Saturday, June 15

World Cup Today

For the first time, England today looked like a plausible contender for the Cup, easily beating the ill-prepared Danes 3-0. Barring a major upset, Brazil is up next for England; it will be interesting to see if the English retreat into a defensive shell. I expect they will.

Roger the Losing Pitcher

Winning is the best revenge, I guess. Shawn Estes may have missed Roger Clemens with his third-inning fastball, but he sure hit Clemens hard in the fifth, slamming a two-run homer to give the Mets a three-run lead. Mike Piazza exacted personal revenge the next inning with a home run of his own. Clemens, meanwhile, apparently was shaken by being thrown at; his failure to cover home plate in the bottom of the third allowed the Mets to score their first run.

Sure, it would have been satisfying to see Clemens sprawling in the dirt of the batter's box, but beating him, and beating him badly, is a statement in its own right.

Update: Eric McErlain has a long post about today's game and reveals himself to be a Mets fan. I like his blog more and more every day.

Alex Frantz, whose blog I just discovered by way of Demosthenes, has some interesting ideas on how to afford people like Jose Padilla/Abdullah al Muhajir a measure of constitutional protection without compromising national security interests. Alex acknowledges that he is not a lawyer; even as a non-lawyer, he recognizes that his proposal runs the risk of "straining the Sixth Amendment to the breaking point." But if the alternative is to keep Padilla imprisoned without charges for the duration of an ill-defined war against a shadowy enemy, something along the lines of what Alex suggests ought to be explored.
Well, this is annoying.

One of the great things about the World Cup so far is that the games have been televised as they've been played, in real time--none of the "plausibly live" crap that helps ruin the Olympics. But not today: ABC is going to televise the England-Denmark match, and they figure they'll get a bigger audience in the afternoon than they would if the game were shown live starting at 7:25 EDT. Fair enough, I suppose--but to boost their ratings for the afternoon telecast, they've also pulled the game from the cable channels. As a result, ESPN has SportsCenter, and ESPN2 is showing fishing, for G-d's sake. So for the first time in two weeks, Noah gets his morning bottle without an accompanying helping of soccer.

For those who want to follow the game as it's played, there's a good minute-by-minute report on England-Denmark here.

Friday, June 14

:: how jedi are you? ::

Cool. Very cool. (Link found via Amygdala).

World Cup Today

Well, that was really painful.

The US advances to the second round, as South Korea capitalized on a two-man advantage to beat (and eliminate) Portugal. Given the way they played against Poland, the US hardly deserves it—they were once again disorganized and inept on defense and were largely unable to finish good chances on offense. This was the worst I'd seen the US look in quite some time, and it will take a lot more to make it out of the round of sixteen. Fortunately, the US now faces a familiar foe in Mexico, and one that the US players know they can beat. That should help them recover from today's awful performance. In the meantime, my victory dance is a bit more subdued than Jessica's. But at least I'm dancing.

Jessica offers an excellent preview of the next round. I don't think Belgium has much of a chance against Brazil—sure, the Brazilian defense has been shaky, but wow, that offense. Other than that, though, I think she's pretty much spot-on.

(Incidentally, I’d been wondering why we had neither seen nor heard from Pelé during this World Cup. It turns out he’s been hospitalized following a severe allergic reaction. G-d willing, we'll be seeing him in Japan soon.)

Roger at the Bat (continued)

Dan Lewis argues convincingly that, while a Yankee is almost certain to be hit by a Met pitch in tomorrow's game, it probably won't be Roger Clemens.

Conservatives, Liberals, and Interpretive Method: A Response to Glenn Reynolds

In case the title didn't scare everyone off …

Donning his professor hat, Glenn Reyonlds described a colleague's presentation at a weekly faculty colloquium (these events can be great fun, by the way—we hold them periodically throughout the school year, as many of my colleagues depart Indianapolis for the summer). This particular presentation involved the confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees criminal defendants the right "to be confronted with the witnesses against [them]," and which the Supreme Court has progressively weakened over the past couple of decades. Prof. Reynolds wrote:

It's a classic slippery slope, in which initially narrow exceptions have consumed the rule. Being a curmudgeonly textualist, I think "confront" means confront, and isn't satisfied by things like "other indicia of reliability" or video monitors. Interestingly, Justices Scalia and Thomas take more or less the same position, which had some of my traditional-lefty colleagues scratching their heads a bit. But in criminal matters, it's not at all clear that strict construction is worse for defendants than creative judging.

I have a couple of issues here. First, while strict construction may not always be worse for criminal defendants than what Prof. Reynolds calls "creative judging," it's certainly not always better, either. Yes, the position that Justices Scalia and Thomas take with regard to the meaning of confrontation would rule out some measures that the Court has accepted as the functional equivalent of direct confrontation, and in this sense would be more defendant-friendly than the Court's majority position. But with regard to what it means to confront "witnesses against" criminal defendants, the narrow reading advocated by Justices Scalia and Thomas (most notably in Justice Thomas's concurring opinion in White v. Illinois) would remove the vast majority of hearsay inquiries from Sixth Amendment scrutiny.

A bit of detail: Hearsay is an out-of-court statement offered in court to prove the truth of what the statement says. If I write on this page, "Instapundit gets 1000 times the daily visitors that I do," and Howard Bashman proposes to testify in court about my statement as proof that Instapundit in fact gets 1000 times more daily visitors than Cooped Up, his proposed testimony would be hearsay and would not be allowed. The reason, in essence, is that while Howard could be cross-examined about his testimony, I could not be cross-examined about my statement; the basis of my information could not be probed, and the factfinder (unable to see my shifty eyes) would have little basis for assessing my credibility.

The thing is, there are lots of exceptions to the hearsay rule, some dating back hundreds of years, which means that many hearsay statements are admissible in court. Since the concerns that underlie the hearsay doctrine—principally the absence of live cross-examination before the factfinder in court—are similar to the concerns that underlie the confrontation clause, the Court has held that hearsay statements that fit within a hearsay exception must also withstand Sixth Amendment scrutiny. A number of hearsay exceptions are deemed "firmly rooted," such that if a statement fits within the exception, it automatically satisfies the Sixth Amendment as well. Other hearsay exceptions that are not firmly rooted, however, require separate inquiry under the confrontation clause to determine if the statement at issue has sufficient circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness to compensate for the lack of confrontation.

The whole doctrine is a bit of a mess, really (I've just summarized a couple of weeks' worth of classes), and not particularly defendant-friendly, but it does keep out some hearsay that otherwise would be admissible. Justices Thomas and Scalia would avoid the entire question, though, through a "strict construction" of the constitutional phrase "witnesses against him." Under their reading, most people who make out-of-court statements are not "witnesses;" therefore, the Sixth Amendment simply has nothing to say about hearsay. A defensible position, perhaps, but not one likely to give comfort to a criminal defendant facing a case against him that relies heavily on hearsay.

All this suggests that my principal concern is whether a particular doctrine is more or less defendant-friendly. It's not. My bigger issue is that Prof. Reynolds sets up a false dichotomy between principled, conservative textualism that narrowly constrains government authority on the one hand and an "unrestrained" liberal judiciary engaged in unprincipled "creative judging" on the other.

The dichotomy is false for three reasons. First, conservatives, even those who advocate strict constructionist principles, are hardly uniform in applying that approach. As evidence, one need look no further than the Court's recent series of profoundly atextual Eleventh Amendment decisions. Second, textualism, while appealing theoretically, is unable to produce consistent, determinate interpretations in practice. I've written about this previously (anyone with time, access to a law library or Lexis/Westlaw, and absolutely nothing else to do could take a look at my article, "Interpreting the Americans With Disabilities Act: The Trials of Textualism and the Practical Limits of Practical Reason," at vol. 74, p. 1207 of the Tulane Law Review), and others have undertaken more systematic studies that have arrived at the same conclusion. One doesn't have to fully adopt a pomo "all text is indeterminate" position to recognize that many texts allow for a variety of interpretations, even when constrained by textualist methodology.

Finally, the counterpoint to Scalia/Thomas strict constructionism isn't unconstrained creative judging, as Prof. Reynolds seems to suggest. It may be differently constrained judging, and sometimes perhaps less constrained judging, but few people (and few serious legal academics) really believe in unbounded judicial discretion.

Some of the difference between Prof. Reynolds and myself may be the result of our different specialties. He writes about constitutional issues, while I focus more on statutory interpretation; the interpretive issues raised by statutes and the Constitution are somewhat different. Nevertheless, Prof. Reynolds has created a straw man, and for that he deserves to be challenged.

No! No! No!

Noah slept in a bit this morning, so by the time I turned on the US-Poland game eight minutes had passed. I looked at the score and ... that can't be right. But it was.

Poland still leads 2-0 at the half. The only good news for the US at this point is that they are playing like a side that is capable of scoring at least two goals. In the past, a two-goal deficit would have been insurmountable, but the US attack has been strong, and McBride and Mathis have had some good chances. Still, the US is on the brink of squandering its tremendous opening win against Portgual. Unbelievable.

Thursday, June 13

Alas, it's been a worse day than I anticipated. Prof. Reynolds will have to wait for tomorrow. I'm sure he'll lose sleep.

He does sleep, doesn't he? Sometimes, reading his site, I'm not sure he has time.

Jessica, the former WriterGirl, puts the anti-soccer bloggers in their place. Well done.
I have a busy day today, so I won't be posting for awhile. Coming tonight: I take on Glenn Reynolds (who by then will have blogged so much today that he will no doubt have forgotten the posts I want to discuss).
World Cup Today

Italy advances to the second round, thanks to a late goal against Mexico, resulting in a 1-1 draw, combined with Ecuador's upset victory over Croatia.

Unless you're Italian, this has to be considered a mixed blessing. The Italians are capable of beautiful soccer, but in crucial games they are among the most notorious practitioners of the kind of excessively defensive play that's truly painful to watch. Italy was responsible for the dreadful final in 1994—they clearly had decided that they could not outscore Brazil, so their best option was not even to try, but to do everything possible to force a 0-0 draw and take their chances on penalty kicks. The first part of the plan worked, alienating millions of initially-curious Americans in the process. The second part, quite deservedly, failed when Baggio missed a shot he had to make.

Italian forwards are also known for collapsing as if shot and rolling on the ground in simulated agony whenever an opposing defender breathes on them. They dive like Louganis; they flop like "Ishtar." Thankfully, FIFA is cracking down on this nonsense, and Italy earned two yellow cards for "simulating" today.

That said, it would have been an injustice if Italy hadn't advanced. The Italians had two goals disallowed against Croatia, both of them on highly questionable calls, and two more disallowed today, the first on a debatable offside call. It's hard to win when, every time you score, the ref waives off the goal for one bogus reason or another.

Today's results in Group G set up some interesting possibilities for the US as it heads into tomorrow's match against Poland. If the US finishes first in the group, a very real possibility at this point, it would face Italy, a game sure to produce torn feelings in this nation of immigrants. If the US finishes second, its opponent would be Mexico, with whom the US has developed a strong rivalry over the past decade. And there's always the possibility of elimination, which would require (as I understand it) a loss to Poland combined with a narrow victory by Portugal over South Korea. A lot rides on tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 12

Dodging the Mets?

Hah! I beat ESPN to this one!

Of course, in my case, it was the groundless speculation of a non-athletic blogger, not the groundless speculation of members of the Mets. But still ... yet another triumph for the blogosphere, I say!

Blogroll Update

I've added a number of sites to the links in the left column, sites that I've come to enjoy over the two months or so that I've been rattling around in the blogosphere.

First, a few sites by academics or soon-to-be academics. Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom shows a nimble and playful mind (I still love the deconstruction of Dr. Seuss he posted ten days ago). Jeff was kind enough to add me to his blogroll, for which I am truly grateful. Michael Tinkler, the self-styled Cranky Professor, generally seems a bit more cheerful than his nom de plume would suggest (and he's exceedingly polite, too). And Jeff Sackmann, a soon-to-be graduate student with whom I've sparred previously, writes interestingly about education issues.

There are lots of blogs by lawyers out there (who'd have thought they'd have the time?), but few of them actually focus on legal issues. One exception is Howard J. Bashman, who offers superb coverage of the federal courts of appeals, the workings of which form the subject of much of my scholarly writing.

In the more general category, N.Z. Bear seems to capture nicely the spirit of the blogosphere; he also features an innovative ranking of bloggers by the number of links they give and the number they receive. Note that this particular microbe is not on the list. Yet. Joe Katzman offers a true warblog, writing (often with great insight) on issues relating to the war on terror. And Bruce Hill, a Kiwi convert to Judaism living in Australia, is a self-described "ex-leftie, pushed over the edge into savage right-wing thinking by the current unpleasantness." I may not have moved as far as Bruce has, but I certainly understand the sentiment.

I've listed a number of more liberal/left bloggers in an effort to bring some ideological balance to my list and make it more accurately reflect my own thinking. Jason Rylander, a D.C. lawyer who graciously linked to me yesterday, writes thoughtfully and often elegantly from a Democratic perspective. Atrios writes in a more acerbic style, better calculated to rally the true believers than to persuade the undecided, but offers some interesting, pointed observations. MaxSpeak focuses principally on economic issues. Matthew Yglesias is a rising Harvard senior who first brought the "American Jihad" commencement speech to my attention. He writes well on a range of public issues. And Demosthenes seems to have made it a personal mission to counter the generally right-leaning tilt of the blogosphere.

Finally, I've included a couple of sportsblogs. Dan Lewis is an actual sportwriter who just may be a Mets fan. And Eric McErlain (who writes about more than sports) offers an interesting free market sports fan manifesto.

World Cup Today

At the beginning of 3 Lions, Baddiel & Skinner's 1996 England football anthem, an analyst's voice is heard saying of the English side: "We're not creative enough, and we're not positive enough." Got that right. For all the excitement that surrounds a game like last Friday's 1-0 victory over Argentina, England is easily capable of the dullest, most uninspired soccer imaginable. And that's just what they played today. The already-eliminated Nigerians had much the better of play until just before the half, when a brilliant long shot by Paul Scholes, barely deflected into the post by the Nigerian keeper, ignited a brief England flurry. With rare exceptions, the second half was no better, and the game ended in that most dismal of soccer scores, a 0-0 draw. Yes, it was hot. Yes, England only needed a draw to advance. But come on, world-class sides play better than this.

England moves on to play Denmark and then (if England wins that game) in all likelihood Brazil. Had England beated Nigeria, the road to the semifinals would have been substantially easier. Unless England can reveal previously unseen depths, football's not coming anywhere near home this year.

South Carolina Election Update

Support for Charlie Condon appears to have evaporated in the week before yesterday's South Carolina Republican primary, as Condon finished third behind former Congressman Mark Sanford and Lt. Governor Bob Peeler. Sanford and Peeler will now face off in a runoff election on June 25 for the right to face Governor Jim Hodges in November.

Of the two remaining candidates, Sanford is the "moderate." He opposes the repeal of the state's property tax, which Peeler (and Condon) supported. He wants to eliminate the state's income tax instead.

Tuesday, June 11

"American Jihad": Epilogue

In the end, the controversy surrounding Harvard student commencement speaker Zayed Yasin and his address, originally titled "American Jihad," fizzled. A few students protested, a few cheered enthusiastically, and most seem to have received it as most commencement speeches are received, with suppressed yawns and polite applause.

Perhaps the only truly surprising news concerning the controversy in its final days was the revelation that a Harvard dean was largely responsible for the address's original (and, to my mind, offensive) title:

A Harvard dean, Michael Shinagel, who helped select Yasin and worked on the speech, yesterday took responsibility for some of the controversy, saying he was the person who endorsed ''American Jihad'' as a pithy title while he and Yasin were discussing some longer ones.

''I thought a shorter title would be more punchy,'' Shinagel said. ''I hoped having a moderate Arab voice giving this speech could return the term to its moderate and original meaning. But I miscalculated as to what a hot button the word has become.''

That Dean Shinagel could honestly think that a commencement address titled "American Jihad" would not produce controversy less than nine months after September 11 suggests just how distorted the view from the ivory tower can be.

Al-Qaeda's Status?

Joe Katzman offers some well-developed thoughts on what the capture of Abdullah Al Muhajir might tell us about the status of Al-Qaeda's future plans for the future. G-d willing, he's right.

World Cup Today

France's defeat by Denmark and resulting early departure from this year's World Cup plainly demonstrates the danger of staying too long with a once-successful formula. Four years ago, France rode home-field advantage and a skilled side to World Cup victory. Two years ago in the European Cup, with the World Cup team largely intact, France struggled a bit but ultimately prevailed again, beating Italy for the championship (I was in Paris on the night of the final, staying in an apartment near the Champs-Elysées. I could barely follow the rapid-fire commentary on French television, but really one didn't even need to have the picture on to tell what was happening—the ebb and flow of the game was readily apparent from the cheers and groans emanating from open windows throughout the neighborhood.). This year, with the same core of now-aging players, France not only failed to advance out of the first round—the first defending champion to do so since Brazil in 1966—but failed to score a single goal. France now has little choice but to start again from scratch.

Ireland, meanwhile, has advanced with a 3-0 defeat of Saudi Arabia. I turned the game on with about 20 minutes left in the first half, and while Ireland was up by a goal, its chances looked dim. Ireland needed to win by two to be absolutely certain of advancing, a formidable task for a side that had never scored more than one goal in a World Cup match. And during those 20 minutes before the half, Ireland was thoroughly outplayed by a dismal Saudi team. The Irish looked uncreative and slow afoot, unable to string together a series of passes and unable to beat the Saudi players to the long ball. The Saudis, meanwhile, played with flair and created a number of excellent scoring chances. Whatever Irish coach Mick McCarthy said at the half worked, though, because a different Irish side emerged in the second half, playing confidently and moving the ball smartly. Ireland still had trouble moving the ball into the goal area, but Gary Breen volleyed in a free kick to give Ireland the two goals it needed, and Damian Duff clinched the win in the final minutes with a shot that veteran Saudi keeper Mohammed Al Deayea misplayed like a nervous rookie. By watching this game, I missed Germany scoring two shorthanded goals to defeat Cameroon, but despite their general lack of polish I've long had a bit of a soft spot for the Irish team.

Roger the Dodger

Roger Clemens has once again proved himself a bully and a coward, a bully by hitting Barry Bonds quite intentionally with a pitch on Sunday and a coward by doing so in a game in which, thanks to the DH, Clemens himself did not have to bat (Clemens also showed cowardice by walking Bonds the three other times they faced each other during the game). Major League Baseball is investigating and, as Clemens is a recidivist, will likely impose some discipline. Which leads to the interesting question: did Clemens hit Bonds because he wanted to be suspended?

Clemens's next start, after all, is scheduled for this weekend at Shea Stadium, where he will have to bat against a Mets team that remembers how Clemens threw at Mike Piazza's head during the 2000 regular season and threw a broken bat at him during the World Series. Clemens is virtually certain to go down, and go down hard, against the Mets (Dan Lewis has an interesting thought about how this could be achieved without causing the ejection of the Mets' own starting pitcher). Unless, that is, he can't make the start because of a suspension. Roger the Dodger indeed.

Monday, June 10

Campaign Deceptions and Delusions

I spent last week in South Carolina, which was busy gearing up for tomorrow’s primary election. South Carolina has a gubernatorial race this year, and with seven Republicans battling for the right to face incumbent Democrat Jim Hodges, there was plenty of free-swinging advertising on television. The basic themes were not surprising: taxes, a hard line on crime, and conservative values took center stage. And among this crop, one candidate's ads struck me with particular force. Ladies and gentlemen, meet South Carolina Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Condon.

In a state that is already quite conservative, Condon’s candidacy appears to be pitched to cultural conservatives and the ultra-right--and it appears to be working.

Condon’s ads make two claims, one about his past performance and one about his future plans, that are startling in their audacity and, ultimately, in their duplicity. First, to establish his bona fides as a man who achieves results and keeps his word, Condon claims that, as attorney general, he abolished plea bargains. At this my prosecutor wife snorted with derision. Anyone who has spent any time dealing with the criminal justice system knows that without plea bargains the system would quickly grind to a halt. To try all or nearly all cases (which would surely be the result if defendants had no hope of improving their position by entering a guilty plea) would require far more prosecutors, more public defenders, more judges, and, yes, more jury duty than the public is willing to pay for. To be sure, many prosecutors’ offices operate under guidelines that greatly restrict individual prosecutors’ ability to offer concessions in plea negotiations. In the office where Katherine worked for five years, for example, prosecutors as a rule could not engage in “charge bargaining”--a defendant wishing to enter a guilty plea had to plead to the most severe charge. Beyond that, though, a fair amount of room remained to bargain over sentencing. And it needed to be so. Katherine’s caseload and those of her colleagues were so great that they could not possibly have tried every case that reached their desks. Their jobs would have been unthinkable without plea bargaining. And of course Condon never did abolish plea bargaining altogether; he merely “worked to ban plea bargains for repeat violent offenders," a much more limited (and more defensible) goal. But the abolition of plea bargains apparently is red meat for the ultra-right, so into the commercial it goes.

Turning to his future plans, Condon builds his candidacy around a pledge to abolish South Carolina's property taxes. This can be achieved, Condon's ads assert, without increasing either the income tax or the sales tax.

Well, no. Condon plans to maintain a balanced budget despite the lost revenue from property taxes, an amount that, as a slide show at Condon's web site notes, amounts to "only" thirty percent of the state government's revenue (and I'd invite anyone who thinks that's an insignificant amount to contemplate life with a thirty percent reduction in pay). How will this be achieved? By "cost savings," of course, in three categories. The first seems to be no more than the usual promise to cap government costs. The second is savings from the dismantling the infrastructure needed to collect property taxes. And the third is the elimination of loopholes in the sales tax, which will raise $907,050,000 by applying the sales tax to trivial, now-exempt items like, you know, food.

But wait: how does raising additional revenue qualify as "cost saving"? Doesn't it sound more like, um, a tax increase? Yes, I know, rates would stay the same. But under Condon's plan, South Carolinians would be paying far more out-of-pocket in sales tax than they do now. That's not cost-saving. And even so, there would be a shortfall of over $860 million, which would have to be offset by, yes, tax increases. To discover this tidbit, of course, one would have to investigate the details of Condon's plan; it's not mentioned anywhere in his ads.

I'd like to think that the, well, let's be generous and call them "half-truths" in Condon's ads merely reflect the limitations imposed by the thirty-second format. But, really, this just seems like more of the usual Republican duplicity on taxes that now dates back more than two decades. And, unfortunately, this nonsense continues to work, at least among Republican primary voters: in an April poll, Condon trailed only Lt. Governor Bob Peeler--who also centers his candidacy around a pledge to eliminate personal property taxes without increasing other taxes. Even more unrealistic than Condon, he would rely entirely on cutting waste, cracking down on "tax deadbeats," and another old and now regrettably absent favorite, economic growth, to make up for the lost revenue. People who genuinely believe that these things can be done without severe consequences for the state are living in fantasyland. For South Carolina's sake, I sincerely hope that the voters come to their senses in November.

(Update: Once again, I am working largely from memory, and it occurs to me that the claim to be able to eliminate property taxes without raising other taxes may come from Peeler's ads rather than from Condon's. This would make Condon's ads less duplicitous, although no more realistic. Condon's ads are available at his website, but they don't play on Macs, even ones equipped with the latest versions of Quicktime, Real Player, and Windows Media Player).

First Soccer, Next Basketball?

Anyone feeling overly confident about the US's continued dominance in international basketball should be paying close attention to this year's World Cup, in which soccer powers like France and Portugal have fallen to the likes of Senegal and the United States. The traditional order may still assert itself in the remaining two-and-a-half weeks of the tournament, but in the first ten days the playing field appears to have been leveled considerably. Why is this happening now? Michael Lewis writes at (and keep in mind that the US is a third-world nation in soccer terms):

The gap has been closed between the haves and have-nots. Germany stomping over Saudi Arabia was the exception, not the rule. More and more players from these Third World soccer countries are playing in Europe these days, giving them an opportunity to play against the best, improve their game and hone their skills. Plus, many more National Teams are more sophisticated these days. Many Third World countries are coached by knowledgeable and well-respected foreigners who know how to get the best out of players.

This day is coming in basketball, as more and more foreign players come to the NBA. It most likely will not arrive later this summer, when Indianapolis hosts the FIBA World Championships. But it is coming.

Assisted Suicide

Steve Den Beste presents a brief argument in favor of assisted suicide today. His proposals are hardly original, and he does not purport to address all of the nuances that would have to accompany implementation, but he states the basic case poignantly and well.

World Cup Today

TAPPED has it exactly right: Jeff Agoos must go, and right now. Not only did the US defender score for Portugal in the opener, his repeated stupid and inept plays today allowed South Korea to tie the US and, if not for the astounding play of keeper Brad Friedel, could easily have produced a US loss. The US is in good shape after two games, better shape than anyone reasonably could have anticipated before play began last week, but the team still needs at least a point against Poland to wrap up a spot in the second round. And Poland is bound to be in a very ugly mood after today's drubbing by Portugal (I watched most of the Portugal-Poland game this morning while playing with Noah, and one thought kept running through my mind: "How on earth did we beat these guys?"). The US can't afford a weak link at such a crucial position in such a crucial game.

Sunday, June 9

Henry Dewerth-Jaffe, my best friend from law school, has started a blog dedicated to the Philadelphia Phillies, of all things. I say "of all things" because, when we first met, Henry was a diehard fan of the New York Mets. Indeed, that's how we met. At a party for first-year students, a classmate came over to me and said, "There's someone you have to meet—he's an even bigger Mets fan than you." Henry and I bandied about some statistics to demonstrate our bona fides, then became fast friends. That Henry is now devoted to the Phillies speaks not only to the distance we've each come since law school, but also to the nature of fandom itself, at least among those who are seriously committed to a sport.

The most remarkable baseball game I attended, more remarkable than the game at Fenway in July 1990 when the Red Sox grounded into not one but two 5-4-3 triple plays, was the final game of the 1991 season, played between two teams long out of contention on a cold, damp, dreary Philadelphia day. In that game, the Mets' David Cone was as close to unhittable as any pitcher who actually surrenders a hit (or in this case two) can be. As the game wore on, and Phillie after Phillie returned to the dugout dragging his bat behind, Henry and I realized that, at the rate he was compiling strikeouts, Cone had a legitimate shot at tying or breaking the major league record of 20, then held by Roger Clemens (Clemens has since repeated the feat, and Kerry Wood has matched it; Randy Johnson also equaled the total, but in a game that went into extra innings). Late into the game, however, most of the crowd remained oblivious to what they were seeing, and Henry and I howled with outrage and disbelief as Phillies fans left by the thousands after their team failed to score in the bottom of the eighth.

Cone took the mound for the ninth with eighteen k's and struck out the leadoff hitter, tying the National League record then held by Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton (a note: this is all from memory, as my scorecard is inaccessible in temporary storage). The next batter grounded out, meaning that Cone could not break but could still tie the record. And his chances seemed good, as to the plate strode Dale Murphy, a two-time MVP in his final year as an every-day player, his skills having atrophied significantly. Cone had already struck out Murphy twice during the game, and he quickly got two strikes on the aging slugger. Cone then threw an off-speed pitch; Murphy lunged at it, badly off-balance, and barely made contact, dribbling the ball foul. On the next pitch, Murphy hit an easy ground ball, and the game was over. Cone had fallen short, but it still was a game for the ages. It also marked the end of Henry's last full season as a fan of the Mets.

True fandom is not a fickle thing: a fan remains loyal through bad times as well as good. The Mets of the early 1990s were a team to try the patience of even the most devoted fan, a group of surly, bickering, overpaid underachievers. Nevertheless, I continued to follow the team closely despite the pain they caused.

But sometimes a team can push a fan too far. The Mets did so to me once, in June 1977, when the autocratic general manager M. Donald Grant drove Tom Seaver from town, sending him to Cincinnati at the trading deadline for four nobodies. I was 12 at the time, weeks shy of my thirteenth birthday, and at the height of my passion for baseball even as the Mets began a long decline. Tom Seaver was my hero—had been since I first became a baseball fan in 1970—and by trading him the Mets had betrayed my trust and broken my heart. I cried that day, and swore that I would not attend another Mets game until the team had changed hands. I switched my attention to the Yankees, an easy thing to do in the days of Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter, but my passion never followed, and with new ownership in place in 1980 I returned to Shea Stadium to cheer for the Mets, even though there arguably was not a single player on that 1980 team that could have cracked the Yankees' lineup.

Henry reached his breaking point in 1992, because of another trading-deadline deal. That year, the Mets, having fallen from contention, sent David Cone to the Toronto Blue Jays for Ryan Thompson (a great Triple A player—he's currently a mainstay for the Indianapolis Indians—but more or less a washout as a major leaguer) and Jeff Kent (now an all-star for the San Francisco Giants, but then brash, petulant, error-prone, and inconsistent at the plate). The trade of Cone represented a surrender of sorts, an acknowledgment that the Mets as then configured had no future, but it also removed one of the few remaining positive elements from the team. The betrayal was surely not as great for Henry, at the age of 27, as the Seaver trade was for me at age 12, but it was also the last straw, the final step in a series of awful transactions that had unmade the dominant Mets team of the mid-1980s.

That explains why Henry left the Mets. But why the Phillies? On his page, Henry cites his son's love of the Phillies, but Sam was not yet even a twinkle in his father's eye when Henry switched allegiances. Geography, of course, played a role—living in the Delaware Valley, Henry found himself surrounded by Phillies talk. It's hard to avoid. I'm a fan of the New York Giants, but living in Indianapolis, where the Colts dominate the radio talk shows from April (or whenever the Pacers are eliminated from the playoffs) to January, I have developed a passing interest in the Colts as well. There's never any doubt where my true loyalty lies, but I do take note of how the Colts fare and take some pleasure at their occasional successes. Henry could have been excused, then, for paying some attention to the Phillies. And, let's face it, the 1993 Phillies were an easy team to like, a scrappy group of characters led by Lenny Dykstra (formerly one of the sparkplugs of the 1986 Mets) and John Kruk; a bunch of over-achievers; everything, in short, that the Mets no longer were.

But still, the Phillies. This ultimately is where I have a problem with Henry's conversion. Some things are set early in life and should never change. Pete Rose was despicable long before his gambling habits were revealed, because he beat up the Mets' Buddy Harrelson in the 1973 NL League Championship Series. And in 1979 Rose joined the Phillies, the team that had already become ascendant as the Mets went into decline, the team of the ox-like Greg Luzinski, the aloof Steve Carlton and the sullen Mike Schmidt (a superb player, to be sure, but hard to like, especially early in his career). A team of bullies, in short, a team that could not be redeemed even by the presence of the once-beloved Tug McGraw in the bullpen. For Mets fans of a certain age, loathing of the Phillies runs deep. While at law school, I attended a lot of Phillies games, just as I attended a lot of Orioles games when I worked in Washington, D.C. But I was never in danger of becoming a fan. The Phillies. Ugh.

So why, Henry? Why?