Monday, February 28, 2005

Virtual Hands-On Politics
One fascinating political development of the last couple years has been watching the relationship between office-seekers and the often-unruly internet community (or communities) start to define itself. Joe Trippi's legendary responsiveness to once-obscure blogs and sites is largely, and I think accurately, credited with jump-starting the Howard Dean bubble of 2003; a year later, even a politically maladroit and personally standoffish John Kerry was able to raise millions with a ghostwritten e-mail it probably took some 22 year-old staffer 15 minutes to compose. (Indeed, "Kerry" still sends his e-mails, keeping supporters apprised of his priorities and, I guess, hoping to win through diligence and persistence the personal loyalty that was absent among most of his voters last year.) I'm not as familiar with how the Republicans have done it, but by most accounts their internet strategy was effective, if not determinative in their 2004 wins.

Candidates for lower-visibility offices have been a bit more willing to directly mix it up with the great online unwashed. At dailyKos last year, a number of Congressional hopefuls would come on and comment, probably in part to get some fundraising attention and probably in part because they really felt an affinity with the community. Since the election, this has accelerated somewhat; once or twice a week, the Democratic Senate Communications group will post on Kos, and is generally met with approbation. "Barbara Boxer" had a cameo on there about two weeks ago, thanking the community for the thousands of roses they sent her in appreciation for her tough questioning of Condoleezza Rice.

Now things seem to be kicking up a notch. A University of the Arts (Philadelphia) professor named Chuck Pennacchio is planning to challenge the odious Rick Santorum for the Senate in 2006, and has reached out to Kos-world with an introductory statement and impromptu question-and-answer session, apparently the first of many for a campaign Pennacchio promises will be driven by the virtual grass roots. (His communications director has been on the site for a couple months already, and Pennacchio himself has checked in on a couple previous occasions as well, but only as a respondent in the "diaries" others have written, I think.)

Pennacchio is unknown but hardly inexperienced, having run several winning Senate and presidential primary campaigns for other candidates. I love the idea of citizen-reformer candidates, and for this race it would certainly help to have a Philly boy involved to energize the vote (though Ed Rendell, who will be running for re-election in the gubernatorial race, should do a lot of that as well). The question I have is whether Pennacchio, a loud-and-proud progressive in the Paul Wellstone tradition, can win in a state far more conservative than Wellstone's Minnesota. His likely primary opponents include Barbara Hafer, the former PA state treasurer who switched parties just a few years ago, and Bob Casey Jr., current holder of that office and son of the popular late governor and an opponent of abortion rights--a position that would likely help him in a general election race against the rabidly anti-choice Santorum, but will hurt him in the primary. Joe Hoeffel, the former congressman from my home district in the suburbs who lost a Senate race to Arlen Specter last year, might jump in as well. The rumor is that state Democratic leaders are trying to clear the field for Casey and avoid a potentially costly and divisive primary.

I have no problem with Casey's abortion position--I disagree with it, but I credit him for being "comprehensively pro-life," rather than losing interest in babies once they're born like so many Republicans opposed to abortion rights. I'd enthusiastically support him against Senator Man-on-Dog, that sanctimonious embarrassment. But there's something compelling about the Pennacchio candidacy; whenever a true grass-roots hero emerges, and wins, I feel that it somehow validates our entire system, proving that money and name recognition and the backing of a political establishment aren't always determinative. And the fact that this guy, pretty much in advance of anyone else pursuing such a high office, is actively engaging the online grass roots is kind of exciting; if he wins, it will make history.

Here's Pennacchio's website, and here's a good article arguing for an open primary next year in the PA Senate race.
Bad News/Good News
The Phillies officially have their first injury scares of the 2005 campaign, with 3b David Bell and pitcher Vicente Padilla calling the doctor. Bell's back is acting up again, while Padilla has arm pain that some of my friends on Philliesphans are already certain is left over from last year; Ed Wade, for his part, is calling it "mild tendonitis," but I suspect that, as usual, he speaketh out of his posterior.

While losing either guy would be a blow, Wade's Monkey's-Paw-ish good luck could be his saving grace yet again. In the past, I've written that but for some bad decisions by free agent pitchers he was courting--rejected offers by, among others, Andy Ashby (2000), Aaron Sele (post-2001), Tom Glavine (post-2002), Jamie Moyer (ditto), and last winter Kevin Millwood, who turned down a three-year, $30 million contract--and various injuries suffered by prospects he'd foolishly dealt away, from Adam Eaton to Derrick Turnbow and Miguel Ascencio--Wade's failings as a GM would be much more visible to the world; instead, the misfortunes of others have obscured his bad judgment. This time, the felicitous mistake might prove to be the arbitration bungle with Placido Polanco. Wade offered arbitration hoping that Polanco would reject it, sign elsewhere, and yield the Phils some badly needed draft picks; instead, he accepted the offer, reportedly on bad advice from his agents, whom he then fired. Now, Polanco looks to step into the third-base job if Bell can't answer the, um, bell.

The 22 year-old righty Gavin Floyd is the most likely fill-in for Padilla. Floyd probably could use more minor-league development time, but wouldn't likely be a disaster. Still, I'd probably rather see reliever Ryan Madson get a shot at the rotation, with Floyd possibly sliding into Madson's 2004 role of long/situational reliever. Best yet, though, would be Padilla coming up with a clean bill of health and finally starting to fulfill his vast talent. Wade did take pains to point out that the pitcher had told team officials about his arm discomfort early, with implied praise for the maturity thus shown.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Irrational Despair
Yesterday, aging baseball scribe Bill Conlin republished a letter he'd received from a correspondent expressing his disgust with the Phillies' 2004-2005 offseason moves and claiming that he's given up hope for the coming season. Here's a taste:

This organization that is the Philadelphia Phillies is one of the most poorly run franchises in sports today. It is painfully obvious that not one person who works within the management of the Phillies cares one ounce about any fan they have. You have finally managed to do the unthinkable.

I have always been one of the most optimistic fans around. Even when you were pushing the Steve Jeltzes and Luis Aguayos in my face. I still had optimism before the start of the season. But this year, you have managed to give me absolutely no reason to even care about your team or think there is a chance for any postseason play. And that is a shame. I love baseball so much. My entire spring, summer and fall revolve around it. And now this year I have already considered it a wasted season.

It is like you all live in some sort of bubble that is cut off from the outside world. I can't believe that so many people in your organization are so dumb to think that the fans are stupid. That's really how I and many others think you think of us. Your organization needs a total overhaul, from ownership to the minors. In this letter I am going to tell you what you already know, but you think us "stupid'' fans don't know. I will also tell you how to fix some problems to start winning some fans back.
Where to begin with Ed Wade...

Yes man. Never, ever, ever taken a chance on anything. Overvalues his "talent.'' Totally blew it during the summer of 2004. We needed a pitcher when we knew one of our starters was going to be out for a long period of time. So instead of doing something semimeaningful, he signs the released-from-the-Devil Rays Paul Abbott. Then keeps him on the team a month longer than he should have.

With a lead in the division last July, it was glaringly obvious the Phils had some holes. Instead, he did nothing meaningful at all, failed to address the issues, screwed up centerfield even worse and singlehandedly cost this team a chance at contention.

His favorite sayings that mean the same thing as "We suck and are going nowhere'' are, "If everyone plays up to their capabilities... '' and, "We're going to be competitive.'' Ed Wade needs to be replaced. And not by Ruben Amaro Jr. He's been trained by Wade and gives us no reason to believe he'd be any different. It is imperative to go, heaven forbid, outside the organization for a general manager. Find someone who lives in the real world, please.
Mike Lieberthal is done. Finished. Washed up. You should have traded him when you had the chance, even if you had to pick up a little bit of contract money. Why not? You ask every other team to do it, so why don't you? Pat Burrell's learning curve is just about at an end. It's looking like what you see is what you get. I like him and all, but c'mon guys. How long do we have to wait here? Kenny Lofton in centerfield is about 2 years too late. If you didn't screw up the deal during last year's trade deadline, he could have made a big difference. As far as pitching, I see two number threes, a four and someone who shouldn't even be in the rotation.

Leaving aside the humorous conjunction of getting Lofton "about 2 years too late" even though "he could have made a big difference" last summer, this just seems illogically pessimistic to me. Clearly, I'm no fan of Wade and I think the team could have done a lot more to improve itself this winter, but to say there's no hope is just absurd--especially for someone who claims to have suffered through the Steve Jeltz era.

So here's the letter I wrote in response to Conlin, who told someone else on PhilliesPhans that "I'll give you equal time when you can round up 125 fans who write me e-mails backing your point of view. That's how many e-mails I got from people backing McGuigan yesterday."

I think your correspondent Francis S. McGuigan is off base on some key points here. As a Phils fan of 26 years' vintage, I feel his pain, but I also don't think he's looking at this rationally.

Not that I want to defend Montgomery or, worse, Ed Wade, whom I detest. I think he's a cowardly, unimaginative organization toady who doesn't even learn from his own mistakes, as he shows us with the annual July trade/s for lousy bullpen filler. At best, he's Chuck Lamarr--the only other GM who's kept his job as long without a playoff appearance--with a budget. But by doing one good thing years ago and then being lucky, he was able to construct a roster that clearly had--and still has--playoff-level talent.

The good thing was investing in player development when he first got his job; though this started late in the Lee Thomas regime, I'll give Wade at least partial credit. The 1996-2000 drafts were fruitful for the Phils, yielding a talented and relatively inexpensive nucleus of Rollins, Burrell, Utley, Wolf, Myers and Madson among others, with few wasted picks. The luck was in keeping his job until the team's financial circumstances improved, at which point he was able to go buy Thome and Wagner, as well as Bell, Millwood and Milton. Unfortunately, he screwed that up by retaining Bowa, who was wretchedly unfit to manage that team; Bowa should have walked the plank no later than October 2003, and arguably well before that.

If the question is "Has the organization done everything it could to put a winner on the field?", then the answer is no--but that doesn't speak to excessive frugality or ownership "not wanting to win"; it speaks to Wade's failure to make helpful trades or otherwise think creatively about roster construction... or even to be smart about when to change managers. (Montgomery et al deserve blame here, too; they should have canned Bowa and, after 2004, Wade as well.) Just this winter, he should have tried to trade Bell and gone after a slugging right-handed third baseman, or re-signed Polanco and made a real run at Beltran or another stud CF. Instead he shows faith that Bell's back will hold up, mishandles the Polanco situation, and brings in a probably-shot Kenny Lofton for, I guess, name value.

But if the question is, "Has the organization put together a roster that can compete for the postseason?", then the answer is yes. The 2005 Phils are strong 1 to 8 and have the best bullpen in the division, plus a talented though questionable rotation not unlike what the Cardinals ran out there last year. We'll live off the fruits of the last good period of player development, and the revenue jolt of 2003-04, for another year or two.

Conlin isn't always the most pleasant correspondent--he once sent me one of the most insulting e-mails I've ever received--but he does tend to write back. So we'll see what happens.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

It's About Sex
One of the many things I've been meaning to write about in recent weeks is the Prevention First Act, proposed last month by Democratic Senate minority leader Harry Reid and since co-sponsored by 22 of his colleagues. The legislation is intended to reduce unwanted pregnancies, and thus abortions, by expanding access to preventive health services and education.

Seems to me that this is an obvious and uncontroversial goal: whatever one's position on the legality of abortion, who could be against legislation that reduces the risk that any woman would have to face the choice of whether or not to carry her child to term?

As is often the case, however, I've been proven a naif. Not one Senate Republican has joined onto the legislation, and the usual suspects on the right have condemned the measure, as The Carpetbagger notes. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins (whose name always makes me think of the character his late namesake once portrayed: one Norman Bates) characterizes the proposal as "the same tired and failed solution it has offered in the past - increase money and access to condoms and the morning-after pill[.]"

What this says to me is that it's not really abortions these people are concerned with; it's sport-fucking. They'd rather see unwanted pregnancies, and terminated pregnancies, continue than appear to give support to Doing the Dirty Deed, outside of (holy) matrimony.

Their preferred way to end abortion, I conclude, is abstinence-only sex education. Never mind that it doesn't seem to work; today's right-wing extremists would rather be wrong and ideologically pure than compromise their "principles" while doing real-world good.

For what it's worth, I think abstinence education has a part to play in the solution here. Even without the question of pregnancy risk, sex is deep water for most high school-age kids, and participating in it irresponsibly or in ignorance can lead to emotional damage that might never be repaired. To the extent that there's utilitarian value in making the case for abstinence--and that it doesn't get snarled up in what often seems like the goal of the right wing to turn secondary schools into the equivalent of Christian madrassahs--it should be supported.

As I've noted here many times, I understand and to some extent share the discomfort many Americans have with abortion. I'm pretty confident, however, that many and perhaps most of those who consider themselves "pro-life" aren't really interested in regulating the sexual behavior of others who don't share their views--and would view with dismay and outrage the privileging of this position over steps to decrease the number of abortions.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

(I wrote the following in response to this dailyKos thread--but thinking about it, the same sentiment applies in consideration of the right-wing conference I wrote about earlier today.)

What almost physically sickens me whenever I see Ann Coulter, or read about Michael Savage, is that whether they know it or not (and I really have no idea), their rhetoric opens the door to unbearable horrors. Dehumanizing your opponents is the first step to jailing them, beating them, or ultimately deciding that the world would be better off without all of them.

They're no longer seen as parents, children, individuals, people who love and are loved. They're monsters. Traitors. Liars. Murderers. Immoral, wicked things. Bugs to be exterminated.

So, yes, on one level we're fighting for our survival. There's no compromise with the rabid core of the right wing hate machine.

On another, though, we're fighting for our ideals, which is a much more uplifting--and immediate, in the sense that nobody is yet knocking on our doors or herding us onto trains--kind of struggle. That means, in part, not dehumanizing our opponents. Hating them is ultimately counterproductive.

The phrase Martin Luther King Jr. used was "agape".  He described it as

...something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love  that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it's what theologians would     call the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them. You look at every man, and you love him because you know God loves him. And he might be the worst person you've ever seen."

I'm not religious, not in the sense that I try to be mindful of God loving (say) David Horowitz, but I certainly can perceive the worth of this concept. By remembering the humanity of even the most evil-seeming on the other side, I think we consciously reaffirm our own. It's a tough balance between resisting something with all your strength and keeping in mind that the proponents of what you're fighting against are themselves human beings, were once helpless babies (as King reminded those who took actions with him, speaking of the people who were about to sic dogs and turn firehoses on them), are probably capable of tenderness and delight and even mercy. But I think we have to strive for it.
Contrarians at "The Gates"
Annie and I were in Manhattan this afternoon and got a chance to see "The Gates," the endearingly pointless art mega-installation now up in Central Park. Prior to seeing it up close and in person, my reaction was balanced between appreciation for the beauty of a purposeless gesture (and a culture that ascribes at least some value to such indulgences; it's hard to imagine "The Gates" going up in many other parts of the country) and wishing the gesture had a purpose. Having now seen them, I think I "get it" but I remain unconvinced it was really worth "getting."

Annie's contention--that the overwhelming impression is of highway roadwork signs denuded of text--works about as well as any aesthetic judgment I could render. I now wonder, though, if maybe that isn't the point in some way: a comment about the blurry line between art and inconvenience, or that both are best experienced communally.

The effect of the project is greater the more of it you can take in at once. Anybody who works or lives in the upper floors of a building along the edge of the Park probably has a greater appreciation of it--both for the god's-eye vantage point and for being afforded the chance to enjoy the installation without having to elbow through crowds--than those who take it in piecemeal. But even from Central Park South, seeing the slope and curve of the Gates along the paths of the Park gave me a renewed appreciation of how lovely and useful that urban oasis is--not in and of itself a bad thing, at all.

Finally, anything that inspires commendable smart-assery like this, almost has to be worthwhile.
What We're Fighting
Fanaticism, intolerance, delusional thinking, the marriage of ideology and power.

In other words, everything on display this weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference held near DC. It amazes me that these people can still call themselves "conservative" with a straight face, given their total abandonment of fiscal responsibility, foreign policy realism, and commitment to limited government. But I guess when you run everything, principle seems as quaint as those fusty old Geneva Conventions.

Some lowlights from Salon's coverage of this nightmare:

California Rep. Chris Cox had the honor of introducing [Dick Cheney], and he took the opportunity to mock the Democrats whose hatred of America led them to get Iraq so horribly wrong.

"America's Operation Iraqi Freedom is still producing shock and awe, this time among the blame-America-first crowd," he crowed. Then he said, "We continue to discover biological and chemical weapons and facilities to make them inside Iraq." Apparently, most of the hundreds of people in attendance already knew about these remarkable, hitherto-unreported discoveries, because no one gasped at this startling revelation.
Neither Cheney nor Rove said anything very interesting. As he does most years, the vice president essentially rehashed Bush's State of the Union, although he mercifully omitted any reference to the Federal Marriage Amendment. Rove's speech was about the growth of the right from "a small principled opposition" to "a broad and inclusive movement that is self-assured, confident and optimistic, and forward leading, and most important of all, dominant in American politics today."

Their mere presence was more significant than their words, putting the White House imprimatur on an event that featured, in addition to the Swift Boat Veterans, venomous CPAC regulars like Ann Coulter, Oliver North and Michelle "In Defense of Internment" Malkin. It was yet more evidence that this administration puts little distance between itself and the most reactionary forces in the Republican Party.
In his speech, Santorum tried to unite the various constituencies behind the anti-gay marriage amendment with the Orwellian argument that such an amendment is actually necessary to keep government out of people's private lives.

"I know there are some people who may be economic conservatives and not consider themselves cultural conservatives," he said. Addressing himself to them, he tried to explain how banning gay marriage is crucial to laissez-faire governing. "Think about those communities where marriage does not exist," he said, invoking their poverty and illegitimacy. "What you see is a model of what life would look like in a country that has fathers and mothers not wedded together in strong relationships to raise children." In poor neighborhoods, he said, there's a strong government presence, "because if Mom and Dad isn't there to raise the child, someone else has to bridge the gap, and that someone else is always the government."

Santorum didn't quite explain how proscribing gay unions would strengthen families in poor communities. The assumption seemed to be that homosexuality would make a travesty of matrimony. Like a suburban block where undesirables insist on moving in, its worth would go down. "If we deconstruct marriage in society, if we say marriage is whatever you want it to be, then marriage loses its intrinsic value," he said.

"I'm talking at a very protective level about what is important to our society if we are to be a free people," he said. "The less virtue we have in our society, the more the need for government to control our lives, to govern our lives." In other words, government needs to enforce virtue in order to keep government out of our lives.

This kind of reminds me of something that bothers me from time to time: why don't these people who are so concerned with the "sanctity of marriage" go after shows like "Trading Spouses" or "Wife Swap"? Do they ever make the connection that the same Fox that relentlessly pushes "Trading Spouses" as well as "Sex-Crazed Island" or whatever the hell that trash is called, also runs the unofficial propaganda outlet of the administration led by that "godly" president they so venerate?

Does it occur to any of these people that Rupert Murdoch is probably laughing at them until he wets himself?

Meanwhile, the author of this piece does do us the service of a reminder that some real conservatives out there see and deplore the excesses of the radical reactionaries currently in the saddle:

In January, Paul Craig Roberts, assistant secretary of the treasury during the Reagan administration and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal's far-right editorial page, published a damning column in the progressive Z Magazine about fascist tendencies in the conservative movement. "In the ranks of the new conservatives, however, I see and experience much hate. It comes to me in violently worded, ignorant and irrational emails from self-professed conservatives who literally worship George Bush," he wrote. "Even Christians have fallen into idolatry. There appears to be a large number of Americans who are prepared to kill anyone for George Bush … Like Brownshirts, the new conservatives take personally any criticism of their leader and his policies. To be a critic is to be an enemy."

This American Conservative article from last month makes much the same case. Both pieces allude to what I've long viewed as the telltale sign of incipient fascism: the tendency to dehumanize one's opponents. Once one makes the mental leap that all liberals, Jews, African-Americans, gays or whatever group hate America and are either active or passive traitors, it's a fairly short step to calling for their incarceration, physical suppression or worse. Erstwhile conservatives now on that path can look up ahead to where people like Ann Coulter, Michael Savage and other "personalities" are enthusiastically waving them onward.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Containment (Domestic Version)
George F. Kennan turned 101 years old this week. Now more or less retired in (I think) New Jersey, the legendary geostrategic thinker and intellectual architect of the Cold War is long departed from the news, if not this mortal world. But it occurred to me today that Kennan's greatest conceptual breakthrough--containment--by default has become the operative philosophy of all Americans fearful of the excesses of the Bush administration and the right-wing ideologues who power its actions.

Considering Grover Norquist's transparent admiration for V.I. Lenin, the father of the Bolshevik Revolution, I don't think this comparison is as far-fetched or hysterical as it might appear at first blush. Consider how Kennan characterized the USSR--certain that enemies besieged it on all sides, clinging to dogma as a "fig leaf" to cover its true identity as a militarized despotism, but ultimately more opportunistic than fanatical in the pursuit of its ambitions. Similarly, we see the Bush administration, certain of the implacable hostility it faces in the media, academe, Hollywood and the cities, in a permanent fighting crouch; promoting its "conservatism" at every turn despite unprecedented fiscal profligacy and its obvious comfort with purveyors of cultural garbage like Rupert Murdoch; and ceaselessly looking for vacuums into which its power can expand.

But like the West in the Cold War, a show of resolve in the face of opportunistic aggression might be sufficient as deterrence. In this vein, the General Accounting Office and comptroller general David Walker today warned the administration to cut out its long-standing practice of branding propaganda as news. We see bloggers pushing relentlessly to get to the bottom of the Gannon/Guckert scandal, in which a hardcore partisan organization planted a "reporter" with a hardcore background of his own within the White House press corps. And even David Brooks, in his own hacktastic way, is calling BS on the administration's stunningly irresponsible budget politics. More broadly, the generally united Democratic resistance to the right-wing's effort to phase out and ultimately destroy Social Security could be said to a certain NATO-ish quality to it.

Like most analogies, this one can be pushed too far. There are probably some fights the administration won't back down from--judicial appointments, for instance--and others that we simply don't have the weaponry or manpower to win, like the "tort reform" and other reward-the-rich initiatives in which the president need only hold his congressional majorities together. The U.S. couldn't save the pro-democracy uprisings in Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslavakia in '68. But by pushing back with resolve and persistence, by keeping the pressure on, and by presenting a Democratic counter-example that offers more to the people, we can make it far more likely that the right-wing coalition, like Soviet Communism, will eventually collapse under its own weight and hypocrisies.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Levity/Around the Horn
Of all the regulars at the superb Baseball Prospectus website, Jim Baker is usually my least favorite. Maybe it's that his name is homonymic (if that's a word) with the whoremongering TV preacher of '80s yore; more likely it's that for the most part, he's not nearly as clever or funny as he seems to think he is. Reading his latest piece tonight at the gym, however, I am obliged to render propers, because this had me snort-laughing:

Valentine's Day counterbalance

The best thing I can say about Valentine's Day is that it's over. The second-best thing is that all that candy is now half-price. If you feel self-conscious about eating chocolate out of a big heart that you bought for yourself, just dump the contents into a manly aluminum lunch pail and toss the box away.

I don't care what anybody says to the contrary, though--Valentine's Day is for women. How do we prove that theory? Try an experiment. Let's take twenty couples. For half of them, we'll have the men forget Valentine's Day. For the other half, we'll have the women blow it off. Which "forgotten" control group will be more upset, do you think: the men or the women?

Right--we don't even have to file for the funding necessary to make that experiment happen. We already know what the results will be and what they will prove: It's a woman's holiday. Not that I'm complaining about that, mind you. Women deserve a holiday all their own. I'm wondering, though, how about a man's holiday for balance? Some might say that every day is a holiday for men because we've got it so good. Spare me that line of crap! I'm talking about a genuine, no-doubt-about-it, for-men-only holiday. I was thinking about this as I watched a man bring flowers to his wife yesterday. What about a holiday where men get six packs of beer delivered to where they work. Just to set it apart from an ordinary six-pack, it could even have a Mylar balloon tied to one of the bottles with a picture of a drunken frog vomiting into a dumpster and saying something like, "It tasted better on the way down." You know, something that men would think was funny.

If you're curious, Valentine's Day was indeed observed in AIS World Headquarters, but in a rather pro forma way: Annie got flowers, I got a card, she went to pottery as usual for a Monday night, and that was pretty much it. I'd like to say that every day is V-Day here, but, you know, I'm trying to keep it real...

Also was skimming ESPN's Spring Training primer for the NL and got to wishing I was the GM of the Colorado Rockies. I'd exploit the home-field advantage to the hilt, paying top dollar for elite free agent hitters and home-growing all my pitchers, with the possible exception of second-tier relievers (I think Steve Reed actually was a Rockie for a long time). This strikes me, if nobody else, as interesting, since it runs counter to my general theory of how to build baseball rosters: develop hitters, who tend to make a more immediate impact after reaching the majors, and import your top-tier pitchers as free agents because they're more likely out of the age where they're most likely to get injured, and have probably learned their craft. (For the Phils, for instance, this would have meant trading Brett Myers this past winter, if not sooner, and definitely Cole Hamels during the 2003-2004 off-season... before he started his run of injuries and idiocy, I should note.)

(And yes, the BP crew have made a similar argument about the Rockies in the past. So what? Good artists borrow, great artists steal...)

Otherwise, does it strike anybody else as odd that you can write the same thing about the Cincinnati Reds every single friggin' year? Lots of talented outfielders, no pitching, Griffey's gotta stay healthy. I've liked the Reds for 15 years now, despite Nazi apologist Marge Schott's long association with the team (she's now dead, of course). But I'd find it ironic and a bit sad if they chose 2005 as the year to make the charge I usually predict for them around this time, as they parted ways with career-long Red shortstop and Cincy native Barry Larkin this winter. A bunch of teams wanted Barry to suit up for them, including the defending champion Red Sox, but he just didn't want to put on another uni and chose to retire. (Ironically, he's now working for the Washington Nationals, albeit for the ex-Reds GM Jim Bowden.) I had the chance to work with Larkin covering the 1997 World Series for, and thought he was a great guy--fun, smart, very down to earth. Though he did mock my attachment to the Phillies.

Finally, I've hated the Milwaukee Brewers for so many years that it seems second nature. But between Bud Selig's sale of the team, their very strong minor league system, and the canny trades they made this winter, bringing in slugging OF Carlos Lee and potential ace Jose Capellan for mediocrities Danny Kolb (now the Braves closer) and Fast Guy Scott Posednik (whom I was terrified Ed Wade would snatch up--and he did try), I have to admire how the Brewers are building. It's a nice park, too--I stopped there for lunch one miserable day in November 2003, while on a business trip to Milwaukee. And how can you not love the sausage race? I hereby declare the Brewers my new Reds, at least until Larkin rejoins the organization. Which he will.
Four Sweet Words
"Pitchers and catchers report."

The Phillies officially open spring training today in Clearwater, Florida. The typically miserable Philly sports columnists are slamming the team as "lacking buzz" and "less confident" compared to a year ago, but you know what? Given how 2004 played out for the Fightin's, that's really fine with me. (I won't even link to the Marcus Hayes "10 questions" column, which I worry might have made me dumber just for having read it. It's astonishing that this guy has a job, especially compared to the Inquirer beat guy Todd Zolecki who actually seems to have some understanding of baseball.)

The season starts April 4 against the Washington Monuments--um, Expos--I mean, "Nationals." If on that day we can state with confidence that Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla and Billy Wagner are healthy; Brett Myers seems to be closer to getting a clue; Pat Burrell looks more like the 37-homer monster of 2002 than the .209-hitting pitiful giant of 2003; and the likely platoons in centerfield (Kenny Lofton/Jason Michaels) and second base (Chase Utley/Placido Polanco) are ready to roll, I'll feel pretty good about things.

Miserable columnist #2 (Salisbury) is right about one thing: the division isn't as ripe for the taking as it was last year, when the Braves and Marlins were coming off winters when they clearly subtracted talent and the Mets were still a Mess. And, yeah, if we had a GM with a clue instead of Ed "Dead Weight" Wade, Larry Bowa would have been fired after the September 2003 choke-a-roo and we probably would have been fine last year.

There's a real chance that the Phils will play better in 2005 and still miss the playoffs because they've been overtaken by the Marlins (or, I guess, the Mets, though I still don't believe in their bullpen and I think the trainer's room at Shea might be standing room only). And the Braves probably could mount a credible run for the division title with the Cheltenham High School junior varsity nine, as long as they have Cox and Mazzone calling the shots; I don't know how they're going to score runs without J.D. Drew, and I can't imagine that newly acquired rotation ace Tim Hudson, great as he is, will be all that much better than Jaret Wright was for them last year, and I don't think new closer Danny Kolb is all that good... but it's proven foolishness to pick against Atlanta. The Phils have their work cut out for them.

There's a lot to be bummed out about today. The NHL might be dying before our eyes with their stunningly idiotic decision to cancel the season; the Idiot King just nominated John "Death Squads for Democracy" Negroponte as the country's intelligence chief; revelations that the White House slipped a ringer propagandist working under an alias who was also a gay hooker into the press room every day for two years have been met with a general yawn by the same people who wanted to burn Bill Clinton at the stake (though at least this might have inspired Maureen Dowd's best column ever; that's something, no?).

But today at least, we can put all that to the side with those delightful words, "Pitchers and catchers report." Good stuff.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Miller's Manifesto
Matt Miller is one of my favorite political thinkers, a proud Democrat who's not afraid to call BS on his own party and focuses relentlessly on finding workable solutions rather than beating an ideological drum. He's giving up his weekly column, for now, but offers some great parting shots in this piece:

Many thoughtful politicians and officials have privately told me that they believe there is little hope of changing today's tyranny of charades short of a galvanizing social explosion. The other possibility, they say, is that the American people become so frustrated that they "kick the bastards out" and start electing people willing to challenge the status quo.

Maybe that will happen. But there's another scenario as well. The overriding (and depressing) truth in public life today is that neither major party has a political strategy - that is, a strategy for winning elections and acquiring power - that includes solving our biggest domestic problems. I don't believe this situation is sustainable. If both sides continue to peddle charades in the next few years while real problems fester, I believe it will create enough energy and frustration among enough leaders and citizens that a new "radically centrist" third party movement will be born.

My guess is it would feature something of what Ross Perot brought to public life in 1992, when he won nearly 20 percent of the vote, and thereby changed what we in the Clinton administration did on budget policy thereafter. Perot tapped a broad frustration with a two-party system that let problems like the deficit and the national debt spiral out of control. He respected citizens enough to believe they could understand the stakes, and when he rolled out his charts and graphs on TV, millions of them did.

Today, on the eve of the boomers' retirement, our fiscal problems are worse than when Perot took up the cause back then - and we've had 13 more years of kicking the can down the road on the uninsured, the working poor, schools for poor children, and more. Whether such a movement would find its agenda co-opted by the major parties (as is usually the case in U.S. history) or whether it would become an enduring force for change is impossible to know.

But the one thing that is clear is that such a development is feasible. The U.S. economy generates more than an adequate supply of high-net-worth patriots who could provide the money (and possibly even the candidates) around which such an effort might be built. As the 2004 exit polls showed, a clear plurality of Americans identify themselves not as liberals (21 percent) or conservatives (34 percent) but as moderates (45 percent).

As America's fiscal collision with the boomers' retirement nears, yet so many problems remain unaddressed, the idea that this constituency would continue to find little public expression for its aspirations or its temperament or its pragmatism strikes me as implausible. Something has to give. My intuition is that if Washington Republicans continue to veer right, and Washington Democrats (despite my friendly coaxing) find themselves trapped in a "reactionary liberalism" unable to embrace new ideas, at some point a critical mass of leaders on both sides will start to think (and should start to think) about a new force that can move the nation toward real answers.

None of this changes the two operating assumptions that undergird my own politics: one, that it will take major economic trauma to break the current brainlock-deadlock in the public policy debate, and two, that the Democrats, for all their flaws, are far more committed to finding those common-sense, broadly utilitarian policy solutions than are the ideologically driven Republicans. (Indeed, Miller presumably feels the same way.) But his work at its best reminds us that there are other options out there, other answers waiting to be found, beyond interest-group politics and funder-driven politics and the other sorry landmarks on our current political map.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Let the Healing Begin
With Howard Dean's easy win yesterday in the race for DNC chair, both Dean and his erstwhile critics seem to be determinedly making kissy-face. And, say I, God bless 'em. Here's the Moose, offering congrats and good luck (though also, I think, pretty clearly hedging his bets against a possible "told ya so" moment), and here's Salon's take on Dean's first steps:

At his press conference today, Dean joined Hillary Clinton in moving for middle ground on abortion, expressed an interest in engaging with evangelical Christians, and made it clear that he'll be spending much of his time working in the red states. That doesn't mean that Dean is swinging right; he ripped into the Bush administration in his acceptance speech, and he said that Democrats are going to fight to take the country back from Republicans who "can't be trusted with taxpayers' money."

But Dean spoke with more determination than emotion. And when reporters tried to provoke him at the press conference with the worst that has been said about him -- Newt Gingrich has said that Dean's election amounts to a Democratic "death wish" -- Dean refused to take the bait. He laughed off the comments and said he hoped to prove them wrong. Asked whether he has changed his style, Dean laughed again. "I'm not a 'Zen' person, so it's hard to answer stylistic questions," he said. "I am who I am."

Now, think about the phrase "can't be trusted with the taxpayers' money" for just a moment. That's a *very* different kind of critique from the off-the-shelf liberal line of attack against Bushism, e.g. they're immoral, bloodthirsty, intolerant corporate jackals.

Then think about what Dean said last year--not how he said it ("Confederate flag decals"), but what he said--about engaging conservative white southerners on the grounds that Republican economic policies that redistribute wealth upwards don't serve them.

And remember that this is a guy who, for all his rhetorical fire and the liberal boogeyman he offered, isn't really all that liberal--he supported the first Gulf War, hedged on gay marriage, and pretty consistently pissed off the progressive community in Vermont. Now ask yourself if maybe Dean's message, carried by a messenger who isn't a blue-blood northeasterner actively courting an infuriated liberal base, might not be an electoral winner for Democrats. If Dean the personality/caricature can stay out of the path of Dean the political thinker/organizer, we might just have something cooking here.

I've been a bit sick this weekend and slept for something like 13 hours last night, but it's been far from a total wash. Friday night's episode of "Battlestar Galactica" was nothing short of spectacular, a tremendous hour of television by turns riveting, funny and profound. If you haven't checked it out yet, you should, and I'm sure that Sci-Fi, with its paucity of programming, will re-air the whole run at some point this year if you want to start from the beginning rather than jump in mid-season. And yesterday I took Annie and my mom to "Avenue Q", probably the most enjoyable Broadway show I've seen in 10 or 15 years. Extremely funny, very sweet and guaranteed to get any twenty- or thirty-something head nodding in agreement at the exigencies of life it presents. If you see one show in NYC this year, etc...

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Somebody Open a Window
The Times reports today that 2004 was the fourth-warmest year on record:

...the global average continued a 30-year rise that is "due primarily to increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere," said Dr. James E. Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in Manhattan.

The main source of such gases is smokestack and tailpipe emissions from burning coal and oil.

The highest global average was measured in 1998, when temperatures were raised by a strong cycle of El Niño in the Pacific Ocean; 2002 and 2003 were second and third warmest.

Dr. Hansen said a weak Niño pattern was likely to make 2005 at least the second warmest year and could push it beyond 1998 and set a record.

The unusual nature of the recent warming was corroborated separately yesterday by a new analysis of 2,000 years of indirect temperature records in tree rings, stalagmites, seabed layers, and other evidence from around the Northern Hemisphere.

That study, published in the journal Nature, found that previous peaks of warming, particularly during medieval times about 1,000 years ago, were as warm as the 20th-century average but that no spikes in the last 2,000 years matched the warming since 1990.

Not much really to add here--except that, editorially, this story bored even me, and I obviously at least cared enough to link to it here. It seems illustrative of the great piece Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote for last year about how the media totally fails to cover environmental issues in a compelling way. (Whether or not this is willful failure, at the behest of the corporations that control the mainstream press, is a separate though also important question.)

Lousy coverage means this won't get into the popular consciousness, much less on the action agenda for policymaking, probably until we see some disastrous consequences. Talk about losing on style points...

Update, 2/11

Browsing aimlessly on a Friday, looking at Mark Schmitt's fine blog The Decembrist (thanks, VHCA), I came across a link to this provocatively titled piece: "The Death of Environmentalism." Worth a look in light of the above-noted item.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Meaning of Dean
I have some thoughts on Gregg Easterbrook's Super Bowl analysis and a Times story yesterday about how everything is increasingly more expensive in New York than elsewhere to share, but let me try to respond to the recent request that AIS pronounce upon Howard Dean's near-certain ascension to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.

First of all, if you haven't yet seen it, check out Ryan Lizza's account and analysis of what happened in the DNC chair race, and how the Democratic Powers That Be tried, with their typical level of success, to stop Dean, in the New Republic. Their ineptitude in trying to derail the Doctor is perhaps the best argument I've yet seen that the party desperately needs new, outside-the-Beltway leadership.

So much for how we got here. Now, I'm no member of the Dean cult; he won my lasting appreciation in early 2003 when he seemed to be the only Democratic presidential aspirant willing to call bullshit on the Bush administration, and his oft-repeated (though now forgotten) linkage on the campaign trail between fiscal responsibility and social progressivism resonated strongly with me. But I thought he had a certain politically self-destructive streak--a suspicion sadly proven true--and what he mostly was, at bottom, was a vessel for outraged grass-roots Democrats to vent through and, to some extent, commune with. I came to support Wes Clark, who proved himself (to me at least) much more than a resume with some genuinely thoughtful and progressive policy positions, and foreign policy credibility no one else in the campaign could touch, for the nomination; when Clark dropped out of the race, I hoped Edwards would pull it out. Of course, by then Dean was done too. Similarly, I found him a palatable enough choice for DNC chair, but I really wanted the lower-profile Simon Rosenberg, head of the New Democrat Network, to get the gig. He seemed to have most of Dean's reform-related positives, but none of his baggage (see below).

The irony of his new job is that while Dean's vast internet fan club was probably decisive in his win (and arguably represents the biggest benefit of that victory, but again, see below), the job of DNC chair isn't particularly conducive to a cult of personality. It's technician's work, a managerial/coordinating, behind-the-scenes role. As pointed out somewhere during the race, we don't know whether RNC head Ken Mehlman is a rabid supply-sider, a Kulturkampfer, or a libertarian fiscal conservative. And it doesn't really matter; what matters is that the guy evidently has credibility with all those groups and has mastered the machinery of his party.

Can Dean do the same? He starts with some rather large negatives in the eyes of the party's traditional power base, including of course those feckless establishment Democrats who tried to keep him from the chairmanship in the first place. To his credit, reports are that he's trying to reach out to them. In the end, I doubt that big-money donors like Leo Hindery, the short-lived rival for the chairmanship Lizza describes in his piece, will really walk away from the party.

And even if they do, I actually expect Dean's election to be greeted with a smaller but still significant echo of the individual donor boom that fueled his run for the nomination last year. Daily Kos has already put out the call to send the DNC some cash to show that "we've got Dean's back", and even John Kerry has announced that he'll be giving $1,000,000 to the party (really, it's our money--part of the $15 million Kerry failed to expend in the last weeks of the 2004 campaign--but we can't get it back, and frankly I'd rather him spend it this way than stick in the bank for his 2008 run) on the occasion of Dean's ascension--though his e-mail message fails to mention his former rival by name.

I hope it works, and (full disclosure) I'll probably kick in a couple bucks myself. Getting official Democratic Party e-mail from Dean probably won't elicit the same nauseated response I've generally had to missives from Terry McAuliffe, and I suspect I'm not close to the only one who feels this way. In the end, that's probably the biggest positive about Dean's win: it sends a message to grass-roots, reform-oriented Democrats that their input is welcome and their contributions, monetary and otherwise, are valued. It probably blunts the disgust that many of us have felt with the party since last November. Perhaps it's ironic that James Carville has been one of the most outspoken Democrats in his dismay at Dean's victory and the open, "election-like" process that led to it--because Carville's own Democracy Corps recently found that "warm feelings" toward the party among Democrats themselves were down from 86 percent late last year to 74 percent now. At least among the party's new core of citizen-activists, that's likely to rise with Dean's triumph.

The question is whether his prominence will hurt the Democrats' image with everybody else. The Republican reaction, predictably, has been to dredge up and present in the worst possible light every dumb thing Dean said during the campaign, and then rely on the actively (Fox) or passively (every other corporate controlled outlet) supportive media to use these to further the meta-argument that the Democrats are "out of touch" and "just don't get it." Sadly, some who are ostensibly on our side seem to agree: check out this post from the Moose. (Interestingly, the other DLC-sponsored blog, New Donkey, has a much more sympathetic take on Dean's win and the road ahead; it's like they haven't quite made up their minds as an organization).

This baggage is real and progressives shouldn't shrug it. In the end, though, Dean should be able to get out of his own way; in addition to his popular support, surely unprecedented among major-party chairs, he secured the job by promising to strengthen state and local Democratic organizations and to fight the Republicans everywhere. And a final thought: perhaps the most common complaint about the Democrats is that nobody knows quite what they stand for. Say what you will about Howard Dean, but you generally know what he thinks. Democrats have long argued, and opinion polls tend to agree, that the public is with them on "the issues"; their failures have been in the realm of clarity and communication. If Dean can effectively address these, his chairmanship is likely to be successful.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Some Consolation
No, not for the Eagles' loss, which continues to sting, but for the pain of watching Republican hypocrisy and mendacity on display every day. Despite the incessant and growing calls for governance by "Christian morality," defined of course by the apple-pie imams, they can't just rewrite history--and as Brooke Allen of The Nation details, their claim that the United States was founded as a "Christian nation" is flat-out wrong:

Our Constitution makes no mention whatever of God. The omission was too obvious to have been anything but deliberate, in spite of Alexander Hamilton's flippant responses when asked about it: According to one account, he said that the new nation was not in need of "foreign aid"; according to another, he simply said "we forgot." But as Hamilton's biographer Ron Chernow points out, Hamilton never forgot anything important.
In 1797 our government concluded a "Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli, or Barbary," now known simply as the Treaty of Tripoli. Article 11 of the treaty contains these words:

As the Government of the United not in any sense founded on the Christian religion--as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity of Musselmen--and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

This document was endorsed by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering and President John Adams. It was then sent to the Senate for ratification; the vote was unanimous. It is worth pointing out that although this was the 339th time a recorded vote had been required by the Senate, it was only the third unanimous vote in the Senate's history. There is no record of debate or dissent. The text of the treaty was printed in full in the Philadelphia Gazette and in two New York papers, but there were no screams of outrage, as one might expect today.

The Founding Fathers were not religious men, and they fought hard to erect, in Thomas Jefferson's words, "a wall of separation between church and state." John Adams opined that if they were not restrained by legal measures, Puritans--the fundamentalists of their day--would "whip and crop, and pillory and roast." The historical epoch had afforded these men ample opportunity to observe the corruption to which established priesthoods were liable, as well as "the impious presumption of legislators and rulers," as Jefferson wrote, "civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time."

In case you're still wondering what the Founders would have thought of our current regime, Philly's own Benjamin Franklin all but anticipated the question when he said, "A man compounded of law and gospel is able to cheat a whole country with his religion and then destroy them under color of law."

Monday, February 07, 2005

On to, um, Detroit!
I was handling the Eagles' Super Bowl loss much better last night, in the immediate aftermath of the game, than I am this morning. Perhaps the ten beers I drained over the course of the evening had something to do with that.

Though I think this loss would sting less if the other Philadelphia teams didn't suck so badly--if not the Eagles, who will ever break the 22 year (and counting) title drought?--the game itself presented plenty of teeth-gnashing fodder. A handful of plays that could have turned the outcome. A huge one was the 3rd and 10 in the second quarter, right after Brady's fumble and with the Eagles up 7-0, when Donovan just missed an open Freddie Mitchell. A first down there would have given the Eagles tremendous momentum. Instead, Dirk Johnson shanked a punt, New England got it back inside the 40, and went on to a quick game-tying score.

The defensive inability to stop New England on a number of third-and-longs in the second half was clearly a killer. And most of our best defenders--Jevon Kearse and Brian Dawkins in particular--were quiet all game. Nobody on the defensive side of the football stepped up and made a play, and again and again we saw the Patriots pick up Eagle blitzes to give their damnably pretty quarterback just enough time to get the ball away. There's no particular shame in surrendering 24 points to an offense that balanced and talented, but no glory in it either.

But in another sense, it's kind of amazing how close the Eagles came. Think about all the direct comparisons:

  • QB: Brady outplayed McNabb
  • RB: Dillon outplayed Westbrook
  • WR: Branch outplayed TO--though barely, and if this game proved nothing else, it did prove that TO need never pay for a drink in Philadelphia again)
  • S: Harrison outplayed Dawkins
  • LB: Bruschi outplayed Trotter

The Eagles turned it over four times, three times on New England's side of the field! McNabb reverted, at least in the first and fourth quarters, to the mistake-prone thrower of the NFC title game losses (though he also threw some rockets, the TD passe to Westbrook and Greg Lewis in particular). And yet the outcome was in doubt into the last minute of play.

I haven't yet read the Philly papers, and I'm not sure I want to, but I don't think sackcloth and ashes are called for. Hard as it is to stay among the elite teams year after year, to muster the focus and good fortune to play for a championship, this shouldn't be the end for this collection of Eagles. I hope Reid goes out and gets another running back through the draft in the Lamont Jordan/T.J. Duckett mode, and more size in the defensive interior would help, and prospective free agents Derrick Burgess and Jeremiah Trotter should be retained. But this is a great team, clearly the best Eagles team of my lifetime, and they should have a few more years yet to get this done with the current nucleus.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Postcards From Laramie
Perhaps not surprisingly, I've never seen the PBS kids' show "Postcards from Buster" which is currently in the news as the latest target of the Kristian Kulturkampf Krew. I don't think I'd ever even heard of it until new Bush Education Secretary Margaret Spellings decided to launch an attack on the program for its evidently sympathetic (and very understated) portrayal of a lesbian couple in Vermont, presented in a by-the-way manner within a show apparently much more focused on maple syrup.

We probably shouldn't be surprised at any of this; Spellings, like everyone Bush has appointed since 2003, seems qualified for her job more based on unquestioning loyalty to the Idiot King than on any real accomplishment. At least she's not an outright fraudster like her predecessor, Rod Paige--though it's probably a matter of personal opinion whether her swipe at gay lifestyles is more offensive than Paige's comparison of teachers' unions to terrorist organizations. More to the point, I expect more in the way of this hateful nonsense as the Bushistas seek to throw side dishes of red meat to their intolerant right-wing allies in lieu of actually pushing for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The bad news, as Frank Rich reports, is that this is likely to include a new FCC chair even more predisposed toward censorship than Michael Powell, who at bottom had the soul of a corporate whore rather than a modern-day Inquisitor.

But back to Buster. As the above-linked story details, a few brave PBS affiliates, including our own here in NYC, are broadcasting the scary example of tolerance anyway. Maybe the series' creators should take it a bit further, though; after Buster's journey to Vermont, why not send the little rabbit to Laramie, Wyoming, where he can visit the site where Matthew Shepard was murdered by two homophobes. Perhaps Buster could talk with the Rev. Fred Phelps, who appeared at Shepard's funeral to bear the message that "God Hates Fags."

Then he could talk to Secretary Spellings and, of course, the Rev. James Dobson, who is so exercised that those insidious secular liberals are promoting a message of tolerance for the deviant lifestyle of homosexuality. Of course, they'd both disavow and condemn Shepard's killing (as even Phelps' church did, in a pro-forma way)--but a stated position that "gays shouldn't be tolerated, but shouldn't be lynched either" has no coherence, let alone moral power.

In last year's campaign, John Kerry failed the test of courage and principle on the issue of gay marriage, transparently hoping it would just go away and cynically trying to turn the homophobia of the electorate against the incumbents through mention of Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter. Instead, let's hold up a mirror to the intolerance and bigotry of the homophobic religious zealots of the Republicans, and show that the road beginning in the office of the Secretary of Education ends at a roadside grave in Wyoming.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Casualties of Capitalism (and Fashion)
As I mentioned at the time, a few months ago my organization co-published a report on low-income working families in New York state, which was pretty well received by the policy community, local and state officials, and the media with significant coverage in the New York Times, Albany Times-Union and other outlets around the state. Bob Herbert also prominently cited the report in the first column he wrote after Thanksgiving, even quoting from the intro I wrote for it. On the other side of the political spectrum, business groups and even some Pataki administration officials had praise for the report as well.

What I didn't know was that apparently the report caught the attention of a different, probably far more influential class of opinion-shaper. God help me, I'm sitting at my desk this afternoon and the phone rings.

It's a woman calling from Bravo, the TV network. "We were wondering if you could put us in touch with some of the working poor families you talk about in the report."

For what, I ask? "I work for a show called 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.' We're interested in doing something like an extreme lifestyle makeover with them."

I resisted the urge to ask if this was a joke and referred her along to one of my colleagues who did a lot of the interviewing for the report (and is a socialist. I was hoping she would react with outrage).

She fielded the call, evidently handling it in a disappointingly professional way, and then came in and we laughed about it, with that sort of mix of humor and outrage you get watching "The Daily Show."

But according to her--she apparently has watched some reality shows, which I generally avoid like the plague--the whole theme of class conflict has become a big part of the appeal of some of these shows. So I guess it's not surprising that in an industry where derivation is the rule, like television, everybody is looking for their own piece of the phenomenon. Apparently there's some plan to have Paris Hilton's mother do a show in which she tries to "impart some high society class" to poor people. Which sounds just too repulsive for words. (Of course, Annie's idea for re-imagining "Survivor"--make it literal--probably would turn some people off, too, though I've always held that the Fox executive's dream has to be televising public executions a la "Natural Born Killers".)

I had no idea that this has become part of the entertainment landscape, and I wonder how it's affecting politics. Poverty-as-spectacle/entertainment strikes me as pretty disgusting, but maybe that's not how it comes across on the Idiot Box.
Pic of the Litter
Now this is what I'm talking about, e.g. punching back:

Man, a record four posts today. Somebody hose me down!
Moderation: in Ideology, no Vice; in Politics, no Virtue
The emerging truth about Bush's drive to radically alter Social Security is that he's going to need Democrats to do it. This is true in an instrumental sense because you need 60 Senate votes to break filibusters, and true in a political sense because the Republicans, at least those in the Upper House, aren't brave or foolhardy enough to pass something that major along party lines. Check out Sen. Grassley's comment in today's NY Times analysis that when it comes to the Senate, "nothing gets done that's not bipartisan."

So the focus turns to a half-dozen or so Democratic Senators--"blue" officials in "red" states--who are likely to get squeezed on this issue. You know who I mean: Nelson of Nebraska, Nelson of Florida, Landrieu and Lincoln, Baucus, and Joe Lieberman (who couldn't credibly be threatened with political blowback, but is always willing to lick the Republican hand that hits him). Josh Marshall has kept track of these people and their passages into and/or out of the "Fainthearted Faction."

But there's little to no point anymore in any Democrat seeking accommodation with this administration, much less the Republican jihadists in Congress. The reason why has to do with the distinction between moderate philosophy and moderate poitical practice.

Ideologically, I'm a moderate and proudly so. I believe in regulated capitalism and a moderately activist government committed to equality of opportunity, but not outcome. I'm pro gay marriage and pro-choice, but I share some of the disgust on the right with mass pop culture (as the next entry will describe). My value system probably isn't all that different from the "bo-bo" people David Brooks talks about; half-bourgeois, half-Bohemian.

Politically, at this point, I'm close to 100 percent anti-compromise as far as the national Republican Party goes. (Thankfully, some appreciation for "the reality-based community" remains among the Republicans of New York City and State.) That's just because we're dealing with fanatics, ideological madmen. Rove, DeLay, Cheney and Norquist aren't interested in utilitarian public policy; they're interested in one-party rule and creating a permanent economic overclass. And they're driving the train. Why compromise with that?

Not to mention--and this is the relevant point for the Democratic Senators now coming under pressure--there's no political payoff for compromising. Bush and his cronies would always rather have a 100 percent compliant Republican than a possibly or occasionally compliant Democrat. Just look at the Dem congressmen from Texas who were knocked off last November. Or Max Cleland. Or Tom Daschle, for that matter.

I think Democrats like Harry Reid are finally starting to tumble to the fact that the rules of the game have changed. We didn't ask for this war--and it is a war--but the choice between meekly accepting radical right wing dominance and fighting back isn't a very hard choice to make.
Willful Ignorance
I didn't watch the State of the Union speech last night, figuring that a commitment to my own sanity and temperament outweighs whatever abstract obligation I have to stay informed about the stream of lies and propaganda emanating from the mouth of the Idiot King. Though it was faintly useful to have it on at the gym; I could look up from my reading on the stationary bike, see the porcine face of Hastert and get a small jolt of adrenalized rage.

I did read that Bush took his de rigeur shot at the homos in calling for the Hate Amendment, which probably pacifies "SpongeDob" at least a little bit. Not that this has a snowball's chance in Hades of winning passage, as The Carpetbagger details. Anyone else getting violently sick of symbolic politics?

At least there's some sign that the Democrats are getting smarter about punching back. For one small example, here's a thread on DailyKos that seems to have originated with the Senate Democrats' "War Room." Good for them in no longer running away from the people who by right and commitment should be their staunchest allies and biggest fans. Check out all the love for Senate minority leader Harry Reid, who really does seem like a canny political operator even if his politics are well to the right of most Kos visitors.

Besides, as Bleeding Gums Murphy once said about not going to the dentist, I have enough pain in my life. This excellent, funny/heartbreaking article from the Football Outsiders website sums it up pretty nicely:

In some cities, fandom is born of glory, but in Philadelphia it grows in adversity. Philadelphia fans, real ones, emerge from a white-hot crucible of snarling hostility and pent frustration, like the orcs in the first Lord of the Rings movie. They are born of great suffering, as per the Lord’s command in Genesis 3:16. Young Philadelphia fans “make their bones,” like Mafia hit men. They experience something on the field (diamond, court) so heart-rending, so soul-emptying, that it dries up all of the endorphins in the brain. They emerge from the experience steel-eyed and flinty.

I’ve made my bones a dozen times, maybe more: when punter-turned-kicker Mike Michel (don’t ask) missed the extra point and the chip shot in 1978, when Kenny King out-jumped Herm Edwards in Super Bowl XV, when the Dick Vermeil Eagles collapsed, in the Fog Bowl against the Bears, when Mitch Williams faced Joe Carter, and so on. Character building experiences? Perhaps, but my wife will affirm that the character they built can be hard to live with sometimes.

...Take away the Connie Mack and Greasy Neale-era guys that no one remembers, and Philadelphia is left with Julius Erving, Bobby Clarke, Mike Schmidt, and Chuck Bednarik. And we hate all of them.

Okay, that’s not true. But we are blind to greatness in Philly. In every other city in America, Schmidt would be the consensus choice for the greatest third baseman ever. But go into any dingy taproom in Philadelphia, and you’ll find plenty of old timers who will swear that Schmidt – who brought the city it’s only World Series – never had a clutch hit in his career. Clarke, beloved in his Flyers heyday, has been vilified (with some justification) as a general manager. In Philadelphia, we run Charles Barkley out of town, Scott Rolen out of town, for faults that sane fans would forgive. Only Bednarik (who scares us) and Erving are exempt from this strange treatment.

No, Philly fans like their sports stars to be above average but fatally flawed. We enjoy the predictability of failure: when we lose, we’ll know exactly what went wrong. The true Philly sports icon has a major problem or two that makes them tragically doomed. Some examples: Eric Lindros (couldn’t stay healthy), Randall Cunningham (dumb as a brick), Allen Iverson (short, enjoys firearms), John Kruk (fat, lazy), Mitch Williams (no control), Pete Rose (general lowlife), Ron Jaworski (hit in the head too often), Buddy Ryan (blowhard), Larry Bowa (total sociopath). McNabb’s inaccuracy was supposed to be his Achilles heel, and there’s still time for him to join this illustrious list with just one or two Super Bowl overthrows.

When local radio hosts Glenn Macnow and Anthony Gargano wrote The Great Philadelphia Fan Book in 2003, only a few chapters were devoted to Schmitty, the Doc, and the Broad Street Bullies. The bulk of the book dealt with Lindros, Cunningham, and Iverson, the guys who really occupy our gray matter. I’m told that New York sports fans argue about Mickie Mantle vs. Joe DiMaggio, about Phil Simms and Frank Gifford, about Willis Reed and Patrick Ewing. In Philadelphia, we perform endless paleontology, digging up Mike Mamula and Bobby Hoying, Izell Jenkins and Ron Solt, Bruce Ruffin, Andy Ashby, Charles Shackleford, Shawn Bradley, Simon Gagne, and Jeff Ruland. They were the teases, the would-be saviors, the false prophets, but we refuse to let history bury them.

Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell are poised to join this ignoble group, high draft picks who never turned the corner on their careers but were counted upon in critical situations. Pinky, FredEx, and Pat Burrell occupy about 75% waking thoughts of the typical Philly sports fan on the eve of the Super Bowl, at a time when we should be harkening back to Bednarik or Bernie Parent.

...Queenan wrote that “rooting for teams like the Phillies was the Vale of Tears, the Stations of the Cross, the Crown of Thorns, the Bataan Death March, and the Babylonian Captivity all rolled into one.”

Izel Jenkins, a defensive back for the Eagles in the '80s, did have one of the all-time greatest sports nicknames: "Toast".

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Mysteries of Bloomberg
Occasionally it strikes me as odd that I'm probably going to vote for Mike Bloomberg in New York's mayoral election this year despite the fact that I'm 100 percent opposed to two of his major development priorities, the west side Jets stadium and the 2012 Olympic bid, and am ambivalent about several other aspects of his governance includes the schools reforms. I guess it boils down to the sense I get that this guy truly does serve the public interest as he sees it, and that as an independently wealthy politician he is free to be a reformer rather than a man beholden to contributors and fellow partisans. (And thank God for that; Bloomberg is, at least nominally, a Republican.)

At a recent event hosted by the Gotham Gazette, Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker talked about the mayor, and his prospects for re-election this fall. Longtime Parks Commissioner (and bigoted nicknamer) Henry Stern engaged her in this back-and-forth:

GG: What are your thoughts on the mayor's race?

EK: Bloomberg has so much money and he's done a reasonable job. There's not a tremendous animosity toward him that someone could marshal—even if people don't love him, he's fine.

Henry Stern: Bloomberg is really an honest mayor. Every generation forgets how hard it is to get honest mayors, someone who is not accommodating people’s hanky-panky because of their communal connections. We had many mayors doing that. Koch was an exception. So were Giuliani and Bloomberg. Young people have no idea of the "good old days" when jobs were filled by political patronage.

EK: A lot of people would take exception to the particular history that you just offered but your basic point is that reform administrations run into a lot of trouble. This one may well have too except that Michael Bloomberg happens to have $4 billion to his name. If he didn't, he would be in a very different situation because he too would be reliant on the interests that finance campaigns. To his credit, he availed himself of that independence but that means that for electoral purposes he is—I don't want to say unbeatable—but very, very, hard to beat.

GG: What parts of that history would you revise?

EK: I don't consider myself an expert on this at all but obviously people would take issue with the characterization of the Koch administration. People would also take issue with the characterization of the Giuliani administration.

Henry Stern: The people Koch appointed turned out to be exceptionally honest and hard working. But there were people he held over from the Abe Beame administration. Those involved in corruption, Koch didn't appoint them, they were the preexisting clumps and previous county leaders who were an entirely different power structure.

EK: I don't want to demean his administration in any way but it ended in the graft scandal, so I don't think that many people would call it a reform administration. I personally don't think of Giuliani as a reform mayor. There was a tremendous political patronage operation so I don't think you can call that a reform administration.

I'm no expert but I think if you asked most historians, in New York City politics, reform administrations come once in a blue moon, and I think that Mike Bloomberg may indeed be one of them.

I tend to agree. Whereas if most any other contemporary New York politician (cough*Giuliani*Pataki*cough) proposed a $1.4 billion stadium for the Jets, I'd suspect dirty dealings, I have to believe that Bloomberg just thinks it's the right thing to do. While it's frustrating to see an official put so much time and credibility on the line for a project I find misguided, it's refreshing to believe that he's sincere in the effort, rather than just carrying water for some interest or constituency.

The Olympics, on the other hand... to me, that somewhat speaks to a failure to understand what the Olympics are about, and what the City is about. It was important for Atlanta, a wanna-be city, to get the Games. New York, however, needs no additional attention or credibility. (Neither does Paris or London, but those towns aren't my problem.) It's almost unfair to have them here, and not even close to worth the aggravation it would cause all of us. So I hope the bid comes up short, even as I (again) admire the lengths to which Bloomberg has gone in support of it.