Monday, April 30, 2007

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

After a giddy weekend for Boston sports fans the Sox have a day off and we can all realize that we actually have no idea whose draft was any good (though our fourth pick in the NFL Draft was Randy Moss. Who was yours?) and won't for another two or more years. Obviously the Sox had another good weekend against a Yankees team that is reeling. I'll let the Thunderstick start this edition of Dirty Water:

Thunderstick: A month into the season now and off another successful weekend with the Yanks and I don't think we as Sox fans can be upset one bit about what we're seeing right now, and I don't mean with what a mess the Yanks are. I'm talking about the Sox themselves. Almost every question has been answered positively for Boston that we were asking at the beginning of the season.

Is Schilling too old or will he got some of his form back? Looks like he's got a good part of his old form back. Is Beckett going to evolve into a complete pitcher or just keep giving up home runs by using his fast ball too much? All good there as Beckett has been employing a chance and a slider and has looked dominant so far. Can Dice adjust to the US and MLB? So far, so good. While he hasn't been the phenom quite yet, I think anyone that's watched would say he's got a pretty special skill set and now that he'll see some lineups other than NY, I expect we'll see him get more and more comfortable. Will Waker give us anything? He's been fantastic for a month. We see this from Waker all the time--1-2 great months, 1-2 terrible months, 1-2 decent months. But if we know we'll get that from him, I'll be happy. Lugo as a leadoff hitter? He's been great getting on base so far and I think he's 7 for 7 on steals--he's getting on and Youk and Papi are moving him along. Bottom of the order? Tek and Coco after starting slow have been much better as of late. Lowell looks to be solid. I know we are giving Dusty his shot, but I think we're getting close to Cora-time. Bottom of the lineup has been just fine.

Then the biggest question this team probably had--how do we bridge the gap from the starters to Pap? That's been the nicest answer we've seen so far. It's been done two ways--first, the starters have gotten into the 7th inning on average which is stellar (the Yanks by comparison don't have starters getting out of the 5th on average and their bullpen looks shot--only one reliever has more than 94 appearances in a season and the Yanks currently have 4 guys on pace to go 99+). But the big realization has been Okajima. After giving up a home run on his very first pitch, he's been unstoppable since then. He's stared down the middle of the Yanks lineup how many times already? He's been a revelation. He and Timlin have given us the 2-3 innings that we need every game to get to Pap (much like Nelson and Stanton did in the Yanks glory years recently). That's been key--combine that with nobody in the bullpen really getting raked yet--Romero, Donnelley and Snyder have all been effective--and you got a seriously good bullpen.

So we move into May which is a very hard month for the Sox. May and August look brutal. So we'll see how they play this month, but there's a lot of encouraging signs. We'll see how well these guys keep up. We'll also see if Manny catches fire and what we get out of Drew. Drew started off scorching and has cooled off. I can't help to think that this has to do with Manny not being great so far and getting on base and worrying other teams pitchers. A hot Manny will help Drew. Also keep an eye on Clemens and Lester. I expect Lester will be up by the end of the month. But what will Clemens do? Does he really want to get involved in this Yanks situation? The Yanks will back up a money truck to his house I'm sure. Will he be more enamored with coming in to be the savior or will he want to be part of what is shaping up to be a possibly special team in Boston. Should be an interesting month.

dcat: You do not give me much with which to disagree. Most of what follows will augment your assessments.

I think the key to this team lies in the "fringes," which is probably an unfair word that implies something I do not mean for it to. But coming in to this season i think any Sox fan had reason to feel pretty good about the top of our lineup, about the 1-5 slots. We had lots of reason to be optimistic -- if cautiously so -- about the starting rotation. The injury concern aside, Papelbon moving back to the closer role certainly cleared up what ran the risk of being the biggest problem area. If any of these elements of the team had gone awry we would have been looking at trouble because they were presumed strengths.

But what we did not know -- and what left serious question marks for a team for which a World Series is the only serious goal -- was a host of smaller but still vital concerns. this is what i mean by "fringes." We knew the starters and Papelbon ought to be at least solid. But what about those bridge innings -- especially if one of the goals is to keep Paps from overusage? How do we get from the 6th through 8th? We have that answer and then some -- first off, who in the world could ever have imagined that we could at least make the argument that in the first month of the season our most valuable Japanese acquisition would be Okajima? And yet realistically he has been a revelation. Him coming in and being dominant has established that we have Donnelly-Timlin-Okajima with the possibility of Romero to get us to Papelbon or to keep us from having to use Paps all the time. What was easily the weakest part of the team coming out of spring training is a strength of the team, at least in part because the starters have carried their end by not giving the relief staff four innings to finish a night. Ask the Yankees how important that is.

The other big concern was the 6-9 slots in the lineup. We knew some of those guys would hit. but the key was whether we would be able to get consistent production from enough of those guys that the botton half or third of the lineup did not become a sinkhole. I think we have our answer. Lowell has gotten off to a hot start. Cora appears to have wrested the starting second base slot from Dustin Pedroia, who was a serious question mark in many of our minds, and if Varitek may be on the downside of a nice career, his demise has surely been exaggerated. Crisp and Pena have become a de facto rotation in center, and don't forget Hinske. because of the competition, the bench is a strength of the team, and even Mirabelli seems a bit revived from last year in an admittedly tiny sample size.

So yes. Much to feel good about with a serious hunk of the tough part of the schedule ahead in May. Some of the teams we are about to face in the next 31 days will fade soon enough, but for now, every single team we face in the next month believes they are a contender for a postseason slot. We know a good deal about this team after April. I expect we will know a great deal more after we run the gantlet of May.

Estrich Gets it Wrong on Obama

In an otherwise interesting piece for Fox News, I think Susan Estrich misses the mark on Obama's performance. Here is the money excerpt (and it is the point of her argument, so I'm not sure why it is buried so deep):
Asked about America's best friends in the world, Obama waxed on about NATO and our European allies before looking east to Japan. I'm not a foreign policy expert, but I've been around debates for decades and it was clear that Obama didn't get that this was the Israel question.

He didn't get that people like me, voters and donors, were waiting to hear the word "Israel" in a way that Japanese Americans were not. Japan doesn't live under constant threats; Israel does. Japanese Americans don't worry about Japan's survival in the way Jewish Americans worry about Israel. Obama's answer, in my book, was the biggest mistake of the debate.

I see a number of flaws in this argument. I agree with the general sentiment -- Israel is, if not our most important ally, at least one of them. But in an early Democratic primary debate, if Brian Williams' query was "The Israel question" then eliding Israel may have been one of Obama's wisest choices. Now don't get me wrong -- Obama's approach to Israel makes me a bit wary. But at the same time, had the red meat crowd on the Democratic left, which will have dispproportionate impact on the nomination process, heard "Israel," they would not have heard it in the way that Estrich suggests would have been good for Obama. They could do more harm to him, in other words, than "people like Estrich" can do him good. This assessment of the way primaries work seems so obvious that if it is not a truism it at least rings true: Better to have folks like Estrich waiting for satisfaction than to raise the ire of the Daily Kos crowd.

If anything, Estrich's assertion shows a certain amount of interest group solipsism -- a sense that the political world rotates around the axis of her concerns -- that certainly has not thus far been reflected in Obama's fundraising, in his popularity in the polls, however flawed those polls are, or in the post-debate support Obama has held and garnered. In other words, Estrich's argument is one put forth without much evidence. She so wants Obama to be hurt by not answering what she perceived as "the Israel question" in the correct way that she is asserting that such harm has been done without any foundation.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Dirty Water: Special Friday Sox Talk With the Thunderstick and Spanky the Yankee

It's Friday and the Sox-Yanks are getting ready to kick off their second meeting of the season. I wanted to do something special last weekend, but I was stuck deep in the East Midlands and had no way of pulling it off. But I have gotten not only the Thunderstick, but also our own Spanky the Yankee, better known to many of you as Holmes, to contribute a special edition of "Dirty Water." Enjoy.

Thunderstick: I must confess that work has been hellacious for me lately and I haven't been able to keep up on the day-to-day activities of the Sox as much as I normally do. I got into the car this morning, turned on Boston sports radio and joined into a conversation about this weekend's games mid-discussion. DCat sent me a text message last night saying we should do a Friday journal entry this week and I have to admit that I was confused as to why. My confusion only grew as I started listening to a conversation on the radio and learned that the Sox were facing off against the Devil Rays this weekend.

The announcers mentioned that the Sox were playing the last place team in the AL East and that on top of that the DRays had the third worst record in the AL and the fifth worst in baseball. The DRays collective team ERA is 25th. They are relying on minor league call ups that aren't getting the job done, which is pretty much the same conversation about the DRays that I hear every year when we get set to play them the first time--if there's one hallmark about a crappy organization it's that they have 3-4 spots in the rotation being filled by new guys from the minors because any real team who knows the importance of pitching with at least a decent amount of money would never allow themselves to get in a position where they didn't have at least a couple of major league arms ready to go. On top of that, the DRays starters can't get through 5 innings on a consistent basis and it's exhausting their bullpen in the first month of the season--pretty much par for the course for good ole Tampa Bay. On top of that their team defense is ranked 26th in the league. They've got some hitting, but we've seen this before with TB the last few years--they score runs, but can't get outs and a lot of times when they do, they make errors and force their mediocre to poor pitching to get extra outs on top of it.

So after hearing all these stats on sportsradio this morning, I was very confused as to why DCat wanted a special Friday post, but so be it. Here's my analysis for the weekend--After two good wins in Baltimore, the Sox should get a breather this weekend. As long as they can control Tampa's bats, they'll score their runs and win 2 of 3 at worst. Hopefully the Sox can get to TB's starting pitchers early, get them out of the game by the 5th which is about as far as the TB pitchers normally get and then tee off on the exhausted bullpen. Then we can come back on Monday and write something up about how the Sox are on a decent roll as they prepare to play Oakland and Minny in a couple meaningful games next week after a nice breather this weekend.

Normally, when the Sox play the last place AL East team and one of the worst teams in baseball on a Friday night, that's a game I can skip as it represents a good opportunity for me and my wife to go out to dinner and maybe to a movie and enjoy a weekend night. But my wife is away on a girls weekend to Maine at a spa for the weekend, so tonight I'll pick up some Chinese food, a 6-pack and kick back in front of the TV, watch the Sox and enjoy one of those solo nights that all guys like to have once in a while.

I assume the game starts at 7, just let me check the schedule on my desk here....yep, 7, but wait...we're playing the Yankees tonight??!! Man, when the guys on sportsradio said we were playing the last place AL East team and then went through all those terrible stats for them, I just assumed it had to be Tampa.

HA!!! God the Yankees suck.

Holmes: (Sent With the working title: “Dirty Pinstriped Outhouse Water”): Forget the fastballs that are topping out at 91 or 92 MPH, Mariano Rivera has the look of a 3rd grader who is sitting in the principal's office for the first time after getting caught putting shaving cream in his teacher's coffee mug. Seriously. Look at the guy's eyes, and you're looking at a completely different man. For all I know he got lasik surgery during the offseason, but I'm seeing a guy who is quite lost on the mound right now and has lost a little bit of his mojo. I do hear year in and year out that generally, closers will struggle at the beginning of each season because they don't get the same amount of work as starters do during spring training. Maybe so, but if you need more work during spring training, don't you just show up to the ballpark an hour or so early? But I'll never complain about Mo. Tell any baseball fan that his or her team will be given the most dominant closer for more than a decade and help you win 4 rings, and I'm thinking the overwhelming majority will be chomping at the bit to sign up for that. And let's not count out Mo, yet. The season is still young.

That being said, last weekend's series is not what you want to see as a Yanks fan: sub-par starting pitching and bullpen work that had me wishing Brian Cashman was making calls to Rich Garces's agent. At the same token, the Sox starting pitching was far from dominant, but over the course of an entire season, even if Schilling, Beckett and Dice-K are solid as opposed to dominant, I can't think of a stronger top 3 in the starting rotation of any AL team. Now, if they are dominant, watch out, because I'll gladly take the bet that Manny isn't going to bat below .200 for the year. These ingredients will easily make up for the Willy Mo and Coco one-two punch of the lineup that make me fondly recall the late 80s/early 90s Yankee combo of Jesse Barfield and Steve Balboni. Problem with the latter combo is that they were the "meat" of the lineup, batting 3 and 4, respectively.

What separates the Sox from the Yanks for the upcoming series as well as the season is the degree of "ifs" for each squad with respect to starting pitching. As we all know, it's the starting pitching, stupid. I have not been surprised or mad the past few years to see the Yanks crap out early in the postseason, because they simply don't have solid starting pitching. Decent, perhaps, but not the championship-caliber pitching that wins championships. I would much rather be talking about if my top 3 pitchers will be dominant or if they'll be solid, as opposed to if my top 3 pitchers are going to be sucking on mohitos at the Palm Beach Garden Club in the middle of June or if I'll be able to watch them live - at a rehab start when the AA affililate swings through my city. Both teams should be hitting the crap out of the ball with relative consistency. A-Rod will surely slow down, but I'm inclined to think Abreu and Giambi will get hot here and there. The biggest concern for this season and perhaps the future is what the effects will be on the young Wright and Hughes being called up so early to assume pitching duties. It could be devastating to both their confidence and arms if not done properly, so I'm cautiously pessimistic about the prospects for success. But who knows? One or both could be the next young phenom of the league, but the Doc Goodens and Mark Fidriches are certainly the exceptions and not the rules.

I hear they now serve sushi at Fenway Park. Like those jokes they call public bathrooms don't smell bad enough.

dcat: I want to be overconfident. I really do. And I certainly am amused by the Thunderstick's post and by the image of the Yankees-as-Devil Rays. I love the idea that Williams alum George Steinbrenner must be apoplectic about this start and that he is sharpening the hatchet. I love that Yankee fans are too dumb to realize that ARod is very, very, very good at baseball, one of the best not only in the league but in history, and yet they Boo him at the drop of a hat and use stupidly meaningless phrases like "Not a True Yankee" to describe him. Red Sox fans hate him because he is the best player on our hated rival. We get how it works. Yankee fans hate him because they keep having to repeat Darwin's "Evolution 101."

But I'll admit it -- the Yankees scare me more this weekend than they did last weekend. Last weekend we knew they were down and we thought we might be able to kick them around a bit, though few of us dared dream of a sweep. This weekend is different -- Sox fans seem almost to expect to win this series. And yet last weekend the Yankees took the lead in every game, and despite the fact that we swept, every game was close. We hit them with the ideal rotation, which we will not get this time around. And while the Yankees have serious issues on the mound, it is hard to understate that lineup. Rob's glorious cavalcade of stats is mellifluous, to be sure, but I still suspect that tey will deviate back to the mean, and for the Yankees, "mean" has proven to be pretty damned good. A team that can hit like theirs will do lots of damage, and you have to think that if given enough time (and that is where the Steinbrenner factor enters) New York will recover. In the end, I suspect that we will be looking at the Sox and the Yanks facing off for the American League East.

That said, I'd sure love to see the Sox start to bury them now. Another sweep seems like a historically tall order. But I think the Sox win this series. And if they do, I will very much look forward to seeing what the wags at the New York Post will have to say in their customary reasonableness. It's just three games. But what games they usually turn out to be.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Live (Even More) Free Or Die

New Hampshire Governor John Lynch will soon sign a law that will grant same-sex couples virtually the same rights as straight married couples. This comes just more than a year after the state legislature struck down a ban on gay marriage. I was proud of my home state then and I am even more so now.

New Hampshire was long a bastion of a certain kind of noetheastern reublicanism. long misconstrued (even by New Hampshire citizens) as a conservative state, New Hampshire is actually an independent, Libertarian-leaning state that within the two-party system found modern Republicanism the most appealing option. But Granite Staters are not likely to cotton to the sort of far-right social conservatism that is ascendant in much of the GOP today.

Live Free Or Die.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With The Thunderstick

Obviously I was out of the country for the last week or so and thus to my horror missed the weekend's festivities against the Yankees, which turned out rather well. The Thunderstick texted me and I caught what I could how I could, but we are going to let the Thunderstick carry this belated edition of our weekly feature on the Sox, "Dirty Water," after just a few suggestive comments from me.

dcat: What's not to like? We swept them, we came from behind in every game, and we eked out a couple of one-run games -- character testing stuff. But we are not Yankee fans, so we also know that it is far, far, far too early to gloat. Winning is nice, sweeping is better, and obviously this was the best possible outcome (although in the two games since there has been quite a hangover with two losses to the Jays). Still, I'd like us to keep putting distance between us and them, because we both know that they will make a run. I hate them with every essence of my being, but that does not make me unaware of what they are capable of accomplishing. And of course we face them again this weekend, and my guess is that they will be ready to get rid of some of that bad taste. Plus, after Dice-K plunking Jeter and A-Rod I suspect that some of the guys on the Sox will be tasting dust and feeling bruises, which should be good for the intensity of the proceedings. I think maybe a special Friday edition of Dirty Water will be in order.

Thunderstick: Well, I don't think we can catagorize the last week for the Sox as anything other than a resounding success. There are some things to nitpick at, but we'll save those for a bit later. In the end, in the last week we've seen the Sox complete a sweep of Anaheim on Patriots Day, go 2 for 3 in Toronto with a win in a game that Halladay started and then sweep the Yanks to post a 12-5 record, the best in baseball [as of Monday].

Don't want to get into too much of what happened in each series, but there are some pretty nice things--first and foremost is the pitching situation. Now one concern from this past weekend was that the Sox were set up perfectly with Schill, Beckett and Dice going against Pettite and two dudes who the Sox should hammer. It was a bit unsettling to see the Yanks have so much success off our three starting pitchers. The Sox did trail in all three games. But we saw some serious guts from our starters. Beckett really settled down after the first two innings and DiceK just kept battling. As such, they still got deep into the games and at least for right now, the back end of the things looks good with Okajima, Donnelley and Pap. That's what looks great right now for the Sox--even when the top 4 starters struggle to find their good stuff, they are able to get through 6-7 innings to keep the pen fresh. ESPN showed last night that going into the game last night the Sox pen had pitched the fewest innings of any team in baseball and was 1st in ERA and 2nd in opponents' batting average. Those two things aren't coincidental--you win games and get deep into games, you can go with your good pen guys to close games up. So I love what I'm seeing there. Especially as it relates to Pap, Okajima and Donnelly. We saw from about 97-2003 that those Yanks and Sox teams would put on some great battles, but the one big difference in those teams that led to the Yanks winning 4 titles and the Sox losing in the playoffs was that the back end of the Yanks rotation was also solid, first with Wetteland and Rivera and then with Nelson, Stanton and Rivera. Pap looks to be doing his best mid-career Rivera impression right now and if Okajima, Donnelley and eventually Timlin (once he gets back up to health) can do that, the 7-9th innings are going to look pretty formidable for opposing teams. I always remember thinking how the Sox had to score runs early against those Yanks teams because once you hit the 7th the game was pretty much done if you didn't have the lead. It'd be nice to be the team in that position.

The other nice thing from the past few days was that we are now seeing production from the entire lineup. The bottom third that we were so concerned about has seen a bit of a resurgence with Tek swinging the bat again and Coco playing pretty well. Cora came through with some huge hits, so it'll be interesting to see how they split time between him and Dusty who is clearly struggling. For the most part (the first two games with Toronto not withstanding), since the start of that Angels series, the Sox have been much more patient at the plate and are getting pitchers out early. It saved them against Halladay in the last game against Toronto and it worked well this weekend, particularly on Sat and Sun when they got two inexperienced guys out early and got to work on an overworked NY pen.

For as nice as the pitching was set up this past weekend, it's not this weekend---I guess we'll see Dice on Friday, Wake on Saturday and Tavarez on Sunday and from what I understand, Wang will be pitching on Sunday, so that's not a matchup that favors us at all. I'd love to go 2 of 3 in NY and go from there. From what I saw this weekend, despite their current 8-9 record, the Yanks will be there all season. We won three games, but they were close, and that was with all their starting pitching on the shelf and with Posada and Matsui playing little or no role. Clearly this will be the storyline to follow this season and may well determine the AL East title: Can the Yanks' starters stay healthy? Pettite and Mussina are pretty old, but they don't have a lot of room for error if those guys go down. Right now the bullpen is taxed. I think it's foolish to write off Rivera yet, but at the same time, every blown save makes you wonder if he's over the hill. But right now the Yanks are beat up and we are largely healthy only missing Lester right now, so it's important to get a 5-7 game lead over NY while we can because you know once they are at full strength, they will go on one of those 16-3 runs and we need to be able to withstand that. A good start to that would be 3 of 4 against Tor/Bal and 2 of 3 over NY.

dcat: Obviously the Thunderstick wrote all of that before the last two ugly nights, but he is pretty well spot-on otherwise. But someone has to say the most important thing to keep in mind: The Yankees Suck.

South Africa Blog

I just put up a post with lots of links over at the South Africa Blog. I cover topics ranging from the Nigerian elections to the ongoing Zimbabwe nightmare to the expanding catasrophe in Somalia and the terrorist attacks in Algeria (and what both of these cases seem to mean to the West) to the cricket World Cup (not going well for South Africa in the semi-final match against the seemingly indomitable Aussies) to escaping to Namibia's Skeleton Coast. Please check it out.

College Admissions Anxiety

It's college acceptance time, and it appears that we are in the midst of perhaps the most competitive college admissions year in history. Williams accepted its lowest percentage of applicants ever (I think it is safe to say that dcat would likely no longer be welcome in the Purple Valley as a student were he 18 again) and almost every elite college reports the same phenomenon. The higher standards and tougher competition naturally create anxiety, which allows a certain category of awful parents and manipulative profiteers to benefit from this anxiety.

I want to steer you to a gloriously eviscerating review of what sounds like a book worthy of nothing but contempt. The review comes from a blog by a former admissions officer at Amherst (Boo! Hiss!) and now college admissions advisor at a prestigious high school in Chicago.

The elite colleges are wonderful. You can get an unsurpassed education in the most intellectually rivetting environment imaginable. A degree from one of the elite universities or liberal arts colleges can open many doors. But those schools are not the be-all and end-all. There are lots and lots of good schools out there. And parents who convince their kids that they must go to the Ivies or the Little Three or bust do their kids a tremendous disservice.

Hat Tip to Ned, one of the true good guys in the college admissions rat race.

A Bit Too Soon?

It's a fairly familiar conundrum. A famous, and generally liked, figure dies, and of course the obituaries and tributes flow, often sanding the rough parts and presenting a generally positive, if not hagiographic, picture of the dearly departed. We are seeing it now with David Halberstam. And in general, why not? After all, when the ledger sheet is added up, there will be a lot more checks in Halberstam's good column than in his bad. He was a vital, vibrant, active writer who left a legacy most reporters and historians would envy.

So I found something a bit untoward in this Jack Shafer rip job of Halberstam. But why? Surely we need to consider the good and the bad and debunk mytholigizing of even the most fundamentally praiseworthy figures? After all, people are buried with their warts intact, aren't they? Halberstam was a fine reporter who reached rarified air among American writers. But in the midst of the celebration maybe there is something wise, even brave, of tackling the hagiography as it is being written. Halberstam was, after all, not flawless. He was a much better journalist than he was a historian (his book The Children, on the Nashville Movement and the civil rights era surrounding it, was execrably bad, which makes one wonder whether other among his work was as sloppy; His prose could be flatulent; His productivity sometimes meant that some of his work seemed half considered; Shafer makes a compelling, if for the moment unseemly, case for his well-known ego, and so forth).

I had been thinking these issues for days while not even wanting to. A good, even great, man had just died tragically and it seems to me that there is a proper time to mourn, or at least to honor. Unless we are dealing with a person who, on balance, is more bad than good when considered in history's harsh light, isn't it fundamentally ok to provide a grace period of uncritical, even fawning, assessment? After all, Halberstam was an often graceful writer with a great deal of curiosity and the capacity to get inside of a story. His work on Vietnam will probably long stand the test of time and he surely elevated the art of writing thoughtfully, seriously, and intelligently about sports. He was an honest writer but a fair one. He loved to work, which fueled his productivity. His missteps were never a function of meannness or gratuitousness -- his book was a mess, but there is no doubting Halberstam's seriousness and commitment to civil rights and his profound respect for the movement's activists -- and oftentimes his level of commitment lead to his finest work.

There is time for thorough criticism of even the noblest of men. But maybe that time has not arrived just yet. RIP David Halberstam.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

McCain on The Daily Show

Wow. Jon Stewart just kicked the crap out of John McCain in a discussion on Iraq on The Daily Show to the point where McCain's only recourse was to try to filibuster, not allowing Stewart to get in a word while McCain spewed boilerplate and invoked his service to claim moral superiority. (Isn't it funny how fickle the GOP is on how and when one can invoke military service to try to invalidate what are fundamentally policy and political arguments?)

One of the fundamentally intriguing aspects of this discussion was that it shows how politicians live in a hermetically sealed and insulated world. Their debates follow rules that allow them to spew without engaging the opposition. The media, pro or con, has to accept a certain level of soundbiting and talking points. But when a smart person from outside of the Beltway has a chance to challenge them they often show an inability to react. When pushed on his talking points McCain showed an inability to adjust. He just tried to talk longer and faster. This apparently is what passes for "Straight Talk" from the engineer of the Straight Talk Express.

Back from BAAS

I'm back from England, from the BAAS conference, and from several enlightening days and several dissolute but undoubtedly fun and very late nights. Let me catch up and I promise I'll be back to blogging regularly. Right now I'm pretty well buried.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


News you do not want to read hours before taking off for England: The pound has hit a 26-year high against the dollar. As of right now it is trading at $2.01 to the pound. Oh -- and there are concerns about inflation.

I will be leaving in about an hour and will be gone for just under a week. I am heading to the British Association of American Studies meeting in Leicester where I will be on a panel on the Freedom Rides with Ray Arsenault and possibly one of the Freedom Riders.

I'll write as I can, but posting may be light, intermittent, or nonexistent. In the meantime, you might want to check out some of my recent work over at the Foreign Policy Association's South Africa Blog.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Have You Heard About The Midnight Blogger?

Friend of dcat KC Johnson has received a lot of favorable publicity of late for the yeoman's work he did at his blog Durham in Wonderland in exposing the perfidy of DA Mike Nifong and the monumental folly of his case against the Duke lacrosse players. Canada's National Post has a nice story on Johnson that calls him the "Midnight Blogger" and suggests that his work has been Pulitzer worthy. They even have a picture that makes KC look shockingly like a young Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.:

It must be the bow tie.
Hat tip to Ronit at Ephblog.

World Cup Cricket: South Africa v. England

As I type South Africa is running down England in their World Cup Cricket Super Eight match. This is the game I have been waiting for since the Super Eight fixtures were announced, and as the weeks have passed it grew more and more clear that the South Africa-England competition would be huge and probably would decide the last spot in the Championship round of four. Given my affiliation with both South Africa and England, these are the two teams for which I root in international cricket, but my heart is always with South Africa, especially in cricket, soccer, and rugby.

England won the toss, chose to bat first, and from the outset were in trouble. To make a not-so-long story short, the South Africa bowling attack overwhelmed the hapless Brits, and South Africa put England all out at a pathetic 155. Now South Africa is at-bat and their attack, which has been lethargic for nearly the whole tournament, is clearly energized by the blood in the tank. They currently stand at 108-1 after 13 overs, which is, for you neophytes, an absolute ass-kicking. They could, at their current pace, win this before the 20th over and almost certainly will have it by the 25th, which is the halfway point for an at-bat in a One Day International, and with several, possibly 7 or 8, wickets to spare. I have to assume that this will go down as a historically embarrassing loss for the English.

If you act quickly you might be able to catch the remaining over-by-over coverage here.

Update: South Africa indeed did get it done with a whopping 29.3 overs to spare, winning by nine wickets in a thrashing. Australia looms for the Saffies, but if they play a complete match like they did today they will be a threat to nay team in the world. And for the record, I think South Africans and Brits are united in their loathing of the Aussies.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Self-Indulgence Alert: Glory Days

Today dcat turned, gulp, 36. By the standards of my profession as a college professor, I still qualify as being young, precocious, even. But if actuarial tables are to be believed, the odds are pretty good that even if I feel like a twenty-something, I'm at or near the midpoint.

There was a time in my life when my default wardrobe involved sneakers and, when possible, shorts. The reason was simple -- for athletes, there was always the possibility that a pickup game might break out. Basketball, football, baseball, even something like frisbee or golf (whether legitimate or through shenanigans such as sneaking on to the course). The idea that in my life in the next few hours a basketball game might break out is only slightly more plausible than that the Virgin Mary will appear burned into my toast or that our youngest kitten will not take a dump the second after I clean the litterbox. (In fact, my eighteen-year-old self just experienced time-space humiliation over the fact that one of the only points of comparison I could muster was with cleaning the litterbox of ONE OF my cats.)

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to play in a charity softball game against our university softball team. I hurt my back. In warmups. And yet my mind remembers being an athlete even as my body has amnesia. I played through the pain -- in fact, I pitched for our team, was active in the field and at the plate, and as a result I was flat on my back for the rest of the day and was pretty much useless for the next week.

But there was a time when things were different. I can still remember those times. In fact, I can even prove that they existed:

This picture was taken exactly 14 years ago today. On this jump I became the third-ranked long-jumper in Williams College's long track and field history and I won the Williams Invitational long jump title. Later that day I also won the triple jump championship. In the decade-and-a-half to follow I have moved down the list as better jumpers have inevitably supplanted me, though I believe I am still in the top five among long jumpers and I know I remain in the top ten on the Williams indoor and outdoor long, high, and triple jump lists.

1993 sometimes seems like a long time ago. I'm not that guy any more. I wish I could go and tell that guy a few things. I wish I could listen to that guy for a little while and remember him better.

Forgive this self-indulgence. Remembrances from some modest Glory Days can be pathetic, but they also remind us of who we are. In my mind I am still flying through the air, defying gravity and, for a brief minute, time itself.

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

Here we are for week three of Dirty Water in which the Thunderstick and I discuss the highs and lows of the Red Sox season.:

Thunderstick: Another week into the season and things continue to be as fragmented as ever. It's tough to get a good read on this team right now because we keep getting cold weather and rain outs and that rhythm that every real baseball fan feels during the season has yet to be established for the Sox so far. It's been too many off days and too many games in lousy weather to really get a feel for what's good and what's bad with this team. That said, I think there are a couple observations to be made from this past week:

1. While I'm not ready to completely discount Schill's first start in KC, I'm one more good start from doing so. He was dealing this weekend. And while DiceK's start against Seattle might not be considered great by a lot of people because of what King Felix did, it was still a good start and given the cold weather, his inexperience pitching outdoors in such weather and the nerves he had to have been feeling from his first start in Fenway, it's a good starting point. But right now I don't think we can feel anything less than fairly comfortable with the way the top 4 starters have performed. The off days and rain outs have meant that we've only seen Tavarez once so far in that five spot--good news because he sucks. Bad news as we are robbing ourselves of valuable chances to see him have a completely psychotic episode on the mound. I love Tavarez.

2. The bats still haven't been great, but the approach was much better in the Anaheim series. I was frustrated by how few runs were scored against starters in those two games, but I did like that the Sox did start being a lot more patient at the plate--really paid off in that second game when they were into the pen early and did a lot of damage there. I remain hopeful that this approach will continue to improve.

That's about all I've really go to comment on with this team. The Patriot's Day game has already been pushed back from 10 to 12 today and I imagine it'll be pushed back further. Hopefully they can get it in--I hate to stockpile all these make up games so early in the season and have them suck up off days later. As much as we as fans hate offdays, they become precious in the second half of the season when there aren't as many and you hate to have to see them taken up with make up games. But at least after today the boys head to Toronto where we know they'll get the games in. Toronto has started the season playing well and I think we'll see Halladay during this trip, so it'll be a tough series to win. But then they come home for Round 1 with the Spanks. The forecast here is calling for rain all week until Friday at which point we're supposed to see the start of spring really kicking in with temps in the low 60s all weekend and mostly sunny. The Spanks now have 3 pitchers on the DL, so this is a prime opportunity to get a couple games of distance as they rebuild to full strength. I think the Sox are 1.5 up on them now--it'd be nice to see that lead maintained or increased a bit before the weekend and then to take 2 of 3 and on Monday be 4-4.5 games up. But we'll see.

dcat: The funny thing about last week is that it does not feel like anywhere near as good a stretch for us as it was because of both the weather issues hat made the week seem like an Escher painting come to life and the fact that of all of the games, the most hyped one proved the most disappointing. But the reality is that the Sox have won four of the last five and they have done so with lights-out pitching, with maybe the best regular season save I have ever seen in Papelbon's five-out gem last Sunday, and with the bats finally coming awake. We keep saying the same thing: It's early, it's early, and while it is true that it is way too soon in the season to make any projections, the reality is that every win in April is mathematically as important as every win in September, and for a while there we looked like a .500 team.

Let's talk a bit about Papelbon, who has opened up this season in absolutely dominating fashion. The saves he has had have been astounding --if anything, better than what he accomplished last season. And yet one of my favorite little moments of the young season came in his non-save in Friday night's game. The Sox were up with a 4-1 lead. Waker had pitched another near-gem (his first two outings have to be the best hidden aspect of these early weeks) but had runners on first and third with the Angels' number three and four hitters set to come to the plate. Tito went to the pen, brought in Papelbon, who shut down Vladdy Guerrero and Garrett Anderson on six pitches. The Sox went on to score six in the next frame, and with the game in hand and the leverage lowered, Papelbon was done.

I've said it all along -- despite the fiasco that was the closer by committee role (I'll say it forever -- the problem was a dearth of personnel, not a strategic blunder) in 2003, the reality is that the 9th is not always the highest leverage inning. On Friday the most important moment of the game came in the 8th. Tito had the situation down, brought in Papelbon who, in the lexicon of the Fenway Faithful Pap-Smeared the Angels' two best hitters, and the Sox then turned what was a close game late into a laugher. If we can continue to be that savvy, and if the other guys in the pen can carry their weight, maybe Papelbon can help revolutionize the closer's role in a way that Bill Campbell, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley, and, yes, the Fruitbat (for readers not familiar with the SoSH lingo: do a Google image search of the two) Mariano Rivera. I'll admit it -- I still am unsure about the miracle transformation in Big Pappy's shoulder that now allows him to do what we were told all offseason would be to his detriment, but color me, well, relieved.

I basically agree with all of your other points -- Schill is coming into shape, and I cannot help but wonder if his coming in slightly more orotund than usual means that in Kansas City he still was not in complete pitching shape, but right now he is back to top-of-the-rotation form. As is stands we have three aces, with Waker starting off like he did in his first season with the Sox. And as for the bats, I could not agree more with your take. If the Sabrmetrician, Moneyball, Bill Jamesian, whatever you want to call it approach has shown us anything it is that the more pitches you see, the better it is for you. In a world where smart people understand that on-base percentage is leaps and bounds better than batting average in grasping a hitter's worth, the ability to take pitches is as valuable a skill as a guy can have, especially if his role is not to be a huge production guy in terms of the power stats.

I'm bummed about the game being cancelled yesterday and I hope they can get the confrontation in this morning, seeing as it is Patriots' Day, that peculiar and great New England holiday that we all know best because the Sox play the only morning game on a local MLB schedule and the Boston Athletic Association holds its annual little race. But I bet you're glad you are not running the Boston Marathon today. Piling up these games for later in the season is no good, but neither is running guys out to get hurt.

I for one cannot wait for them to get into the once-spectacular sanctum beneath Toronto's retractable roof that will almost-surely not be retracted. Three games against potential playoff contenders the Jays will be a nice test against a divisional foe to whom we owe a sent message or two. But we may as well keep an eye toward the weekend's little confrontation: Sox v. Yanks back in the Cozy Confines. I see a special Friday Sox-Yanks version of Dirty Water in our future if I can find a way to write from England, where I'll be starting Wednesday. Maybe we can even invite Holmes to give his perspective from the shallow, fetid, chlamydial end of the gene pool.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sportsguy's Evidence Problem

Sportsguy has been so up and down in the last couple of years that I probably could go after him for every other column if I wanted to be that guy. Probably once a month or so I really go after something I read in the realm of politics or sports or pop culture or history that is stupid or misinformed and that also is arrogant, which makes the stupidity and misinformation all the more galling. Sportsguy's latest, a rip job of Doc Rivers, the Celtics coach, provides an example of the sort of hatchet-job journalism that he used to so decry back when he was one of us, at least normatively.

There are so many directions in which I could go, with the monumentally unfunny conceit of a top ten list of fake reasons why they are keeping Rivers on by offering a contract extension at the top of the list. But there is a sidebar that he includes that he believes makes his most powerful argument, which is that Doc gets immense credit for improving the young players on the Celtics and yet Sportsguy believes that to be nonsense. So let's look at his sidebar, keeping in mind that I am hardly a Doc Rivers apologist, shall we? I'll put Sportsguy's comments in quotation marks and will precede my responses with ***.:

"Who are these 'young guys who have really improved under Doc Rivers'?"

***Scare quotation marks. Well played, sir.

"• Al Jefferson, definitely. He's been the big success story."

*** This may not be starting off as well as you think it is. I know your logic -- concede that one player has improved without question. It makes you look fairminded and magnanimous. But here is the problem -- Al Jefferson has become a legitimate young star in this league. When he entered the NBA he had immense promise but because of inconsistency and foul trouble he could not stay in games. Last year he hurt his ankle and was a nonfactor -- coming into the season, some C's fans were even worried that AJ would turn into a bust. Instead he has had a breakout season, especially in the last half. Whatever else you have to say after this, the best young player on the C's has improved a great deal. It's hard to see how what follows is going to be as trenchant as you think it is going to be. I'm sensing an argument along the lines of "The Bulls of the 90s did not have superstar shooting guard play other than Jordan." Al Jefferson equals five Sebastian Telfairs. But I'll continue to play along.

"• Tony Allen was making major strides until he blew out his knee while executing a flying one-handed slam four seconds after the whistle blew. Can't count him."

*** Wait a second. Can't count him? Assuming you do not think that it is Doc's fault that Allen got hurt (do you?) the only part of your sentence that is relevant is "Tony Allen was making great strides . . .". Well, why the hell can't you count that? The issue is whether young players have improved under Doc. The answer, by your admission, is that he was improving. If you won't count him, it is because doing so undermines your argument.

"• Rondo looked exceptionally good in the preseason, then was inexplicably buried behind inferior players for the next four months. Did he "improve" or did Rivers just start playing him? I'm going with the latter. Can't count him."

*** Maybe this is a fair argument, though let's keep in mind that during the preseason Simmons was already firmly on the Rondo bandwagon, so it is possible that he saw a more polished player than Doc did, who sees these guys every day in practice, scrimmages, and games. I realize that playing pickup ball at Holy Cross gives you the insight of a professional point guard (Note: he has actually written a column on this before. No I am not going to Google it.) but let's just say that young players are pretty unpredictable. His argument is only sound if you buy that he was good enough to play more from the outset, and even then if you do not believe that he is any better now than he was in October. This "can't count him" conceit is already bothering me.

"• Gomes and West are up and down; their per-minute numbers are no different than last season's. Same for Kendrick Perkins. They are better only because of an extra year's experience; that's it. Can't count them."

*** Note the caveat: "Their per-minute numbers are no different than last season's." This is an interesting argument. Per-minute numbers can be a very useful stat, especially if taken from a sample size that will prove it legitimate. If a guy has averaged comparable minutes and his numbers have dropped, that is telling. But when a young guy gets more minutes from his rookie to his second year and his numbers go up accordingly, that might well be (is?) a sign of improvement. A coach trusting a guy to play 32 rather than 22 minutes, and having the player's productivity increase is to my mind a clear sign of maturity, and yes, of improvement. So what has happened with Gomes and West? Gomes averaged 22.5 minutes per game last season and started 33 games. He shot 48.7% from the field, 75% from the line, grabbed 4.9 boards a game and scored 7.6 points per contest. This season he started 56 games (that seems significant . . .) and averages 31 minutes per. He has shot 47%, 82% from the line, and has averaged 5.6 boards and 12.1 points per game. Let's just say I am not convinced that Gomes has not improved. As for West? Simmons seems right -- West plays slightly less, starts less frequently, and his numbers are slightly down. Of course he improved tremendously from his rookie year to his second season, when Doc was also the coach, so that sort of complicates things. Basically, I'm not willing to concede that these guys have not improved under Doc given that both players have improved under Doc. Whether they have improved enough is another question. But you having poorly conceived your argument is not my fault.

"• Gerald Green still runs around like a chicken with its head cut off. I don't blame Doc here because Green's hoops IQ almost can't be calculated; there's a decent chance he arrived in this country three years ago in a UFO. Can't count him."

*** I tend to agree that in the long term, for all of his talent, Green is going to hit a ceiling and will be out of the league in four years. Nonetheless, the question is not what will happen, it is improvement. And in his second year in the league, Green is playing just under twice as many minutes than last year, averages more than twice as many points and exactly twice as many boards. That means he is "better" than he was last year. And if he is better than last year it means he has improved. And if he has improved that means you not only can count him, but if you are being intellectually honest, you must count him. Plus, you admitted that you don't blame Doc -- whether that is for Green's basketball IQ or for you using the phrase "like a chicken with his head cut off" is another matter.

"• Leon Powe is headed for a distinguished 12-year career in Italy. Can't count him."

*** But again, the question isn't what Leon Powe's future holds. The question is: Has he improved under Doc Rivers? You created the fucking question, not me. It is the entire gist of your argument. At least adhere to it. So has Powe improved? Well he has not played a lot. But in April he has had by far his most productive month by far. March was his third most productive month. Second was the first month of the season, November, when he played six games and presumably Doc had not yet gotten a sense of the sort of player that he is and where he fit into things. Oh, and he scored a season, and thus career, high of 19 the other night. It appears from looking at the evidence that Leon Powe will be a better Italian league player tomorrow than he would have been in November. That is to say, he has improved under Doc Rivers.

"• Over the past six months, Telfair's career free-falled to the degree that "AND 1" sent scouts to the last 10 Celtics games. Can't count him."

Agreed. Telfair has not improved. You are categorically right on one player, the last one you named. Otherwise a case can be made that every other player you mentioned has improved. And let's keep in mind that you see this improvement deal as your ace in the hole argument.

"• As far as I can tell, we have no other young players."

This waste of verbiage probably seemed cutting when you felt that you had made it clear that your argument was so absolutely true that you did not have to look at the very evidence that you accused others of ignoring. At least you are brazen in your hypocrisy. In the meantime, I very much look forward to Kevin Durant or Greg Oden wearing green in a few months.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Dark City

The Mail & Guardian has a feature on the sprawling community of Alexandra, one of the most notorious of all of the apartheid-era townships that emerged in the shadows of Johannesburg. If gleaming Joburg came to be known as "Egoli," Zulu for "City of Gold," Alexandra was "The Dark City" both because of its status as a desnsely-packed black township and because it lacked even the rudiments of electricity.

I am writing a book in which The Dark City features prominently, so Alexandra is on my mind a lot these days. The end of apartheid did not signal the end of suffering for many among South Africa's masses. Nowhere embodies the recidivism of poverty and the monstocities of apartheid more than Alexandra, a status made all the worse by the fact that Alexandra is adhacent to Sandton, one of JoBurg's, indeed the country's, most affluent and still overwhelmingly white suburbs.

My work emphasizes the 1940s and 1950s, a bygone era easy to romanticize. Yet what is alarming is how little things have changed even after 1994. Nelson Mandela lived in Alexandra as a law clerk in the 1940s. One wonders how many thousands of young men and women with Nelson Mandela's gifts never even had a chance in Alexandra.

You're Fired!

Zine Magubane, an associate professor of sociology and African diaspora studies at Boston College, provides some historical context for why referring to African-American women as "nappy-headed" is offensive. Fortunately, as per my request last week, CBS Radio has canned Imus a day after MSNBC did the same thing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

South Africa Blog

I've been busy over at the Foreign Policy Association's South Africa Blog. Not surprisingly, the biggest issue that has been front and center has been the crisis in Zimbabwe and Thabo Mbeki's response (or lack thereof). But I also have been looking more broadly at South Africa's role on the continent and especially its status as the continent's most influential power. Please go check it out.


Over at Tom's Diary Blog he has a bit of news to share. His review of Suzanne Mettler's book on the GI Bill is now up on the website of the Claremont Review of Books, where it recently appeared in the print edition. Mettler responded to Tom's review, which found some fairly significant flaws in Mettler's work, and Tom responded to her response. The exchange is available here (you'll need to scroll down). I think Tom wins the argument, but I disagree with him on his generalizations about the failure of the welfare state -- I guess we would have to define what we mean by "welfare," of course. In any case, read his diary post and follow all of the links.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With The Thunderstick

This is the second installment of dcat's new regular feature wherein the Thunderstick and I discuss the state of our beloved Boston Red Sox and when we can catch a breath, baseball generally.:

Thunderstick: Well, while I know we'll got a bit off-topic from time to time with this journal, I figured that since we've just reached the end of the first week of the season it's important at this point to reflect on what we've seen so far and what we are looking for in the coming week.

It's tough to really categorize this first week for the Sox. I wouldn't call it a failure but I wouldn't call it a success either. Going 3-3 on the road isn't bad, but 4-2 just sounds a whole lot better and I wish we had been able to pull things out. I was going to do this Peter King MMQB style and write what I liked and didn't like, but after I started listing stuff, I realized that there was a lot more that I didn't like than that I did.

So in summary what I did like:

1. The starting pitching--sure Schilling had a tough first outing, but he looked very much in command last night so I feel a lot better about him. Beckett looked OK--it took him too many pitches to get through 5 innings, but better to get through 5 innings with one ER because he was forcing himself to mix in off-speed pitches and curveballs, than to go 100 pitches, 7 IP, 4 ER because he was just grooving fastballs. DiceK was about as good as we could have hoped for and lost in all the hullaballoo was that Waker looked great in his first outing. So I like that.

2. Papelbon--having a shutdown closer is such an ease to the mind when watching the game.

3. Drew and Dusty--I like the pitches Ortiz and Manny are getting even if they aren't taking full advantage of them yet because Drew is behind them. Dusty looks like he'll be solid in the 9 hole.

What I didn't like:

1. Most of the lineup--Ortiz and Manny are off to slow starts (although Ortiz got going last night). I have no doubt that they'll end up with their always solid numbers and that Drew will get it done behind them. I also like Youk as the 2 hitter and Dusty seems to be OK at the 9, but Lugo, Lowell, Tek and Coco are causing me ulcers. It's going to drive me crazy all season to see these guys get left on base if these guys don't hit better. It's too early to get this worked up--Lugo especially needs a few weeks, but the trends with Lowell, Tek and Coco are troublesome at best. We are already hearing about all the other stuff Tek brings to the team other than hitting. I hate hearing that because it means he's not hitting and people are worried.

2. The fifth starter and the pen--sure, we are hoping that by the all star break, Lester will be filling in the 5th starter and Tavarez can get his crazy ass back to the pen, but there's a danger in having someone with so little control as your fifth starter and that is that we don't need every fifth day to have to go to our pen in the 4th/5th inning. I think we've seen that things might be pretty shallow in the Sox pen already (at least until Timlin gets back) and we don't need them taxed with long outings. Sox need to find someone who can go 6-7 innings. I don't care if they give up 4-6 runs in those innings. The pen before Pap isn't good enough to pitch that many innings every fifth day.

3. The general preparedness of this team--I feel like the Sox weren't ready for the season to start. Batters look lethargic and we're seeing baserunning and defensive botches at a rate that I'm not happy with this early in the season. Even though they won three games, I found myself yelling "get your heads out of your asses" more than I think I should be for the first week of the season.

But as we talked about last week, it is just the first week of the season and there's a lot of weeks to go. We've got Seattle and Anaheim/LA/California/the OC coming in this week and if there's one thing we've seen in past years it's that the Sox bats seem to really liven up at Fenway. So we'll get another week of evaluation here before we start worrying too much about certain guys and celebrating too much about other guys. It'll be cold in the Boston area this week--especially for night games and Thurs there is almost certainly going to be rain all day and even the chance of snow overnight, so I think we may already be chalking that one up. But let's see what a week at home does for these guys.

dcat: You do not give me a lot of fodder with which to disagree. I too am pleased with the starting pitching as a whole, am happy with the rookie, Pedroia, and with Drew’s first week, and am happy to see Paps back to lights out status even though I still have to wonder what, other than necessity, caused the change in the status of his shoulder’s structural soundness. And I too am frustrated by the lack of offensive output, by the lack of depth in the pen (though I actually am ok with Tavarez for now – he flourished last year in a set role, so whatever we do, we need to establish a comfort zone for him; yes, he’s nuts). And above all, the simply dumb mistakes grate with me as they do with you – a team that does not bring a lot of speed to the table should at least be sound with baserunning fundamentals. And for the love of God, don’t get tossed out stealing third to end an inning.

So I’ll instead move on to two other points that regularly feature in our correspondence. The first has to do with the meaning of these games. April is certainly a feeling out period. We have embraced Theo’s paradigm, which goes something like this: A team that hopes to contend has the first third of the season to figure out what your weaknesses are, the second third to address them, and the last third to get it done. But keep in mind always: these games count every bit as much as the ones in September. Getting shut out in Arlington on a Friday night in April, and squandering an outstanding outing by Waker in the process hurts just as much as losing to Texas 6-5 in May and as much as losing in September unless the September loss comes to a team in the division. Right now we face a schedule that ought to allow us to rack up a few wins and get ourselves in the poll position in the East for a while. Instead in these first two series we have been muddling through. Muddling through is no good for the team and it sure as hell is no good for us.

The second of our regular talking points, which one of us will probably mention most Mondays, is that I hate off-days, as I know you do. Football is about building up over the course of a week to a game on Saturday or Sunday (or sometimes Monday or Thursday). Basketball and hockey are not sports predicated on a seasonal rhythm – and at the professional level both seasons go on for too damned long anyway. But baseball is different. Baseball is a game the appeal of which is in part based on the fact that it becomes a daily companion. With the exception of the All Star break, which practically causes withdrawal to kick in, baseball is a six-day-a-week, April to (we hope) October relationship. We know that the Sox are off on most Mondays, and yet it feels like a dead spot whenever the off day arrives. Once April kicks in I want a game every day, a story and a box score every morning. I suppose in part that disruption of the rhythm is what created this weekly journal, or whatever we are calling it.

In any case, the big event to anticipate this week will be Dice-K’s Fenway debut on Wednesday. Hitting leadoff for Seattle on Wednesday night will be Ichiro, which will constitute the biggest cultural moment in Japan since the inventions of Hello Kitty and anime porn. Back in Japan’s big leagues, Ichiro was something like 8-for-34 against Matsuzaka and I imagine our guy will want to start off the game by sending a message and striking out the guy who once represented Japan’s greatest export to the US. But as important will be to see if Beckett manages to progress, to mix up pitches as you observed, but also to start stretching out and getting deeper into games. These days scare me because of the weather, frankly, and I am always glad when we get past the games when the guys are bundled up and we see the steam when they breathe and hear the announcers use words like “frigid.” Let’s save that talk for October baseball.

Home at Home

Over at Slice of Life Holmes has a powerful post that begins as a tribute to a fallen police officer in his new city, Charlotte (where I lived from 1994 to 1996) and ends up as a reflection on what it means to be at home. Over the course of the post he comes to an epiphany that he presents through the literary tactic of epistrophe. Charlotte has become his city.

For many of us "home" is a more problematic concept than it ought to be. Holmes and I grew up in the same home town, and for many years "home" was to us a simple concept: A little out of the way mill town where we attended our one high school and lamented how damned boring life there was. Newport was the poor stepchild in the Upper Valley, a town we rather easily referred to as a shithole, though nestled as it is in the hills and trees of New England it is a lovely shithole and when things are good and jobs are plentiful and the many narrow-minded folks are not winning the hearts and minds of the town, we both can even romanticize it if the conversation flows in the right way.

But then you go to college, and by sophomore year you discover that after a week or two at home you are ready to be back on campus. By senior year, you are comfortable saying that you are ready for break to be over so you can be back in your room, back at your house, back to practice and even to classes. You are ready to be back home, or at least "home." To use academic jargon, "home" becomes a problemetized concept during your college years. To strip away that jargon, for many of us, college marks the first time that we realize that our horizons have changed, and that home will no longer be simply where we grew up.

By now I have moved so often, and my Mom no longer lives in the old hometown, and my Dad is only there for a little more than half the year, and the house in which I grew up was lost (conceded?) in a divorce settlement far from my control or say-so, and though I may return once every eighteen months or so I am rarely there for more than a couple of days, so that Newport is my old home town, but it is no longer home and has not been for a long time.

In recent years home has been Charlotte and Washington, Charlottesville and Athens, Grahamstown (South Africa) and Oxford (England). There have been others as well. Home has been Mankato, unhappily, and now it is Odessa, and I am as surprised as anyone that it is happily so. I've no idea how long this flat, dry expanse between Dallas-Fort Worth and El Paso will be home, but it is for now, and while home is, for most people, a long-time thing, in my peripatetic life since leaving the home town it has also often been a right-now thing.

"Home" is surely more than where you lay your head, though laying one's head is probably a necessary condition. Home is, ultimately, where you live your life not only in the grandest sense, but also where you establish a rapport with the mundane. Home for me is a frustrating and expensive heating/cooling unit and the little old ladies next door with whom we exchange small talk when they teeter outdoors to smoke. It is the Odessa American in my carport every morning even if I will rarely read much of it, and it is the growing campus less than a mile from our front door. Home is where I come back to when I have been somewhere else. Home is a place I defend to outsiders before they have even said anything disparaging and it is a place I need to leave every so often even if it won't be long before I'll be referring to "home," and I'll know exactly the place I have in mind when I say it.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Birthday, Blogging!

Blogging is now ten years old. I came to the game neither early nor late and see the endeavor as neither likely to save the world nor as merely a frivolous pastime. But blogging is with us to stay, and the more that folks in paper and ink journalism mock bloggers, the more it shows what a real impact this medium has had on the way we receive, filter, and present information and ideas.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Fire Him, (Fine Him?), And Ostracize Him

I've always found Don Imus to be a fatuous gasbag who, on the rare ocasions when I have been stuck listening to him, has never been either funny or insightful. And after his latest racist remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team he (and his producer) ought to be fired from their jobs.

There is also a part of me that feels as if the FCC ought to fine them heavily -- a million dollars or more. The firing ought to be a no brainer. The fining is a bit more problematic given the First Amendment and the fact that I am pretty much a free speech absolutist. But the FCC has set the tone -- tv and radio stations have been fined for much less, and Howard Stern used to face the FCC's wrath all the time for far lesser violations. So even if I disagree with just about any fining, the FCC at least must be consistent on this matter. And if Imus were to fight the fine and win, well, I'd be more than happy to see the FCC take a punch in the mouth.

Here is the exchange in question:

"That's some rough girls from Rutgers," Imus said. "Man, they got tattoos ... "

"Some hardcore hos," said (producer Bernard) McGurk.

"That's some nappy headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that," Imus said.

Imagine being a father or mother of one of these girls, a sibling or a friend. These women are college students. Imus does not know a single one of them. He has no idea about their intellect or their character or their aspirations. he has no idea which are leaders, which are funny, which are beautiful. To him they are "nappy headed hos."

And this . . . is . . . not the first time accusations of racism have flown Imus' way. It's time for him to go. Apologies are, by this point, farcical and insignificant. Fire him. And while I think that in court fines ought not to stick (in any of the cases where they have been levied) as long as it uses fines to punish that of which it disapproves the FCC had damned well better fine Imus -- racism is a lot more important than profanity or Janet Jackson's exposed breast that no one actually saw.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

dcat Charity Drive

I am brazenly stealing an idea from Sons of Sam Horn, but I'd like to have the first dcat Baseball Charity Drive. I hope all readers will contribute.

Here's how it will work. Pick a charity. And then, sort of like a sports contract negotiation, tie your donation amount to a performance standard. The possibilities are endless -- your favorite player's home runs, strikeouts, wins, or whatever. The amount need not be huge -- I am well aware of the demographics and socio-economic status of some of the riff-raff who read this site! -- but I really hope that you will contribute and make your choices public in the comments, even if you have never commented at dcat before. And your donations can be contingent on the performances of any player or any team -- including the ones plying their trade down in the Bronx. In this instance we are addressing a greater good.

All of my donations will be going to the Jimmy Fund, the official charity of the Boston Red Sox, which fights against cancer in children (and adults) at Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

dcat will donate:
$1 for every Dice-K win.
$5 for every Big Papi walk-off home run.
$1 for every Manny RBI above 110.
$5 for every series win against the Yankees.
$1 for every Jonathan Lester win for the Sox. (Lester, as you may recall, is recovering from cancer.)
$100 if the Sox win the World Series.

Please, please, please consider participating and sharing your charity and your picks even if you have never commented before and even if you know very little about baseball. We can help you come up with ideas if you would like. I hope to see a record number of comments in the next few days. This will function on the honor system -- when you make the commitment you are promising to follow through and write the check to your chosen charity -- and I look forward to sharing our successes in October.

Who Hasn't?

Once again, the headline sort of says it all: "Educator forgiven for throwing faeces." I think I speak for all of us in education at all levels when I say that we've all done it.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

As If The Jersey Turnpike Is Not Treacherous Enough . . .

A judge in New Jersey has declared that if it involves a Zamboni it ain't drunken driving. That sound you hear is celebration overtaking the Oranges.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With The Thunderstick

Welcome to dcat's newest feature. It will be called "Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick." Basically what we will do is use Mondays, the most frequent off day during the Major League calendar, to discuss what has happened, what might happen, and generally to chronicle the mood of two fans over the course of a season. Thunderstick lives in the Boston area and is almost as insanely religious about the Sox as I am. Sometimes I'll start it off. Other times he will. Sometimes it will be irreverent and emotional and maybe even funny. Other times it will be analytical. It will vary by our mood.

In a way this will be provide a way to get inside of the head of a couple of passionate sports fans and to chronicle a season. Obviously I have done this once before with Bleeding Red, but this will require a little less effort and will incorporate a little more teamwork. It has been two years now since I kept the diary just about every day, and I think I have the energy for something like this again, especially with the help of the Thunderstick. If you want to know the origins of the nickname, let's just say that you need to buy and read my book where it all becomes clear. The Thunderstick helped carry the Sox to the 2004 World Series title. I will go to my grave believing that.

So without further ado:
Thunderstick: Three innings in and I'm concerned this number won't be going down today. [DCAT Note: Every season before Opening day we put the number 163 into our email subject heading. Then each day during the season we update the "Magic Number" needed to clinch the AL East. So far it's been quite the cunning plan, as the Sox have never actually won an AL East title in the time that we have been doing this.] Observations from 3 innings of the season.:

1. I don't think we can expect a big year from Schill. Maybe that's reactionary, but he's just old and we shouldn't count on him being a 1 or even 2 anymore. As much as we love Schill from 2004, we need Beckett and DiceK to anchor this staff, not Schill.

2. The bottom of this lineup is going to drive me nuts.

3. I love having Drew. We'll see how he does, but I loved after Ortiz was on 2nd with 1 out that they pitched to Manny and then Drew came up with an open base and they pitched around him. In past years, they'd pitch around Manny to get to Nixon/Tek/Millar/Pena.

4. I have a feeling Lowell and Tek are going to suck this year.

dcat: Well, folks, welcome back to the mind of the Red Sox fan. It's one game (albeit one ugly, ugly game) in to the season and already the glass is half full and we are not quite sure what is in it. And yet we drink deeply from that glass.

And obviously it is just one game. But let me respond to Thunderstick's four points:

1. I could not agree more. We need Schill to be good, but if we have to rely on him to be the ace, we are in trouble. Fortunately, we should not have to rely on him to be the ace. But the one thing we need to keep an eye on is how he starts the season. I assume that Schill in a contract year is a good thing. And Schilling certainly has built up reservoirs of good will that should last forever. but Schill tends to have a bit of a mouth, and that plus his blog means that a lot of the Boston media will be looking for him to fall. I guarantee Shaughnessy will have the knives out tomorrow in the Globe. Still, this game tells us almost nothing. Schilling, I assume, will be fine.

2. There are days when the Sox are capable of making the opposing pitcher look like Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax rolled into one. It's always been this way. The bottom third was a huge void last year as well, and when both Manny and Big Papi went down at different times in the last two months of the season we saw just how execrable that lineup could be -- and of course there has not been a team in the history of baseball that could absorb that sort of loss.

3. I most like the way that the Drew addition has a ripple effect on the entire lineup, but this is not that 2003-2005 team, that's for sure. My hope is that Francona will be able to find at bats for Wily Mo and we will be able to see if he can reach his potential. If he emerges as a viable run producer we will be much better off. I'm going to remain optimistic -- I have a hard time believing that we won't ream the Royals in one of the next two games.

4. I do not want to give up on Tek yet and even if he does not produce at the plate, as a catcher he does a lot more for the team. That said, if he has an OPS of .700 it really will not help us out even a little bit. Let's hope that George Kotteras is ahead of schedule with his development. I'll be happy is Lowell can match his first half from last year even if he fades toward the end. I'm a bit worried about whether Pedroia really is up for this challenge.

Additional points: All will be fine if we pound them in one of the next two games and especially if Dice-K makes the sort of debut we all dream of for him. I also want to make sure that we take advantage of this early season schedule. This is one of those years where April favors us and down the stretch things will be a bit tougher. If we want to win a championship we make our path a lot smoother by beating up on Kansas City and Texas and Seattle when we can and by punching the Yankees and Jays and O's in the mouth later in the month.

For years you and I have preached a consistent mantra: If you take 2 of 3 in every three game series and pull out a couple of 3 of 4 when the longer series come up, you'll win 100 games. If you win 100 games, you are a World series contender. Let's regroup on the day off and be ready to go on Wednesday.


I planned to keep my baseball post at the top of the blog for the rest of this Opening day, but then I read something that flabbergasted me. It came from the opening line of Stanley Kauffman's review of three new movies, Ken Burns' documentary Sacco and Vanzetti and two feature films, Zodiac and The Wind That Shakes The Barley, in the latest New Republic.:
On the morning of August 24, 1927, a few weeks before I started high school, I read the headlines in The New York Times announcing the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti.

Read it again. TNR's main movie reviewer, who continues to write in nearly every issue, who reviews the whole range of contemporary film and who does so insightfully (whether or not you agree with him, and by no means do I always share Kauffman's tastes), began high school in 1927. Assuming that he entered grade 9 at the age of 13 or 14, that means that Kauffmann is well more than 90 years old. This is a man who quite literally has lived almost the entire history of films and who to this day continues to write about movies in one of the most respected sources in American intellectual life. In fact, Kauffman is about as old as the magazine whose pages his work graces.

Seriously -- Let's Get It On

Forget about last night's game. Today marks Opening Day of the 2007 baseball season. The Sox open up at Kansas City for a game I almost tried to attend but for some logistical difficulties (like getting there and stuff). I will nonetheless be tuned to my television today at 3:00 Central time for the debut of the 2007 Boston Red Sox.

Although I've been remarkably reticent about the upcoming season, I am as excited and optimistic for this year as for any since 2004 when my particular form of madness reached its apex. It's not just the new additions -- Daisuke Matsuzaka, of course, but also JD Drew and Julio Lugo -- who inspire such grand hopes, but also the fact that Boston enters the season healthy, that Schilling is pitching for a contract, and that once again the Mannny Ramirez situation seems stable and so the Manny-Papi 1-2 punch remains intact to terrorize the league, with Drew looking as a potentially devastating number five for pitching staffs across the league.

For me there are also some hidden keys. With all of the talk about Dice-K and the predictable sound and fury that comes from Schilling people are forgetting Josh Beckett, who had a tough adjustment to the American League in 2006. And yet if Beckett improves on last year, if he can return to his status as a number one-type starter, the Sox will have the best front-end rotation not only in the league, but arguably in recent history.

The recent move of last year's revelation, Jonathan Papelbon, back to the bullpen has marked one of the high points of the spring for most fans. Let me inject a note of contrarianism to the proceedings, however. The reason they shifted Paps back to the rotation was because after last year's shoulder subluxation the team's medical staff believed that it would be better for Papelbon's arm to have the regular routine of the starting rotation. What, other than the absence of a closer, has changed to make the medical realities shift? Naturally Red Sox Nation is trying to make a virtue of necessity, but the fact remains: There is no sound medical argument that contradicts what we heard after last season's ignominious end.

But furthermore: Starters are simply more valuable than closers. Top-of-the-rotation starters are much more important than closers. They work more innings, they work more high leverage innings, and they have a greater impact on the game. Closers can, in fact, be overrated. Now do not get me wrong -- teams want closers. But despite the high-profile nature of blown saves, most guys, even the most marginal, will convert most save opportunities. Plus, Papelbon's greatest strengths as a closer was that he reinvigorated a pre-Dennis Eckersley approach to shutting the door. In the late 1980s Tony LaRussa established a set role for Eckersley -- one-inning saves, with Eckersley coming in to close the game at the beginning of the 9th if at all possible. That approach revolutionized the role of the relief pitcher (and established the roles of set-up men in the process). And yet prior to Eckersley, great closers, guys like Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter, would routinely work more than one inning. Francona used Papelbon in an old-school way, and it worked. In their efforts to protect Pepelbon's arm, will the Sox no longer use him in the 8th if needed? Will they fear using him three days in a row if they have three close games in a row? And if so, doesn't that further reduce his effectiveness on top of the reduction that will come from going from starter to closer?

Papelbon's situation is the one that most concerns me entering this season. There are other questions, of course -- how will Jonathan Lester do in his return to being a starting pitcher after his apparently successful battle with cancer? Does Craig Hansen have the capacity to fulfill the promise we all believed he had (to be the closer, in fact) when he joined the Sox out of college? Can Drew stay healthy? Is Dustin Pedroia a legitimate Major League starter? Has Jason Varitek entered his period of decline, especially with the bat in his hands? Can Manny keep his Manny moments in the realm of the whimsical (stepping inside the Monster because he needs a pee) rather than the deleterious (taking crucial games off that happen to coincide with periods when he is feeling churlish about something or other)?

But every team has question marks entering a new season. My prevailing mood still is one of overwhelming optimism. This is going to be a very good Red Sox team. They can win the World Series. As a matter of fact, I am going to say that they will. (Given that I have predicted as much every year since I was old enough to predict such things, this should come as no surprise. Here is my take:

American League: Sox win the East, Detroit takes the Central, Oakland takes the West, and the Yankees edge out the Indians and Angels for the Wild Card. The Sox beat Oakland and the Tigers beat the Yankees in the divisional round, and the Sox take down the Tigers in the ALCS.

National League: The Mets take the East, the Cubs take the Central (I know -- I'm drinking the Cubbies/Lou Piniella Kool-Aid, but the Central is not that good and I think it will come down to the Brewers, Cardinals and the Cubbies) and the Dodgers the West. The Phillies and Braves will be in the hunt all year and one of them -- I say the Phillies -- will take the Wild Card. The Dodgers will take down the Phils, the Mets will beat the Cubs and then the Mets will beat the Dodgers to hoist the National League crown.

Sox take down the Mets in six games in the World Series. We have to see a nauseating number of shots of Bill Buckner but a glorious number of features on the 2004 ALCS.

In the meantime, Schilling gets the Royals today on ESPN. Play Ball!

Let's Get It On . . .

Maybe the headline says it all: "Bear porn leaves pandas cold." The story comes from Bangkok. A taste:
Thailand's Chiang Mai Zoo on Monday resorted to artificially inseminating a female panda after failing to stimulate a natural liaison between two pandas on loan from China with some bear pornography.

"We have to admit that the panda pornography failed," said Sopol Damnui, director of Thailand's Zoological Park Organisation.

The organisation had been piping in panda porn to the air-conditioned cage of Chuang Chuang, six, and Lin Hui, five, at the Chiang Mai Zoo since March 26 in the hopes that the scenes of explicit sex would prove an inspiration for the inexperienced couple.

Such a well-hatched scheme did not yield fruit? I must say that I am shocked.