Saturday, October 30, 2004

See You in the Next Reel
I'm off to Ohio in the morning. Does it matter? Will it make a difference? Probably not, no more so than it matters if any one person does anything. I try not to delude myself about this.

But I want to live my beliefs, and I want to live in a country that honors, ideally even champions, my beliefs: opportunity, equality before the law, family and community, education, social justice, economic fairness, strength in the defense of traditional American ideals, transparent governance that represents a democratic will. John Kerry and the Democratic Party aren't ideal champions for this agenda, but they're a damn sight better than the alternative.

We might lose on Tuesday. I don't think so, but it's certainly possible. And I was thinking over the past couple months that if we do lose, if the country really chooses the certitudes and dogmas and distortions of George Bush and his partners in misrule, I should leave my career in public policy and pursue a line of work more in keeping with the tenor of the times: entertainment industry executive and serial killer were the two that kept occurring to me. I think I'm over this now. I do think that in a country so indifferent to good policies that bring the most benefit to the most people as to elect a person like Bush, the empirically based and non-ideological work my organization does is much less likely to have a serious impact--but again, it represents my own beliefs and offers me a way to live them. I'm proud of the Center and of my colleagues. It's an honor to work with them.

Early news is good. All serious experts seem to agree that the election will come down to the ground game, and while I don't know what the Republicans have, I'm pretty sure that the Democrats and allied progressive groups are doing this better than ever before. Maybe Harold Meyerson will be proven right, and this will mark the berth of a "fully functioning left"; I'd prefer to think of it as a quickly activating network of citizen groups not necessarily united by ideology so much as by a desire to see our country function better. The bipartisan mobilization last year against the FCC and its whorish commissioner Michael Powell, who wanted to ease monopoly rules to give the Rupert Murdochs of the world still more power over our airwaves, is more exciting to me as a good-government geek and process fetishist than any Million-whatever March or similarly charged action. My hope, as I've expressed here before, is to find a bipartisan campaign to fight against gerrymandering and give us our Congress back.

But that's all beyond the horizon, after we tend to more immediate business. Earlier this year, Kerry made occasional reference to the Langston Hughes poem, "Let America Be America Again"; I never read the whole thing until this week, and it has resonated in my head for days now. This final stanza seems to tie together everything at stake on Tuesday:

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!
Lighter Notes on a Grayer Day
As we lefties are evidently wont to do, I'm starting to think I over-reacted to the bin Laden tape release last night. Though a Bush advisor referred to the tape as "a little gift," early polling samples aren't showing that it's helping Bush much at all--in fact, the opposite might be true. Check out Josh Marshall's site for the details, including some numbers.

Crazy media moment of the day: watching TV this afternoon, I saw a Citibank commercial that featured as background music a song by the Feelies titled "Slow Down", from the 1986 album The Good Earth. Now I need to remember if it was the same company that used the rare Camper track "Guardian Angels" in another ad. If so, they've got some ad guy, or gal, with a very worthy music collection.

Meanwhile, I don't know if Curt Schilling joined the Red Sox for their victory parade today, but despite a media report from Thursday, he didn't join George W. Bush on the campaign trail in New Hampshire yesterday, on doctor's orders. Curt had blurted out an impromptu endorsement of the president on morning TV a day earlier. Here's his subsequent statement (sorry, no link):

"I am now not medically cleared to do anything until I see Doc on Sunday, so I cannot travel with President Bush tomorrow (Friday). Second, while I am a Bush supporter, and I did vote for him with an absentee ballot, speaking as I did the other day was wrong. While I hope to see him re-elected, it's not my place, nor the time for me to offer up my political opinons unsolicited. I am proud we have the right to vote, and the message I wanted to send but didn't, was that regardless of who you are voting for the bottom line is that you MUST vote. You must vote because there are millions of Americans who have given their lives before us, and will continue to give their lives after us, so that we can remain free to make the choices we need to make when it comes to electing our Nation's leaders." -- Curt Schilling

I appreciate the sentiment, if not the choice. As with John McCain before him, and also some family and friends, I think the supporter far exceeds in worth the man he's backing.

In fact, the news of Curt's voting choice got me thinking about how the world, and this political and baseball year, might be different if the two men switched jobs:

--->President Schilling might well have invaded Iraq, but based on the pattern he's established throughout his baseball career, he would publicly held himself accountable for the screwups--and taken steps to correct them.
--->He would have tried to let the public know what was really at stake and called for sacrifices to achieve our ends. Probably on afternoon drive-time radio shows and various internet sites.
--->You know he would have been all for medical research.
--->The son of a military man himself, President Schilling would have attended military funerals, honoring the sacrifices of our dead, rather than barring cameras from doing so, out of fear that it might cost him politically.

and then there's the flip side:

--->Based on his business career, Bush the pitcher might well have gotten a massive, lucrative contract from the Red States--I mean, Red Sox--but he probably would have preceded this with a career's worth of Paul Abbott-level performances. No ballplayer has ever matched the prez with as large a gap between performance and success, though Chan Ho Park (of the Rangers... hmmm) has come pretty close.
--->Pitcher Bush's whole argument for his worth as a ballplayer would be based upon his post-game statements after the worst performance of his life... which he'd then seek to blame on the guy who pitched the day before
--->The playoffs: Bush certainly wouldn't have pitched, but nor would he have taken any responsibility--blame the doctors, the fans, the liberal baseball media, the cold and damp Boston weather.

Pitching, after all, is "hard work."

Friday, October 29, 2004

On the Edge
I've believed for a long time that the only reason George W. Bush has any chance to extend his exceptionally dangerous worldview and agenda of oligarchy and theocracy into a second term is because of Osama bin Laden and the events of September 11. The Bush appeal, at bottom, is to fear, and a reflex that the man who was (at least nominally) in charge at the moment of crisis is the man to be kept in charge until the crisis is ultimately answered.

With bin Laden resurfacing today in a move that was clearly timed to influence the election, I am feeling great fear as well.

Not of another attack. I live in New York City; I walked home on the morning of 9/11 from my office on Wall Street through smoke and pulverized concrete, and surely worse. If that happens, it happens.

What I fear is that bin Laden and his terrorist allies know just what they're doing, as this communication from last spring, shortly after the Madrid attack, demonstrates:

The declaration turned its attention to President Bush, saying: "A word for the foolish Bush. We are very keen that you do not lose in the forthcoming elections as we know very well that any big attack can bring down your government and this is what we do not want.

"We cannot get anyone who is more foolish than you, who deals with matters with force instead of wisdom and diplomacy.

"Your stupidity and religious extremism is what we want as our people will not awaken from their deep sleep except when there is an enemy.

"Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilisation.

"Because of this we desire you [Bush] to be elected."

And he knows that by adding the fear he inspires to that which Bush and Karl Rove have worked so hard to spread, he will put the president over the top.

Bin Laden can't destroy America; he can't corrode our essential strength or goodness or decency. He can't touch our noble principals or offer anything to counter the great deeds of our history.

George W. Bush and his clique of corporate absolutists, armchair Hannibals and would-be theocrats can. And with another four years, they might well. I'm most concerned with what they'll do at home, but bin Laden likely suspects the prospect of more wars, more moves in the direction of that "clash of civilizations" he wants even worse than does Paul Wolfowitz.

Seeing the face of bin Laden on the front page of the New York Times website also brought back to me, in a very immediate and physical way, how much I loathe that man--how much I'd like to kill him with my own two hands. What he did to this country, both in terms of the attack itself and all the dreadful things it served to unleash, was evil beyond description.

He deserves death at the hands of America, not a president who "doesn't care" about him but was more than willing to use the atmosphere of the post-9/11 world to pursue a splendid little war in Iraq.

edit: All the above thoughts notwithstanding, both Bush and Kerry deserve credit for what they've said in response to the bin Laden tape.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Comes Now the Void
Hail to the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox, who not only ended the Curse but, in all likelihood, gave a strong boost to the broad-based effort to remake thinking about baseball along the lines of performance analysis and (dare I say) Moneyball. Not even Dallas Green can argue with success, and Theo Epstein's club has now tasted the ultimate in that regard. Certainly, the megabucks didn't hurt either, but countless teams have proven over the last ten years that a big payroll alone is not determinative to success.

I wouldn't have minded baseball season stretching a couple days more, as now there's that much less to distract me from the election. As far as my real wish from the playoffs--Ed Wade's public humiliation by the great performances of the franchise-caliber players he pissed away--I don't think there's much doubt that Curt Schilling established himself as the greatest postseason starter of this era. But Scott Rolen's conspicuous 0-fer in the Fall Classic probably confirmed a lot of Phillies diehards in their views of his clutchness, or lack thereof. No question, Scotty came up small... but so did Mike Schmidt in the Phils' 1983 Series loss to Baltimore, in which the Hall of Famer had one hit in 20 at-bats. Rolen probably will be back in the Series; Placido Polanco probably won't even be back with the Phils next year, and likely won't even get offered arbitration. Considering the team just released Bud Smith, the lefty pitcher who was supposed to be the cornerstone of the Rolen trade, it's very likely that we'll start 2005 with absolutely nothing left from the deal that sent the team's best home-grown player since Schmidt himself out of town. Sleep well, Eddie.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

It Ain't Love, but It Ain't Bad
Dueling interior narratives centered around the election, the baseball playoffs and the new Camper van Beethoven album have taken up most of my brain space for the last few weeks, leaving little room left for the Phillies managerial search. This might be because I have trouble believing that anything really good can come of a team still led by chronically clueless GM Ed Wade; it might have to do with the fact that the three potential candidates I was most geeked up about--Davey Johnson, Larry Dierker and Marc Bombard--haven't even been asked to interview; or it just might be because I haven't gotten over the disappointment of this recently ended season quite yet. (Give it six weeks.)

But with Wade's Managerial Cattle Call '04 evidently nearing its end, I guess it's time to offer some thoughts. First, I'm not sure that any new manager won't represent an improvement over Larry Bowa, who failed as both an in-game strategist (paging Roberto Hernandez! Mike Williams, report to the Green Room!) and as a clubhouse presence. Just by offering a new take, the next skipper probably improves the club by four games or so. (Well, maybe not Don Baylor, who ran a talented Cubs team into the ground during his last shot at the helm.)

Second, the cast of characters assembled shows Wade's characteristic caution and lack of imagination. All the serious contenders have managed before--Baylor, Grady Little, Charlie Manuel, Jim Fregosi... Buddy Bell? It's frightening when Fregosi, the man who made Mitch Williams a dark legend, is probably the most accomplished of the bunch. (You can look it up.) The two guys interviewing today and tomorrow, former Phils prospect bust turned star minor-league manager John Russell and Braves hitting coach and onetime MVP Terry Pendleton, are the most intriguing options, and I don't think either of them has a prayer. (Pendleton would be my choice, for what that's worth: his tutelage produced a lot of career-best seasons in Atlanta, and he just seems like a good baseball leader.)

Of course, there's a late entrant into the race who seems to have the blessing of the Philly mediots: former Pirates and Marlins skipper Jim Leyland. Leyland has shredded his share of arms, particularly in Florida, but he does seem to have all the traits Wade is looking for: track record, broadly acceptable to media and fan base, difficult to criticize or second-guess, and prominent enough to take attention from the general manager's office. If he wants it, the job is probably his.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Paul Wellstone
Two years ago today, one of my heroes died in a plane crash in Minnesota. Paul Wellstone was a few points ahead in his campaign for a third Senate term, crossing the state he'd served for 12 years in the final run-up to Election Day. His wife, daughter and three staff members were also killed in the crash.

Wellstone was probably the man I admired most in public life, with Georgia Representative John Lewis a fairly close second. Though his politics were a bit to the left of my own, particularly on questions of fiscal responsibility and to a somewhat lesser degree on the use of force, I deeply admired him as a man of outstanding principle and commitment to public service. Wellstone never forgot why he'd gone into politics after a long and successful career as an academic and community organizer, and he managed both to serve his constituents and faithfully uphold his principles while in the Senate. His autumn 2002 vote against giving George W. Bush authorization to use military force wasn't popular, and carried risks in an election year--but Wellstone managed to make the case to Minnesota voters that his vote was one of principle. Knowing what we know now, and keeping in mind that the Senator had supported the Afghanistan incursion, it seems clear that his decision was based not in reflexive pacifism but rather in a healthy, and fully merited, distrust of what was informing the push to war. After running even or slightly behind his opponent, the Democrat-turned-Republican and former St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman for most of the year, Wellstone was pulling away at the time of his death.

The aftermath of his passing seemed to underscore the tragedy: not only did Coleman, whose transparent opportunism marked him as clearly as Wellstone's principles characterized the Senator, beat former vice-president Walter Mondale, who was foolishly drafted to fill in for Wellstone--the distraught sons of the late Senator had some input into the decision--but the Democrats arguably lost control of the Senate with the vote. (I believe that the renegade Republican Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island might well have switched parties or gone independent as Jim Jeffords did, had control of the chamber been in the balance. Zell Miller of Georgia might have crossed in the other direction, but he was much less alienated from the Democratic Party at that time than he later became.) The turning point might have been Wellstone's memorial service, which Republican operatives successfully painted as a hateful call to political jihad rather than what it was, an anguished remembrance of a man who touched the hearts and stirred the ideals of millions.

I found out about Wellstone's death at a truck stop in upstate New York, while Annie and I were on our way to a weekend vacation in the Finger Lakes region. The story was running on the TV over the counter, and my loud gasp got a lot of stares. I'd met the Senator, very briefly, a few months before at a conference of workforce development advocates and researchers in DC. He spoke very softly and walked slowly, a reminder of the back pain that supposedly kept him out of the 2000 presidential race, but had an undeniably magnetic presence.

Even many of those who disagreed most strongly with Wellstone's politics felt great affection for the man. Jesse Helms, of all people, grieved at his passing. And Senator Sam Brownback, a very conservative Kansas Republican, stated on the first anniversary of Wellstone's death that he still prays for his friend and former colleague.

Here is another reminiscence about Wellstone, and a link to the foundation established to carry on his work.

Rest in peace, Senator. You remain an inspiration for many of us.
Sunday Sports Final (Monday Version)
Eagles fans--or at least, this Eagles fan, and the ones related to me by blood with whom I spoke after yesterday's unnecessarily close win over the Cleveland Browns--are well aware of the joys and frustrations that come with Andy Reid, head coach. Through some cross of word association gaming and long-buried SAT prep instincts, his name alone conjures up for me words like "phlegmatic" and "indefatigable"... which are, basically, good things. But Reid also has a side, most clearly manifested in his play-calling, that calls to mind my friends and I playing Nintendo football while drinking beer in college: it's not enough just to win, but you have to show how ballsy and clever you are in doing so.

Both of these aspects of his personality came into sharp relief at the end of yesterday's game. Twice faced with third-and-one in overtime, with the score tied at 31, Reid tried to throw knockout punches with passing plays despite the fact that Dorsey Levens was running very well for the Eagles. Not even play-action, which would have been credible considering down and distance: Donovan McNabb tried to throw the home-run ball to Terrell Owens the first time, and then forced a pass to Pinkston the second time. Both fell incomplete. The Eagles had to punt after the first incompletion, and won it on a just-good-enough kick from David Akers following the second one. The way I grew up learning football, you run the goddamn ball in that situation... especially if the run game is going well AND you have a quarterback who's eminently capable of picking up short yardage himself.

But Reid more than compensated for this too-cute playcalling with his stoicism in the face of a horrendous referee's call that helped send the game in overtime to start with. The Browns got new life after an incompletion on fourth down when the ref flagged Brian Dawkins for roughing the passer, despite Dawkins' already being in mid-leap when Jeff Garcia released the ball and holding up rather than really putting a hit on the quarterback. While I might well have rushed the field to physically pummel the ref--or at least bitched about it in the press conference afterward--Reid remained his completely stoic self. His decision-making arguably didn't help the team win in OT, but his composure probably did.

On to baseball. I won't add any more purple prose to the legend of Curt Schilling, though I think he's really establishing himself as the Mariano Rivera of postseason starters. I did appreciate his "K ALS" message drawn above the bandage on his ankle: as Joe Buck pointed out on the broadcast, Schilling is a great self-marketer, and he knew exactly how it would play.

Also, has there ever been a more institutionally "biased" World Series broadcasting team than Buck and Tim McCarver? One guy is the Cardinals' regular-season announcer, and the other won championships playing for the club. I don't think they've actually had a slant in their coverage, but it wouldn't be hard to accuse them of such...

Friday, October 22, 2004

The Nation Nails It
I am not usually a huge fan of The Nation magazine. While its reportage is usually pretty solid, it's predictable and I find a number of its most prominent personalities, including Eric Alterman and Katrina Vanden Heuvel, self-righteous and whiny. (Call it my inner conservative manifesting.)

But when they're right, they're right. And in this otherwise unsurprising endorsement of John Kerry, they offer an exceptionally strong and perceptive summary of what's at stake this year:

It is always difficult while enjoying the comforts and privileges of taken-for-granted liberties to imagine that they could be lost; but the elements of Bush's misrule have plainly converged to form this threat. It is the wars of aggression designed to expand imperial sway abroad that produce the fear that fuels his campaign. It is the transfer of money from the poor or average majority to the rich few and corporations that cultivates the allegiance of the corporate chieftains who swell Bush's campaign coffers while at the same time helping to bring the news media, now owned mostly by large companies, to heel. It is the media that amplify his Administration's war propaganda while failing to expose the deceptions put forward as justification for war and puffing up the bubble of illusion whose creation is perhaps the Administration's top priority. And it is government secrecy and Justice Department repression and a right-wing judiciary that chills the dissent that tries to puncture the bubble of illusion. The upshot is a concentration of power in the Republican Party that has no parallel in American history, including the Gilded Age and the Nixon era.

It is not only all three branches of government that have fallen largely into the same hands; it is the corporations, the military (which tends to vote Republican) and, increasingly, the communications industry, which are either propaganda arms of the party, as in the case of Fox News and other outlets of the Rupert Murdoch media empire, or else simply bow to the pressure of Administration threats and popular anxiety.

And here's your two money grafs:

Even before Bush's selection by Supreme Court fiat in 2000, a dangerous pattern had asserted itself at the top levels of American institutional life. The Republican Party embarked on a process of using legitimately won power to acquire more power illegitimately. In the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton for lying to a grand jury about sex, the Republican majority in Congress abused its power in the legislative branch to try to strike down the leader of the rival executive branch. The attempt failed. In the election of 2000, the party in effect abused the judicial power to seize the presidency for itself, and this time the attempt succeeded. The deed was in fact a culmination of a long, deliberate (if not conspiratorial) campaign of politicization of the judiciary, pushed by right-wing legislators as well as such groups as the Federalist Society. In a series of reapportionment battles, notably the one waged by House majority leader Tom DeLay in Texas, the party used legislative power to entrench itself in that same legislature. Meanwhile, a web of think tanks and other institutions, supposedly independent but actually de facto instruments of the Republican Party, was created. They cooperated in vetting political loyalists for government posts and in flooding the news media with apologists for the party and its policies. Under DeLay's leadership, the Congressional Republicans, leaving no stone unturned, have sought to take over even the lobbying establishment of Washington by threatening firms that hire former Democrats to work for them.

The persistent theme of these policies and actions, domestic and international, is to acquire power--to seize it, to increase it and to keep it for good. A systemic crisis--a threat to the Constitution of the United States--has taken shape. At the end of this road is an implied vision of a different system: a world run by the United States and a United States run permanently by the Republican Party, which is to say imperial rule abroad, one-party rule at home. Somewhere along that road lies a point of no return. It is in the nature of warnings in general that you cannot know whether the danger in question will come, or be averted by timely action, or perhaps never present itself at all. But it's also in the nature of warnings that one must act on them before it is too late, and this is especially true in the case of threats to democracy.

This is the systemic perspective I've been waiting to see voiced somewhere. What we see from the Bush administration is no accident, and the same forces that produced this moment of great consequence will still be in place, waiting for another chance, even if we win on November 2.

On the other hand, the misdeeds and historical/constitutional transgressions of the right wing are opening eyes in some unexpected corners. I am adding to the permanent links this Bull Moose Blog, maintained by the unapologetic McCainiac Marshall Wittman. As he details here, the Moose has a vision for how to move toward a government of national unity that Democrats of my stripe, at least, will find quite compelling.

Even some of the true conservatives are turning away from the mutant strain of Republicanism--call it Big Government Conservatism, theoligarchy, or government-by-looting--championed by Bush, Cheney, DeLay, Rove and Norquist. Check out this American Conservative series on the bad choices faced by principled partisans on the right.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Red October
A pretty good night for those former Phillies second-round picks, as Scott Rolen's tie-breaking two-run homer and Marlon Anderson's double and run helped the St. Louis Cardinals finish off the Houston Astros and set up Ed Wade's nightmare World Series: Rolen v. Schilling, vying for the title and the honor of who can make Slow Eddie look worse.

I was glad these two NL teams finally got the spotlight to themselves after seeing their excellent series mostly overshadowed by the big dukeroo back East. It was also nice to see Roger Clemens returning to his classic, Red Sox-vintage playoff form after some good October outings with both the Yankees (though the subsequent deeds of Grady Little, Pedro Martinez and Aaron Boone, not to mention splendid relief work from Mike Mussina, have helped obscure the fact that Clemens wasn't very good in his Game Seven start againt Boston in last year's ALCS) and the Astros.

This probably occurred to quite a few people, but after hearing how St. Louis won yesterday--on Jim Edmonds' 12th-inning walkoff homer, forcing tonight's double-elimination showdown--I thought how the Astros inadvertently shot themselves in the foot by coming back in the top of the 9th against Jason Isringhausen and sending Game Six into extra frames. Astros manager Phil Garner turned to Brad Lidge, who's put together one of the great relief seasons ever, for three innings. Lidge held the Cardinals off the board--it was Dan Miceli, journeyman and clubhouse lawyer extraordinaire, who gave up the decisive blast--but threw 32 pitches (25 strikes!) and evidently rendered himself unavailable to pitch today. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered, as Clemens was doing just fine until running into Albert Pujols and Rolen in the home 6th, but it's never a plus to have your most dominant arm unavailable.

Anyway, Cardinals-Red Sox should make for a fine Series, and a lot of squirming in the Wade home. Sounds okay to me.
Denial: It Ain't Just a Swing State in Egypt
I think this explains a lot:

Even after the final report of Charles Duelfer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%). Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57% also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program. Kerry supporters hold opposite beliefs on all these points.

Similarly, 75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63% believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55% assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission. Here again, large majorities of Kerry supporters have exactly opposite perceptions.

These are some of the findings of a new study of the differing perceptions of Bush and Kerry supporters, conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes and Knowledge Networks, based on polls conducted in September and October.

Steven Kull, director of PIPA, comments, "One of the reasons that Bush supporters have these beliefs is that they perceive the Bush administration confirming them. Interestingly, this is one point on which Bush and Kerry supporters agree." Eighty-two percent of Bush supporters perceive the Bush administration as saying that Iraq had WMD (63%) or that Iraq had a major WMD program (19%). Likewise, 75% say that the Bush administration is saying Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda. Equally large majorities of Kerry supporters hear the Bush administration expressing these views--73% say the Bush administration is saying Iraq had WMD (11% a major program) and 74% that Iraq was substantially supporting al Qaeda.

...Kull continues, "To support the president and to accept that he took the US to war based on mistaken assumptions likely creates substantial cognitive dissonance, and leads Bush supporters to suppress awareness of unsettling information about prewar Iraq."

So here we have people either supporting the president because they believe certain things pretty conclusively proven to be untrue, or believing these things because they support the president so uncritically that they choose to believe him rather than their own lyin' eyes.

If the second formulation is correct, I don't know what's to be done: misplaced faith, in the face of demonstrable reality, is more an obstacle to skirt than a problem to solve. If it's the former, though, then maybe Bush is right after all: education is the key. Not that the administration/campaign (now more than ever, they're pretty clearly one and the same) is likely to disabuse them of these notions.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Had 'Em All the Way, Harry
Game Seven is upon us, thanks to the redemption efforts of Curt Schilling and Mark Bellhorn. It's been noted elsewhere, by the Baseball Prospectus analyst Joe Sheehan (who, once again, is turning in the best baseball writing of the postseason. He's taken what Rob Neyer started towards a few years ago--holding onto a fan's perspective while adding that of an objective performance analyst--to another level) that if it had been the Red Sox who blew a 3-0 series leads, we would be drowned in the language of "curse," "choke" and "clutch"; since it's the invincible Yankees, with their unmatched October presence and their veteran poise and the power of myth, the Boston comeback has been met with understated bemusement.

Sheehan also pointed out in his piece yesterday that Derek Jeter's generally lousy performance in the series has been largely overlooked. I'd add that Manny Ramirez, Boston's biggest bat and a legitimate AL MVP candidate, has been even worse. I don't think he has an RBI in this round.

An interesting side note raised by both Joe Buck on the TV broadcast and Joe Morgan on ESPN Radio: why didn't the Yankees test Schilling's ankle by bunting? It's not like they were teeing off on him anyway, and Jeter at least is an excellent bunter. Maybe not in Jason Varitek's league (!), but still. Morgan hypothesized that it was a gentlemanly decision on Joe Torre's part; I think it had more to do with the fact that this is a team that, much more than in their 1996-2000 glory run, lives and dies by the longball. At any rate, I would have tried it were I in Torre's shoes.

I actually think the Yankees have a slight edge tonight. You never know with Wakefield's knuckler, but Kevin Brown should be better than he was on Saturday and the Yankees have a pretty rested bullpen behind him, from Javier Vazquez and El Duque Hernandez to Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera, both of whom got the night off in Game Six. The Red Sox had to use Keith Foulke heavily yet again, as well as Bronson Arroyo, and none of their other relievers inspire much confidence. It probably hangs on Wakefield and Derek Lowe if Boston is really going to complete the comeback.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Greetings from the Reality-Based Community
If you haven't read Ron Suskind's piece yet from this past Sunday's New York Times magazine, go do so now.

If you have, and are wondering if maybe this Suskind guy just has an axe to grind, may I recommend Nick Lemann's piece on Bush from last week's New Yorker--which starts from somewhere very different but essentially ends up in the same place. (Lemann, too, could have an axe to grind... but clearly it wasn't the same instrument he was wielding four years ago, when he first reported on the apparently likeable and moderate Texas governor.)

Of course, the right wing welcomes the condemnation of effete East Coast liberals, those of us who wave our pinky fingers in the air while sipping unpronounceable coffee variants. As Suskind details, they are positively counting on our scorn and disbelief:

And for those who don't get it? That was explained to me in late 2002 by Mark McKinnon, a longtime senior media adviser to Bush, who now runs his own consulting firm and helps the president. He started by challenging me. ''You think he's an idiot, don't you?'' I said, no, I didn't. ''No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know what those folks don't like? They don't like you!'' In this instance, the final ''you,'' of course, meant the entire reality-based community.

This is certainly of a piece with Thomas Frank's findings in "What's the Matter With Kansas?", probably the best political book I've read this year. Frank's thesis is that social conservatives are endlessly prodded to "hit back" at those overeducated, moral relativist snobs on the coast by voting Republican--the surest way, I guess, to show that "they don't like you!"

Of course, "reality" has a funny way of biting back. A second Bush term is likely to see ever-greater budget deficits, spurred by a new parade of tax cuts and acquiesence in the porkish priorities of Tom DeLay's Republican Congress. Some economic chickens might come home to roost, as well: the ongoing housing bubble, the trade imbalance, and perhaps the long-dreaded day when we realize the oil will eventually run out. (Perhaps we're getting a taste of that now.) I'm actually dubious as to whether or not Bush really would reimpose a draft: nobody on the right thinks it's a good idea, and doing so would make it much harder for the administration to do anything else. Paul Krugman disagrees, but his thesis is only operative if you really believe that the neocons will ascend to Cabinet posts, which I think is an open question.

None of these educated guesses matter much to the bulk of Bush supporters, I suspect. Even if Suskind overstates the case as far as the religious factor in their choice, I don't think there's much doubt that those planning to back the incumbent are basing their decision more on his character, and that of his opponent, than on his record to date. They're looking into his heart, much as Bush himself claimed to have done with good old Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, I was canvassing for America Coming Together in Bucks County, PA, this past Saturday. More on that later on, along with hopefully some lighter stuff about the baseball playoffs and the improbably reunited Camper van Beethoven.

Friday, October 15, 2004

!Viva Rolen!
While Curt Schilling's bum ankle is apparently enough to scuttle his postseason dreams--and my own hope of seeing his BoSox dethrone the Yankees--the other prominent ex-Phillie active this October announced his bid for baseball immortality with two big home runs last night as St. Louis went up two games to none over Houston in the NLCS. Scott Rolen's slump is evidently over, and he is two victories away from getting the national stage he's long deserved.

On, there's some reverse schadenfreude that this guy, who so signally dissed the Phils organization when he left in 2002, is now getting his propers as one of the best in the game. Not here: I LOVE that Scott is shining this post-season, for two reasons.

First of all, whatever happened with the guy in his last two seasons in Philly, Scott Rolen really embodies a lot of what's best about baseball. He plays hard, he plays hurt, and he plays the game right. He gets the most out of his (very considerable) natural talent: superb baserunner, good situational hitter, marvelous defender. And he's clearly become a leader.

Second of all, every accomplishment Rolen notches is another argument in the case against the profound idiocy of Ed Wade, Dallas Green and (not that it matters any longer) Larry Bowa. Look what these guys did in pushing one of the best players in the game out of town... and look what Wade got in return for his grievous mishandling of the Rolen endgame.

My fantasy this October was Scott and Curt facing off with the big trophy on the line. Doesn't look like that will happen, but I'm still hoping for Rolen heroics that help highlight the misdeeds of Ed Wade before a national audience.

Actually, with both Rolen and Albert Pujols, under-30 cornerstones signed long-term in St. Louis, this could become an annual sight. Hopefully Wade will be long gone by the time they're done creating autumn memories in the postseason.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

And Down the Stretch They Come
I didn't watch the debate until late last night, having taped it while at the gym and then coming home to watch the Yankees all but destroy my ALCS prediction (scroll down, if you really want to see it). With Curt Schilling likely on the Schelf for the rest of the postseason and the Yankee rotation looking the best it has all year, the Saux probably need to sweep at Fenway to give themselves a real shot. A Cardinals-Yankees World Series would be a worthwhile matchup; they're the two most successful franchises in baseball history, if memory serves.

Anyway, I was nervous all day about the debate, and waiting till midnight to turn it on was pretty difficult. In the end, though, it came out reasonably well.

That said, Bush was much, much better last night than in either of the previous two. After his bad Nixon impression--scowling, slumping--in the first one and his "Furious George" act in St. Louis, he came off as much more likeable and even somewhat knowledgeable last night.

But his improvements on style didn't totally compensate for his near-total lack of substance. Bush had NOTHING in terms of answers on fiscal responsibility, how he'd come up with that $1-2 trillion in "transitional costs" for his awful Social Security idea, or how he'd address the health care crisis aside from demonizing lawyers. His non-answer on the assault weapons ban question was weak and transparently dishonest (though Kerry didn't beat him over the head with it as he should have.) And as has been noted quite widely by now, Bush flat-out "misrepresented" as far as what he'd said about bin Laden.

Kerry called him on several of these points, to good effect. Through the first 15 minutes or so, Kerry seemed to stumble and meander, but he found his stride and seemed to take control. On health care and budget issues in particular his answers were coherent and effective.

A lot has been made of his raising the issue of the Cheneys' lesbian daughter (and that charmer Lynne Cheney has already tried to politicize the remark). I wasn't very comfortable with it, but I did think it was good, if rough, politics--and certainly tame compared to the slime Karl Rove throws as SOP. Ditto in calling Bush out on whether or not he would overturn Roe v. Wade: I believe there are millions of voters out there likely to support Bush for this reason alone, even if they disagree with him on other grounds, and Kerry might have managed to raise some doubts with them. In terms of tactics, it was a smart play: Kerry forced Bush into a bad choice--reassure the base at the likely price of moderates, or fudge the answer in hopes that the base will come along anyway--and the president took the second option. Between that decision and the airing of Mary Cheney's orientation, he might well lose some enthusiasm among the rabid righties.

Finally, I thought Bob Schieffer was quite good--certainly much better than Lehrer or Gibson. He focused on the main issues--health care, budget, jobs--but allowed each man to expound on his philosophy of governance, and even threw a nice change-up with that immigration question. I'd been worried about Schieffer because he's a Bush family friend, and his brother was W's close business partner (and is now Ambassador to Australia, I believe), but he was thoroughly professional and even-handed.

I was a bit surprised that polling showed such a clear win for Kerry. My own take when I turned it off was that both had done reasonably well and now it would come down to the ground game. It's still more or less a jump ball, but I'm not complaining about the state of the race this morning.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Step Away From the Crack Pipe!
Sometimes I'll read an item that just perfectly seems to mesh with whatever was going on in my head anyway. After obsessively poring over political polls for the last eight, twelve, fifteen months--probably since Howard Dean first started to surge in the Democratic nomination race--I have reached a point of despair that they'll tell me anything about the underlying state of the presidential race. Looking at the polls has become an end unto itself, and what I see triggers some level of emotional reaction even as I know that, say, is so screwy in terms of methodology that its "findings" are essentially meaningless.

So here's an article--ironically, posted on the Zogby website--that points out, among other things, just how badly I've wasted all those hours over the last year-plus:

Opinion polls are the narcotic of choice for the politically active part of the American electorate. Like all narcotics, polls have their uses: they sometimes allow us to function better as political practitioners or even as dreamers, and don't forget that fabulous rush of exhilaration when our candidate shows dramatic gains. But polls are an addiction that also distort our political feelings and actions even as they trivialize political campaigns -- and they allow our political and media suppliers to manipulate us ruthlessly. The negatives, as pollsters might say, outweigh the positives.

Yup. And yet I have an uncomfortable sense that when November 3 dawns and I have no polls to check, there will be some kind of void.

It's On
Buoyed by my surprising success as a baseball prognosticator--four series analyzed, four winners correctly picked!--I am ready to tackle the Big One.

I have to admit that, while I wanted the Twins to win the whole thing, a part of me also wanted to see the Red Sox and Yankees renew what's unquestionably the best rivalry in sports, at least right now. It should be a crazy, fun week-plus, especially here in New York, where the usual swaggering confidence in the $183 million machine is noticeably absent: maybe the Yankee faithful understand that if Ron Gardenhire had managed his pitchers a little better in Games Two and Four, their team probably wouldn't even be here.

To some extent, you can throw the usual tools of analysis out the window when the Sox and Yanks hook up. The intangibles still favor the pinstripes. And that strikes me as the best reason for Yankee fans to hope their team can write yet another chapter in Boston's long history of October pain--because when you look at the talent onhand, the Red Sox seem to have a clear edge, particularly in the starting rotations.

Curt Schilling is the best post-season pitcher going today, and he can take the ball three times in a seven-game series. Schilling led Arizona past the Yankees in the World Series three years ago--memorably describing the Yanks' supposed "mystique and aura" as "dancers in a nightclub" along the way--and he came to Boston pretty much expressly for those three starts (and because Ed Wade is an asshead). Schill won two of this three starts against the Yankees this season with a no-decision in the other, though his other numbers--4.82 ERA, 10 walks in 18.2 innings--aren't very Schilling-esque. That's mostly from one bad start at Fenway in July, when New York torched him for 7 runs in 5.1 frames, and that's probably not the Curt Schilling who will take the hill tonight in the Bronx.

Of course, Pedro Martinez has had his own problems with the Yankees, not just this year but throughout his career. To some extent, this is overstated: Pedro is 4-4 with a 4.26 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 76 innings against New York over the last three seasons, not nearly a bad enough record to establish paternity. Add in Bronson Arroyo and Tim Wakefield--who, before allowing Aaron Boone's decisive homer in Game Seven last fall, had throttled the Yanks--and Boston has the advantage. And while John Lieber and Kevin Brown both pitched reasonably well against Minnesota, the most dangerous guys in the Twins' lineup (Hunter, Morneau, maybe Shannon Stewart) all wouldn't even start for the Red Sox. Aside from Mike Mussina, who seems back to his full powers, it's hard to imagine any New York starter shutting down the Damon/Man-Ram/Ortiz attack.

I think this is the year Boston exorcises this one civic demon, at least. Red Sox in six.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Through the Looking Glass
The last time a Massachusetts Senator of Catholic faith with the initials JFK ran for the presidency, he had to face down some public anxiety that he might not show sufficient independence from the Vatican. This time, the New York Times reports, the apparent problem is that he's not sufficiently deferential:

The National Catholic Reporter reported that that on a visit to the pope this year Mr. Bush asked Vatican officials directly for help in lining up American bishops in support of conservative cultural issues.

The mind reels. It would be nice to imagine those "Vatican officials" brought up any of those other minor issues about war, capital punishment or equitable social policy on which they ostensibly differ from the Bush administration, but I somehow doubt it.

This along with the Sinclair nonsense would seem to comprise the "surprises" Karl Rove promised would be in store for Kerry this month. I have no idea if they'll be sufficient to obscure Bush's disastrous record and the broad doubts about his judgment and leadership that the campaign, especially the debates, have done nothing to dispel. But it doesn't surprise me in the slightest that the last gambit of the right-wingers is to sling mud and attack Kerry rather than offer anything positive in defense of their own standard-bearer.

By the way, Daily Kos and others throughout the left blogosphere have called for a boycott of Sinclair's advertisers. The stock was down on Monday, though I wouldn't yet hazard a guess that this is why. Josh Marshall--who has been about as hot as Carlos Beltran over the last week or so--has several good pieces on this story.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Silva-rado and the To-Do in St. Loo
Johan Santana will have to save the Twins' season in the Metrodome this afternoon, after Carlos Silva turned in a performance evidently designed to shut up all those Phillies fans who have been arguing that he's as good as Eric Milton. ("They both won 14 games!") As I unfortunately expected, Silva's inability to miss many bats did him in against a team that knows how to hit fastballs. I told Batgirl a month ago that the Twins should have rolled the dice with Kyle Lohse rather than pitching Silva... sometimes I hate being right.

So now it comes down to Santana against Javy Vazquez, who's pitching in place of the evidently dead-armed El Duque Hernandez. Probably a good move on Torre's part, in the same way it would have behooved Gardenhire to pitch Lohse instead of Silva: given the choice between soar-or-crash uncertainty and more or less guaranteed mediocrity, go with the guy who just might pleasantly surprise you. Of course, if Vazquez is hurt--as he sure seemed to be while dooming my fantasy team, Err America, to third place in our four-team league (won, in impressive fashion, by the Very Hungry Caterpillar Author who occasionally favors us with comments here)--the Twins are likely to be getting back on that plane for New York anyway.

What's really exciting is that after sweeping the Angels with yesterday's win (and by the way, just try to tell me that previous Red Sox teams would have won that game after blowing a 6-1 lead. Jayson Stark just might be onto something this year), Boston can send Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez to the mound up to five times in a seven-game ALCS.

As for the debate, I don't think it changed much of anything in the larger campaign. Will Saletan at accurately details how Kerry squandered a number of opportunities to really hurt Bush, but the president's seeming anger and lack of composure might well have played more decisively with viewers than anything substantive that was said.

I'll be interested in seeing what the ratings were for last night's debate. As it was held on a Friday, I'm sure they were down from last week's event, but I thought it was a pretty good show. All three thus far have been fairly meaty, and definitely more conducive to informed voting than the previous eight months of simultaneous product packaging efforts.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Would You Drink a Beer With This Man?
Here's the best article yet, at least that I've seen, on the subject of Bush-as-likeable-guy:

I know, I know. The beer's a metaphor. It stands for blue jeans and brush-clearing, NASCAR and barbecue, and all that other He-Manly stuff that goes on down in Crawford. (Please, God: Let there be a leather bar just a short piece down the road!) Well, in this little corner of the world, we don't have any patience with metaphorical beers. Metaphorical beers leave you thirsty, even though there are far fewer glasses to wash. Metaphorical beers are what you end up with when the guy who's supposed to buy the round excuses himself to the gents' and then slips out the backdoor.

Which leaves us with the real thing: Who in God's name would want to have an actual beer with George W. Bush?

First of all, he'd be the guy who starts throwing peanuts at the young ladies at the next table. And then, when confronted by, say, the defensive tackle who is engaged to one of them, tells them that you did it. Then he sends a gag gift to you in the hospital.

He's the guy who makes up (at top volume) the stupid nicknames for everybody else at the table and then, in the cold light of an angry dawn, you discover that yours is the only one that stuck.

He's the guy who never drives. Or chips in for gas. He might be the guy who booted in the back seat, but he'll never admit it without DNA evidence.

He's the guy who you find on your couch in the morning, using your mint copy of Blonde On Blonde as a coaster and the afghan your grandmother smuggled out from under the Cossacks as a bib.

Sounds about right, though I'd add that in addition to Bush as freeloading jerkass, there's also Bush as bad drunk: self-righteous, self-pitying, rude, even borderline cruel. That's the guy America saw in last week's debate, though I doubt he'll be in evidence tonight.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

This Sold House
Somebody give James Wolcott a cigar, because he's nailed it again:

... I have a lot of liberal friends who seem to hoping, praying for a Kerry win so that they can unplug from politics and stop worrying. But a Kerry win will be only the first victory in a long war to set the country and the world aright. Or at least prevent us from all getting flattened by conservatism unbound.

(The piece Wolcott links to in the context of this excerpt, while a little too florid and self-consciously radical for my tastes, also has one priceless quote: "John Kerry is not the answer to all our prayers. So far, he only provides an answer to one: that of Getting Bush out of there. A Bush victory would bring certain doom to the dying dream of authentic democracy whereas a Kerry victory would bring continued uncertainty: I choose uncertainty over certain doom.")

It's not too soon to think about the next battle in the "long war to set the country and the world aright." I humbly suggest that the Augean stable known as the U.S. House of Representatives would be a worthy site for that fight. The Boston Globe has had a great series running all week about just how things are currently done in that body--and who they're done for.

The most powerful man in that House, and I'd argue in the Republican Party, is Tom DeLay of Texas. As you might have heard, DeLay was "reprimanded" by the House Ethics Committee yesterday for the second time in six days--this time for "linking legislative actions to political donations" and for assigning federal officials to search for those Democratic state legislators who had left the state in an effort to block DeLay's redistricting scheme last year. The previous wrist slap was for DeLay's action last year in the Medicare prescription drug fiasco, when he tried to persuade a retiring Republican Congressman, Nick Smith of Michigan, to support the measure by promising to help Smith's son win his father's seat.

I keep waiting for the Democrats to "make him famous," the same way they did with Newt Gingrich from 1995-98. DeLay really should be the swing voter villain from Central Casting. Between his bizarre and scary rhetoric and his unapologetic water-carrying for big bid'ness, it's hard to imagine anyone outside the South seeing him as even remotely sympathetic or admirable. Whenever I engage thoughtful Republicans--granted, a fairly small sample size--online or in person, I try to understand how they can abide this guy. None of them stand up for DeLay; most view him as an embarrassment, and the rest try to dismiss him as irrelevant.

Online lefty types talk about Karl Rove and Grover Norquist a lot. But those guys are essentially tacticians; DeLay really is the face, voice and core of the modern Republican Party: intolerant, autocratic, partial to theocracy and oligarchy, and prone to see democracy and the Constitution as obstacles to amassing greater power rather than as bulwarks of American greatness.

One could argue, though, that DeLay is as much symptom as disease. He's been brutally effective in augmenting his own power and pushing through the corporate agenda, but what really sustains him--and similarly dirty pols on both sides of the aisle--is the undemocratic gerrymandering both parties practice at the state level. Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker and various other folks have raised the flag against gerrymandering from time to time. Whatever happens next month, that should be the next big battle for all of us interested in recapturing our democracy.

This is the fight I want to see joined. It should be a bipartisan cause: not only should all Americans appreciate the general utility of making all congressional elections as competitive as possible--since such a setup tends to make officials more attuned to their constituents--but Republicans in states like Maryland and Massachusetts are deprived of representation in anything close to their proportion of those states' voters.

There is, of course, a connection to the current election fight as well. If you go to or similar sites with the electoral college map, it's not all that hard to devise a scenario in which Kerry and Bush tie at 269 EVs each. In that case, the House of Representatives picks the winner--regardless of the popular vote. With DeLay running the show, that's a pretty scary thought.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Turning of the Tide?
Democracy Corps has a new analysis out detailing the state of the race. They find a statistically insignificant Kerry lead of 49 to 48 percent, but it's the internals that really offer reason to hope that in three and a half months, the Bush Reign of Error will conclude:

  • A majority of voters--52 percent--want to see the country go in "a different direction" from how they perceive Bush is leading

  • Kerry is favored by margins of between six to 18 points on questions of who would do a better job with the economy, education, health care, raising middle class living standards and handling prescription drugs for seniors. The sampled voters favored him by four points on the question of "who is on your side."

  • Kerry is also up by two on the general question of foreign policy. He trails on Iraq, but only by four points. Only on the War on Terror question does he trail Bush by double digits--and even that 12-point spread is markedly down from a few weeks earlier.

I don't want to get overconfident here. But the central dynamic of the race really seems to have shifted in the last two weeks (I'd argue it started even before the debgates), from a referendum on Kerry's character to one on Bush's record. This is what the more serene Democrats have been waiting for: election observers commonly say that for incumbents who aren't clearly cruising, like Reagan in '84 or Clinton in '96, there's a two-step process to the voting decision. First, they more or less reject the incumbent; then they make a determination about the challenger.

For Bush to win, he needs a fair number of "unenthusiastic" voters--folks who don't necessarily like him or how he's performed in office but are so dubious about Kerry, and unwilling to go third-party, that they'll give him another try. This was a lot easier before the debates, because--though I don't like to admit this--the Republicans are a lot better at campaigns than are the Dems. They make generally more effective advertisements, their strategic thinking is superior, they understand the dynamics of news cycles and how to "sell" storylines.

And to an almost shocking extent, they succeeded in making the campaign a referendum on their caricature of Kerry, rather than Bush's record. But once the two guys were side by side, Kerry just had to cross a threshold of viability; he had to convince enough voters that he wasn't a quivering Francophile and could be trusted to do a decent job in office. And he had to forcefully remind voters of what a majority of them didn't, and still don't, like about Bush in the first place: the rigid thinking, the arrogance, the affinities with big business and the special interests.

The best line all year on The Daily Show (which is saying something) was "the facts themselves have 'an anti-Bush bias.'" That's how the campaign is now playing out--Bush's record of failure and "are you/is the country better off than you/we were four years ago"--and why, short of a Kerry meltdown in one of the next two debates or, I guess, a bin Laden capture on October 29, I'm feeling pretty good about the race.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

This, That and the Other
What a night. First of all, a big raspberry to the Presidential Commission on Debates for scheduling the Edwards-Cheney faceoff opposite Game One of the Twins-Yankees tilt. Faced with a choice between two such clearcut contests of good versus evil, I watched the debate, but did manage to catch the two innings on each side of it. The Twins took a 2-0 victory, and on the Batgirl blog there was, I assume, much rejoicing.

(Update I/Side Note: at the risk of exposing Batgirl's secret identity after all, her fans might want to check out this fine article. And then complain to that it's not linked from their Twins homepage!)

After winning their Division Series opener against the Yanks a year ago and then dropping three straight before going home for the winter, Minnesota won't have overconfidence to worry about. But they did play in some good fortune tonight: I'll bet you'd have to go back quite a few years to find the last time the Yankees were shut out despite recording nine hits. Give the Twinkies defense a lot of credit: those five double plays (a record, by the way) weren't an accident, and Torii Hunter remains one of the very few guys in MLB whose defensive performance alone is worth the price of admission.

Similarly, Johan Santana probably cemented his newly acquired rep as the best pitcher in the game with seven shutout frames at the Stadium tonight. That Yankee lineup started off with four legit Hall of Fame candidates in Jeter, A-Rod, Sheffield and Bernie Williams, in addition to the very dangerous Matsui, Posada and Sierra. And they didn't cross the plate even once.

I think the Yankees needed this game. They couldn't hit Santana in last week's regular-season matchup, when he left after 5 innings with a 3-1 lead before the Twins bullpen blew it--by the way, whose bright idea was it to let Santana pitch against a team with excellent scouting and a host of analysts, just days before they knew they might have to send him out there for Game One?--and they couldn't reach him tonight despite getting guys in scoring position in both the first two innings. Now they'll have to beat him once to win the series, and in all likelihood they'll have to do it in the Metrodome where the Twins enjoy a pronounced homefield edge. Add in that Mike Mussina has been by far New York's most reliable starter, and the Minnesotans have to like how this series is shaping up.

I didn't watch any of the other two games, but Boston and St. Louis did about what I expected them to do in notching big wins. If Bartolo Colon doesn't come out and dominate the Red Sox tomorrow night, the Rally Monkey is probably headed for extinction this autumn.

Now to the debate.

I make no claim to impartiality here. I loathe Dick Cheney; to me he embodies everything wrong with the modern Republican Party, particularly the use of fear and division to advance a radical pro-corporate agenda. Revealingly, he kept responding to Edwards' substantive points about Halliburton by slinging mud at the Democratic ticket. He had no substantive rejoinder to those attacks (nor to Edwards' repeated points about what L. Paul Bremer said today regarding insufficient troop levels), because there is none--at least none that's politically viable. The strategists on both sides know that Cheney's conduct while at Halliburton was indefensible.

(Update II/Side note: regarding Ambassador Bremer, this fascinating and deeply troubling article, written anonymously by an official currently serving, posits that he was the leading non-neoconservative candidate to replace Colin Powell at the Department of State in a second Bush term. He can probably kiss that hope goodbye after today's flap.)

I also enjoyed how he responded to Gwen Ifill's question about poverty in Cleveland, where the debate was held, with a meandering defense of the severely under-funded "No Child Left Behind"... and of course the obligatory line about tax cuts. Citizen Dick deserves credit for at least this month: even when ostensibly talking about the poor, he still manages to carry water for his fellow millionaires. And I guess he also merits some points for honesty in not even pretending to "feel the pain" of those drones fit only to clean his house and get shot in his wars.

My favorite part about Cheney's debate performance tonight had to be that in the first 45 minutes--the entirety of which was concerned with foreign policy--he mentioned Bush ONCE, by my count. It's almost enough to make one wonder just who calls the shots...

Edwards wasn't perfect tonight; he misspoke at several points, and he wasn't always sharp in his responses. But he did what he had to do in reiterating two crucial arguments: how badly the administration has botched the occupation in Iraq, and drawing contrasts between the Democrats' pro-middle class priorities on domestic policy, and the relentlessly pro-corporate Republican tilt that Cheney embodies. His closing statement was excellent, as was his concise and very hard-hitting argument about who benefitted from the Medicare prescription drug bill.

I wish he'd gotten into the administration lying and general procedural fuckery on Medicare--which Cheney brought up several times, giving Edwards a clear opening--and that he would have actually hit the populist notes even harder. But then again the Twins won, and a guy can't have everything.

One other point. I turned the post-debate coverage off pretty quickly to catch the last two innings of the Twins game, but I flipped back to CNN during the commercial and saw Jeff Greenfield make a point I completely agreed with: the utter uselessness and banality of the "Spin Alley" interviews after the debates. If I want to gauge how the candidates did, I somehow don't think Mary Beth Cahill or Ken Mehlman are likely to give me much insight.

I can see going to "experts" and discussing what just happened in roundtable form (although I'm not personally a big fan of that, either). But geez, what could the campaign operatives possibly tell you that the candidates failed to get across?

(Update III and last: the Washington Post already has a pretty detailed piece online fact-checking Cheney's numerous, er, "mistatements.")

Finally, a sad note: comedian Rodney Dangerfield, born Jacob Cohen ("One of us! One of us!") died today at age 82, from complications following heart surgery.

I can't think of any other comedian who provided me as many belly laughs and great memories as Rodney did in "Caddyshack" and "Back to School." He was also a pretty good dramatic actor, when he cared to be: his performance in "Natural Born Killers" was powerful and creepy in the extreme.

I also admired his work ethic--he performed live into his 80s--and willingness to innovate, as seen by the website he set up, way back in 1995, long before most comics half his age were utilizing the Internet.

Like many great comics, Rodney was able to transmute the sadness of his own life into laughs for the rest of us. I believe he suffered from fairly severe depression, something I know a little bit about myself.

Flights of angels, Rodney. You'll be missed, and you have my maximum respect.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Second Season
Some good Division Series matchups kick off the first annual (?) AIS postseason baseball prognostications. But first, a moment of silence for the Cubs and A's, who proved spectacularly unable to handle their own seeming good fortune in terms of September schedules, and for Mr. Bonds, who couldn't quite carry those other 24 guys into the playoffs after all. He'll have to console himself with MVP award number 17 or so.

Now, on to the picks:

Astros vs. Braves
The one thing that makes watching the Braves win the division every year bearable is watching them get sent home a week or two later. The law of averages suggests that they should win it all again one of these years, but I don't see how they can beat the loaded Astros lineup with the less than intimidating Ortiz/Hampton/Wright/Thomson-or-Byrd rotation. None of those guys, aside from maybe Jaret Wright at his very best, can win one by themselves, and Atlanta's lineup doesn't quite have the firepower to win slugfests against a team like Houston. Roger Clemens and 20-game winner Roy Oswalt are hands-down the best 1-2 pitching punch of the four NL qualifiers. Astros in four.

Dodgers vs. Cardinals
Steve Finley's division-clinching slam is as good as it gets for LA this year; I don't think they'll notch another win, unless Odalis Perez suddenly turns into Johan Santana and the Cardinals' pitching suddenly resembles the motley crew most analysts thought it would be back in March. The Pujols/Rolen/Edmonds lineup core is just too good. The Dodgers should be well positioned to get back here next year, and Paul DePodesta probably will have them more ready to do some damage when they do. Cards in three.

Twins vs. Yankees
Both AL series should be much more competitive. I really, really want to pick the Twins, who in every respect aside from their nasty, parsimonious evil old owner are the perfect David to the Yankee Goliath. The aforementioned Santana is coming off four months of sustained pitching excellence the likes of which we probably haven't seen since Orel Hershiser in 1988, and strike-throwing machine Brad Radke will frustrate a New York lineup that likes to work the count. Still, it's very tough to pick against the Sheffield/Jeter/A-Rod/Godzilla/Posada monster--not to mention the superb bullpen led by Mo Rivera and Flash Gordon. Add in that Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown seem to be recovered from their various injuries and ineffectiveness, and I have to think the Yankees will scrape by... unless Justin Morneau or one of the other precocious Minnesotans bursts into the national consciousness with a breakout series. It could happen. Yankees in five.

Red Sox vs. Angels
Here are arguably the two most complete teams in the postseason, with no real weaknesses to speak of aside from, arguably, Boston's middle relief and Anaheim's solid but unspectacular rotation. As Baseball Prospectus and probably others have noted, the Red Sox fortunes this month might come down to whether Terry Francona is smart and brave enough to name Bronson Arroyo his third starter rather than the veteran Derek Lowe; Arroyo has earned the right to back up the mighty Schilling and Pedro combo. I don't totally trust Martinez, but I think Boston has the bats to take out the Angels. They'd better do it early, because the Anaheim bullpen, led by Troy Percival and Francisco Rodriguez, is lights-out once again. The X-factor here is likely AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero, in his first career playoff action; he could carry his club into the ALCS, and he just doesn't seem like a guy who would wilt under the bright lights. But the Man-Ram/Ortiz lineup engine likely will be enough to get the Saux back to the ALCS and a renewal of their twilight struggle against the tormentors from the Bronx. Red Sox in four.
Let Us Now Praise Bobby Abreu
He took it down to the wire, but the Phillies' right fielder hit his 30th home run of the year in today's season-ending 10-4 win over Florida to notch his second 30/30 campaign, which is also the second in team history. Abreu actually finished with 40 steals, giving him the first 30/40 season in the 122 years the Phils have been at this.

Abreu's final numbers: .301 average, 30 HR, 105 RBI, 40 steals, 118 runs scored, 127 walks, .971 OPS. That should be deserving of at least a few down-ballot MVP votes.

Also deserving of praise is Jimmy Rollins, who hit a grand slam today to finish an outstanding season: .289, 14 HR, 73 RBI (mostly from the leadoff spot), 30 steals, 119 runs scored, .803 OPS and excellent defensive work at shortstop.

Oh yeah: the Phils also made a managerial change over the weekend. I don't have much to add to the discussion here, except that it was at least two months too late--a point underscored by Houston's wild card-clinching win today, as the Astros canned Jimy Williams the day after the all-star game--and that at the least, the spotlight of accountability will finally be trained on Ed Wade and his chronic ineptitude.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Everything Gonna Be Alright This Mornin'
My hope going into last night's debate was that Kerry, just by dint of standing on the same stage as the president and being able to respond to the smears, slurs and distortions in real time, would reassure Dem-leaning independents and others who dislike and disagree with Bush but had little confidence in Kerry. I think he did that. This Democracy Corps analysis suggests that Kerry made substantial gains with independents in particular, on both foreign-policy issues and general measures of personality and even likeability.

It's just a wild guess, but IMO there's even a possibility that he brought some states where the economy sucks but cultural/foreign policy factors favored
Bush--like both Carolinas--back into play. Ditto the more hawkish states of the west and southwest, like Arizona and Colorado.

The Republicans badly wanted the first debate to be on foreign policy and "turr." I think they believed a good performance by Bush would shut the door, and that nobody would watch the subsequent debates. But this actually meant something of a lower bar for Kerry: now that he clearly got above a certain hurdle on the issues that have been Bush's greatest strength, he gets to have another meaningful contest on the more favorable ground of domestic policy.

This is a really, really big deal. I can see how one could support things
Bush has done in foreign policy--not how he's done it, but almost everything he's done is in some way justifiable--but there is utterly nothing in any area of
domestic policy where he's likely to find majority support. From deficits to
jobs to wages to environmental issues, his record in office is the definition of a "target-rich environment." He's been a complete disaster, and he will have to be much better than he was last night just to hold serve.

Think of it this way: is there any chance at all Bush would be within ten points without the war and terror stuff? I think not. By virtue of the agreement between the candidates, the third debate will basically exclude those issues.

The second "town hall" debate, next Friday night, is the one Bush wanted to skip altogether. The guy isn't exactly adept at thinking on his feet and responding to unanticipated questions. It now might be his best chance.

Kerry is in a much better position this morning than he was 24 hours ago. I would guess the race is tied again, and among the remaining undecideds the challenger's stock has to be up--simply by virtue of "looking presidential" up there.

I did have one major gripe with the debate, concerning what wasn't talked about. Granted it's only 90 minutes, and I wouldn't have wanted Jim Lehrer's job in both getting to all the key issues and allowing both men to sufficiently explain themselves... but how he could leave out WMD and pre-war intelligence, Abu
Ghraib/Guantanamo, and the Arab-Israeli conflict is really amazing to me.