Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
March 30, 2011
WAR: Ten Reflections On Libya

More here from Jon Stewart, who is also not buying Obama's rationales.

I had intended to write up a longer or at any rate more organized essay about Libya, but for now, here are my two cents:

1. I was open initially, at least in theory, to the U.S. arming the rebels and enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, on the theory that we could tip the balance in favor of the rebels without the need to commit ground troops. I don't buy the theory that the U.S. has no stake in overthrowing Ghadafi* as a matter of national interest, as doing so may advance our broader strategic goal of changing the political structure of the Arab/Muslim world so as to break the status quo in which the only alternatives are (a) terror-sponsoring tyrannies and (b) tyrannies whose only credible opponents are Islamist terrorists. Probably the most glaring omission from the Administration's arguments in favor of this action is any sense that this is part of a coherent regional or other strategy - nor could it be, given the Administration's passivity in Egypt and its unwillingness to do anything to support opponents of the much more dangerous and hostile Iranian and Syrian regimes.

I don't regard regime change in Libya as a sufficiently compelling interest that I'd want to commit ground troops to such a project - nobody has argued that the U.S. had cause or interest in starting a war with Khadaffy, as opposed to joining one in progress - but you don't commit air assets unless you are willing to contemplate either ground forces to support them or just losing any pilots who get shot down.

2. I'm completely opposed to committing U.S. forces (air, ground, whatever) unless our goal is to destroy Quaddafi's regime and we are committed to see that through to the end. Bad as Kadafy is, he's been much more contained in recent years than Saddam ever was - among other things, surrendering his WMD programs to outside inspectors after seeing what George W. Bush did to Saddam - but if left in power after this, he will have much the same desire to make trouble for us that Saddam did after the first Gulf War. And more broadly, as I have explained before, the one indispensable prerequisite for using military force is defining who the enemy is and committing to defeat him. Doing less than that is worse than pointless. Unfortunately, Obama has been (depending how you interpret his oracular pronouncements) vague and/or contradictory on whether we are truly committed to eliminating Gaddafhi's regime.

3. My openness to a no-fly zone in Libya decreased dramatically when we sat by and did nothing for over two critical weeks while all the rebel-held cities other than Benghazi fell back into the regime's hands. Now, our arrival may be too little too late. Not only does toppling the regime without a major Allied military commitment look like a longer shot now, but specifically we gave the regime the time to move military assets into those cities. Air power is never more effective than against armored columns traveling in the open desert (Libya isn't the mountains of Bosnia or the Ho Chi Minh Trail), but the regime is much more entrenched now in those urban positions. Things can change quickly in an unstable situation, but unlike in Afghanistan and Iraq there's at least a significant chance right now that the regime we've bombed will still be standing a year from now, and what then?

In war, a questionable decision made swiftly is often better than a good one made too late. At least Sarah Palin, who supported a no-fly zone weeks before Obama, understood this. If anything, Obama's reliance on the humanitarian argument (Benghazi will be flattened) suggests that he was more inclined to back the rebels as their chances of victory diminished. I am left with the creeping suspicion that Obama isn't anti-war so much as he's uncomfortable with American victory.

4. We also went into this with the average citizen having no clue what kind of people the rebels are, and apparently with U.S. policymakers not knowing a whole lot more. It increasingly appears they may be linked with Al Qaeda and participating in more than the usual atrocities attendant to civil wars in the Arab/Muslim world. Ghadaffy may be a bad guy, but he's the devil we know, and the prospects for replacing him with something worse look even more problematic than they did in Egypt.

5. I'm fine with us working within NATO, but let's not pretend that that means any less U.S. commitment. Or that Obama's coalition is somehow superior to the multinational force in Iraq, which involved many more nations putting boots on the ground. As for going to Congress, there's interesting Constitutional debate around what powers the President has to act militarily without Congressional approval (almost nobody disputes that he has some) and what power Congress has to restrict his existing Article II powers by statute, but if the Iraq experience convinced me of anything, it's that Bush - and the mission - would have been in much worse shape in terms of popular support if he hadn't gone to Congress in advance.

6. I'm not opposed to considering humanitarian concerns - or access to oil, for that matter - as a reason to go to war (they were one of numerous reasons for the Iraq War), but I'm very uncomfortable with using it as the sole justification for a war, especially when we self-evidently are not applying the same standard across the globe. Principles are important, but in the real world you can rarely afford to enforce them consistently; wars are ultimately a matter of national interest, and you can't turn a principle into an interest just by calling it one. Nobody can possibly take seriously the idea that we are being entirely consistent here (we've watched many worse things unfold in sub-Saharan Africa).

7. This whole thing is going to cost a bunch of money. I generally pay little attention to financial cost in decisions about war and peace, on the grounds that if something is worth losing lives over, it's necessarily going to be worth spending money on as well. But if the calculus here is that knocking out the regime can be done on the cheap, it becomes more relevant to consider the dollars as well.

8. Yes: given that bombing Libya is a close call and depends on a lot of pragmatic factors, it does matter that I don't have any faith in the current Administration to carry out the fundamentals - i.e., defining the enemy and the objective - competently or in the best interests of the U.S.

9. Polls are showing at most 50% public support for this mission. That can't be good news for Obama if this doesn't wrap up quickly; the Iraq War and Vietnam both began with 80% public support (I've been reading Steven Hayward's Age of Reagan, and he cites among other things a May 1967 Gallup poll that found only 14% support for withdrawing from Vietnam, compared to 25% support for nuking North Vietnam). If the mission goes badly, Obama will be left with nearly no support.

10. At least having a Democratic president means that we don't have to listen to idiots arguing that the use of military force is illegitimate because neither the President, the Vice President nor the Secretary of State served in the military. That argument was never the province of remotely serious people anyway, let alone anyone who would use it consistently across partisan lines.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:01 PM | War 2007-14 | Comments (58) | TrackBack (0)
March 29, 2011
BASEBALL: EWSL 2011 Age and Rookie Baselines

Here's the other necessary preliminary before launching my division previews powered by Established Win Shares Levels (originally explained here): before we get to rolling out the 2011 EWSLs, I have to update the age adjustments and rookie values I use each year. These are based on the data I have gathered over the past seven seasons, and so with each passing year, one would hope they become progressively more stable and useful in evaluating the established talent base on hand for each team entering each season. As a reminder: EWSL is not a prediction system. It's a way of assessing the resources on hand.

I'll skip some more of the usual preliminaries (see last year's post) and get right to the charts:

Non-Pitchers 2010 and 2004-2010:


Pitchers 2010 and 2004-2010:


A couple of the older-age cohorts did well, which of course is partly attributable to small sample sizes - the 33-year-old hitters had a great year, led by Aubrey Huff, Alex Gonzalez and Mark Ellis as well as better bounce-backs than projected from Travis Hafner, Troy Glaus and AJ Pierzynski. The 34-year-old pitchers were bouyed by Tim Hudson and Carl Pavano, the 35-year-olds by Hiroki Kuroda, Koji Uehara, Livan Hernandez (whose actual age remains indeterminate) and the healthy-again Chris Carpenter, and the 38 year old pitchers were carried single-handedly by Billy Wagner.

On the other hand, it was a brutally tough year for some of the age brackets here, especially the 35-and-over hitters. And as you can see, not every age cohort is uniform - the 35 year old hitters were a fairly weak group, compared to the star-studded 36-year-olds, but both lost a whole bunch of value.

The real patterns can be found in the multi-year results. What has interested me the past few years is whether there is an actual change in aging patterns since baseball started cracking down on steroids - suspensions (full list here) began in 2005 and enforcement began in earnest in 2006, but I didn't start noticing a change in the trends until after the 2008 season. So I gathered the 2004-07 results against the 2008-10 results...the comparison was somewhat inconclusive on its face, so I won't bother you with the numbers, but I noticed something that is - on reflection - not that surprising: when comparing the 2004-07 sample to the 2008-10 sample, the proportionally smaller (per-year) group tended to do better. In other words, for example, the 30-year-old hiters held 86.2% of their value in 2004-07 compared to 95.9% in 2008-10, but 30-year-olds made up 9.58% of the hitters in the earlier group and 7.53% in the later group.

When I backed the numbers out, I noticed that (excluding rookies), 23-28 year olds made up 36.88% of the hitters in my preseason depth charts in 2004-07, compared to 42.92% in 2008-10, while the proportion of 35-and-up hitters dropped off from 16.47% to 12.9%. Among the pitchers, the proportion of pitchers age 27 and under rose from 34.97% to 40.46% over the same period, while pitchers age 34 and up dropped from 19.59% to 16.46%. Put simply, as we move away from the steroid age, fewer older players are hanging on at the margins. The results are not so dramatic as to compel me to draw a conclusion, but they certainly suggest that if we're looking for a shift in aging patterns, it may crop up less in the arc of player performance than in what we don't see - more guys losing jobs or hanging it up, perhaps due to injury, who might have found ways before to prolong their productive years.

Anyway, we wrap up with the rookie adjustments, which don't really require much comment:


Type of Player# in 2010WS in 2010# 2004-10WS 2004-10Rate
Everyday Players8826671110.77
Bench Players (Under 30)42662533.83
Bench Players (Age 30+)00430.75
Rotation Starters425321384.31
Relief Pitchers31018965.33
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:18 PM | Baseball 2011 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
March 28, 2011
BASEBALL: 2010 EWSL Wrapup By Team

My annual division roundups, using Established Win Shares Levels (explained at the beginning and end of this post), are disastrously overdue, part of the general fallout of difficult personal times - between wrapping up my brother's estate following his sudden death in November and my dad's severe (and not unrelated) decline in health since the end of 2010, I've been up to my eyeballs in everything but time to spend on my job, family and blogging. Naturally, my baseball blog posts take the brunt of that - it's one thing to write about politics or music, since most of the time that takes is the writing time, but most of my baseball stuff requires a lot more investment of time crunching numbers.

That said, in the next few weeks I intend to get the EWSL "previews" done, maybe more of them than usual after Opening Day, if for no other reason than continuity in what is now a long-running project - the 2010 numbers are all in the spreadsheets now. To kick that off, here is the annual chart breaking down how the 2010 EWSL previews compared to each team's actual results (see prior charts for 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005).

Key for the chart, by columns:

EWSL: Each team's "projected" 2010 wins by EWSL.

Wins: Actual 2010 wins.

Team Age: Weighted average age of each team's preseason 23-man "roster" weighted by raw EWSL.

2010 WS: Win Shares earned in 2010 by those 23 players, expressed in Wins (WS/3).

W +/-: The number of wins by which 2010 WS exceeded - or fell short of - EWSL. Basically, if EWSL is the expected baseline for each player's performance, this column tells you which teams did better or worse than could be projected from the talent of the 23 players on hand that I included in the preview. Since the main purpose of this exercise is to evaluate how well EWSL fared as a predictor of team performance (as I've noted repeatedly, it's not actually a prediction system, just a fairly rough way of evaluating talent on hand), I've ranked the chart by this column.

Rest: The number of wins (WS/3) earned by players on that team who were not in the preseason previews. Basically, this column tells you how much each team got out of players who weren't on my preseason radar, either because I guessed wrong who would make up the depth chart or because they brought people in by trade, from the minors or elsewhere who ended up being significant contributors. My 2010 EWSL "wins" worked from an assumption that the average team would earn about 13 wins from the rest of the roster, so you have to bear that average in mind when comparing this column to expected results.

Here are the results:

TeamEWSLWinsTeam Age2010 WSW +/-Rest

A few notes:

-As usual, EWSL did about what you'd expect: it got half the teams within 5 wins of the results for their rosters, was way, way off on a handful at either end, and didn't really have any way of projecting what teams would add to their preseason depth charts.

-The Reds, Blue Jays, Padres and White Sox easily outstripped every other team in getting more from the players on their preseason depth charts than you'd expect. The Mariners and D-Backs fell the furthest short (EWSL had the Mariners as a first-place team, which is about the largest possible error, and Arizona as a strong second). The Mets, even with some fairly tempered expectations, also fell pretty far short, thanks to getting a lot less than projected from Beltran, Castillo, Francouer and (ugh) Mike Jacobs.

-The Mets were, however, second only to the Giants in finding help from unexpected quarters, in the Mets' case the youth movement led by Ike Davis and the scrap heap brigade led by RA Dickey. The Giants came in almost exactly where EWSL had the 23 guys on their depth chart; their surprising run to World Champions was driven by additions/promotions like Buster Posey, Pat Burrell, Madison Bumgarner, and Santiago Casilla). The A's, for once, were not leaders in getting extra help. The Cubs, White Sox, Yankees and D-Backs got almost nothing from anybody but the people on their preseason depth charts (other than Arizona, this was an unsurprising byproduct of having a roster already full of older established players with a firm grip on their jobs and a settled bench and bullpen - the three oldest teams, the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, all relied heavily on the people who started the season with a job).

-MLB-wide, teams earned 1247 Win Shares, or 41.57 per team, from the rest of their rosters. Results year-by-year since I started tracking results at a team level:

2005: 1067 (35.57)
2006: 1143 (38.10)
2007: 1260 (42.00)
2008: 1226 (40.87)
2009: 1221 (40.70)
2010: 1247 (41.57)
Total: 7164 (39.80)

That may partly reflect that I've gotten worse over the years at projecting teams' core rosters, but on the whole, it does indicate at least some sort of rising trend from 2007 on in teams getting slightly more from second-line players, prospects and trade acquisitions than from their Opening Day rosters.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:01 PM | Baseball 2011 • | Baseball Studies • | Blog 2006-14 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
March 21, 2011
LAW: Regulating The Fourth Amendment Out of Existence

The Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures and demands that judicial officers issuing search warrants do so only on a showing of probable cause, is an important guarantee of our civil liberties, designed to protect personal privacy - especially in the home - from random governmental snooping. The Fourth Amendment tends to get a lot of bad press because it is usually enforced only by the Exclusionary Rule, which keeps the government from using illegally obtained evidence; by definition, the Exclusionary Rule protects only the rights of people with incriminating evidence to hide. It's also subject to various common-sense exceptions to allow law enforcement to operate on public streets when a warrant is impractical or public safety is imminently threatened. But whatever the misuses of the Exclusionary Rule, the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures remains a core Constitutional right.

And like all such rights, it is bound to come under more pressure the larger the regulatory state grows and the further it sinks its tentacles into every avenue of our existence. The growth of the regulatory state is a much greater threat to rights like these than are ordinary law enforcement or even the national security state, both of which are much more narrowly focused in their goals and thus unlikely to expend much effort harassing ordinary citizens.

A clear example of how the growth of the regulatory state threatens the rights protected by the Fourth Amendment was pointed out this morning by Justice Alito, in an opinion joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas concurring in the denial of a certiorari petition (scroll to the last two pages of the pdf):

Our cases recognize a limited exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement for searches of businesses in "closely regulated industries." ...The thinking is that, otherthings being equal, the "expectation of privacy in commercial premises" is significantly less than the "expectation in an individual’s home." ...And where a business operates in an industry with a "long tradition of close government supervision" - liquor dealers and pawnbrokers are classic examples - the expectation of privacy becomes "particularly attenuated."...

In this case, a New Jersey appellate court applied this doctrine to uphold a warrantless search by a state environmental official of Robert and Michelle Huber's backyard.... The Hubers' residential property contains wetlands protected by a New Jersey environmental statute...According to the court below, the presence of these wetlands brought the Hubers' yard "directly under the regulatory arm" of the State "just as much" as if the yard had been involved in a "regulated industry." ...

This Court has not suggested that a State, by imposing heavy regulations on the use of privately owned residential property, may escape the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement.

(Emphasis added; citations omitted).

Justice Alito went on to note that the Court was properly declining to take the case for procedural reasons: the decision came from an intermediate appellate court, not a state Supreme Court, and thus didn't meet the Court's usual criteria for resolving disputed issues of federal law. But it is noteworthy nonetheless that the Court's four conservative Justices felt it important to remind lower courts that the creeping expansion of regulation up to the very doorstep of private homes - the heartland of the Fourth Amendment's protections - should not be used as an excuse to treat private property's privacy as yet another thing subject to bureaucratic whim.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:29 AM | Law 2009-14 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
March 17, 2011
POLITICS: Andrew Cuomo Wakes Up And Smells The Tea


The biggest political story of 2011 is at the state level, where new Republican governors like Scott Walker and Rick Snyder have followed in the footsteps of Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie by seeking not only to cut short-term spending to address their states' immediate budget crises while resisting tax hikes, but to attack the #1 source of their states' long-term fiscal problems: excessive long-term commitments to pay and benefits for (mostly unionized) state and local public employees. Local Democrats in many states have responded with apoplexy, reflecting their political and financial dependence on those same unions. In other states, where the Democrats still hold the statehouses, they've had to swallow some spending cuts, but are nonetheless in denial - Jerry Brown in California has tried to close his budget gap with a 50/50 mix of spending cuts and tax hikes, Mark Dayton in Minnesota has pandered to the DailyKos crowd by proposing to double the state's top income tax bracket, Connecticut's Dan Malloy - elected by the slimmest of margins - blasted Walker's collective bargaining reforms as "Un-American" and proposed a battery of tax hikes, and Maryland's Martin O'Malley even went to the Corzine-esque extreme of giving the keynote speech at a union protest against his own budget, swearing to avoid "Midwestern oppression."

But oddly, at least one newly-elected Democratic governor seems to have come to grips thus far with reality, and it's maybe the unlikeliest of all: New York's Andrew Cuomo. The son of liberal icon Mario Cuomo, the Clinton-era HUD Secretary, the successor to Eliot Spitzer as the state's crusading Attorney General; nothing in Cuomo's history before the 2010 election suggests he's anything but a standard-issue liberal. Nor did he take office under any urgent need to court swing voters; while New York's usually liberal electorate gave the state Senate back to the GOP and swung more House seats from D to R than any other state in the Union, Cuomo himself cruised to victory by almost 30 points over his clownish self-funded challenger, Carl Paladino, and the state GOP boasts a depressingly shallow bench of prospective challengers.

Nonetheless, Governor Cuomo's agenda sounds like it could come straight out of the Christie-Walker playbook. The NY Daily News' Bill Hammond has an overview of Cuomo's promises and the obstacles he's faced, mainly from his own party. Some highlights:

-Negotiating for concessions on existing contracts from the public employee unions.

-Cutting health care, Medicaid and education spending. (see here; a quarter of the state's residents are on Medicaid).

-Capping property taxes to "limit the growth of these levies to 2% a year or the inflation rate, whichever is less," similar to the cap passed by Christie in New Jersey. (see here on how the cap would work to restrain school spending; the cap easily passed the GOP-controlled State Senate but faces stiff resistance from the Democrat-controlled Assembly and has provoked outrage from the teachers' union).

-Opposing all new tax hikes, especially a "millionaire's tax" on incomes above $200,000 promoted by the Assembly Democrats and supported by $1.5 million in ads run by the teachers' union (see here).

-Touting reform of the LIFO (last in, first out) rules that require teacher layoffs to be done by seniority rather than performance. (see here; Cuomo has backed down on doing anything about the LIFO rules but claims to be willing to replace them if a new system is installed for evaluating public school teachers).

As Hammond notes, Cuomo's progress - and even the sincerity of his commitment, as on the LIFO issue - has been uneven; he's yet to get real concessions from the Assembly or the unions (other than getting buy-in from hospitals and health-care unions on his health care cuts) and still faces a battle with Senate Republicans over ethics and gerrymandering bills. But if Cuomo has made some of the right enemies, he's made some strange bedfellows, too. His approval/disapproval ratings among Republicans are the same as among Democrats, and Rudy Giuliani has noticed that Cuomo is facing New York's fiscal realities by working from the GOP playbook:

Giuliani said in an interview Wednesday that the Democratic governor "has gotten off to a very good start."

"I don't know how Democrats feel about him but he's doing everything that a Republican governor would be doing in a similar situation," said the former mayor and one-time presidential candidate.

And while Cuomo has to navigate public-sector union opposition, he's actually getting backing for his budget and tax proposals from what may be as much as $10 million in outside ads by the Committee to Save New York, a post-Citizens United alliance of business and real estate interests with private sector construction unions and the public support of Democratic former comptroller and onetime bitter Cuomo foe Carl McCall. Here is a taste of the Committee's ads:

The question is why Governor Cuomo is trying to govern like a Republican, at least on fiscal issues. Certainly, after a life in liberal-Democratic circles, he's hardly had a road-to-Damascus conversion of principle, and he faces no real threat from the state GOP. The obvious reason is simple realism: even David Paterson tried to get a property tax cap passed. The state's finances are such a garish illustration of the failure of big-government liberalism that only a complete fool could deny the need for a change of course. A second reason is that Cuomo is, whatever his other faults, a guy who believes in doing things. He doesn't want to end up as the same impotent failure, hog-tied by dysfunctional Albany, as his three predecessors (George Pataki, like many moderate Republicans, had a good first year in office but followed it by not really accomplishing squat for the next 11 years; Spitzer was flailing even before "Client #9," and the functionally illiterate Paterson never had a prayer). The money's just not there for more liberal experiments; unless the state changes its ways, Cuomo will leave office with nothing accomplished, and he knows it. A third may be that Cuomo's investigations of the corruption in state pension funds - including targeting former Democrat comptroller Alan Hevesi and Obama Administration 'car czar' Steve Rattner - opened his eyes to the depth of corruption in business-as-usual Albany. And national ambition may be another driver - if Barack Obama wins a second term solely by virtue of a weak GOP field in 2012, four more years of Obama will almost certainly leave the Democrats looking for a new national leader unencumbered by Obama's fiscal profligacy if they hope to survive. Cuomo may be hoping to craft an image as some sort of fiscal centrist with an eye on 2016.

New York conservatives, often scorned and abandoned by the state GOP, don't and shouldn't trust Andrew Cuomo any further than we can throw him. But we can certainly get behind enough of his agenda to send the message far and wide that even blue-state liberal Democrats recognize the need for Daniels/Christie/Walker-style reforms to how our states do business. If even Andrew Cuomo can wake up and smell the tea, why can't your state?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:30 PM | Politics 2011 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
March 15, 2011
POLITICS: 95% of the Public Supports Spending Cuts?

Greg Sargent, the Washington Post's in-house left-wing activist, has a hilarious post up analyzing the latest WaPo poll. (The post was originally entitled, "The pubic agrees with Dems, but they don’t know it," although eventually someone caught on and fixed the typo.)

Everybody has typos; what's more enduringly amusing is Sargent's effort at spin:

A big majority, 64 percent, thinks the best way to reduce the federal budget deficit is through a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes, while only 31 percent think the best way is through only spending cuts. The former position is the one held by most Dems, while the latter is the one held by many Republicans.

...Democrats can plausibly conclude that the public agrees with them at least as much as with Republicans on how to handle our fiscal matters. Yet Dems are not proceeding as if this is the case.

(Italics in original; bold added). If you are keeping score at home, you just heard a left-wing activist admit that 95% of the public believes spending cuts are the best way to reduce the deficit, whether or not that plan also includes tax hikes. Going to the poll itself, only 3% believe the best way to cut the deficit is simply raising taxes. And what's more, that's the public - not likely voters or even registered voters, but all adults. Which is one reason why the entire poll is garbage ("all adults" don't vote for issues; voters vote for candidates). Another, of course, is that Sargent is, as usual, mouthing talking points here in claiming that the Democrats want serious spending cuts (this narrative doesn't even last the whole piece, as later on he cites support for "the Democratic argument that budget cuts will cause job loss," which is more like what Democrats usually argue when these issues come to a head. But notice that the Post didn't ask whether tax hikes would cost jobs, the answer to that one being painfully obvious). And as noted, even with all the poll's flaws, there's only 3% public support for closing the budget gap by soaking the taxpayer.

As I've explained previously, the real argument worth having isn't about the deficit at all, it's about what the ratio of public spending should be to private sector income, with the deficit being only a symptom of the problem of public spending crowding out the private sector. Sargent is trying to frame the debate as one about closing the deficit in a way that reduces the focus on spending cuts, and using an essentially worthless poll to do so. But when even that poll shows respondents by a 95-3 margin saying you have to cut spending to cut the deficit, the Democrats should think long and hard about choosing that hill to die on.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:53 PM | Politics 2011 | Comments (24) | TrackBack (0)
March 11, 2011
POP CULTURE: Concert Review: Grace Potter & The Nocturnals at Irving Plaza, 3/10/11

My wife and I braved the heavy rains and high winds last night to see Grace Potter and the Nocturnals at Irving Plaza. It was a vintage rock show that transported us back, for one evening, to the golden age of classic rock.


I've written previously about Potter & Co. and their album, for my money the best album of 2010, in the rock section of my "State of Rock and Pop" essay. As a vocalist, Potter is basically Janis Joplin with a little Stevie Nicks thrown in, and with an exceptionally powerful voice (on occasion, she takes this just a bit far in showing off her ability to drag out really big notes, like on the studio version of 'Tiny Light,' but on the whole she's a remarkable, soulful vocalist). The band is, oddly, co-ed since adding bassist Catherine Popper in 2009 (most female-fronted bands tend to be either all-girl like the Go-Gos or male-backed like Blondie, although Fleetwood Mac would be the most notable exception and a bit of a cautionary tale in this regard), and features two guitarists (including excellent lead guitarist Scott Tournet), a drummer, and Potter on either keyboards, guitar or tamborine as the song demands. Musically, they're also very much in line with Joplin, the Allman Brothers and other roots/soul rock acts of the late 60s and early 70s. Potter, however, insists she didn't listen to Janis growing up and was more into the Kinks.

The Venue, The Crowd and The Opening Act

I said my bit on Irving Plaza after seeing the Saw Doctors there last May (they're playing the venue again this weekend). On the one hand, it's a wonderfully intimate place to see a show, and positively scandalous - when you consider some of the acts that play stadiums and big arenas these days - that a band as talented, charismatic and musically mainstream as Potter and the Nocturnals are still doing shows for a few hundred people, three albums into their career. And seeing such a great show for $28.50 a ticket is an incredible steal. On the other hand, I have really come to hate General Admission - my wife and I had good position in the center of the crowd until some taller people just forced themselves in front of us about three songs into the set, after which we had to flee to the side (where we had to make way every few minutes for a waitress carrying beers) to see the stage (I'm a shade under 5'10" but my wife is only about 5'4").

As for the crowd, it was almost entirely white (as you expect with a rock act) but otherwise pretty diverse in age, with probably the bulk of attendees in their 20s and 30s. It was also one of the lamest crowds I've seen, rivaling the Billy Joel show I attended at the Nassau Coliseum in 1993 or 94 (described here), really lacking in visible enthusiasm. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was being a work night in Manhattan, maybe it was how densely the sold-out audience was packed that prevented people from moving or raising their hands much, and maybe in part my earplugs drowned out some of the crowd noise, but the audience really did not seem to react all that much compared to shows I've seen in the past. I suppose I was spoiled by some of the recent shows I've been to in that regard, ranging from the raucous Saw Doctors crowd to the outpouring of emotion at the Kelly Clarkson show. It was also the first time in a while I've been at a show with really noticeable pot smoke.

The opening act was a brother-sister fronted pop-rock band called Belle Brigade (as with the Saw Doctors show, no opening act was listed when I bought the tickets, so I only found out the day before who it would be). You can hear one of their songs here, they are apparently releasing their first album next month. We came in about halfway through their set, so I can't really offer much of an evaluation - I think I liked the song they were playing when I arrived better than the last two.

The Show

Potter and the band played 17 songs in a set that lasted for about two hours, including a two-song encore; the setlist, courtesy of Potter's twitter feed, is here, featuring seven songs off the band's latest album. If you're keeping score at home, that clocks in at an average song length somewhere around seven minutes. My wife complained that the set contained too many slow songs and too many long instrumentals and preferred the shorter tracks like 'One Short Night,' but of course that's the band's jam-band style (in most cases the band didn't actually stop playing between songs, just slowing down to a segue; as a result, Potter didn't do that much talking between songs). With a nod to the weather, Potter opened up with my personal favorite off the latest album, the rollicking rocker 'Hot Summer Night,' and played a particularly extended and borderline-psychedelic version of 'Oasis.' The band also played a couple of covers (including as part of the encore Heart's 'Crazy On You,' which Potter had performed with Ann Wilson on VH1 a few months ago) and some songs I didn't recognize from any of their albums, which may or may not have been covers. At the inevitable request for 'Free Bird' when Potter mentioned they'd be doing some covers, Potter sang the opening line and then quipped that "you'll have to slip a lot more dollar bills in my panties to get the rest of that one."

Here's video from last night of the blues-stomp number 'Joey,' off their first album; the video quality is better than the audio but should give a sense of the stage setup and the shaggy, white-suited band:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:45 PM | Pop Culture | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
March 10, 2011
BLOG: One Sporting Event

Tom Bevan passed along on Twitter this column asking what one sporting event you'd go back in time to attend in person if you could, and making the case for the first Ali-Frazier fight.

It's a tough question. I'd immediately discount any event I actually did watch live on TV, like Game Six of the 1986 World Series, the 1980 Miracle on Ice, or the Giants' three Super Bowl victories. My first reaction was to pick Game Seven of the 1960 World Series over some of the more impressive individual achievements like Don Larsen's perfect game or Wilt's 100-point game (of which film doesn't survive), or classics like Bobby Thomson's home run, but I think after kicking this around with some others on Twitter I'd probably settle with Game Seven of the 1912 World Series, which just had amazing team and individual drama and a chance to watch some of the greats of the pre-film era (Christy Mathewson, Tris Speaker, Smokey Joe Wood) in their primes.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:07 AM | Baseball 2011 • | Basketball • | Blog 2006-14 • | Football • | Other Sports | Comments (26) | TrackBack (0)
March 9, 2011
POLITICS: Soggy Wonder Bread For All

As regular readers will recall, I am not the biggest fan of Mitt Romney. Unlike my RedState colleague streiff, I don't really expect Romney to be the last man standing in the 2012 primaries, even if they go relatively badly in terms of who gets in and who gets their act together once in. Romneycare, atop his many other defects, is too big a problem for too many voters.

But there is a candidate in the race who represents, to me, the lowest common denominator we can all learn to live with, and that's Tim Pawlenty. Ramesh Ponnuru, whose opinion is never easily dismissed, makes the case for Pawlenty at length in the March 7, 2011 issue of National Review, and I urge you to read it.

As Ramesh notes, Pawlenty is pretty dull (check out the clips of him I collected in profiling him as a VP candidate in 2008), and runs the risk of coming off as insincere as Romney if he tries to cure that by trying to be someone or something he's not. Not for nothing do I refer to Pawlenty as Governor Soggy Wonder Bread. In many ways he's McCain without the interesting parts, for good and ill - minimally acceptable on all the big issues. And while that was a sad excuse for a candidate in 2008, it may be a very different story in 2012 if Obama is still unpopular and ends up banking entirely on his ability to discredit his opponent to win.

Fundamentally, Pawlenty is the one guy in the field with no potentially fatal weaknesses. He's the most experienced candidate available - two terms as a blue-state governor and four years as a state house majority leader make him the rare presidential candidate experienced as a chief executive and a legislative leader. The media will try, but he can't be effectively caricatured the way Palin, Barbour and Romney can. And like Romney, he has one crucial thing the rest of the field has yet to prove - he wants the job, badly, and is effectively already running.

I'm not trying to sell anybody just now on Pawlenty - as I'll explain in a lengthier post on Palin I keep meaning to finish writing, I don't think we conservatives should be committing ourselves to anybody in the field just yet, and I intend to keep hunting for a better alternative than Pawlenty. But we can most assuredly do worse, and if we're stuck (as in 2008) with a last-man-standing least-of-evils anybody-but-Obama candidate, I think Pawlenty will prove to be a far more plausible choice than Romney or Huckabee or Jon Huntsman. I certainly want him to stick in the race so we have that option available.

So, just in case, save me a seat on the blandwagon.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:20 PM | Politics 2012 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)

Great look back at Andrew Jackson's enormous wheel of cheese. Yes, the White House had different problems in those days.

Speaking of the Jacksonian era, I've recently been reading "A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent," which is an excellent look at the Polk Administration - Polk was without doubt our most underrated president, one of the five or six most consequential and accomplished presidencies and by far the most significant one-term president. Anyway, one thing that was a quite different problem, which modern presidents only think they would like to have: Polk faced a challenge early in his tenure owing to the fact that the editor of the essentially-official Democratic party newspaper was antagonistic to him, and he had to maneuver to oust the editor despite the fact that he was an old friend of Jackson, Polk's mentor. We still have a variety of partisan and ideological media organs, but Polk's experience illustrated the double-edged sword of the 19th century tradition of having a paper that was widely seen by the public as speaking for a party: if the party had competing factions, it could do disproportionate damage to party leaders on the wrong side of the split.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:41 AM | History | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
March 7, 2011
POLITICS: Fighting The Last War

Michael Barone on the Taylorite origins of modern labor-union ideology and how unsuited that ideology is to unions of public employees who do not work on assembly-line jobs.

This is a slight tangent, but having read only glancingly about him over the years, I hadn't known that Taylor was a fraud. It's amazing how many of the most famous early celebrity "scientists" and pseudo-scientists this is true of - Alfred Kinsey and Margaret Mead, to pick a few obvious examples (Rachel Carson's work stops short of outright fabrication of studies, but doesn't stand up much better to retrospective scrutiny). One of the lessons we should have learned years ago is that really groundbreaking research needs to be double-checked - sometimes it's completely bogus, and even when it's diligently done, further evaluation usually turns up more qualifiers. And yet, the widely-publicized theories of these "pioneers" ended up lingering long in public consciousness.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:43 PM | Politics 2011 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Figures Don't Lie

In case you missed it, Iowahawk had some fun at the expense of a fairly typical example of Paul Krugman's work. He responds further here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:29 PM | Politics 2011 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BLOG: Open Thread 3/7/11

Mostly to let you all know I'm not dead (which you could tell from my Twitter feed, but I've been silent on the blog). Still digging out after a business trip to China. Hope to be back blogging soon.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:11 PM | Blog 2006-14 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)