January 15, 2011

Confederate California

No, this isn't alt-history. But, it's new to me. The Disunion "section" within the NYT's Opinionator column notes that, after its statehood in 1850, some Southerners surreptitiously brought slaves to California. And, a secessionist flag was briefly raised in 1861.

Five weeks left on Pujols contract talks

Albert Pujols has again confirmed that the St. Louis Cardinals have until the start of spring training to ink him to a new contract. General manager John Mzeliak has confirmed Pujols' deadline.

Cardinals position players report Feb. 19, so that leaves five weeks from now.

Pujols, in follow-up commnents, said the deadline is for the good of the team.

Cards writers with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch were split on deal chances earlier this month, though none was hugely pessimistic at that time.

That said, reportedly, Alex Rodriguez type "historical bonuses" could help the Cards complete a deal. Given no Cards-only player has ever hit 500 HRs, and nobody has ever hit 600 in a Redbird uniform, and Lou Brock was the last to 3,000 hits, there's some angles here.

Over six years, barring injury or rapid decline, Pujols will surpass 600 HRs and 3,000 hits, and will easily pass the 1,500 mark in both runs scored and RBIs.

Given that he would be only the third "clean" 600/3,000 player, after Willie Mays and Henry Aaron (making assumptions of some sort about all three), there would be some definite marketing and tie-in dollars.

Of course, just as in A-Rod's case, the players' union would have to sign off on any such contract.

I see something in the neighborhood of 7 years, $200 million. An option, for more per year, could be 5 years, $150 million. (I'm taking this as straight cash, not deferred money or incentive/marketing bonuses.

Because Pujols has 10 years overall and 5 in St. Louis, he would have veto rights over any midseason deal, even if he would recognize it as a rent-a-player situation.

Now, would he be worth those numbers?

Except for some fielding decline in 2010, most his value numbers have held steady for 4-5 years and, I expect, these numbers will not significantly decline for the next 5, or the next 4 years into a new contract:

                                                 
Year Tm Rfield Rrep RAR WAR oRAR oWAR dWAR
2001 STL 6 19 69 6.9 63 6.4 0.5
2002 STL -4 18 56 5.8 60 6.2 -0.4
2003 STL 14 18 107 10.9 93 9.5 1.4
2004 STL 15 18 93 9.4 78 7.9 1.5
2005 STL 9 19 79 8.2 70 7.2 1.0
2006 STL 14 16 83 8.3 69 7.0 1.3
2007 STL 25 18 82 8.3 57 5.8 2.5
2008 STL 18 17 94 9.6 76 7.8 1.8
2009 STL 12 18 88 9.2 76 7.8 1.4
2010 STL -2 19 72 7.2 74 7.4 -0.2
10 Seasons 107 180 823 83.8 716 73.0 10.8


Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/29/2010.

That said, who's got the money AND a location acceptable to Prince Albert if Mozeliak and DeWitt aren't going to cough up $200 million?

1. Chicago. And, a definite 1B opening. And, a fan base that after initial ooginess, would certainly welcome him. That one-year Carlos Pena contract is nothing.
2. Houston, if it wants to immediately vault to NL Central relevance. (Would probably piss off Brett Wallace to be stuck behind Pujols again.)
3. Atlanta? Definitely. With an aging Phillies team, a still-struggling Mets, and a who-knows Nats, a strong move.
4. The Dodgers - IF the McCourt fiasco gets wrapped up quickly enough. But, not sure that's a team Pujols would visit.
4. Mets - See Braves and Astros.
6. Baltimore badly needs a 1B, but not sure it wants to spend like that.
7. The Angels? If they thought they could move Kendry Morales, sure. Especially now that they lost the Crawford sweepstakes this year. But, that's kind of a big if.
8. The Giants. Hmm ... they've got new money, and Huff ain't getting younger.

Wingnuts, trying to vilify Dupnik, ignore "law and order"

On the NYT's Opinionator op-ed, Tobin Harshaw ponders the role so far in the Jared Loughner case of Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, with extensive quotes from leading wingnuts on how incompetent he was with Loughner.

To that, I say:

The winger numbnuts, despite being all "law and order," apparently are too stupid or too vile to distinguish between the bailiwicks of the Tucson PD and the Pima County Sheriff's Office. Assuming the Loughner house is inside Tucson city limits, that's all Tucson PD biz unless it invites the Sheriff's Dept. to help. Ditto for Pima Community College, if its police department is in fact "sworn" peace officers.

January 14, 2011

Magnetic animal news

And, pun intended on the headline; scientists have done some new research on magnetic orientation of animals.

A researcher in Germany thinks foxes use the earth's magnetic field to hunt. I find it dubious, more dubious than the traditionally-breathless New Scientist, but we shall see. If true, it would be the first documented case of a mammal orienting by earth's magnetic field.

And, is Einstein for the birds? Various researchers claim quantum entanglement is part of how birds use the earth's magnetic field!

A cool new safety-first FB helmet

ESPN has a story on a great, cool, independently-invented new football helmet that could, and definitely should, be the future of safety headgear in the NFL.

Independently invented in that it doesn't come from somebody like Riddell.

And, the cool factor? It's made of five separate panels. And each of the panels can be replaced separately.

One thing not mentioned by Paul Lukas in his article on the Bulwark football helmet and its customization?

Football could follow baseball's home and road caps with home and road helmets.

There's NFL marketing $$ there, too!

January 13, 2011

Bipartisan seating at State of the Union?

Really? Really? Dems and GOP sitting mixed at Obama's speech is supposed to actually do something?

Symbolic. And. Trite.

That's the problem with today's Democrats.

When they do try to go the PR route, there's no steak behind the sizzle.

And, the sizzle is lukewarm, transparent and near-odorless.

If you want REAL PR, do something like getting all the citizens whom Obama invited to the healthcare bill signing last summer and seating them on the floor of Congress? Or put Lt. Dan Choi there?

The healthcare people, or Choi, could be saluted by Obama, but NOT within the presidential gallery.

Needed - psychological meta-structure

Where? In DSM-V, if we really want to do mental health diagnosis and treatment better, Scientific American says. If not there, then in the next edition after that.

The idea is that the various categories in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are too rigid for reality.
(A)n enormous number of family and genetic studies have not only failed to validate the major DSM disorders as natural kinds, but instead have suggested that they are more akin to chimaeras. ...

I would argue, is that, at least for the purposes of research, the current DSM diagnoses do not work. They are too narrow, too rigid, altogether too limited. Reorganization of the DSM is hardly a panacea, but science cannot thrive if investigators are forced into a cognitive straitjacket.

Agreed on that.

So, what's this about meta-structure?
Genetic studies focused on finding variations in DNA sequences associated with mental disorders have repeatedly found shared genetic risks for both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Other studies have found different sequence variations within the same genes to be associated with schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders.

The bottom line is in these two points:
First, DSM disorders do not breed true. What is transmitted across generations is not discrete DSM categories but, perhaps, complex patterns of risk that may manifest as one or more DSM disorders within a related cluster. Second, instead of long-term stability, symptom patterns often change over the life course, producing not only multiple co-occurring diagnoses but also different diagnoses at different times of life.

The rest of the very insightful story tells us more.

Germany ends conscription

Well, technically, it "suspended" it. And, technically, in Germany, it's been "universal service," with community service work readily available to conscientious objectors.

That said, as Germany joins most fellow NATO members with a professional army, it's the end of an era.

First, it's a financial issue.

It could save 8 million euros.

And, under Germany's universal service law, 65 percent of youth weren't drafted. 20 percent opted out to do conscientious objection service work and only 15 percent served

Along with that, the army will be cut from 240K to 170K, part of how it's saving all those Euros.

As the Spiegel story notes, Germany thought universal service with conscription would democratize the army and better anchor it to larger society after the formation of West Germany.

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"In postwar Germany, conscription was always more than a means of filling the ranks. It was supposed to symbolize that the Bundeswehr (Germany's postwar military) was something completely different from the (prewar) Reichswehr -- not a state within a state, but a citizens' army. For decades, both the conservative Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats exaggeratedly declared conscription to be an untouchable pillar of democracy. It belonged to postwar Germany just like the deutsche mark. Now it is being abolished -- and nobody minds."

"The fact that this reform is taking place with so little fuss is also related to the typical postwar German indifference to all things military. People would prefer to have nothing to do with it. This is a peculiar kind of historical awareness, a distant echo of the horrors of World War II. In addition, everyone knows that conscription in Germany has long been just a show. In 2010, fewer than 60,000 recruits were drafted -- around a quarter of the total 20 years earlier. The Bundeswehr, which has long been a de facto professional army, does not need conscription anymore. Leaving aside postwar German mythology for a moment, this reform is just an overdue adjustment to European norms. In the era of high-tech weaponry, large conscript armies are a relic of the 19th century."

Well, not totally true. As the Chimpster and Rummy were slow to learn, occupation work still needs boots on the ground. Besides, NATO should have learned that in Bosnia.

How do you judge if a closer is MLB HOF worthy?

As more relievers become eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame, a basic question arises: How do you judge a reliever?

That’s especially important for those of us who, like me, think relievers have been overrated by many others.

I also have a personal sidebar note. I was at Busch Stadium when Lee Smith broke the then single-season National League saves record. It was the year that some games had to be moved out of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, so I and friends got primo seats less than 30 rows from the Cardinals’ bullpen, to boot.

The recently-announced retirement of all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman brings the question to the fore

Is he a Hall of Famer? Besides the saves numbers?

Well, he's got an ERA+ of 141, and, even more impressive, a WHIP of just 1.058. For starters, my minimum cutoffs are ERA+ of at least 110 and WHIP of 1.25 or less.

But, given that the modern closer is a one-inning person hugely unlikely to face the same person twice in a game, should we tighten these numbers?

Say, 115 on the ERA+ and 1.22 on WHIP? (That said, Smith doesn't meet my current cutoff for pitchers in general on WHIP, one reason I don't consider him a HOFer.)

Save percentage might be an additional point to consider.

Now, sabermetrics has shown us that for starters, wins have been overrated in the past.

But, given that a closer comes in when the game is ahead, and usually faces nobody more than once, this is a different situation. Compared to a starting pitcher, for a closer, the game is more “his” from the get-go.

So, I’m going to consider it a legitimate ranking tool. In Baseball-Reference, blown-saves and save percentage are available under Reliever Stats after one clicks the “More Stats” on the first line of a pitcher’s stats.

That said, we have an 89 percent save percentage for Hoffman vs. 82 percent for Smith. (Dennis Eckersley is at 85 percent, John Smoltz at 91 percent in his short relief stint, and Mariano Rivera also at 91 percent, but with far better ERA+ and WHIP than even Hoffman.)

Anyway, what other criteria would you use to judge closers? More emphasis on K/BB than starters? K/9 innings?

That said, I think that given today's specialized closers, we can't go too much below Hoffman on HOF-level standards for today. So, besides him and Rivera, one other pitcher may qualify, and that's Billy Wagner. His save percentage is only 86 percent, but his ERA+ and WHIP are closer to Rivera than to Hoffman. Being a lefty, that's even more notable.

So, there’s my sample idea on ranking modern closers as HOF-worthy.
1. ERA+ of 115 or better.
2. WHIP of 1.22 or lower.
3. Save percentage of 85 percent or better.
4. I’d tentatively suggest K/BB of 3.0 or better, but that’s very minimal.

One thing I think does NOT matter is winning percentage. B-R has a poll on that. And, per a commenter there, Win Probability Added may be another good marker. Per that commenter, a WPA of 30 or higher is a definite benchmark.

Besides Hoffman, Rivera and Wagner, who else might make the cut?

Good-bye, Kay Bailey Cheerleader

And, hello, David Dewhurst?

Now that Kay Bailey Hutchison has made her expected retirement as Texas' senior U.S. Senator official (her letter is here), who's her successor?

Business Week has some quotes from around the state.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has salivated over the position, of course.
Dewhurst issued a written statement that said: "While my focus remains on the challenges we face here at the state level and making this upcoming session successful, I fully intend to explore running for the United States Senate, and should I run, I will run with the intention of winning and continuing to serve the people of Texas just as I have done throughout my career."
Will he get serious opposition in the GOP primary? Greg Abbott seems likely; who else? And, Railroad Commissioner and former RC chairman Michael Williams — does somebody at his pay grade challenge Dewhurst, or seek to fill Dewhurst's current job? Well, fellow Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones thinks that's not too much a leap, even without the double schtick of Williams' bow tie and being a black Republican. And, while Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert has supposedly expressed strong interest in a Senate run, he'd be much smarter to target something like Dewhurst's job. Speaking of Williamses, former Texas Secretary of State Roger W. is also interested. So, too, reportedly, is state Sen. Florence Shapiro.

Given Texas' growing Hispanic population and the relative closeness a B-team canadidate ran against Big John Cornyn in 2008, surely some Democrat has to be eyeing the seat. But whom? Houston Mayor Annise Parker? Her predecessor, Bill White, might have been a guess, but he has officially pulled himself out. Defeated Congressman Ciro Rodriguez? Perennial candidate (he's getting there!) John Sharp also gets mention. Chet Edwards? He might be electable.

Science briefs - mitochondria and prions, climate change, more

So, mitochondria are implicated in prion formation, which then may have connections to the aging process. This sounds like news that's going to unfold for years to come, no pun intended.

A millennium of climate change ahead? That's what one new computer model says. Egads. A millennium of denialism, too?

One test to determine pre-conception more than 400 childhood diseases? Exciting, but, yes, with a huge psychological burden.

Greenwald builds a straw man on de-institutionalization

I agree with a lot of what Glenn Greenwald writes. In fact, I'll often agree 100 percent iwth individual columns.

But, in writing a column about many American thought leaders wanting new legal powers in the wake of Jared Loughner's shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, Greenwald builds a straw man about 1960s de-institutionalization of the mentally ill, either out of ignorance of all the facts of that era, or deliberately setting them aside. It's more likely the former, but Greenwald is both smart enough and sharp enough it could be the latter.

I'm not denying that "Cuckoo's Nest" type institutions existed in the 1960s. I'm not denying that perfectly sane people were forcibly institutionalized, perhaps, even, for homosexuality.

But Glenn, in attacking William Galston for presenting 1960s-era psychiatric institutionalization as a golden age, ignores things himself in presenting de-institutionalization as at least close to a golden age.

The biggest fact he ignores is that deinstitutionalization, as it was driven first in California, itself had definite political overtones that went well beyond civil libertarianism.

As Fuller Torrey and others have documented, the California push largely came out of Orange County and was co-causally tracked by the push to get Ronald Reagan elected governor. (By the way, I hugely recommend Torrey's "The Insanity Offense." He tackles the politics behind the issue, too.)

Bircher types had paranoia about psychiatry; that was their angle. Budget hawks thought California was spending too much on state psychiatric services.

There's more here and here on the politics involved, as well as misperceptions involved. Google California + "Lanterman-Petris-Short Act" for more.

On the former, picture if we over-institutionalized the severely mentally ill today, and then, along came Scientology to lead a push to overthrow institutionalization, not just partly, but totally. Wouldn't we, in this case, ignore the cliche and look the gift horse in the mouth quite carefully, indeed?

Also missing from Greenwald's account is the degree of deinstitutionalization. An excellent Frontline episode from PBS pegs it at 98 percent. The show transcript also notes how many of these people wound up being incarcerated long-term for misdemeanor offenses simply because that was the least bad option available. (I've reported on the problem of mental illness within the Texas prison system.)

So, Glenn, your story's a bit incomplete. Rather than an apparent blanket defense of deinstitutionalization, a J'accuse of lack of spending for adequate institutionalization options would have been much better. Many other things were missing from Greenwald's blast, like (as Jared Loughner illustrates) mental illness and chemical dependency and more.

Canada, banks, housing, liberal non-skepticism

Truthout is the latest batch of non-skeptical liberal to left-liberal types to fall in love with Canada's banks and financial system.

You can't have it both ways, unskeptical left-liberals.

You cannot have Canada-style banking with no bank closures, a high homeownership rate AND tight mortgage lending standards without other aspects of Canadian housing you don't mention, including a smaller house size, no mortgage refinancing let alone HELOC-type refinancing, etc.

And, you can't have this in isolation without addressing income disparity, etc.

You can't have it in isolation from Americans of all sorts of income levels wanting McMansions.

In short, you can't get the banking system of Canada imported to the U.S. in isolation.

And, there's no guarantee, even if you could eliminate the mortgage interest deduction and change other U.S. laws, that you could change American mindsets that much. I'd rather doubt it, in fact.

Greenies vs roids in baseball.

There's a great greenies effect column-blog here. As far as the effects of amphetamines, it points out a couple of things.
  • Anybody who could tell the precise effects of uppers on an athlete, an athlete in general let alone one particular athlete, is pretty full of it.
  • Because of that, Larry says, in essence, stop judging today's would-be HOFers, and stop trying to retroactively judge those of the past as far as possible greenie use.
  • Amphetamines are more dangerous indeed than steroids, without minimizing steroid dangers.
And this is also worth noting, this here.

Arguably, steroids, as well as (prescription-strength) greenies, have been baseball verboten since 1971, since they weren't "over the counter," at least not by legal sales:
Ken Davidoff makes a good argument for distinguishing between steroids use prior to and after baseball’s formal adoption of drug testing in 2005.  I give Davidoff credit for taking a nuanced stand on what I consider to be a complex issue, and for successfully resisting my instinct to paint everyone as either a steroids hawk or a steroids dove.  But I don’t agree with Davidoff’s selection of 2005 as a cutoff date.  Baseball first explicitly banned steroids in its 2002 Collective Bargaining Agreement.  Moreover, the non-prescription use of prescription drugs has been banned by baseball since 1971 .  ... But if Davidoff is looking for a bright line date to distinguish between tolerable and intolerable use of anabolic steroids, I’d suggest that he use the date February 27, 1991 – that’s the date that federal law placed anabolic steroids in Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act, making non-prescription possession of anabolic steroids a federal crime.
That said, I don't entirely agree with the piece. Over-the-counter type greenies are almost certainly less dangerous than steroids. And, as for HGH, we have very little idea yet of its long-term effects in people for whom it would otherwise not be indicated. That said, Larry tries to distinguish between OTC stuff and the serious stuff.

And, Rob Neyer gets a bit of a smackdown for equating the two on effects. Neyer, in light of a bit of chastisement there, claims he never equated greenies and roids. Well, in spirit, he did. Man up, Rob! Or don't they do that at ESPN, either?

That said, as I've said before, the last decade has led to designer steroids, different from both amphetamines and steroids of the past. So, color me a bit skeptical of some of Larry's steroid comments.

The only point where I totally agree with Larry on "judgment" issues is over the small percentage who get caught. How that should affect our judgment, including for Hall of Fame eligibility, is a tough and complicated matter.

If the Aussies can regulate guns more tightly ...

And, they have in recent years, why won't we?

I don't like to Nick Kristof's columns a lot; perhaps in part because they're often so "earnest," almost like Mark Twain's "Good Little Boy" had grown up and ... become an earnest, Oregon-rooted liberal.

But, in the wake of the Loughner shooting, he tackles gun issues and offers some good insights.

On Australia, let's first prefix this by saying most Americans probably look at much of Oz as being kind of like Texas, but with Austin's social liberalism mixing throughout the nation at the same time as the rugged individualist mythos (not counting Aussie national health care) of the rest of Texas.

Well, in 1996, Australia banned assault weapons, Kristof notes. It was controversial indeed at the time, but it cut the firearm homicide rate in half.

Short of that, he gets some other ideas:
I asked Professor (David) Hemenway how he would oversee a public health approach to reducing gun deaths and injuries. He suggested:

• Limit gun purchases to one per month per person, to reduce gun trafficking. And just as the government has cracked down on retailers who sell cigarettes to minors, get tough on gun dealers who sell to traffickers.
• Push for more gun safes, and make serial numbers harder to erase.
• Improve background checks and follow Canada in requiring a 28-day waiting period to buy a handgun. And ban oversize magazines, such as the 33-bullet magazine allegedly used in Tucson. If the shooter had had to reload after firing 10 bullets, he might have been tackled earlier. And invest in new technologies such as “smart guns,” which can be fired only when near a separate wristband or after a fingerprint scan.

The first and last would be easier to implement than the gun safes or other issues. A 28-day waiting period would get many up in arms. The one gun a month? Do you really need to buy a gun more often than that, even if you're a collector? Maybe we could modify that, and allow m ore than one purchase a month, pending stiff surtaxes.

January 12, 2011

Texas cheats on academics like sports

As a community newspaper editor, I have much familiarity with how star Texas high school athletes shop around to find the "right" school district which amazingly has an aunt, uncle, grandparent, etc. willing to house them because their parents have "suddenly" lost that ability.

It happened in Lancaster, where I was the editor for several years. Perhaps Bev Humphrey as a track coach wasn't so bad at it, and had better motives, than the typical Texas high school football coach, but, after she started winning state titles, it happened.

That said, because of that, it comes as no surprise to me that another cadre of Texas students is similarly shopping for high schools where they can improve their chances of graduating in the top 10 percent, with all that implies, above all, guaranteed admission to Texas state universities:
Generally, the movement was from magnet schools to less competitive local schools, where the grade-point average to be in the top 10 percent was lower and/or the students moving could earn better grades.

The authors found that though both white and minority students engaged in “strategic” high school selection, white students benefited and minority students lost. The reason is that whether it is white or minority students transferred into the lesser high school, those at the high school who were pushed out of the top 10 percent were almost always minority students. Virtually no white students lost slots as a result of these choices.

Texas isn't the only state that has a top 10 percent rule; and, surely, it's not the only state where students game the system.

I have no doubt, though, that it's the worst.

January 11, 2011

Why does God hate Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks?

Auburn head football coach Gene Chizik says God is why Auburn beat Oregon last night and won the BCS national title.

Ergo, God must hate Oregon.

Must be all the gay, hippie liberal types on the Left Coast, as opposed to the Solid South.

Did God love Cam Newton so much that he prevented Mississippi State from giving Cam's dad $200K or whatever? Or, did he love Auburn so much that he's hidden a similar Auburn deal from the light of day?

Perry lies like cheap rug; state GOP follows

At the opening of the Texas Legislature today, talking about a projected $27 billion budget shortfall, Gov. Tricky Ricky Perry had this to say:
"We all heard the message Texans sent on election day," Perry said. "They expect us to balance the budget without taking more money from the employers of this state, taking more money from the working families. They want state government leaner, more efficient."

Wrong!

Voters here heard no such message.

Why didn't they?

Comptroller Susan Combs wouldn't release detailed budget numbers until after election day last November. So, they had no idea how out of balance the budget might be.

That said, expect Texas, like California, to evade a truly balanced budget by using all sorts of gimmickry of various kinds.

Especially since some Republicans outside of the Lege, but notable, are practicing deep denialism:
Talmadge Heflin, a Republican former House Appropriations Committee chair now with the limited-government Texas Public Policy Foundation, dismissed the $27 billion figure. He put the shortfall at $12 billion to $16 billion.

Yep, you're one of the GOP goobers who got the state to this point in the first place.

And how can you do anything BUT write a smoke-and-mirrors budget when Tricky Ricky says:
"We will prioritize what's important in this state. We will fund those. And we will craft a budget that meets those revenue projections and not raise taxes nor get into the rainy day fund," Perry said. "And that's been a consistent message for at least a year and a half."
That said, this is the same GOP that has repeatedly raised the price of various "fees" in the last decade.

So, what might you see coming out of this Legislature?
1. A 25-50 percent increase in vehicle registration costs.
2. A 10-15 percent hike in hunting and fishing licenses. (The Rethugs can't go higher than that without rebellion.)
3. A 25-50 percent hike in driver's license costs.
4. The same amount of hike in state park fees, with declining attendance then used as an excuse to cut back on operations.

That's just off the top of my head.

The latest on Pujols-Cardinals talks

How much are St. Louis Cardinals management negotiations with Albert Pujols heating up and how serious is it getting? No detailed word, but Cards writers with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch are split on deal chances, though none is hugely pessimistic.

That said, reportedly, Alex Rodriguez type "historical bonuses" could help. Given no Cards-only player has ever hit 500 HRs, and nobody has ever hit 600 in a Redbird uniform, and Lou Brock was the last to 3,000 hits, there's some angles here.

Over six years, barring injury or rapid decline, Pujols will surpass 600 HRs and 3,000 hits, and will easily pass the 1,500 mark in both runs scored and RBIs.

Given that he would be only the third "clean" 600/3,000 player, after Willie Mays and Henry Aaron (making assumptions of some sort about all three), there would be some definite marketing and tie-in dollars.

Of course, just as in A-Rod's case, the players' union would have to sign off on any such contract.

Stay tuned.

'Woo' officially enters the NBA

The National Basketball Association's Sacramento Kings have reached a deal to rename their home spot, Arco Arena, after the thoroughly discredited Power Balance bracelets.

Given that the Kings have the second-worst record in the NBA, ahead of only the LeBron-less Cavaliers, there's more evidence right there that the only thing Power Balance bracelets will "energize" is a corporate wallet.

Trevor Hoffman retires - is he a HOFer?

Turning down a chance for a symbolic last appearance in a San Diego Padres uniform all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman has done what has been expected and officially retired.

Is he a Hall of Famer? Besides the saves numbers?

Well, he's got an ERA+ of 141, and, even more impressive, a WHIP of just 1.058. For starters, my minimum cutoffs are ERA+ of at least 110 and WHIP of 1.25 or less.

But, given that the modern closer is a one-inning person hugely unlikely to face the same person twice in a game, should we tighten these numbers?

Say, 115 on the ERA+ and 1.22 on WHIP? (That said, Lee Smith doesn't meet my current cutoff for pitchers in general on WHIP, one reason I don't consider him a HOFer.)

A blown-saves percentage would be nice to sort out relievers. Just a blown-save number would be nice from Baseball-Reference.com. (Well, Dr. Doom points out what I have seen before, the "More Stats" tab, with both blown saves and save percentage under reliever-only stats.)

That said, 89 percent save percentage for Hoffman vs. 82 percent for Smith. (Dennis Eckersley is at 85 percent, John Smoltz at 91 percent in his short relief stint, and Mariano Rivera also at 91 percent, but with far better ERA+ and WHIP than even Hoffman.)

Anyway, what other criteria would you use to judge closers? More emphasis on K/BB than starters? K/9 innings?

On Hoffman, I think he is a HOFer. (And, he is better than Smith on those other two criteria, the baseline criteria for all pitchers, in my book.)

That said, I think that given today's specialized closers, we can't go too much below Hoffman on HOF-level standards for today. So, besides him and Rivera, one other pitcher may qualify, and that's Billy Wagner. His save percentage is only 86 percent, but his ERA+ and WHIP are closer to Rivera than to Hoffman. Being a lefty, that's even more notable.

GOP gets one right in DC

The House of Representatives' Natural Resources Committee will now have a newly formed subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. More details here. And, yeah, Don Young won't be bad as a chairman.

Wingers, wrongness, stubbornness

Whether it's Sarah Palin's political rants or libertarian sometime skeptics who aren't always, right-wing talkers of various types seem to have problems admitting they're wrong.

Over at Skepticblog, "Skeptoid's massive DDT failure" is a good illustration in the second area. I note the plaintive comment there from Deltoid blogger Tim Lambert, the man who busted Brian Dunning's lies:
The problem isn’t that he got a few facts wrong – it’s that he refuses to correct his mistakes.

Yillowslime then wonders what it will take to get an apology, in response to Lambert.

And, I note. in response to him:
Going back to Dunning’s politics, this is part and parcel of the ‘winger mindset — a refusal to admit error.

Whether refusal to admit error is caused by right-wing politics, correlative with it with some cause behind both, or what, I'm not sure.

But, anecdotally, this does seem to be more an issue of right-wing bloggers. As far as degree of "winginess," I think it starts less "far out" on the right wing than on the left.

And, this is another reason why, if I were a Daniel Loxton or Steven Novella, I wouldn't associate myself with such a group blog, as I noted in a detailed blog post last month. Your public chidings of Dunning (and Shermer, if you have) are obviously of no effect.

Jason Loughner - nature via nurture

Several years ago, evolutionary psychologist and biologist Matt Ridley wrote a book called "Nature via Nurture." It took by pleasant surprise those of us who considered him a Pop Ev Psycher, but that's another story.

The title, and the idea that genes shape direction in our lives, including our mental states, but come nowhere near to hidebound destiny, applies well to Jason Loughner, the alleged attempted assassin of Gabrielle Giffords.

It does appear Loughner is mentally ill, in some degree.

Loughner was apparently enraptured with lucid, or "conscious" dreaming.

And, his mental state got worse in the past year, yet another friend notes.

It even appears he had some dabbling in occult-type issues.

That's the nature part.

So, he could have had all sorts of belief systems as his mental illness developed.

The belief system he apparently DOES have?

That's the nurture, and it appears right-wing influenced.

Showing how irrational movements can influence even those further beyond the rationality pale, Loughner may have had some connection with, and being influenced by, American Renaissance, a white supremacist group. At the same time, the Mother Jones story linked above about lucid dreaming references a Loughner acquaintance as saying his mother is Jewish.

Also per the Fox story linked immediately above, the rest of Loughner's family didn't totally impress the neighbors, either. The story doesn't say much about the family beyond "loners" with a cluttered yard, but, if they had political beliefs outside the mainstream, that will come out, too. I find it interesting that the family has commented very little on their sun, even before retaining any counsel that they may have.

Still no further word on a possible accomplice; if there is one, I would be VERY quiet, were I the head of American Renaissance.

And, The Daily Beast also notes that, even if Loughner is clinically mentally ill, the influences on that troubled mind seem to come pretty much from the far right. And, it's not just the Sarah Palins, it's the wingnuts posting comments on stories like this that reflect the problem.

A "mainstream conservative" like Ross Douthat doesn't fully get this issue right with his apparent attempt to play the equivalence card.

Paul Krugman DOES get that right, including quoting Pima County, Ariz. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who said:
(I)t’s “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.” The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line.

And, since Douthat pulls out Oswald as counterintuitive to shoot JFK in wingnut Dallas circa 1963, let's go to Krugman again, to refute the "equivalence":
And there’s a huge contrast in the media. Listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you’ll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won’t hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at The Washington Post. Listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, and you will.

Very few on the left espouse violence even in a rhetorical sense today, compared to the right.

Straus 1, wingnuts 0

Joe Straus was easily re-elected Speaker of the Texas House, on a 132-15 vote.

Wingnuts, anti-Semitic bigotry, hot tempers and more all lose.

As Straus knows:
"Division, threats of retribution, attacks on people's religious beliefs, and distortions of people's records have no place in this House," Straus said after winning the post. "The men and women who are remembered beyond their years are not those who sow the seeds of discord, but those who plant for a future they may never see."

Hmm. Wonder if the Giffords shooting persuaded some waverers to stay with Straus? That said, I still think Democrats should be very careful about working with the GOP, even with Straus in charge, if the party shows little to no realism on budget issues.

Now, if the GOP in the Texas Senate pledges NOT to do what it DID do in 2009 - that is, lowering the supermajority bar from 2/3 to 3/5 - House AND Senate Dems may work more with their GOP counterparts. But, since the GOP now has a House supermajority, I wouldn't hold my breath.

January 10, 2011

American exceptionalism and American political violence.

As I read this powerful column at Salon by Glenn W. LaFantasie, I started thinking.

First, I agree with him that political violence IS deeply rooted in American political DNA, and that the success of the American Revolution may be part of it, not only the violence in it, but the violence leading up to it.

I also agree that many Americans, from across the polticial spectrum, have denied that idea ever since it was first seriously raised in 1968, after the last of the three huge political assassinations of that era.

His nut graf, which needs to be quoted in full, is at the end:
So what can we do about this tradition of violence? The remedy, in my opinion, should begin with recognizing its existence. Acknowledging our full and rather tawdry history of violence would be the first step toward doing something about it. The United States has unpleasant chapters in its history; likewise, the American people have not always behaved in civilized, rational, ways. If we face up to our history, confronting it head-on, we might be able to move past all our elaborate denials of our worst traits, our shared sins, our mistakes, our lies. To accomplish this as a people, however, requires something unusual, something remarkable, something even noble. It requires courage. It requires us recognizing that American political violence is something that’s not just committed by the likes of Nathaniel Bacon, John Brown, Preston Brooks, or, allegedly, Jared Loughner. It requires us admitting that the violent deeds that flow so calamitously through our history were -- and are -- quintessentially American. In that sense, then, what we cannot face is that those who commit these terrible acts are not pariahs or maniacs, just as the acts themselves are not mere aberrations. What we truly cannot face is that violent Americans like John Brown and Timothy McVeigh and Jared Loughner are ... us.

But, is it POSSIBLE for Americnas to do that?

The good professor doesn't lay out probabilities.

And, I say, it's certainly not likely.

I see this denial of the DNA of Anerican political violence as being interwoven with American exceptionalist beliefs. Too many Americans want to believe "our country is better than that."

Well, what if it isn't? An ostrich-like approach to an issue like this only lets it fester and become more ingrained in our DNA. Add in increasing income disparity, right-wing answers to that disparity that will only increase it AND neolib ones hat will only be a Band-Aid, the surge of the Religious Right 2.0, some legitimate concerns about immigration issues with the sidebar of those concerns then being politicized, and the near-death of true progressive politics in America all being fuel for the flames of existential angst in America, and, if we don't admit this problem is part of America's warp and woof, it will likely get worse in the short-term future.

And, denial, as is often the case in America, is the hope for a "magic" solution from a god, higher power or whatever force allegedly makes America exceptional in the first place. Circular reasoning is indeed at the heart of much American exceptionalist thinking.

Now, as for claims like those of David Frum, that political violence doesn't work? They're laughably wrong.

1. The Boston Massacre was provoked by rock-throwing colonials. As a key stepping-stone to the American Revolution, it worked quite well. Ditto the Boston Tea Party, which did involve some violence.
2. Shay's Rebellion got America a new constitution, albeit one not tailored too much to them. It did get a new governor in Massachusetts, too.
3. The violence of the Know-Nothings surely suppressed Catholic voting in the 8150s in many cities.
4. The violence of the first Klan helped end Reconstruction and establish Jim Crow.
5. Antiunion violence by rich individuals, big business and even the United States government on occasion wound up provoking pro-union forces into violence in return that often, tragically, backfired.
6. The violence of the second Klan held off black civil rights in the south for at least a generation. And, in much of the northern midwest, too.

Now, Frum cheats by limiting his claim to post-1970 politics. First, that's cherry-picking, as we don't know what will happen in 2011, the rest of the year, or into 2012 and beyond. (As someone who likes talking baseball stats, I know that's one way to cherry-pick.)

Second, even with that cutoff, it's debatable, at best, and wrong, at worst. The self-immolating violence of Waco has run straight through Tim McVeigh to today's Tea Party types. It's led to anti-government violence that some might not call "Political," because not directed at elected officials, like the guy in Austin, Texas, flying the airplane into an IRS building, but that, actually, IS political.

And, some of the pre-1970s violence, like the Klan, is still working its way through the system today.

James Fallows tries to pull the American exceptionalism card in a subtle way, by claiming man political assassinations and other acts of violence weren't really political.

Some of his "murkier" examples aren't murky at all:
1. Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, had clear political reasons for shooting McKinley. And, anarchism, and semi-anarchism, had been a big matter, or at least a big matter of concern, in American for 20 years before that. Remember Haymarket, Mr. Fallows? It wasn't anarchist, but the ruling classes blamed it on anarchists.
2. Charles Guiteau, a would-be political job-seeker affiliated with one wing of the Republican Party in an intraparty scrum, had clear (if base-level) political reasons for assassinating Garfield. His action was extreme, but pre-civil service, the scrum for political jobs was huge.
3. The Puerto Rican nationalists had clear reason for trying to assassinate Truman, head of a government that wasn't even discussing or considering Puerto Rican independence.
4. Sirhan Sirhan clearly believed, and quit possibly with a fair amount of reason, that RFK's support of Israel was so strong as to constitute anti-Palestinianism.

Update, Jan. 11 One Texas Republican Congressional candidate from last year, while supporting the option, or coming close, of violence against the government today, agreed on its historical roots.

Various initial thoughts on Jared Loughner

First, Ross Douthat is right. Actual and attempted political assassins come from all angles of political opinion — or occasionally from none. (He cites George Wallace's would-be assassin, Arthur Bremer.)

That said, while he doesn't claim both sides are alike, by not discussing tea partier/Palinista language of the last year or so, he does allow one to infer he's making an equivalence argument.

Paul Krugman DOES get that right, including quoting Pima County, Ariz. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who said:
(I)t’s “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.” The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line.

And, since Douthat pulls out Oswald as counterintuitive to shoot JFK in wingnut Dallas circa 1963, let's go to Krugman again, to refute the "equivalence":
And there’s a huge contrast in the media. Listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you’ll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won’t hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at The Washington Post. Listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, and you will.


Speaking of Oswald et al — Gail Collins is right that gun control is an issue — Lee Harvey Oswald had had Loughner's 30-shot clip Glock, probably Speaker of the House John McCormack would have been succeeding JFK and Texas would be needing a new governor. Collins, though, doesn't delve into the "irony" of Rep. Giffords being anti-gun control, and that as a natural stance, apparently, not a political tactic.

Whehter Loughner had a political angle or not, many people wonder if he is mentally ill, in a clinical sense. Josh Rosenau points out in detail of how this "mentally ill = violent" is a horrible, horribly wrong, stereotype.

So, what will happen?

Palin won't draw in her horns. In fact, she'll bristle at the suggestion of doing so.

Gun control? Obama has no taste for it, we have a GOP House, and a gun-friendly Supreme Court. The only way to possibly get anything done is to tell Arizonans guns just like the one Loughner bought are also being bought in Arizona by Mexican drug gangs.

Mental health? Mentally ill, at least those of psychotic levels, will still be stigmatized and stereotyped.

Update, Jan. 11: The mental illness angle gets more, much more background.

Loughner was apparently enraptured with lucid, or "conscious" dreaming. (Sad irony, that Mr. Grammar Police called it "conscience dreaming" on his YouTube videos.

It even appears he had some dabbling in occult-type issues.

At the same time, showing how irrational movements can influence even those further beyond the rationality pale, Loughner may have had some connection with, and being influenced by, American Renaissance, a white supremacist group. At the same time, the Mother Jones story linked above about lucid dreaming references a Loughner acquaintance as saying his mother is Jewish.

Also per the Fox story linked immediately above, the rest of Loughner's family didn't totally impress the neighbors, either. The story doesn't say much about the family beyond "loners" with a cluttered yard, but, if they had political beliefs outside the mainstream, that will come out, too. I find it interesting that the family has commented very little on their sun, even before retaining any counsel that they may have.

Still no further word on a possible accomplice; if there is one, I would be VERY quiet, were I the head of American Renaissance.

And, The Daily Beast also notes that, even if Loughner is clinically mentally ill, the influences on that troubled mind seem to come pretty much from the far right. And, it's not just the Sarah Palins, it's the wingnuts posting comments on stories like this that reflect the problem.

January 09, 2011

Is Peyton Manning overrated?

After the results in the Super Bowl, especially how the Saints scored the clinching touchdown, it makes Jason Whitlock's argument that that's the case even more worth reading. Of course, him rating Aaron Rodgers of "today" (postseason today, not midseason) over Favre, at the time of his column, wasn't so true.

Update, Jan. 9, 2011: Peyton came up just short again. Yes, he's got a banged-up receiver corps, but everybody was talking abou thow the Colts were peaking in recent weeks.

NOT!

Tearing apart the Tony La Russa cult

Say it is so, Joe!

Joe Posnanski rips Tony La Russa a new one on the Brendan Ryan trade and more, saying one-yearitis seems to be at hand. Fan comments on the blog post are even more scathing.

But, in Redbird Land, St. Louis Post-Dispatch scribes Joe Gordon and Joe Straus, on the other hand, are in La Russa's corner 110 percent.

And, I'm not in St. Louis, BUT ... is Brendan Ryan THAT disruptive on clubhouse chemistry? Probably no more than Rasmus, eh? But, he doesn't have Rasmus' bat. So, TLR and management trash him, then trade for Theriot? Well, of course, all they could get for Ryan at that point probably was an A-ball pitcher.

And, the "grit" angle? Not all Cards fans buy it.

Oh, and Gordon and Straus "conveniently?" overlook that Theriot hardly played SS last year and was almost entirely at 2B.

And, besides, Joe Gordon's "chemistry" claim in saying Whitey Herzog was the same way as La Russa, on trading a "better" Ted Simmons after getting Darrell Porter? Fungoes says Gordon is full of crap. Baseball-Reference backs Fungoes up the the hilt.

Fungoes also supports the "one-yearitis" angle of the stupidity of the Theriot deal.

As for the one-yearitis in general, I think that, however the one-year contract situation started, in the last few years, it's become an ego trip for TLR. Every year, Cardinal management has to wring its hands, wonder if he wants to come back, wonder how the team can make him happy enough to want to come back and so forth. GM John Mozeliak should just give Tony the Pony a blow job in front of the Musial statue and be done with it!

As a manager? Overall?

La Russa reminds me a lot of Roy Williams. Not the bad-hands Dallas Cowboys receiver.

The college hoops coach, formerly of Kansas, now at North Carolina. Both good, overall, on talent spotting. And, often, on its development. But, too, too wound up as coaches. For Roy, with the one-and-done of college hoops, it cost him at least one title at KU, I think. For TLR, it might have cost him at least the 1988 World Series, I'll guess.

Unfortunately, TLR is still that way since coming to St. Louis, while Williams unwound a bit, at least, in Chapel Hill. Probably related to La Russa being a lawyer, too.

Can you say "control freak"?

Seriously, look at TLR's career record. He needs two more years to pass John McGrow into second place for all-time managerial wins.

Mozeliak should have offered him a two-year deal, and, if he didn't take it, be prepared to look elsewhere.

Joe Strauss sucks up to Cards management

I just "looove" this opening line from Joe Straus' new column on St. Louis Cardinals' contract talks with Albert Pujols:
The Cardinals have wasted little time addressing their most pressing New Year's resolution: tying up Albert Pujols.

Wasted little time?????

They've wasted time, at least, since the end of the World Series. Arguably, they've wasted time for a full year, since they heard first rumors about Ryan Howard signing a new contract with the Phillies. Certainly, after that got done, the Cards have dallied. They had January-February of last year, and did nothing.

I think Joe is only going to continue to be a suck-up in weeks ahead. That said, don't forget my poll: If Pujols does leave, where's he land?