Monday, March 31, 2008

Over And Under

I may technically be a little late for this, since four teams (including the one I root for) have already played official games that count in the standings, but today is Opening Day.

Here are my wild guess over/under win totals for all 30 MLB teams this year.

AL East: Boston 95-67, NY Yankees 92-70, Toronto 88-74, Tampa Bay 73-89, Baltimore 65-97
AL Central: Detroit 93-69, Cleveland 88-74, Chi Sox 76-86, Minnesota 73-89, Kansas City 70-92
AL West: Anaheim 91-71, Seattle 87-75, Oakland 75-87, Texas 72-90

NL East: NY Mets 95-67, Philadelphia 91-71, Atlanta 85-77, Washington 76-86, Florida 68-94
NL Central: Chi Cubs 88-74, Milwaukee 86-76, Cincinnati 78-84, St. Louis 75-87, Houston 73-89, Pittsburgh 67-95
NL West: Arizona 91-71, Colorado 88-74, Los Angeles 83-79, San Diego 82-80, San Francisco 63-99

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


These words I read in a blog comment set my mind spinning out of control.

Now here's somebody that Senator McCain should be listening to. Dr. Kanazawa has a number of good ideas.

One of the limits of the post-modern sea of culture in which people like myself swim is trying to figure out the meta-levels of facetiousness, if any, in this post. To wit: 1. Whether Dr. Kanazawa actually means any of that batshit crazy stuff about wishing Anne [sic] Coulter was President and nuked essentially the entire Mideast after 9/11 in that blog (A), or whether that was a Swiftian satire of sorts (B). 2. Whether the commenter - known on this board to be very pro-Israel and anti-Arab - endorses the sentiments of the linked blog (A) or is merely himself being facetious (B). 3. Whether that is actually the purported person posting (A), as opposed to someone using reductio ad absurdum on the extreme neo-con mindset (B).
That's eight (2x2x2) different possible interpretations of that. post. Only two of those interpretations, (A-A-A) and (A-B-A), deserve to be flamed.

In short, my head asplode.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out

I found this piece in the Washington City Paper a little too self-indulgent for my tastes, but still parts of it somehow reminded me of the dark days between the 9/11 attacks and the barely-interrputed "prosperity" streak that commenced in the summer of '03.

And like a lot of things, it got me to thinking.

Sometimes, almost inexplicably, I get nostalgic for those two years. Even though I was blogging back then, and reading some of those entries - the personal ones, as opposed to the ones where I pretended to be a political pundit or a baseball analyst or pop culture commentator - made it clear that I was nowhere near as happy to be a slacker as the author of the article.
I had my fun though, in between gloomy blog articles. I met lots of interesting people and had lots of interesting encounters of the sort that I'm not going to discuss in detail here.

Get me in person and drunk; precedent suggests that I'll at least go into some gory details of my various exploits.

There is something to be said for not punching the clock and scurrying around in the rat race for a while, to just be able to wake up late every once in a while and just stroll around and see what you see. Especially in a city like Washington, where there are a lot of things to see, many of them free of charge.

But it's not as easy as it used to be.

Back in those days, rent was cheaper. I was living in a 2-bedroom apartment, the first floor of a rowhouse in Adams-Morgan on a shady corner that frightened hardcore yuppies but not our hero. Getting around town on Metro was cheaper, and I walked most places, especially when I was out of work; sometimes I walked to and from work, since it was sometimes faster than some of those buses.

Back in those days - and they weren't even that long ago, mind you - it seemed easier to make one's own way in the nation's capital. I knew where all the relatively cheap and edible all-you-can-eat buffets (generally Chinese or Indian) were, and the Tex-Mex joints where you could fill up on chips and salsa; if you did it up right, you could eat the one big meal in the middle of the day for not much money and eat light for the other two meals. I knew where the good happy hours and drink specials were, which could sometimes come in handy, as did the fact that I could stagger home from 18th Street, Dupont Circle, or Woodley Park.

But now when I visit DC, many of those places that sustained me are gone. Some of them have celebrity chefs, attract people from the suburbs who value valet parking, and sell the latest trendy cocktail in a martini glass for $10. It's not that there weren't places like that before too, it's that there's less and less room for everyone else and everything else. They were just easier to ignore.

I suppose there's some ironic justice insofar as it could be said that I played a part in displacing people from Adams-Morgan and the District of Columbia that in turn I got displaced myself, in that rents and prices shot up higher than I was willing to pay at the time for my own place.

When I have idle time sometimes I wonder who exactly dropping a million dollars to live on a noisy loft condo above 18th Street. I mean, if you're old enough to have that kind of scratch, I'd think you'd want a bit more peace and quiet than that sort of locale affords you.

All this does make me wonder what the interns do when they come to town now in the summer. Many of them have even less money to burn than I did in those days. Or the entire nonprofit sector, which is not known for lavish wages, especially considering the educational requirements that come with most of its jobs. I mean, if I had a nickel for every party at an Adams-Morgan or Mount Pleasant group house where the residents were all non-profit types...well, I wouldn't be a rich man, but I'd at least be able to fill the gas tank a few times. Or maybe they just all have rich parents now.

I'd love to blame this on George Bush and that Republican Congress the rest of the country stuck us with for years. And while the increased presence of the Young Republican type in Washington was an irritant to be sure, there's much more going on than a mere shift in the political winds. (Not to mention that I never spent much time on Capitol Hill, Georgetown, or in the Virginia suburbs near and beyond the Beltway that the Bushites tended to prefer; to the extent any of them found their way to Adams Morgan or Dupont, they were doing their best to blend in.) While good times for the well-off relative to the rest of us, a hallmark of the Bush era, does lead to more businesses marketing primarily to the well-off at the expense of the rest of us, the politicans aren't exactly trendsetters and there was a definite trend shift. Central cities were in again, as places to live and shop and not just as places where you cleared out when 5:00 came calling.

If there are any before-and-after photos of, say, 7th Street from E Street to I Street, or 14th Street from Thomas Circle to Florida Avenue, or U Street from Florida Avenue to 15th Street - the transformations are stunning. It takes many to fuel some of those things, and it's money that neither I nor many of us had to fuel it during the early stages.

It's enough to make one miss the bad old days when the District, outside of places like Georgetown, wasn't where it was at. If you could deal with a place that was a little rough around the edges, you could make your way here if you were careful and it didn't cost too much. It's gotten quite a bit harder.

I guess you could say that the first sentence of the above paragraph does sum up the appeal of Baltimore to some people, but that's another story for another time.

I'm just happy that those days of intermittent work and long layoffs in the middle of DC I had my 20s took place then rather than now.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Round And Round And Round

What a good sign that you're living an overintellectualized existence?

Ratt's "Round and Round" just came on the iPod, and I was trying to figure what percentage of the enjoyment I derive from the particular slab of glossy 1980s heavy metal is ironic, what percentage of it nostalgic, and what percentage of it is the fact that it has an irresistably catchy chorus.

Also, I remembered that the guy who played the guitar solo is now dead.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

From The Infield

We're getting closer to the finish line.

Voters in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont are going to the polls today. This primary season has taught us to expect the unexpected, but today if Barack Obama can triumph in the two bigger contests it will seriously undermine whatever argument Hillary Clinton has for remaining in the Democratic race.

Looking at what Hillary Clinton has left for argument in her favor, I found, via Matt Yglesias, someone at Huffington Post making this argument for Hillary Clinton based on her credibility regarding matters of national security. To hear this person tell it, Hillary Clinton can "stand toe-to-toe with John McCain on national security."

You often hear mainstream media outlets saying that Democrats lack credibility on national security issues.

But at this stage I don't want "credibility" on national security, at least not in the sense that term is commonly understood. The people who think that the way to be "credible" on national security is be hawkish, to give the defense industry and military infinite funding, and keep thinking of new ways to sell new foreign invasions and adventures, and consider these things important, have their party and their candidate already.

Even if I didn't think that this type of thinking was insane...Hillary can be as hawkish as she wants to be and she's not going to move those voters away from John McCain and the Republicans. Those among us who think this Iraq war was a good idea and want to see more like it have their man, a man who happens to believe in the Bush Iraq strategy more than Bush himself ever did.

Furthermore...when a Democrat seeks "credibility" on "national security" the way that John Kerry did and Hillary Clinton is trying to, that Democrat is fighting on Republican turf. John Kerry's veteran status didn't help him much, and neither did Al Gore's for that matter. Hillary's tough talk won't help her much either. As long as those are the ground rules, the Democrats are going to be the "wimp" party, the "defeatist" party. That so many of them decided to strategically capitulate concerning the original Iraq War authorization, and then signed on to an effort to lay the same sort of groundwork for a war with Iran, makes observers think that they are either a watered-down imitation of the Republicans or a band of insincere, pandering politicos who want to have it both ways - neither one of which is particularly attractive to voters.

If the party marginalizes voices saying something like "This war was a fool's errand, that wasted countless lives and resources, and damaged our credibility worldwide in such a way that those who praise it can scarcely be trusted concerning other foreign policy matters, and those who called for it in the first place should have known better" like a majority of Americans actually believe at this point, the party is in effect narrowing its appeal.

I prefer someone willing to stand up to the ceaseless din of the war drums. "before George Bush decided to invade Iraq, there was no such thing as al-Qaida in Iraq."

Not that I expect the American public to be swayed overnight - but there are 8 months between now and Election Day.

And there is yet life beyond Election Day; it is time for liberals and progressives, and the Democratic Party as a whole, to think more than one cycle ahead, something we haven't done much of in recent years. You can see that in the rightward drift - sometimes slow, sometimes abrupt - of the country's politics over the last generation plus, a drift that is the product of a deliberate and at least partially orchestrated campaign by the conservative movement to change the national conversation. Note that this is distinct from and a little different than simply winning elections. If you're deft enough and can exploit positive short-term trends, you can win an election or two, or achieve the occassional policy victory. Every so often you can win an argument or an election on the turf of the opposition - they will sometimes stumble or self-destruct through overreaching, infighting, or personal scandal, or sometimes your side will have someone of enormous skill to level the playing field somewhat. But that doesn't change the fact that you're fighting an uphill battle from the start, and that under those conditions you will lose more often than you win.

Given the spin coming from the Clinton camp about their campaign as a whole, it's clear to me that they're effectively treating this election cycle as a one-and-done discrete event. This state doesn't matter, but that one does, and Obama can't win this bloc of key voters or Obama got too high a percentage of his support from this constituency or that demographic. While some of these things are not entirely inaccurate from the horse-race perspective of an outsider analyst, they betray a distinct tunnel vision regarding why elections and campaigns exist in the first place. Those of us who follow politics and stalk opinion polls like the paparazzi on Lindsay Lohan can gauge the electoral maps, mentally color the states, and add up the tallies, and it's important for a campaign to have people who are able to do that stuff.

But all that is different from what it takes to build a party, around a message and a narrative, a party that's well-positioned to win future elections. And the Democrats are to an extent missing that at the moment. What do Democrats stand for? That they stand against George W. Bush might be sufficient to do well in a mid-term cycle where Bush is deeply unpopular, but is insufficient for any purpose beyond that. Do they stand for the idea that there might be a better way to deal with global terror networks than picking fights in random Middle Eastern countries? That as the cost of lethal force grows ever cheaper, that other levers of power beyond overwhelming military strength, might be necessary? That the system of health care that provides the most profit to certain companies might produce inferior results in terms of actual health outcomes for the population? That shifts in taxation policy that make life easier for those who already have it relatively easy, and harder for those not so fortunate, might be unwise to undertake? That incarcerating 1% of the adult population might not be the best use of our fiscal and human resources alike? To the extent that these questions go unasked, they are replaced by generalities about "strength" and "morality" or the overall vapidity of celebrity gossip shows.

And lest the reader think I am talking about eschewing style for substance, I am assuredly not. Style can be crucially important. To get voters to the polls, you have to get people with a sort of natural, built-in apathy, to want to go stand in line on what might a cold, windy, or rainy day. You need to inspire, and the two most effective ways known to do so are to inspire either hope or fear. The cynic might say that fear is a more powerful motivator than hope is, and he might even be right. While I cannot say that the party to which I belong has never used fear as a motivator before, I can say that as things stand at the moment, the opposition is better positioned to motivate through fear (fear of terrorism, fear of foreign countries, fear of immigrants) than we are.

As such, we are left with hope.

And that is a big part of why I have chosen to support who I support, more than the fine points and distinctions drawn by their specific policy prescriptions, more than whoever is more or less "electable," more than anything else. It sounds fuzzy and naive but I think there's a strong practical element to it.