree of sincerity should find this all deeply alarming.
In Part II: Politicized science and the temptations of power.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2009 | Science | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
October 26, 2009
POLITICS: Dust to Dust
Via Jim Pethokoukis' Twitter feed, Urbanophile has a fascinating look at the depopulation, de facto deregulation, and in some places re-ruralization of Detroit. The pictures tell thousands of words.
I don't buy the idea that cities in general should be broken up in this fashion, but there's a pretty strong case that Detroit is a completely failed polity, a sort of laboratory of modern liberalism run to its natural and logical conclusions, and the fewer people who are held captive to its malignancies, the better.
BASEBALL: Curse of the 9s
Too bad there will be no World Series played this year.
Seriously, this is about the most unpleasant Series matchup I can imagine. I suppose I will pull for the Phillies - they can't really get more annoying by winning another one - but other than tuning in to pull for Pedro, I can't have much enthusiasm for any of this. The only two Serieses I can remember where I had no possible rooting interest were the 1999 Series (Yankees-Braves) and the 1989 Series (A's-Giants). If you'd asked me before the 1989 Series I'd have said I was rooting for an earthquake, so maybe this time I should keep quiet.
One thing I noted: the Yankees have 9 players with 200 or more total bases this season, the Phillies 7; 200 TB isn't a huge number, but since you need to slug .400 or have more than 500 at bats, it's a sign of having some level of stability and/or productivity up and down the lineup (the Mets had 2).
Last night's game got unwatchable after the Angels' 8th inning meltdown on the errors by Kendrick and Kazmir trying to field bunts. I'm sure I wasn't the only Mets fan who watched Kazmir and felt, as with the Braves' deflated performance in the 1999 Series, that it was the ultimate insult to Mets fans.
I still have to wonder, despite his struggles, at the decision not to use Brian Fuentes when the Angels had to hold the Yankee lead to 1 run in the 8th. Yes, you want your closer available on the road if you get a lead to hold - otherwise any lead is a Pyhrric victory - but the game was totally on the line there, and Scioscia ended up using two struggling starters instead of his ace (boy, did the Angels ever live to regret the disastrous year that Jose Arredondo had).
October 23, 2009
BASEBALL: Nails, Bitten
I've complained previously about the absence of close serieses in this postseason, and the Phillies-Dodgers series hasn't done anything to improve that picture. The Angels' rousing 7-6 victory last night, however, offers at least the hope that this series may go down to the wire (a close Game Six would count). This series has already gone further than any of the others.
Carl Bialik in yesterday's WSJ, however, pointed out that the games themselves have been as tight as any postseason in memory: if you add in last night and if you count the Twins-Tigers 1-game playoff, 12 of 24 games this postseason have been decided by 1 run. Only twice in the post-1969 history of multi-round playoffs - and never since the addition of the wild card - has the game seen half of the postseason games decided by one run. Bialik also noted (again, writing before last night):
The Tigers tied the game in the 8th, took the lead in the 10th and lost it in the 12th. Since then, nine of the 20 postseason games - or 45% - have seen ties or lead changes in the 8th inning or later, making for an unusually thrilling postseason. Of 1,232 playoff games before this season, just 307, or 25%, were so close so late.
As Bialik notes, the highest percentage of one-run games (64.7%) is the all-time champion of great postseasons, the 1972 postseason, the last before the adoption of the DH rule. That postseason featured the following:
-All three serieses went the distance.
-11 of the 17 games were decided by 1 run.
-The ALCS featured two extra-inning games, one-run games in the deciding Games 4 and 5, and one of the two Oakland runs in the 2-1 Game 5 victory being scored on a steal of home on which the A's best player (Reggie Jackson) suffered a season-ending injury.
-The deciding Game 5 of the NLCS was won 4-3 on two runs by the Reds in the bottom of the ninth, a game-tying homer by Johnny Bench and a series-ending wild pitch.
-All but Game Six of the World Series between the Mustache Gang Oakland A's and the Big Red Machine were one-run games, and there were four lead changes in the seventh inning or later.
The other postseason with at least half the games (11 of 19, 57.9%) decided by one run was 1991.
October 22, 2009
BLOG: Relatively Entertaining
Another college friend has been blogging on pop culture with her siblings at a relatively newly-established blog entitled "Relatively Entertaining." Check it out, if it's to your taste (it's well-written, although her taste in entertainment is not mine).
POLITICS: Rasmussen Makes It Official: Marco Rubio More Electable Than Charlie Crist
A new Rasmussen poll knocks the props out from the main argument why conservatives who would prefer to be represented in the Senate by Marco Rubio should nonetheless support Charlie Crist. Crist, his supporters say, has two things going for him: he's going to win the nomination anyway, and if nominated he'd do better in the general election. Certainly nobody would try to convince Republicans with a straight face that Crist would be a better Senator, given his support for the stimulus bill and other Obama initiatives.
Well, there's been a bunch of polls showing Rubio gaining ground on Crist in the nomination fight, but now Rasmussen reports that Rubio would be a stronger general election candidate, as a new poll shows he would beat the leading Democrat in the race, Congressman Kendrick Meek, by 15 points:
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A new Rasmussen Reports survey of Florida voters shows Governor Charlie Crist leading Representative Kendrick Meek by a 46% to 34% margin. In August, Crist led by 19 and in June he was ahead by 21.
Note two things. Number one, while Crist also beats Meek, both men would win handily if the election was held today. That makes the "electability" argument a weak one. Florida is not an overwhelmingly Republican state, but it's still congenial turf for a conservative, and Meek is a liberal Democrat out of step with the kind of moderates who might look like an otherwise difficult sell for Rubio. Rasmussen notes that Obama's approval rating in the state is 42%, so a pro-Obama Republican isn't being pro-Obama out of any necessity.
Second, the trend - Rubio is growing stronger against Meek, while Crist weakens, a trend consistent with their matchup in the primary, as well as with the fact that Rasmussen shows a 10-point drop (from 59% to 49%) in Crist's approval rating as Governor.
And remember: all this is more than a year from Election Day, while Rubio is still lightly funded (his campaign only recently started coming into good fundraising numbers) and relatively lesser known. As Rasmussen notes, the state's voters still haven't developed especially hardened opinions yet as to any of the candidates:
Seventeen percent (17%) of Florida voters have a very favorable opinion of Crist, while 13% view him very unfavorably.
The Crist campaign is all about a balancing act between two disparate narratives: an air of inevitability in the primary and sufficient desperation about electability in the general to get Republicans to turn away from voting for the better man. Neither of those arguments looks good right now. Sorry, Charlie.
« Close It
POLITICS: It's A TARP!
Leaving aside the blow-by-blow of how the voting went down, much of which involved appalling levels of political cowardice and fecklessness, I remain very ambivalent at best as a policy matter about whether I should have opposed TARP instead of supporting it, which I did at the time (the unfolding of events almost always leaves me living to regret taking anything other than the strict conservative position when I do). There's no question in my mind that I would have opposed it if its actual operation had been described and set forth in the bill, rather than what Paulson's original plan was (i.e., the government buying and most likely holding to maturity securities for which there was no liquid market but as to which a large majority were still expected to pay off). And it's still all too easy, as happens with these things, to discount what might have happened without TARP. But certainly the whole experience is an object lesson in the fact that when government gets involved in the economy, it tends almost invariably to (1) shovel money out the door without adequate controls and (2) bring about loads of unintended consequences (in fact, these are also both true to a large extent of more traditionally straightforward government functions like the military and law enforcement; we just live with the mess because those are truly things only the government can do).
October 21, 2009
POP CULTURE: Shine a Light
For your morning music, a duet with Bonnie Raitt of one of the most underrated Stones songs:
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October 20, 2009
Watching Mike Scioscia and Joe Girardi at work last night reminded me of one of the hardest things in managing: doing nothing.
Anybody who has managed anything, even a Little League team or a Rotisserie baseball roster, knows that feeling: you've set your team, things go well, then they start getting tight, and you feel like you need to be doing something. Pull some levers, make something happen. Not just sit there.
But at the end of the day, the manager isn't the players. Sometimes the best thing to do, once all the pieces are in place, is trust the men under your command to do their jobs. Yes, the manager needs his head in the game at all times, be on top of all the options. But that doesn't mean he has to insert himself into every at bat. And in fact, being a leader of men - a significant part of the job - sometimes requires you to convey to them your trust in their abilities.
Hence, the contrast between the two fateful decisions that set up last night's game-winning double by Jeff Mathis off Alfredo Aceves in the bottom of the 11th. On the Angels side, when Mathis doubled to lead off the tenth and then reached third with nobody out on a botched throw by Mariano Rivera on Erick Aybar's bunt, Tim McCarver announced that Scioscia should replace Mathis with the speedier Reggie Willits. McCarver's observation made a lot of sense - it's the winning run on third with nobody out, and the Angels carry three catchers, so even with Mike Napoli out of the game, Mathis isn't the last guy left. McCarver and Joe Buck repeated the point about ten more times the remainder of the inning. But Scioscia sat impassively in the dugout. Scioscia is certainly an active manager - the Angels play a lot of little ball, witness Aybar's bunt - but on this one he made a decision and didn't budge just because he had another more active option. A few times in this series we've seen him do that, just remaining outwardly calm and immobile in the dugout when he could have pushed another button. As it turned out, the Angels didn't score in the inning and wouldn't have with Willits unless he stole home, and Mathis won them the game the next inning.
Meanwhile, the less experienced Girardi - who has been burning through pitchers as if he's worried the'll cut his pitching budget for next season - pulled the righthanded David Robertson from facing the righthanded Mathis after just three batters (groundout, flyout, single), in favor of the righthanded Aceves, who promptly lost the game.
It can be hard for a manager to accept when doing nothing is the better move. Girardi is getting roasted today by the NY papers anyway, but managers always prefer to get criticized for doing too much than too little, since it's the latter criticism that gets guys branded as stupid (I could recite here chapter and verse of what the Boston press did to several generations of Red Sox managers) rather than just overly aggressive. Nobody wants to feel stupid. But sometimes, if you want to win, that's a risk you have to be willing to take.
October 16, 2009
POLITICS: Conveniently Forgotten
One of the things that I confess has stunned me about the Obama era is the extent to which Obama's supporters, after an eight-year orgy of hysteria and rhetorical excess directed at George W. Bush, have been acting stunned and shocked at the intensity of opposition to Obama. There really is a sort of collective amnesia - disnigenuous, presumably, in most cases - about their side's incandescant hatred of Bush.
Anyway, Vladimir over at RedState has a look at one example of this, comparing a Facebook poll on killing Obama to Facebook groups championing killing President Bush, a cause that - if you recall - was even made into a movie. (Related example here).
Somehow, we are to believe that none of this - and believe me, we could go on for days with examples - ever happened.
BASEBALL: About Time
The encouraging thing about last night's seesaw Dodgers-Phillies game is the promise of a tight, competitive series. The pennant races this year, aside from the dramatic and spectacularly climaxed Twins-Tigers race, were all duds, but often that's the price of admission for a great postseason, as superior teams make for dull races. The ALDS and NLDS have been no better, despite some matchups (e.g., Angels-Red Sox) that held out the promise of excellent serieses. But they, too, were flops - some good games, but quickly dispatched. So, here's to finally getting some quality baseball.
October 14, 2009
POLITICS: Rush To Be Suckered
A few followup items on the fabricated Rush Limbaugh quotes story.
*Erick looks at the unsavory rap sheet of CNN's Rick Sanchez, one of the network reporters pushing the made-up quotes (so, unsurprisingly, are MSNBC's David Schuster, Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, although to his credit Olbermann has actually argued that Rush's politics shouldn't stand in the way of his bid for the Rams). I had not known that about Sanchez, who is generally as dishonest as he is smug.
October 13, 2009
POLITICS/FOOTBALL: Climate of Hate and Lies
My RedState colleague Leon Wolf looks at the fabricated quotes being used to smear Rush Limbaugh - seriously, when national columnists like Jason Whitlock are quoting things found only on Wikiquote, there's a problem - as well as Chris Matthews wishing on air for somebody to shoot Rush in the head.
All this out of fear of Limbaugh buying a stake in the St. Louis Rams. What, are they worried that he'd go say something about Obama while accepting a Super Bowl trophy? Oh, that's right, that already happened.
WAR: The Taliban Deal-Breaker
The major decision the Obama Administration continues to procrastinate is whether to continue the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Victory in Afghanistan was, as you will recall, one of Obama's main campaign themes - one he used to convince people that he wasn't the dyed-in-the-tie-dyes peacenik his left-wing record, background and positions on other issues suggested. Under President Bush, America's war aims in Afghanistan were fairly straightforward:
1. Drive the Taliban from power.
2. Destroy Al Qaeda's training and operations bases in the country, while killing or capturing as many of their personnel as possible.
3. Replace the Taliban with a government that was less repressive, viewed as legitimate by the Afghan people, and would not cooperate with Al Qaeda - a step that inherently involved preventing the revival of the Taliban itself, given its Islamist ideology and thorough integration with Al Qaeda.
Step One was accomplished swiftly in the fall of 2001, and Step Two proceeded apace at the same time; Al Qaeda's leadership was never wholly destroyed (its very top men appear to have fled to the Waziristan region of Pakistan), nor completely routed from the country, but its bases were destroyed and its ability to project power from Afghanistan to outside countries was essentially crippled.
Step Three was always the diciest as a long-term proposition; as I wrote in early 2003:
Long-term, we would like to establish a secure government in Afghanistan that will consolidate the victory over theocracy and prevent re-establishment of havens for terror. But if we fail in that aim, as we still may, the war will no more be a failure than it is a failure to weed your garden in spring and, the following year, discover new weeds.
We were never going to create an ideal liberal democracy in Afghanistan, given its combination of (among other things) tribal warlord culture, illiteracy and poverty, but without going into the whole 8-year blow-by-blow, the Karzai government has by and large held together in one form or another for 8 years as a mostly-willing ally against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Recently, however, especially since Al Qaeda's activities in Iraq have been winding down, the Taliban has been gaining more of a foothold, requiring the U.S. to face a choice: step up its own presence, or stand down and allow the Taliban to take its best shot at regaining power.
Now, Obama is putting up trial balloons about giving up on the whole project and accepting the Taliban returning to power as a fait accompli before it has even become one (passively allowing conditions on the ground to worsen and then accept the results as inevitable is Obama's go-to foreign policy move). But Allahpundit asks one crucial question we need to put to the Taliban to test whether or not it's completely insane to do this:
Ask them to tell us where Osama, Zawahiri, Abu Yahya al-Libi, and the rest of the gang are hiding; if Omar and the Quetta Shura don't have that information instantly available, they should be able to get it pretty quickly. Then they pass it to the Pakistanis and the Pakistanis pass it to us and the rest is left to the generals and drone operators....And if the Taliban refuses his demand, whether for reasons of jihadist loyalty or Pashtun hospitality, then there's your proof that they can never, ever be trusted not to host AQ if we leave them alone in Afghanistan.
We know the answer to that, and presumably so does President Obama. Bill Roggio explains at length why this would never happen, detailing the loyalties and operational integration of Al Qaeda with the Taliban and noting the obvious fact that a U.S. bent on leaving Afghanistan has a lot less leverage than one bent on entering it:
Mullah Omar would not agree to turn over bin Laden [in September 2001] when he was faced with the prospect of imminent annihilation. Surely Omar will not part ways with the terror master now that his prospects for success are greater than they have been in years.
Now, I'm not 100% opposed in theory to allowing bad actors to become parts of the political process if necessary to end a civil war, for example. But this is not a civil war, as Roggio details (really, you need to read his whole strategic overview). It is - and here is the fundamental way in which Right and Left disagree on this - a zero-sum ideological battle in which a U.S. defeat at the hands of Islamist tyrants cannot possibly be viewed as anything but a catastrophic setback. And acceptance of a resurgent Taliban after 8 years of making war to prevent just that would be understood universally as a defeat. Roggio details how Al Qaeda, as it did in Iraq, plays the sort of role in the Afghan war that the Soviet Union did in Vietnam, treating the locals as its proxies in an effort to demonstrate the superiority of its ideological model over that of the U.S., while providing logistical and other support. Any political accomodation that gives state power to an ongoing Al Qaeda proxy and ideological soulmate is a direct threat to U.S. national security, and needs to be treated as such.
The Left, having largely abandoned its long-held pretense of supporting the war against the Taliban, is busy conjuring up excuses for why victory can't be an option. Some of these are longstanding (Afghanistan is poor and mountainous and disorganized), some more recently stressed (the Karzai government is corrupt, the recent election tainted by fraud - two interesting choices of criticism from supporters of a Chicago machine Democrat to run our own government), but if those weren't the excuses, there would be others. There are always others. The Left palpably ached for another Vietnam in Iraq, and despite a long, bloody and bitter war at great domestic political cost to the Right, in the end it didn't get one - instead of a repeat of the fall of Saigon at the hands of the jihad, an elected and relatively pro-American government still stands in Baghdad, and in one form or another looks likely to endure, even if its form and posture may change as the years go by. The same script is being rolled out in Afghanistan; it will be up to this White House to resist it even as it comes from Obama's own ideological soulmates.
Afghanistan is not Obama's war; it is America's, and those of us on the Right want it to succeed and will, by and large, support its aggressive prosecution under a Democratic president. But the corollary is that just as it's not his war alone to support, it's not his alone to abandon. Obama promised to see this fight through to the end. The Taliban won't do the things they'd need to do to switch sides; they remain committed to defeating us, and only America can stop them. Will Obama keep his promise? Or will he back down from Al Qaeda's unrepentant ally and protector, and treat them as just more guys from the neighborhood?
October 12, 2009
Trivia question of the day: name the winningest pitcher of the decade, 2000-09. Bonus: name the top 10.
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October 9, 2009
WAR: Because Kellogg and Briand Were Not Available
Today's announcement that Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize - having been nominated a grand total of 12 days into his presidency - officially places Obama and the Nobel Committee alike beyond parody. There's no stereotype of liberals they won't embody. Could you possibly come up with a storyline that more perfectly captures the whole idea of Obama - all talk and promises and of course self-congratulation, and nothing to show for it? At least they haven't (yet) renamed the prize after him, but I assume that future winners will be given a framed commemorative picture on black velvet of a shirtless Obama astride a unicorn. This is the most self-evidently ridiculous award since Rafael Palmeiro winning Gold Glove for season when he played only 28 games in the field. The ESPYs are now a more prestigious award than the Nobel Peace Prize.
I can't top Benjamin Kerstein's thoroughgoing vivisection of what this all says about Obama, but let me add a few thoughts of my own.
First, the contrast to last week's Olympic snub is telling. The Olympics would be something of concrete value to the country - small, localized, and dubious value, but at least Obama could have claimed to have brought home the bacon for someone other than himself. That, he couldn't do. But a cash prize payable personally to Obama, and a bunch of gassy generalities about "hope"? Sure thing! Even the international organizations seem to have figured out what Obama deserves and how to placate him when he gets nothing for his country.
Second, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year in office, like promising to roll back the seas, pledging a net reduction in federal spending, promising no tax hikes for 95% of the American public, and circulating those infamous graphs showing the unemployment rate if the stimulus package was passed (hint: it's much higher now than Obama's people said it would be without the stimulus) sets an awfully high bar that Obama is bound to regret setting, for he will inevitably and certainly fall short of it.
Third, even on the Left's own terms, it's hard to see what exactly Obama has produced. The war in Iraq has been winding down since before he was elected, but it's not over. The war in Afghanistan has gotten worse, and the U.S. presence there has escalated. Obama might decide to turn tail anyday now - earlier this week he gave a speech on terrorism that referenced Al Qaeda and multiple locations around the world but pointedly omitted mention of the Taliban or Afghanistan - but as of today, the anti-war movement has zilch to show there either. He hasn't brought an end to rendition, electronic surveillance or indefinite detention, or closed Guantanamo - simply making our policies in those areas more opaque and less effective doesn't count. He hasn't produced anything concrete on "climate change." The only concessions he's won have been from the United States, such as dropping missile defense in Eastern Europe in exchange for an unspecified "hey buddy, I owe you one" from Vladimir Putin. Even the statements of the Nobel Committee were basically an affirmation that he was being given it as a form of social promotion: we hope if we give you the prize, it'll encourage you to get more done.
Unsurprisingly, the most sycophantic reaction comes from Andrew Sullivan. Even Sullivan has to admit the award is "premature," but then goes on to gush that "this is thoroughly deserved" and
Americans ... haven't fully absorbed the turn-around in the world's view of America that Obama and the American people have accomplished.
As usual with such statements, Sullivan bypasses evidence and declines to specify who he means by "the world" - Putin? Hugo Chavez? Al Qaeda? The man on the street in Beijing, who has no political voice? - or what sort of results one would expect to see, if in fact "the world" was more favorably disposed towards the United States. Sullivan then ejaculates:
I hope more see both the peaceful intentions and the steely resolve of this man to persevere.
I'm at a loss to think of even a fictional, hypothetical example of Obama displaying "steely resolve," but whatever gets you through the night, I guess.
This president has done a huge amount to bring race relations in this country to a different place...[the "far right"] know he threatens their politics of division and rule.
Leaving aside what any of that has to do with world peace (Bishop Tutu, he's not), what place would that be? Henry Louis Gates certainly didn't seem to think so. I doubt very much that we're going to see anybody arguing from the Left that any issue of race relations has improved sufficiently under Obama so as to justify an end to race-conscious government policies or policies premised upon arguments about racial inequality. I can predict with 100% confidence that the Left will continue to spend far more time talking about race throughout Obama's presidency than the Right. All that has changed is the benefit to Obama himself of Obama getting elected.
He has also directly addressed the Muslim world, telling some hard truths, and played a small role in evoking a similar movement of hope and change in Iran, and finally told the Israelis to stop cutting their nose off to spite their face.
One could spend weeks unpacking the untruths in this single sentence, a masterpiece of dishonesty and self-deception for which I can only tip my cap to Sullivan. The Cairo speech was, as I have previously discussed, full of at best half-truths and appalling moral equivalencies, Obama's response on Iran was far later and more muted than similar statements on Iranian liberty by his predecessor (and the Iran crisis undercut the whole point of his Cairo speech)...but yes, I'll give him "credit" for disagreeing with the Israeli people and their elected leaders as to matters of Israeli national security. Everybody loves to have Obama lecture them on how he knows best. Oh, and I guess the Israelis aren't part of "the world."
[W]e were facing a spiral of conflict that, unchecked, could have taken the world to the abyss. I see this prize as an endorsement of his extraordinary reorientation of world politics, and as an encouragement to see it through....[T]his is an attempt to tell us: look up for a moment, see how far we've come in pivoting away from global conflict, and give this man a break for his efforts and the massive burden he now bears.
This is hyperbole not on stilts but aloft in a zeppelin, and one can only extend best wishes that Sullivan survives the altitude. And as usual with Obama, it measures his accomplishments entirely by positing an unknowable "but for" world of unimaginable horror, then simply assuming that everything that didn't happen is a positive accomplishment. He's being lauded here for peace "created or saved," the alternative to which is unprovable - the very definition of a faith-based standard of accomplishment. And even on these grounds, Sullivan can't begin to specify what concrete thing Obama has done or will do, since that would open him to having to move his goalposts when reality intrudes in his castles in the air.
Today, we saw the real fruition of Barack Obama's international ambitions. He delivered the one thing he's really good at: accolades and money for Barack Obama.
October 8, 2009
BASEBALL: Looking Back and Forward
BLOG: Quick Links 10/8/09
As is true of the Great Depression, there will probably never be a consensus on the causes of the credit crisis, or at least on what weight to assign to the many various contributing causes. I'm skeptical of any effort to boil it down to just one culprit. But the Left has its work cut out for it in trying to deny that the visible foot of government meddling played a number of significant roles - including the GSEs, the CRA and the Fed's monetary policies. And there is something to be said - as was true in the case of California's electricity crisis earlier in the decade - that half-assed government interference can be even worse than more heavy-handed intervention, when the government unbalances the incentives in a market and cuts off some of the safety valves. A lesson to remember as the next rounds of proposals to ramp up government involvement in virtually everything make the rounds.
*Ben Domenech at TNL has an excellent piece on the Right's institutional failure to fund effective activists rather than bloated think tanks and vanity projects. I know he and I and others on the RedState and New Ledger staffs have beaten the drum repeatedly about the massive financial imbalance of power between the Left and the Right in terms of online and grassroots activism and investigative journalism, but it's not just that they have Soros and we don't (although in the world of funding bloggers, one billionaire can make a big footprint) or that they have the SEIU and we don't; Ben hits the nail on the head as to the dysfunctional structures in place.
*Also a must-read at TNL is Benjamin Kerstein's look from Israel at how and why Obama became so unpopular so quickly there. Add Israel to the list with India, Great Britain, France, Canada, Poland and Honduras (assuming he doesn't succeed in supporting the toppling of its government), among others, where Obama's created real problems with our bilateral relationships. Granted, to a lot of Obama's supporters, being unpopular with Israelis is a feature, not a bug.
October 7, 2009
POP CULTURE: Concert Review: Kelly Clarkson, Without Shame or Reservation*
Last night, my wife and I went to see our (for once, mutual) current musical enthusiasm, Kelly Clarkson, in concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan. I am here to tell you that if you have any interest whatsoever in Clarkson's music, you owe it to yourself to see her live while she's in her prime as a concert performer. There's no other way to put it: Clarkson's voice goes to 11. It's a fun show, it's cheap (our $49 tickets were a fraction of what I'd have had to pay to see U2 or Springsteen again), and there's no substitute for the energy of a performer who's still young (she's 27), at the peak of her talent and still has something to prove. And as I'll discuss below, her live show, at least at this stage of her career, is unmistakably a rock show.
Now, obviously, versatile a singer as she is, Clarkson's music isn't for everyone. There's a reason why people are often a little embarrassed to like her music or describe it as a 'guilty pleasure.' Personally I have a fairly high tolerance for cheesy, as long as the end product is really fun music, real emotion, or both, rather than ersatz, generic Hallmark crapola. Thus, for example, music made by Meatloaf in the 1970s or Aerosmith or Bryan Adams in the 1980s: cheesy, but good. Music made by any of those artists from about 1990 on: makes me want to gouge out my eardrums. And Clarkson is definitely cheesy, cheerfully and unapologetically so; she makes Jon Bon Jovi look like Mark Knopfler by comparison. But she succeeds on both grounds: she makes a lot of fun music, and she pours genuine emotion into nearly everything she sings, even the fluffier pop tunes. I may be an emotional guy, but I'm a grown man and I have well over 2,000 songs on my iPod and more than that in my CD and tape collections, and I can count on one hand with room to spare the songs that still have the power to choke me up a little after repeated listening - but Clarkson's unreleased song "Close Your Eyes" is definitely one of them. Not without reason, she has swiftly surpassed Blondie as my favorite female artist and surpassed - well, nobody - as my favorite young (under-40) artist. As has been often pointed out, she's not just a singer of songs but an interpreter of them, and that talent has matured significantly in the years since her arrival at age 20. And very gradually, she's been accumulating some actual respect for being, basically, a musician's musician, the kind of artist other people in the industry want to work with: veteran performers, including rock warhorses like Jeff Beck, Melissa Etheridge, and Joe Perry, always come away impressed from working with her. Cheesy or not, my own guess is that if Clarkson's voice holds up well enough to have a long career in the business, she'll end up as one of those pop music stars (like Brian Wilson or Tony Bennett) who comes in for a round of more serious later-in-life re-evaluation. But whether that day comes or not, I'm not the type to miss a good show just because it's uncool.
The Ghost of Concerts Past
The concert was definitely a break from my past concert-going habits in two ways: Clarkson's the first female headliner I've seen, and the first who was younger than me. Here's the full roster of previous concerts I've seen, so far as memory (supplemented by Wikipedia) holds:
-Billy Joel, Worcester Centrum (Storm Front tour Nov. 1989) (no opening act)
-Tom Petty, Worcester Centrum (Full Moon Fever tour circa spring 1990) (opening act: Lenny Kravitz)
-Billy Joel, Giants Stadium (Storm Front tour summer 1990) (no opening act)
-Rush, Worcester Centrum (Roll the Bones tour, December 1991) (opening act was a guitar-only guy...Joe Satriani, maybe? Eric Johnson? I think it was Satriani.)
-Meatloaf, Holy Cross College (May 1992) (no opening act I can recall)
-U2, Yankee Stadium (Achtung Baby "Zoo TV" tour, August 1992) (opening acts: Primus and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy)
-Bruce Springsteen, Boston Garden (Human Touch/Lucky Town tour, December 1992) (no opening act)
-Billy Joel, Nassau Coliseum (River of Dreams tour...this must have been December 1993 or January 1994, though I thought I remembered it being later in the 1990s than that) (no opening act)
-Rolling Stones, Giants Stadium (Voodoo Lounge tour, August 1994) (opening act: Counting Crows)
-Harry Connick Jr., Jones Beach (She tour, I believe summer 1995) (no opening act I can recall)
-Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Giants Stadium (Reunion tour August 1999) (no opening act)
-U2, Madison Square Garden (All That You Can't Leave Behind "Elevation" tour, June 17, 2001) (opening act: PJ Harvey)
-Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Giants Stadium (Rising tour circa July 2003) (no opening act)
-Saw Doctors, Irving Plaza, Manhattan (March 14, 2003; reviewed briefly here) (opening act: ex-band member Padraig Stevens)
-Saw Doctors, Hammerstein Ballroom, Manhattan (March 20, 2004) (no opening act I can recall)
That's the full shows I've paid to see (although the Meatloaf show, I believe, was just a few bucks), excluding things like seeing Bruce do a few songs at Rockefeller Center for the Today show in 2007 when he released the Magic album, and excluding cover bands and people like John Cafferty or the Mighty Mighty Bosstones that I've caught pieces of shows by. I've been fortunate: I've never seen a bad concert.
The best show, unquestionably, was the first Bruce show, even though he was playing without the E Street Band (thus: no "Rosalita," although we did get "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town"). Partly that was seeing my all-time favorite artist live for the first time, and it was a classic college adventure: a friend loaned us her car for the drive to Boston on condition that we first dig it out of a foot of ice and snow. But it was also a sensational show: Bruce went on at 8:20 and played past midnight, closing the show when the Garden clocks struck 12 by bringing out Peter Wolf, the lead singer of the J. Geils Band, for a duet of "In the Midnight Hour," after which the crowd screamed for 10 minutes for more encores. After "Badlands," always the emotional high point of any Bruce show, he played a blazing stop-and-start version of "Light of Day" that held the entire crowd in his hand for close to 20 minutes.
The show that sold me the most on a band was the first Saw Doctors show; my younger brother had given me one of their CDs, the Sing a Powerful Song collection, so I knew I'd have a good time, but I was totally sold after that on a whole raft of songs I heard for the first time live - "Tommy K," "Galway and Mayo," "Villains," "That's What She Said Last Night," etc. Definitely another act a lot of people haven't seen, but they're amazing live, and I highly, highly recommend them.
The band that sounded most exactly like their records was Rush. A high-quality, impressive and enjoyable show, but the only spontaneous moment was the fistfight that broke out near my seats. But then, you listen to Rush to think, not to feel, which is different from what I usually look for in music.
Hard to pick the worst. Meatloaf was at the low ebb of his career, on the eve of his mid-90s comeback; that's why he was available for a small-college campus gig. At the time, I was unprepared for the crudity of his stage act, but his voice was tremendous and he performed his biggest hits with verve. The most pot smoke was definitely at the Petty show, the most beer-drinking crowd at the Stones show. The worst crowd was the third Billy Joel show, a Friday night crowd of working adults too worn out to get out of their seats, and that's probably the least-fun of the shows I've seen, but while he wasn't quite as good as the first two times I saw him, it was still a good set.
Unfortunately, I can't say I've never seen a bad opening act. None have been all that great - Lenny Kravitz was pretty good...as for Rush's opening act, my patience for guitar-only guys is pretty limited no matter how technically impressive. The most disappointing opening act was the Counting Crows, who literally were barely audible; they just weren't loud enough to be heard in a huge stadium on a sound system designed for the Stones. By far and away the two worst acts I have ever seen were the two opening acts for U2 at Yankee Stadium in 1992. Primus, a metal band, lived up to their fans' slogan ("Primus Sucks!") by, so far as I could tell, hitting one note and staying there for 45 minutes. I love metal as much as the next guy - Zeppelin, early Aerosmith, AC/DC, Guns n' Roses**, Pearl Jam, even a little Metallica - but these guys forgot that good metal is still supposed to be music. The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy were even worse - granted, I (like probably a majority of U2 fans) loathe most rap anyway, but these clowns' big hit was some song called "California Uber Alles" about - I kid you not - how Pete Wilson, that icon of squishy liberal Republicanism, was a fascist. I'm sure that one goes over real well in concert in the 21st century. The fact that there were two opening acts only added to the atrocity. U2 was great, but they didn't take the stage until around 10:30; throw in gridlock on the Tappan Zee Bridge, and we didn't get home until after 2am.
The Continuing Story....
I thought, after penning an exhaustive profile of Clarkson for The New Ledger back in mid-June, that I was done writing about her, but I confess that I've stayed hooked on keeping an eye on her doings as the perennial scrappy underdog of pop music, the populist pop star who sings what she wants, says what she thinks, and doesn't give a damn about being cool, trendy or fashionable - and watching the ongoing befuddlement of a celebrity culture and music industry that still don't know quite what to make of her. She is, as a result, great copy. She's had an eventful and newsworthy few months since then, being embroiled in a series of increasingly ridiculous controversies, none of her own making (although in a few cases she poured gasoline on an existing fire):
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-In late June, while Clarkson was in Toronto for the MMVAs (Canada's equivalent of the MTV Awards), her longtime tormentor, sleazy gossip blogger Perez Hilton, got in a fracas with Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.i.am after the show in which, in order, (1) Hilton called Will.i.am a "f*ggot," (2) the Peas' manager slugged Hilton in the face, and (3) both Hilton and Will.i.am, being idiots without decent legal advice, immediately recorded video statements about the incident and posted them to the web, in Hilton's case weeping melodramatically. It was believed at the time (but see below) that this was the most awesomely asinine thing ever to happen at a video music awards show. Clarkson was asked at an interview the next day about Hilton getting slugged, and busted out laughing at him and his weepy video, cracking "you're hurtful to children, no one's going to pity you." At a second interview she piled on the scorn: "I've been hit [in the face] before and I didn't make a video crying about it." While a bunch of other celebrities took out their long-festering grudges against Hilton, Clarkson's comments ended up leading most of the subsequent news stories on the incident.
-Clarkson wrote the lyrics and melodies to "Already Gone," the third single off her latest album, to a backing drum/piano/strings track written by OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder; the song is widely believed to be a very personal account of a relationship she had to break off. Unfortunately, Tedder seems to have fallen into the trap of people who are too much in demand too quickly, and around the same time, gave a nearly identical track to Beyonce for a more upbeat ballad called "Halo."*** Halo got released to radio first and became a big hit, leaving Clarkson blindsided and stung by suggestions that she was ripping off another singer. Clarkson revealed in an interview her irritation at Tedder and that her label (RCA) had released the song as a single without her consent. Hilton, still smarting, retaliated with an anonymously-sourced and later-disclaimed blog post claiming that RCA was about to terminate her recording contract over her comments. Adding insult to injury, the director of the video for the song posted on Twitter his anger at RCA for its editing of the video (which Clarkson had injured her neck shooting), which was mysteriously released with the last minute of the song cut off.
-Clarkson's gained a noticeable amount of weight in the past year (not that she's seriously overweight or anything, she just no longer fits the celebrity mold), for which she has received a seemingly endless barrage of mockery from Hilton and other tabloid and internet sources. Unlike say, being a pedophile - which is apparently no obstacle to being honored by the highest levels of our government - sleeping with your subordinates, or abusing drugs, a woman putting on a few pounds is one of the genuine taboos in the entertainment business, for violation of which not only apology but full penance is expected. Clarkson, showing the combination of mulish stubbornness and imperviousness to criticism for which Texans are justly famous,**** has responded (at least in public) by laughing at the criticism, giving interviews loudly insisting that she looks just fine as she is, and generally dressing and carrying herself in a way that suggests that she believes this. Self magazine honored her for her "positive body image" with a glowing cover story in their August issue...but then shot their own storyline in the foot by photoshopping her cover picture to look significantly thinner than she has in some time. The resulting media/blog firestorm over retouching run amok ended with entire segments on Good Morning America and the Today Show in which the magazine's beleaguered editor was confronted with the most unflattering pictures available of Clarkson's current figure. For her part, Clarkson's only peep during the uproar was to post a giggly video of herself playing golf before a show in Montana. The flap ended up making Clarkson something of an accidental hero to overweight women and feminists just by being there - and proving as well that she could take a (metaphorical) punch in the face and not make a video crying about it.
-Clarkson was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award, along with (among others in the same category) Beyonce and country/pop singer Taylor Swift. When the 19-year-old Swift was announced as the winner, rapper Kanye West rushed the stage, swiped her microphone, and announced, basically, that he thought Beyonce should have won, leaving the stunned teenager at the podium speechless and visibly shaken. Clarkson had skipped the show in favor of a Kimmel appearance in L.A., but unloaded on Kanye that night in a profanity-laced tirade on her (rarely-updated) Wordpress blog, calling him "a sad human being" and asking acidly
The best part of this evening is that you weren't even up for THIS award and yet you still have a problem with the outcome. Is winning a moon man that much of a life goal?? You can have mine if it will shut you up. Is it that important, really??
Yet again, Clarkson's pitch-perfect response ended up as the lede in most of the media roundups of celebrity responses to Kanye's idiotic stunt.
Ironically, one event that didn't ensnare Clarkson in controversy was her participation in "Get Schooled," a September 8 Bill Gates-sponsored education documentary that featured Clarkson's keyboard player, Jason Halbert, along with aides to President Obama and LeBron James, and was scheduled on the same day as Obama's controversial address to the nation's schoolchildren (I speculated at the time that Obama's imprudent timing of the speech was designed to coincide with his participation in the previously scheduled Gates special). As it turned out, the segment went back over a prior controversy, focusing on Halbert's and Clarkson's efforts to rework the live arrangement of Already Gone to sound less like Halo.
I hesitate to make this point since it mixes music with politics, which generally ends badly, but Clarkson's summer of controversies cemented for me some of the parallels I'd been contemplating between Clarkson and Sarah Palin.***** Palin, being a politician, is naturally a polarizing figure, while Clarkson, as I explained in my prior profile, is precisely the opposite, and there are other obvious dissimilarities as well. But what they have in common, besides their small-town Middle America backgrounds, competitive streak, general disdain for convention and elite opinion, and preference for trusting their own family, friends and supporters over "conventional wisdom," is that while neither is terribly erudite, both have a natural instinct for cutting to the emotional core of a situation in a way that connects with people on a very basic gut level. It's a talent also reflected in Clarkson's songwriting: her deceptively simple and direct lyrics are never clever or witty or expansive (it's impossible to imagine her writing a song like "Jungleland" or "Tangled up in Blue" or "Sympathy for the Devil"), but somehow never canned or forced either, despite writing largely in a genre (popular songs of love and heartbreak) that's been done to death and is a minefield of cliches. It's harder than it looks to evoke something real and fresh-sounding in few and simple words.
Theater of the absurd aside, we paid money to see Clarkson and hear her sing because live entertainment is what she does best. And it really was a tremendous show, as good as I could have expected. I wouldn't put anybody on the same level as Bruce, I'd rate Clarkson behind U2 - they're U2, after all - and perhaps just a bit behind the Saw Doctors, and it's hard to compare her to the Stones, who on the one hand played a much longer set from a vastly superior catalog of music, but on the other hand were well past their prime when I saw them. But on the whole, I'd compare her show favorably to any of the others I've seen, and like I said, I've seen some good ones. And with the exception of Bruce and the Stones, it was as hot, sweaty, hard-working rock as I've seen.
The downside of the scheduling: I'd thought when I bought the tickets that the show would be wedged between the end of the regular baseball season and the playoffs, and instead I ended up missing most of the Twins-Tigers classic. I tried checking the score on my Blackberry between sets, and a couple of the other guys around me were doing the same thing, but the game was still going when Clarkson took the stage around 9:45.
The Venue and the Crowd
This was the second show I've seen at the Hammerstein, an old-fashioned and somewhat dumpy ballroom that holds about 2,400 people, and was packed to capacity last night (the Saw Doctors show was probably closer to 1,500-2,000 people; I recall there being at least a little breathing room at the back of the ballroom, which there wasn't last night). We arrived 40 minutes after the doors opened and still had to wait on an around-the-block line that felt like the longest line I'd been on since I saw Return of the Jedi the weekend it opened.****** Most of the crowd, us included, was General Admission/standing room/free-for-all, which is pretty unpleasant, to say nothing of being a test of your kidneys. I expect to stand for a whole show, but I don't like having to spend half the show trying to protect my turf against encroachments (I was stuck next to the biggest gay dude I've ever seen, who almost took my head off with his elbow at one point). Between the lack of fixed seats, the floor coated with popcorn and the generally distracting behavior of the people standing next to us (note: don't take pictures of yourself during a song, and don't go running through the crowd during the last song of a concert), the setting left much to be desired. The place was also sweltering, but to some extent that's a good thing for really getting into the full experience of a rock concert. And a small indoor venue can be very intimate: even near the back of the crowd, I was closer to the stage than for any show but the Saw Doctors.
Clarkson's crowd seemed to be dominated by three groups: packs of women, mostly in their 20s; gay men; and moms with teen/preteen daughters. This being a late show on a school night in Manhattan, there were a lot more of the second group than the third (I don't believe I have ever been in a room with so many gay men in my entire life). I don't think I was the only straight man there with my wife, but there were precious few of us.
Concerts usually attract a lot of die-hard fans - the Billy Joel and Saw Doctors crowds certainly knew every word of every song by heart - but only the Springsteen crowd could quite compare in terms of this audience's raw, uncontained enthusiasm for the performer and her music. Between the small, hot room, Clarkson's light show, and the jumping-and-fist-pumping crowd, I seriously felt like I was in the middle of a music video for much of the night.
The Opening Acts
I swore after the U2 show at Yankee Stadium that I'd never see another artist with two opening acts, but Clarkson had them. First up was a Virginia-based band called Parachute that makes music for soap commercials. OK, that's unfair; they apparently sold a couple of their songs to Nivea, a skin-care company, to use in their ads. One of the great things about the YouTube era is that you can check out the opening acts ahead of time so as to be familiar with their songs. I'd gone in with an expectation that these guys would sound something like John Mayer, who I hate for his singing style of running out of energy to finish his sentences hmmmhmbmbmbhmmmm. But they were actually livelier and more rocked-out in person (and really young). Highlight of the set was a cover that did justice to the Beatles' "Get Back," with dueling guitars and a little sax solo. I wouldn't write home about them - the vocalist didn't have a very strong voice - but much better than being compelled to sit through Primus, and they may yet have a future.
The second opener was singer-songwriter Eric Hutchinson, a skinny mop-topped guy in a white suit and plaid shirt who played piano and guitar and seems to be a coming star of sorts. He, too, was better than I'd expected; the clips I'd watched reminded me of Michael Penn, but he had a bluesier sound live, a little bit Traffic and a little bit Supertramp. You could see the escalation in stage presence: Parachute was just a band there to make music, but Hutchinson strode around the stage cajoling the crowd and cracking jokes. And Clarkson's stage presence was something else entirely from his.
The Main Event
You could see the crowd's transformation the minute the speakers started playing Clarkson's traditional entrance music ("You Shook Me All Night Long"), and Clarkson kicked off with "All I Ever Wanted," the title track to her current album and my favorite on the album, a rock-ish song with an R&B/hip-hop beat to the verses and a massive anthem chorus. Even having heard her records and seen concert clips on YouTube, there's nothing to quite prepare you for her voice live. It's the first concert I've been to where I could feel the vocals shaking the floor. The song was basically a big wall of sound crashing over the crowd.
Watching Clarkson's voice at work is a little like watching Pedro Martinez' right arm at work ten years ago: you're amazed by what she can make it do, but there's also a real sense of vulnerability, as it's hard to see how long such a powerful and complex instrument can be wielded by a body scarely large enough to support it (she's barely 5'3"). The downside of the show is that she could only play for 90 minutes, since more than that would presumably be too much strain. Her voice has been healthier on this tour than in the past, but she still had to cancel one show for laryngitis. It's one reason I wanted to see her now, while she still has the full range of tools at her disposal.
One of the reasons why Clarkson's show comes together so well, as well as why most of her songs rock harder live than on the record, is that her band is really good, most notably her guitarists (although the drums really took over on the pop single "I Do Not Hook Up"). She's got two guitarists (one of whom doubles on the violin and backing vocals), a bass player (who's a dead ringer for Peter Garrett), drummer, two female backup singers (one of whom also doubles on guitar), a keyboard player, and on the current tours a DJ and a three-man horn section (sax, trumpet, trombone). I'm a big fan of the idea that horn sections make everything better, and the horns and keyboard give the band a bit of the Jersey Shore flavor - there will only ever be one E Street Band, but it's not a bad model to imitate. The sax solo that opened "Walk Away" live really adds something to the song. A bunch of her songs were reworked live to a harder edge: "Miss Independent," an R&B hit for Clarkson in 2003, is sufficiently jacked-up live that it's not at all out of place when her guitarists kick into the Black Sabbath "Iron Man" riff in the middle of the song. Ditto for "If I Can't Have You," a dance-pop track that seems likely to be the next single off the current album. "My Life Would Suck Without You," a girly-pop record, plays live as a soaring, Meatloaf-ish anthem with the keyboard and horns, as Clarkson sings it in a lower key but brings it up to dizzying high notes. Even "Cry," a maudlin ballad that plays on the record as a country waltz, was redone as a Heart-style power ballad. Of course, it's not just the band that does that, it's also the boom and blare of Clarkson's enormous voice, especially in a small venue like the Hammerstein. In terms of pure rock power, the high points of the show were a roof-rattling rendition of Clarkson's Hell-hath-no-fury-like-a-woman-scorned song "Never Again," and a stirring cover of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army"; videos of both have already been posted on YouTube, so I'll offer those as a sampling:
Seven Nation Army:
Unfortunately, the crowd was nearly still at Seven Nation Army, which she played as the next to last song of the encore. I admit I know only a little of the White Stripes myself, but I was pretty pumped for the song, and would have liked to see a little more enthusiasm; it was really the only song of the night that the crowd wasn't into. Maybe the encore is too late to play a song your fans don't know.
Clarkson's vocal skill and control live is also amazing. I'm not the biggest fan of the ballad "Because of You," and wasn't really getting into it, until she hit the song's signature high note (on the line "now I cry in the middle of the night for the same damn thinggggg...") and couldn't resist getting chills - Clarkson stuck that line so well she had to stop the song to let the applause die down. And her bluesy cover of Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight" has just taken ownership of the song, to the point where it will be a serious mistake if she doesn't get a version of it on her next album. Here's
(Clarkson says she chose to add Walkin' After Midnight to her set because her stepfather used to wake her up singing it, but I wonder if there isn't another unstated kinship with the song: Cline is today one of country's most revered figures, but she originally shot to national stardom in 1957 when she sang Walkin' After Midnight on Arthur Godfrey's TV talent show.)
The setlist was dominated by nine songs from Clarkson's current album (others I haven't mentioned here include "Ready," "Impossible," I Want You," and the reworked Already Gone) and five from her smash hit Breakaway album (also including "Breakaway," an acoustic version of "Behind These Hazel Eyes," and, of course, her signature song "Since U Been Gone"), plus one song each from her first and third albums and four covers, the other two being the blues song "Lies" by the Black Keys (Clarkson is never more in her element than singing the blues) and a sort of medley-mashup of an Alanis Morrissette song ("That I Would Be Good") with the Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody,"******* which I mostly enjoyed despite generally despising Alanis Morrissette. My wife and I were a little disappointed there wasn't room in the list for our favorite of her songs, the Pat Benetar-ish "How I Feel" from My December, her third album. It's a sign of how far Clarkson's come in just four albums that she doesn't need to sing her first #1 hit, "A Moment Like This," or other songs like "Addicted" that are widely known. Probably the most obvious absence from her set is any of the R&B/Motown-style ballads that made her a star in 2002-03; I didn't miss them myself but I can see how people who've been with her from the beginning might.
Visually, the show was a bit more upscale than Clarkson's usual set. She's known for performing barefoot in a vintage concert t-shirt and hideous bell-bottom jeans with only the band behind her, although she had recently added a light-up microphone stand that looks like Darth Maul's lightsaber. Her outfit was mostly the same; feminine vanity is generally no obstacle to her shows, which are all about the music, as Clarkson sweats profusely onstage, unravels any efforts at a hairstyle and generally gets progressively more disheveled as a show progresses. But for the fall tour, she's added a snazzy translucent stage and a wall of lights. I'm not usually a fan of the visuals, since I go to a concert to see and hear the performer (U2's stages have always been overdone, although I'll confess to being impressed by Rush's high-tech laser-light show), but the light show was subdued enough to complement the music rather than distract from it. And whatever the gripes about Clarkson's weight, her performance isn't affected; while she does a few of her ballads sitting down, she spent the rest of the show spinning and bouncing about the stage as if on springs, and she never gets winded.
Clarkson's personality is the final ingredient of her stage show. Her stage presence while performing is commanding; even on a crowded stage, there's never any doubt who the star of the show is. But between songs, she chats amiably and sometimes aimlessly with the audience, at this show going off on one tangent about how she'd had a blueberry shake before the show and didn't want the people in the front row to think she didn't brush her teeth if her mouth was still blue. She's disarmingly down-to-earth and can be quite funny and spontaneous; another of her headline-grabbing incidents this summer was when she plucked a life-size cardboard cutout of Edward Cullen from Twilight out of the crowd and serenaded it. She has the ability to speak to a crowd of thousands, or a TV audience of millions, as if chatting with a group of close friends; flip through any random page of the concert reviews at Ticketmaster and you'll see over and over people saying they felt like she was talking to them personally as a friend. The fact that this is apparently just her natural personality shouldn't obscure what a rare gift this is: if you could bottle it, throw in her seemingly endless reserves of energy and enthusiasm and sell them to politicians or other entertainers, you'd never run out of customers.
Kelly Clarkson and The Future of Rock
While she continues to straddle multiple genres of music, Clarkson today stands as one of a dwindling band of heirs to the rock n' roll tradition, in her case the pop/rock side of that tradition - the Beatles, Beach Boys, Eagles, Blly Joel, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, etc. And one who respects the heritage: she's named Jimi Hendrix's "Red House" as her favorite song from her childhood, and it's her encyclopedic knowledge and enthusiasm about music of all kinds that makes her something of a walking iTunes. While Clarkson's voice would have distinguished her in any era, her music wouldn't have stood out in a 1980s female pop/rock scene that included Blondie, Stevie Nicks, Heart, Pat Benatar, the Bangles, the Go-Gos, the Pretenders, Joan Jett, the Eurythmics, Linda Ronstadt (who was sort of the Kelly Clarkson of the 1970s), Scandal, Bonnie Tyler, even Cher.******** But those days are gone. Few women still make and successfully sell anything that could be called rock, and those that do - Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morrissette, Pink - tend to project such off-putting personalities that it's hard to embrace them. Besides Clarkson, about the only significant female rockers I can think of from the past two decades to avoid that trap are Sheryl Crow and Gwen Stefani, both of whose careers have tapered off some of late.********* The pickings are slim. And really, despite the recent success of the Kings of Leon and Daughtry, the male rockers aren't doing a whole lot better.
Jon Landau, in his historic 1974 Springsteen concert review, declared "I saw rock and roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen." That was 35 years ago, when Bruce was younger and less accomplished than Clarkson is now. Today, it's not clear that rock has a future, and neither Clarkson nor anyone else on the music scene appears a likely candidate to lead a revival.********** But as we await a return from rock's Dark Ages, it's encouraging to see a young, energetic, enthusiastic artist carrying that tradition to the next generation of music fans. In that sense, Clarkson and her band have less in common with Bruce than with how Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) described the Blues Brothers on 1978's Briefcase Full of Blues, recorded at the pit of the last nadir for rock, blues and similar formats:
So much of the music we hear today is pre-programmed electronic disco, we never get to hear master bluesmen practicing their craft anymore. By the year 2006, the music known today as the blues will only be found in the classical records department of your local public library.
So, I'll say it to my fellow straight, male, dads-with-jobs rock fans, without shame or reservation: don't be embarrassed, grab your wife and maybe your daughters, get yourself a ticket and go see Kelly Clarkson.
* - Hat tip to Jonah Goldberg's ode to Budweiser for the title.
** - Yes, I had a Guns n' Roses poster on my wall as a freshman in college.
*** - I noted in my prior column that the track also sounds a lot like the 1989 Aerosmith ballad "What it Takes." My next-door neighbor my freshman year broke up with his girlfriend and played "What it Takes" round the clock for weeks, maybe months. I'd know those opening bars anywhere.
**** - Seriously, this trait is common to more famous Texans in baseball, football, politics, law, business and other fields than I could possibly hope to list here.
***** - And more generally, a point I'd also meant to make back when the All-Star Game passed up the opportunity to do a more fulsome tribute to Stan Musial: that is, our celebrity culture's preference for crazy people and jerks over people who are sane and normal and have their priorities in order.
****** - Memorial Day 1983; we had to wait the duration of an entire showing in sweltering heat.
******* - Use Somebody recently hit #1 on the pop charts, the first song by a straight-up rock band to do that in I don't know how long (a reminder that, however little rock gets a fair hearing on the radio, there's still a great untapped demand for it). But Clarkson's been raving about them for some time.
******** - Even I have my limits to what I'm not embarrassed to do: back in the day, I actually liked one or two of the power-pop-rock songs that were hits for Cher on the radio in the late 80s, but while I have a fair amount of embarrassing stuff on my iTunes, I just can't pull the trigger on buying a song by Cher. Can't do it.
********* - Katy Perry, one of pop's current "It" girls, is arguably rock as well - her songs are largely guitar-driven, and she wrote two of the songs on Clarkson's latest album - but I've caught a few clips of Perry singing live and she is legitimately the worst singer I've heard in 30+ years of listening to music, so tuneless she makes Bob Dylan sound like Pavarotti.
********** - I'm not willing to go as far as Camille Paglia, who declared of Clarkson's song "Irvine" in 2007 that "As long as music of this quality is being made, the American fine arts will revive." But then, Paglia loves being contrarian and embracing the genuine and the unpretentious.
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October 5, 2009
BASEBALL: Hot Streak
Stat of the day: counting the postseason, Mariano Rivera has a 1.91 ERA over his last...974 appearances (242 ER, 1140.1 IP going back to the 1995 postseason).
BLOG: Quick Links 10/5/09
*Is there a bigger example on the web of not knowing your audience than ESPN.com automatically playing video content - i.e., with sound - when you open the page?
*I'm still unclear on why exactly the Twins-Tigers game has to be tomorrow instead of today....I'll have a more detailed post - whether you like it or not - on my Roto team, but I enter that game tied for first place, and if I lose the pennant by one home run or one RBI (both a real possibility) despite having the possible AL MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year on my team, I swear I'm gonna sue Grady Sizemore.
It's been sad watching the direction of Letterman and his show the last few years. I've had progressively less time to watch anyway since I started working for a living, but I'd been a fan on and off for decades. If there's one lesson here, it's that if you wanted to keep an affair secret, you don't take the woman you're sleeping with, put her on air on your national TV show and flirt with her shamelessly. Well, that and a guy who's a producer at 48 Hours shouldn't be dumb enough to think he could get away with blackmailing a public figure. Another glorious chapter in the history of CBS News.
*The Olympics story is pretty much a dead horse at this point, but this American Thinker piece does a bang-up job of dissecting the Obamas' sales pitch to show how it violated pretty much every rule of sales pitches.
*The Washington Post's paid left-wing activist Greg Sargent is proud that the Left is playing the race card on health care - seriously, read this post. Sargent's thesis is that the ad in question is racial code and that that's a good thing. Regardless of what you think of the ad itself, that speaks volumes about Sargent's mindset. What remains less clear is why the Post employs a full-time left-wing activist in the first place.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:54 PM | Baseball 2009 | Blog 2006-13 | Politics 2009 | Pop Culture | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
October 2, 2009
So, as you've probably seen, Chicago was eliminated in the first round of bidding for the 2016 Summer Olympics, despite (I assume despite) President Obama's personal lobbying for the Games.
Now, as a New Yorker, I really would not want the Olympics anywhere near my city, and the Olympics don't exactly have a grand history of making money for the host city (ask Montreal) or necessarily good press (ask Munich), but I take at face value for the moment that Chicagoans really wanted this one and felt it would be good for the city. Certainly great effort and expense was put into the bid, and many hopes seemed to be riding on it.
I'd questioned Obama's priorities in making the trip, but now he has a much bigger problem. It's one thing for the President to make a phone call or two to lend a subtle hand to this sort of effort; that would have been fine with me. But by the President and First Lady both making personal appearances and elevating this to the top news story of the day and a test of personal and national prestige, Obama stood a significant chance of being humiliated, and doing so for what is hard to describe as a critical national interest. Most of us on the Right assumed, whatever we thought of the trip, that Obama would never be fool enough to make it if he didn't already have deals done to get this in the bag for Chicago. Apparently, we overestimated him.
This is why you don't publicly stake your prestige on something that's not (1) hugely important (2) a done deal or (3) ideally, both. All presidents suffer defeats and embarrassments, but you generally don't walk right into one on an issue of purely local importance to your home city. Obama's and the nation's standing in the world can't help but be chipped away by this; the next time he goes jetting off to a summit or some other international event, people won't be so quick to assume that he has all figured out in advance how he's going to get what he wants. That aura, that mystique is a thing of value that the President is supposed to husband carefully for when the nation really needs it. Bush was impotent by the end of his presidency because he'd burned that up, but he had it for the better part of five years. Obama's losing it already.
What a waste.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:11 PM | Politics 2009 | War 2007-12 | Comments (35) | TrackBack (0)
October 1, 2009
WAR: You, Sir, Are No Gordon Brown
It was a simple query: Would Obama also say that the United States will hang tough until the job is done? The press secretary, though, fended it off. And later in the briefing, he commented, "We cannot stay there forever." That is not the Rasmussen position. That means the leaders of the two key forces in Afghanistan cannot agree on their respective dedication to the mission.
Read the whole thing.
BASEBALL: So Much For Help
Since Carlos Beltran returned on September 8, he's batting .306/.404/.441 - not the power you'd like, but not a bad stretch and something to build on entering next season. But David Wright hasn't been helped at all by Beltran's return; he's batting .205/.267/.349.
POLITICS: VAT of Trouble
James Pethokoukis has a rather alarming column adding up signs that Obama may propose a European-style Value Added Tax. All trial-balloon tea-leaf reading at this stage, but at a minimum he definitely identifies a coordinated groundswell among people with the Administration's ear.
A VAT is arguably not as bad as our current system in terms of economic incentives, but (1) it's more insidious politically - people feel the pain of income taxes directly, so they're harder to raise; and (2) it's likely that if Obama did push a VAT, it would be in addition to the taxes we already have. Pethokoukis thinks such a proposal could be an opportunity for the Right to crack open a broader discussion on reform:
Obama wants a VAT? First, it should be part of broader tax reform, including getting rid of capital gains and corporate taxes. Second, it should accompany an Economic Bill of Rights much like Ronald Reagan used to suggest. Its elements: a) a balanced budget amendment, b) a line-item veto, c) a spending limit such as inflation plus population growth, d) and a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate for any tax increases. (Reagan also wanted a prohibition on wage and price controls. That would likely kill ObamaCare.)
Well, it's a nice idea, not that any of that would get done under the current alignment, and not that, say, a balanced budget amendment would even necessarily be a good idea in practice. As he notes, Obama's tax pledges in the long run are unlikely to fare any better than his infamous and wholly insincere promise of a net reduction in federal spending:
Obama's campaign promise to not raise taxes on households making less than $250,000 a year was always considered a joke here inside the Beltway. It's the economic "consensus" - and this was true even before the financial meltdown and recession - that rising entitlement costs would eventually mean a higher tax burden for the American people.
POLITICS: Beyond Parody
That said, I admit it, silly as it is, this cracked me up: