Saturday, April 30, 2005

Update: Anna K heats it up.

An update on the previous post. Anna Kournikova threw a perfect strike with last night's first pitch in San Diego. Again, there is no justice. And there will be no peace.

A cup of coffee over the morning paper

Just been me and the dogs all morning. Nice walk through the neighborhood. Earlier, they sat quietly with me as I poured over the morning paper with a cup o' joe. Found a few interesting tidbits.

According to this, people in Pinal County are camping out overnight to have at just-released new-home lots. That's just crazy.

And according to this, freeway shootings are back in vogue in So Cal. Much the way they were 18 years ago. I remember that...I spent part of that summer working at KLOS-FM in LA. To get there I had to travel three of the LA metro's most fun freeways: the 101, 405 and a quick trip on I-10. Good times!

But this is what really caught my eye...some folks in Tucson are paying a mere $1.83-a-gallon for E85, an environment-friendly and cheaper blend of gasoline:

Alex Contreras grins as he pumps a mixture of corn alcohol and gasoline into his pickup truck.He is paying just $1.83 a gallon for the alternative fuel, called E85, while regular gasoline at the adjacent pump costs $2.27. The E85 makes his truck run better and with more power than gasoline, he says, as well as producing less air pollution. "It's pretty good stuff," the 51-year-old west Tucson resident says. "I also use it in my wife's vehicle."

As a conservative, it's assumed that I hate babies, puppies, old-people and of course anyone who isn't white. Tops of that list of course is trees. We conservative-types really got in for the environment you know! I read on:

People in the Valley could be using E85, too, because thousands of late-model vehicles are built to use it. But the Tucson station is the only place in Arizona where drivers can buy the cheaper, cleaner fuel.

E85 has been selling briskly at the Tucson station, an Arizona Petroleum commercial fueling site, mainly to private motorists seeking to save 40 cents or more a gallon. The price gap between the fuel and regular gasoline has become accentuated in the past month since gas prices began to climb.

Hhhhmmm...makes me start to wonder. I'm a price-shopper when it comes to gasoline. I drive a mid-level sedan. Biggest thing I've ever owned, but hardly one of those targets of environmentalist-hate, like a Hummer or Suburban.

In the past, the price of E85 was comparable with gasoline, which reduced the interest from consumers, except those worried about air pollution or U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Recent federal regulations that added tax incentives for producers of ethanol have helped keep the retail prices low this year while gas prices climb."Basically, that brings it down to a pricing level that's attractive for the consumer to buy it," says Clark Thomas, president of Denver-based American Petroleum.

Those sounds you hear are the gears in my head turning. Did someone say, "Cheaper gas!?" I press on: E85 sales have been steadily climbing at the Tucson station since December, when American Petroleum added the alternative fuel to its offerings, which include biodiesel fuel and environmentally friendly automotive lubricants and fluids. "With the recent (gasoline) price increases, there's been a lot more interest," Hittle says. "This is just one station and not in the best location, but sales have definitely been building."

Thousands of late-model Ford, General Motors and Chrysler vehicles, including the popular Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Silverado, could be using E85 if it was available. Called flexible-fuel vehicles, or FFVs, they are mostly trucks and SUVs, and come equipped from the factory to use the fuel. "Most people don't even know they own flex-fuel vehicles," says Colleen Crowninshield, Clean Cities coordinator for Pima County.

As I get to the end of the article, I find my curiosity piqued. So much so that I seek out page B3 where the fine folks at the Republic have published a list of FFV vehicles. There I discover my make, model and year is potentially included in the limited pool of vehicles: "Selected vehicles. See owners manual."

I'm ready to go, but then of course I remember this: "For some reason, E85 has no presence here," says Bill Scheafer, spokesman for the Valley of the Sun Clean Cities Coalition. "We have not found any entity interested in marketing it here."

The Valley would do well to diversify its fuel sources, Scheafer says, noting how the gasoline pipeline break last year caused disruption of supplies and panic-buying. "The whole thing about energy independence is especially acute here since we're fed gasoline through a thin straw," he says.

My good friends at ESPN routinely like to bellow about how markets don't move fast enough to produce the environmental paradise we'd all be living in if we'd just listen to them. Well, allow me to say that the market, in this particular instance, would move me to the step of seeking out alternative fuel if it were available here. I'd like to think that's not bad for an old tree-hater!

Who says markets don't work!

My Dogs are Smarter (Or things my dogs hear often)

Managing two dogs is difficult at times, especially when they start getting even a little rambunctious. As a result, I hear myself saying some awfully strange things at times:

-"Let go. Sister's head is not a chew-toy!"
-"Do you want to live to be 2!?"
-"Not on the pants please!"
-"Get off of mommy's head!"
-"How did you get that in your mouth?!"
-"You alright? Good thing your head's made of steel!"

Friday Night's REAL Winner

OK, I'm really not supposed to be on here until my return next week, but something caught my eye and it needed to be brought to the world's attention. There was a great game played in Petco on Friday night. San Diego ended the Snakes six game winning streak 5-4 in 15 innings. The Pads pounded out a season-high 20 hits and received another sterling performance from Jake Peavy. Akinori Otsuka, Scott Linebrink and Chris Hammond retired the final 16 D'Backs and Phil Nevin's RBI single was the game-winner. The win was a big lift for the Padres, who have played absolutely listless baseball for the past couple of weeks and endured a heated tirade from typically unflappable manager Bruce Bochy, following Wednesday's 10-3 mauling at the hands of the Giants. So, yea for the good guys!

Despite all of this good news, the real winner on Friday night was Padres right fielder Brian Giles. No justice, no peace.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Mastery of the obvious

Astounding! Who knew!?

Coors Field, the baseball-only heir to multipurpose Mile High, turns 10 years old on Tuesday. Its legacy is of beaten-up, exhausted pitchers, beginning with David Nied, the Rockies' first-round pick in the expansion draft, and extending through the likes of the late Darryl Kile, Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle – as well as the inflated statistics produced by the hitters lucky enough to be based there.

Or, "Why the Rockies will never win anything. Ever."

The Infantile American Principal

"We are smart; you are dumb." That's the Infantile American Principle in a nutshell.

Professor David Galerntner of Yale University makes this observation at the end of this piece in the LA Times. The trip from opening to close is a long-list of examples and explanation that prove the overall point, though admittedly some of it is over-the-top.

On the issue of Photo-ID to reduce voter fraud in Georgia: For legislators to announce that getting a photo ID is too tricky for their constituents is downright amazing. Wouldn't you expect those constituents to say, "Drop dead! Stop treating us like morons!"?

After all, any 15-year-old half-wit can get a photo ID-- and the governor is promising to hand them out gratis to voters who don't already have one. All you need to do is show up in the right place at the right time-- which is just what you have to do in order to vote. (Unless you vote absentee, which will still be allowed under the new law.) In short: If you can vote, you can get a photo ID. So there's no reason why a single legitimate voter should be excluded.

In otherwords, common sense should tell you that...oh, never mind!

About Social Security, Galerntner writes: How could anyone be opposed in principle to private investment accounts within Social Security? I could understand Democrats arguing that "private accounts are a wonderful idea but the country can't afford the transition costs right now." But mostly I hear Democrats saying they're a lousy idea, and that President Bush wants to wreck Social Security-- because, after all, he wants to let you keep a great big whopping 4% of your payroll taxes in a private account instead of handing over every cent to the government. How on Earth could anyone be opposed in principle to letting taxpayers manage a minuscule fraction of their own money (their own money, dammit!) if they want to? Because private accounts violate the Infantile American Principle, so dear to Democratic hearts. Little kids should turn over their cash to the Big Smart Government for safekeeping.

More bluntly, in the very next paragraph he calls a spade a spade: But of course they can't say that, so instead they say, "Bush wants to privatize Social Security"--as if government were going to wash its hands of the whole mess. The technical term that logicians use for this rhetorical gambit-- applying a correct word for one part of a proposal to the proposal as a whole-- is "lying."

The observations are acute, and in my view, accurate. They are yet more anecdotal evidence that suggests that Democratic politicians, whatever the reason, are married to the idea that they must do things for people rather than find ways to help people do for themselves.

Why do they do it? Maybe they're not content in just being politicians: Democrats are professors in disguise. Scratch a Democrat, find a professor.

And you already know how it ends...

Discussing the Mickey-Mouse Bill

Arizona House Bill 2365 has just passed 44-8 in the State House and Governor Napolitano has 5 days to sign or veto it. And what exactly is H.B. 2365? That depends on who you ask.

In an effort to win tourism dollars in Arizona, the State is proposing the creation of a special State Theme-park district devoted to developing two theme-parks, one in Williams near the Grand Canyon and one in Southwest Phoenix. The legislation calls for creation of a 1,000-acre park near rural Williams in an effort to win back tourism dollars that the State feels have been lost to Nevada in a battle over Grand Canyon tourism:

Trying to wrestle Grand Canyon tourism away from Nevada, state lawmakers Thursday gave a thumbs up to a $3 billion venture that would put theme parks and roller-coaster rides in the northern Arizona city of Williams.

In addition to the larger park in the rural north, the district would also include a 60-acre park in Southwest Phoenix. The Phoenix venture would include an indoor water park and would be situated near Cricket Pavilion.

State legislators and others are bullish on the prospect of raising new tax revenues estimated at between $75 & $150-Million dollars annually. Other folks in the state aren't as entranced by the proposal.

For me, assuming the financing (which I'll discuss in a moment) works as actually proposed, this appears to be a win-win. One of the things I noticed early on when we came here was the absence of any sort of large-scale amusement or theme-parks. Which didn't make a lot of sense to me given that the area lives in large part on tourism.

Tourism here is better described as golf-courses and day-spas. If you're not a golfer or an outdoor enthusiast, your tourist attractions are limited to fancy hotels, museums and civic attractions. Aside from the tiny few-acre facility at Castles-n-Coasters at I-17 and Dunlap and Westworld in Scottsdale, there's nowhere to go for a fan of roller coasters and/or the traditional amusement-park fare.

This plan would change that. The question is, at what price to Arizona taxpayers. As originally envisioned and proposed it seems very little, if at all:

"This (the legislation) gives us the ability to go out and get investment dollars and give them confidence that this is a real project," said former Page Mayor Gary Scaramazzo, who is part of the project team. "The taxpayers are not on the hook for a dime. This will be so much more than a theme park."

Financing would be a mix of private investment dollars and bonds. The yet-to-be-named developer of the project is required to show $500-million in private funds before any bonds are issued to pay for construction of the park(s), in tandem with those private funds:

The district is a legal mechanism that private investors could use to issue about $1 billion worth of bonds in the private market. That additional 9 percent levy would finance the bonds, which would be paid off in 30 years. The bonds would pay for the infrastructure for the two sites.

Yet not all are enthusiastic about the project, as noted earlier. Some see it as a hand-out to the vague-and-shadowy corporate-development interests: Some legislative critics called it "the Mickey Mouse bill," saying it sets a bad precedent by creating a new layer of government to assist private developers.

Frankly I don't see it that way. There is a clear-cut financing mechanism built-in here. And a fair one at that; you don't use the park(s), you don't pay. The only way Mr. or Mrs. Taxpayer-at-large gets dragged into this against their will- seems to me anyway- is if one or both of the facilities were to go under, leaving part or all of the debt-obligation on the books with no revenue to pay it off. A risk, but one that I believe acceptable. Assuming that the project isn't handed out to Fly by Night Development, Inc.

Brief moment of lucidity in the Senate

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid raised a few eyebrows yesterday on the Senate floor when he said it would take a "miracle" for Democrats to win enough races next year to take back the Senate.

Republicans were delighted by what they called an "admission" from the highest-ranking elected Democrat in the country.

"After listening to Senator Reid's political spin about judicial nominees for the last several weeks, it is good to hear him come back to reality -- if even for a brief moment," said Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Senator Reid can do the math: A Democratic Party, plus no ideas, plus obstruction, plus over-the-top partisan rhetoric equals continued minority."


D + (-I) + O + R = M

Where D = Democrat Party, I = Idea(s), O = Obstruction, R = Rhetoric and M = Minority.

Interesting hypothesis, we'll see in a year-and-a-half if it can be proved.

Why do we call medicine 'science?'

Cassie had another bout of stomach problems last night. Always a treat to come home to. Hoped it would pass, but she continued to have trouble this morning so it was off to the vet...

Who could tell me nothing definitive. Best advice? Some medication to calm her GI-tract and change her diet and see if that fixes it. And for this I paid $62.50.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

Of plane trips and memorials

Dropped my wife at the airport this evening. She is on her way back to California for a memorial service on Sunday afternoon.

First Southern Baptist Church of Lompoc, CA was founded on Sept. 7th, 1958. One of the founding couples were Max and Billie Alexander.

Max was a chaplain in the US Air Force, and a father it seems to most of First Southern over the course of his 43 years there. Max was most well loved and known for his birthday calls. Every year members of the church would receive their annual call from Max. My wife and her folks recall it all, very fondly.

Max died of cancer in 2001. Billie, his wife of many many years and mother to their 3 girls, lived on for another 3 1/2 years in their home. Still a joy to family and friends alike. Grandmother to my own wife in name if not relation and always to be counted on for encouraging words and a spunky attitude, Billie was just as much the church's mother as Max was it's daddy.

Billie died last month and went chasing after her husband Max and her Lord, Jesus. She will be remembered by her church family on Sunday afternoon, May 1st, 2005.

My Dogs are Smarter (Or Tales of the four-footed fly-swatter)

As I made brief note in another post, I had a little bit more of a leisurely day yesterday than normal. In fact, I stayed home from work for several reasons. On such a day, the dogs are let loose, free to run around the house as well as spend as much time as they desire outside in the back yard. Yesterday was a gorgeous desert spring-day, so they were outside often.

We encourage both to use the doggie-door though at times we'll also open the patio door and leave it open. As a result, occasionally we get a fly or two that finds it's way into the house as happened yesterday.

In the past I've noticed that as said fly tries desperately to find a way out of the house by repeatedly banging itself against one of the windows in the dining room that face the back, Lacy our lab takes notice. In fact, she has tried on more than one occasion to catch the pesky insect as if it were a larger form of doggie-prey. With naught for success, I might add.

Yesterday was Cassie's turn. At one point in the late afternoon she spent nearly an hour hopping onto the window sill and pressing snout-to-glass tried to catch the poor helpless insect. When it flew away, she would immediately start hunting for it again--sniffing around the floor, looking up towards the ceiling, sniff, sniff, sniffing for it.

Invariably the fly would return to the window and the whole process would resume from the top. As we got closer to dinner time, I found myself in the dining room/kitchen area with Lacy laying docilely on the floor. One down, one to go. Where was Cassie?

I had noticed quite some time earlier that the ballet she was performing with this insect at the window had ended. But what of her, where had she gone? So off I go looking for the smaller, calmer dog.

And there she is, lying on the couch intently studying...something. Note: any time a dog is sitting on the furniture or even on the carpet and it's mouth is involved in any way, the sirens sound and the need for action is immediate!

"What are you doing? What have you got there...?"

The fly of course. When I got close enough to see clearly, she was sitting there with the dead fly on the couch between her forearms looking as though at any minute she's going to devour it as an evening snack.

"No! We don't need to do that, Cassie leave it alone!"

And she did; she hopped off the couch, leaving the dead insect as if it were some sort of offering delivered to appease mommy & daddy: "See what I have caught, what I have done for the good of the house-hold!?"

Yes my littlest-one, what a wonderful gift you have brought us! Now let me get a paper-towel and clean off the couch...

Proof that anyone can write for the NY Times (or why I love Paul Krugman)

Paul Krugman's latest piece ran yesterday in the Arizona Republic (linked here in it's original form at the NY Times). Since I had the opportunity to spend some time pouring over the paper yesterday, I decided against my better judgment to give it a once-over.

Krugman is an interesting read. Not so much for any insight or brilliance but more as a curiosity; his mental-gymnastics in trying to score political points are brain-benders. Good morning-brain-exercises.

Well, this one was straight to-form: Conservative pundits close to the administration talk, without irony, about a "Bush boom."

Yet two-thirds of Americans polled by Gallup say that the economy is "only fair" or "poor." And only 33 percent of those polled believe the economy is improving, while 59 percent think it's getting worse.

What does that stat really mean? The economic-understanding of the American public-at-large is ridiculously poor. I'll wager Mr. Krugman that a similarly low 33% of people out there can correctly explain the actual economic definition of terms such as GDP and recession. So then, what is achieved by parroting such a stat when the public is speaking about things of which it doesn't understand at all well? Garbage in, garbage out as they say.

By the way, I'd win the bet. According to this, fully two-thirds of young people and half of adults flunked their "basic test for economic literacy." But hey, 59-percent of America thinks the economy is getting it must be, eh Paul?

And so it goes: Is the administration's obliviousness to the public's economic anxiety just partisanship? I don't think so: President Bush and other Republican leaders honestly think that we're living in the best of times. After all, everyone they talk to says so.

Never mind that by actual economic-standards, something that a professor in Economics at Princeton ought to be holding to in every public utterance on the subject, the economy overall is still healthy (Recently released 1st qtr GDP figures not withstanding; Krugman's column was published on the 25th). The overall growth-rate in '04 was around 4.4 percent. That's good by most standards. Even Krugman's: "By any standard, 1997 was a very good year for the U.S. economy. GDP grew by almost 4 percent, well above the 2.4 percent average over the past 20 years."

In fairness, he points out the very, very low unemployment rate of 4.6% that year as another component of his overall assessment. Currently, we have an unemployment rate of 5.2%. While the boom-years of the late 90's look better in comparison, in historic terms 5.2% is a decent figure. Not great, but good. The current number is in fact comparable to the unemployment rate in 1996 when Clinton won re-election, also known as when-all-was-right-with-the-world-if-you're-a-writer-for-the-New-York-Times.

So why is GDP growth around 4% and an unemployment rate hovering around 5% good in the 90's but not now? One can only conclude based on the general tone and tenor of Krugman's writings that George W. Bush is the sole difference and reason.

And this is the real point. Even when Krugman is correct in his economic assessments, his blatant anti-everything-Bush demands that he work to spin any and everything negatively. Something that his role as economist and teacher ought to work against, yet somehow never does.

If I didn't know better, I'd say that Krugman uses an alias and spends at least a few hours a day at ESPN. He writes 1,000 words at a time to continually re-state the same idea over and over again. An idea that could be more concisely stated in one sentence as, "I hate George W. Bush."

Another reason I hate Fantasy baseball

Several actually, and in no specific order.

  1. Things like this happen to the guy already in first place.
  2. Your #1 closer goes on the DL. And this is the staff, that despite the presence of names like Hudson, Johnson and Schmidt as primary starters manages but 6 wins in a month. Pathetic.
  3. Your team, built around pitching, is last in Wins and sports an-out-of-character ERA of 3.31 (see above).

All discombobulated

That's what I am. I wasn't around yesterday and turns out Sim is having to lay low for the week.

As usual, even when I'm sitting still, the world is not. I'll do my best to get caught up on life and see just what kind of posting results!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Gone Fishing

Well, not really. I should have posted earlier that I would be taking a bit of a break from contributing to the blog. Non-blogoshphere responsibilities will continue to demand my full attention through the end of the week. However, I'll be back in full swing next week. In the meantime, I leave you in eminently capable hands.

How bout them Dogs errrr D'Backs???

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

U-G-L-Y, aint got no alibi, you UGLY!

"From a distance they look like half-inflated inner tubes, 10 rubbery black animals scattered across the grass outside the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Art Museum." Thus begins this piece on the Mexican version of Mr. Bigglesworth.

And from what I can tell, they're right.

"Robots, Teenagers and College. Oh my!"

This post was intended as a stand-alone piece discussing the Arizona Republic's coverage this weekend of the four undocumented students who won last year's national robotic's competition. As I wrote, I concluded that one post of around 500-600 words just wouldn't cover it. There are a lot of issues and questions raised within the context of the broader discussion. This will be post one of a series devoted to the discussion of those larger issues.

The Republic weighs in with a feature on the four West Phoenix teenagers that stunned the engineering world, winning the national robotics competition last summer. I wrote about the original feature in Wired magazine earlier this month.

It was an inspiring story, interesting in many ways. My biggest take-away from the piece was the question of immigration, schooling and how do you find a way to move human capital into the 'system.' The Republic picks up there and runs with it.

After recounting the status of the four winners, the article addresses the issue of undocumented students and college finances: Undocumented students who have lived in Arizona for at least a year qualify for in-state tuition at state colleges, which is currently about $4,000. House Bill 2030 initially called for banning undocumented students from public colleges and universities. It has been revised to allow them to attend at the higher out-of-state tuition, which costs about $13,000 a year.

Undocumented students do not qualify for state, federal or institutional aid, such as grants, loans, scholarships and work-study programs, regardless of how long they've lived in the state. Money is a huge barrier for such students.

When we left the two graduated team members, Luis Aranda and Oscar Vasquez, we saw them running into this wall; lots of brain power but no opportunity to take advantage because they could not finance a college-education. Nothing changed until some locals and other interested parties took notice of the situation:

The other two students, Aranda, 19, and Vasquez, 18, graduated from Carl Hayden last May. It was their stories that struck a chord around the world. After beating MIT, Aranda took a job as a file clerk and Vasquez worked in drywall. Vasquez juggles a 30-hour workweek with part-time coursework at Phoenix College. But life is easier since the head of a local insurance company learned of his struggles and offered him a desk job. Thanks to the scholarship fund, Vasquez plans to enroll full-time next semester to pursue a mechanical engineering degree.

Aranda is still an office file clerk. He plans to enroll in business courses this fall to fulfill his dreams of opening a restaurant and buying his parents a home.

Personal initiative has 'rescued' these two and provided an opportunity for their brain-power to be absorbed into the system. In a number of years these two bright boys will be contributing to society in the normal, healthy way; earning a living, paying taxes and engaging in all sorts of daily transactions that keep an economy healthy. The question is, is there a way to make this happen on a larger scale, a way to 'institutionalize' the assimilation of talented immigrants into the mainstream?

Is it speculating to blame speculation?

Steve Forbes joins his voice with others to say that current oil-prices represent a speculative bubble:

Forbes said recent oil prices of more than $50 per barrel are the result of speculators."

About $15 to $20 of the oil price is speculation," he said.

Simple, straight-forward. And as best as my non-economist MBA-brain can tell, correct. I'll gladly entertain other ideas but when oil stocks and gasoline stocks are high yet gas prices stay at record highs and the price of crude floats above $50-barrel me thinks the problem is purely speculative in nature.

Common sense wins out

Governor Napolitano has vetoed the so-called Guns-in-bars bill. I've posted on this twice and so I won't rehash any of the arguments but to say I think the whole thing was a bad idea to begin with.

The Republic has framed it as a brave stand against the NRA: The governor risks angering the National Rifle Association, which claims 100,000 members in Arizona and has lobbied for two years so gun owners could dine in restaurants that served alcohol without leaving their guns behind.

Napolitano said she is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but she chose to side with Arizona's tourism and hospitality industry, the powerful lifeblood of the state's economy, and with major law enforcement organizations. They all opposed the bill, saying it would invite deadly altercations.

Maybe I'm trying to cocoon myself away from the reality of politics in Arizona, but I'd like to think she just gave deference to simple common sense.

Big Mo has changed jerseys

No, Mo Vaughn hasn't come out of retirement. Different Mo...

Javier Vazquez pitched eight strong innings and Troy Glaus, another newcomer, put the Diamondbacks ahead for good by hitting a two-run double off Derek Lowe in the first. Green's single made it 3-0 and gave Arizona enough runs for the victory thanks to Vazquez and two relievers.

"He looked like the guy I played with four years ago in Montreal, who goes out and dominates a game, gets ahead of batters and throws his good off-speed stuff whenever he wants," Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley said of Vazquez.

Vazquez (2-2) allowed five hits, including solo homers by J.D. Drew and Jeff Kent, walked two and struck out nine. It was his second consecutive effective outing after he gave up 17 earned runs in 12 innings in his first three starts for the Diamondbacks.

The Snakes have won 4 straight while the Dodgers have lost 3 out of 4. Big Mo, as I said, seems to have shifted. She is the most fickle of all things and as she is wont to do, she sneaks away at the most inopportune times.

Bradley was right in his assessment. To say Vazquez was "on" last night would be understating things. He was ahead of the Dodger hitters all night long. Through 7 1/3 innings, he'd thrown first-pitch strikes to 19 of 22 batters and by the time he left, he hit first-pitch strikes on 23 of 29 guys he faced.

On the plus side, Jose Valentin put in a good night defensively at third-base making a couple of stellar plays. And my nominee for most-pathetic baseball accomplishment of the night goes to Derek Lowe who bunted into an inning-ending DP in the bottom of the 3rd. I'm still wondering how he managed that...

Monday, April 25, 2005

My Dogs are Smarter (Or how I set my alarm on 'bark')

My wife wanted to eat breakfast at home this morning in the interest of eating healthier (an unspoken agreement we've recently made with each other) and saving a few dollars here-and-there. All good and well but in order for that to work we were going to have to get up a bit earlier than usual. Easier said then done though when you realize how much of a morning person she is not.

So the alarm went off at six A.M. this morning. Jarring really, since we've been getting up about thirty-minutes later each morning of late. My wife got up, went to the bathroom then came back in the room. Obviously still half-asleep and appearing dismayed, she complained about how badly she slept. Tired as I was I could only open one eye to look at her standing forlornly at the foot of the bed.

"Do you want to reset the alarm and lay back down for another 15 minutes?," I asked.

With a meek "Yes," as reply, she crawled back in bed and reset the alarm for 6:15. Grateful for the little things in life, I closed my head and went back to sleep. When the alarm went off again, she grabbed it and reset it.

"I'll just drink a Frusion on the way to work." "Okay," I said, grateful again for another fifteen minutes of sleep.

Did I say 'fifteen' minutes? I meant five.

One bark. Two barks, then three come from downstairs. Wha? What the heck? Quick mental check: doors are shut and locked, windows are shut, blinds pulled. What is there to get the attention of one or both of the dogs? The only people in the house are lying here in bed. If anybody else was in the house, they've found a new and ingenious way around the loud cracking, thumping and crashing that usually accompanies breaking into a house.

Another bark. Well, nothing for it but to go downstairs and check it out. I found them both in the dining room standing, as if at attention, gaze directed out the patio door. A quick scan of the dining area and the kitchen reveals, as I suspected while still nestled quietly under the blankets, there is nothing to rouse the dogs from restful slumber. I notice though that they are staring intently out the patio door.

Our curtains consist of three tab-top panels. The outside panels are an opaque cloth and the center panel is a more sheer, lighter material through which you can see out to the patio. So I looked. And there it was! The interloper, the sneaky intruder intent on disrupting my blissful sleep...

A neighborhood cat was sitting atop the fence separating us from our neighbor to the south. When it spied me through the window it took off, briefly startling the dogs again. So I laugh; mystery solved. As I stood there it occurred to me that I'm supposed to be getting up for-good pretty quickly here.

I stare down at the dogs, and as they gaze up with their best 'Love-me-daddy-love-me!' look on their little doggie faces, I begin to think that maybe I ought to just stay downstairs and put in some quality daddy-puppy time. Then reason wins-out; "If I run, I can still get another 5 minutes of sleep!"

Fraying at the edges

Prominent WaPo columnist David Broder calls on Senate Democrats to "end the filibuster fracas."

Why should the Democrats be the first to step back from the abyss of the "nuclear option," the possible rules change that would eliminate all judicial nomination filibusters and thereby make confirmation possible with 51 -- not 60 -- votes? The principled answer is that elections matter. Voters placed Republicans in control of the White House and the Senate, and while the opposition still has a constitutional role to play, at the end of the day that function has to be more than talking important matters to death.

But there are also practical reasons for the Democrats to take this path. Their tactical position is weak. The Judiciary Committee cleared two more nominees last week. The Republicans -- with Vice President Cheney in the chair -- could well muster the 51 votes needed to change Senate rules and abolish judicial filibusters. If that were to happen, Democrats have said they would use every rule and procedure available to them to bring the work of the Senate to a halt.

Building such a roadblock to consideration of such important legislation as energy, Social Security, welfare reform and the routine financing of government would bring down deserved public condemnation, and the mighty megaphone of the White House would ensure that Democrats took the brunt of the blame.

Breathe deep, sweet reason! Suffice it to say though, I'm surprised to read such. Only question is, are the Democrats sane enough to heed the advice?

First impressions

The analysis, the scrutinizing and the debate about the NFL draft is starting. Locally, the Cardinals at first blush appeared to have a very, very solid draft. Much like last year.

The quip-of-the-day, and granted it's early, goes to co-host Mike Jarecki at XTRA-Sports 910 who tossed this one out while discussing Dennis Green's drafts in comparison to the previous four:

"I don't want to sound all cynical, but it almost seems like they know what they're doing."

Friday, April 22, 2005

Freedom fighters?

I'm pretty sure the Minutemen didn't gun down civilian's in cold blood. At least if they did, it never made it into my HS history texts.

However, it appears such is par for the course for Michael Moore's "Minutemen": In a video showing the killing of the purported sole survivor of a downed helicopter in Iraq, a gunman orders, "Carry out God's verdict," and his colleagues open fire, riddling the man with bullets as they shout "Allahu akbar!" - or "God is great!"

The video was posted on an Internet forum used by Islamic militants and was accompanied by a written statement from a group identifying itself as the Islamic Army in Iraq. The statement claimed responsibility for Thursday's downing of the civilian helicopter carrying security contractors in which 11 people - six Americans, three Bulgarians and two Fijians- were killed.

The chartered flight was believed to be the first civilian aircraft shot down in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion two years ago.

Lovely. The only people I feel more contempt for than insurgent thugs who go out of their way to kill civilians are the ones who justify their deeds.

Reality Intrudes on FantasyLand, Deux.

The chants of "1955! 1955!" can finally stop.

Ryan Klesko and the San Diego Padres kept the Los Angeles Dodgers from keeping pace with their Brooklyn predecessors. Klesko broke out of a slump with three hits and two RBIs, and the Padres ended Los Angeles' eight-game winning streak with a 6-1 victory Thursday night. The Dodgers had matched the 1940 and '55 teams for the best start in franchise history with a 12-2 mark through 14 games. The '55 World Series championship club is the only Dodgers team to start 13-2. The Brooklyn Dodgers began that year 22-2.

The Pads are finally off the schnide vs. the Dogs. Of course I missed all of this because I was in a parallel universe sitting in a bar having a bizarre conversation with an ex.

No justice, no peace.

All the silliness, none of the shrieking

Senator Kerry's speech yesterday was amazing. As I've thought about it, it struck me as sort of a spiritual equivalent to Al Gore's "Digital Brownshirts" silliness.

It's been well documented that Al is only barely in touch with the stately-seeming Vice President of the 1990's these days and is given to fits of shrieking in public. Senator Kerry of course retains a greater sense of decorum but is wont to say some equally silly things, as he did here.

Forces outside the mainstream now seem to effortlessly push Republican leaders toward conduct that the American people really don't want in their elected leaders... injecting religion into debates about public policy where it doesn't apply.

Perhaps I'm jumping ahead, but I can't help thinking that we're one short, quick step away from hearing the "T"-word again; theocracy! Which is of course beyond ridiculous. Just as a quick look around at the vigorous nature of political debate in the US exposes the silly notion of Digital Brownshirts, so a quick look around at the strict separation between things religious and things governmental, as must be pointed out, by forces most closely represented by the Senator's own party exposes the absurdity of Kerry's claim(s).

As I noted the other day, repeatedly insulting people of faith is political folly. Every time a Senator Kerry or Reid or any other of these people-of-faith-who-don't-live-like-it impugn the good-faith efforts of fellow citizens, they sully the process. It is more easily dismissed as silliness when it comes in the form of a bearded, screaming wild-man, but it is no less silly when delivered in the most gentlemanly way. It's still all the same kind of silliness just with none of the shrieking.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Reality Intrudes on FantasyLand

Let's say you're in a fantasy baseball league. Let's say someone offers you a trade before the season which consists of 3B Troy Glaus, 1B Jason Giambi and SS Nomar Garciaparra in exchange for C Javy Lopez, OF Hideki Matsui and P Odalis Perez. You jump on it, right?

And then this happens.

I won't even get into a stats comparison for the rest of the deal. It will be too painful for Paul. However, in the spirit of transparency his Nattering Nabobs are ahead of my _Fresh+Jive_ squad in the standings.

But for how long?

Why do they do this?

It started with the Broncos re-design and it continues today with the Arizona Cardinals. Blick! Ick! Ack!

Click the "Enlarge this Image" button at your own risk.

"My eyes! My eyes!"

Open letter to Republican Senators

This is the text of an open letter that has been sent to a certain seven Republican Senators:

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Senator John McCain, Arizona
Senator Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island
Senator Susan Collins, Maine
Senator Olympia Snowe, Maine
Senator Chuck Hagel, Nebraska
Senator John Sununu, New Hampshire
Senator John Warner, Virginia

RE: Judicial filibusters

Esteemed Senators,

This is an open letter that will be published at my blog, My Dogs are Smarter. As indicated above, I am writing to share my feelings on the issue of judicial nominations and the obstruction of numerous nominees that the President has sent to the Senate that are currently blocked via the Democrats use of the filibuster.

There is no single domestic issue that drove your party’s base to the polls last November more than judicial nominees. The National Republican Senate Committee told us that with an increased Senate majority, the Republicans would address the issue of judicial filibusters via a rules-change. Well, we did our part and the time has come for you, as a body, to do yours.

It is perceived that many of you--and at least one of you is on the record as saying you will not support such--are contemplating voting against a change in the rules that would bring cloture with 51 votes rather than 60 and allow these nominees to come up for a vote on the floor. I cannot urge you any more strongly to vote ‘Yes’ when the time comes to change this rule.

It is my view that this is a party vote. Once more, it is a defining moment for the Republican party in 2005; your party at-large wants this and a vote against it is something that will not go down well.

When the time comes you all must vote how you feel you must vote but know that a ‘No’ vote here will come with a potential price for some or all of you. As a resident of Arizona, I will no longer be able to support my Senator. While I voted for him in 2004, I will not support him in his next primary run or in the general election next time around. To the extent that it is feasible, I will also support opponents of the other six senators here named. That is how strongly I feel on the subject.


Paul Hogue
Phoenix, Arizona

Makin' me proud but not really

Senate Republicans are wimps. Plain and simple. They've teetered on the verge of folding on the issue of judicial nominees and filibusters and yesterday Ohio Republican Senator George Voinovich blindsided Committee chairman Richard Lugar when he thought he was bringing the committee together for a vote on President Bush's UN-Ambassador designate John Bolton.

NRO's editors lay it out quite nicely: That some Republicans are willing to take at face value the Democrats' personal attacks on Bolton is shameful. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R., Furrowed Brow) pronounces himself troubled by the allegations. But he supported John McCain for president in 2000-- since when is a docile temperament his test of whether someone can be an important public servant? Hagel is a fairly reliable conservative vote on routine matters. It's just when the chips are down that you can't count on him.

In the key allegation against Bolton, he is said to have intimidated a State Department intelligence analyst who objected to Bolton's supposedly too-dire assessment of Cuba's bioweapons program. But Bolton aide Fred Fleitz has testified that the analyst in question, Christian Westerman, wasn't straight with Bolton or his staff-- giving Bolton plenty of reason to be upset. At issue was language in a speech Bolton was to deliver about Cuba. It was Westerman's responsibility to run the proposed language by the CIA, but when he did so he attached his own prejudicial language dissenting from Bolton's views. When Fleitz learned this, Westerman falsely denied having done it, leading to the infamous confrontation in Bolton's office. Two of Westerman's supervisors subsequently apologized for how he handled the matter. That Bolton is now the one being pilloried for this spat--Sen. Chris Dodd said his conduct should be "indictable"--is absurd. In any case, as Lugar pointed out in a statement earlier this week, in an environment characterized by contentious policy disputes--as Bush's foreign policy team was in the first term--you can expect some personal contention.

Those policy disputes are at the bottom of the charges against Bolton. This is the revenge of the State department bureaucracy and its former servants Colin Powell and Dick Armitage. Contrary to former State department bureaucrat Carl Ford's smear of Bolton as a "kiss up, kick down" kind of guy, Bolton repeatedly clashed with Powell and Armitage over substance. Now they are hitting back. It is difficult to believe that Powell's former chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson would viciously attack Bolton on the record in the New York Times without Powell's assent. Although perhaps we should be grateful for an on-the-record Times quote by a Powell loyalist for a change. If the Bolton nomination is beaten, it will be a lesson to conservatives that they dare clash with a recalcitrant Washington bureaucracy only at great potential personal cost. Which is one of just many reasons why President Bush should use every bit of leverage at his disposal to win Bolton's confirmation.

As for Voinovich, had he bothered to attend last week's hearing he'd know what he needs to know. Sadly, Mr. Bolton may pay the price for his laziness and his political naivete (we're watching the hardly-unexpected sequel to the blockbuster Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill saga; anyone who thinks this line-of-attack is 'principled' rather than purely political isn't paying attention).

Republican leadership needs to grow a pair, stand up and push back. The debate on John Bolton's qualifications for ambassador to the UN was last week. Ample opportunity was provided to Democrat and Republican alike to express their legitimate concerns about him. It was agreed that the committee vote would occur this week. Stop the shenanigans and do your damn jobs!

UPDATE: Lileks goes off on the Senate: I’m starting to suspect that the entire Senate should be abolished. Purge the lot of ‘em. Their drivel may be no less meretricious than their House counterparts, but it’s usually slathered with sanctimony about the Noble Nature of their particular chamber, how they’re the saucer into which passions are poured to cool. (By “cool,” they often mean “frozen to the consistency of a glacier layer laid down when the Bourbons were still a going concern.”) Such airs! They’re the only branch of government that regularly advertises its special nature and higher purpose – it’s like having a special branch of the Kiwanis made up entirely of bankers who announce, before each meeting, that they’re better than the realtors and insurance salesmen. And why? Because there are fewer of them. Well, there are fewer experts in quantum physics than there are Special Forces soldiers, but I know who I’d want to drop at night into a warzone.

Meaning, uh, what? Oh, nothing. And yes, I know that the genius and virtue of the Senate is the way in which it makes Rhode Island equal to California, so the Big and Strong cannot roll over the Small, at least not until they’ve promised the Small they’ll vote for Maple Syrup price supports in the next session. But the Senate, as currently composed, seems to attract people who have that potent & fatal combination of dimness and self-regard, and when you elevate those sorts to the Great National Saucer, you get idiocies like the Bolton hearing. On one side, a charmless babbler like Joe Biden, whose instinct upon finding a bad metaphor is to attenuate it until it is three microns wide; on the other side, George Voinovich, who finally showed up for a hearing and pronounced himself Disturbed by the allegations. This is like a guy skipping class on the origins WW2 for a month then raising his hand to ask why they haven’t covered how this Hitler fellow came to power.

You can find more on the Troubling Allegations here, at the Corner, which took the trouble to make some phone calls. (Scroll down; look for Rich Lowry’s remarks.)

I am not impressed by those who want to shiv Bolton to collect a scalp, but that’s their job; I do not understand the useful idiots on the Republican side who want to hand them the knife. (“It’s all sharp the way you like it! Can I come to your party now? I’ll help with the dip and everything.”) I don’t have to like Bolton, and I certainly don’t approve of his moustache, but I want someone who will stand up to the UN. And by “stand up” I don’t mean the cut-rate back-alley hooker method of leaning against a brick wall and hiking up the skirts. I mean, someone who doesn’t give the Syrian ambassador the old collegial nod in the break room or say “How’s it goin’” to the Zimbabwe attaché when you’re standing at adjoining urinals, and consider it a promising diplomatic overture.

There are good & decent people of either party, but they would be more impressive if they took big hard whacks at their colleagues, in public, without fear of seeming “unsenatorial.” If this goes on, “Senatorial” is the last thing they’ll want to be, because the word will by a synonym for blind preening egotism matched only by mulish cluelessness.

If only I could write so well, I'd be...well, a writer. Frankly, they deserve every word.

More silliness from the Arizona legislature

First the guns-in-bars bill. And when you think they can't get any sillier, we get a proposed 10-cents a gallon rebate during the summer.

Silliest line in the whole piece? Easy: Supporters call it not only relief from the state's 18-cent per-gallon gas tax, but a boost for in-state tourism.

Are you kidding me? If you want to spare me from the vagaries of the State's gas-tax, repeal it. Don't make me jump through hoops to get barely half of it back weeks after the fact. Better yet, do something constructive and get crackin' with the EPA and the oil companies and get an oil refinery or two built in the state. Take a step that will actually accomplish something, don't offer us political gimmicks.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Cavalry Arrives May 1st!!!!

Yesterday, Sandy Alderson was officially introduced as the new CEO of the San Diego Padres. One of the most respected names in the game, Mr. Alderson leaves the league office to return to a role in which he excelled while with the Oakland A's: building and managing successful baseball organizations. This is great news for the franchise as Alderson is the first "baseball man" to occupy the CEO suite since the departure of Larry Lucchino in 2002. Upon his introduction, Alderson immediately started making sense:

"For me," he said, "the job description is to make the San Diego Padres the best franchise in baseball, or otherwise, across the country."

Here, here! But to understand the true import of the Alderson hiring, one needs to look at the team’s recent history.

Friars fans were on the verge of losing their beloved team when John Moores bought the club in 1994. By immediately installing Lucchino as CEO and letting him call the shots, Moores quickly became the best owner in franchise history. Under Lucchino's stewardship, the Padres won the NL West in 1996 (please note the last three games) and made the 1998 World Series. Lucchino possessed the baseball mind that brought Kevin Towers, Bruce Bochy, Theo Epstein, Kevin Brown, Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley to San Diego. Along with personnel moves, Lucchino also had ideas for community outreach that would more firmly root the franchise in San Diego. As he was in Baltimore with Camden Yards, Lucchino was the visionary and driving force behind planning for Petco Park. The club also embarked on real marketing and community outreach for the first time in their history. MLB's first loyalty marketing scheme, efforts to reach out to the local military presence and cross-border initiatives to increase Mexican interest in the club are examples.

Lucchino ultimately left after a rocky period marked by health problems and a series of acrimonious and debilitating lawsuits which delayed the completion of Petco for three years. In my mind, the void left by Lucchino was never adequately filled by Bob Vizas, Charles Black or Dick Freeman. That's right, the Padres have had three CEOs since 2002. The lack of vision and stability lead to poor decisions relating to personnel (the Brian Giles trade and failure to re-sign David Wells), the opening of Petco (too many compromises following Lucchino's ouster prevented it from being all it could be) and player development (overseas operations and scouting).

One need only look at the farcical process surrounding the selection of San Diego schoolboy SS Matt Bush with the #1 overall pick in the amateur draft last summer. Holding all the cards with the top selection, Padres management decided on the eve of the draft that it would not award top-dollar contracts to prospects like Stephen Drew and Jered Weaver, who were not deemed "can't miss." OK, fine so far. But without an adequate back-up plan and insufficient scouting homework done on lower-dollar talent, GM Kevin Towers and head of scouting Bill Gayton scrambled to come up with alternatives, before finally settling on Bush.

Noted for his athleticism, defensive wizardry and strong arm (but not his bat), the 18-year old Bush was touted in the draft day spin campaign as "local boy makes good." Within weeks he was being dragged out of one of my favorite bars in Peoria, AZ for being underage and intoxicated while fighting with a bouncer. He was suspended by the team for a month without pay. At Single-A Fort Wayne, Bush is hitting a tepid .204 with five errors in eleven games. Last night, he went 1-5 and committed three errors. There were better “cheap” players than Matt Bush. Some experts have suggested that although it is far too early to label Bush a bust, he could very well end up being the worst #1 overall selection in the draft's history.

With Sandy Alderson in the fold, Padres fans can look forward to a return to the more visionary and responsible management style which characterized the Lucchino era. Alderson’s track record is impressive. Given successes in Oakland and the league office, he may be the most respected management figure in the game. During his tenure with the A’s, he helped turn a moribund franchise into a consistently competitive team which appeared in three consecutive World Series’. And he did it without breaking the bank on high-dollar free agents. His recipe for success was to build through the farm system.

Alderson's philosophy closely mirrors that of Moores. He now re-joins former employees Grady Fuson and Gayton in a management team also featuring Towers and ex-GM Randy Smith. It would be hard to argue that there is a better assemblage of talent evaluators anywhere in baseball. However, it will be interesting to see how Alderson gets four personnel evaluators and three men with GM experience to co-exist. But there can be no doubting the brain power and experience that currently resides in the Padres front-office. Meanwhile, there have been hints that Alderson was brought in to shake things up and I think that Kevin Towers will have to produce results to keep his gig. He has a generally solid track record in San Diego, but there have been enough Shane Victorinos, Bubba Trammells, Ray Lankfords and Jay Witasicks to raise doubts. If this year’s club doesn’t get it done, it’s clear that Alderson already has solid in-house alternatives in the form of Fuson and Smith. Bruce Bochy is also a lame-duck in the sense that he lacks a contract for ’06. While I think his position is also potentially in jeopardy with a lackluster 2005, he may have more rope than Towers. Regardless of how it plays out, the arrival of Alderson bodes well for the future of the team.

You’ve Got to be Kidding File: Phoenix Group Rises from DNC Ashes

Fair-and-Balanced market maker George Soros is at it again. Hot on the heels of astonishing flim-flammery on campaign finance reform and then exploiting its loopholes to the tune of $23M for 527 groups like in the last election cycle, the über-billionaire is now orchestrating a build-out of “progressive infrastructure,” which includes a series of think tanks. According to

George Soros told a carefully vetted gathering of 70 likeminded millionaires and billionaires last weekend that they must be patient if they want to realize long-term political and ideological yields from an expected massive investment in “startup” progressive think tanks. The Scottsdale, Ariz., meeting, called to start the process of building an ideas production line for liberal politicians, began what organizers hope will be a long dialogue with the “partners,” many from the high-tech industry. Participants have begun to refer to themselves as the Phoenix Group.

Soros’ assembly of the Phoenix Group appears to be a reaction to the existence of conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the notorious neoconservative Project For the New American Century. These organizations have been given so much credit for their roles in the elections of George W. Bush and their influence on his agenda that liberals are claiming that they need to build a competitive infrastructure in order to gain greater share of voice.

I give these liberals credit for acknowledging the virtual bankruptcy of ideas propagated by the Democratic Party to no avail in the last three national election cycles. It’s clear that their strategy of “Anything But Bush” without a corresponding agenda of their own, precluded the Democratic mantra from resonating with vast swaths of the voting population.

However, while their apparent need to create an “ideas production line” makes me snicker while thinking “No sh*t, it also strikes me as wildly naive and disingenuous. To begin with, such a strategy presumes that such “production lines” don’t already exist. And that’s utter poppycock. Liberal think tanks are just as common and influential as conservative research houses.

In fact, some of the world’s best known think tanks are liberal in orientation. The Brookings Institution was liberal enough to be considered a potential firebombing target by Richard Nixon. Bill Clinton’s Democratic Leadership Council seemed to be very successful in articulating its messages throughout the course of his campaigns and presidency. The Aspen Institute is headed by the liberal former Time Magazine editor, Walter Issacson. The Carter Center, founded by former President Carter and currently chaired by Padres owner John Moores *tear*, is a globally recognized liberal institute. The International Crisis Group lists George Soros himself, along with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Wesley Clarke and former Clinton UN Deputy Ambassador Nancy Soderberg among its ranks. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has been brutal in its analyses of Bush's approaches to addressing WMD worldwide. And these are just a few off the top of my head. This list doesn’t include the myriad social- and union-oriented organizations which influence liberal policy promotion on the domestic side. The problem isn’t the lack of infrastructure. The problem is the lack of resonant ideation coming out of the infrastructure.

So if it’s not the infrastructure, stupid, what is Soros really up to?

Clues to his intentions come later in the article cited above:

The Democracy Alliance will act as a clearinghouse and is expected to channel much of its money to new organizations and existing ones such as John Podesta’s Center for American Progress and David Brock’s Media Matters for America…One source at the DNC with direct knowledge of the agenda said that the Phoenix Group had three specific goals at the outset. It wants to create liberal think tanks, training camps for young progressives and media centers.

Aha! So while there is a “content” angle, there seems to be a significant focus on two areas where Soros has already proven to be very influential: money and media. In fact, it sounds to me like Mr. Soros is preparing to institutionalize his loophole-exploitation of so-called 527 groups by creating more of them. After all, when David Brock is one of the first names mentioned (in connection with a think tank, no less!), you know that something is rotten in Denmark. The title of Rob Stein’s presentation to The Phoenix Group (“The Conservative Message Machine’s Money Matrix”) makes little mention of the Group’s ideological aspirations but makes sure to commit itself to the Ideology of Bling. It seems clear that Soros’ efforts are not about developing new political ideas, but rather, a new form of money-laundering. This, coming from someone who was very influential in the campaign finance reform legislation which spawned 527’s in the first place!

Think tanks and research houses are fully legitimate organizations that serve a vital role in our democracy. But not when they are created for the primary purpose of circumventing the spirit of existing campaign finance legislation. One is even forced to ask if this wasn’t Soros’ intent from the outset.

Interestingly, it has been the Democrats who have loudly questioned the “shady” influence of PNAC and other groups on the Bush agenda. Now they are leveraging their existence for justification to erect an entirely new layer of competitive policy houses. Kind of reminds me of those who used the existence of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to justify the launch of Air America. The voices of Fox and Rush were but drops amidst an ocean of liberal messaging; extending from network news to Hollywood and NPR and from the majority of metropolitan daily newspapers to college classrooms. Nonetheless, Air America was launched to “counteract” the relatively niche-y (in terms of reach and influence) Foxes, Limbaughs, Hannitys and Coulters. The Phoenix Group’s agenda seems to be similarly disingenuous and Soros’ negotiation of the intricacies of legislation he once championed, sounds increasingly like something that someone somewhere should be investigating.

Taking faith seriously

I saw this at Real Clear Politics and was immediately sucked in. It's something I've seen all over the place at ESPN and a subject that intrigues me as a politically-inquisitive and "active" Christian. (Note: that's not the best word to describe the concept, but as good as I could come up with. The idea that I try to get across is that my faith is "alive" and it informs my actions and decisions. I sometimes hate the way English works; too many ideas and not enough words!)

The entire piece begs to be gone over and discussed nearly line-by-line, so thoughtful and insightful is it. But I'll cut to the chase. This is the key passage far as I'm concerned:

On the most basic level, the contempt of the progressive elite for ordinary people--for their faiths, their speech patterns, their clothes, their hobbies, their hopes, and their aspirations--has driven scores of millions of Americans out of the Democratic Party and into either the Republican Party or a no man's land between the two. The willingness of many Republicans to simply show respect for the habits and interests of these mixed and moderate Americans has paid growing political dividends. The Republicans have understood that communicating respect is more important than offering programs or incentives. The Democrats have failed to realize that multiplying programs or policies designed to meet people's needs is doomed to fail unless and until those people sense a fundamental level of recognition of who they are, not just what they need. The medium may not be the message. But a medium of respect and recognition is what makes the reception of the message possible.


The core of this tradition, described by Bloom and many others, is clear. Believers strive for-- and achieve--a personal relationship with God. This intense experience--a spark, a fire--is individual, not collective. The less mediation and interference by denomination or organization or professional clergy, the better. And there is simply no need for much organized communal activity. No church-defined version of "social justice" can compare with the intensity, purity, and clarity of the one-on-one relationship with the divine. Many Americans, in mostly exurban and rural counties, subscribe to this tradition and practice. But it is not exclusively a white, Southern, rural, or middle-class religious culture. Many scores of millions more, in megachurches in Houston, Pentecostal storefronts in lower Manhattan and the South Bronx, and Holiness congregations in Boston, have the same core habits, patterns, and basic beliefs.

I write this with deep respect for those who express their faith in this way. Just watch Pastor Joel Osteen's services--25,000 believers packed into a Houston facility, Bibles on their laps, pens in hand. The preaching is excellent--prepared, thoughtful, positive. But it's the response--from people who have worked hard all week, people who traveled far to come to the service, people who have all the pressures and strains of every other American, sitting and listening and working at their faith--that's really remarkable. The racial and ethnic mix of the congregation is a marvel. I am a lifelong practicing Roman Catholic who has had the good fortune to spend many Sundays in Baptist and Pentecostal churches. The quality of the experience, the depth of feeling, and the impact on believers are often extraordinary. It is a tradition that must not be dismissed, that must be understood, first on its own terms and for its own sake, and then because it is at the heart of the cultural change that has already occurred and that continues to occur in our country.

So that's the 'what' but what of the 'who'...? One who would tell you that "You represent a viral strain of political thought," for starters. Inhabitants of Blue-state bubbles like the San Francisco Bay area will gladly dismiss--outright and with a blithe smile--this entire segment of their fellow Americans.

It's political folly to insult people at the core of where they live their lives. And for us people of faith, this is where we live. My faith in Christ goes with me to church on Sunday most certainly, but it also comes with me to work, it goes with me to the Dodger-Diamondback game, it goes with me to the movies and any other place I go where I encounter the culture at-large.

By insulting it and deriding it, the left serves only to push these people farther away from the left's own beliefs and positions and the political party that represent them. While I hate to see it and will fight it when it comes at me, I will at the same time get out of the way if my political opponents are that intent on ruining themselves.

Bono-fide obsession

That's what the Arizona Republic titled this chronicle of staff-writer Megan Finnerty's obsession to dance with Bono. It's essentially an extended journal entry detailing her efforts to secure tickets on the floor for U2's shows at the Glendale Arena last week. It is whimsical, humorous and illuminating all at once.

Bono has never struck me as a typical rock-icon. While he exhibits all the tell-tale traits of a rock-star, he is in other ways very much enigmatic. A rock-icon, yes, but also a deeply impassioned Christian activist and even considered as a possible candidate for head of the World Bank. He's no empty-headed front man, rather a deep man with many elements to his persona. Seeing Finnerty treat him like just-another-famous-singer-to-obsess-over is a guilty pleasure.

Her "diary" is whimsical in the way she describes the sense of nostalgia that drives her obsession; humorous in the way she details each and every step along the way as if recording all the details of a first-date to share with herself over-and-over again; finally, illuminating in the way it describes the Bono-junkies that follow the band everywhere.

Finnerty's love affair with the band starts about the time they fell off my radar. Achtung Baby and Zooropa moved the band in a direction that no longer interested me, so while I purchased and listened to Achtung for a while, I've not bought a U2 album since. And have lost no sleep over it. To see her describe the way those albums grabbed her attention and have never let go, whisked me back to high-school myself. Except in my version, it's the video for New Year's Day in "Hot" rotation on MTV...Edge's blistering guitar work still rings in my ears over 20 years later.

Her detailed time-line takes us from joining the fan club to standing outside Glendale arena, not once but twice for both Phoenix shows. A taste:

Burned in the presale, my last chance for the pit is now the general sale, when everybody mobs ticket sites on the Internet and at malls all over the Valley. Surprisingly, I don't have a computer at home.

So on Saturday, I'm in the office for my last chance at Bono. Desperate times, desperate measures. Even before the sale begins, I click frantically on the "find tickets" link on indifferent Ticketmaster's site. After 30 minutes, I still have a 15-minute wait. I'm nauseous thinking about some tacky girl getting my pit tickets.

Suddenly, a new screen pops up, a second show added. I click desperately. In seconds, the newly benevolent Ticketmaster offers me two pit tickets and three minutes to fill out the purchase forms.

Three minutes becomes three seconds. My fingers tremble. I can't swallow. Name. Address. Head pounding. Credit card number. Click, click, click, Enter.I make it. Two tickets. I shriek, grab my cell and call Emily.

It's only after hanging up that I face the math.Fan club registration: $40; first-night seat: $112; second-night pit ticket: $63. Half a week's pay for a chance to touch Bono. I think about selling the first night's seats on eBay. I hear they're going for more than $300 each.


With U2 tickets tucked safely in my desk, there is much to do. Dressing each morning, I play all my U2 CDs so I can scream along at the shows.

I plan outfits. A fashion writer; it's what I do. But dressing for Bono is paralyzing. I change my mind. Plan again. When Bono reaches out, I need to look delicious.

"When Bono reaches out, I need to look delicious." This is the same guy who moves politicians to act when he speaks about AIDS in Africa, so I struggle to see him as an object of pop-mania. But then again this is Finnerty's obsession and not mine. And as the story of it is told to completion, it is full of even more mirth, especially in it's description of the Bono-groupies.

Ultimately we find ourselves in the pit wondering along with Megan and her obsessive-twin Emily who Bono will dance with before the show ends. In all honesty, by the time I'd wound through this little journey from where it started with signing up for the fan club in January to the pit on Friday night, April 18th 2005, I was truly hoping she gets her wish! But far be it from me to spoil the end, if you want to know who dances with who you can read it for yourself. It's a ride worth taking.

Finding ways to win

Sim and I talked yesterday about the early success of the Dodgers. In the course of my morning perusal of all things fantasy-baseball related, I ran across this blurb:

1. Who deserves credit for the Los Angeles Dodgers having the best record in baseball? I think Jim Tracy deserves a lot of credit. He's one of the more well-respected managers in the game today. He gets a lot out of the talent on the Dodgers roster, and the players play hard for him. He gets the most out of everybody.

If J.D. Drew and Hee Seop Choi begin to hit – and Eric Gagne gets healthy – that'll only make this team better. The Dodgers are on a roll, and winning is something you get used to. I still think they'll have plenty of competition from the San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks and possibly the San Diego Padres, but L.A. seems to have the upper hand on the NL West for now.

I thought it'd be hard for the Dodgers to replace Shawn Green and Adrian Beltre. But they've gotten some surprisingly good pitching, Odalis Perez and Jeff Weaver in particular, and they've gotten run production from Jeff Kent, Milton Bradley, Jose Valentin, Ricky Ledee and Cesar Izturis. Those guys are really picking up the slack. And the Dodgers are finding a way to win ball games.

If you recall, I asserted that perhaps Jim Tracy is right in saying that Milton Bradley right now is the 'X-factor' for this team. Sandberg gives Tracy the credit and in fact Bradley did as well after their win in Game 1 of the Milwaukee series:

"Tracy, he just puts people in position to be successful," said Bradley, who was moved up from his usual fifth spot in the batting order to third. "Tracy knows how we're going to do it. He figures that out."

Regardless of whether it's Tracy, Bradley, Kent or some other combination of roster spots, Sandberg is right; this team is finding ways to win games that in past years they didn't. This is obvious to long-suffering Dodger fans like myself.

I knew the 2000 NBA Champion Lakers were different when I saw them winning games that they shouldn't have won. You know, the 12-point deficits in the 4th quarter on the road. Things like that hadn't happened regularly since a certain guy named Earvin wore number 32.

Just so Sim jumps to no conclusions here, I'm not arguing that the Dodgers season will end similarly--it's simply too early to say any such thing--but I am saying that there just might be something to this team after all!

Jake Peavy Update

Any doubt that this guy has joined the elite of National League pitchers? Today's San Diego Union Tribune points out that:

The Padres have won the last six games started by Jake Peavy and are 22-8 when Peavy starts dating back to the opening of the 2004 season.

Along with being the NL ERA champ in 2004, that's not too bad for a 24 year old and all-around good guy.

Pope Benedict XVI

I'm not Catholic, nor do I generally care much about the appoinment of Popes. But I stumbled across this slideshow documenting reaction in Benedict's hometown of Marktl, Bavaria. It's moving to see the reaction of this small village (pop. 2800) to being thrust upon the international stage with the ascension of one of their own to the Catholic throne. The mixture of pride, excitement and amazement is in some way moving.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

God 1, Life 0

I mentioned last week that my wife was let go from her position at the hotel she worked at. Without going into details, it was a situation that from my perspective--hardly unbiased but I hope somewhat objective--had spun out of control.

Things were said about her, pushed at human resources from one source which they pursued without corroborating the claims with other staff, things were said to her by management about her work that when checked with the people who actually worked directly with her turned out to be false, etc.

Needless to say, she was miserable and had planned to leave anyway. God apparently had other ideas though. Day after being let go, she received a call from a department head at church who wondered if she was still interested in part-time work. That very same day, another staff member suggested my wife to this same department head for the same position.

An interview on Wednesday followed by a phone call on Thursday and the job was hers; she started yesterday.

Yet another example of our plans diverging from what God sees and desires for us; and how He will use even the most uncomfortable and painful situations to bring about His chosen end.

God is good, all the time!

My Dogs are Smarter (Or how James Lileks is usually smarter than this)

Normally James Lileks is a pretty smart cookie. But it appears that his dog has gotten one over on him.

Went to the grocery store for some Frosty Paws for Jasper – last night I ran out, and he was furious. DO NOT GIVE YOUR DOG FROSTY PAWS. It’s doggie crack, and once they know they exist they will pester you daily for another. I’m stuck; he knows he gets one every day after his walk, and I will not begrudge him that. But I made a special trip to the store to buy the things tonight. I’m doggy whipped.

This is the first I've heard of Frosty Paws. And if James is to be believed, my dogs will never learn of their existence. Ever.

Of Local Interest

The Guns-in-Bars bill has gotten to the Governor's desk. It's unclear as to whether or not she will sign it, though the Republic seems to think she may veto it. That would be the common-sense thing to do.

My thoughts on the bill are found here, and I've not changed my mind. It's just dumb.

Women in Combat

Charmaine at Reasoned Audacity wrote today on this issue. And it's quite an interesting pull-back of the curtain. Is Oz exposed? Perhaps.

It needs to be clarified, right at the start: placing women in combat is against the law. But General Peter J. Schoomaker, Chief of Staff, United States Army, wants to place women in combat, rendering moot the Commander in Chief's orders and the intent of Congress. Not to mention, against the will of the people.

With Elaine Donnelly from the Center for Military Readiness, I recently met with then-Defense Secretary Wolfowitz, Army Secretary Francis Harvey, and Army Vice Chief, General Richard Cody to review military policy on placing women in harm's way. We discussed the challenges of having women under fire and at high risk of capture on the battlefield.

During our meeting, Harvey became agitated, Cody became hostile, and everyone vigorously denied the scenario where women could be, might be, in combat. But women will be in combat. And Schoomaker, Peter J., General, has a plan to make this happen.

I wonder how much, if any, people will talk about this. They ought to. On top of the fact that it is currently against the law, the bigger picture is what ought to be addressed. It's immoral.

A civilized society protects it's vulnerable members. All protestations of angry feminists aside, mothers, wives and daughters--able as they may be--deserve better than being shot at in the middle of nowhere on the side of a nameless hill. Unless of course you want more Lori Piestawa's and Jessica Lynch's.

Is that what Schoomaker, Peter J., General wants?

The impacts of an anti-capital / anti-profit mentality

Last week, I wrote about some odd comments emanating out of Germany from the chairman of the SPD. The comments focused on the adverse effects of the capitalist system's profit-orientation. This week, we learn that the same country which seems so diametrically opposed to a market-driven economy is dealing with this:

According to the research, by a German health insurance firm, cases of depression among Berliners have risen by 70% since 1997. Up to 70% of Germans also say they are prepared to seek professional help for psychological problems.

What is the root cause for this pandemic of the blues among Germans?

Mental health experts blamed the rise on Germany's faltering economy, which has seen unemployment rise to over 5m.

And what impacts do the depression-effect have on the ecopnomy?

Workers in Germany's capital, regarded as one of Europe's most vibrant modern cities, emerged as an unhappy bunch more likely to miss work through depression than for any other reason. Nationally, mental health problems were the fourth most common cause of absence from work, behind back pain, colds and flu and personal injury.

So to summarize: economic policies which don't encourage personal responsibility, discourage entrepreneurship and blithely shun the notion of profit-motive create a situation in which 6% of the total population (not the working population, mind you) is jobless. And the effects of these policies, according to experts, are driving a mass wave of emotional depression. So we are left with a cycle of malaise in which poor policy fuels unemployment, which generates emotional problems, which reduce worker productivity...which further entrenches psyche-sapping unemployment.

So just how exactly are the mentality and policy orientation of the red-green coalition positive for Germany and Germans? And more importantly, what lessons can the United States learn from this economic juggernaut?

Once a hater, always a hater

Sim discusses a post at Dodger Thoughts last night. I'd actually read that in the afternoon as well. Frankly, I didn't think the analogy worked but maybe it's just me.

As for Sim and his visceral hatred of all things Dodger, well I have a couple of questions:

1) How you lovin' 4th place and that sub-.500 record?

2) We know what Jon at Dodger Thoughts attributes the early success to. What do you attribute it to?

Personally, the more I read and re-read this take, the more I think there's something to it: "Milton[Bradley] very definitely has assumed the responsibility of leadership and with that comes complete consistency with his behavior," Tracy said. "He is stepping up big time, and he needs to do nothing further from the standpoint of leadership other than to go out and play as hard as he has played thus far."

Bradley is hitting .362 while slugging .702 with an OBP of .392 and OPS of 1.094. Not shabby, and while Kent wins the stat-fight the fact that Tracy points to Bradley as the straw-that-stirs this club I think is more revealing than any Kent-Gibson analogies, however true or accurate.

If you back up and look big-picture, it comes down to the offense. The Dodgers are the best offensive team in the NL and rank second only to Detroit(!) in the majors. In terms of pitching, they're average; only 13th in the NL in Team ERA for instance. Will that be good enough over the long haul? Don't know, but unless and until the bats quiet down we're not gonna find out. In the meantime, I'll take the 10-2 record, the 3 1/2 game division-lead (largest in the majors at the moment), the 9-2 record against the West, and a 3-game sweep against the Friers.

BTW, did you know that the Dodgers won last year's season series with San Diego? Who knew...

4/19/95 9:03 AM

10 years ago today, the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City brought spectacular terrorism to the American heartland. 168 innocent souls lost their lives.

At this time ten years ago, I was working for a market research company in Dallas and wandered into the break room for a soda only to see the carnage 200 miles to the north unfolding on the television before my eyes. My immediate thoughts turned to the safety of the many relatives I have living in Oklahoma City. I rushed back to my desk and frantically dialed my aunt Helen. She explained more fully what had happened and told me that everyone was safe and accounted for, except my uncle Ed. His office was a mere 4 blocks from the site of the blast. Within fifteen minutes we were all relieved to hear that despite all the windows of his law office being blown out, Ed and all of his employees were safe, if not very shaken. Even the windows on Helen's home, five miles from the site, had trembled with ferocity at the time of the explosion.

It is important that we never forget the events of that fateful day in 1995. On that day, terrorism struck an often forgotten and even maligned red-state. In terms of culprits, ideology, scale and global impact, the Oklahoma City bombing stands in stark contrast to what happened on 9/11. However, there are common threads which run from Oklahoma City to New York, Pennsylvania and Washington DC, and extend through Bali, Madrid, Belfast, Gaza, Tel Aviv and other affected communities around the world.

Foremost among those threads is that innocent men and women of all political and ethnic stripes who are going about their daily business are not safe, so long as twisted ideologies armed with the desire to inflict mass casualties are given even the slightest room for maneuver. A second thread is that in the aftermath of these senseless tragedies, the finest elements of the human spirit emerge under the most trying of circumstances. As we look at Oklahoma City and 9/11 in a rearview mirror in which objects increasingly (and inevitably) look smaller than they appear, it is important that we never forget. For forgetting assures that we will forego our vigilance or minimize the threats that we face.

I encourage any of you who visit Oklahoma City to spend some time at the memorial. It is a truly special place and a deeply moving experience.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Easy, Easy Lemon Squeezy

Forget the contrition for a moment. Let's get back to the fact that there are about 150 games to go, and The Myopians already have visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. Check this out:

Anyone else getting a Kirk Gibson vibe off of Jeff Kent?

Kent's off to a good start, but Mr. Porn Stache has never been a dynamic team leader, well, anywhere. He's typically just one motorcycle accident away from lying to teammates.

Easy Myopians. In the early part of the year, it's best to limit conversations to Duke Snider, The Penguin and Maury Wills. Or heck, sing us a rendition of Bruce Spingsteen's "Glory Days." But spare us the Week Three comparisons between Jeff Kent and Kirk Gibson.

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