Saturday, November 29, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Amid the blizzard of résumés blanketing Washington as the Obama era dawns, there is a superbly qualified candidate for full employment whose name has been overlooked. We refer, of course, to William Jefferson Clinton, America's 42nd chief executive and commander in chief. Yet now, by a wonderful combination of circumstances, comes an opportunity to harness his unquestioned political talents to benefit his country, the Democratic Party, New York state and his spouse. If, as is expected, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes secretary of state, New York Gov. David Paterson could send her husband to the U.S. Senate.
It strikes me, however, that getting Hillary to State is a brilliant coup for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that it will be more difficult for her to pursue an independent political agenda or undermine the Obama administration from Foggy Bottom than from the Senate. Bill Clinton in the Senate might prove to be the sot of sideshow the Democrats would as soon avoid. Then again, the Clintons are still a powerful political force, and it seems possible that Bill Clinton in the Senate would mark the sort of changing of the guard that keeps the Clintons heavily involved in politics while maximizing their utility to an Obama administration.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
In the meantime there is a very real possibility that the unheralded backup quarterback who had to step in for the famous starter might have to help the team run the table in order for the Patriots to make the postseason. Coincidence, or shades of 2001?
Monday, November 24, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Reviewing Chinese Democracy is not like reviewing music. It's more like reviewing a unicorn. Should I primarily be blown away that it exists at all? Am I supposed to compare it to conventional horses? To a rhinoceros? Does its pre-existing mythology impact its actual value, or must it be examined inside a cultural vacuum, as if this creature is no more (or less) special than the remainder of the animal kingdom? I've been thinking about this record for 15 years; during that span, I've thought about this record more than I've thought about China, and maybe as much as I've thought about the principles of democracy. This is a little like when that grizzly bear finally ate Timothy Treadwell: Intellectually, he always knew it was coming. He had to. His very existence was built around that conclusion. But you still can't psychologically prepare for the bear who eats you alive, particularly if the bear wears cornrows.Then from the conclusion:
Still, I find myself impressed by how close Chinese Democracy comes to fulfilling the absurdly impossible expectation it self-generated, and I not-so-secretly wish this had actually been a triple album. I've maintained a decent living by making easy jokes about Axl Rose for the past 10 years, but what's the final truth? The final truth is this: He makes the best songs. They sound the way I want songs to sound. A few of them seem idiotic at the beginning, but I love the way they end. Axl Rose put so much time and effort into proving that he was super-talented that the rest of humanity forgot he always had been. And that will hurt him. This record may tank commercially. Some people will slaughter Chinese Democracy, and for all the reasons you expect. But he did a good thing here.He gives the album an A-, but I bet the reviews are all over the charts. And while the album is supposedly available, it is nowhere to be found on Amazon. So maybe this is all part of an elaborate ongoing farce.
(Update: Reader Mark points out this Matthew Pinsker op-ed in the LA Times on the same topic.)
Now we are considering helping out the Big Three automakers. I am not theoretically averse to this, though I do hope that any of this support comes with serious strings attached. Let's see a few austerity demands, not to mention provisions for the common good (hello electric car!) come with any federal support. But it becomes a lot more difficult to sympathize with an industry that sent the three CEO's to Washington on private corporate jets or that at least one of the CEOs earned @28 million last year.
I am reminded of Nero and violins. That $36 million GM private jet is the cost of making 360,000 cars gasoline-ethanol-methanol flexible right there (it’s a $100 cost per car,) breaking oil’s monopoly in the transportation sector through fuel choice. And GM has 8 such jets. Add up the Ford and Chrysler plane fleets and we’re talking the cost of making several million cars gasoline-ethanol-methanol flex fuel vehicles. Given that taxpayer money is on the table here, the trade would seem only fair. I for one don’t appreciate having taxpayer money be used to pay for someone’s private jet and 8 digit salary. If they earn it, fine, hats off, but once their hand dips into taxpayer pockets for a handout, that’s quite a different story. And I would guess others share the sentiment. Let Congress know what you think.
As I say, I am fairly ambivalent about all of this and want to see it play out. I am not averse to strategic aid to struggling industries. But right now my inclination is to say that the auto industry appears to be the victim of its own profligacy and that any help should begin with paring waste at the top of it and any other industry or field in which those at the top do little to sacrifice while cutting jobs, paring benefits, and asking for government aid but maneuvering for little oversight.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Sunday, November 16, 2008
But as many of you know, I love the snarky or angry or simply biting review. So at least some of you will appreciate the asshammering that Louis Menand once gave to Lynne Truss, the person who not so long ago made us all feel bad about our mastery of grammar.
90% of the shit that I write I do with virtually no idea of its grammatical accuracy. And the other 10% is done (passive voice!) with an awareness that while I may not get this crazy language of ours, I have a feel for it. So on the one hand I have a deep and abiding respect for the Lynne Truss types in this world.
On the other hand, if you are going to be a sanctimonious grammar gasbag who writes books making the rest of us feel bad, then you probably should not be called out in The New Yorker for being sanctimonious grammar douche runoff. And so go fuck yourself. (Thineself? Your Self? One's selfness? Hey, you figure it out. You're the goddamned expert.)
Thursday, November 13, 2008
There is much to celebrate, and there can be no doubting that the United States has made tremendous strides since the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. As veteran civil rights activist Charles McDew has often said, those who say things have not gotten any better were not there when things were bad. But improvement from a nadir is hardly sufficient to proclaim that we are past race. There is less racism in the United States than there once was. That hardly means that we are past racism. We just need to take a more nuanced perspective on the role that race plays in the United States, and we especially need to be aware that the black-white dynamic is no longer the sole, or even necessarily most important, dynamic when it comes to racial politics in the United States. Take a few minutes to listen to some of the more obnoxious statements from the anti-immigrant right and you might understand why it is not only black Americans who have a right to be skeptical that we have reached perfectibility on race relations in this country.
While race did not decide this election, that hardly means that race was not a factor in Obama's margin of victory, or that it did not play a role in specific states and localities or among particular demographic groups (including among those who supported him). But there is still much to celebrate, even if the rosiest pronouncements are pretty silly.
Race and racism will continue to have a place in the discussion. From concrete policies -- disproportionate sentencing, say, or affirmative action -- to those incidents, such as children blithely chanting "assassinate Obama" on a school bus in Idaho, we will have regular reminders that when it comes to racism, apologies to William Faulkner, the past is not necessarily past.
Oh -- and rock & roll, movies, and the novel are fine too.
As chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Mr. Dean pressed the party to expand its efforts and set up offices in all 50 states, arguing that the party was making a mistake in effectively ceding states to the Republican Party. That position led him into some famously pointed clashes with Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who at the time headed the Democratic Congressional Campaign, and who was angry that Mr. Dean was not sending money he had raised to help in Democratic efforts to take back Congress.
Dean, who was never as much a man of the left as either his supporters or detractors let themselves believe -- he was a centrist-turned-opportunist -- proved to be a pretty savvy and successful party chair. The Democrats are a legitimate national party again, indeed, are the majority national party again, and while no individual deserves the full credit for the party's reemergence as the dominant political force in the country, Dean deserves a significant amount of the credit.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Nonetheless, baseball's siren song beckons. The Washington Post travel section this week drew some of us in with a story on the Dominican winter league. And of course with the awards season comes anticipation of the Hot Stove League kicking into full gear, a process that has already begun with the Holliday trade to the A's and the first free agency chatter bursting forth.
A few weeks back, after the Sox lost Game 7 of the ALCS, GoodLiberal asked a series of questions. I figure the least I can do is try to respond:
OK- so Beckett and Papi have to be trusted to rebound from sub-par years. Lowell will be back. Unresolved issues include Lowrie/Lugo, Tek, what happened to Bucholz?, middle relief, What happens to Coco?, does Lars Anderson step up? etc.
A nice intro to the offseason post would be welcome!
Ask and ye shall receive.
First off, isn't it amazing the difference two games made? Had the Sox lost in five, I think many of us would have headed for the ledge. By coming back to take the series to the end of the 7th game I think many of us were able to say: Good season, not a great season, bring on 2009. The loss was disappointing, but it is refreshing to know that I can live without a sense of entitlement. Winning is better because we know what losing feels like. That said, I'd rather win in 2009, just as I hope the Pats find a way to win this year and the C's work toward a repeat and the Bruins can work their way back to long-dormant glory.
Papi and Beckett dealt with injuries. This is no excuse, it is simply a statement of fact. Papi was never right, which actually places his production as a wonder rather than a disappointment. We all have to hope that an offseason of rest and rehab and strengthening and a little luck will return him to full strength. This offseason will go a long way in determining whether Papi ends up as a (by any measure better) version of Mo Vaughn or if he retruns to a Hall of Fame-caliber (Jimmy Foxx?) trajectory. Meanwhile Beckett never really was what he is this season, if that makes any sense. But he's a young power pitcher with no structural arm problems. Let's hope he rebounds. Indeed, let's expect that he will.
I do not see a Lowrie-Lugo tension. Lowrie has a place in the future, Lugo is a nice guy to have but is not a difference-maker. Tek is getting old. And he has lost some bat speed. And while he always has run well for a catcher, he is not going to be able to compensate by becoming a dink-and-dunk hitter. So the question becomes: Is his management of the pitching staff, and defense, and those dreaded (because often unfounded) "intangibles" (leadreship, eg.) enough to make the difference. Were his agent anyone but Scott Boras I'd say possibly -- try to sign him for two years at more than he's worth but perhaps a little less than the market might bear. But not for three or four years. The Sox have been very smart about letting guys go a year or two too early rather than a year or two too late. In Tek's case they kind of broke that rule with his last contract. I simply do not see him in a Sox uniform in 2009 unless Boras finds an inhospitable market, which could happen, but which I don't expect. Some alchemist will seek gold in Varitek. And I will wish him nothing but good things as one of my favorites of all time.
The pitching situation is interesting because the Sox of this era finally learned that pitching 9or at least balance) is the key. Yes, of course, you want to bash. But the Pythagorean/Pythagenport theory of baseball, a (more complicated) calculation of runs scored against runs given up has made it quite clear that no matter how much you bash, a solid staff is the key factor. The Sox have always produced at the plate. In recent years, however, they have learned that there is simply no such thing as too much pitching. In several recent springs the Sox have had more starters than slots to fill. And every one of those years guys have gotten hurt, guys have floundered, things have changed. Every year that we have entered with supposedly too much starting pitching we have ended the year with a different rotation than what we expected.
Were I the Sox, I'd at least put in a bid for every significant pitcher on the market. At minimum drive up Sabathia's price (prediction: CC reverts to his still fine mean next season; the last eight weeks or so of the season was an outlier). And who knows -- maybe you end up with him. In the end, the Sox have a pretty impressive staff, and all praise to Lester and Dice-K, who showed signs of making the leap. If both continue to improve -- Dice actually needs to become less focused on perfection, which would reduce his walks -- and if Beckett gets healthy again and Bucholz pulls it together, that is a hell of a foundation.
Bucholz is young. And young pitchers struggle, especially when a lot of burden is placed on them. he has the stuff. He has shown an ability to compete in the Bigs. But he has to work on some mechanical issues, on pitch selection, and on confidence. Being in the fourth or fifth slot will help him, as may lesser expectations and a year of growth. As for the middle relief, that is often a crapshoot, because those guys by definition are men in between. No one sees their career ceiling as being a bridge reliever. And so what you get are excess starters and non-closers and wily veterans and green rookies in middle relief. We would like to see the Okajima of 2007. We would like some of the young arms to do their time in middle relief. And we need luck -- do not forget what a role simple fortune plays in all of this. The stat Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) is a telling one, because wide variations are often attributable to luck. Take away home runs (and walks and strikeouts) and balls hit in play are often a crapshoot -- after all, what's the difference between a bloop hit and a screamer right at someone? As far as the quality of contact the screamer is better, but in terms of outcome, you'll take the bloop every time. That difference may not be all luck, but luck plays a vital role.
As for the young talent, the Sox are in that rare position of being able to play what I have called "Moneyball Plus." They can incorporate the smarter approach to baseball embodied in finding inefficiencies in the marketplace, knowing what data to prioritize, and so forth, but they also have the money to go after the pricey talent. Moneyball is almost certainly the most understood book of its time even as those who have understood it have grown in their knowledge (or had ideas confirmed) of the game. The reality is that the Sox can be Moneyball smart but big market bold. It's the best of both worlds, and as teams like the Sox have caught up and thus teams like the A's struggled, idiots have assumed that the so-called Moneyball approach has failed, when in fact it has exploded and become the norm among successful teams of all economic stripes, thus making it difficult for poorer teams to reap its considerable benefits. In any case, the point is that the Sox can develop young talent, but they can do so for two purposes: To become stars in the system or to trade for talent elsewhere, much of which might be out of the price range of a lot of teams forced to be spartan.
Yeah, ok, I'm missing baseball a little bit.
And no, there is no parallel, and thus no hypocrisy, with the case of Joe Lieberman, who repeatedly broke from his party and said noxious -- and false -- things about the party nominee for the presidency. He, after all, broke from the party by becoming an Independent after losing a primary campaign, but wants to maintain the perquisites of being in the party caucus. Parker, an opinion writer, wrote an opinion column based on long-held principles that can still be seen as conservative. The difference is so huge as to be obvious, which does not mean that many will not find that difference elusive.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
To my mind, the only thing that should save Lieberman would be a situation in which he is needed to invoke cloture. Since the Democrats are not going to have 59 or 60 seats, I say so long, Joe. Enjoy life in the minority party. Have fun filibustering for the next two years. But Obama is going to use Lieberman's case as an example of his new politics, even though Lieberman stabbed him square in the back throughout the campaign, including in his whorish little gig at the GOP convention. Lieberman is going to owe his status to the graciousness of Obama, who owes Lieberman nothing. I hope his colleagues remind him of that every single day in the Senate by shunning him as the pariah he deserves to be.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
This is a categorically fucking inane thing to write. More worthy than John Kerry? Why, exactly? More worthy than Al Gore, who spent eight years as the Vice President (and served in Vietnam)? Why, exactly? Conservatives in the United States have become the masters of assertion without evidence, but why should we give MORE credit to a man who held the United States in such low esteem that he felt that the unvetted candidacy of Sarah Palin represented a legitimate leadership opportunity for this country he so purported to love?
Friday, November 07, 2008
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Yes we can. Yes we have. Yes we will.