Saturday, October 5

Why October Exists

Today was a sparkling, cloudless early fall day, the kind of day when the light throws everything into sharp relief, and the sun and cool breeze come together in perfect balance. Such days can't be taken for granted, especially with chill November around the corner. So I've spent the day outside with my family. Free ice cream will resume tomorrow.

Friday, October 4

Serious Saturday Ahead

My follow-up to Monday's post is turning out to be quite long; I won't finish it until tomorrow. I've tried to avoid serious stuff on weekends whenever possible, but the arguments of one individual in an email to me and in comments on another site merit a lengthy and timely response, in my opinion. I may be falling down on the timely part, but by gum I can sure deliver length.

Blogspot Woes

Joseph Duemer writes:

Has anybody else noticed that Blogspot blogs are taking for-[*]ing-ever to load the last few days--ever since Pyra began offering a paid hosting service? Makes me want to consider paying for web hosting, but not with Blogspot. I already pay Blogspot for an ad-free site & Blogger Pro for their service. I'm beginning to feel nickled & dimed here.

Yes, I've noticed, and I'm mad. Sure, you get what you pay for, and it's possible to use Blogger and Blogspot for free. But like Joseph I'm actually paying Pyra already, both for Blogger Pro and for ad-free hosting on Blogspot, and I find it rather suspicious that this most recent slowdown should occur shortly after Pyra started offering Blogspot Plus.

If I could be confident that Blogspot Plus would solve the speed problem, I might well sign up—$50 per year seems like a pretty good price given my limited requirements. But I'm also ready to start considering other options. I'd appreciate recommendations for hosts; please write to me at jocoop-at-aol.com (I know, I know, it's AOL, but I've had the address since 1993).

I have a longish post on Iraq and conservative rhetoric in the works, but I probably won't be able to finish it before this evening. In the meantime, I recommend Dwight Meredith's analysis of the alternative approaches to Iraq.

Thursday, October 3

Taking the Train

The Diane Rehm Show this morning featured David Gunn, the CEO of Amtrak, who argued that while Amtrak needed to improve its efficiency, it would continue to require subsidies, just as other forms of transportation in this country receive subsidies. The discussion brought to mind the single most unrealistic thing to happen on The West Wing so far this season. Matthew Yglesias has a post this morning about the weakness of the show's first two new episodes, but the problems he identifies pale in comparison to one aspect of the premiere, which was pure fantasyland: Donna, Josh, and Toby were shown taking a passenger train to Indianapolis. With one virtually useless exception, such things don't exist.

Between college and my move to Indiana, I lived in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New Haven, so Amtrak was a regular part of my life. Amtrak will never be competitive with air travel over long distances, but for relatively short trips along heavily traveled routes it is hard to beat. So when I moved to Indianapolis, I just naturally assumed that I would be able to make my way around the Midwest by train as well. Indianapolis, after all, is about 180 miles from Chicago, 120 miles from Cincinnati, and 100 miles from Louisville; with decent train service, it should take at most two and a half hours to reach Chicago and less than two hours to reach either Cincinnati or Louisville. But there's no service—the only passenger train to stop in Indianapolis is an overnight Amtrak train between Chicago and Washington, D.C., which passes through Indianapolis in the dark hours of the early morning.

With automobile traffic delays (and the attendant air pollution) on the upswing, and with air travel complicated by security-related delays and route cancellations, it would seem to be a good time to think about more rail travel, not less.

The New Jersey Ballot

Ted Barlow is back (despite what Glenn Reynolds says), with an amusingly pointed observation about the New Jersey ballot controversy:

Well, it's the issue that everyone is talking about. To me, it seems pretty clear. Deadlines are deadlines, and rules are rules. When candidate miss them, especially after disgracing themselves by violating the laws they're sworn to uphold, they shouldn't be on the ballot. There is no legal argument to support these candidates, just vague appeals to "the will of the people." That's why I join with principled, consistent conservative commentators to insist that Katherine Harris be removed from the ballot in Florida.

chirp, chirp

Uh-huh. (Ted also has a long post about right-wing attacks on liberals' patriotism, a subject I discussed on Monday and to which I will return either later today or tomorrow).

Not Caesar

In recent days, an alleged quote of William Shakespeare has circulated rather broadly, to the point that Barbra Streisand actually read it at a fundraiser. The passage is allegedly from Julius Caesar, and it speaks of using inflamed public passions to deprive the populace of their rights. It's a fake, of course, and a rather obvious one at that, as Stuart Buck and others have pointed out; even Barbra Streisand has admitted her error. But a large number of people seem to have been taken in. To which all I can say is:

That one could think this quote was by the Bard
And not the work of sad and ill-read frauds
Shows that we do not teach our children well.
For one, the meter is completely wrong.

My vocabulary may not be Shakespearean (though neither is that of the alleged quote from Julius Caesar). But at least I know what iambic pentameter looks like. Sheesh.

Wednesday, October 2

Tribe vs. Wilentz on Scalia

Legal education website JURIST has an exchange of letters between Princeton historian Sean Wilentz (who wrote a rather controversial op-ed for the New York Times about Justice Scalia during the summer) and Harvard constitutional law scholar Laurence Tribe, in which the two debate Justice Scalia's views about the death penalty and the role of religion in public life. I'm preparing for class, so I don't have time to read the exchange carefully, but it looks very interesting. JURIST invites readers to add their comments.

Update: Howard Bashman linked to the JURIST exchange yesterday.

Farewell to the Moose

Amid rumors that Marshall Wittman is going to work for Sen. John McCain, the Bull Moose is departing cyberspace. The Moose's voice will be missed—while he is rather more hawkish than I would like, he was consistently accurate in skewering both Democratic timidity and Republicans' commitment to big money over all else.

If Wittman is rejoining McCain as communications director, it would explain the Moose's departure—it would be inappropriate for him to serve as McCain's voice while simultaneously proffering his own opinions in a public forum. The move is interesting, though, coming as it does less than a month after the Moose publicly left the Republican Party (see his September 6 entry). The roiling at the center of the American political landscape continues, and the two established parties ignore it at their peril.

Tuesday, October 1

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

This is a great day. Not only was Bobby Valentine fired as manager of the Mets, but today begins a nearly month-long feast for baseball fans, as eight worthy teams battle for the championship.

At ESPN.com, Eric Neel offers 10.5 reasons to root for the Oakland A's, while Jim Caple supplies ten reasons to support the Minnesota Twins. It's hard for me to pull for the A's, who broke my nine-year-old heart by beating the Mets in the 1973 World Series. But Oakland is an admirable club that seems to do everything right, both on and off the field (once they get out of April, that is). For them to win more than 100 games two years in a row despite tight financial constraints is truly remarkable, and despite what happened 29 years ago I'm hoping they do well this month.

It's a busy day for me today; I hope to have more this evening.

(Link to the Eric Neel column via the Daily Kos).

Monday, September 30

Another Embarrassment in Indy

It's been a bad month for international sports in Indianapolis. First, there was the FIBA World Basketball Championship, which featured tiny crowds (except for the final) and a humiliating sixth-place finish for the United States. Then, yesterday, there was the U.S. Grand Prix, which drew 50,000 fewer fans than last year and which ended in controversy, as F1 champion Michael Shumacher allowed teammate Rubens Barrichello to pass him at the last second. Shumacher's maneuver is said to be compensation for Barrichello's willing surrender of the lead to Schumacher at the Austrian Grand Prix in May.

This kind of thing apparently isn't all that unusual in Europe (I vaguely recall similar things happening on occasion during the Tour de France), and to some extent it's understandable that teammates would take care of each other. On the other hand, it's perfectly appropriate for the 125,000 who turned up at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday to feel cheated—they witnessed a contrived outcome. Professional wrestling aside, that's not the way Americans take their sports. Recall the outrage last year when, in the final game of the season, the Packers' Brett Favre seemed to submit willingly to a sack by the Giants' Michael Strahan, a sack that gave Strahan the NFL season record. The controversy was understandable—why should a freebie, a gimme, count as if it were a legitimate result? We don't expect perfection from athletes, but we do expect honest effort. Yesterday, the racing fans in Indianapolis didn't get it.

Lest anyone suggest that this is just the way F1 is, F1 fan Eric McErlain (to whom I wish a safe and happy return from tonight's Ravens-Broncos game, which Baltimore is winning handily) has further thoughts on the subject. Eric also rips into the manager of the McLaren team for suggesting that women are incapable of competing in F1.

The Void

It's a dark day in the blogosphere when neither Ted Barlow nor Jason Rylander posts. Come back soon, guys.

Off the Deep End

When I first discovered the blogosphere back in February, the front door through which I entered was Instapundit, so it's no great surprise that most of the blogs I encountered in those days were warblogs. Many of them were by people whose political leanings clearly differed from mine. I nevertheless found them interesting, for two principal reasons. First, I think that it's essential to understand what those of different political persuasions are thinking. That's why I read NRO and the Weekly Standard as well as the American Prospect and the New Republic. And second, despite our political differences, the issues that preoccupied the warbloggers at the time—the war on Al Qaeda and the waves of Palestinian suicide attacks within Israel—were issues on which their views and mine were largely consonant.

As the fall elections draw near, though, and as we move closer to action against Iraq, I find myself reading the warblogs less and less. It's not simply because they support the president's posture toward Iraq, a subject about which I have serious misgivings. It's that so many of them deny any legitimacy whatsoever to those who hold positions different from their own. Consider the following, posted by Bill Quick over the weekend:

The left is clueless, suicidal, morally bankrupt, and ethically a contradiction, concerned only with power for the sake of power and, yes, in their lust for a phony "internationalism," deeply and profoundly unpatriotic. They hate the spirit of the Constitution, wish to pick and choose among those few parts of it they like, loathe America, are ashamed to be American (despite all their lies about "loving America, they don't really love this country - they love only their desperate, ugly wish for an America structured to the socialist, statist horror they truly desire), and would destroy the America of the Founders and the Constitution in a moment if they could wave a magic red wand and do so.

My goodness. But surely he's talking only about the radical leftist fringe, the tiny fragment of the American polity that occupies a relationship to mainstream Democrats similar to that between Buchananites and mainstream Republicans? Well, no:

Yes, I can hear the gasps. I'm accusing men like Tom Daschle and Richard Gephardt of being unpatriotic, am I? Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I am. Their only concern at the moment is not that Saddam Hussein might be a deadly danger to the people they claim to represent, it is that they somehow find a way to take power in the House and Senate in the upcoming national elections, so they can more effectively assault a President who is charged with defending American citizens against one of the greatest threats we've faced in the modern era. That's not patriotism, it's only partisanship, and no matter how they try to gussy them up, the two are not the same thing.

I'm sorry, but this is intolerable. It's pernicious nonsense like this that justifies Samuel Johnson's description of patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel. It is entirely possible to love one's country, to recognize that Saddam Hussein is an evil man who has done evil things and will do more in the future if unchecked, to believe that terrorism must be opposed forcibly, and still to harbor grave doubts about the course on which we are now set. This is especially so when the administration's public argument for action against Iraq is so deeply based on demonstrable lies—lies recognized as such even by the Washington Times, for goodness sake. Given the dishonesty with which the case against Iraq is presented, it is, I would think, a demonstration of devotion to one's country to question the wisdom of pursuing unilateral action in the face of our allies' opposition, and indeed to question the motives of those who repeatedly rely on falsehoods to press their case.

Not all warbloggers are as extreme as Bill Quick, of course. Nevertheless, the notion seems to have taken hold among a substantial number of them that anyone who dares to question the president's wisdom is un-American, indeed anti-American. Thankfully, a large majority of the American population disagrees.

Bill Quick knows nothing of me as far as I know, but it's quite clear from his posts that, if he were to read my writings here, he would view me not simply as misguided (but capable of redemption), but as an anti-American reprobate, worthy only of condemnation. So why should I continue to read him? It is useful to know that people with such views are out there, but there's no point in tuning in on a regular basis. As for the notion that true patriotism requires unthinking adherence to the president's positions, I can only turn Bill Quick's words back upon him and those like him: "That's not patriotism, it's only partisanship, and no matter how they try to gussy them up, the two are not the same thing."

Sunday, September 29

Just How Dumb Is Rams Coach Mike Martz?

In Arguendo has the answer. But is he really any dumber than Jim Fassel and Sean Payton, the Giants' head coach and offensive coordinator, who, with 14 seconds left in the half and the ball in Giants territory, called for a sideline pass on first down? Arizona safety Justin Lucas intercepted the pass for a touchdown, and the Cardinals, who had done absolutely nothing to that point, went into the half with an undeserved tie. The Giants went on to play a pathetic second half and lost, 21-7, to one of the worst teams in football. Blech.

Wine of the Week
Ravenswood Lalanne Vineyard (Mendocino) Zinfandel 1996

Another zinfandel this week. Ravenswood is one of my favorite California wineries, thanks to its excellent stable of zinfandels. One of the more recent single-vineyard bottlings is the Lalanne Vineyard Zinfandel from Mendocino County, as Ravenswood continues to branch out from its Sonoma roots. It isn't quite up to the level of some of the other single-vineyard offerings (I particularly like the Monte Rosso and Belloni bottlings), but it's a big, hearty wine, with lots of pepper in its blackberry fruit flavors. The tannins are a bit hefty for the level of fruit, and the finish is a bit abrupt, so this isn't absolutely top-line. But it's still pretty tasty.

Ravenswood is worth a visit for those passing through Sonoma, by the way—especially in the summer when the winery offers a terrific weekend barbecue.

What a Mess

The New York Mets enter the last day of the baseball season riding a six-game losing streak, guaranteed their first last-place finish since 1993. The season began with such promise, as the Mets entered May with a 17-10 record. That early success was based almost entirely on strong pitching; the Mets' seemingly formidable lineup struggled to put runs up on the board. But, at the time, that seemed no reason to worry—while the pitching staff clearly couldn't maintain its early pace, surely the bats would heat up. Instead, while the pitchers predictably fell back to earth, the hitters remained cold throughout the year, with only a brief flurry in July. And the defense, a Mets strength as recently as three years ago, was appalling.

The on-field struggles were accompanied by off-field distractions—questions about catcher Mike Piazza's sexuality, first baseman Mo Vaughn's girth, marijuana use by various players, and manager Bobby Valentine's self-serving dissembling to the press. Most recently, shortstop Rey Ordonez ignited a controversy when he ripped Mets fans, saying:

The fans here are too stupid. You have to play perfect every game. You can't make an error. You can't go 0-for-4. Are we like machines?'

Ordonez, who made $7 million this year, has always struggled at the plate, and he did so again in 2002. His weak offense, however, has usually been offset by spectacular defense, which won him three gold gloves and filled numerous highlight reels. Not this year: Ordonez matched his feeble offensive output with nineteen errors and ranks among the worst-fielding shortstops in the majors this season.

Ordonez, who is entering the last year of his contract, is almost certainly on his way out—waiting in the wings is 19-year-old José Reyes, the likely minor league player of the year. The more serious question is what will happen at the top. Mike Lupica, columnist for the New York Daily News, says that the Mets must fire either Valentine or general manager Steve Phillips. Fred Wilpon, the Mets' owner, has insisted that both Valentine and Phillips will stay on the job through 2003. If so, we might as well write off next season right now. Phillips put together a rotisserie league roster this year, full of aging players with gaudy career numbers, and for the second straight year the team badly underperformed under Valentine's leadership. The Mets this year played some of the worst fundamental baseball I've seen in years—they couldn't catch, couldn't hit the cutoff man, couldn't run the bases, couldn't advance runners, couldn't do any of the little things that, over the course of a long season, make the difference between winning and losing. Why should this change with Valentine back in charge next year? And what reason is there to think that Phillips, with limited room to maneuver financially and with a roster stocked with aging underperformers, will be able to reconfigure the team successfully?

The Daily News sports page has a poll today asking whom the Mets should fire: Phillips, Valentine, both, or neither. As of this writing, "both" has a majority of the vote, including mine. Inexplicably, ten percent of respondents selected "neither." I can only conclude that those voters are Yankee fans.