August 17, 2007

A follow-up on OffermanGate. The Atlantic League, perhaps having reviewed the incident more closely than the national media has, decided to maintain the suspension of Jose Offerman until after the criminal charges against him are resolved. No life ban, not even a season-long suspension. A good article placing the incident in context can be found here.
Electoral College Reform: I think Kaus is right that the proposed initiative to divvy up California's electoral votes is much ado about nothing, but I would like to address the unstated assumption that this sort of thing would be fair and appropriate if done nationwide, as opposed to targeting specific states. The biggest problem with the Electoral College is the imbalance in favor of low-population states, like the Dakotas or Wyoming, which enable the voters in those states to have a disproportionate say in the outcome of the election. The other big problem, which partially counterbalances the first, is that a candidate wins all of the electoral votes in a state, no matter how close his margin of victory.

The proposed "reform" on the June ballot cures the second problem, but exacerbates the first. Kaus correctly points out that gerrymandering has made most House seats non-competitive; in California, the lines were drawn pursuant to a gentlemen's agreement in 2001 to protect both parties' incumbents, freezing into place a significant partisan advantage for the Democrats incurred from the previous redistricting, which was done by a panel of judges. At the time, the Democrats thought they were preserving their party's advantage into the future, not believing that it could be conceivable that they would be able to expand their advantage.

As it turns out, the post-Prop. 187 shift toward the Democrats in California was only just beginning in 2000. Only the incumbent-friendly lines drawn in 2001 have kept the Republican Party from disappearing into marginalization in the Golden State. Thus, the lines in California favor the GOP more than their actual strength would merit, and in a Presidential election, it would take a landslide of historic proportions to give the Democrats more than a fifteen-seat edge in the Electoral College under the proposed reform.

But in a state like Florida or Ohio, where the lines were rejiggered to maximize the dominance of one party, even a close election could result in a lopsided electoral count. It is almost certain that the GOP would win a majority of electors in a close election in Florida, even if Hillary or Barack were to win the state, simply because of how the House districts were drawn last time to favor that party.* It is certainly conceivable that a similar scenario could happen in Ohio, a state where a number of troubled incumbent House members were able to win reelection in 2006 in spite of the toxic political situation for Republicans in that state.

In any event, reducing the influence of the large states by dividing up their electoral votes only increases the power of smaller, more homogenous states. That doesn't seem like much of a reform to me.

*The GOP has a 16-9 edge in the state delegation, in spite of it being the state that perhaps best exemplifies the even divisions in the country following the 2000 election.

August 15, 2007

Now here's a good way for hitters to reclaim the inside part of the plate. My all-time favorite ballplayer, Jose Offerman, went after a battery with a baseball bat after being hit by a pitch in a minor league baseball game last night. For this act of self-defense, he spent the night in jail. Both pitcher and catcher were recuperating.

I know there's a "code" that tolerates "throwing inside" to a batter, but I'm surprised this hasn't happened more often. Having a 100-mph pitch deliberately thrown at your skull may seem to the outsider as a pitcher's prerogative, but to someone in the heat of battle, that's assault and battery. At least one player, Ray Chapman in 1920, has died because he didn't get out of the way fast enough from a pitch aimed at his head, and two other famous players, Mickey Cochrane and Tony Conigliaro, sustained injuries that led inexorably to their deaths years later. Charging the mound with nothing but your fists seems a disproportionately weak response.

But a baseball bat expands the arms race exponentially. Hall-of-Famer Juan Marichal once pounded in the skull of LA Dodger John Roseboro because he thought the catcher had thrown a return pitch to the mound a little too close to his ear. He got off rather easy, with a short suspension and a fine, but the public outcry was so great that a player who was arguably the best pitcher of the 1960's was kept out of Cooperstown for a few years because of the incident. Offerman can expect no such mercy from the predominantly white media or from organized baseball. Expect the home run he hit in his previous at bat to be his last.

UPDATE (8/17): Here's a real time slide show video of the attack. It's not even close to the Marichal attack; Offerman appears to take one aborted swing, connecting with both catcher (who's rushing him from behind) and pitcher, but it looks from the video that he went out hoping to scare the pitcher, and the fact that he only used one hand testifies to his lack of deadly intention. Still, if you point a loaded pistol at someone, you pay the consequences if it goes off.

August 14, 2007

Flap your wings, Junior Orwells: Ron Rosenbaum asks whether this Stanley Fish op-ed, on the travails of going to Starbucks vis a vis a traditional coffee shop, is the "worst op-ed ever written?" Maybe, but I would guess that honor should be reserved for one of those cheerleading liberal hawk op-eds, circa 2002-3 (like this one), that compared Saddam, Osama, or fill-in-the-blank Islamist up-to-no-gooder with Adolf Hitler, Nazi Germany or whatever, which directly led to the ongoing Iraq disaster. Millions of people aren't going to die because Prof. Fish has an aversion to cafe au lait.
Mickey Kaus points to this ugly attack on Mike Huckabee; it's a good indication of why he can never be the Republican nominee. He will never appeal strongly enough to the racist base of the party.
It's safe to say the investigation of L.A.'s Mayor has gone stone cold, if this is any indication. [link via Luke Ford]

August 13, 2007

Bush's Brain Quits: I'm most unimpressed with the legacy of Karl Rove. His brilliant decision in 2000 to have Bush campaign in New Jersey and California, and not campaign on weekends, at the tail end of that election was meant to show that his boy was confident and coasting, and it was based on polling that showed Bush with a double-digit lead. Bush lost, and would have been a forgotten footnote were it not for the machinations of the Supreme Court. In the wake of 9/11 and a quick "victory" in Iraq, it shouldn't have been difficult to reelect his client, especially with a liberal Massachusetts Democrat as his opponent, but Bush almost lost that race as well. Considering that since 1952, electing Republicans as President has been the default choice of the electorate, it's hard to be impressed with his legacy.

Moreover, the Republican Party under his watch is now the weakest it has been since Watergate. The party is hemorhaging seats in Congress and at the state level, largely because of Rove's deliberate tactic of playing to the base, which has become increasingly extreme (and irrelevant). A major, potentially enormous political realignment has begun that will favor Democrats for perhaps a generation, much of it the result of the shortsighted, dunderheaded tactics of the man the President nicknamed "Turdblossom." As long as Americans study politics, they will note the hubris shown by the man who predicted a Republican victory in the 2006 election with the line "I'm looking at 68 polls a week for candidates for the US House and US Senate, and Governor and you may be looking at 4-5 public polls a week that talk attitudes nationally...You may end up with a different math but you are entitled to your math and I'm entitled to THE math." Right now, "THE math" shows Republican minorities in both houses of Congress, and no Republican presidential candidate beating Hillary Clinton.

And of course, his role in outing Valerie Plame made his very existence within the Bush White House toxic. The Plame Affair generated enormous heat within the blogosphere, with lefty bloggers suddenly appreciating the sanctity of preserving CIA secrecy, and righties obsessed with irrelevant tangents about Amb. Wilson's bona fides. But to the public, the real scandal was the cold-blooded manner with which the Bush Administration attempted to deal with a critic, potentially putting a covert agent's life (as well as the lives of the assets she dealt with) at risk. Rove's involvement in the outing of Ms. Wilson effectively proved that the action had met with the approval of the President, and further plunged his client's approval ratings into the Nixonian toilet.

Perhaps Josh Marshall has it right when he speculates, "[W]ith the recent news of cutbacks on funding of human intelligence in the intel budget, there's the possibility that there were no more CIA agents whose cover could be blown and he decided to move on to greener pastures."

UPDATE: Kevin Drum agrees, and passes along a devastating anecdote about the Bush-Rove team at work.

August 12, 2007

For the first time in nearly two years, I ventured into a cinema. The movie that lured me out of my cockoon was Michael Moore's latest attack on the American Way of Life, SiCKO. It is, without a doubt, his best work to date, and having found that Moore's docs don't work as well on the small screen as they do in front of a live audience, I'm glad I spent the twelve bucks to see the matinee showing in Pasadena. When his critics are left to debating whether the U.S. has a better health care system than Cuba, or that our relatively high infant mortality rate or low life expectancy aren't necessarily the most important factors, you can tell he has the best of the argument.

But I have a personal reason for backing Moore on this one. I just saw my late grandmother's hospital bill for a five-day stay after she fell in May. The extent of her treatment was to stitch up her face, and to give her liquids for dehydration. Neither the doctors nor the staff diagnosed that she had suffered a stroke; that was only determined after they sent her home, and we had to take her to a real hospital, Providence-St. Joseph's.

For the ludicrously small amount of treatment and attention she received, she was billed $45,000.
Nice Tie: Markos Moulitsas gets some props from an unlikely source in the blogosphere....