Friday, June 06, 2008

The weather has been scary the past few hours here in St. Louis. Thunder I have never liked, as I am easily startled. I played some poker, (badly) read some politics, and just sat around. I should pray, or read the Bible. We’ll see if I actually do this. I am hopeful that the Cardinals do not suffer another soul-crushing defeat like last night; 10-9 to the Washington Nationals they fell, on a sudden two-run homer from Elijah Dukes. And that after clawing back into the game down 7-0, capped by a Joe Mather home run (good on ya, rookie) to make it 9-8 Cards in the top of that same 10th inning. I feel for poor Ryan Franklin. It wasn’t that bad a pitch, from what I could tell, and it was a fastball with something on it, you might say. Dukes hit it to straightaway center; it was not a “Crawford box” (let the reader understand) shot by any stretch. The boys need to put it out of their minds before tonight’s contest, a series-opening game against the hated Astros in Houston. My grudging respect for them has noticeably declined since the retirement of Astros legend Craig Biggio, who rightly is a mortal lock for baseball’s Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible. Even at the announcement of his retirement, various self-important snobs weighed in on the comments sections of articles, calling Biggio a “glorified David Eckstein” and overrated. Such an occasion can be a time for fruitful debate about the meaning of statistics, and the creation of meaningless ones, but I have another goal, which will become clear. This is a story about Omar Vizquel, one of the more celebrated shortstops in the American League of the 1990s. My mental encyclopedia entry for Omar Vizquel says: “One of the best defensive shortstops in the history of baseball, Vizquel earned a reputation as an error-free playmaker, saving runs on plays both routine and spectacular.” [Of course, the entry would include relevant statistics, as well.] As I was forced to reconsider my fawning opinion of Omar Vizquel in light of some of the statistical analysis in the comments, it got me thinking. And what I thought next was this: Stat-heads are ruining baseball. Every generation overrates the greats that they watched. No less for my generation, who is about to induct an alarmingly high percentage of the players it watched, most likely due to marketing and technology. But given that sports Halls of Fame are by their very nature idolatrous (think about it), I say we should allow for the fondness of memories in watching the game as fans play a role. (If I had my way, if it were up for a vote, I’d vote for Gary Gaetti, a perennially good but not often great player with a decently impressive resume.) Because it’s baseball, not rocket-science! Baseball, though it relies more heavily on statistics than other team sports, is inherently subjective and relies more on the experiences of the game than its raw data for its charm. Here’s a good example: Albert Pujols is a great player. By almost any measure, he is a dominant player, who’s very likely to reach 500 HR before he retires. And yet dare to ask a St. Louis native who the greatest Cardinal of them all is, even granting Pujols’ status as a Hall of Famer in the making, and there is only one answer: Stan Musial. When Albert retires, the answer will be the same. You’ll get some argument for Ozzie from the young fans born after 1980, or for Gibson, but that answer, I guarantee you, will never change. If there were a Cardinal Fan’s Catechism, that’s question 1. But Major League Baseball itself is built around such subjectively derived catechesis; arguing over the greats (and by extension, the Hall of Fame) is a dispute over competing meta-narratives. And the meaning is this: If we collectively decide to admit players to the Hall who are “overrated,” such is our right. And it is a natural thing that it has already occurred, and will occur again, in someone’s eyes. It’s unwise to trample people’s heroes. With that in mind, I’d happily vote in Omar Vizquel. I watched him very little compared to some, but I wonder what Venezuelans think, eh?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Brief thoughts on McCain's speech: The delivery was horrid. Bush on his worst day is better than this. But ignoring the juvenile 'gotcha' games so beloved by uneducated opponents of President Bush, which are given occasion by his well-known verbal inacuity, I'd say it was pretty good speech by McCain. Though he demonstrated he is no movement conservative, he will find plenty of opportunity to punch holes in Obama's statist dreams. He gave an able defense of non-withdrawal in Iraq (whether persuasive or not) and gave a decent critique of "big government" and our attendant loss of freedom. I must be a genius, because McCain pointedly emphasized the oldness of the proposals coming from the young Senator. I am skeptical of McCain's commitment to lower tariffs, taxes, and regulations, but at least we know that Obama will either ruin our economy, or lie to his own base (if he has any sense, that is).
Update: I have now watched McCain’s address from last night. More thoughts to follow…
Barack Obama gave another soaring speech last night in claiming the Democratic nomination, as we have come to expect. Whatever you think of him, I think he’s proven that his prepared speeches are must-see TV. I actually didn’t watch John McCain’s speech; I did see Senator Clinton’s. But I digress. Indeed, after the “shock and awe” of an Obama speech, after the emotion fades, several questions are going to be asked and criticisms leveled. Such as those articulated by Karl Rove, asking whether Obama had the ability to “make” oil companies use their profits in the way he wants (to say nothing of the morality/constitutionality of such a move), and whether it was possible to provide healthcare to every American. (And there remains that same moral/constitutional question, which deserves an excursus)
[Sidebar: The means of arriving at a desired good, and the opportunity costs of the various means, are exactly at issue in politics. Obama ought not expect that his opponents simply lack in compassion or imagination in opposing his plans. Somewhat disturbingly, he seems to believe this, or at least he fails to educate his audiences about this. One actually conducts useful disputation in politics by acknowledging the merits, or at least the appeal, of opposing ideas, and then explaining the superiority of one’s own ideas. It is not enough to acknowledge the personhood of one’s opponent; even the most closed-minded individuals can squeeze out a gracious remark or two. Instead, one must teach people. I realize this is almost impossible in American politics today, and it’s never actually happened, but we ought to demand this.]
And when that grumpy neocon Fred Barnes is right, he’s right. He pointed out that the whole Obama speech was “liberal boilerplate” that we’ve heard before. One wonders if these newly motivated participants we often hear about are so new that they fail to notice how old Obama’s ideas and promises are! In Obama’s defense, he has hinted at possible deviations from liberal orthodoxy in education, such as merit pay for teachers and school choice, but has retreated at other times. An argument could be made that Obama need not speak these heresies in front of staunch supporters, but I disagree. That’s the perfect time to educate the audience, both in person and those watching at home. For example, as Obama said, “meeting today’s threats requires not just our firepower but the power of our diplomacy” and “tough, direct diplomacy where the President of the United States isn’t afraid to let any petty dictator know where America stands, and what we stand for,” I wonder: Are we to believe President Bush has never thought of this? No negotiation has been conducted? He invokes the litany of Democratic presidential heroes as an example, apparently unaware or willfully ignorant of the fact that every single one of them started a war, and was unashamedly in favor of American victory. Surely what makes them well-respected by all quarters was their willingness to use force when they felt “where we stand” required it. I agree with Obama that negotiation with staunch enemies is not surrender necessarily, but suppose our “preconditions” were the safety of our people, and innocent people in other lands. There is a point where discussion is fruitless, and Obama must tell us where he determines that point to lie with say, Iran. Is a nuclear Iran something he considers a threat? Why or why not? If it is a problem, what might Obama say that would be substantially different from George W. Bush, or Secretary Rice, or Hadley? If Iran or any other nation wished to take actions we considered threats irrespective of our diplomatic overtures, what would he do? Despite the Democratic claims of preference for multilateralism, the issue is not multilateralism vs. unilateralism, or even soft vs. hard power; rather, the issue is how to address the failure of multinational alliances (the UN) in the face of its unaccountable bureaucracy, and rank anti-Americanism. And that is especially relevant, given that the UN is often posited as a better alternative to unilateral action, and the deployment of American power. If the widespread use of American power (neoconservatism) is not the best option for the threats of the 21st century, then critics must spend less time personally attacking its advocates (Bush) and more time developing coherent alternatives that answer these questions.
On a more personal level, I do not value John McCain’s (alleged) independence from his party. I like his party, and almost all the ideas that animate it. In fact, if McCain “stood with George Bush 95% of the time” it likely means he was too out of step with conservatism anyway! But this is to be expected when one party is drunk with power, and the other hasn’t had a new idea or a diverse ideological makeup since 1896 (when they dismissed Cleveland). And lest this become a simplistic “pox on both your houses!” statement, let me add that constant calls for ‘unity’ and an ‘end to the bickering’ these days amount to nothing more than a plea for ignorance, an intellectual vapidity that is only exceeded by the shallowness of our debates. We are debate-averse and stupid, and that is a horrible place for the nation to remain.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Who might Babyface vote for in this election? I could guess, but that would be slightly unfair to Mr. Edmonds. Anyway, before you dismiss the question [yeah, this is a shallow exercise that cheapens politics and the political process.—ed.] consider 1) how truly awesome Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds’s music truly is [sorry, couldn’t help myself!], and 2) what the pop culture sensibilities of our presidents might say about their relation to us. For example, President Bush’s favorite TV show is Baseball Tonight. I’d be lying if I said that factoid had no impact upon how I view him. (And that’s why they tell us those things, surely) It is almost beyond question that we care about such things, despite our claims to make decisions on “the issues.” Al Gore lost in 2000 essentially as the incumbent, in a robust economy, in a time of peace, because we just didn’t like him. Though it was extremely close, the “With whom would you hang out?” polls were very telling. And they’ll be telling again, I’m sure. Vice-President Gore sounded awfully shrill in those final days, and I don’t think it was entirely shoring up the base. Did he know he was losing? Or was it a big mistake? Either way, he didn’t (and doesn’t) seem much like us, the regular people. This election is weird on the identification front; each man (Sorry, Hillary) has a compelling biography. I’d venture to say the likability polls will be very close all the way. And that’s a good thing, candidates we all generally like, because it will be all the more likely that it’ll turn on issues. I think the Democrats realize that no matter how poorly a Republican president allegedly performs, a complete tool of a candidate will not become that perfect vessel for our dissatisfaction. I recall Michael Barone noting the day of Bush’s second inauguration that Bush had found the absolute floor of his support at 51 percent, while Kerry was at his ceiling. We liked Bush, so we gave him a pass. He’d done nearly everything to alienate his own base of support, while predictably drawing the most extreme hostility from his opposition, but survived. And I honestly believe that it’s because we generally found him hard to dislike. So, I want to know what kind of music these guys listen to, etc. And why, do you ask? When the president looks his worst, when I think he might be the dumbest person ever to hold the office, I want to turn to a friend and say patriotically, “Well, at least he listens to Babyface.”

Monday, June 02, 2008

Karen Carpenter

“O for a thousand tongues to sing…”
But yours is silent.
We mourn again,
Even those who are young,
Because there is no glory in death.

The songs now are knives to us.
We are reminded
There is no glory in death,
And you will not sing for us
In the land of the living.

Even now, I hope
Through the pain.
Hope in the Resurrection.
I wonder aloud:
Will you sing for Him again?