Saturday, July 13

Two Months

This site has had an eventful few days, and not only because Blogger was acting up much of yesterday (that's two Fridays in a row, for those keeping score). On Wednesday, thanks to a mention and a link by Ted Barlow, the site had its best traffic yet, surpassing 100 visits for the first time. Thursday started strong, too, with a good number of "unknowns" showing up in the referrer logs. (I love those—it means someone has bookmarked the site, or at least remembers the url). By Thursday evening, traffic was returning to its usual pace. I looked at the counter, sighed contentedly, and figured that I could look forward to my 2,000th visit some time this weekend.

Then, at about 9:20, as I was working on my post about competitive balance, I checked my referrer log. The most recent referrer was listed by an IP address, http://64.247.33.250/, rather than by a conventional url. I couldn't identify it immediately, although the number looked vaguely familiar. I clicked back to my counter, and noticed that there had been five new visitors in the minute since I'd last checked. And it hit me: I'd been linked by Instapundit. The floodgates opened; over the next 24 hours, thanks to Glenn's link and a link from the blogosphere's other powerful law professor, Eugene Volokh, my counter passed not only 2,000 but 3,000 as well. I had more visits yesterday than I did in the entire month of June.

Things have returned more or less to normal now: there's more traffic than on previous Saturdays, but it's not greater by orders of magnitude, as yesterday was. And amazing as it was yesterday to watch the counter advance, I'm reminded that the most rewarding aspect of writing this blog (which I began two months ago today) hasn't been watching the counter; it's been the pure experience of writing, as well as the exchanges I've had with Jason Rylander, N.Z. Bear, Eric McErlain, Ted Barlow, Ann Salisbury, Eugene Volokh, Howard Bashman, and others, including several readers. I wouldn't have encountered these lively and interesting folks if I hadn't started blogging. I've learned a lot from this experience, and while I'm sure that my posting rate will decline when classes resume next month, I look forward to continuing.

The Downside of the Twenty-first Amendment

Orange County lawyer-blogger Ann Salisbury, having read my weekly wine posts, wrote to me to suggest that I visit the web site of one of her favorite local wine retailers, an outfit that apparently does substantial business over the internet. Alas, Indiana is a felony state: since 1998 it has been a felony for any out-of-state entity to ship wine or other alcoholic beverages directly to Indiana residents. I used to buy several cases a year from another Orange County wine merchant, but since the felony law went into effect retailers are understandably reluctant to ship here.

A group of Hoosier wine lovers, including Garfield cartoonist Jim Davis, challenged the constitutionality of the law, claiming that it violated the "dormant commerce clause" by allowing the state to place a discriminatory burden on interstate commerce. Unfortunately, while the plaintiffs persuaded the district court to declare the statute unconstitutional, a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed, as Judge Easterbrook, writing for the court, concluded that the Twenty-First Amendment trumped the dormant commerce clause. While similar lawsuits elsewhere in the country have been successful, the Seventh Circuit's decision definitively resolves the constitutionality of the Indiana law for the foreseeable future.

Any change in the law, then, will have to come from the state legislature. And that's unlikely. Although statutes like Indiana's are frequently promoted as a way of keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors (as if teenagers were seeking out fine Bordeaux), the real driving forces behind the statute are the state's wholesalers, who form a powerful lobby in the legislature and who want to ensure that they continue to get their piece of every sale to consumers within the state. Wine collectors have not been numerous enough, well organized enough, or well funded enough to counter the wholesalers' lobby. But who knows—if my friend and colleague David Orentlicher is successful in his campaign for a seat in the legislature, maybe I'll be able to persuade him to revisit the issue.

Friday, July 12

Dean for President

Matthew Yglesias takes issue with a Washington Post article stating that Vermont governor and likely presidential candidate Howard Dean is following Jimmy Carter's 1976 campaign model. Matthew believes that Dean's real role model is Jed Bartlett. An interesting suggestion. Although I haven't yet chosen a favorite candidate (anyone but Gore is my current preference), I must admit that I'm intrigued by Dean, about whom I've been hearing for a few years from my mother, a Vermont resident. There are some definite parallels between Dean and Bartlett, even beyond their New England governorships. But much as I love The West Wing, I've never been able to believe that the American voters would elect Bartlett president. And I have to think that Dean knows better than to model his campaign on a fictional character.

Conviction for Medicinal Marijuana Use

Devra M. notes the conviction of Brian James Epis on federal drug charges in Sacramento. By his own account, Epis smoked marijuana to relieve chronic pain and helped to grow marijuana for a "cannabis buyers' club." California state law permits medicinal use of marijuana on a doctor's recommendation. According to the Sacramento Bee, Epis's conviction carries a mandatory minimun sentence of ten years' imprisonment.

I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, our federal policy toward marijuana is, in my view, unnecessarily draconian, and the enforcement of federal law on this occasion clearly frustrates the ability of the states to serve as laboratories for the testing of new policies. On the other hand, the federal law in question was well known at the time California passed its law permitting medicinal use of marijuana, and under the Constitution the states lack the authority to abrogate federal law, however well-meaning their actions might be. Given the clear interstate aspects of drug trafficking, as well as the Constitution's Supremacy Clause, the federal law would have trumped California law even if the California law had been enacted first, although in those circumstances at least the policy arguments in favor of federalism would have been stronger. In any event, for those who oppose the federal law, the proper course of action is to seek to change the federal law, not to push for state laws that would produce different results.

Les Entrepreneurs, Encore

Prompted by Robert Musil's post that I noted the other day, Atrios , after a long and heated debate in his comment pages about what the French really mean when they say "entrepreneur," produces compelling evidence that when they say "entrepreneur" they mean, well, "entrepreneur." In other words, Musil isn't nearly as clever as he thinks. And, based on the evidence of this statement, neither is the president.

Iran, Anyone?

N.Z. Bear, Dave Trowbridge, Pejman Yousefzadeh, and John Weidner, among others, have extensive commentary on the protests, resignations, and violence in Iran this week. The major media, by contrast, has been strangely silent—N.Z. Bear had to go to the BBC for news. Neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times has anything on their websites today about the events in Iran; aside from Michael Ledeen at NRO, there's very little coverage in this country. And, as Ledeen notes, the State Department has declined to comment.

The whole situation is very odd. Iran is, after all, one-third of the president's "axis of evil." It has weapons of mass destruction; it has missiles capable of delivering those weapons throughout the middle east and central Asia, including of course Israel; it is a principal supporter of Hizbullah and has shipped arms to the Palestinian Authority. All of these actions are at the direction of the country's ruling mullahs, against whom significant portions of the population are now protesting. And yet we in the US are strangely silent.

John Weidner and N.Z. Bear are formulating a plan for collective action within the blogosphere. There has been a fair amount of heat among bloggers recently, but this, surely, is something on which the vast majority of us can agree. It's a small step, but it's still a step.

A Note

To Instapundit readers who saw the words "Jeff Cooper" and "arming" in Glenn's post and then were confused upon arriving here: I'm not that Jeff Cooper.

Thursday, July 11

Competitive Balance

I've been meaning to add Charles Kuffner's Off the Kuff to the blogroll, and the fact that he has now added me to his gives me the prompt I need. I thought his final post reflecting on the "conservative bloggers must condemn Cal Thomas" flurry that occupied so many bloggers last week was particularly well done. And he's bold enough to suggest that the 2004 Democratic ticket will be John Kerry-John McCain (or maybe the other way around, I can't tell).

I do take issue, though, with a post he made yesterday about competitive balance in professional sports. Charles's point, as I understood it, was that competitive balance in baseball has not been hurt by the fact that its player market, unlike those in basketball and baseball, is relatively unrestrained:

In the last 20 years, how many baseball, football, and basketball teams have played for their sports' championship?

Basketball - 14 of 31 teams (Boston, Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, Detroit, Chicago, Indiana, LA Lakers, Seattle, Portland, Phoenix, Houston, San Antonio, Utah)

Football - 18 of 31 teams (Buffalo, Miami, New England, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Denver, Oakland, San Diego, Dallas, NY Giants, Washington, Chicago, Green Bay, Atlanta, St. Louis, San Francisco)

Baseball - 20 of 30 teams (NY Yankees, Boston, Baltimore, Toronto, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, Kansas City, Oakland, NY Mets, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Florida, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona)

And look at the 10 who haven't: Seattle is a pretty good bet to get to one soon. The Angels are three games out of first place. The Astros and Rangers have made the playoffs consistently in recent years. Pittsburgh was a champ in 1979 and had three excellent shots at the Series in the early 90s. Montreal might have made it in 1994 had it not been for the strike. The only complete loser is the expansion Devil Rays. Baseball is the only sport of the three to have a recent expansion team as champions (Florida and Arizona).

I don't deny any of the factual information that Charles presents, but I do dispute its significance. The timeline that Charles presents goes back too far to support his conclusions. Baseball in 1982 was in a very different economic place than it is today. In 1982, the average salary was $245,000. In 1988, Ozzie Smith had the highest salary in baseball, $2,340,000; that amount almost exactly matches the 2002 average salary of $2,384,779. Baseball teams don't share anywhere near the revenues that their counterparts in football and basketball do, so the tremendous increase in salaries has had an effect on the ability of small-market teams to compete.

Rather than looking at two full decades, let's look at what's happened in Major League Baseball and the NFL since 1995, when baseball's last collective bargaining agreement was signed. The NFL at that point had operated for a couple of years under a salary cap, which baseball's then-new collective bargaining agreement lacked. Comparisons between baseball and football are easy because during the relevant period the Major Leagues and the NFL had the same number of divisions and roughly the same number of teams (28-30 for baseball, 30-31 for football).

(I'm leaving out the NBA for a couple of reasons. First, the NBA had four divisions rather than six during the relevant period, so comparisons of first-place finishes are difficult. Second, basketball teams field only five players and rarely use more than eight per game on a consistent basis. A basketball team with two genuine superstars is likely either to win a championships (San Antonio, with David Robinson and Tim Duncan), possibly in large numbers (Chicago with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the Lakers with Shaq and Kobie), or at least to compete for championships on a consistent basis (the Jazz with Karl Malone and John Stockton). As football requires 22 starters, while baseball requires 8 players in the field plus a five-man pitching rotation and a bullpen, it is much harder for a football team or a baseball team to be dominant over an extended period than it is for a basketball team).

Here are the division winners and wild card teams in baseball from 1995 to 2001 (source data here):


1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
AL E
BOS
NYY
BAL
NYY
NYY
NYY
NYY
AL C
CLE
CLE
CLE
CLE
CLE
CHW
CLE
AL W
SEA
TEX
SEA
TEX
TEX
OAK
SEA
AL WC
NYY
SEA
NYY
BOS
BOS
SEA
OAK
NL E
ATL
ATL
ATL
ATL
ATL
ATL
ATL
NL C
CIN
STL
HOU
HOU
HOU
STL
HOU
NL W
LA
SD
SF
SD
AZ
SF
AZ
NL WC
CO
LA
FL
CHC
NYM
NYM
STL

Here are the World Series participants from 1995 (* denotes the winner):

1995
Atlanta* vs. Cleveland
1996
Atlanta vs. NY Yankees*
1997
Florida* vs. Cleveland
1998
San Diego vs. NY Yankees*
1999
Atlanta vs. NY Yankees*
2000
NY Mets vs. NY Yankees*
2001
Arizona* vs. NY Yankees

The results are interesting. In the AL East, three of the five teams won division championships, but there's no question that the Yankees were the dominant team, with five division titles and wild cards in the two years they didn't lead the division. In the AL Central, the Indians won six of the seven titles (although they surely won't repeat this year). In the NL East, Atlanta led the division every single year. In the NL Central, with the exception of 1995, titles were won either by Houston or St. Louis. Only the two western divisions were truly competitive, with multiple teams winning repeat championships. As for championships, only four teams won a World Series during the relevant period (the Yankees took four), and the fourteen available spots were taken by seven teams.

Now let's compare baseball with football. In the NFL, there are three wild card teams per conference; to make the comparison with baseball work, I've noted only the top-finishing wild card team. Here are the results (source data here):


1995
1996 1997
1998
1999 2000
2001
AFC E
BUF
NE
NE
NYJ
IND
MIA
NE
AFC C
PIT
PIT
PIT
JAX
JAX
TEN
PIT
AFC W
KC
DEN
KC
DEN
SEA
OAK
OAK
AFC 1WC
SD
BUF
DEN
MIA
TEN
BAL
MIA
NFC E
DAL
DAL
NYG
DAL
WAS
NYG
PHI
NFC C
GB
GB
GB
MIN
TB
MIN
CHI
NFC W
SF
CAR
SF
ATL
STL
NO
STL
NFC 1 WC
PHI
SF
TB
SF
MIN
PHI
GB

Here are the Super Bowl teams (* denotes the winner):

1995
Dallas* vs. Pittsburgh
1996
Green Bay* vs. New England
1997
Green Bay vs. Denver*
1998
Atlanta vs. Denver*
1999
St. Louis* vs. Tennessee
2000
NY Giants vs. Baltimore*
2001
St. Louis vs. New England*

Even a quick glance will show that the results are very different in the NFL. In both eastern divisions and the NFC West, each of the five teams won at least one division title between 1995 and 2001. In the AFC West, four of the five teams won divisions; San Diego was shut out, but the Chargers had won the division and played in the Super Bowl in 1994, and they were the top AFC wild card team in 1995. In the NFC Central, only the Detroit Lions didn't win a title (and while they were never the top wild card, they did make the playoffs in 1995, 1997, and 1999). Only in the AFC Central was there more than one team that did not win a division title, and even this is a bit deceptive, as the Baltimore Ravens won a Super Bowl after finishing the 2000 season as the top wild card team. Only three teams—the expansion Browns, the hapless Bengals, and the three-time wild card Lions—are absent from the chart. And six different teams won championships in the seven-year period; ten different teams filled the fourteen Super Bowl slots.

We're operating from something of a limited data set here, but it sure looks like there's greater competitive balance in the NFL, operating under a salary cap, than there is in Major League Baseball, which lacks a cap. You can, I suppose, argue about whether competitive balance is a good or necessary thing. But as for whether it exists, I reach a different conclusion from Charles: in the recent past, football has had it, and baseball has not.

Are Lawyers Rude Because It Works?

Courtesy of a law professors' mailing list that I'm on, here's a case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in which a lawyer, appealing the imposition of sanctions against him for obnoxious and insulting behavior, contended that his behavior was justified because it obtained positive results for his clients. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the sanctions:

After listening to the oral arguments of the parties and closely examining the record, we conclude that the sanctioned lawyer in this case, Harvey Greenfield, was appropriately sanctioned by the bankruptcy court. His attitude and remarks toward opposing attorneys, opposing parties, and the bankruptcy court were--to understate his conduct--obnoxious. Although incivility in and of itself is call for concern, what is most disconcerting here is the rationale Greenfield gives for his behavior. Greenfield asserts that his deplorable and wholly unprofessional conduct helps him recover more money for his clients. Unremorsefully and brazenly, Greenfield contends that his egregious behavior serves him well in settlement negotiations and is therefore appropriate.
***
Greenfield does not dispute the factual basis of the bankruptcy court's sanction order. He thus concedes that he made the myriad rude and insulting comments outlined above. Greenfield defends his comments in two ways. First, he argues that the statements he made were, for the most part, correct. We find this argument utterly meritless. Greenfield was never engaged in stating plain facts--he was engaged in hurling gratuitous and hyperbolic insults. Second, Greenfield argues that the actions of both the court and the opposing attorneys caused his abusive conduct. Obviously, any error on the part of the court or motive on the part of opposing attorneys in filing the sanction motion did not give Greenfield carte blanche to launch personal attacks and to defy the court's directive to cease his wholly unprofessional conduct.
The only cognizable argument Greenfield makes is that the sanction imposed was unduly harsh. Sanctions must be chosen to employ "the least possible power to the end proposed." Spallone v. United States, 493 U.S. 265, 280 (1990) (quoting Anderson v. Dunn, 6 Wheat. 204, 231 (1821)). In other words, the sanctioning court must use the least restrictive sanction necessary to deter the inappropriate behavior. Here, the bankruptcy court repeatedly urged Greenfield not to engage in personal attacks. He did not respond to either the oral or the written warnings of the bankruptcy court. We therefore hold that the bankruptcy court did not abuse its discretion by imposing a sanction of $25,000. Accordingly, the district court judgment affirming the bankruptcy court is
AFFIRMED.

As an academic, I'm frequently accused of having an unrealistic, idealized view of how the legal profession should operate. But based on the numerous instances of miserable conduct I observed during my days as a law clerk for a federal district court judge, as well as during my relatively brief period of practice, I have to say that I'm generally a big fan of sanctions.

Fly the Armed Skies

The House of Representatives yesterday passed a bill that would allow airline pilots to carry firearms while flying. I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, I understand the desire to have people on board with the capability of defending themselves and the plane from takeover attempts—who knows what might have happened on September 11 if the pilots of any of the four hijacked aircraft had been armed? On the other, I rather like the notion that pilots will concentrate on flying the plane. In any event, on balance it seems a defensible idea, as long as the choice is left to individual pilots.

In light of the House bill, Fusilier Pundit and Asparagirl advocate arming flight attendants as well. Now this strikes me as a genuinely bad idea, and not because of the sexism that Asparagirl suggests would underlie any opposition to the suggestion. I'm inclined to agree with John Branch (aka Tarheel Pundit):

There is a problem with having a gun in the passenger cabin and people knowing where that gun located. This means that there is a potential weapon onboard for the terrorists to use. A terrorist might therefore not have to bring a weapon on board; instead, a couple of them could just quickly overpower a flight attendant and take his or her weapon. I remember hearing about how the Sept. 11th hijackers had been training in martial arts, presumably to be able to overpower unruly passengers. If the flight attendants have guns, the terrorists could overpower one who was armed and then be able to take over the plane. This is not an issue with the pilots, who would keep their guns in the cockpit, or air marshals, whose identity (and therefore gun location) is not known, meaning that the access to their guns by passengers is almost impossible.

Whether it is feasible to have air marshals on all major flights is a fair question. But if firearms are to be carried in the main cabin of aircraft (still an open question), it is far preferable that they be in the hands of unidentified air marshals charged with a single task, rather than flight attendants charged with many other duties.

Update: John's permalinks are working now, so I've edited to include the proper link for his post.

Tax Freedom for Corporations

Alex Frantz (another victim of the Blogger archive bug) notes the date of "Tax Freedom Day"—the day on which an entity would be finished paying taxes for the year if all income were devoted to taxes until the tax liability was paid—for various corporations. According to the Tax Foundation, the date for the average American this year was April 27. Interestingly, as Alex points out, thanks to tax credits the 2002 date for many corporations was actually in 2001.

Wednesday, July 10

The All-Star Fiasco

With a possible strike looming, questions about widespread steroid use lingering, and attendance declining, baseball can ill afford to alienate its fans further. Yet the game suffered another black eye last night, as Commissioner Bud Selig declared the All-Star Game a tie and ended it in the 11th inning.

As Eric McErlain noted yesterday, baseball's All-Star Game used to be vastly superior to those of the other major sports, because both the players and the fans treated it as if it actually mattered. The NBA's game is fun, but the amazing displays of skill are cheapened somewhat by the fact that no one plays defense. And the NFL's Pro Bowl, with its anti-blitzing rules and its general lack of aggression, is a joke. Baseball's All-Star Game has lost some of its luster, as interleague play and increased player movement have reduced the distinctiveness of the two leagues made interleague meetings more mundane. But in some ways the All-Star Game remains unique: the pitchers don't groove batting-practice fastballs to the hitters, and the fielders still exert significant effort—witness Torii Hunter's leaping grab to rob Barry Bonds of a home run last night. Yes, the intensity may be turned down a bit—you'll probably never see anything like the 1970 Pete Rose-Ray Fosse collision in an All-Star Game again—but it's still baseball as we know it.

Or at least it was. Last night was inexcusable—baseball games in this country do not end in ties (only one previous All-Star Game has, and that was because of foul weather). On five prior occasions, an All-Star Game remained tied at the end of the 11th inning, and in each instance the game was played to a proper conclusion. I don't think anyone would contend that the game should be played endlessly—no one really wants or needs to see a 20-inning All-Star Game. But unlike 20-inning games, 11-inning games are not unusual. and the All-Star managers need to be prepared for the eventuality. Ending the game as it was ended was just another way of flipping off the fans, who, of course, are ultimately the ones who pay the players' enormous salaries. Is it any wonder that more and more are becoming disgusted?

Update: Charles Austin nicely captures what many of us are feeling today:

I read a story once about a golfer on the PGA Tour, who was talking with one of his friends about the rules for the round of golf they were getting ready to play. Since it was still early in the year, should they play winter rules and allow each player to pick up his ball and place it on ground more amenable to a good swing? About this time, Harvey Penick came by and suggested that they could play this other game with their own rules or they could play golf.

Reading this morning that Bud Selig cancelled the All-Star game after the bottom of the 11th, that summarizes pretty much how I now feel about Major League Baseball.... Mr. Selig and Mr. Fehr, if you're reading this, you can keep playing whatever it is you choose to call it today, or you can play baseball. If you choose to ever start playing baseball again then maybe I'll come back.

Another update: Tony Pierce has an excellent photo essay titled "There's No Tying in Baseball." And John Scalzi argues that, with both the owners and the players so badly out of touch, what baseball really needs is a strike. I'd tend to agree, if I didn't fear that my heart would break.

Pardonnez-Moi?

I promise I won't do this often. Yes, the president misspeaks with alarming frequency, but as someone who makes a living in part through spoken communication I know how easy it is to say something other than what you mean. But this particular Bushism, from the Times of London by way of Eric Alterman and Matthew Yglesias, is so mind-boggling that I couldn't resist:

"The problem with the French,” Bush confided in Blair, “is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur."

Update: Robert Musil (whose permalinks, like those of so many others on Blogspot, are acting very oddly) suggests that Bush's comment, if genuine, may have been a remarkably sophisticated, insightful, and ironic commentary on the decline of French civilization. Possible. But not bloody likely.

More Thanks

Ted Barlow (whose permalinks are not working) kindly takes note of this blog in a post suggesting that "the days of right-wing dominance of the blogosphere are pretty much over." I'm not sure that's the case—at least in terms of readership—but I agree that it's nice to see the emergence of more non-conservative/libertarian voices. Ted describes his blog as a "lowly hobby site[]," which is far too modest: it's an impressive piece of work. And I have to point out that mine is a "hobby site" as well, as is the case for the vast, vast majority of bloggers (how Mickey Kaus manages to get paid for his is an ever-increasing mystery).

Ted today expands on my post of last night (which I've retitled), explaining better than I did why Harken matters.

Principle and Politics at the Supreme Court

A number of blogs have pointed to a FindLaw op-ed by Julie Hilden, in which she suggests that the Supreme Court's recent 5-4 decision in Republican Party v. White (the judicial elections case) shows that the Court's identical split in Bush v. Gore was based on principle, not power politics.

Respectfully, I must disagree. As Eugene Volokh recently noted, the conservative wing of the Court is more receptive to First Amendment arguments than many people believe (read into this what you will about the likely fate of McCain-Feingold). The Republican Party decision thus is largely consistent with the majority's general jurisprudential approach. Bush v. Gore, by contrast, involved a novel application of the Equal Protection Clause, a provision that the conservative members of the Court generally do not read expansively. In addition, it involved an application that the per curiam opinion specifically limited to the facts of the case before it (thus implying that lawyers and courts should not attempt to apply the principles underlying the per curiam decision to other cases). It is these aspects of the Bush v. Gore opinion that led to the charge that the opinion was unprincipled. Nothing in Republican Party v. White does anything to challenge the assertion.

The fact that the composition of the majority in Republican Party v. White is identical to the majority in Bush v. Gore may appear superficially to be a matter of some interest. But as Howard Bashman points out, the split in Republican Party v. White (and in Bush v. Gore) is not at all uncommon: it occurred in seven other cases in this past Supreme Court term alone. Although both Republican Party v. White and Bush v. Gore involve elections, the principles at issue in the two cases are very different. The decision in the former ultimately says nothing about the nature of the decision in the latter.

Tuesday, July 9

Harken, Ye Pundits

Glenn Reynolds suggests that the Harken hubbub has died down. I'm sorry, did he miss the stories about reporters tittering at Bush's disingenuous answers to questions on the subject in yesterday's press conference? The blog to which Glenn refers, and which he says explains why the Harken affair isn't a big deal, doesn't tell the whole story. According to a Bush lawyer, Harken's stock price was $8 a share, double what Bush got, a year after Bush's sale. But according to the Washington Post, six months after Bush's sale Harken's price was in the area of one dollar—three dollars per share less than what Bush obtained (the San Francisco Chronicle reports the same thing). In other words, this isn't an instance of Harken's stock taking a one day drop, then rebounding and continuing to rise, as Glenn seems to believe.

Glenn also wonders: "Why is the Left supporting oppression?" "The Left," of course, is doing no such thing. I could just as easily ask, "Why doesn't the Right believe in elections?" based on the organized riot to disrupt the Miami-Dade County recount in 2000. Somehow I doubt that conservatives would appreciate being so labeled.

Glenn's site is really getting rather tiresome. Frankly, I prefer a little less "Insta" in my pundits.

Thanks

Many thanks to Jason Rylander for his kind words and blogroll link today. Jason offers one of the most thoughtful blogs around and has been at the top of his game since returning from the holiday weekend.

The Mets' Big Mistake

As the Mets limp into the All-Star break with a 43-44 record, 12 1/2 games out of first place, a survey of the first half's wreckage leads inescapably to the conclusion that general manager Steve Phillips's offseason moves backfired, and badly. Roberto Alomar is hitting .268 with a .381 slugging percentage, well below his career numbers of .305 and .452. Jeromy Burnitz, who hit over 30 home runs in each of the last four seasons, has nine so far. Shawn Estes is 3-7 with an ERA of 4.81. Only Pedro Astacio, with an 8-3 record and a 3.17 ERA, has fulfilled the Mets' hopes. Arguably, though, no one has been a bigger disappointment than Mo Vaughn, who at his current rate of performance would finish the season with 19 home runs and 63 RBI--not exactly what you want for a salary in excess of $12 million.

In light of Vaughn's miserable first-half performance, Eric McErlain recently asked an interesting question: why didn't the Mets make a bid for former Yankee first baseman Tino Martinez when he was a free agent during the offseason?

Offensively, Vaughn and Martinez have posted comparable numbers to date:

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
AVG
OBP
SLG

Vaughn

258
28
64
9
0
10
34
.248
.340
.399

Martinez

266
26
66
12
0
10
43
.248
.340
.406

It's hard to imagine any two players having more similar seasons. Martinez tops Vaughn in RBI, but aside from that the statistics are virtually identical. Defensively, though, the two couldn't be more different. Martinez is an excellent fielder who made only one error before the All-Star break. Vaughn, by contrast, is the worst-fielding first baseman in the National League; not only does he himself lead the league in errors at his position, but he's made his infield teammates worse as well.

In any event, we shouldn't make too much of Vaughn's and Martinez's comparative performance this year, since the Mets plainly lacked that information during the offseason. Even looking at what was known at the time, though, the Mets' lack of interest in Martinez is puzzling. To be sure, Vaughn, the 1995 American League MVP and a dominant force in the mid-'90s, had a higher potential upside than Martinez, who has been a consistently strong hitter but has rarely posted eye-popping numbers (his 1997 season, with 44 home runs and 141 RBI, was an exception). And their ages were a wash: Vaughn and Martinez were born eight days apart in December 1967.

But everything else weighed in Tino's favor: Martinez was healthy and coming off a solid 2001 campaign, while Vaughn had missed the entire 2001 season with an injury (one that had ruined the end of his 2000 season as well) and had allowed his weight to balloon to 275 pounds. What's more, Tino's advantage with a glove was well-known. Martinez was also a clubhouse leader who was beloved by his Yankee teammates. While Vaughn was a leader with the Red Sox, he was a negative presence with the Angels.

And, finally, Martinez would have been far less costly than Vaughn. Yes, the Mets were able to rework Vaughn's contract, deferring some salary and persuading the Angels to pay his remaining bonus. Vaughn nevertheless will be paid $12,166,667 this year, with roughly $30 million due in the years to come. Martinez, meanwhile, signed a three-year free-agent deal for $21 million with the Cardinals and will be paid $5,750,000 this year. True, the Vaughn deal allowed the Mets to unload Kevin Appier and his $9 million salary. Whether that was a net positive is open to question, though: Appier was the Mets' strongest pitcher in the final months of 2001, and his departure necessitated the signing of other free agents to take his place in the rotation.

In any event, Vaughn is now inescapably a member of the Mets (and I do mean inescapably: with his enormous salary, it's inconceivable that anyone would take him in trade). And so, with the 2000 NL championship fading into the past, it looks more and more like a second straight failed season for the Mets.

Welcome Back

Ted Barlow is back from vacation and in rare form:

Amount of money the Clintons lost over Whitewater: $46,000

Cost to taxpayers of eight year Whitewater investigation: $70 million

Proceeds from Bush's sale of Harkin stock before the public announcement of Harkin's losses, unnannounced to the SEC for 34 weeks: $848,000

Hearing the "honor and integrity" President say "Sometimes things aren't exactly black and white when it comes to accounting procedures," and having the press laugh out loud: Priceless

Ted's yet another victim of the Blogger archive bug—the post is from today.

Monday, July 8

Business Ethics

As the president prepares for tomorrow's speech on corporate ethics, Alex Frantz lists some of the Bush family's questionable business dealings, as well as those of Vice President Cheney (Alex's blog has been hit by the Blogger archive bug--it's the first post for July 8). The point: the kind of insider dealing, balance sheet fudging, and crony capitalism that have been fodder for headlines in the last eight months have been standard practices for Bush and his family. Paul Krugman made the same point in yesterday's New York Times (free registration required), and Joe Conason wrote about Bush's business history in considerable detail during the 2000 campaign, in an article that is worth revisiting now.

In light of the president's history, it is hard to see how he can hold himself out as a credible proponent of business ethics. Any serious reforms that he might propose would be likely to damn his own past conduct. It promises to be an interesting speech.

We Should Be So Lucky

UPI reports a story from a Jordanian magazine that Arafat will step down within the next few weeks. (Link via Little Green Footballs.)

Making the Sacrifice

Bob Herbert's column in this morning's New York Times (free registration required) begins as a tribute to Ted Williams. It then goes on to compare the dedication and self-sacrifice shown by Williams (who gave up five years in his prime to serve in combat in World War II and Korea) and others of his generation with the tepid response that our present coddled society (of which I am certainly a member) has shown to the notion of sacrifice in the national interest.

It's worth pointing out, then, that (as Eric McErlain notes) Pat Tilman, a well-paid safety for the Arizona Cardinals, today starts basic training, having volunteered for the Army in the wake of September 11. Self-sacrificing patriotism does still exist; it's just harder to find these days.

N.Z. Bear's "War of the Memes"

N.Z. Bear has a fascinating post today about the need for a new Palestinian organizing principle and the need to think hard about the organizing principles that underlie our own war on terror--which is itself in important ways a war on an organizing principle. Well worth reading.

Palestinian Anger

Burning, shooting, and otherwise mutilating American flags apparently has become a popular pastime among Palestinians. Steven Den Beste observes that, besides anger, these actions ultimately show little more than Palestinian impotence. He also, advertently or no, nicely makes the argument that flag-burning is a form of speech. Jeff Goldstein has some interesting follow-up comments.

Photographs like this, like the video of Palestinians celebrating on September 11, are unlikely to endear the Palestinian cause to the American public. No doubt some will respond by saying that we need to explore the underlying roots of Palestinian anger. But at this point, I'm really not interested. The Palestinians in early 2000 had control of their own destiny. About 98 percent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza lived under a Palestinian government. In the second half of 2000, at Camp David and again at Taba, Israel offered the vast majority of what the Palestinians demanded: a Palestinian state encompassing almost all of the West Bank and Gaza as well as East Jerusalem, and removal of most of the settlements. Arafat rejected the offers and made a calculated decision that he could obtain better terms by supporting violence against Israel. By the beginning of 2001, then, the two dominant institutions within Palestinian society—the PA and Hamas—had chosen a course of terror and violence. Such choices have consequences, as the Palestinian people have now discovered.

I have decried and will continue to decry gratuitous violence against the Palestinians. But there is nothing gratuitous about the IDF's current presence in the West Bank; it is a direct result of the violence, much of it officially sanctioned, that the Palestinians have directed at Israel. If the Palestinians want to place blame for their current predicament, they should look not to the US but to their own leaders.

(Photo from Charles Johnson's Little Green Footballs by way of Steven Den Beste's USS Clueless.)

Sunday, July 7

Vive la France!

As this Independence Weekend draws to a close, Ann Salisbury quite rightly reminds us that, irritating as France often is, if it weren't for French assistance, "we'd all be drinking black tea this morning instead of coffee."

Wine of the Week

Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
My birthday fell on a Monday this year, and finding a restaurant that's open on Monday can be a challenge. So after discovering that our first three or four choices for my birthday dinner were closed, we finally found a place we'd been meaning to try that was open. What a stroke of luck: not only were they open, but they were running a summer Monday promotion: fifty percent off everything on the wine list. And suddenly the 1998 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon that was well beyond our reach at $110, and that's never really tempted me at its retail price of $70, was irresistible at $55. It was my birthday, after all.

The 1998 vintage wasn't the best for California cabernet, but on the plus side the wines are generally a bit softer than usual, and thus more approachable young. And Caymus is without a doubt a top-quality producer; I used to buy the cabernet quite happily at $15-20 per bottle and was sad to have to stop when the prices soared in the late '90s. The 1998 is a super wine for those who enjoy young cabernet sauvignon: there's a wonderfully pure vanilla and blackcurrant aroma, and cocoa notes blend with the deep black fruit flavors. The tannins are present but well in check, and there's a bit of spice on the midpalate. Great accompaniment for a perfectly cooked ribeye steak. If only $55 was its regular winelist price, and it retailed for $25-30….

One All

Neil Finn has been a professional musician for more than a quarter-century. In 1977, at the age of 19, he joined his older brother Tim's band, Split Enz, for whom he later wrote the group's biggest US hit, "I Got You." When Split Enz broke up, he formed Crowded House, for which he served as lead vocalist and principal songwriter. Crowded House flirted with the top of the charts in the US with "Don't Dream It's Over," the main single from its first album. But while the group continued to produce highly melodic music for a decade, including such near-perfect, exuberant pieces of Brit-pop as "It's Only Natural" and "Distant Sun," it maintained only a relatively small following in the US (it fared better in the UK and its home base, Australia). Finn disbanded Crowded House in 1996 and, two years later, produced his first solo album, the defiantly-titled Try Whistling This.

While Finn has rarely achieved chart-topping success, he has earned the respect of musicians in the US, the UK, and Australia. He has recorded with Shawn Colvin and Sheryl Crow, and last year Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, the Smiths' Johnny Marr, and two members of Radiohead flew to Auckland, New Zealand to join Finn and his brother Tim for a series of concerts (captured in the DVD and CD releases 7 Worlds Collide). Now Finn has a released a new album, One All, on which he is joined by Wendy & Lisa (of Prince and the Revolution fame). The result is a more confident and melodic album than Try Whistling This. The opening "The Climber" sets a pensive tone for Finn's exploration of family relationships, including the heartbreaking "Lullaby Requiem," which finds Finn singing to his dying mother, and several songs that celebrate Finn's 20-year marriage to his wife Sharon. The album showcases Finn's gift for simple but achingly beautiful melody. And while the lyrics address serious subjects, they are ultimately upbeat. Nowhere is this more evident than on "Anytime," a Beatlesque number (it's what the White Album might have sounded like if John and Paul had been on speaking terms) in which Finn contemplates life's fragility:

See a dog upon the road
Running hard to catch a cat
The car is pulling to a halt
The truck behind me doesn't know
Everything is in the balance
Of a moment I can't control…

It all sounds rather morbid. Yet Finn finds reason to celebrate the moment rather than dwell on the uncertainty of the future.

One All was originally released in the rest of the world last year as One Nil, and it has been substantially reworked for its US release. The song sequence has been altered, the two least successful songs from the original—the Smashmouth-styled "Don't Ask Why" and the overly experimental "Elastic Heart"—have been dropped, two fine new songs—"Lullaby Requiem" and "Human Kindness"—have been added, and a number of others have been remixed. A few of the reworkings are curious, most particularly "Turn and Run." The original was a duet with Sheryl Crow, whose vocals lent an air of danger to the song—the two sang, "Everything's so out of control tonight," and it sounded plausible. On One All Crow has been replaced by singer-songwriter Lisa Germano, who is a member of Finn's touring band (the album's booklet still credits Crow, but it's incorrect). Germano has a fine voice, and it blends better with Finn's, but her performance here lacks any edge, and the song has effectively been neutered (Crow remains on the album's first single, "Driving Me Mad").

On the whole, though, One All is a more cohesive package than One Nil. Given the realities of the music industry today, One All won't find the audience it deserves. But I recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys intelligent, well-crafted, Beatlesque pop.