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Monday, December 30, 2002

Ten Things I Hated About Yesterday's Games

1. Well, to look on the bright side, I'm relieved of the responsibility of watching any more football for the next nine months. Which means I can spend my Sundays, well, doing something else.

2. Thanks for nothing, Packers, for rolling over and playing dead against the Jets. I hope you enjoy playing this week against Atlanta. I hope your defense has fun with Michael Vick, even though it's hard to imagine the Falcons winning in Lambeau. Or having to go Tampa Bay the next week. Or, should you survive that, playing on that horrendous turf in Philly.

3. The Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots of 2001-02 are officially the most inexplicable phenonmenon in Super Bowl history. There is but one other defending champ not to even make the playoffs the following season, and the 99-00 Broncos lost John Elway to retirement and lost Terrell Davis in Week 3 to a season-ending injury. The Pats went one better, sandwiching a Super Bowl-winning campaign around two non-playoff seasons. (On the other hand, they fared better than the Rams did.) What makes all of this even weirder is that they didn't have the free agency losses (2000 Rams) or salary cap problems (2001 Ravens) that other recent Super Bowl champs had in their following seasons. Although since Denver repeated, no defending champ has done that well - the Ravens and Rams did just barely well enough to sneak their way into the playoffs, which the Pats could have done had their nine wins been distributed differently.

4. The Patriots need a running back who can reliably get them some yards and prevent the other team from controlling the clock every game. But first they need defensive linemen who can stop the run, since the Pats made every RB they faced into an all-pro. They need a pass rush too, if the last three weeks are any indication. They need a wideout who can help take the pressure off Troy Brown. A new punter would be nice too. Come to think of it, other than place kicker Adam Viniateri, there's not a guy on this team you could call among the best at his position. Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy perhaps.

5. As usual, Viniateri was money yesterday. And yet to have the best player on your team be the place kicker is usually not a good sign.

6. Dave Wannstedt is an idiot. Hmm...there's less than three minutes on the clock, and you lead by a field goal. The Pats kick the ball to you. Ricky Williams has been killing the Pats all day, though not quite so much later as earlier. Do you run Williams three times? Twice? Once? Do you force New England to use any time outs? Heck, running around in circles wouldn't be a bad call. What do you do? Why, throw three incomplete, clock-stopping pass attempts, of course!!
I wouldn't hate this so much if I didn't have to hear all the bitching about the pass interference call from Miami fans for the next calendar year.

7. Anyone else smell trouble for the Pats next year? The Jets all of a sudden look like world beaters, the Dolphins are still there, and your trade of Drew Bledsoe virtually by itself turned the Bills into a contender. (Although at least next year they play the whole AFC South rather than the AFC West, and the relatively weak NFC East.)

8. How the hell did Cleveland get into the playoffs? Did the freakin' Browns beat anyone? The Jets, I suppose, but before they got going. New Orleans, although nearly every bad team in the NFL can say they beat New Orleans. Atlanta, but the Falcons are backing into the playoffs. How many bad teams did they get to play? Any schedule and formula that lets them in and keeps Denver, Miami, and the Pats out is defective. (Not to mention conducive to boring first round playoff games.)

9. It's of course enlightening that the AFC had two good divisions and two craptastic ones...and the wild cards came from the craptastic divisions. The NFC had something similar, at least as far as the Giants go. Talk about a creampuff schedule...two games each against the Redskins and Cowboys, the Vikings, the Jaguars, the Texans, the Cardinals, and the Seahawks. And that doesn't include the Rams, who are also going to end up with a losing record. 10 games out of 16 against opponents with losing records. Until the home win against the Eagles in the final week, they were winless against teams with records of .500 or better.
Meanwhile, the AFC East and West battered each other to a bloody pulp, only to see two profoundly medicore teams grab the AFC wild cards.

10. Speaking of the Saints...talk about weird. You sweep Tampa Bay. You beat the Packers. And the Steelers. And then...you lose to the Lions, Bengals, Browns, Vikings, and Bengals. (That typo, BTW, is intentional.) It's easy to wonder if some of these games were fixed.


Thursday, December 26, 2002

Random Web Quiz #25...

Take the What Explosive am I? quiz by Little man icon! Hee hee!PhoenixSpirit001

Everyone's Gone To The Movies

Enough with the damn commercials before the movies!

I know they've been around for a while. They've just gotten out of hand now. I went to see "Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers" at a local movie theater, and the movie didn't start until 30 minutes after the listed time. There was a projection malfunction during the commercials, so they took 5 minutes to fix it - and then showed the same commercials all over again. Then came the theater advertisements. Then a charitable solicitation from John Travolta, whose presence made me wonder if the charity was a Scientology front. Then the Coming Attractions. Then, finally, to widespread sarcastic applause initiated in part by yours truly, the movie itself.

I didn't pay $9.00 to watch nearly ten minutes of commercials - twice. (This doesn't include the previews and trailers - for some reason I don't mind those as much.) Keeping in mind that the "The Two Towers" is itself a three-hour movie, that's a lot of time for one sitting.

It's yet another reason to wait for movies to come out on DVD, as if we didn't have enough reasons already.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002


Here Comes Santa Claus

Remember when, as a child, every year you went through that thought experiment to figure out what route Santa Claus had to take (taking into account the time zones and such) to get everyone their presents and at what rate he had to make his deliveries? (Or how many helpers he had to have?)

Hmm..perhaps that was just me.

Friday, December 20, 2002

C'mon Ride It (The Train)

Anyone driving through Washington DC - avoid Mt. Vernon Square (where New York Ave, Mass Ave, and K Street intersect) at all costs. Despite getting into a cab in Adams-Morgan 45 minutes before my train was to live, I missed my train while the taxi was stuck in traffic.

I did get on another train - albeit one that dropped me off not in my actual home town of Worcester, but in Providence, Rhode Island. Amtrak in my estimation remains a good and convenient way to get somewhere if you're not too pressed for time. It's certainly far more relaxing than the typical airport experience, with its multiple security checkpoints and general "hurry up and wait" atmosphere. (Plus, nowadays if I missed a plane instead of a train, I'd have been screwed.)

On the train, I read "Angela's Ashes." I recommend the book - it's a great read, and the depressive effects multiple tragic events the story has become notorious for are countered 100% by Frank McCourt's witty prose and dark sense of humor. Plus, it could put anyone's painful childhood memories - and I have my share of, perhaps a little more than my share - to complete and utter shame. By all accounts, however, the film they made based on the book conveys very little of said wit and humor and is kind of painful to endure.

And despite my generally crummy mood resulting from missing my train (among other things) I got one of those reminders of how well-off I am compared to many other Americans, as I always do when Amtrak rolls through parts of Baltimore and Philadelphia that aren't exactly showing up in tourist brochures.

Other random stuff:

Aberdeen, MD -- You'd never know it looking on a map, but there's a whole lotta nothing between Philadelphia and Baltimore. Much of the Delaware stretch is sort of populated, but for some reason the Northeast megalopolis seems to bypassed Cecil County, MD completely. (Yes, I know Aberdeen, the hometown of Cal Ripken, is actually in Harford County, itself surprisingly sparsely populated considering its proximity to Baltimore.)

Trenton, NJ -- "Trenton Makes The World Takes." For some reason this slogan is written in neon on a bridge visible from the train as you cross the Delaware River into Trenton from neighboring Bucks County, PA. What the hell does slogan this mean? What do they make in Trenton? New Jersey state laws I suppose, but can "the world" really be said to "take" these laws?

New York, NY -- I'm never going to get used to those two towers not being there. But I actually am impressed with many of the proposednew plans for the World Trade Center site. I'm not a fetishist for having the world's tallest building or anything, but New York's skyline could use a new, bold element, and many of these plans offer just that. (Compare with the really blah stuff that was proposed this summer.) But the quick turn out of the tunnel as the Amtrak rises above ground in Queens will always remind me of the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001.

Bridgeport, CT -- If I was on a commuter train from New York to here, I'd have been stopping I think every 1,000 feet or so. I'd go nuts. We must have gone by a score of stations between New Rochelle, NY and here.

Providence, RI -- For a city of its size, what a great looking downtown. Most cities in the Northeast of this size are almost uniformly hideous. (I may defend Worcester in many ways as a decent place to live, but it's not going to win any awards for aesthetics.)

Well, off to sleep...

Thursday, December 19, 2002

I'll Be Home For Christmas
Leaving for Massachusetts to be with the family for the Holidays. Updates to this site will probably be sporadic and not contain any really lengthy entries. (I know, I can see the tears from here.)

Anyhow..Happy Holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Pigs On The Wing

Apparently it’s now chic in conservative circles to argue that people living from paycheck to paycheck aren’t paying enough in income taxes. (I saw this originally in a Wall Street Journal a couple weeks back and for some reason ignored it then. But since I was subjected to reading this yesterday at breakfast I couldn’t resist this time.)

1. This is the first time I’ve heard anything about “ordinary Americans” being undertaxed coming from the right. I guess the thinking is that people who don’t have to pay a lot of money in income taxes don’t hate the government enough. (The government run by the right wing, you mean?)

2. I’m not an economist, but, why didn’t it occur to anyone quoted in this story (even the Democratic types) that maybe the reason wealthy Americans are paying a higher and higher share of federal income taxes is that they are making a higher and higher share of the nation’s income? The Post article (and the charts included in the print edition) makes no mention of this possibility at all.

3. This seems like an even worse idea in bad economic times. If consumer spending is down, it’s probably not a good idea to do something that will not only make them poorer but will make them feel poorer. (See also: The giveaway to credit card companies that is the bankruptcy reform bill, which has continued to get bogged down over, of all things, the abortion issue.)

4. Conservatives are always decrying left-wing “class warfare.” I’m surprised they’d propose something like this, which in theory, should seriously undermine conservative efforts to pit the middle class against the working poor, or the working poor against the out of work.

5. Speaking as a political analyst, it looks like the Republicans are going to overplay their hand again, if this is any indication. Democrats should be on this like a cheap suit. Oh, the irony of Democrats speaking to working-class and middle-class audience claiming the Republicans don’t think that people like them aren’t being taxed enough.

I wish I could laugh at all this. Because when you look at this from a distance, it’s kind of funny.

After The Fall

Just when you think Pats have righted the ship...bam!...along comes one of those games where they look incapable of beating anyone, not just the particular opponent on the field. 7 points against Tennessee? A defense that got lit up by the alleged offenses of the Redskins, the Bengals, and the Giants? They couldn't run, they couldn't tackle, and they turned the ball over - with the exception of one drive (and even one that was aided by penalties) they looked like an expansion team. And again they were coached (particularly in the waning minutes of the first half) like Bill Belichick had a deal with the devil that had come due.

Or perhaps it was just the Monday Night Jinx has rearing its ugly head again - I guess the Steeler win in Week 1, now sadly a distant memory, wasn't enough to exorcise that demon. A Patriots fan always prays to the scheduling gods to keep them away from Monday night, which isn't going to happen to a team that won the Super Bowl. (I don't have actual data on their all-time MNF record, but it has to be among the worst in the NFL. Even in their good years they never seem to win on Monday night.)

There is no wild card option now. There are too many teams they've already lost to in the hunt, and the one they haven't played (Indianapolis) has better a conference record. Either they win out (beating the Jets and Dolphins at home) and grab the East crown or this is the second year in four that neither Super Bowl team even gets to the playoffs (since the Rams are out).

Oh, well, either way...no matter how bad the Patriots end up this season, that 2002 Super Bowl flag is never coming down. This is especially sweet considering how many people up north abandoned the team in troubled times and jumped on one bandwagon or another. (I'm thinking of one team in particular.) Some of them are still waiting for their loyalty shifts to bear fruit, while those who stuck with them have something to crow about. Heh.

What makes things more complicated is that one of my former neighbors in college is the quarterback for the team I'm supposed to despise. You would think that going to an Ivy League school (and a law school for a university that doesn't even have a football team) would prevent this sort of thing from happening.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

The General In His Labyrinth

Today I saw the film “The Pinochet Case.”

It was a bit slow, as they inexplicably included a few puzzling shots of volcanic rumblings and shots of empty august British court rooms. (They also laid the testimony of survivors on pretty thick, but I don’t walk into a documentary film about a dictator and his regime not expecting to see that sort of thing.)

The almost unprecedented nature of these proceedings is a source of fascination. Are we about to enter a new era of international law, one where foreign jurisdictions and the international community can, at least in theory, enforce international law against foreign heads of state?

An attorney in Spain, a former aide to deposed President Salvador Allende, came up with the idea of trying – in a foreign court, specifically a Spanish court - General Augusto Pinochet for the tortures, murders, and “disappearances” that occurred during the 17-year reign of his military junta in Chile. He found a willing element in the Spanish judiciary to hear his case, and soon several other European countries took up the cause as well.

So, while Pinochet was in London - partly as a tourist, partly to receive medical treatment – British authorities arrested him. There was a long series of judicial maneuverings, which ended in concluding that Pinochet could be extradited to Spain to answer for crimes committed under his command, only to have the British government conclude his poor for him to stand trial, and sent him home to Chile. The story is not over, since Chilean courts are wrestling the issue of trying him there.

Something I was disappointed didn’t come up much in the film – the possible implications of a future where heads of state or former heads of state are tried in foreign courts for offenses committed in their own countries that, for whatever, reason, the country itself chooses not to address.

Now of course there’s one concrete exception to all of this – the Nuremburg trials. It’s a reasonably good blueprint for a future of international justice, even if one way to analyze them is as a manifestation of power politics (i.e. a form of reparation exacted from the losers of a major war by the winners.) It’s not as if the realities of power politics are going to disappear simply because we will them away. But change has to start somewhere, and if one desires a change in an international law paradigm, a trial of Augusto Pinochet may not be a bad place to start.

One Conservative British MP went on camera and said our system of international diplomacy wouldn’t work without immunity for foreign heads of state for acts committed in their own country, and that the distinction between sitting and former heads of state is a tenuous one.

He’s probably right about that, although there’s a plausible argument to be made that, well, maybe our system of international diplomacy needs to be shaken up.

Even if you’re not (as some conservatives do) going to defend Pinochet or his regime on the merits, you have to ponder this for a bit. Pinochet abided by the results of a 1990 election and agreed to step down, with the idea that he was going to be allowed to leave office gracefully. In some way, isn’t this effort to bring him to justice an invalidation of such understanding, both in the specific and in the general case? Certainly there is much sentiment in Chile for letting bygones be bygones, and not all of it comes from the military or even from those inclined towards the right.

One has to consider the incentives. There are dictators around the world right now. In some sense, the message the prosecution of Pinochet sends to them is “There is no turning back. If you step down, they will make the rest of your life miserable. So hold onto power at all costs, fighting until the bitter end if necessary.” Might not such a message lead to more strife, more civil wars, and more suffering?

However, maybe all that short-term suffering is worth it. What if tomorrow’s despots, the ones not yet in power, act knowing that some day the international community may take them to task? If it means fewer death squads, fewer dirty wars, and a reluctance to resort to torture or persecution, and an unwillingness to murder one’s opponents, then the short-term pain of the ugly departure of the world’s remaining despotisms is well worth the positive long-term aspects of a greater accountability on the part of heads of states for atrocities of their regimes.

Perhaps despots would continue to act as they do now even in the face of international pressure, which would make all of this folly. At the other end of the scale, though, maybe the idea of becoming a dictator, is less attractive in an age where they are made to answer for their crimes. How would the behavior of the world’s warlords change? I don’t know. I think it might be worth finding out, though.

The human rights violations (depicted at length in the film) that took place in Chile – the brutal system of torture, murder, and abduction – horrible though they were, are unfortunately all too common around the world. We can all name countries off the top of our heads. Cambodia. El Salvador. Bosnia. Rwanda. Burma. Afghanistan. Most of them saw witness to atrocities far worse, in sheer numbers if nothing else, than anything Pinochet or his subordinates did. I have to ask: If diplomacy as we know it is indifferent to genocide, what good is it?

From the unique perspective of the United States, there is an additional question. The United States is the world’s only military superpower. No other country, friend or foe, even dreams of throwing its weight around the way the U.S. does regularly. Sometimes, the United States attempts to seek international approval for its actions, but wishes, particularly this administration, to reserve the right to act unilaterally, not having to answer to anyone. Presumably, then, the United States stands the most to lose from this development. (Some of these same issues are behind the vigorous opposition of the United States to the International Criminal Court, which I’ll discuss elsewhere.)

Frankly, I’d rather the United States have some new reason to think twice before it acted recklessly overseas for selfish reasons, helping (intentionally or inadvertently) to oppress, impoverish, and otherwise make life miserable for people living in some distant country most Americans couldn’t find on a map. It would have the added advantage of making it harder for Osama bin Laden and his ilk to recruit people willing to die in the act of killing Americans, or Israelis, or Kenyans, or anyone other than militant Islamists, without having to really cave in to any of their demands.

It’s my first rule of human behavior. Unaccountability is bad. When people know they can act with impunity is when they are at their worst. All-powerful governments are bad. All-powerful corporations are bad. All-powerful institutions of any kind are bad.

If eliminating impunity begins with the head of Augusto Pinochet on a platter, then, well, I for one will not weep for him.

(You know, I think I’m going to give these rants titles from now on…)

Random web quiz #24..
amazing race



You Should Be On The Amazing Race!


You're adept, swift, and great at almost any game.


Pair this with your love for world culture, and you make


the perfect Amazing Race contestant. Ready, set, go!



What Reality TV Show Should You Be On? Click Here to Find Out!

More Great Quizzes from Quiz Diva


Hmm..I never watch this show. Of course I never watch any of these shows, so whatever. It just looked like a neat quiz.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

And now for Part Two of my review of the 2003 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. Total list of candidates can be found here. Stat links courtesy of Baseball Reference.

The Pitchers:

Bert Blyleven (6th Year on ballot) – I’m a supporter of Bleyleven’s candidacy, not surprising considering his cause is popular in the sabermetric community. Blyleven’s is fifth all-time in career strikeouts with 3701, trailing only Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, and future inductees Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson. The next eight people behind Blyleven on the list are all in the Hall of Fame. His career 287 wins would be the highest among non-indcutees, if not for a still-active Clemens, a 19th century hurler named Bobby Matthews, and, by one win, Tommy John. (More on John below.) Of the ten pitchers judged most similar to Blyleven, eight (Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, Robin Roberts, Tom Seaver, Early Wynn, Phil Niekro, and Carlton) are in the Hall, and the other two (John and Jim Kaat) are strong candidates. The case against him: He somehow only appeared on two All-Star teams. He never won a Cy Young - but had years (particularly 1973 and 1984) where he could have had he pitched for a better team. No one ever talked much about him being among the best pitchers in the game. He only won 20 games once in an era when 20 game winners were more common, his career winning percentage was an umimpressive .534 and his “average” season comes out to 14-12. Most of this, however, comes down to spending most of his career on playing for weak Minnesota and Cleveland teams – when given the opportunity (with the Pirates and Twins) to perform in the postseason, he did well – and playing in a small markets his entire career, except for three late career seasons with the second-tier Angels. Yes, there’s a value to having a reputation as being among the best, but sometimes conventional wisdom is flawed. I vote for Blyleven.

Rich Gossage (4th year on ballot) – We’re still largely in the dark on the Hall of Fame standard for relief pitchers. You of course can’t compare their counting stats with those of pitchers who were primarily starters. It’s even hard to compare the numbers of a first-generation ace like Goose with the pitchers whose primes came in this current age of increasing pitcher specialization; after all, Gossage never saved more than 33 in any season, a total that would barely get him on the leader board some years today. Goose also hurt himself by bouncing around the league, mostly ineffectively, late in his career. So he’s my case for Gossage. His list of most similar pitchers is headed by the only two relievers in the Hall of Fame, Rollie Fingers and Hoyt Wilhelm. For many years, Goose and Fingers were the gold standard by which other closers were measured. Nobody wanted to face the Goose with the game on the line. Goose had the superior career ERA+ (a sabermetrician’s tool evaluating a pitcher’s park- and league- adjusted value) plus 200 more strikeouts and 10 more wins. Fingers’ lower ERA stemmed in part from pitching in Oakland and in part from retiring at an earlier age. Fingers was a little better, but there’s room for more than one relief ace from the 70s and early 80s in the Hall, and Gossage should be first in line for the second slot. I vote for Gossage.

Tommy John (9th Year On Ballot) - His ten most similar list has seven Hall of Famers, two ballot mates (Blyleven and Jim Kaat) and a 19th century pitcher (Tony Mullane) who’s a reasonable Veterans’ Committee candidate. I think most of those pitchers were better than John. He has some numbers that compare with those of Blyleven. John had several solid seasons, winning 20 three times, though he never won a Cy Young. His control was even better than Blyleven’s although with far fewer strikeouts. John, however, recorded only one more win despite playing five more seasons for generally better teams than Blyleven. No one ever thought of John as among the best pitchers in the game, and he wasn’t nearly as underrated as Blyleven. John and Jim Kaat both epitomize the argument first posited by critics of Phil Niekro and Don Sutton, wondering how much weight to put on long pitching careers. Still, he’s close enough for a tiebreaker, and he’s got a “history of the game” argument that allows me to vote for him. He was the first man to have his career extended by a revolutionary surgical procedure that extended his career and the careers of many other pitchers. And while he neither conceived of nor performed the surgery, he was truly a pioneer. I vote for John.

Jim Kaat (15th Year On Ballot)- It’s Jim Kaat’s last year on the ballot, and there’s little indication the voters are going to change their minds about him. Kaat has a few things going for him that Blyleven and John do not. There was the one monster season in 1966 (25-13, 2.75 ERA, 205 Ks and 271 hits in nearly 305 innings) that neither Blyleven nor John could ever put together. (It did not get him a Cy Young award since ’66 was the last season before each league had their own Cy Young winner, and the award that year went to Sandy Koufax.) Kaat also won 16 Gold Gloves. And, much like Blyleven, Kaat spent most of his career away from big markets and strong teams. His “most similar” list is very similar to that of Tommy John ; each one’s list is headed by the other, both include Blyleven and Hall inductees Robin Roberts, Eppa Rixley, Early Wynn, Burleigh Grimes, and Red Ruffing. But…(of course there’s a but) his career ERA of 3.45 (only 0.24 better than adjusted league norms) is nothing special for a hurler of the 60s and 70s. It certainly doesn’t scream Hall of Famer, and neither does a .544 winning percentage. The line has to be drawn somewhere, and between a pitcher who had a pivotal role in revolutionizing sports medicine and a very similar pitcher who had no such role is as good a place as any to draw that line. I wouldn’t object to his eventually getting in (with bonus points for broadcasting), but I don’t vote for Kaat.

Darryl Kile (1st Year On Ballot) – By all accounts, he was well loved by family and teammates alike. Obviously, Kile’s death was both shocking and tragic. But a sad and sudden death does not a Hall of Famer make. Otherwise, Ray Chapman would be in the Hall of Fame. So would Tony Conigliaro. If he were inducted, his record would stick out like a sore thumb, and not in a good way. He’d have fewer career wins than any other starting pitcher in the Hall. He’d have the highest ERA (4.12) of any pitcher in the Hall, and that’s without a career “decline phase.” (Yes, he was victimized by two seasons of Coors Field and a homer-happy era, but there’s a long list of active pitchers with better numbers than Kile, many of whom are contending with tough climates for pitching themselves.) None of the pitchers on his “most similar” list, many of them his contemporaries, have even the slightest chance at Hall induction. I don’t vote for Kile.

Jack Morris (4th year on ballot) – He was the winningest pitcher of the 80s, racking up 245 victories (including 28 shutouts) in 18 seasons. He struck out 2,478 on his way to 5 All-Star appearances, finished top 10 in Cy Young balloting 8 times, and has a World Series MVP award. Everyone remembers his famous Game 7 performance in the 1991 World Series with his hometown Twins. (On the other hand, he’d rather forget his post-season performance the next year, where Toronto won despite Morris rather than because of him.) But there’s that pesky little number in his record that his defenders can’t explain away. 3.90 No Hall of Fame pitcher has an ERA that high. Now perhaps we might be able to look past that number if there were strong extenuating circumstances. But the 80s of Jack’s heyday were not as offense-happy as the 90s. And Tiger Stadium may have been known as a hitters’ park, but its reputation as such was overrated. Short down the lines, but massive in center field, Tiger Stadium did not inflate offense all that much. The adjusted league average ERA during Morris’ career was 4.08, leaving him only 0.18 runs above the average pitcher. Morris was a below average pitcher in 7 of his 18 seasons. That’s not a Hall of Famer. I don’t vote for Morris.

Lee Smith (1st Year On Ballot) – The all-time career leader in saves with 478, he virtually defined what it meant to be a relief ace most of his career. With 1251 strikeouts in 1289 innings, a strong 3.03 ERA, and 7 All-Star appearances, his case is as solid as that of any relief pitcher. It’s popular among sabermetrics types to say that closers are overrated, and some prefer they essentially be categorically excluded from Cooperstown. However, there are already two of them in the Hall, and while we should be careful not to be too easily impressed by relievers or their value, there is room for at least a few relievers. The standards for relief excellence are still being written, but Lee Smith is as good a place to start as anywhere. I vote for Smith.

Bruce Sutter (10th year on the ballot) - Sutter has something that Lee Smith and Goose Gossage lack – a Cy Young Award (1979). He also left his mark in another major way – as a pioneer in an important new pitch, the split-fingered fastball. Sutter led the NL in saves five times and his career ERA ranks high among closers of that era. His biggest negative is that he lost his effectiveness early and played only 12 major league seasons, which prevented him from racking up career inning, save, and strikeout totals near those of Smith or Gossage. Already there are 15 pitchers with more saves than Sutter, although some of that is due to a change in usage patterns. I’m not a supporter of Sutter’s candidacy. He barely qualifies as having pitched enough for eligibility, as a reliever didn’t pitch many innings in even those years, and his career still had room for four relatively ineffective seasons. Plus, voting Sutter down blocks the door; we won’t have to listen to “more saves than Sutter” arguments from future advocates of players like Rick Aguilera and Roberto Hernandez. I don’t vote for Sutter.

Fernando Valenzuela (1st Year On Ballot) – Valenzuela had a career ERA of 3.54, despite the fact that he pitched mostly in Dodger Stadium and didn’t pitch much once the 1990s offensive explosion kicked into high gear. People remember “Fernandomania” and his outstanding 1981 and 1985 campaigns, and are fuzzier on how mediocre he was after 1986. His “most similar list” is ten guys who aren’t in the Hall and aren’t going. Easily one of the most overrated pitchers of all time. The extra points you might want to give him for being a pioneer for Mexican players still leaves him far short. For those who demand a pitcher whose peak coincided with the 1980s, Jack Morris and Dave Stieb (on the ballot next year) make better cases. I don’t vote for Valenzuela.

So, my ballot would look like this, in rough order of merit…
1. Eddie Murray
2. Bert Blyleven
3. Lee Smith
4. Gary Carter
5. Ryne Sandberg
6. Rich Gossage
7. Jim Rice
8. Alan Trammell
9. Tommy John

(If I had to name a tenth, it’d be Jim Kaat.)

Friday, December 06, 2002

The Baseball Hall of Fame 2003 Ballot is out. And since I have nothing better to do at the moment, here’s my take on the relative merits of people on the ballot.

We’re just going to start by eliminating the players who it should be obvious to everyone aren’t remotely qualified for Cooperstown. The list is:
Vince Coleman, Darren Daulton, Mark W. Davis, Sid Fernandez, Rick Honeycutt, Danny Jackson, Tony Pena, Danny Tartabull, Mickey Tettleton, Mitch Williams, Todd Worrell

And then we’ll divide this task into two parts. The hitters are below. The pitchers will be discussed later.

The Hitters:

Brett Butler (1st Year On Ballot) – Sort of a poor man’s Tim Raines (many SB, not much power, good BA and OBP, good fielder) except of course that he’s white. Had a solid career, but he belongs in the Hall of the Very Good, not the Hall of Fame. Of the ten most similar batters, only three (Richie Ashburn, Harry Hooper, and Lloyd Waner) are in the Hall, none of the other seven are ever going to be inducted, and of the three who are in, only Ashburn really belongs there. (The other interesting thing about his comps list – only Willie Wilson is a contemporary of his.) And no Raines; I was kinda surprised. I don’t vote for Butler.

Gary Carter (6th Year On Ballot) - His stats look like nothing special now, but he was a catcher whose career prime was in the late 70s and early 80s, when the standards, both for catchers and everyone else, were different. He did put up 2092 hits and 324 homers despite spending his entire career in the NL in poor hitters’ parks. He was an 11-time All-Star, won 3 Gold Gloves and was a mainstay of the HR and RBI leader boards. His “most similar” lists actually runs out of catchers to compare him to, a very good sign for a catcher, and includes four solid Hall of Famers (Bench, Fisk, Berra, Gabby Hartnett) and three other strong candidates - Ted Simmons, Joe Torre (even before any consideration of his managerial career), and Ron Santo. While I think it’s fair to say that Fisk deserved to get in before Carter, now that Fisk’s in, Carter belongs in too. I vote for Carter.

Dave Concepion (10th Year On Ballot) – Despite 9 All-Star appearances and 5 Gold Gloves, I don’t see it. He had a good defensive reputation, but not like Ozzie Smith’s or anything. He’s mostly well-known these days due to being on the Big Red Machine teams of the 70s. As a hitter, some of his best comps are in Cooperstown (Pee Wee Reese, Luis Aparicio, Bobby Wallace) but most of them (Tony Fernandez, Bert Campaneris, Garry Templeton, Frank White, Alan Trammell) are rough contemporaries, none of whom, other than Oz, are ever going to the Hall – unless Alan Trammell (who was a far more valuable hitter) surprises me. And yet Bill James’ HOF monitor has him as “likely,” due in no small part to the Big Red Machine’s run. I don’t vote for Concepcion.

Andre Dawson – I’ve gone back and forth on this one a few times. I’m in the “no” camp, but the “yes” argument isn’t frivolous. For the moment, he’s the man, other than shoo-in Eddie Murray, with the most RBI among eligible players not in the Hall. And he’s four homers short of the same distinction in that category. He’s got an (albeit undeserved) MVP award, a homer crown, and an RBI crown. Of his ten most comprable hitters list, five (Billy Williams, Tony Perez, Al Kaline, Ernie Banks, Dave Winfield) are in the Hall, and none of the other five (Dave Parker, Dwight Evans, Harold Baines, Rafael Palmeiro, Vada Pinson) would be awful choices to join them. He had power, he had speed, even hit for a decent average. So why am I down on him? Well, look at that list for a minute. Williams, Kaline, and Banks are from a different, less hitter-friendly era, and Banks spent half his career at shortstop. Winfield had better numbers, and Perez is a pretty marginal (not a huge embarrassment, just a questionable call) Hall of Famer. Of the five non-Hall guys, well, Dewey’s not getting in, Pinson is a longshot for the Veterans’ Committee, and Palmeiro’s still building a case. The big key for me is Dave Parker. (Harold Baines as a career DH is a different case.) If you let in Dawson, you can’t logically keep Parker out.
The tiebreaker for me is that I don’t see Dave Parker getting in. I don’t vote for Dawson.

Steve Garvey (11th Year On Ballot) - You know how every fan has their pet cause celebre for the Hall of Fame? Well, Garvey is my Bizarro Cause Celebre. A first baseman with a career .329 OBP? Even in Chavez Ravine in the 70s, unless you’re hitting 30 dingers a year, which Garvey only did once, nobody should get too excited about any first baseman with a .329 OBP. You realize those error numbers are low and fielding percentages so high because he had no range, right? Mediocrity defined. In a world where Dwight Evans and Lou Whitaker get dropped from their first ballot, Garvey should not still be here. I don’t vote for Garvey.

Keith Hernandez (8th Year On Ballot) – A legitimately excellent defensive first baseman, but defense won’t get you there at 1B. There’s just not enough offense here to get excited about – very little power for a first-sacker, despite the decent averages and good plate discipline. Few ever thought of him as among the best player in baseball, or even the best NL first basemen. Of the ten hitters considered most similar, none of the eight that are eligible are in the Hall (and Ken Griffey Sr. is the closest thing to a true candidate of the lot) and neither of the two active players (Mark Grace, Wally Joyner) are going to get much support when they hang up the spikes. I don’t vote for Hernandez.

Don Mattingly (3rd Year On Ballot) – Mattingly’s cachet as a Yankee is the biggest reason he’s discussed as a viable candidate. In many ways similar to Hernandez (high average solid defensive first sacker, trading the walks for some power) except that there were a couple of years when he hit well enough to be considered among the best in the game. But, due to injuries, he declined precipitously after age 28 and reputed sluggers whose career totals for HR, RBI , and SLG are 222, 1099, .471 respectively belongs in the Hall of the Very Good, not the Hall of Fame. His ten “most similar” hitters list has only Kirby Puckett (a fast centerfielder with more value than the slow Mattingly) and Jim Bottomley (whose selection was a clear-cut mistake) in the Hall. Of the other eight, there are good reasons to prefer Tony Oliva and Edgar Martinez to Mattingly, and the other six are weak candidates (including Keith Hernandez). I don’t vote for Mattingly.

Dale Murphy (5th Year On Ballot) - He was building a case as solid if not top-tier Hall of Fame choice when his numbers just hit a wall in 1988. He still finished with 398 homers and 1266 RBI but with a ho-hum .265 batting average. For some reason, his most similar hitter by Baseball Reference’s system is Joe Carter, who will become my other Bizzaro Cause Celebre (see the Steve Garvey entry above) when he becomes eligible. Murphy’s a lot better, in my opinion, than Carter, but still, his list of ten has nine people not in the Hall, and some of them (Don Baylor, Bobby Bonilla, Jack Clark) are weak candidates ; Gil Hodges is only viable when you consider his managerial career; and Ron Santo played third base. The lone Hall enshrinee is Duke Snider, who, let’s face it, is from a different era. (The sad thing about Murphy is that his best analog for much of his career was actually Reggie Jackson.) And if I said “no” to Andre Dawson, I have no basis for saying “yes” to Murphy. I don’t vote for Murphy.

Eddie Murray (1st Year On Ballot) – I’m just not going to spend much time on Murray, since it’s obvious he belongs, and his numbers (8th all time in RBI, 8th all time in total bases, 17th all time in HR, 12th all time in hits) speak for themselves. (Except to note that it’s odd that he got to 500 homers without ever hitting more than 33 in a season.) He’s the one sure thing in the entire group. I vote for Murray.

Dave Parker (7th Year On Ballot) – On his side, he’s got two batting titles, an MVP, and a career .290 average (290/339/471) to go with 339 homers and 1493 RBI. His ten best comps are a mixed bag – there’s two Hall inductees (Perez and Billy Williams) and some decent candidates (Jim Rice, Al Oliver), with a couple of serious longshots (Rusty Staub, Chili Davis) thrown in. On the downside, well, he’s now been on the ballot for 7 years and has never come particularly close to induction, and there’s nothing that suggests he’s really been underrated. His numbers are good everywhere, but there’s nothing in his dossier that would put him over the top. (Not to mention that he had a rep as moody, which will hurt him.) If Andre Dawson makes it, which he may well, the case for excluding Parker is pretty weak. I don’t advocate his selection, but it wouldn’t bother me much. I don’t vote for Parker.

Jim Rice (9th Year On Ballot) – He put up similar numbers to Parker (298/352/502, 382 HR, 1451 RBI), which you have to adjust downward for Fenway but upward when you consider Parker took five more seasons to produce his stats than Rice. So, is there any reason other than my Boston bias to recommend Rice over Parker? Unlike Parker, Rice never won a batting title, but won two HR crowns and two RBI titles to go with an MVP. Both played mostly on good teams, although Rice usually had better hitters around him. Both whiffed a fair amount, but Rice was slightly more patient. Rice’s most similar list is topped by Hall inductee Orlando Cepeda, and also includes Duke Snider, Billy Williams and Willie Stargell. The others are Parker, Dale Murphy, Joe Carter, Ellis Burks, and Chili Davis. Carter, Burks, and Davis are in large part products of the juiced-up 90s. I take Rice on peak value, but I admit it’s close and that I’d be willing to reconsider Parker if Rice gets inducted. I vote for Rice.

Ryne Sandberg (1st Year On Ballot) – Something tells me he’s a likely first-ballot inductee, based on his outstanding hitting for a second baseman, his many Gold Gloves and All-Star appearances, his 282 homers and 344 steals. He led the NL in runs three times and in homers once. His hitting was a bit inflated by Wrigley, but there’s little disputing he was the best-hitting second sacker between Joe Morgan and Roberto Alomar. He’s a bit overrated by some – especially Cub fans – but he’s certainly worthy of a Cooperstown plaque. (The most similar hitter to Sandberg is Lou Whitaker, dropped from the ballot with barely a mention.)
I vote for Sandberg.

Alan Trammell (2nd Year On Ballot) – Remember when .250 was a good batting average for a shortstop, and 10 homers from one was a lot? It’s too easy to forget just how valuable a shortstop who could hit like Alan Trammell was (only Cal Ripken could outhit him, and Trammell had better years sometimes) these days. His most similar list, including Jay Bell, Tony Fernandez, and Julio Franco, suggests that he doesn’t belong in the Hall, but I’m not sure the list is entirely fair to him. And even then, Roberto Alomar is a likely inductee, Craig Biggio is a decent Hall candidate, and Barry Larkin will get at least some consideration. And his double play partner Lou Whitaker got jobbed in a big way. I think Trammell’s facing an uphill battle for induction, but I’d support it. In my view, while there’s no shortage of shortstops in the Hall, but I think there’s a room for a third one from the 1980s besides Oz and Cal. I vote for Trammell.

Part Two (The Pitchers) to follow. Stat links courtesy of Baseball Reference. (If I had the dough, I would definitely be a sponsor. Great site; can’t say enough good things about it.)


Thursday, December 05, 2002

Snow. Cool.

Of course, to nearly everyone else in Washington, it's the end of the world!!

Hoard the milk! And the bread! (Why is it always milk and bread that sell out when a snowstorm is pending?)

Hide the children! Cancel school for the next week! (The very word "snow," when heard on the radio, causes several area counties to cancel school. Another reason it's a good thing that "Informer" was the only major hit by Canadian white-boy rapper Snow.)

Abandon the roads! (Just as well. People in D.C. can't drive in snow, even though most of them own 4x4 SUVs. Or maybe it's because they own them and think they make the driver invincible or something.)

Panic! Panic! Panic! (It's probably the last remaining vestige of Washington's historical Southern-ness that it acts this way whenever snow comes.)

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a Texas case, giving it an opportunity to revisit the infamous 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision, in which the Court decided 5-4 to uphold statutes criminalizing “sodomy” as constitutional. The Texas court system has thusfar upheld the constitutionality of the state’s anti-sodomy statute.

Now, those of you who know me can fairly easily predict which side I’m on here. So I’ll do my best to periodically entertain you along the way.

The facts of the case are somewhat interesting. Apparently, a neighbor who allegedly has some grudge against gays called the police in Houston about “a crazy armed man” running around the neighbors’ house. The police found no such man, but they did find John Lawrence and Tyron Garner engaged in anal sex. The neighbor, Roger Nance, was later charged with making a false complaint to police. The couple, instead of simply paying a fine, chose to litigate the issue.

OK, so what’s the big deal, you may ask? It’s not like these laws are enforced much in Texas or anywhere else in the U.S. You don’t really see people going to jail for sodomy, and when you do, it’s generally people who committed sodomy with children, with prostitutes, in the act of raping or otherwise sexually assaulting someone else, or in public places where good ol’ fashioned penis-vagina intercourse would be illegal as well. (And no one’s claiming that any of the above should be decriminalized, although I suppose there are people speaking up for public sex.)

I don’t think it matters how often the law in question is “enforced.” Obviously, law enforcement is going to have better things to do most of the time than inspect our bedrooms (or wherever else in our houses or other private spaces) for violations of sodomy laws. As this article shows, where these laws are still on the books, they are used as tools by anti-gay groups to achieve discriminatory ends that may bear little or no relation to the enforcement of the laws in and of themselves.

The very existence of these laws can also be used to place a presumption of criminality on gays and lesbians, a presumption that places them at a disadvantage in a variety of non-criminal areas of law, most importantly in domestic relations, marriage and divorce, and child custody cases. The same presumption has popped up in immigration law as well, albeit to a lesser degree.

And in any case, leaving a law on the books with the assumption that it won’t be enforced is not a good idea. It simply undermines respect for the law if there are obscure laws lying around – some of them carrying surprisingly harsh punishments – that are being violated on a daily basis by large numbers of people. More seriously, it’s an open invitation to arbitrary enforcement and abuses of discretion by police and prosecutors, not to mention a trap for unwary citizens. In the right sort of case, such laws are ripe for giving rise to blackmail, or, as in the instant case, an incentive on the part of spiteful neighbors to make frivolous complaints to police. And for what purpose?

In Texas, and some other states, violation of these laws exposes people to “moral turpitude” citations, leaving them open to professional discipline (including disbarment proceedings if they are lawyers) in many cases. In four states people convicted of sodomy would be required to register as “sex offenders,” same as a rapist or child molester. According to this article, in Texas, a sodomy conviction could limit, among other things, one’s right to be an interior decorator. (Yes, read that sentence again. In theory, Texas does not allow gay men to be interior decorators.)

From a personal standpoint, I looked for any evidence that an attorney in Virginia, the jurisdiction in which I am barred, could be subject to professional discipline for violating its sodomy laws based on its supposed “moral turpitude.” In Virginia, sodomy, quite broadly defined to include oral and anal sex between two persons of either sex, is a felony. The Virginia State Bar Code of Professional Responsibility does mention adultery as a possible basis for a finding of “moral turpitude,” but is silent on the sodomy issue. I didn’t come across anything that suggested one could be disbarred for sodomy specifically, but it’s not a comforting thought to say the least.

In all fairness to the Virginia State Bar, this year they have asked the Supreme Court to approve changes to their Code of Professional Conduct that would “add a qualification to the prohibition against dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation so that the prohibition would only apply to such conduct that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness to practice law.” (cite here) Which would seem to be a rule change aimed at eliminating the chances of Virginia’s ridiculous, draconian “crimes against nature” laws being the impetus for bar discipline.)

Now of course, it’s the political branches of government who write our laws. Obviously, it would be better if legislators could agree that these laws served no real purpose and got rid of them. All else being equal, you don’t really want to see a lot of what many call “judicial activism” for a variety of reasons.

But what sort of change would a court that threw out these laws truly be effecting? In a sense, law enforcement has already made a decision about how useful these laws are. Not very, or else there’d be more resources spent on enforcing them and publicizing their existence. And there’s been no effort to enforce them, other than in the relatively narrow context of public spaces. (And, surely, laws specifically covering public sexual activities are far better and more narrowly tailored for regulating such conduct.)

Most state sodomy laws target both oral and anal sex, although colloquially the word “sodomy” is generally associated with anal sex. I can’t think of many people my age, of either gender and of any orientation, that have never engaged in an act of oral sex. I would also imagine that many of them, whether or not they are gay men, have tried anal intercourse at least once.

A cursory examination of Virginia’s laws governing sexual conduct definitely gives the lie to the popular tourist slogan “Virginia is for lovers.” Virginia is only for lovers who are heterosexual, married, and boring. Otherwise, they might get up to five years in prison. (No, that’s not a typo. Five years in prison.) They even make Texas look reasonable by comparison.

Perhaps recognizing the inherent silliness of making criminals out of, well, damn near everyone, Texas and three other states (Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma) only punish same-sex acts of sodomy.

Now, gay men and lesbians are not, either in the federal system or in any of the above states or indeed most other states, protected legal classes. However, is there any permissible rationale for limiting the right to perform oral sex on a man to women? Or vice versa?

Facial neutrality does necessarily mean that a statute is non-discriminatory. That a statute imposes a burden that is “equal” on two different classes does not necessarily mean it passes the muster of Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Laws prohibiting interracial marriage on their face burdened both whites and non-whites equally, and were still struck down in Loving v. Virginia(1967). Poll taxes and voter literacy tests are two other historical examples.

There is Supreme Court jurisprudence that suggests that laws designed with an animus towards gays, even though they are not specifically a protected class, might run afoul of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Yes, plenty of same-sex sexual activity happens that involves people who do not identify themselves, externally or internally, as homo- or bi-sexual. But laws that target only same-sex activity place a burden specifically on actions based entirely on the gender of the actors.

Laws burdening this sexual conduct among all persons are arguably fairer, but even more absurd in their effect or potential effect.

Now, you may indeed find majority support in many states for keeping such laws on the books, whether its legislators or citizens you’re talking about. If you say they have the right to write their prejudices into law on this issue, what’s to stop a majority from writing other prejudices into law? What would stop a majority from reinstituting school segregation? Or outlawing women from working certain jobs? If it were left only to majority rule, Jim Crow laws would probably still be on the books.

In order for a government of any level to have the right to restrict the liberty of people to go about their business, it must have a rational basis for doing so. Usually, proponents of such laws cite public health, public morals, or simply the right of a majority to rule. The last reason is not a valid reason for legislation, or else a Christian majority could demand a ban on construction of synagogues or mosques in a state. Is there any evidence that sodomy laws, especially when no state wants to bother with enforcing them, do anything to promote public health or public morals? This is supposed to be a limited government, and conservatives in particular are fond of pointing out that legislatures can’t just pass any old thing they feel like.

Are these laws just, as Jerry Falwell has suggested, a mere “symbol” of some moral code? I wish they were. If it’s a symbol Rev. Falwell wants, how about Congress or the Virginia General Assembly pass a law declaring some chosen week or month of the year “Say No To Sodomy Week/Month” and be done with it? Or pass a resolution reprimanding of the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia (or the United States as a whole) for engaging in or tolerating the deviant practice of sodomy with each other? Merely “symbolic” pieces of legislation shouldn’t carry long prison terms with them.
(Go here and skip down to the part where Barney Frank slices and dices Falwell to pieces. Thaks to Atrios for the link.)

I respect this take on the possible political implications of a decision to overturn or limit Bowers. But I disagree with its reasoning,

How come?

Well, this issue simply doesn’t affect people on the other side of the fence much. This isn’t gay marriage, the sort of “public” thing that it’s easy to imagine conservatives or anyone else getting outraged over. Nobody’s going to ride into office on the crest of a wave of public support for the continued existence of sodomy laws. These laws have been disappearing for years in state after state. Heck, I looked at this page and was stunned to find out that 37 states had either repealed or invalidated their sodomy laws. It’s been happening so quietly even I barely noticed. No noticeable decline in public morals can be traced their repeal.

Do most people really want to punish people for private conduct that badly, other than the same people who are already voting with and contributing to the radical religious right?

And, at the risk of sounding tiresome and preachy, this is a civil rights issue, for all the reasons I have listed above. If progressives can’t stand up to this sort of outmoded nonsense, what good are they? Besides, it was even not a liberal who said “Democracy is trivialized when it is reduced to simple majoritarianism,” it was conservative George Will. Let the historical record clearly show that the political branches of government were dragged, kicking and screaming, by the judiciary into supporting the voting rights and other civil rights of minorities in the 1950s and 1960s. This change did not come without cost, but I would suggest that few progressives would dare suggest our world would be better if we had let the George Wallaces and Orval Faubuses have their way.

Finally, in the long view, the future is on our side. Does any progressive doubt that the gay-baiters on the right of today will sound every bit as ludicrous in 35 years as a Klansman sounds today to most people?

It’s about time to relegate these useless, hateful, anachronistic, and flat out stupid laws to the dustbin of American history.

(By the way, this sort of stuff is exactly why having elected judges as if they were just another set of politicians is a Bad Thing.)

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

I'm about due for a list of something...how about this?

Great Unrecognized Songs By Well-Known Artists...

"James Dean" - The Eagles
Glenn Frey's tribute to the fallen cinematic icon, found on 1974's On The Border is probably the best song he ever wrote, even if it wasn't his biggest hit (that would, sadly, be the execrable "The Heat Is On" from his uniformly lame-ass solo career.) Quite catchy, and with some fine Southern-rock solo work, The song is played every once in a blue moon on classic rock stations.

"Here, There, And Everywhere" - The Beatles
John Lennon once said this achingly lovely, tender ballad, was his favorite Paul McCartney-penned song. It's easy to see why - it goes down smooth without even a hint of saccharine. (Sadly, saccharine virtually defines most of McCartney's various solo projects to this day.)

"Out On The Tiles" - Led Zeppelin
How much ass does John Bonham kick on this song, from the generally less-appreciated album Led Zeppelin III? Enough to give his performance on the more ubiquitous "Rock n' Roll" a run for its money. 'Nuff said.

"Dogs" - Pink Floyd
Yeah, it's 17:03 running time is usually enough to keep radio DJs away. Go figure. Roger Waters brings his blistering lyrical attack on a vicious, winner-take-all business culture, even before the Thatcher-Reagan era began, with a snarling delivery. (There's no better soundtrack I've found for writing angry left-of-center political rants.) David Gilmour's ominous and yet agreeable main riff and razor-sharp solos somehow make the harsh medicine go down smoother. Seldom have these two elements converged in such a package that so defined what Pink Floyd at their best was all about. (The rest of the poorly-received album Animals, a conceptual piece loosely based on George Orwell's Animal Farm, grows on you but is too Waters-centered to have quite the same multi-pronged impact.)

"Workin' for MCA" - Lynyrd Skynyrd
Despite my nomination of two of their songs for Jukebox From Hell, I don't really hate Skynyrd. It's usually fun to watch the record industry get skewered in a song, especially with such a propulsive guitar riff. Not to mention the guitar solo workouts the band manages to stuff into a relatively compact 4:46.

"The Body Electric" - Rush
Rush drummer Neil Peart, not exactly known for his subtelty at the drum kit, plays in a surprisingly understated manner, relinquishing the spotlight for most of the song to his lyrics and to the other instruments before coming in with guns blazing in the final 90 seconds. A dark sci-fi tale (indeed, the whole of 1984's Grace Under Pressure is fairly bleak) of artificial intelligence and what it might mean to be human, Peart's lyrics suggest a perceptive ability to look at the world through multiple sets of eyes, a marked change from the heavy handedness of his strongly Ayn Rand-influenced early writings. The chorus somehow makes singing a series of 1-0-0-1-0-0-1 catchy, but the real gem is the solo section, where bassist/lead singer Geddy Lee and bassist Alex Lifeson seamless blend their soloing into a cohesive and explosive unit. (A special bonus for non-Rush fans: There is essentially no high-pitched screaming in this song.)

"Monkey Man" - Rolling Stones
A deceptively soft opening every bit as menacing as that of the more famous "Gimme Shelter." Mick Jagger's primal vocals tap into the abyss of drug addiction while sounding just as sinister as they did on "Sympathy For The Devil." Keith Richards brings the monster riff to the table, and the brief, mellow interlude resembles nothing so much as the eye of a hurricane. The Stones at their best, perhaps in part because they were reeling from Brian Jones' death during most of the sessions for 1969's Let It Bleed.

Now if only the radio would play more songs like the ones above, I wouldn't listen to so much NPR.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

I'm hearing a lot of self-congratulatory commentary by conservative pundits and politicians that the "real America" is behind them. It's been popular to speak of "Blue States" (i.e. states carried by Al Gore in the 2000 election) vs. "Red States" (i.e. states George W. Bush carried in that election) and the country's cultural divide along those fault lines.

The Blue States: California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin

The Red States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida(?), Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming

To the conservatives, it's the out-of-touch, big-city bicoastal cultural elite versus the "real Americans" of the Heartland. (Never mind that the Midwest itself is closely divided.) Because they're in power, that's what were mostly hearing in our media. You get stuff like this. Click here for the original article where this quote came from.

There are only 20 Blue States (plus D.C.) compared with 30 Red States, but there are more people in the Blue States. The Red States have a disproportionate voice in federal government policy, which has some visible policy effects - large agricultural subsidies, public land royalty schemes very favorable to extraction industries - when one looks closely.

Now, obviously, it's a crude map. If you looked closer (say, by county or by ZIP code) you would see some substantial clusters of blue shading in many "Red States" (particularly Texas and Florida) and some large pockets of red ink in most "Blue States" (Pennsylvania in particular comes to mind) so the picture is obviously more complex. Plus such a map ignores the difference between states that were very close this time around (Florida, Missouri, Iowa, Oregon) states that were not (Nebraska, Rhode Island) and of course the "Ralph Nader factor." Not to mention that even the most rock-solid conservative or Republican areas have some non-believers in their midst, and the biggest liberal or Democaratic bastions have conservatives living amongst them. Any broad strokes one would make could never be 100% accurate.

Therefore, it's obviously dangerous to overgeneralize in this fashion, but there is certainly something to this divide.

Someone needs to speak up for the Blue States, damn it. The Democrats are too scared to do so, partly because the deck is stacked against Blue States, so I guess I'm left to volunteer for the job.

For all of the "get the government off our backs" rhetoric you hear coming (mostly) from politicians in the Red States, government in general regularly effects large transfers of money from the Blue States to the Red States. The biggest net-contributors to federal coffers are nearly all Blue, and the biggest net-recipient states are nearly all Red. (This has been true for years, regardless of which party controlled Congress or the White House, though it is marginally more pronounced when Republicans are in the drivers' seat.) As much as you hear about hardworking rural Americans being overtaxed to keep the poor cities on the dole, it's generally the exact opposite that's true.

For all the "family values" and "personal responsibility" rhetoric emanating (primarily) from the Red States, the Red States have higher divorce rates and higher rates of teen pregnancy. The urban areas in the Red States (especially in the South) have higher crime rates than their Blue State counterparts. The same is true, for that matter, for the suburban and rural areas.

Most of the Blue States are more diverse, more educated, and have more diversified economies than most of the Red States. In other words, they look a lot more like the world's future. (Take away Florida from the Red column and it's even more stark.)

Finally, a counterweight to all that self-congratulatory blather on the right.

On a lighter note...Welcome to the blogosphere, Joe! Man, I hate that term.

Random Web Quiz #24...


Find your inner Smurf!


You know, I knew someone in college who both looked and sounded like Brainy Smurf. He was, somehow appropriately enough, the head of the Conservative Union.

I always thought of myself as so much cooler than he was. Not that that was saying a hell of a lot...of course I think he actually ended up at Yale Law School.

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