"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
January 29, 2010
POLITICS/HISTORY/POP CULTURE: The Dead
Benjamin Kerstein has an excellent and serious essay at TNL looking at the recently deceased Howard Zinn, the historian of choice for people who didn't like U.S. history and wanted a new one. As he and others have noted, in the final analysis Zinn wasn't even a good Marxist, given his fatalism and view of the conspiracy of the elite as an essentially static and permanent phenomenon.
As to the other and even older writer who died this week, JD Salinger (he was 91; Zinn was 87), I have nothing to say about him personally, but his name and obituaries bring back bad memories. I hated Catcher in the Rye when it was assigned to me in high school; it struck me at the time as the kind of thing adults think teenagers would like to read, but neither its turgid prose nor its whining narrator offered much in the way of entertainment or even a good topic to write a five-paragraph essay about. I suppose the book's durable success suggests that somebody actually liked it as a teen, or at least saw value in claiming to, but not me.
Literature was never my thing - I always preferred history - but I did have a few assignments I liked. The easy one was when my sophmore English teacher gave us a list of possible book report topics, and being a Red Sox fan he included Peter Gammons' book Beyond the Sixth Game. But that's cheating. I loved Julius Ceasar, and enjoyed The Crucible, Macbeth, Hamlet, Bartleby the Scrivener, and Animal Farm (we did that one in seventh grade). Besides Catcher in the Rye, I hated Steinbeck (we read tons of Steinbeck, even his dreary take on King Arthur), A Separate Peace (did that one twice), The Old Man and the Sea, Dubliners, and pretty much anything else that had no likeable characters, no action, no humor and no political intrigue. I managed to avoid taking any English classes in college (thank you, AP exam), but got assigned a bunch of Orwell in my British Empire class, and loved all of it - my Orwell Reader is dog-eared, and I still mean sometime soon to go back and read Down and Out in Paris and London in its entirety (I'd read only a lengthy excerpt focusing on Orwell's time in a Paris restaurant).
January 27, 2010
POP CULTURE: Oedipus, Go Home
ST Karnick notes one of the things that makes "24" and its characters more compelling than so many other TV shows, even in its 8th season : the shows characters may have suffered onscreen or recent offscreen traumas they have to grapple with, but few of them, at least on the good-guys side of the ledger, are driven by some canned backstory about their relationship with their parents (Kim Bauer is obviously an exception, but we've been given ample evidence of the sources of strains between Kim and Jack, including Kim's tendency to get kidnapped by Jack's enemies and her boyfriends' tendency to lose limbs).
Caleb Howe has some fun at the expense of MSNBC's David Shuster - which is admittedly like hunting cows - over Shuster's haste to make partisan hay over the arrest of James O'Keefe at the offices of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, contrasted with Shuster's muted, caution-filled response to Nidal Hasan's mass shooting at Fort Hood.
If you've been fortunate enough to miss the O'Keefe story, he's one of the college-age right-wing gonzo-journalist types who busted ACORN with a string of undercover videos in which he dressed up as a cartoonish pimp and got various ACORN employees to counsel him on things such as how to safely employ underage hookers who were in the country illegally. Anyway, O'Keefe and three accomplices were busted yesterday by federal authorities at one of Senator Landrieu's district offices in Louisiana - two of the others were posing as telephone repairmen and O'Keefe was apparently videotaping them with his cell phone. Left-wingers like Shuster, desperately starved for some good news, went nuts on the story (the media reacted far, far faster to this than they did to the original ACORN story - a response that may be the privilege of advocates on one side or the other, but speaks quite ill of anybody pretending to be an objective mainstream news agency), blaring that this was a conspiracy to plant illegal wiretaps on Senator Landrieu's phones.
If so, that was wrong, illegal and colossally stupid on the part of O'Keefe and his henchmen, ad the potential charges under federal wiretapping statutes are steep, whereas the returns on tapping the main phone line at a Senator's local district office are likely to be slim pickings indeed. The Louisiana Democratic Party was calling this "Louisiana's Watergate," as if Watergate would even have made a list of the top 50 scandals ever to hit the Louisiana Democratic Party, but then the LDP has never been short on chutzpah; liberals were likewise quick to forget their own side's ugly history in this area, ranging from Congressman James McDermott being successfully sued for distributing an illegally intercepted cell phone conversation by GOP leadership, to Sarah Palin's emails being hacked by the son of a prominent Tennessee Democrat, to John Kerry's campaign manager in his first Congressional race (his brother, who still gets jobs from the Democrats) being busted for breaking into an opponent's headquarters.
But unlike the Fort Hood shooting or, say, the recent arrest of former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter on yet another charge of soliciting underage sex, in this case waiting to see what the facts are may actually provide something of a different story. Maybe O'Keefe really is a knucklehead, but Patterico looks more carefully at the arrest affidavit and notes the absence of any allegation that O'Keefe or his accomplices had any bugs or other listening devices on them when they were arrested (although there was a reference to an unspecified listening device in one of their cars several blocks away) - that hasn't stopped major media from headlining the claim that they were caught planting bugs, but then O'Keefe (unlike Hasan) is not the kind of figure who gets "alleged" put in front of charges of his misdeeds. And Patterico at least suggests a possible alternative explanation: that O'Keefe's group may have been trying to get to the bottom of media reports that Sen. Landrieu's phone lines have been too jammed to receive calls from constituents opposed to the health care bill.
Anyway, wait and see. The odds are that O'Keefe's brief career is over and he's headed to jail - which does not a whit to change what he exposed about ACORN, but nonetheless would get him out of the business of running future exposes - but even so, we may yet find out that not all is as initially reported.
SECOND UPDATE: Good Lt. at the Jawa Report elaborates on Patterico's theory and how it may fit with the affidavit. MSNBC has a similar take from law enforcement sources that makes it sound like they were definitely vandalizing the phones:
[T]he men, led by conservative videomaker James O'Keefe, wanted to see how her local office staff would respond if the phones were inoperative. They were apparently motivated, the official says, by criticism that when Sen. Landrieu became a big player in the health care debate, people in Louisiana were having a hard time getting through on the phones to register their views.
BASEBALL: Nothing Doing
For the most part, the recent signings of Joel Pineiro with the Angels and Jon Garland with the Padres is good news for the Mets, as both were rumored to be on Omar Minaya's radar, and neither seems a reliable option. Pineiro, 31, is coming off a good year under Dave Duncan's tutelage in St. Louis, but 0.5 HR/9 and 1.1 BB/9 are the kinds of microscopic rates that are hard to sustain every year - the fact is, Pineiro has a 4.97 ERA over the past five seasons for a reason, and 4.9 K/9 in that period is a big part of that.
Garland is more useful, since he's tremendously durable - he's started 32 or 33 games 8 years in a row, during which time he's averaged 205 innings per year - but he, too, hasn't cracked 5 K/9 since 2003. With Pelfrey already in the rotation, adding another very low-K pitcher would probably put more strain on the Mets defense than it already faces.
The failure to sign Ben Sheets, snapped up by Billy Beane and the A's, is more depressing. Sheets' injury record is pretty grim - he averaged 21 starts and 135 IP from 2005-2007, and after a solid comeback in 2008 he missed all of last season. And Sheets' K rate has also tailed off with the years, to around 7 per 9 innings. But when healthy, Sheets is a legitimate #2 starter, and would represent a genuine upgrade.
Still, avoiding the dumb moves is progress, at this point.
UPDATE: I should add that I have very mixed feelings about John Smoltz. On the one hand, Smoltz pitched far better than his 6.35 ERA would suggest - 2.1 BB/9 and 8.4 K/9 are both good figures, and 1.3 HR/9 is high but not bad enough to preclude a guy with a 4-to-1 K/BB ratio from being successful; he cut his HR rate more than in half after moving from Boston to St. Louis. On the other hand, all good things come to an end, and a 43-year-old pitcher who has started just 21 games in the past two seasons can't be penciled in to just keep putting up those kinds of numbers week in and week out.
January 22, 2010
BASEBALL: Gary Matthews Jr. Is Back! We're Saved!
On the upside of the Mets' reacquisition of Gary Matthews Jr., Brian Stokes isn't that hard to replace, although he was certainly effective this year, and the Angels are eating $21 million of Matthews' remaining $23 million contract (that's not a misprint).
(Just for the record, Matthews Jr. has batted .266/.336/.418 since the Mets dumped him as a 27-year-old in 2002).
Matthews can maybe sorta play center field better than Angel Pagan, and even in a crummy season last year he walked enough to keep his OBP at a non-damaging .336, and with Carlos Beltran's status up in the air, Fernando Martinez needing more minor league seasoning and Jeremy Reed cut loose, the Mets could probably use a little more outfield help. But Matthews is still not much of an upgrade, if at all, on Pagan; he's 35 and has batted .248/.325/.383 over his three seasons as bane of the Angels.
Not a terrible move, but symptomatic of Omar Minaya's defective thought process and lack of imagination.
POLITICS: "The White Man Calls It Romaine"
Imagine that as a young and desperately poor Mexican man, you had made the dangerous and illegal journey to California to work in the fields with other migrants. There, you performed stoop labor, picking lettuce and bell peppers and table grapes; what made such an existence bearable was the dream of a better life. You met a woman and had a child with her, and because that child was born in the U.S., he was made a citizen of this great country. He will lead a life entirely different from yours; he will be educated. Now that child is about to begin middle school in the American city whose name is synonymous with higher learning, as it is the home of one of the greatest universities in the world: Berkeley. On the first day of sixth grade, the boy walks though the imposing double doors of his new school, stows his backpack, and then heads out to the field, where he stoops under a hot sun and begins to pick lettuce.
POLITICS: NOW to Democrats on Health Care: "Women will be better off with no bill whatsoever."
On this dolorous anniversary of Roe v. Wade, there can be no stranger bedfellows for pro-life conservative Republicans than the hard-line pro-abortion group the National Organization for Women (NOW). But as the last Democratic hopes fade for passing Obamacare on a party-line vote by ramming the Senate bill through the House unchanged - the only way, short of rewriting Senate procedures, to avoid another Senate vote that would fail the 60-vote threshold - the Senate bill is coming under withering fire in the House from both sides on abortion, and in a delicious irony, NOW may end up delivering the coup de grace.
Already, pro-lifers are a problem; the House bill passed only with a 3-vote margin for error, down to 2 with the resignation of Robert Wexler, and the watering-down of the pro-life Stupak Amendment in the Senate bill has lost the vote of Bart Stupak and most likely the bill's lone Republican vote, pro-lifer Joseph Cao. Passage in the House would only be possible if some "no" votes turn to "yes," and Nancy Pelosi sure doesn't sound as if she has the votes in the face of the voter unrest that sent Scott Brown to the Senate.
But even the watered-down Senate provisions on abortion are enough for NOW to vow not only to kill the bill but excommunicate anyone who supports it:
[T]he nation's leading womens' rights group blasted the legislation as "beyond outrageous."
If that wasn't harsh enough, O'Neill went after the integrity of the process:
O'Neill ripped the "the closed door negotiations" that many believe took place in the shaping of the bill, saying that "people want transparency."
Oh, and the long knives of identity politics are out for Ben Nelson and Bart Stupak:
The NOW president said the "male-dominated Democratic Party" is not doing women any favors by bringing in anti-abortion zealots," slamming Nelson and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), who amendment to restrict abortion coverage in the House health bill passed minutes before the final vote.
Never thought I'd say this on a 22nd of January: welcome aboard, NOW.
Pass the popcorn.
POP CULTURE: Atlantic City
Your moment of Bruce: a more uptempo live version of Atlantic City than usual, from a Parkinson's benefit show - and yet another reminder that while Springsteen's voice may be awfully gravelly these days, he's at his peak now as a guitarist:
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Bonus: Code of Silence:
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January 21, 2010
BASEBALL: Idiot Wind
Patrick Sullivan at Baseball Analysts fires back in an ongoing war of words with Murray Chass and Dan Shaughnessy, the fossilized deans of sportswriting at the NY Times and Boston Globe, respectively (all he needed was Bill Plaschke of the LA Times for the trifecta). You have to read Chass' article to believe it.
A reminder, if one were needed, that the sports sections of those papers are as bad as their news sections.
POP CULTURE: Served Cold
January 20, 2010
POLITICS: Seven Lessons From The Brown Bombshell
You can't throw a rock in the blogosphere without hitting a postmortem on Scott Brown's decisive defeat of Martha Coakley for the Massachusetts Senate seat formerly infested by Ted Kennedy and, before him, JFK himself. I may as well add my own. Here are seven lessons to be drawn:
1. Defeat Has Many Fathers: There's an awful temptation to spin the vote for Brown as the result of this cause or that - Coakley was a terrible, gaffe-prone candidate, Brown was a good one, glamourous and hard-working, Democrats were caught napping, voters were upset about Obamacare, voters were spooked by the Underwear Bomber, the special election was strangely timed, the enthusiasm gap, the poor track record of female candidates in Massachusetts, etc. But the fact is, it had to be all of them.
Look: In the past three decades, Republicans have won zero Senate races in Massachusetts but have won the Governorship four times with three different candidates. Bill Weld got 50.19% of the vote when he was elected in 1990, Paul Cellucci 50.81% in 1998, and Mitt Romney 49.77% in 2002. (Weld got over 70% of the vote when he was re-elected in 1994). Brown beat Coakley 52-47, meaning that he had the best showing by a non-incumbent top-level statewide Republican in decades. For contrast, in 2006, Deval Patrick carried Massachusetts 56-35, a 21-point margin. In 2008, Barack Obama carried Massachusetts 62-36, a 26-point margin. In other words, the electorate swung 26 points from the 2006 Governor's race and 31 points from the 2008 presidential race. To illustrate:
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And turnout was very, very strong for a special election - there were 2,249,026 ballots cast compared to 2,219,779 in the 2006 Governor's race, a regularly scheduled election (2,165,490 votes were cast in that year's Senate race). A special election on a cold day in January outdrawing an Election Day race is surely a sign of an energized and plugged-in electorate, especially in a state where a vast proportion of the population is college students, many of whom were returning from winter break just before or after the election. Brown's showing was so strong and turnout so high, he actually got more votes (1,168,107 to 1,104,284) than John McCain did in a presidential election year (when 3,048,438 votes were cast).
A swing that huge can't be, and never is, explained by only one factor. Jim Bunning's re-election campaign in 2004 was every bit as disastrous as George Allen's and Conrad Burns' in 2006, but a favorable environment saved Bunning, while a hostile one helped sink Allen and Burns. Here, similarly, it took a bad environment to make Coakley vulnerable even with all her gaffes and blunders.
So, let the condemnations of the Coakley campaign go on, especially how inexcusably she was caught off guard even after Republicans wrested the Governor's races in Virginia and especially New Jersey out of Democratic hands - even if you ascribed those races to poor candidates, that was no reason to think you could safely be a poor candidate.
On the issues, it's also been overlooked the extent to which Brown made inroads by pounding Coakley on national security, an issue that suddenly returned to prominence after the Christmas Day arrest of the Underwear Bomber. Brown's campaign believed that this was an under-discussed factor:
Scott Brown's top strategist, Eric Fehrnstrom, told reporters this morning that Brown's demand that terror suspects be tried outside civilian courts had proven a more powerful issue than health care in the Massachusetts senate race.
Contrasted to Coakley, who claimed in a debate that there were no terrorists in Afghanistan (not long after the suicide bombing there that reportedly killed several CIA agents) and later griped that she'd had to take too dovish a stance on the Afghan war to survive the primary, At a minumum, Brown succeeded in drawing a contrast on national security without suffering any appreciable damage for taking basically the Dick Cheney position. (The one exit poll taken by a Republican polling firm showed higher voter support for President Obama's position on Afghanistan - a position more hawkish than Coakley's - than Obama's overall approval rating).
All of that said, it's positively insane for pundits to ignore the fact that a Brown victory would have been impossible, no matter how inept Coakley's campaign, without widespread voter concern - reflected in national polls for months now - that the national Democrats were headed in the wrong direction on health care and on the size of government. Michael Moynihan at Reason had probably the best roundup of anecdotes on this trend:
I have spent the past few days talking to union members, former Democrats, current Democrats, Kennedy voters, former Deval Patrick enthusiasts, and gay rights campaigners who are - as almost all of them say - Scott Brown supporters worried about the "explosive growth of government." All natives of the commonwealth and reflexively Democratic, they kvetch about spending, taxes, and health care. As one member of a pipefitters union told me, "none of the guys in my union trust that Obama won't hit us with that 40 percent health care tax."
Fifty-two percent of Bay State voters who were surveyed as the polls closed said they opposed the federal health care reform measure and 42 percent said they cast their ballot to help stop President Obama from passing his chief domestic initiative.
The fact that many of these voters expressed approval of Obama - 55% - may provide some comfort to the president personally, but it's of no use to anybody else trying to defend votes in favor of his agenda.
The reason for this is that Obama and the national Democrats have tried to push the electorate too far too fast in the direction of radical changes to domestic policy even for the voters of the Northeast. One meme emerging on the Left is that Bush was vastly more effective in getting legislation passed with fewer Senators than Obama - but if you look at the extensive record of Bush's first term, as well as the more modest record of his second, what do you see? You see tax cuts, but as Reagan and Clinton illustrated, Presidents usually get their way on tax policy, and the next guy gets his own crack. You see a lot of action on foreign policy and in some cases (the Patriot Act) domestic national security policy, also an area where the country traditionally expects Congress to do what the President wants. You see a battery of bipartisan, centrist or neoliberal legislative actions that nobody would rightly call conservative priorities - No Child Left Behind, McCain-Feingold, Sarbanes-Oxley, the Medicare Prescription Drug bill, the bankruptcy bill, the creation of the Homeland Security Department, various horrible farm bills (Bush's failed immigration bill would have fallen in this category). And you do see a few conservative priorities with broad bipartisan support - the partial-birth abortion ban, the Class Action Fairness Act.
But what of agenda items as large and ideologically divisive as Obamacare, cap and trade or the stimulus bill? Social Security reform never got proposed, let alone voted on. School choice was dropped from NCLB. Drilling in ANWR never passed. Bush never even tried to enact deep budget cuts of any kind. If Bush was better at attracting bipartisan support, it's because most of his agenda wasn't the kind of overreach that Obama's is.
The supporting evidence backs up the exit poll on the Brown voters's unease at all this. Multiple polls up to the election - polls that had Brown in the neighborhood of his final margin of victory - showed Brown winning around the same proportion of independent voters (about two-thirds) as Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey. The consistency of those numbers across different states certainly suggests a broader trend than just the incompetence of Democratic candidates (although it may be especially pronounced in states with unpopular Democratic Governors).
The turnout for this election under these circumstances also compellingly suggests that the voters understood perfectly well the stakes, endlessly repeated in the media - that a Brown victory would put an end to the Democrats' carte blanche ability to pass health care and other legislation without making any compromises needed to garner Republican support, and that in particular the health care bill would probably be doomed if Brown won. People may make their minds up about which candidate they like better for a variety of reasons, but nobody drags themselves out of the house in the middle of January to go vote just because one candidate is a good-looking guy with a truck and the other one thinks Curt Schilling's a Yankees fan. We can quote chapter and verse on the polls all day, but the turnout of 2.2 million people speaks more eloquently than any poll. This election mattered, and the voters treated it as if it did.
The results will be debated at length, but it's impossible to square the massive size of the turnaround in perhaps the nation's buest state with the idea that the only people concerned about the growth of government are right-wing nutcases.
2. Of RINOs and Tea Parties: One of the underrated factors in Brown's victory was the unanimity of his support from the Right to the center-right. Brown is a moderate Republican of the type who'd draw a primary opponent, and deservedly so, in a state like Utah or South Carolina. Among other things, he's pro-choice and supports the state's Romneycare health plan, and analyses of his voting record showed him to the left of his other GOP colleagues in the Massachusetts state Senate. But unlike the state legislators who ran in special elections in New York's 20th and 23d Districts, Brown drew the united and enthusiastic support of conservative Republicans and "tea party" groups. Why? Partly due to the stakes and symbolism in the election, and partly due to a willingness to tolerate almost anything for a win in Massachusetts - but also because despite Brown's moderation, he was with the Right on opposing the Big Three prongs of Obama's plan for metastatic growth of federal spending and regulation. He vowed to filibuster Obamacare, albeit arguing against it in good part on federalism grounds. He blasted "cap and trade" as an unaffordable tax hike. And he tore into the stimulus, arguing that the stimulus "didn't work" while calling for a spending freeze, and warned that the stimulus money could be a crutch to prevent localities from facing their budget problems sooner. He also signed a no-new-taxes pledge.
In short, Brown drew a sharp contrast between his position and that of the Beltway Democrats on spending and the growth of government - and that clear contrast on policy allowed him to keep his own base united while pursuing a basically upbeat campaign of outreach to the center and while departing from standard-issue Republicanism on other issues. His successful campaign underscores the point I've made for some time: as long as a candidate is with the party on its dominant theme (which at present is opposition to runaway government), each election needs to be evaluated on its merits with an eye to finding candidates suited to their local conditions.
3. The High Hard One: As I noted above, the evidence suggests that the political climate and Brown's use of the issues were at least as large a factor in his victory as Coakley's missteps. That being said, Coakley's ham-handed response to Curt Schilling has to make his endorsement of Brown one of the most consequential celebrity endorsements in electoral history, given the extent to which the Schilling gaffe put Coakley off her game in the race's closing news cycles and contributed to the despair and embarrassment of her supporters. (I asked on Twitter for other genuinely impactful celebrity endorsements, and suggestions included Oprah's primary endorsement of Obama, James Brown endorsing Nixon in 1968 and Sinatra endorsing JFK in 1960). Take-home lesson: celebrity endorsements can be distracting and can backfire, but you never know when they'll come in handy - and it's dangerous for a candidate to fire back directly at a popular celebrity.
4. Obama Can't Help You Now: I've written about this at length before after the defeats of Corzine and Deeds, and you can now add Coakley to the list: an appearance by Obama can't save a failing Democrat. Whether or not Obama is a net negative, his presence doesn't seem to be moving the needle in favor of anyone but himself. Note that Bill Owens, the winning Democratic candidate in NY-23, did not have an Obama appearance.
5. Ted Shoulda Quit While He Was Ahead: The Democrats put themselves in the situation of having to call a special election in two ways. First, they changed the law in 2004 to require an election rather than a gubernatorial appointment for an open Senate seat, because if John Kerry beat George W. Bush they didn't want Mitt Romney nominating his replacement. A flagrantly opportunistic effort to change that law back petered out last summer. Second - and Erick Erickson has gotten a lot of flak for saying this on CNN, but it happens to be true - they could have held the election much earlier in a much more favorable political climate if Ted Kennedy had stepped down when it became apparent that he was dying. Ted's insistence on staying in office until his death ended up being the undoing of his party and, perhaps, of his lifelong goal of national government health insurance.
6. Hard Times For The Ladies: Pundits are far too quick to draw conclusions about voter racism/sexism from sample sizes as small as one election, but putting aside Hillary Clinton beating Barack Obama in the Massachusetts Democratic primary in 2008, the record of female politicians at the statewide level in Massachusetts over the past decade has been terrible. Republican Jane Swift, promoted to Governor from Lieutenant Governor when Cellucci left offfice for an ambassadorship, made headlines for giving birth to twins in office, but was so widely mocked and reviled across the partisan and ideological spectrum that she didn't run for re-election. Democratic State Treasurer Shannen O'Brien's campaign against Mitt Romney in 2002 was a flop, and observers generally viewed her as a weak candidate who lost a winnable race and engaged in silly and pointless attacks. GOP Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey got crushed by Deval Patrick in 2006. And now Coakley, who will doubtless be remembered as one of the worst statewide candidates in memory in any state, at least among those who'd been heavily favored to win an election. Women have had plenty of success in statewide office in the Northeast - Jodi Rell, Jeanne Shaheen, Hillary Clinton, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins - but not in Massachusetts.
7. Nobody's Safe: The biggest impact of this election, beyond what it does to the healthcare bill, is its effect on recruitment, retirement and morale in races around the country - in Indiana, for example, there'd seem few safer red-state Democrats than Senator and former Governor Evan Bayh, but the GOP is now trying to recruit Congressman Mike Pence to challenge Bayh; Pence would be a formidable opponent. Republicans are now fired up for Senate races in Illinois, Delaware and (if George Pataki can be recruited) New York for Senate seats previously held by Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary, respectively.
Perhaps the race where the incumbent's fortunes must be most dramatically re-evaluated after Brown's victory is Barbara Boxer's race for re-election in California. Boxer's polls have been in the dumps for some time now; the latest Rasmussen poll shows her with just 46% of the vote against each of her three Republican opponents (the fact that Boxer has drawn three significant opponents - Tom Campbell, Chuck DeVore, and Carly Fiorina - should say something in itself). That said, whenever I've thought about that race or talked to anyone else about it, the usual response is "yes, but it's California."
Brown's victory changes all that, at least for 2010, anyway. There's no guarantee that a candidate as arrogant, brittle, thin-skinned and hard-left as Boxer can just bank on a compliant one-party electorate against an energized populist opponent, not in this climate. That doesn't mean Boxer will be easy pickings, by any means - the California GOP is more than capable of self-destruction, and Boxer is a street fighter - but it does mean the effort to challenge her can't just be written off based on the state she's running in.
Not if it can happen in Massachusetts.
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POLITICS: Unplug Education. No Computers In Schools
A hot issue today in education is the usefulness of computers in the classroom. Some people - President Obama among them - argue that increasing resources should be spent to bring more computers and more internet access into schools and integrate them into education. The controversy, whether at the federal level or the local school board level, is usually over whether this is worth the expense. But the reality is that what our kids need most of all from schools - and libraries - is a respite from technology and time to give sustained, uninterrupted attention to learning the academic basics that they can then apply to any technological platform - just like the people who created those platforms in the first place. What we should be demanding from our schools is a computer- and internet-free zone.
The NY Times reports on a study showing that kids age 8-18 spend an average of 7 1/2 hours a day using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device. "And because so many of them are multitasking - say, surfing the Internet while listening to music - they pack on average nearly 11 hours of media content into that seven and a half hours."
The study then turned to the possible impact of all that time consuming electronic media:
Contrary to popular wisdom, the heaviest media users reported spending a similar amount of time exercising as the light media users. Nonetheless, other studies have established a link between screen time and obesity.
Certainly the latter is a significant possibility - that computers and TV are more readily adopted by preteens and teens who aren't playing sports or socializing or wooing the opposite sex. But the broader point remains: schools should not be gateways to the internet, an adult medium if ever there was one. They should be a place to ensure that kids learn different skills than the ones they get from playing video games. If kids need to learn to work with computers as a trade, they can do that no sooner than junior/senior year of high school, the same way they would take a shop class. But otherwise, they are mostly being given a crutch that either short-circuits their learning process or the teacher's teaching process - and reinforces as well the mental habits of overuse of technology.
I'm not one to argue that TV or computers are all bad for kids, although parents have to exercise some responsibility for placing outer limits on time spent on those media and supervise the content kids are exposed to. But school is supposed to ensure that kids get grounded in the basics. Unplugging them for the duration of the school day is the best way to ensure that happens.
BASEBALL: No Molina
Excellent news for the Mets yesterday as the Giants re-signed Bengie Molina, saving Omar Minaya from possibly giving a contract to a 35-year-old catcher who had a .285 OBP last season and runs like a library. I mean, Molina's still OK defensively and has some pop, so even with the bad OBP he's not a terrible backup option, but the Mets already have Henry Blanco, who is perfectly well-suited to that job and probably a better glove, and they have Omir Santos as well. What they should be doing is giving Josh Thole the chance to win the job and possibly provide some real offense. Thole isn't anything special but has the potential to maybe be an AJ Pierzynski-type hitter in his best years, and if he's not ready, Molina would not be that much of an upgrade on Santos and Blanco.
Instead, the Mets are reportedly looking at Yorvit Torrealba, who has batted .258/.316/.394 the past four seasons while playing in Coors Field. Does Thole secretly have the bubonic plague or something?
January 14, 2010
POLITICS/LAW: Martha Coakley, Bad Prosecutor
It's worth recalling, as the Massachusetts Senate election approaches, that Martha Coakley is not just some bland Democratic machine apparatchik. She's a bland Democratic machine apparatchik with a long record as a prosecutor that includes some very ugly things.
Exhibit A is the notorious case, familiar to readers of the Wall Street Journal over the past three decades, of Gerald Amirault. The case, discussed in summary here, was a terrible miscarriage of justice involving fantastical accounts of sex abuse of children, exposed by Journal reporter Dorothy Rabinowitz; it was originally prosecuted by another politically ambitious Democrat, Scott Harshbarger. And then:
When Martha Coakley became district attorney of Middlesex County in 1999, the Amiraults were still in the news. But by this time hardly anyone believed they were guilty of the horrendous crimes they were alleged to have committed. In fact there was no evidence that anyone had abused any children in the Fells Acres Day Care.
That alone should disqualify Coakley as a candidate for higher office. But there's more. Such overzealousness is why criminal-defense-minded writers like Radley Balko and Jeralyn Merritt - neither of them exactly a right-wing Republican - are opposed to Coakley. Both cite other examples as well (Balko notes that Coakley first came to prominence in the notorious "shaken-baby" case against British nanny Louise Woodward, in which Woodward's murder conviction was reduced to manslaughter by the judge).
But overzealousness in questionable (or worse) cases isn't Coakley's problem. There's also the opposite, her lenient treatment of a Somerville cop who raped his 23-month-old niece - yes, a toddler - with a hot curling iron. Coakley's office let him out without bail pending trial; only under her successor was he convicted and sentenced to two life terms in jail.
It starts to be apparent that the persistent incompetence and tone-deafness of Coakley's campaign may not be a new thing for her.
SECOND UPDATE: But she is tough on ladies' gardening clubs.
THIRD UPDATE: Rabinowitz lays into Coakley.
BLOG: Watchful Eye
I am amazed at a strange hole in the safety net of contemporary parenting that seems to gape wider and wider each year. Today’s parents will chopper into school if they think their child has been given an unfair grade on a quiz; they will spend hours manipulating coaches to re-jigger the roster of an all-star team if their kid has been passed over; and they will take over simple school fundraisers – like wrapping paper sales and car washes – that are supposed to be the teenagers’ responsibility. In other words, they build a firewall between their children and all of the old disappointments and aggravations that are meant to prepare them for the big league disappointments and aggravations that are the stuff of adult life. But then when it comes to teenage drinking, to teenager partying in general – when it comes to the kinds of experiences in which kids can get into a huge amount of very real trouble, parents suddenly disappear into the wallpaper.
Easier said than done, as any parent can attest, but crucial nonetheless.
POLITICS: Martha Coakley Does It Again
Given the serial fiascoes of the Martha Coakley for Senate campaign, you would think, five days before Election Day, that the second coming of Shannon O'Brien has run out of ways to hand Scott Brown an upset victory in the race for what was for decades Ted Kennedy's Senate seat (but, as Brown has reminded us, remains the people's seat to do with as they wish).
But no! Coakley has managed, at this late hour, to diss New England's most hallowed site - Fenway Park itself. And, for bonus points, to do so in the course of explaining why she's above standing outside in cold weather (as if this is an unusual hardship for New Englanders) to ask for votes, when she could be getting to know connected people who know other connected people. As the Boston Globe reports:
There is a subdued, almost dispassionate quality to her public appearances, which are surprisingly few. Her voice is not hoarse from late-night rallies. Even yesterday, the day after a hard-hitting debate, she had no public campaign appearances in the state.
[This statement] shows her elitism and arrogance unbelievably. Aside from the apparent feeling that the seat belongs to her just by virtue of her party, she just admitted that she doesn't need to bother meeting with constituents because she's meeting people like Kim Driscoll, and political leaders, and Democrat activists. I guess they're the ones that matter, huh? I know it's a "special election" and all, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't need to fight for this seat. Prancing around with this mindset of "Oh, I'm a Democrat, therefore Ted Kennedy's seat just automatically belongs to me regardless of what the people think," is idiotic. Acting as if she doesn't need to give her constituents the time of day is ludicrous. She can make all the snide remarks about Scott Brown shaking hands with people in the cold that she wants, but that's what you’re supposed to do when you're trying to get elected. She seems to have forgotten that she's trying to get elected in Massachusetts, and not in Washington D.C. - if she remembered that, maybe she'd spend more time trying to impress Massachusetts voters and less time rubbing elbows with the Democrat establishment, Big Pharmacy lobbyists, and union leaders. Most normal politicians, Republican or Democrat, do go shake hands with voters. Even if it means standing in the cold outside of Fenway Park.
Maybe Coakley should come back when she has a little blood on her sock.
January 13, 2010
POLITICS: Quick Links 1/13/10
*Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson looks at the declining quality of President Obama's rhetoric, while, Michael Barone and Noemie Emery look at the contrast between Obama's reputation for erudition and the extent to which the Tea Party movement has proven much more focused and energized on substantive issues than Obama's own supporters. The common thread here is that because Obama's rhetoric and appeal have always been more about him personally than about a coherent set of policy proposals, he was able to extend his original support far beyond the people who were signing on to any such agenda - and thus he's found himself with broad but shallow support that can dry up at any moment because it's not really a stable coalition built on common support for his agenda. Relatedly, and on Gerson's point about Obama's "cool," one thing I've noticed is that Obama has fairly limited range as a communicator - he's great at a few limited types of speeches, but but there are just too many types of things he can't do.
*David Dayen at the far-left blog Firedoglake, which has been crusading belatedly against the Obamacare bill since it dropped the public option, counts the noses and sees that the Democrats are probably already one vote short in the House (where the original bill passed by a 3-vote margin, one of whom has since left office). Meanwhile, the site's proprietor, Jane Hamsher, attacks the White House and its allies among the pundit and blogger class for failing to disclose that a key academic supporter of the bill was actually on the Administration's payroll. At this point, even Obama has to concede that "That's what's been lost this year...that whole sense of changing how Washington works." Yet Obama's camp still finds time to accuse the insurance industry of lobbying queitly against the bill - as if (a) anyone expected them not to lobby and (b) there weren't also a truckload of people lobbying for the bill and donating to Democrats.
*Pat Robertson's repetition with the Haiti earthquake of his God-blames-the-victims comments from the aftermath of 9/11 and Katrina shows that he really didn't get the message of Luke 13:1-5, let alone any common sense. Joe Scarborough, on Twitter, argues that Robertson should be given credit for his deeds, not his words - his organization did great work in the aftermath of Katrina, for example - but at this point, it's Robertson's own fault and he just needs to shut his trap permanently. He's said this stuff too many times to be an accident.
That said, you can bet that Robertson's remarks will get much wider play than Robert F. Kennedy Jr. blaming Haley Barbour for bringing down Hurricane Katrina on Mississippi.
*Martha Coakley may not succeed in losing the Massachusetts Senate race - while she's down by more than 40 points among independents in some polls, Massachusetts still has a colossal registration advantage for Democrats - it won't be for lack of trying. Don't have all the links handy here, but her campaign has veered from gaffe (her claim that there are no terrorists in Afghanistan) to comedy (misspelling her own state's name in an attack ad) to ham-handedness (a staffer barrelling over a Weekly Standard reporter trying to ask about the Afghanistan gaffe) to outright panic in her communications with national Democrats, who are now tapping into their House campaign fund to prop her up. It's been an appallingly poorly-run campaign against a savvy opponent. I can predict that Scott Brown will run a close race next Tuesday, but whether the energy and indignation of the Brown voters will outnumber the Democratic machine remains anyone's guess.
*Former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler is back, as Chris Christie's education chief. Schundler was a failure as a statewide candidate but remains a hero to conservatives for his advocacy of school choice and his diligent if predictably futile efforts to win over inner-city African-American voters.
A big part of Christie's victory was in convincing New Jersey voters to move beyond cultural issues (guns, abortion) over which the state government has comparatively little power or is unlikely to do anything and focus on the things that are actually a major part of the job at the state level and the Democrats' catastrophic failure to accomplish them. But Christie also came to office with a fairly vague mandate beyond his platform of opposing tax hikes and fighting corruption. Schundler could give Christie a chance to make lasting and meaningful reform in the state and not just coast in the job - but not having run a campaign heavy on the school choice issue, Christie will have to commit some serious political capital to make the sale to voters.
BASEBALL: Of Steroids and Agendas
The latest half-a-confession on steroids, this one from Mark McGwire, has set off the usual round of arguments on the topic. As usual, we see the formation of two polar-opposite camps. In one corner are the baseball beat writers and other traditional-media sportswriters, who are frothing with moral outrage as they attack players - at least some players - who used steroids. Craig Calcaterra has collected some of the more overheated examples, such as Dan Shaughnessy implicitly comparing Mark McGwire to Hitler and Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Daily News comparing steroid use to apartheid.
On the other side, we have a battery of analysts, mostly new-media sabermetric types, who at every mention of steroids roll their eyes, pronounce what a complete non-issue it is, express their weariness at moral outrage, and in some cases affirmatively seek to deny that steroids have any effect on performance whatsoever.
Personally, I find myself in the (somewhat unusual) middle position. On the one hand, I've explained before why I think steroids that help build physical strength contribute to hitting for power, and that's aside from (short-term) benefits to durability and fast-twitch muscle quickness. I'm perfectly comfortable calling out the users for breaking the law, endangering themselves (and implicitly pressuring others to do the same) to get an unfair advantage, and in some cases - but arguably many less than we may think - breaking the rules of the game, to say nothing of lying to us, to grand juries and to Congress. If moral opprobrium follows them wherever they go, that's fine with me.
On the other hand, I don't think steroid use is the biggest deal on earth; it's not as if players haven't always sought ways to gain unfair advantages, sometimes with illegal drugs - think of spitballs, greenies, corked bats, sophisticated sign-stealing schemes, extra balls hidden in the outfield, etc. As I have previously explained, I don't advocate keeping anyone out of the Hall of Fame for it, partly because we already have many Hall of Famers who cheated to win games, partly because steroid use was so widespread in the era, partly because we're never going to know all the people who did it, and most of all because at the end of the day, the Hall is as much for the fans and the history of the game as it is for the players. Let 'em in and let each man add his own asterisks. And let's get and keep to work on cleaning the influence out of the game going forward. And if the next Manny Ramirez misses out on the Hall because of time lost to suspensions, then we'll know the system worked.
And frankly, I don't give a hoot whether these guys admit, apologize, or not. They did what they did, and it can't be undone, and they must live with the jeers as well as the long-term health consequences. One of the most absurd spectacles in this whole mess is the importance sportswriters place on what players say, rather than what they do - as if the only thing that matters is not who wins or loses but who says the right things to sportswriters.
Which brings me to my main point: so much of what goes on in the public dialogue on this issue is driven by underlying agendas.
The traditional sportswriters' agendas are not hard to identify. First, moral outrage is a default position for many sportswriters, and helps sell newspapers (not an easy task these days). Second, as noted, sportswriters tend to overvalue what athletes say to sportswriters at the expense of all else. Third, to be frank, too many sportswriters are underpaid, unhappy, and not treated well by famous millionaire athletes, and thus get an undue amount of satisfaction from taking them down (this underscores why they tend to focus their ire on superstars). Fourth, much of the respect sportswriters used to command has been undermined by statistical analyses of the game. Thus, anything that undermines the integrity of the statistical record - or better yet, allows it to be undermined selectively by means of rumor and reportage on facts sportswriters are better-equipped to find than are outside analysts - shifts the balance of power back towards the traditional sportswriters. It is obvious, in many cases, that a motivating agenda here is the desire of the writers to discredit the accomplishments of post-1994 power hitters, especially when you consider the same writers' serial Hall of Fame elections of guys like Andre Dawson, Jim Rice and Tony Perez who were inferior hitters by the standards of their day but were clean.
All of these incentives are frequently mentioned by the analysts. And yet, the sneering superiority of many analysts has its own set of agendas. One is simply knee-jerk hatred of the sportswriters, combined with instinctual contrarianism. A second - one I confess to being influenced by myself to some point - is a recognition of the very threat that sportswriters seek to exploit: if you can't trust the numbers, that's a threat to people whose jobs involve explaining them. (In politics, we see the same phenomenon when the poll-analysts get nervous at too many attacks on the reliability of polls). A third, for what seems like a significantly loud faction of analysts, is part and parcel of a broader political libertarianism with regard to drugs and drug laws. (There's no group more consistently over-represented on the internet than libertarians of any stripe). A fourth, which is really part of a deeper trend that seems to run throughout the work of a lot of analysts, is over-identification with the parochial interests of the players in labor-management disputes.
In other words, the next time you read someone writing on this topic, ask yourself what their angle is, and which side of the longstanding sportswriters vs. analysts divide they fall on. You will probably find, sadly, that that predicts most of what they have to say.
January 11, 2010
WAR: The Continuing Burden of Imperial Communism
Useful backgrounder on how and to what extent the Soviets brutalized Afghanistan. It's amazing how many of the pathologies that linger in the world even today have their roots in the foreign adventures, weapons programs and propaganda of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.
POLITICS: Harry Reid Among The Hypocrites
By now most of you have seen Harry Reid's reported remarks, from a book on the 2008 election, enthusing that Barack Obama could be a successful presidential candidate because he was "light-skinned" and "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." The real story here is the Left's hypocrisy: Reid has committed a sin that would be unpardonable by anyone but a Democratic politician.
Much of the "Negro-gate" flap over Reid's comments has focused on whether, parsing them closely, they can or can't be compared to the 2002 comments by Trent Lott that got Lott ousted as Senate Majority Leader. As a matter of pure politics, that seems unlikely to happen to Reid - where Lott came under early and intense fire from bloggers and pundits on the Right, eventually making him radioactive to fellow GOP politicians, the Left (with only a few exceptions) has circled the wagons around Reid. On the other hand, Reid faces his own doom, as this adds to an already uphill battle Reid faces for re-election. But in any event, the better analogy is to George Allen, Jimmy the Greek, Al Campanis, James Watt, and others who lost their jobs due to comments that were not so much racist per se, but rather racially insensitive. That's what Reid's comments were - he was basically giving Obama a stamp of approval for not being one of those black people, with their "Negro dialect" and black skin - and even if he meant it more as an insult aimed at the tolerance of white voters, it's still not something you or I would be crass enough to say in a forum where it could ever be repeated to African-American friends. (Perhaps more damning to Obama is Reid's implication that Obama would put on a "Negro dialect" when it suited his purposes).
Reid's not the only one even this week - the same book quotes Bill Clinton saying that a few years ago, Obama would have been getting him coffee, while Rod Blagojevich, the twice-Obama-endorsed gift that keeps on giving, tells Esquire Magazine:
I'm blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived.
He's black because he shined shoes?
Nor is this Reid's first offense. Among Reid's long laundry list of petty personal insults aimed at distinguished public servants - notably excluding former KKK member Robert Byrd, whom Reid called an "unusually brilliant man" - Reid said of Clarence Thomas:
I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written. I just don't think that he's done a good job as a Supreme Court justice.
Reid contrasted Justice Thomas to Justice Scalia: "I cannot dispute the fact, as I have said, that this is one smart guy." But what made Reid assume that Thomas was a lesser intellect or a bad writer? He was never able to identify any Thomas opinions he'd read that gave him that idea. It was just a stereotype.
Racial insensitivity, intended or not, has become a frequent firing offense for government officials and other public figures at the insistence of the Left, aided and actively encouraged time and again by the leading lights of the Democratic Party. It is not Republicans or conservatives who frequently bathe themselves in sanctimony on this issue or treat it as an unforgivable offense. When a Republican is caught in a sex scandal, pretty much regardless of his actual record, the air is filled with calls for him to be held to a higher standard than Democrats because of conservatives' belief (not universally shared) that marital infidelity and other sexual misconduct is a bad thing. Yet, when a Democrat is caught making racially insensitive remarks, the very same pundits on the Left argue that rather than hold their side to the higher standard they demand of others, there should be a lower standard for Democrats precisely because of their public positions. Heads we win, tails you lose!
My own oft-stated view on Republicans and sex scandals, see here, here, here and here, is that the problem with hypocrtical Republicans is not their public defenses of virtue but their private sins, which may reflect badly enough on them in some cases (e.g., Mark Sanford) to doom them politically, but don't necessarily detract from their advocacy of what is right and good. But by giving Reid a pass, as with giving Clinton a pass for sexual harrassment, Democrats are showing that they believe the opposite: that they are willing to forgive violations of their own supposed principles in order to hold on to political power because those principles were never really that important to them in the first place - just a handy club to beat opponents.
Who's the real hypocrite in that picture?
UPDATE: Reports seem to be casting some doubt on the Clinton quote, among others in the book. Reid's office, however, has confirmed that Reid himself was the source for the Reid quotes and doesn't contest their authenticity.
January 8, 2010
POLITICS/WAR: Quick Links 1/8/10
Two lines of the day:
Jonah Goldberg: "the GOP's troubles over the last decade have a lot to do with the fact that Americans didn't stop liking what the Republican Party is supposed to deliver. They stopped liking what the GOP actually delivered." Also: "For too long Republicans confused supporting big business with supporting free markets, when big business is often the biggest impediment to fair competition."
Steven Green: "A man does not set fire to his penis for a job he expects to botch."
Finally, this chart from Paul Krugman is interesting and noteworthy (Krugman can occasionally be sane and not wholly dishonest when he sticks to his knitting and writes straight economics rather than partisan politics). I don't buy entirely his conclusion that "the CRE bubble ... gives the lie both to those who blame Fannie/Freddie/Community Reinvestment for the housing bubble, and those who blame predatory lending" - as some of his commenters properly note, the chart reinforces the argument that commercial real estate values are driven at least in part by residential real estate values, even in communities where relatively hard zoning laws make the two types of land non-fungible - but it's an important point nonetheless to understand that the housing bubble was not solely about housing markets and housing-credit policy.
POP CULTURE: Good To Be The King
In honor of Elvis Presley's 75th birthday, Jake Tapper tweeted the video below the fold, which contains so many different wonderful things in under two minutes I lost count.
There's a fair debate over who is the greatest male rock vocalist of all time (more on which below - the women are hard to rank for distinct reasons, although Janis Joplin would probably win most polls). But there's really no debate over who the most influential rock vocalist and stage performer of all time was - everyone who came after was inspired by or reacting to Elvis.
I'd thought of someday doing a longer essay on the best male rock singers of all time, but I have so many other essay ideas unwritten and so little time to write, let me offer here for now my quick top-10 ranking and a few thoughts:
1. Bono. Just an unbelievably rich, powerful, compelling, distinctive and expressive voice, and until the last few years sounded as good or better live in a huge stadium as in a studio.
2. Roger Daltrey. Nobody else could put as much into a scream as Daltrey. An absolutely primal force.
3. Jim Morrison. Would rate ahead of Daltrey except he was such an inconsistent live performer and had such a short career - his voice was already much rougher by the time of the LA Woman album. But Morrison at his best was unreal.
4. Mick Jagger. Mick's voice has been shot for almost 30 years, and it was always idiosyncratic, but for the first two decades of his career, nobody could purr like Jagger (think of Sympathy for the Devil).
5. Elvis. I don't love his Heartbreak Hotel style, but Jailhouse Rock pretty much defines rock n' roll. Interestingly, on many his slow songs Elvis was more of a traditional crooner of the Bing Crosby school.
6. Steven Tyler. Maybe controversial to rank over Plant, but the man has incredible range (and still does to this day) without being stuck in the high end of the scale. Tremendous swagger.
7. Paul McCartney. Who still sounds pretty good even today. Paul's voice is the most melodious on this list, but he could always rock out as well.
8. Van Morrison. In some ways more a crooner and bluesman than a rocker. Notice the heavy prominence of singers of Irish nationality or descent on this list.
9. Rod Stewart. OK, Rod Stewart can be a little cheesy at times (not that McCartney or Steven Tyler can't) - Van Morrison's version of Have I Told You Lately That I Love You makes Stewart's sound like a block of Velveeta - but he's still a master at that world-weary sound.
10. Robert Plant. I know some people would rate him higher, and certainly Plant has been massively influential, but too much of Plant's work was too ethereal and not emotional enough for my tastes, at least.
Honorable mentions: Roy Orbison; Springsteen, who has never had a pretty voice but until recently had as emotionally expressive vocals, even live, as anybody; Billy Joel; John Fogerty, who has a truly unique sound; Eddie Vedder; Bob Seger; Michael Hutchence; David Lee Roth; Eric Clapton. (With the possible exception of Little Richard, we've never had a black rock singer who had the kind of great voice that the R&B masters like Wilson Pickett had). UPDATE: I should have mentioned Meatloaf as an honorable mention. Fantastic voice.
Anyway, that digression aside, the Elvis clip is below the fold.
Read More »
January 6, 2010
BASEBALL: Dawson Alone
So, Andre Dawson gets into the Hall of Fame and the voters take a pass on everybody else. I literally would not have traded Roberto Alomar, Tim Raines, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martinez, Dale Murphy, Don Mattingly, or Kevin Appier for Dawson in their respective primes - maybe Dave Parker (who was effectively the same player), Jack Morris or Robin Ventura. This is insane.
Dawson will be remembered as ... a winner? For being Rookie of the Year for a 5th place team, MVP for a last place team, hitting .128 career in the LCS with no World Series appearances, having two of the four franchises he played for (the Expos and Cubs) decline the year he arrived and all four improve the year after he left.
I'd do my annual chart of the progression of the balloting, but it's too depressing. This is willful idiocy at its worst. (UPDATE: Craig Calcaterra has a look).
This may be worst day for Hall of Fame balloting since Joe DiMaggio failed to get elected on 1st ballot. (UPDATE: In 1954, Joe D got 175 votes, just under 70%. Rabbit Maranville was elected with 209 votes.)
BASEBALL: When It Raines...
Jonah Keri goes fanboy over Tim Raines - great read (he notes Raines being given Dawson's center field job in 1984). Like me, Keri saw Raines and Dawson in their primes - moreso, as an Expos fan - and won't be taking any of this "you had to see Dawson play" nonsense from sportswriters.
Joe Posnanski, who is the sort of writer I should just link to every time he writes something, has his own ballot. His list's not the same as mine, but the only one I really seriously disagree with him on is Dale Murphy. He makes an excellent point about Dave Parker and Andre Dawson being largely the same player, complete with the career path from young athletic complete star, to mid-career washout, to late-career resurgence as a pure slugger.
BASEBALL: My 2010 Hall of Fame Ballot
Hall of Fame balloting will be announced this afternoon. Here's my rundown of how I'd vote on the players on the 2010 ballot.
1. Andre Dawson: HELL NO.
I'm still appalled at the idea that serious people consider Dawson a better player than his teammate Raines, to the point where he got three times as many votes last year. Excuse Dawson's numbers all you like for the context of his times, Raines played in the same park on the same team for six years of their primes, and then Dawson moved to a bandbox - and watched his new team, the Cubs, sink to last place while Raines led the Dawson-less Expos to a surprise 91-win season, their best record in 8 years. (Yes, the 1987 Expos scored more runs than the 1987 Cubs, despite a lineup including Herm Winningham and, Mike Fitzgerald and not having another Hall of Famer (Ryne Sandberg) in the lineup. During the 6 years Dawson hit behind Raines, Dawson was 7th in MLB in At Bats w/RISP, but 12th in RBI. Dawson's critical weakness is his poor on base percentage, uniquely among all comparable sluggers: his OBP rates 44th of 45 players w/400 HR (ahead of only Dave Kingman), 50th of 50 w/1500 RBI, and 75th of 76 w/4000 TB (ahead of only Brooks Robinson). Dawson was, simply, a uniquely easy out among sluggers.
Raines hit .270 in five postseasons for three franchises and collected two World Series rings; Dawson hit .186 in three and never played in a World Series.
Joe Posnanski notes that by Win Shares, Raines was the best player in baseball over the 1983-87 period, and in the running for several contiguous 5-year stretches; Dawson shows up a fairly distant second just once (1979-83).
Raines' career OPS is higher, and of course is more heavily weighted towards OBP, the more critical of the two elements; he batted .294 to Dawson's .279, if you're of an old-school mind. Both men played more than two decades. Breaking down this year's hitting candidates by OPS+ and QPA (OPS+ times plate appearances), Raines rates ahead of Dawson:
I fear that sportswrters will vote Dawson in this year as a thumb in the eye to two groups they hate: steroid-using post-1990 sluggers, and statheads. But why not hit the first group by honoring a guy from the same era who symbolizes the kind of player that the home run madness of the past 15 years has made endangered?
3. Bert Blyleven: DEFINITELY YES.
Not much to add that I didn't say 9 years ago.
5. Lee Smith: NO. Lotta saves, good pitcher for a long time, but only sporadically dominant and didn't carry a Goose/Fingers like workload for most of his career.
6. Mark McGwire: YES, I THINK. I get the argument for dividing the steroids guys by whether we think they'd have made it without roids (Bonds/Clemens/A-Rod in, Palmeiro maybe out), but in the end I come down for putting people in who did the job on the field.
But I could yet be persuaded that McGwire's lack of durability requires rethinking his value - he basically was a really, really good player for six years (1987-92, when he was a critical part of the Oakland dynasty) and a monster for five more (1995-99 - he missed half of 2000, to his team's great detriment), separated by a three-year gulf of being mostly unavailable. That raises the issue I have stressed over and over again: baseball is played in seasons, and consistency across seasons and durability within them matters a lot - and while McGwire had two separate substantial primes, several of McGwire's teams in the center of his career got screwed by his unavailability, or by the year he hit .201. He was a terrible bust in the postseason, batting .217/.320/.349 including hitting .059 in the 1988 World Series and being limited to pinch-hitting in the 2000 NLCS, both serieses when his teams desperately needed him. Like Baines and Edgar, he was a slow runner with little defensive value. So, it's actually a closer call than you'd think.
7. Alan Trammell: CLOSE BUT NO. I looked at Trammell here.
8. Dave Parker - NO
Discussed here, here, here and here. Baines is, for reasons similar to those discussed with regard to Edgar Martinex below, kind of the poster boy for a good, durable bat who nobody takes seriously as an immortal.
1. Roberto Alomar: EASY YES. A no-brainer, despite my bitterness over his Mets tenure.
Discussed both of them here. The line separating Larkin and Trammell is a very thin one, but ultimately Larkin was a better glove and more important to teams that won with a less impressive supporting cast.
3. Fred McGriff: YES.
Discussed here; the Crime Dog was a great player for 7 years, mostly prior to the big offensive explosion, batting .288/.390/.545 from 1988-94 when those numbers were a big deal, and a quite good one for 8 more; he was consistent and durable; he batted .303/.385/.532 in five postseasons, was a huge factor in an epic pennant race in 1993 and slugged over .600 in each of the three serieses in 1995 that gave the Bobby Cox Braves their only World Championship.
4. Edgar Martinez: CLOSE, BUT NO.
Probably the toughest call on the ballot for me and the one I'm most likely to rethink later on. Edgar was unquestionably not just a Hall of Fame quality hitter but an inner-circle one, batting an eye-popping.329/.446/.574 over his prime years from 1995-2001 (OPS+ of 163), but he has just about everything else working against him that could work against him:
-He had no defensive value, having most of his big seasons as a DH; he played more than two-thirds of his career games as a DH.
-He was a very slow baserunner.
-He was injury-prone, averaging 112 games a year from 1990-94 and 128 games a year from 2002-04, so his actual prime was fairly short, just seven seasons.
-He played most of his prime years in a bandbox (the Kingdome, where the Mariners played through 1999) and all of them in an era of offensive bonanza, so his raw numbers are inflated.
-His teams chronically underachieved despite staggering amounts of talent (at various points including Griffey, A-Rod, Randy Johnson, Jay Buhner, John Olerud, Jamie Moyer, and Ichiro, among others). Edgar was murderous in the ALDS, a career .375/.481/.781 hitter, but batted an anemic .156/.239/.234 in three losing efforts in the ALCS.
Some of these are small things, some larger, but they add up and all in the same direction. Edgar's career OPS+ of 147 is slightly lower than those of Gavvy Cravath and Charlie Keller, and in a lot of ways I think of him as more similar to those guys than to Ralph Kiner. So, for now, no.
5. Everybody else: NO. Robin Ventura and Kevin Appier were both Hall of Fame quality players at their peaks who had substantial careers, but neither lasted quite long enough at prime-level production to make it. To a lesser extent the same is true of Andres Galarraga and the oft-injured Ellis Burks. Ray Lankford, Pat Hentgen, Todd Zeile, Eric Karros, Shane Reynolds, Mike Jackson and David Segui should all, in all seriousness, be honored just to be on the ballot. I'll doubtless look more closely at Appier another day, at Ventura when I get done with my next Path to Cooperstown installment on the third basemen (which will include some surprises), and Jackson in a long-overdue look at the great middle relievers.
January 5, 2010
BASEBALL: The Unit Has Landed
Randy Johnson has announced his retirement. A sure-fire Hall of Famer, of course, but how good really was Johnson? Below the fold, I run some quick numbers. These are career stats - Johnson's prime from 1993-2002 stacks up even more impressively against the prime of any other lefthanded pitcher with a long career - and some of the calculations are a little rough, but you should get the idea: Johnson was probably the second-best lefthanded pitcher ever (behind Lefty Grove) and has a case for #1, depending how one weighs adjustments for different eras of the game.
Guide to the numbers below - ERA+, as regular readers know, is the park-adjusted league ERA divided by the pitcher's ERA, so it's a % of how far better than league-average a pitcher's ERA was. An ERA+ of 200 means an ERA half the league. The sample below compares Johnson to the other 28 lefthanded pitchers since 1871 to throw 3,000 or more career innings (so: no Koufax) with an ERA+ of 100 or better, of which Johnson's ERA+ of 136 places him second only to Lefty Grove.
QI or Quality Innings is ERA+ times IP - basically a quick method for combining quality and quantity.
LgERA is the park-adjusted baseline used to compute ERA+
BIP% is a rough calculation of balls in play that became hits, the part of the pitcher's game that depends upon defense (also luck, but luck evens out pretty well over this many innings).
For BB/9, I combined walks with hit batsmen (Johnson put a lot of guys on base that way).
dERA is a measurement of defense-independent ERA based on Voros McCracken's DIPS formula designed to compute what a defense-independent ERA should have been (based on a pitcher's HR, BB, K and HBP allowed, assuming an average defense), although given the uneven availability of intentional walk data I left out Voros' adjustments for IBB.
dERA+ is dERA divided by LgERA, to quickly adjust for differing playing conditions.
QdI is the Quality Innings formula again, except using dERA+
As you will see, when you rank the lefties all-time by QI, the race goes to the longest-distance runners (Spahn and Carlton), but ranked by QdI, Johnson - with his massive K numbers making him less dependent on his defense - pulls to #1.
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Note also that by plain old wins and losses, Johnson clocks in at 137 games over .500, second only to Grove (+159), followed by Eddie Plank (+132), Whitey Ford (+130), Warren Spahn (+118) and Tom Glavine (+102).
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January 4, 2010
POLITICS: Bob Bennett Delenda Est
Erick Erickson's post at RedState advocating a challenge to Senator Bob Bennett is a pretty good example of a couple of things. One, of course, is the combination of Erick's growing influence and the increasing activist focus of the site. I've always been more punditry/advocacy-oriented than into activism, but Erick's a natural fit for it and I'm definitely on board with the direction the site has taken; it's been a necessary evolution in today's climate.
A second is the true degree of tension between movement conservatism and the party. Bennett's mostly an obscure party man in a safe seat, so he'd seem like a low-priority person to attack, unlike Senators who are either (1) obvious electoral liabilities or (2) frequently high-profile dissenters on prominent votes. But the issue with Bennett is more his influence around the edges. Much of the tension right now is over a sense that while the House and Senate GOP leadership have done a fine job of keeping their caucus united, too many of the same people who led the party through the disasters of 2006 and 2008 are still in charge and don't seem to have really absorbed why anger at the Democrats hasn't translated into trust for the GOP as opposed to trust for populist outlets like Glenn Beck and the tea party movement.
A third is the distinction between inside and outside punditry/activism. I personally have no knowledge of anything Bennett's done in public to warrant this - but Erick is relying on people with inside knowledge of how the GOP caucus works.
Anyway, go read the post for Erick's reasoning, which turns in part on the fact that (1) it's cheap and easy to mount a challenge under the Utah GOP's convention system and (2) it's as safe a GOP seat as there is. My general philosophy is that it's good to have primary challenges but rarely more than 1 or 2 a cycle in the Senate, just enough to make people not want to have their name at the top of that list. As it happens, we have a bunch of hot primary fights for seats with no GOP incumbent (e.g., Florida, California, Ohio), but with Arlen Specter's departure there aren't many GOP incumbents facing a serious challenge (I'm not sure yet how serious JD Hayworth's primary challenge to McCain is). I definitely wouldn't bother with primarying Bennett if he wasn't representing such a safe seat, but conservatives unhappy with his performance at least have reason to expect that if there's anywhere we should be entitled to demand faithful representation, it's Utah.
BASEBALL: Voting About Voting
This is from last year, but in advance of Wednesday's announcement of the Hall of Fame balloting: Patrick Sullivan with a look at how single-season award voting haunts the Hall voting process (multiplied when you consider that both draw from largely the same pool of voters).
I agree with Bill James' view that it's worthwhile to look at how well a player fared in the voting when he was active, but anybody who follows the MVP voting knows that it's often terrible, and bad decisions plus age don't become good. I well recall that Andre Dawson's 1987 NL MVP, for example, was one of the worst MVP awards ever when it happened; I'm supposed to respect that now, when I didn't then, just because 22 years have passed?
I'll hopefully have more on the Hall the next day or two, but I continue to maintain that my dream would be to be a GM with a lineup of nine Tim Raineses in a league where all the other GMs prefer a lineup of nine Andre Dawsons.
January 3, 2010
BASEBALL: Royal Mess
The invaluable Joe Posnanski pens a 9,000 word retrospective on his blog on the past decade of the Kansas City Royals, and how the supremely talented young cast of the 1999 Royals and their new deep-pocketed owner descended into a decade of futility. A must-read.