Monday, March 31, 2014

Opening Day

For the 138 year, a new baseball season is beginning. A few fun tidbits are in order.

Longest Games
On May Day, 1920, the Brooklyn Robins (soon to be called the Brooklyn Dodgers) faced off against the Boston Braves in the second of a three game series. The game lasted 26 innings and was called a 1-1 tie when it was halted due to darkness. Both pitchers threw complete games. Oddly, the next game they played, after taking Sunday off, lasted 19 innings.

In terms of time, the longest game lasted just over eight hours in 1984 between the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers. That game was halted after 17 innings and finished the next day. On April 18, 1981, the minor league Pawtucket Red Sox faced the Rochester Red Wings. That game started at 8:25 pm and the teams played continuously (32 innings) until 4:07 am on the 19th when the league president finally got in touch with the umpires and told them to stop the insanity. The players got a couple hours sleep before they played an afternoon game later that day. The game was completed in late June when they played one last, deciding inning.

Worst Base Running

In 1926, the Brooklyn Dodgers were again playing the Boston Braves. They had the bases loaded with the powerful Babe Herman at the plate. Herman lined an extra-base hit off the right field wall. On second base, pitcher Dazzy Vance held up until he was absolutely certain the ball had not been caught, On first base, lead-off hitter Chick Fewster raced towards second and was right behind Vance heading towards third. At the same time Herman sensed triple all the way, put his head down and ran like the wind.

Vance, ever cautious, got to third base and decided to stop there. Fewster also got to third shocked that it was already occupied. All the time Herman kept running and slid into third base at the feet of Vance and Fewster. With three confused Dodgers on the base, third baseman Eddie Taylor tagged everybody and waited for the umpire to sort out the details. Result: double play with pussyfoot Vance declared safe at third.

Miguel Cabrara recently signed a contract that will pay him an average of $31 million a year until the year 2023. Here is a brief history of baseball's highest paid players.
  • 1916 - Ty Cobb, 29, is the first player to be paid $20,000 in a season. He led the league in runs and stolen bases that year.
  • 1930 - Babe Ruth, 35, saw his salary peak at $80,000. That amount would not be reached again until 1949.
  • 1949 - Joe DiMaggio, 34, was the first person paid $100,000 in a season. He only played half the Yankee's games that year and retired after the 1951 season. No salary hit six figures again until Willie Mays in 1963.
  • 1976 - Hank Aaron, 42, was paid $240,000. It was his last year.
  • 1977 - Mike Schmidt, 27, more than doubled Aaron's salary at $560,000.
  • 1980 - Nolan Ryan, 33, was the first player paid a million dollars.
  • 1997 - Albert Belle, 30, was the first player paid $10 million.
  • 2009 - Alex Rodriguez, 33, signed the largest contract in baseball history at $33 million annually.
Man-Child Pitcher
Of all the oddballs to have played baseball, the oddest might be Rube Waddell. If a fire truck drove by, Rube would drop what he was doing, including pitching, to run after it. Opponents were known to place toys on the field to distract him. Managers would assign babysitters to Rube on the days he pitched so he wouldn't get lost on the way to the ballyard and they wouldn't pay him all at once but only a couple of dollars at a time. With money in his pocket, Rube would disappear for week long drunken benders.

But Rube Waddell was a hell of a pitcher. In 1904 he set a record of 349 strikeouts in a season that was not beaten until Sandy Koufax in 1965. The following year Rube had a league leading 1.48 earned run average leading the Philadelphia Athletics to the American League pennant. His drunkenness forced him from major league baseball in 1910. Two years later Rube was playing minor league ball when a devastating flood hit the town of Hickman, Kentucky. Rube heroically worked saving lives, nearly drowning in the process. Rube got pneumonia and then tuberculosis. At the age of 37, only four years after leaving the majors, Rube Waddell died of consumption.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Chris Christie Cover-Up Tutorial

Chris Christie is really fucking up his cover-up of the Bridgegate scandal. He obviously needs help.

1. Never Target a Scapegoat Who Can Fight Back
Any cover-up needs a good scapegoat, someone upon whom all blame can be leveled. The best scapegoats are dead people. In the Kennedy Assassination cover-up the scapegoat was a conveniently corpsed, Lee Harvey Oswald. Dead scapegoats are capable of superhuman feats because nobody can prove different. Alternatively, you can scapegoat some poor loser who is completely unable of defending himself.

Christie ladled all the blame on his Deputy Chief of Staff, Bridget Kelly. To color the accusation he described her as an insecure slut incapable of rational thought. She's a bad choice. Kelly is an experience political operative who knows how to defend herself. At the beginning of the scandal Kelly was a loyal Christieite willing to take the hit for her boss, secure in the knowledge that her loyalty will be repaid in time. By scapegoating her, Christie has turned a loyal friend into a formidable enemy. A better scapegoat would have been some low-level civil engineer with drug problems who has recently died.

2. Don't Be an Arrogant SOB
People love a good scandal but they are willing to forgive sincere contrition, or even fake contrition. Christie tried this tack, briefly. But contrition fits him like a tutu. He's back to his old in-your-face ways that only works as long as you can keep the trains running on time. Or the bridges don't back up.

3. Be an Ignorant Simpleton
This tactic has worked wonderfully for centuries. Ronald Reagan mastered this role during the Iran-Contra scandal. Even Reagan's most fervent supporters agreed that Reagan was the Forrest Gump of politics, a good-hearted simple-minded fool who didn't understand what was going on around him.

Christie has tried an odd variation of this tactic. His position is that he was so focused on the grand issues, like the origins of the universe, that he couldn't be bothered with the minutia of day-to-day governance. He claims ignorance because the petty problems of the people of New Jersey are beneath him. It's an interesting tactic that I can't see working.

4. If All Else Fails, Tell the Truth
Chris Christie would rather wear a tutu in public than resort to that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

White Man's Wampum

Dan Snyder owns the Washington NFL franchise. He is a billionaire. He is also a racist SOB. He has been given many opportunities to change the name of his team from Redskins, the Native American version of "darky," to, literally, anything less insulting. He has continually refused even though he'd make millions by selling new versions all the team's worthless trinkets.
People actually buy this shit, now on sale for $17.99.
Back in October, Snyder tried to use history to justify the name, noting the 1932 Boston Redskins had a Native American coach (Actually, the coach, William Henry Dietz, was probably a white man masquerading as an Indian). What Snyder neglects to mention is that the team name was chosen by the team's new owner, George Prescott Marshall. Snyder forgot to mention that Marshall made his head coach wear a feathered headdress and dance on the field. Snyder also neglected to mention that Marshall was a renown racist who for three decades refused to hire any African-American players and his legacy, the George Prescott Marshall Foundation is specifically forbidden from spending any money supporting "the principle of racial integration."
We'll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites. ~ George Prescott Marshall
The legacy of the Washington Redskins is one of vile racial prejudice.

In the subsequent months Snyder searched far and wide for Native Americans willing to trade their pride for money. He found a few by promising a Redskins Foundation that has already taken a page out of the 19th century by trading 3000 coats to Plains tribes in exchange for supporting the demeaning nickname of the Washington franchise.

However, Native Americans are not now worshiping Dan Snyder as their Great White Father in Washington. Surprising.

In fairness to Snyder, the Cleveland Indians still have their horribly racist cartoon logo, Chief Wahoo, which is just as bad.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

War Wishes

John McCain thinks "it's tragic" that the United States will not be going to war with Russia over Crimea. He said to Andrea Mitchell that he'd "love" to tell her there was a military option but he didn't see one.
The war weary.

William Kristol frets that Americans are war-weary but is confident that a with the proper Republican orator "a war-weary public can be awakened and rallied" and lead us to victory. Certainly history has such great orators who took war-weary nations and inspired them to enthusiastically invade Russia. Napoleon and Hitler come to mind.

Republican jonesing for war is a common thread of the 21st century.

This is the one recreational war Republican wanted that they got. Republicans assured the country that the war would be quick, easy, and fun. 
McCain predicted a swift war ending in three weeks.
Kristol was more cautious, predicting the war would end in two months.

It took eight years, was painfully difficult, and miserable.

Starting shortly after the Iraq War started Republicans began talking up "regime change" through attacking of Iran.
In 2008 McCain enjoyed joking about bombing Iran.
Kristol has been predicting and urging was with Iran annually for years. In 2006 he thought it would happen "soon." The following year he said that President Bush could rally Americans for an Iran War by 2008. Kristol thought 2010 was the perfect opportunity to begin war with Iran. In 2012 he urged Congress to declare war. He did that again last year.
But Iran is suddenly no long the focus of Republican warrior masturbation because...

I can't find any Republicans willing to predict war with Russia will be easy and over in a few weeks.  I can, however, find a number of Republicans that seemingly would be rooting for Russia against the US.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Russian Crimea Vote - History Repeats Itself

The Russian vote in Crimea over the weekend has an exact historical antecedent.
On February 27, Vlad Putin ordered his troops to take possession of various key points on the Crimean peninsula. On March 16, with his forces in firm control over the territory, Putin held a referendum to justify the takeover. People who might have voted against Putin were threatened and intimidated into silence. The result of the vote was 96% in favor of the takeover, according to CNN.
On March 12, 1938, Hitler ordered his troops to march into Austria and take possession of that German speaking country (the Anschluss or Union). After taking control of the nation Hitler set about justifying the takeover by holding a referendum. Jews, communists, and others who might have objected to the takeover were arrested and shipped to concentration camps in Germany or otherwise intimidated by the Gestapo. On April 10, Austrians voted on the German takeover, the result of the vote was 99% in favor.

In both instances the votes were held at the point of bayonets although they certainly would have been approved without intimidation just not with such impressively overwhelming numbers.

As pointed out by this writer, this is not Godwin's Law but an amazingly similar historical parallel. It is almost as if Putin wants to take the mantle of Worst Vlad in History away from Vlad Tepes.

Friday, March 14, 2014

American Police State: Highway Robbery Division

It's a time honored profession in the United States. A lone gunman stops a vehicle in, let's say Nevada. The gunman orders the people out of the vehicle, he takes all the money they possess, and he sends them on their way. There was a time that when this act was illegal and the local county sheriff would gather up a posse to chase down these brigands. But times have changed. Today the most profitable highwaymen are local law enforcement officers.
Joaquin Murrieta lived in the wrong century.
The law that allows this is called "civil forfeiture." If police stop you along the road and discover a significant amount of cash they can just up and take it. They don't have to arrest you or accuse you of any crime or even have any evidence of a crime. One trick used to great effect is to kidnap, I mean arrest, someone on trumped up charges and only release him after he signs a waiver forfeiting his belongings to the robbers, I'm sorry, to the police. Police agencies will take money, cars, even people's homes.

While it is possible to get the property back it is a long, involved legal process. An expensive legal process that, since the police already have taken the victim's money, few people can afford the fight. Most people are helpless to defend themselves and must meekly accept the fact they have been fucked by the police.

This is not police corruption, it is an imperfectly legal operation that police agencies use to supplement their budgets. If the county sheriff wants some fancy new gadget he doesn't have to go to the county government and beg for funds, he simply sends he officers out to confiscate the money. Officers who make a big haul of booty are celebrated for their skill at highway robbery.

By the way, it is also totally a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution but courts have ruled that the Constitution does not apply.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Responding to Russia

Republicans, when they are not praising Vlad Putin as a man's man, are forever criticizing President Obama for not doing enough about the Crimea crisis. Yet they don't make any suggestions about what ought to be done. That's not entirely true, a few Republicans have illustrated their criticism by suggesting Obama do precisely what he has been doing. And a few have gone predictably batshit.

In general, there are very few options available.

The Armageddon Option
Bomb Moscow.
My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes. ~ Ronald Reagan
In 1955, Gen. Curtis LeMay proposed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to drop every nuclear weapon in its arsenal on the Soviet Union. In 1956, LeMay scrambled nearly a thousand bombers and feigned an attack on Russia. It was a show of strength but LeMay later said, "With a bit more luck we could have started World War III." In 1984, Reagan spoke that quip into an open mic. The Soviets activated their defenses and put their nuclear missiles on alert fearing Reagan wasn't joking.

Last Saturday, Sarah Palin suggested the only way to stop Putin was to bomb Russia when she said, "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke."

The Operation Overlord Option
Declare war with the intention of driving Russia out of the Crimea without going nuclear. The Crimea is connected to mainland Ukraine by a five kilometer wide isthmus meaning the only viable route would be a D-Day like amphibious invasion. It took the Allies two years to plan for D-Day and the Black Sea is not the English Channel.

The Kuwait Option
Like the run up to the First Gulf War, NATO could give Russia an ultimatum to leave Crimea by X date or face a declaration of war. Like in 1990, such an ultimatum will certainly fail leading to the above options.

The Tripwire Option
Basically what the US has been doing in South Korea for over half a century. Station American troops in the Ukraine and other vulnerable states bordering Russia so any attack on those countries would have to also attack American troops. Obama is actually doing this by stationing Air Force personnel in Latvia and Poland.
There are few military options that would not end up like this.
The truth is there are not a dozen people in Europe and North America willing to go to war over the Crimea. So let us look at the non-military options.

The Squeeze Their Balls Till They Pop Option
Isolate Russia by declaring economic war. Close the Bosporus to Russian shipping, shut down Russia's oil pipeline to the West, confiscate Russian assets in the West. The result will probably be $10 a gallon gasoline, an economic depression in Europe and possible the US, and possibly war if Russia decides it has no other alternative. The only country that would benefit would be China.

The Iran Option
Sanctions short of economic war with the intention of showing Russia that they will lose more than they gain. This would not satisfy the bloodthirsty neocons anymore than it has with Iran. Olympic corruption has already damaged Russia's economy and sanction will hurt even more. The all powerful oligarchy would demand a peaceful solution, probably the Two State Option. This option would probably not change the new reality that Crimea is no longer part of the Ukraine.

The Two State Option
Before the Russian invasion Crimea was only nominally part of the Ukraine. The Autonomous Republic of Crimea was unique within Ukraine in that had its own government (appointed by Kiev) and elected parliament. This option accepts that neither Russia nor the majority of Crimeans will accept control from a hostile Kiev. It proposes a referendum on independence. An independent Crimea would, of course, only be a puppet of Russia in a manner similar to Puerto Rico is to the United States. This seems to be where we will end up.

The Munich Option
Accept that Crimea is just not something to start a world war over and allow Russia to annex it. The problem here is that there are other parts of the old Soviet Union that Russia has a hankering for like the Baltic states. It is unlikely that Putin's appetite will be sated by just Crimea. Putin would keep sniffing at the small border states until his reach exceeds his grasp and then we are back to the first option on the list.

I suspect that sanctions leading to the Two State Option is probably the best outcome for all concerned.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Crimean Wars

Charge of the Light Brigade - 1854 Crimean War
A 1994 informal treaty between the United States, Great Britain, and Ukraine has those two western countries guaranteeing Ukraine's territorial integrity. The new Ukraine government is invoking that treaty now that Russian forces have left their Black Sea bases to occupy key points in the Crimea Peninsula. Neocons have wanted a war with Russia for over half a century and are attacking President Obama for not threatening war (Although, were he to threaten war they would attack him for that too).

While I seriously doubt that the western powers want to go to war over Crimea, it has happened before.

The Original Crimean War
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred. ~ Charge of the Light Brigade ~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson
In the 1850's, the Russian Empire had disputes with the Ottoman Empire about Orthodox Christian access to holy sites so the Russians invaded Moldavia responding to French actions to pressure the Ottomans in Palestine. This frightened the Austrians and angered the British. The Russians eventually withdrew from Moldavia but by then the war fever in Britain and France was so hot the governments were forced to go to war against their better judgement.

They choose the Crimea because of its Russian naval ports. The war dragged on for two years with a half million military deaths, mostly from disease, before it just kind of petered out. Besides all the death, nothing much was accomplished.

The Russians were bankrupted by the war and had to sell Alaska to the United States so the war did indirectly lead to Sarah Palin.
The only good to come of the war was Florence Nightingale.