Desperate Houseflies: The Magazine

Feel free to pull out your trusty fly swatter and comment on what is posted here, realizing that this odd collection of writers may prove as difficult to kill as houseflies and are presumably just as pesky. “Desperate Houseflies” is a magazine that intends to publish weekly articles on subjects such as politics, literature, history, sports, photography, religion, and no telling what else. We’ll see what happens.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

C.S. Lewis, Aristotle, and Bill Frist: One of These Things Is Not Like the Others

In the introduction to his book, Studies in Words, C.S. Lewis comments on a phenomenon he calls "verbicide." Verbicide is the act of killing a word by reducing its meaning to the same thing as an already existing word. According to Lewis, the 2 words that most murdered words get reduced to are "good" and "bad." The word "quality," for example, has been reduced to mean the same thing as "good." A man who owns a shoe store will advertise his business like so: "Quality shoes at low prices." And we'll all understand his intended meaning -- that his is the shop for "good" shoes at low prices, even though that's not what the ad says. If we didn't kill the word "quality" by reducing its meaning to "good," his ad would be nonsense. All it really says, if we let "quality" live as a word with its own meaning, is that his shop sells shoes with some quality (some property) or other. What quality? "Durable" and "water soluble" are both qualities; which quality do his shoes possess?

So, according to Lewis, words tend over time to be reduced to meaning "good" or "bad." Why? On Lewis's view, it's because people prefer simple "evaluative" thinking to complex "descriptive" thinking. In other words, we prefer to talk in terms of a thing's value rather than its properties. Words are the objects we think with, so if we tend to reduce our words to simple "good" or "bad," it suggests we like to reduce our thinking to simple "good" or "bad," too. Absolutes are convenient and require the minimum of mental effort. If a thing is good, it's good; if it's bad, it's bad. The elimination of mixed states greatly simplifies our mental life. So we tend to drive our language toward the Absolutes: good or bad, nothing in-between.

What does all this have to do with politics?

As Aristotle noted, politics is a subcategory of ethics. This seems very counterintuitive, given that 99.999% of politicians are strangers to the notion of ethics. What Aristotle meant, though, is that ethics is concerned with how one ought to live, and politics is concerned with how one ought to live in society with others; thus, it's a subset of ethics. My point is, politics is fundamentally about values. It is about questions of how we ought to live as a society. Because politics is an arena of value judgments, we are particularly susceptible in the realm of politics to the kind of reductive "evaluative" thinking Lewis describes.

So, when politicians want the public to support their position on an issue, what do they do? They use rhetorical sleight of hand to impress their position on the public's mind as simply "good." If necessary, they'll use similar sleight of hand to impress their opponents' position on the public's mind as simply "bad." They commit verbicide. They identify the respective positions with an Absolute: their own with "good," their opponents' with "bad." Thus, they take all the thinking out of the issue for the public. People no longer have to look closely at the issue and at the various positions on it and see which of the various partly-good-partly-bad things is better and which is worse.

In American politics, the Absolute Good is our Constitution. If you want the public to support a position, call it the "constitutional" position. If you want them to oppose a position, call it "unconstitutional." It doesn't matter if the 2 positions in question have nothing to do with the Constitution, per se. The Constitution could be completely silent on the subject. That's irrelevant. The point is to identify one position with Absolute Good, and the other with Absolute Bad. It's political verbicide.

That's what's going on when something hitherto known as "the nuclear option" gets redubbed "the constitutional option." Does the Constitution have anything to say on the subject of judicial filibusters? Nope. The Constitution couldn't be less interested. But if the side that opposes them can get the public to mentally reduce that side's position to a constitutional requirement, it creates an impression on the mind: opposing judicial filibusters is Absolute Good. This rhetorical trick is pandering, of course. It simultaneously panders to the moral reflexes of "values voters," and to the mental tendency of all people to reduce all things to "good" or "bad." That's where the shift in language gets its power, and that's why politicians do it.

The judicial filibuster is a mixed bag. It's good in some ways, and bad in some ways. If we want to make an intelligent decision on whether to keep it or destroy it, we must take both its good aspects and its bad aspects into account. We can't just absolutize it by couching it in constitutional language (or accepting the efforts of others to do so), make a snap judgment about it, then dust off our hands and say with a sigh of [false] moral satisfaction, "Well, good for me. I'm on the side of the angels, again."

On most issues, political or otherwise, the responsibility of any adult person is to deal with messy reality without, for convenience or self-reassurance, pretending it isn't messy. Whatever one may believe about the Ultimate sources of good and evil, the fact is that life in the present world rarely, if ever, presents us with pure goods or pure evils. The only responsible thing to do -- the only moral thing to do -- is to accept that, do one's best, and learn to live with the uncertainty.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Sunday Thoughts

by Al Sturgeon
(published each week in Desperate Houseflies)


I’m not on the cutting edge of the movie scene, so I’m a newcomer to Hotel Rwanda. Nonetheless, it is a powerful movie that brings the horror of genocide to our living rooms through the true story of Paul Rusesabagina.

Rusesabagina, portrayed by actor Don Cheadle, was the manager of a European-owned hotel in Rwanda in 1994 when the Hutus unleashed their atrocious rampage against the Tutsis. In essence, Rusesabagina, faced with his own death, turned his hotel into a refugee camp (it would be inaccurate to call it a safe haven at the time) that eventually saved over a thousand lives in the genocide that murdered approximately one million Rwandans.

Ty Burr of the Boston Globe reviewed the movie and said, “The twofold agenda in Hotel Rwanda is to commemorate what Paul Rusesabagina did and to shame each and every Westerner who sees the movie. On both of those counts it is successful.” I’d have to agree. I was definitely ashamed.

At one point in the movie, an American journalist risked his life to get raw footage of the massacres and sneak the video back home. Rusesabagina rejoiced, claiming, “When they see the atrocities, they will help!” To which the journalist replied cynically, “No. When they see this, they will say ‘That’s horrible.’ And then go back to their dinners.” Does that condemn anyone else? Or is it just me?

I’ve come to understand “compassion” – as defined by the Bible – to be pity punctuated by action. In other words, “to hurt so badly for someone that you can’t help but do something about it.” Think Good Samaritan. Better yet, think Jesus. Whatever you do, don’t think me. At least not yet. But who’s to say that the group I worship with in Ocean Springs, a group that claims Christ as our model, cannot become a place known for it’s compassion. That is, after all, the example lived by our life model. Plus, it took Paul Rusesabagina a while to catch on, too.

I remember a different Paul Rusesabagina early in the movie. He was a good man, but a hotel manager who worried when the refugees began arriving, saying, “I have no room!” There is a different Paul that marches toward freedom at the movie’s end, surrounded by children, answering a question on where he would find room for them with joyful confidence, saying, “There is always room!” That’s much more like Jesus. Much more like Jesus than me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

If You're Being Run Out of Town, Get Out Front and Try to Make It Look Like a Parade

Picking up on last week's topic, the Senate today avoided a showdown over the filibuster of judicial nominees. How? As usual, by the Democrats deciding to give in rather than actually stand for something.

Under the agreement, brokered by a group of moderates from both parties, 3 of the disputed judges will be guaranteed a vote -- which is to say, given the Republican majority, they have been guaranteed approval -- 2 others will be left to face the possibility of filibuster, the Republicans promise not to change the Senate rules on filibusters, and the Democrats promise not to use the filibuster on judicial nominees in the future except in "extraordinary circumstances."

In other words, the Republican majority will allow the Senate to keep the filibuster, so long as the Democrats promise never to use it. Can somebody explain to me how that's a compromise? The filibuster is just as unavailable as if the rules had been changed. The right-wing interest groups get 3 of their most prized darlings -- Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen, and Bill Pryor -- confirmed for certain, and possibly 2 others. And the ground is now leveled and paved for President Bush to get absolutely anyone he wants appointed to fill the 2 or possibly 3 Supreme Court seats that will become vacant before he leaves office.

So what is it, exactly, that the Democrats got out of this "compromise"?

In a word, nothing.

Well, almost nothing. In essense, they got a commitment from the Republicans to call this thing a "compromise" rather than hooting about their total victory. The main thing the Dems got, however, is that they don't have to stand up and actually fight for a principle, and that seems to be more valuable to the Democratic leadership these days than anything else. This was an issue where the Democrats actually had the moral high ground. The Republican majority was wrong to try to change the rules; especially the way they were going to do it. And according to all the polls, Americans didn't want it to happen. But the Dems saw that Americans also thought all judicial nominees should get an up or down vote. Rather than taking on the task of standing up for a good principle and educating the American people on the fact that it has never been the case that all judicial nominees get an up or down vote, they caved in. The Dems were also correct in opposing these particular judges. Pryor is a tougher call, but from what I know of Brown's and Owen's records, neither of them has any business at all on the federal bench.

Yet the Democrats caved utterly. This "compromise" is an unmitigated disaster. It is no compromise at all, but an unconditional surrender. Once again, the Democratic Party has failed the country. But, hey, at least they don't have to stand up for that, either, since the Republicans have agreed to let them off the hook by calling this a "compromise."

Days like this are why I am not a Democrat.

Monday, May 23, 2005

A True Conversion

I have to admit that I'm a bit worn out from all of the political spin during the past week. Whether it was about Newsweek, prison abuse, filibustering, or "nucular" options, I found it all exhausting by Sunday. That's why I was so refreshed by this piece I stumbled across while surfing the 'net today. It's one former liberal's story of how he gradually grew from a 60's progressive and 80's "card-carrying" liberal into a 2005 conservative. Please don't get turned off by the word "simpering" in the sub-title of the piece. Take a few minutes to read the whole article and comment. It's great stuff.

I'm heading off on vacation starting at the end of this week, so I don't think I'll be posting on Monday for the next two weeks. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to have a late lunch with Dejon this Friday as I swing through AZ on the way to TX. I'm looking forward to catching a few bass, eating some good brisket, and watching the Astros lose to the Reds on Memorial Day. Unfortunately, I won't be making it any farther east than Houston during this trip, so I'll miss the gang in MS.

If you are somehow misguided enough that you feel you may miss my weekly posts, I suggest you take the next two weeks to read the debate that followed from the "Newsweak" posting last Monday. It will probably take you at least two weeks to get through it all.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Sunday Thoughts

by Al Sturgeon
(published each week in Desperate Houseflies)

Okay, I'm warped enough to deal with the fact that nobody reads DH on my day by telling myself that everyone waits until Monday to catch up on their blogs. And I go on to fool myself into thinking that I rarely get any comments because I have yet to refer to Abu Ghraib, Newsweek, or certain important parts of a whale's anatomy.

But since I just did refer to all those things, maybe all of you who happen to notice this when you get back to work on Monday will humor me this time by adding your comments at least this once.

It worries me that my repeated references to Eugene Peterson may be annoying some folks, so with that in mind, I choose this time not to care. You're getting Peterson anyway.

If you would, please add your thoughts to the following four-paragraph excerpt from Peterson's new book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. I'll be very interested.

[AL'S SET-UP: Peterson has been pointing out that there are striking similarites between the two-volume set from Dr. Luke found in the New Testament. At present, he is noticing the trials of both Jesus and Paul found near the conclusions of both books. Read on...]

...The striking thing about the two trials is that neither Jesus nor Paul makes much of an impression on the "powers." It is quite extraordinary, really. First Jesus and then Paul have the attention, even if briefly, of the most important leaders in that part of the world and fail to convert them, fail to bring them to their knees, fail even to get taken seriously by them. But it seems the indifference was mutual; Jesus and Paul didn't take very seriously the courts in which they were being tried, either.

These trials force us, if we are to stay true to the story we are reading, to give up the notion that the Christian community, rightly and obediently lived, can somehow, if we just put our minds to it, be tarted up sufficiently to catch the admiring eye of the world. We have ample documentation by now to disabuse us of such stuff. Eighteen hundred years or so of Hebrew history capped by a full exposition in Jesus Christ tell us that God's revelation of himself is rejected far more often than it is accepted, is dismissed by far more people than embrace it, and has been either attacked or ignored by every major culture or civilization in which it has given its witness: magnificent Egypt, fierce Assyria, beautiful Babylon, artistic Greece, political Rome, Enlightenment France, Nazi Germany, Renaissance Italy, Marxist Russia, Maoist China, and pursuit-of-happiness America. The community of God's people has survived in all of these cultures and civilizations but always as a minority, always marginal to the mainstream, never statistically significant. Paul was acerbically brief: "not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth...God chose what is low and despised in the world" (1 Cor. 1:26-28).

It gives us pause. If we, as the continuing company of Jesus, seem to have achieved an easy accomodation with our society and culture, how did we pull off what Jesus and the community of Jesus failed to accomplish? How has it come to pass that after twenty centuries of rejection, North American Christians assume that acclaim by numbers is a certificate of divine approval?

The significance of the church has never been in King Number. Its message has seldom (hardly ever, in fact) been embraced by the mighty and powerful. Strategies are introduced from time to time to target "important" leaders, men and women in high places in government, business, or the media, for conversion. It is not a practice backed by biblical precedent. There are, of course, Christians in high places politically and prominent in the celebrity pantheon, but their position and standing doesn't seem to mean anything strategically significant in terms of God's kingdom. To suppose that if we can just "place" Christian men and women in prominent positions of leadership, we are going to improve the efficacy of the community in its worship, missions, or evangelism, has no warrant in Scripture or history.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Faith: shout for it or against it ... but for God's sake, don't live it

Call me a homer, but the news from the Air Force Academy (a.k.a. the DoD's center for media scandals) caught my eye. It appears the premier military academy has gone from a breeding ground for sexual assault to a stronghold of religious intolerance.

However these thoughts from Sally Jenkins (Football's Religious Kick) seem to cut to what seems a more prevalent issue. Is the issue the religious right V. liberal freedom?

...The battle for a theocracy or the battle for the right to practice personal religion?

Since I'm on vacation, I'll submit my opinion and be done with it.

U.S. society as a whole lacks the spiritual depth to demonstrate, tolerate or, sadly, discuss matters of faith. Yet we dress up our shallow nature and call it "diversity." When one takes American society as a whole, we are actually spiritually homogenous.

Does it really matter? I say this spiritual indifference (not just Newsweek) is the true reason for the ubiquitous anti-American mindset.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Curse of OCD

The problem with having Obssessive-Compulsive disorder is...umm...well, kind of obvious. My obssessions aren't too bad--the typical obssessions with locks and washing hands and making sure the stove is turned off (I don't even cook all that much, so I'm really just checking to see if my roommates turned the oven off). The up-side of it is that this is actually a convenient disorder for a graduate student. See, you get obssessed with an idea or topic, and next thing you know, you've read a few books on that topic. The down-side, as you'll soon see, is that you read a couple of books and then can't do anything but write about them even if you've not exactly formulated your thoughts in any way whatsoever. Don't go a-looking for a point in this post, as you'll be sorely disappointed.

Unfortunately for you, I've been reading some disturbing books lately. Not intentionally, mind you, it just kind of happened. So now I'm a) trying to make sense of them, and b) trying to learn more about the topic. Which right now is huge (actually, it's a couple of different topics that I'm trying to make sense of at the same time). A brief preface before you continue on: I'm not trying to make a political point, even though I will briefly mention President Bush. It just so happened that I read the following two quotations from two different books within about a ten minute period and for whatever reason, my mind has been spiralling since then and I'm afraid they're going to have to hook up electrodes to my head ala Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I understand the two statements take place under different circumstances and come from people with different responsibilities. I'm not saying one response is better or worse than the other, I'm just saying they got me thinking. I'm more interested in the emotional response each of them gives on a personal level than on a political level.

The first quotation is from The 9/11 Commission Report and is President Bush's initial response to hearing about the attacks on the WTC (I think it was his initial response--it might have been his second or third, but it is one of the first things he said):

"Somebody's going to pay for this!" [And by the way, liberal as I am, I don't think this is an irrational response at all, and I think someone should pay for it as well.]

The second quotation is from Hans Nossack's book The End, and it is his initial response to seeing his home destroyed and learning that many of his friends had been killed by bombs and his neighbors had been burned alive in their cellar (this is kind of long, so apologies):

"Woe to us if the powerful should take revenge some day for this contempt! But I believe they didn't even understand it. And another thing: I have not heard a single person curse the enemies or blame them for the destruction. When the newspapers published epithets like 'pirates of the air' and 'criminal arsenists,' we had no ears for that. A much deeper insight forbade us to think of an enemy who was supposed to have caused all this: for us, he, too, was at most an instrument of unknowable forces that sought to annihilate us. I have not met even a single person who comforted himself with the thought of revenge. On the contrary, what was commonly said or thought was: Why should others be destroyed as well? I have been told that a man who was prattling about revenge and about exterminating the enemy with gas was beaten to a pulp. I was not present, but if it did happen, it was in order to silence a blasphemous stupidity."

I realize these two situations are completely different. I don't know the significance of Hamburg to the Nazis in WWII, so I'm not sure why the whole city was destroyed, and I know that the Nazis were doing horrific things to Jews, and others, in Europe at the time. And I know that Bush was reacting to hearing about something that was unimaginable for most of us. I really didn't even want to use his quote because I didn't want to post the third political column on this blog this week. So you'll just have to trust me when I say that it was just reading these two things in a short period of time that got me thinking about how and why I respond to situations and people the way I do.

As with all graduate students who become interested in some topic or other, I quickly realized that I don't know very much. I've started reading more about war in general, trying to understand that level of violence (specifically, The Peloponnesian War, by Donald Kagan, as a place to start, since that was maybe the first war between a democratic state and a non-democratic state), as well as a couple of books about emotions and how to control them (most notably Destructive Emotions, by Daniel Goleman). And this reading has led me to the understanding that I know even less than I thought I might know.

What I do know: There are a handful of people that I have to actively work at not hating. I have to work at it every single day, and I don't always succeed. I think they did me wrong in some way or another. It doesn't matter, though, if I was right or wrong in my dealings with them. Thinking I'm the injured person doesn't help me sleep better at night. The reason I love the Nossack quote above is because it doesn't matter to him who was right or wrong. He'd lost everything and nothing could change that. I'm sure he was angry, but he chose to channel that anger into something positive. That same spirit is the reason that Martin Luther King, Jr., is one of my heroes. Dr. King was angry. He's known for dreaming, but he was also angry. But he chose to use that anger to do good. He didn't let the anger overwhelm him.

If I were to write a seminar paper on this topic right now, I'd fail the seminar. I'm not even sure what questions to ask. I've already mentioned two different levels of violence and emotional responses. One political, one personal. Wars are at times necessary, so I need to understand better a bit more about wars historically (of which I know nothing). Emotions on a personal level, however, are connected to politics. Our emotions as people generate the politcal atmosphere of our different nations (at least, in democratic nations). So, if I were to begin writing a research paper on this, I'd probably start by trying to make some sort of connection between those two.

But I won't ever write this paper, hopefully. In addition to my OCD, I'm also extremely fickle, and usually five or six books on a topic burns me out and/or leads me into some other direction. So, luckily for you, you probably won't have to hear much more from me about emotional responses and violence. And hopefully they won't have to hook up the electrodes.

Currently listening to (while reading and writing incomprehensible posts): 10,000 Years, by Honeydogs. In Between Dreams, by Jack Johnson. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, by Bright Eyes. Rooney, by Rooney.

Author's note: While trying, in vain, to compose my thoughts about this post, I was sitting on my deck this morning and noticed that something had turned over my trashcan and scattered a week's worth of trash over my yard and driveway. A few moments later, I noticed a suspicious looking cat and picked up the nearest object, which in this case was a shoe, and threw it at the cat and yelled "you think it's fun to play in my trash?!" So maybe I will read some more about emotional responses.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Ghost of Denny

Before we get into the real stuff, a couple random deals.

1. Have you seen the new commercial for the i-Pod or portable music device of some sort with "Why can't we be friends?" playing in the background? The whole premise is there's these fans of rival teams (Yankees-Red Sox and Dodgers-Giants) who decide they can set aside their differences because they both use the same mp3 player. What's weird is in part of the commercial this Angels fan glares at Cal Ripken wearing his Orioles uniform before they get all chummy due to their peacemaking accessories. Did I somehow miss out on the great Angels-Oriolez rivalry? What's this all about? Is there bad blood over the haloes picking up Bobby Grich and Doug Decinces in the early 80's? That's just odd.

2. There seems to be a perception, perhaps due to the Jim Rome show, that sports fans can't also be sci fi geeks, but I intend to debunk that Wednesday at midnight to see the opening of Revenge of the Sith. And yes, I was also at the midnight premiere of Return of the King a couple of Christmases ago. If it makes me uncool, so be it, Jedi.

On with the Chlorophyll . . .

What's the most unbreakable single season record in baseball? The one that probably comes to mind most readily is DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, for a few reasons. 1) We all know about it and 2) it's stood for over 60 years, and 3) every so often some guy gets around 30 games, thus bringing the record back into our consciousness. This record is very close to unbreakable, but I would give someone like Ichiro an outside shot, if they caught the right breaks.

Some other notable records:
Avg. Hugh Duffy .440; Nap Lajoie .427
OBP. Barry Bonds .609
SLG. Barry Bonds .863
Runs Billy Hamilton 192 Babe Ruth 177
Hits Ichiro Suzuki 262
2B Earl Webb 67
3B Chief Wilson 36
HR Barry Bonds 73
RBI Hack Wilson 191
SB Hugh Nichol 138 Rickey Henderson 130
ERA Tim Keefe 0.85 Dutch Leonard 0.96
WHIP Pedro Martinez 0.74
Saves Bobby Thigpen 57
K Matt Kilroy 513 Nolan Ryan 313

The stats with two names listed indicate a 19th century record and the later 20th century record. Most historians agree the 20th century game is a more mature version, and so you'll get some anomalies in the 19th century like Kilroy's 513 strikeouts. My favorite of these is probably Chief Wilson's 36 triples. Cristian Guzman had 20 in 2000, but no one's seriously threatened this record in some time. I doubt it'll be broken in our lifetime, but if Willy Taveras can learn to hit it in the gap in Minute Maid . . . well, a guy can dream.

However, all the most unbreakable single season records in baseball history belong to 19th century pitchers. All the rest of these are cute, but my all time champion is Charley "Old Hoss" Radbourn's record of 59 games won in 1884. (He also completed 73 games that year, just shy of Will White's record of 75). "Old Hoss" has to get my vote as the most understated nickname in history; I'm not sure what they'd call him nowadays, other than sir. Kind of like Albert "Decent" Pujols or something.

59 games won. This is, by the way, undoubtedly the most valuable season anyone has had ever -- pitcher, hitter, whatever. The top 24 spots on the list for games won in a season all belong to 19th century guys, mainly because they were all working in two-man rotations and there were no real relief pitchers. As you ease into the 20th century you get some remarkable perfomances here and there, but most of these are also really old -- Jack Chesbro won 41 in 1904, Ed Walsh won 40 in 1908. Again, these guys were working in a different era, three man rotations, lots of complete games; so it's probably not fair to compare today's pitcher with these ancient ones.

The standard that does loom for pitchers is the 31 games won by Denny McLain in 1968. This was still a different era than our own; we'd made it up to four-man rotations and there was more relief work but nothing like the extensive 6- or 7-man bullpens that prevail in today's game. Still, this is a number that is, yes, daunting, but at least conceivable; if somebody got the right breaks and had an excellent bullpen and was absolutely dealing all year, well it seems conceivable that somebody could chase down 30 wins.

This standard is like DiMaggio's or maybe more properly like Ted Williams' .406 in '41. Every few years some pitcher will cruise into an All-Star break with 15 or 16 wins and people begin to wonder if 30 is a possibility. I remember a few years back Pedro started 14-1 or something and people started to talk. And, of course there was the year Smoltz won 24. Bob Welch won 27 as recently as 1990.

This year, Jon Garland and Dontrelle Willis are off to red-hot starts, stirring thoughts in the mind that well, maybe . . . Garland is 8 for 8 in his starts; Dontrelle finally dropped one, but is 7 for 8. Adding to the speculation is the fact that these guys are completing a few games, thus ensuring they get the decision in their starts. Sure, these probably aren't the guys you would have expected, but who would have picked Denny McLain before '68?

What odds are these guys facing to get to the 30 win mark? Pretty steep. The main obstacle is the five-man rotation, which limits a pitcher to 35 or 36 starts a year. Thus, to get to 30 wins, they would have to win either 83 or 85% of their starts, depending on if they got 35 or 36. It's important to distinguish that it's 83% of their starts, not their decisions, which wouldn't be all that unusual.

Well, how difficult is this? Let's look at some of the great pitching years in history and see:

Yr Pitcher W GS %
99 Pedro 29 23 79
'02 Unit 24 35 69
'95 Maddux 19 28 68
'96 Smoltz 24 35 69
'90 Welch 27 35 77
'86 Clemens 24 33 73
'85 Gooden 24 35 69
'84 Sutcliffe 16 20 80 (Cubs only)
'72 Carlton 27 41 66
'69 Seaver 25 36 69
'68 Gibson 22 34 65
'68 McLain 31 41 76
'66 Koufax 27 41 66
'61 Ford 25 39 64
'53 Spahn 23 32 72
'44 Newhouser 29 34 85
'30 Grove 28 32 88
'16 Alexander 33 45 73
'13 W. Johnson 36 36 100 (Holy Smokes! did have 12 relief appearances)
'08 3-Finger 29 31 94 (!)
'08 Mathewson 37 44 84
'08 Ed Walsh 40 49 82
'95 Cy Young 35 40 88
'84 Radbourn 59 73 81

Well, that's more than enough to be getting on with. I'll have to admit I wasn't sure what I'd find before I ran these numbers. I halfway expected to see that even the ancient legends didn't win at high enough a clip to get 30 wins in the modern era. I certainly didn't expect too see the Big Train at 100%. To be fair, this is somewhat misleading, since Johnson didn't literally win 100% of his starts; I'm sure some of them came in relief. Also, until 1920, baseball was heavily pitching dominated, so results of this kind are a little less surprising. Still, these guys did some astonishing things.

I think the key thing that let these guys put up these huge percentages is how deep they pitched into games. Johnson pitched 29 complete games in 1913, thus ensuring he would get a decision in those games. It's not the losses that hurt a modern starter's chances at 30 wins; it's the no-decisions. Wins are already a fairly luck-driven stat, but you only pitch six innings, you not only have to rely on your offense to help you get the victory, but also two or three other pitchers of lesser quality than you.

The random nature of wins can be seen in two recent years for very different lefthanded pitchers. In 2003, Jeriome Robertson pitched rather poorly for the Astros, with a 5.10 ERA, averaging just over 5 innings a start but still wound up with a 15-9 record thanks to tremendous run support and an unholy bullpen featuring Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel, and Billy Wagner. Last year, Randy Johnson pitched brilliantly with a 2.60 ERA, 290 K's, and an average of 7 innings a start (with a perfect game mixed in), yet went 16-14 because the team behind him couldn't hit or field, and the bullpen wasn't reliable.

So, the most encouraging development in the quest for 30 may be that pitchers are finishing games more this year. It remains to be seen if managers hold to this philosophy in the dog days of July and August, but if pitchers start getting more decisions, then perhaps a pitcher with the right combination of brilliance, health and run support can get to this goal. It wasn't long ago when 60 home runs seemed an unassailable mark, but certain shifts in the game made it attainable. Now, the game may be trending away from that, though it's dangerous to declare trends based on six weeks of a season. Such a trend could create the right environment for a 30-win season. It will be difficult, but Welch's 27-win season provides encouragement. In '90, Welch was far from the most dominant pitcher in baseball; he was 6th in the league in ERA and no where on the leaderboard for K's. He was very good, no doubt, but he also played for the best team in baseball, and was very lucky even for that. So, one of these years the Yankees will sign the right free agent pitcher who'll pitch brilliantly enough and deep enough into games that the Yankees will provide all the luck he needs to get 30 wins.

Meanwhile, Denny waits.

A Little Centrism Here, Please

Unless you've been busy preparing for the new Star Wars movie for the past several weeks (it's hard to see or hear the news when you're wearing a Darth Vader helmet), you're probably aware that Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans are having a wee bit of a rhubarb these days over judges. Imagine "Sweet" Lou Piniella vs. Larry "The Cat" Bowa in a Celebrity Death Match, and you begin to get the idea. Even Robert "Kid Pothole" Byrd has thrown a few shaky roundhouse rights at the ears of the Majority Leader. Watching C-SPAN2, one expects to see the Clantons and the Earps come storming from the Senate cloak rooms at any minute.

Republicans are angry that Democrats plan to filibuster ten Bush nominees for the federal bench, rather than let the Senate vote on them. Democrats are angry that President Bush has re-nominated several of these people, despite the fact that the Senate has already rejected them once, and they're angry that the Senate Republicans are threatening to use the so-called "nuclear option" (or, as it's sometimes called, the "nuke-u-lar" option) -- change the Senate rules so that the filibuster is not allowed when a judicial nominee is under consideration.

One has to wonder: how did we get here? This government has been in existence for about 215 years. The rules for getting federal judges appointed have been essentially the same for all of those years. And somehow, the government managed to get judges appointed under those rules for 200 of those years; most of the time, with at least 75% approval in the Senate. What happened? Where did we go off the rails?

Republicans argue that what's changed is the Democrats' use of the filibuster. The filibuster never used to be used on judicial nominees, they say; it was an unwritten rule, one of the many such customs and traditions of the Senate. And they're right. Sort of. That was the tradition. But Democrats aren't the first to violate it. In March of 2000, Sen. Robert C. Smith, Republican of New Hampshire, filibustered President Clinton's nominee to the 9th Circuit, Richard Paez. Sen. Smith was joined in his effort by a certain Senator from Tennessee. That's right. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), the man now saying the filibuster has never been used to block the appointment of a federal judge, used the filibuster to block the appointment of a federal judge only 5 years ago.

Republicans and right-wing interest groups complain that the Democrats are doing something unprecedented in holding up President Bush's nominees. They make it sound as if the Democrats are holding up scads of the President's judicial nominees. In fact, of 215 judicial nominees President Bush has sent to the Senate, 205 have been approved. That leaves 10 who've been rejected. Care to know how many of President Clinton's judicial nominees were being held up by Senate Republicans when Clinton left office? 34.

Another claim being made by Republicans and right-wing interest groups is that "thousands of people" are unable to have their cases heard in court because Senate Democrats are blocking so many of President Bush's judicial nominees, and that others are having their cases delayed for the same reason. Let's unpack that claim a bit. For starters, according to the Administrative Office of the U. S. Courts, cases are moving more quickly through the courts today than they did in 1999. Second, just how many empty courtrooms are there? Well, there are 46 vacant judicial seats. So the onerous Democrats must be blocking 46 Bush nominees, thus slowing justice for people with cases pending, right? Actually, no. President Bush hasn't even nominated anybody for 30 of those 46 seats.

How about at the end of the Clinton administration? Well, there were 67 vacant judicial seats in December of 1999, 34 of which Clinton had nominated people to fill, but those nominees were being blocked by Senate Republicans. If holding up 16 judges is a disaster affecting "thousands of people," what would holding up over twice as many be? If Republicans are so concerned about the damage done to the American people by 46 empty courtrooms, where was their concern when there were 67? And why don't they pressure their President to nominate enough judges to fill more than a third of the currently vacant seats?

The fact is, the behavior of the Senate regarding judicial nominees hasn't changed much. When Republicans are in the minority, they use the rules to try to block nominees they don't like. When Democrats are in the minority, they use the rules to try to block nominees they don't like. Is there anything really new about Democrats' use of the filibuster on judicial nominees? No. They're probably using it more than it was used previously, but that's largely because the Republicans have removed several of the rules they themselves used to use to block nominees.

So what has changed in the judicial confirmation process?

A couple of things, I think. For one, the atmosphere in the Senate has grown more and more poisonous over the past 15 years. Senators no longer trust one another as much as they once did, they don't trust the leadership as much as they once did, and they aren't as deferential to one another as they once were. It used to be the case that if a judicial nominee had the support of both Senators from his or her home state, that carried a tremendous amount of weight. It no longer does. (It also used to be the case that a Senator could block any nominee from his or her home state from even coming before the Judiciary Committee. That's one of the rules that the Republicans have changed.)

Another thing that has changed is that the country has become more closely divided in terms of party identification, and each side has become more bitter in its opposition to the other. Senators feel that pressure when it comes time to vote. Republicans feel it from the social fundamentalists like James Dobson, and from tax fundamentalists like Grover Norquist. If you don't believe me, just ask Arlen Specter. Democrats feel the pressure from interest groups like labor unions, minorities, and People for the American Way. The party base on both sides has taken a no-compromise position, and they're holding their representatives' feet to the fire. That means that when their party holds the White House, they demand that the judicial nominees be true-believers like themselves. And it means that when their party is the minority, they demand that anybody who looks like a true-believer from the other side be firebombed. As a result, we get less mainstream nominees and more flammable confirmation debates.

And that brings me full circle. Why does the use of the filibuster even matter when it comes to judicial nominees? Because it's hard to get 60 votes for a nominee anymore. As I've already said, for most of our history, the great majority of judicial nominees have been approved with 75% of the vote or better. With support like that, the filibuster would be completely irrelevant. So the solution, ISTM, is for the President -- any president -- to make sure his or her nominees are not out of the mainstream. A qualified, centrist nominee is going to be approved, even over a filibuster, a large majority of the time, even in the current poisonous atmosphere (to wit: literally 95% of President Bush's nominees have been confirmed). A nominee who is a nod to the extremists in the party base (either party base) is DOA. The more bitter the country's political divisions, the more centrist judicial nominees have to be. The less bitter the divisions, the more a president's nominees can vary from the center (to wit: Antonin Scalia was approved 98-0).

In the end, judicious nominees make harmonious confirmations.

Monday, May 16, 2005


I wanted to write about something else. Really, I did. I try to stay away from the stuff that's plastered all over the headlines. There are plenty of people discussing the hot topic of the day. Why add my insignificant voice to the din?

Of course I am talking about today's revelation that Newsweek printed a shoddily researched and indefensible story that has incited deadly violence in Afghanistan. In case you are unfamiliar with the gist of the story, last week Newsweek printed an "expose" about U.S. run terrorist prisons in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The most inflammatory charge in this story was that U.S. interrogators tried to unsettle prisoners by flushing pages of the Koran down a toilet.

A cursory study of Islam reveals that Muslims treat the Koran itself as a holy item. It must be stored on the highest shelf in the house with no other books above it. It must never be allowed to touch the ground. To a Muslim, the very idea that the Koran would even be in a bathroom, much less flushed down a toilet is absolute sacrilege.

It is no wonder that the charges in the Newsweek article provoked the response that they did in the Muslim world. We bristle at the image of Muslim protesters burning an American flag. How much more would we be incensed by the same crowd burning a Holy Bible? Don't you think we'd see some heavy protesting at the embassies of the countries where the desecration took place?

As soon as the May 9th issue of Newsweek hit the stands last Tuesday, spontaneous protests materialized around government buildings and foreign relief agencies in Kabul, Afghanistan. The crowds grew in number and in fervor until government security forces resorted to the use of deadly force in efforts to control them. Over the past six days, 15 people have been killed in Afghanistan. All because of a news article.

Anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan is at its highest level since the fall of the Taliban. The Abu Ghraib scandal pales in comparison to this. At Abu Ghraib, followers of Allah were abused and desecrated. The charges in the Newsweek article are nothing short of abuse and desecration of Allah himself. If the charges in the article were true, the efforts to win the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world would be doomed to failure. The damage to our relationship with Muslims would be irreparable.

Now it seems that Newsweek may not have its story straight. Here's an excerpt from Newsweek's editorial response to questions about the article:

Last Friday, a top Pentagon spokesman told us that a review of the probe cited in our story showed that it was never meant to look into charges of Qur'an desecration. The spokesman also said the Pentagon had investigated other desecration charges by detainees and found them "not credible." Our original source later said he couldn't be certain about reading of the alleged Qur'an incident in the report we cited, and said it might have been in other investigative documents or drafts. Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we. But we regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst.

The problem here is that this toothpaste is already out of the tube. Newsweek can't just take it back. Any efforts to do so will be viewed as cover-up in the Muslim world. The fact that the article has been discredited is minor damage control. The hope is that cooler heads in the Muslim world will prevail and that this tailspin of anti-Americanism might prove to be recoverable. Either way, the tough road to winning the hearts and minds of Muslims just got a whole lot tougher.

My big question is this. What if the charges had been substantiated? What was Newsweek hoping to accomplish by printing what they knew be such inflammatory accusations?

The only answer that I can come to is that this has got to be one of the most egregious examples of "gotcha" journalism that I have witnessed. Newsweek published this article with the sole purpose of scooping other news organizations with a swipe at the Bush administration. And it was all in the name of selling more magazines. I doubt that at anytime during the decision process leading up to publishing this article that anyone at Newsweek really considered the far-reaching effects of these accusations.

We have become a nation of ball hogs, ignoring the team effort. The media wants to drive to the hoop and score with the slam dunk big story. Hollywood takes the long range three pointer by spending millions on an epic about the Crusades, one of the most sensitive issues in Christian/Muslim relations. All the while, Coach Bush is courtside trying to remind us that we've got the lead, slow down the pace, pass the ball, and take the open shot. Instead, we thump our chests after scoring a routine basket, argue about who gets to call the next plays, and constantly campaign for who gets to be MVP at the next election.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Sunday Thoughts

by Al Sturgeon
(published each week in Desperate Houseflies)


Considering my daughter is a part of this year’s festivities, I have particular interest in the Class of 2005. And since I’m not on the graduation program, I must resort to this venue to share my words of wisdom. So here they are: On graduation night, only one moment matters. The rest (if you’ll pardon the pun) is merely pomp and circumstance.

Believe it or not, this one important moment is not when you walk across the stage and receive your diploma. Nor is it when the class collectively moves their tassels to the other (I forget which) side. Instead, it is at the end of the show when, in one grand final act of uniformity, the class yells and tosses their cheap cardboard hats high in the air. That, class, is important.

Your school years have been one big exercise in uniformity, you see. Learn the same facts, color in the lines, take the same tests, and single-file lines, all of which are necessary and generally good. But it has to end. And on graduation night, when the hats fly, is when it does. One last time, class, all together now… Woo hoo!!!!!!!!!!!

And as the hats descend in a hundred different directions, so the class disintegrates as well. Some go to work, some join the armed forces, and some disperse to a variety of college or technical training programs. No more uniformity. Instant diversity.

With this in mind, this preacher has one bit of advice: Watch your step. For you see, three popular career counselors appear quickly and most of your classmates will follow one of them. “Money” is a very popular choice, mostly because this is often the path parents and teachers encourage graduates to follow. But don’t listen. “Fun” is another popular choice, fueled by our very nature, but he is not a trustworthy guide either. “Fame” is a third seductive counselor that some others choose, but she is just a mirage. She never satisfies your soul.

So I ask you to choose God. You need to remember that neither your country nor your school, neither your church nor your parents really made you (although you may have learned in biology class that some had important roles to play). God made you. God made you for a purpose. You are now free to pursue that purpose. But the choice of doing so is now up to you.

You will need to listen to others along this path, but some you will need to ignore. Your litmus test is simple: Listen to those who lead you toward the reason God made you. It won’t be simple to tell the difference. Still, set your sails in that direction.

So yell at the top of your lungs and throw that hat with all your might on graduation night. It is your grand final act of uniformity. And when you look toward the sky with a smile on your face and excitement in your heart, don’t stop looking in that direction.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Guest column from a war hero

Submitter's Note: After returning from the "Land of Far Away," I must lose my wife to a 3-month work opportunity in Washington D.C. (Your sympathy is appreciated as I'll be eating cereal three times a day for the next three months.) To get her settled, we must begin a trek from Tucson to the epicenter of bureaucracy today. Since this precludes me from posting, I've invited a fellow Airman to take my post this week. (Pls keep the cheers to a dull roar.) Thanks and enjoy.

Okay, DeJon finally got me into this blog kicking and screaming (or at least with reservations). Although I somewhat object to the title, I assume DeJon had his reasons for it and so I will leave it as is.

As a guest columnist, you might want some information on who I am. My name is Duane McCrory and I am a chaplain in the USAF who has recently returned from a deployment to Iraq, just one week ago today, hence the "war hero" in the title. My responsibilities at my deployed location involved being the chaplain for the busiest hospital in Iraq and what is called the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility, a place where anyone leaving the country comes from other theatre hospitals to be aeromedically evacuated to a facility with a higher echelon of medical care. I am stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ, just like DeJon and that is where we met.

There's nothing like spending three hours of your morning typing up a post only to have Netscape close and lose all of your information when you press the spell check button. I'll just deal with any spelling errors this time.

I had a really good posting for you, but alas apparently it was not to be. This will likely not come anywhere close to what I had put before because now I only have about thirty minutes as opposed to three hours before, but here goes anyway.

During my time in Iraq, working at the hospital, I saw many things that are difficult for most people to see. While we have so much distance between us and the typical news report, I saw everything up close. I used to be able to watch the news and hear about things such as Operation Matador, feel sadness over the loss of the four Marines yesterday, and move on with my life. That is not the case anymore. Now when I hear of such operations, I wonder how many more people will come to the hospital and how many more lives will be affected than the normal day-to-day operations in Iraq. Any time an operation like this starts, there will ultimately be many more people that are injured or killed than would have been otherwise. And while the cause is a good one, in my opinion, it still takes a toll on many people. There are the drivers who have hit roadside IEDs (improvised explosive device) and been the direct cause of the death of a close friend and will forever feel that guilt. There are the combat medics who treat people on the scene to keep them alive as they are transported to better care like our hospital where I worked. There are the transport helicopters, the Emergency Room staff, the surgeons, the ICU nurses, the medical staff at the hospitals where the patients will be transported, the family of course, the unit members, and even the chaplains. There are so many people affected by even one injury or death that it is impossible to know the reprecussions. All of this I saw every day during my deployment.

This made me think about what ministry really is and since I've been back, I really reflected on what this says about what we as Christians ought to be doing. It is only someone from an affluent society and background that has time to sit around and discuss the merits of evolution or creationism. Only the wealthy can worry about whether or not it is right to have a lower-case "c" or a capital "C" in Church of Christ. Only those with the money to afford a computer and internet access can post information to a blog so that people can dialog with one another across much space and time. For the majority of the world's population, this will never be the case. In fact, the irony is not missed on myself as I sit here typing on my laptop with high-speed internet in my four-bedroom house with a 2003 Expedition parked in my two-car garage. It is a privilege even to be able to have theological discussion, as necessary as I believe it to be. But my time in Iraq has led me to really consider what we as Christians should be doing to make a difference in people's lives.

In the chaplaincy, we learn what is called "ministry of presence." I understood in a more profound way what that meant in the hospital in Iraq. For there, more than anywhere else, people questioned where God is in the midst of tragedy. What I say just by my presence is that he is there, standing, watching, ever present waiting for people to ask for his help. He is not distant from our problems, but walks alongside us when we hurt. 1 Peter 2:9 calls it being "a royal priesthood" a people who bring people to God and God to people. That is what priests do. That is what Jesus did. He could have spent his time with the academic elites in the temple in Jerusalem. Instead he chose to walk among the suffering of this world and bring them hope. If you read Matthew 25:31-46, that is what he expects of us as well.

We cannot all choose to be involved in ministry in Iraq, but there are so many hurting people around us that we can help. We are all called to be God's ministers. Getting involved in the lives of others is messy, but if we are truly concerned with following the pattern of Christ and bringing people to God, we will step out of our wealthy, affluent, busy lifestyles and reach out to the hurting people all around us, just as Christ did. For, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:40)

My other potential posting was much better and had a lot more to offer, but I hope this one will suffice for DeJon's column this week. Thanks for the opportunity to write.


Force Feeding

He is evil. Darkness personified, albeit by something less than a complete person.

He ranks high amongst society’s most feared and loathed – just two steps below Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates, and just above the Wicked Witch of the West and Michael Jackson.

He (the villain, not Jackson, although if the shoe fits…) is into heavy breathing, asphyxiation, and shiny black codpieces. He fancies capes and carries a space-age light-up phallus that would make Dr. Ruth blush.

And hold on to your escape pods: HE’S BACK.

Yes, friends, the exciting sixth and final film (logically, it’s Episode III) in the Star Wars saga launches Thursday, May 19. And in this movie – officially titled “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” – our friend and foe Darth Vader – the anarchist formerly known as Anakin Skywalker, a.k.a. “Li’l Ani” – both returns and makes his debut. (You’ll see how in a few moments.)

Let me be clear here: You must see this movie. You’ve heard all that stuff about how real Americans fight in wars or serve jury duty or register to vote? That’s crap. Real Americans pay $8 to see a movie even though they know how it’s going to end. (Wonder how many people left “Passion of the Christ” going, “Wow, I never saw that coming.”)

So we know that Episode Three is the one in which heretofore good (albeit a bit whiny and bipolar) Jedi Anakin Skywalker succumbs to the Dark Side of the Force and becomes evil, mostly robotic Darth Vader. We know he turns his back on friends and family – including newborn twin children – to do so. We even know how this ultimately happens: In a fantastic lightsaber duel with his onetime Jedi friend and mentor, Obi Wan Kenobi, Anakin falls into a pit of liquid hot magma (or something). He is badly burned, hideously disfigured and deeply wounded, and only the mechanized Vader suit keeps him alive.

But the devil, as they say, is in the details, and though we know much of the story, we simply must see these events unfold before our very eyes. But in case you’re not (yet) a fan of Star Wars and/or you’ve been living on the remote planet of Yavin, here’s the story in a carbonite-encased nutshell:

Boy meets droids (robots).

Boy and droids meet hermit.

Boy, hermit and droids meet smuggler and nude-yet-hirsute sidekick.

Boy, hermit, droids, smuggler and sidekick get pulled into bad guys’ big round space ship (Death Star).

Boy, smuggler and sidekick meet hot little princess who’s held captive on the ship.

Princess kisses boy in heat of escape battle. (This looms large and perversely important down the road.)

Boy, smuggler, sidekick, princess and droids escape ship while hermit gets whacked by codpiece-wearing baddie Darth Vader (see above).

Boy hears disembodied voice of hermit: “Run, boy, run.”

Boy runs.

See boy run.

Run, boy, run!

Boy, droids, smuggler, sidekick and princess escape.

Boy returns, blows up bad guys’ big round space ship. Key protagonists and antagonists survive.

(End of first movie, cleverly called Episode IV: A New Hope.)

Protagonists join “The Rebel Alliance” in hiding on Iceland-ish Hoth system.

Princess kisses boy again… with tongue? (File this away.)

Hoth system melts – rebels blame galactic warming.

Emperor scoffs, announces plan to strip-mine Endor for midi-chlorians.

Boy, still haunted by phantasmagorical hermit, flies to swamp planet for Jedi training with green amphibious linguist.

Confused, still-hot princess makes out with smuggler while parked in gullet of wormlike beast.

Stormtroopers bang flashlight on ship’s window, tell amorous kids: “Move along.”

Smuggler, sidekick, princess and British droid are captured by Darth Vader, no thanks to smuggler's gambling buddy (and token African American) Lando, as played by Billy Dee Williams.

Boy (with other droid) abandons training, linguist and hermit-ghost to attempt daring rescue of other important protagonists.

Others escape without his help.

Darth Vader cuts off boy’s right hand.

Vader (to boy): I am your father.

Boy (to Vader): No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!

Boy leaps to certain death, is rescued by princess and others.

(Princess kisses boy on forehead; this is not as creepy but still noteworthy.)

(End of second movie, cleverly titled Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.)

Boy, training nearly complete, goes to rescue others in Tattooine lair of Jabba the Hutt.

Princess wears gold bikini. (This is important for many reasons.)

Protagonists escape.

Hermit-ghost and linguist tell boy of his family tree:

Linguist: Your father he [Vader] is. (Linguist dies.)

Boy: No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!

Hermit-ghost: The princess is your sister.

Boy: Yeah, but did you see her in that gold bi… I mean, No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!

Boy goes to face Vader, Emperor.

Boy defeats Vader.

Emperor shocks crap out of boy.

Boy, reaching, cries out (to Vader): Father!

Vader (to boy): OK, OK, but don’t try any of that kissing stuff or I’ll kick the Sith out of you.

Vader turns on Emperor and tosses his pale wrinkly butt down a miles-long elevator shaft. (Such elevator shafts are common in Star Wars fight scenes and usually lack any sort of protective guardrails.)

Vader dies in boy’s arms. (Curiously, boy refrains from kissing Vader.)

Good guys blow up bad guys’ second big round space ship (the cleverly titled “Death Star”).

Boy returns to princess-sister, puts arm around her and smiles knowingly at hermit-ghost, linguist-ghost, and Vader-ghost, all of whom roll their eyes.

Camera pans to Lando, who smiles and says: "Colt 45... works every time."

(End of third movie, cleverly titled Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.)

Ready for a new cinematic challenge (and broker than MC Hammer), Star Wars creator George Lucas decides to produce three “prequels” that tell the story of the fall of the Republic and the fall of Anakin Skywalker. The first two of these “prequels” aren’t very good, so here are brief highlights and lowlights…

Jar Jar Binks, equal parts CGI and racial stereotype, appears and immediately becomes the most hated and pointless Star Wars character since that sniveling Brit on the Death Star who said, “Don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerer’s ways, Lord Vader…”

Jedi Master Qui Gon Jin inexplicably saves Jar Jar’s life… twice.

Li’l Ani wins a pod race that, like the NASCAR action it undoubtedly seeks to emulate, is full of sound and fury and signifies nothing.

We are introduced to Padme Amidala, queen of the Naboo and future wife of Anakin Skywalker (and mother of the princess and the sister-kisser). She, too, is hot.

One of Darth Vader’s Sith predecessors, Darth Maul, appears. He is one spooky dude. Looks like a Chicago Bulls mascot gone haywire.

Darth Maul kills Qui Gon (cosmic justice for Qui's sparing Jar Jar).

Obi-Wan slices Darth Maul in half. Darth Maul’s pieces fall down a – wait for it – nearby miles-long elevator shaft without guardrails.

The Jedi burn Qui Gon’s body. Jedi Shaft and the amphibious linguist discuss the mystery of Darth Maul and speculate on who else might be eeee-vil.

Senator Palpatine puts a bumper sticker on the back of his speeder: I BRAKE FOR SITH.

End of fourth movie, cleverly titled Episode One: The Phantom Dentist.)

Jar Jar is still alive.

Fortunately, so is Amidala.

Amidala falls in love with Anakin, her Jedi bodyguard.

Obi Wan is captured by Saruman.

Anakin’s mother is killed by Tusken Raiders.

Amidala and Anakin, trying to rescue Obi Wan, are also captured.

Amidala’s midriff is exposed. (This is important for many reasons.)

Saruman (a.k.a. Darth Tyranus) cuts off Anakin’s right hand. (Synergy!)

Begin, the Clone Wars do.

(End of fifth movie, cleverly titled Episode II: Attack of the Clones)

Coming next week: A review of the film, or, if I haven’t yet seen it, a list of questions and expectations I have for this new film…

Thursday, May 12, 2005

briefly. . .

I'll have a short post this week. I'm excited to announce my law school graduation this friday. This also means the folks are coming to town and we're all getting ready to celebrate, and I'm wiped out from taking finals, so, long story short, short post this week.

Survey question: What's you're most painful moment as a sports fan? This question was put into relief for me this weekend (as Joe's already hinted at) by consecutive horrendous perfomances by teams I follow, the Rockets and the Astros.

The Rockets seemed to have a stranglehold on their first-round series with the Mavericks, taking the first two games on the Mavs home court. They proceeded to drop three straight before a rousing game six victory at home to force it to a game seven. The series had been epic to that point, every game but game six going to late in the fourth quarter before being decided. Naturally, I assumed the Rockets would come out with intensity and focus in game seven, and hang in it long enough for T-Mac to pull it out with some late heroics. Or THEY COULD COME OUT AND LAY THE BIGGEST EGG IN GAME SEVEN HISTORY!!!!! Sorry for the caps; I realize that's very rude, but good gravy, could you maybe keep it within forty flippin' points? Is that too much to ask? How about showing up for the biggest game of the year? How about stopping dribble penetration maybe once?

Well, I barely had time to make it home from church the next day before the Braves were already up 3 - 0 on the sad excuse for a major league team the Astros are fielding these days. Our erstwhile franchise first baseman was missing his fifth consecutive start because he has no rotator cuff on his shoulder, and our current franchise leftfielder/firstbaseman type dude was charging back into the lineup in the beginnings of a 1-17 start to his season. Our fifth starter was serving up batting practice, and by the end of the afternoon, we had given up an opposite field homerun to the other team's starting pitcher and probably gotten Ryan Langerhans a spot on the All-Star team. The final count was 16-0 as Mike Hampton joined the growing list of pitchers who happened to have their best start of the year against the Astros., who were shut out for the sixth time this year (Ken Griffey has three home runs if you're keeping score).

The funny thing is I'll probably forget all about this weekend (well maybe not now that I've written an article about it). I mean, I was a fan of the Braves in the eighties, when they got shutout about as often as they turned a double play. What really lingers in the brain are the near misses. Game seven last year against the Cardinals; the 1995 college hoops final against UCLA. So, what do you think, is it more painful to have a good team just miss or to endure watching a truly awful team get it's head kicked in?

Then again, watching pitching legend Brian Moehler hold your team to one earned is pretty awful.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Today, I'll just give a little here's-what-I'm-reading-and-why-I-like-or-dislike-it-heretofore.

The End, by Hans Erich Nossack.

This book is about total loss. What does it mean to lose everything you own, your hometown, most of the people you know? Nossack was a citizen of Hamburg when it was obliterated by the Allies in WWII. And by obliterated, I mean it in the most literal since--there were few buildings left, people left dead all over the place. It is, I must confess, hard to feel sympathy for Nossack on some level, considering what the Germans were doing to the rest of Europe and to the Jews during WWII. (The ever present question of were there any good Germans during the holocaust keeps popping into my mind.) This is a short book. I'm only thirty pages in and am half-way through (I think it was originally an essay written in 1943 or 4, but has only now been translated into English and put in book form). Nossack, though, isn't writing a political statement about war, which is maybe why this book is so moving. He is simply writing about the catastrophic losses of the citizens of Hamburg. And his point, so far, is that there comes a point when there is actually nothing to say that will make any of this make sense. The pain and loss are so complete, Nossack's writing is somewhat surreal, for that's the only way to describe what happened to them. One of my favorite paragraphs in the book so far:

"The moment we received the news [that he and his wife had lost everything they own], we became refugees. So it made no difference that chance had allowed us to escape a few days before the catastrophe [they'd gone on a vacation about ten miles out of the city]. Whether we wanted to or not, we were drawn to our kind and even felt shy with the others. The refugess, by the way, were all very simple people, but no one took notice of such things; our common fate made us equal. Nor did anyone talk about having lost more than another, at least not during the first days. We weren't weighing and judging yet, the irreplaceable was at issue; for whatever can be expressed in numbers can be replaced. But a unique work of art or a faded photograph or an old doll from one's childhood, what does all that have to do with numbers? These things have their life from us, because at some time we bestowed our affection on them; they absorbed our warmth and harbored it gratefully in order to enrich us with it again in meager hours. We were responsible for them; they could only die with us. And now they stood on the other side of the abyss in the fire and cried after us, begging: Don't leave us!"

The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson.

I'm a book snob. I don't buy paperbacks. I like to buy first printings of books when possible. I spend hours in used book stores looking for specific printings of books because no other edition will do. And for years, I didn't read Science Fiction because I thought of it as "lesser" works of fiction, for whatever reason. Actually, I think it was the Harry Potter series that got me interested in works of fantasy, and I've slowly begun to read some Science Fiction and Fantasy books. A few weeks ago I read China Mielville's Perdido Street Station and can't wait to read another of his books. I was told by a friend in the Sci Fi world that Stephenson was kind of a cult hero, so I found a nice Hardback, first printing (perfect dust jacket, by the way) at a friends of the library sale and snatched it up for $2 US. I'm not very far into it. I'll go ahead and admit that it's not nearly as good as the Mielville book. There is a lot of dialogue that, frankly, is like listening to, well, no, it's like listening to someone in their 30's imitate teenagers smooth style of talking. That aside, this is interesting just because it takes such creativity to imagine the world in such a completely different way. This is futuristic but in the very near future. There are robots aplety and, of course, the world has rearranged itself into some different political structure that I haven't quite grasped yet. It's fun. It's quick. I've been let down so far, but only because Stephenson was supposed to be the man in Sci Fi. This is one of his early books, so maybe it's not a good sample of his work. I expect it will pick up once I get a little further into it and begin to understand the complexity of the world he's trying to create.

A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson.

I'd never read the first word by Bryson until I picked up this book (discount bin at Books-a-Million, $4.99, 1st Edition, 1st Printing, perfect condition). Bryson takes on the world of science, and holy cow is he funny. The premise of the book is that Bryson knows nothing about science but wants to, so starts doing some research and asking scientist to please explain a few things, like carbon-dating and super-string theory, and then he distills it down in such a way to make it both entertaining and informative. I'm just about finished with it, and I would without hesitation urge you to go to your nearest book dealer and look in the discount bin for it.

9/11 Commission Report

This is one of the most disturbing things I've ever read. The first chapter, well, I wasn't prepared to read it. It gives a minute by minute account of the hijackings. It kept me awake. I'm half way through the book right now. It is very well written and I think is worth anyone's time to read it. It's longish, but worth it. It is definitely giving me insights into the world of intelligence, and a) how huge and difficult their job is, and b) how just a handful of selfish, putting-my-career-advancement-before-sharing-valuable-information-with-someone-else-who-might-get-credit-for-it. "The Commission" does a wonderful job of making this book very accessible for those who weren't familiar with the interworkings of the intelligence world or terrorist groups. It is scarey to think of people like Bin Laden who hate America for whatever reasons, but it should also, in my dream world, make us all think about what we can do to make the world a better place for everyone. The last half of my sentence might seem a little wierd and as though it doesn't go with the first half of the sentence, and maybe it doesn't. But I think this book (or report, or whatever you want to call it) does call for some responsibility by Americans to understand the world around them much better than we do, to understand that not everyone thinks the same way we do, and that there may be something we can do (beyond just defending ourselves [which, I hope we do a much better job of in the future]) that can make the world a more peaceful place.

The End.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

My column this week will be brief. All I want to do is ask you to visit and add your name to the petition to alleviate poverty worldwide. It is a nonpartisan effort, backed by the likes of U2's Bono and The 700 Club's Pat Robertson. It costs you nothing. It takes 2 minutes. It will help lift 1 billion people out of generational poverty. There is no downside here.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Don't Blog Angry

That's my advice to the rest of you. I've had a heck of a time trying to write without sounding off in a peevish tone. I just can't get my head straight today. Not after a weekend of consecutive gut punches.

Let's see... my beloved Astros dropped a 4 game set to the Bravos, being outscored by a ridiculous 38-8. Now they're heading to Florida to try their luck against the best ERA in the majors. Insult to injury came Saturday night with an abysmal showing by the Rockets in a 40-point Game 7 loss to the Mavs. Did I mention that it was a game 7? The only saving grace this weekend was seeing the Padres take 3 of 4 from the Cards. Of course the luster was taken off of that by the Cards putting up an 11-spot against Tim Redding and company in the 1st inning on Sunday. It's as if the Cards were telling the Astros, "See, we own your former players, too!" Just a ridiculous weekend for a Houston sports fan. Oh yeah... Horns baseball dropped 2 of 3 to Kansas over the weekend.

Sorry to cross over into a little bit of Coolhand's territory there, but I had to get it off my chest. I do feel a little better now. Time to discuss the topic at hand. I probably shouldn't discuss my chosen topic when I have a sunny disposition, much less when I'm dealing with the remnants of a supremely dissapointing sports weekend, but I guess I'll just jump right in. Take a quick look at this article. Go ahead... I'll wait here for you.

Seriously... please read the article before continuing further.

I'll admit that my first thought upon reading this article was not "How dare the FDA deny gay men the inalienable right to anonymously donate their genetic material?" It was more along the lines of disbelief in the fact that the FDA had the fortitude to make this proclamation, knowing full-well the wailing that would ensue.

After my initial reaction, I started to do some mental gymnastics on the subject. The wheels were turning quickly and I smelled smoke a couple of times. In the end, I think I uncovered a logic gap in the pro-homosexual's favorite arguments. I make a few leaps and assumptions here, so please give me a little lee-way and let me explain where I am going.

Joe's Thesis

Step 1: A majority of homosexuals do not believe in God. If they believed in God and the Bible, they wouldn't live the lifestyle that they do.

Step 2: If you don't believe in God, you have to find an explanation other than creation as to how we got here. For most atheists, evolution fits the bill.

Step 3: The central tenet of evolution is natural selection. Traits that are more conducive to a species' survival are passed from one generation to the next. Traits that are detrimental to a species' survival are not passed on, as individuals with these traits are not sexually desirable.

Step 4: The predominant argument from the pro-homosexual community is that homosexuality is a genetic trait and not a behavioral choice.

Step 5: Homosexuals cannot procreate. This trait is not conducive to a species' survival, therefore natural selection would not perpetuate this trait.

Conclusion: Either evolution theory or the argument that homosexuality is a genetic trait is WRONG. (I happen to think both are wrong, but that's another argument altogether.)

Now back to the article in question...

As far as I know from what has been reported, there is no shortage of donated material in our genetic repositories. Based on this, I think that the FDA can be as selective as it wants in its donor screening. In fact, I think that the screening process should be expanded to exclude heterosexuals that participate in high-risk behavior. Gay donors are not being barred "because they are gay", but because there is a significantly higher occurence of HIV infection in gay men.

Now... having thrown a little gas on the fire, I'm anxious to stand back and feel the heat.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Sunday Thoughts

- by Al Sturgeon
(published every week in Desperate Houseflies)

Naming, according to the Bible, was the first use of human language. And naming, in my opinion, has remained important ever since.

So what’s in a name? According to Eugene Peterson (there I go again), “A name is particular and calls attention to the particular, the ‘nature,’ the specific. Two friends enter a forest. One sees a mass of trees, the other sees spruce and oak and pine and elm. One looks at the ground and sees tangles of needles and brush, the other looks down and sees blood-root and hepatica and arnica. One looks up and sees a blur of motion through the leaves, the other looks up and sees a Red-Eyed Vireo and a McGillivray Warbler and the Least Flycatcher. Which of these two is more alive to the garden and more in relation to the life spilling out and reverberating all through it in colors and songs, forms and movements – and to God who planted the garden and put us in it?” (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places)

So what’s in a name? It gives specificity to an object. But I suspect the follow-up question gets shortened to, So what?

Let’s open our history books, class. One of the revolutionary concepts of the Declaration of Independence involved the idea that human beings are created equal with basic rights. At the time, we’re talking wealthy white Englishmen of course, but the concept emerged. Over time, the struggle for basic human rights extended toward everyone regardless of, well, anything. We are taught that everyone is born with equal value and equal rights.

However, lest we mistake our world to be utopian, even the best of us rarely practice what we preach. Instead, the human creatures that we find “valuable” are those who have value to you and me. In fact, when we introduce someone by name, we introduce him or her in relation to why they are valuable to (notice the important person here) ME! (This is MY co-worker, MY neighbor, MY doctor, MY aunt, MY insurance man…) This is our world.

Following Jesus, however, takes an entirely different approach to humanity. Human beings are valuable – not because of what they can do for me – but simply because they are from God. Every person. This is the viewpoint of the Good Samaritan. And this is the eternal viewpoint of the follower of Jesus.

So what? Peterson takes us on a garden tour and asks us who is more in tune with the surrounding world, the vague tourist or the traveler who takes it in with specificity? The scenario, however, extends to the religionist on tour in Garden Earth as well. Who is in tune with the Master Gardener, the traveler who sees the people God has created in a utilitarian way (I’ll get to know them if they’re useful to me!), or the follower who learns the names of every intrinsically valuable person around?

Are you interested in getting to know people you come in contact with well enough to call them by name? Or, are you content to live in a world where the only people you know specifically are those who you may find useful? That, my friends, separates us. It is summed up in a question once asked Jesus: Who is my neighbor?

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Progress through the reformation of Islam

Thomas Friedman has an interesting take on the evolving struggle in the Muslim world.

My friend Raymond Stock, the biographer and translator of Naguib Mahfouz and a longtime resident of Cairo, argues that we are seeing in Baghdad, Cairo and Riyadh the modern incarnation of several deeply rooted and interlocking wars. These are, he said, the war within Islam between Traditionalists and Rationalists, which dates back to Baghdad in the ninth century; the struggle between ardent Sunnis and Shiites, which dates back to succession battles in early Islam; and the confrontation between Islam and the West, which dates back to the Arab conquests of the seventh century and the Crusades.In the modern incarnation of each of these struggles, members of the Sunni-Traditionalist-jihadist minority are losing. And the more that becomes evident, the more violent they will become - because their whole vision is in danger of being repudiated by fellow Arabs and Muslims.

Islam is one of the only "unreformed" religions in the world. What we may be witnessing, as the suicide bombings and other violence has been turned toward fellow Muslims in Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, is the beginning of that reformation. As Friedman points out, the battle between the traditionalists (or jihadists) and the rationalists is no longer being waged externally, but is being waged internally. More modern, rationalist Muslims are finally repudiating them and their tactics, and it has brought the Muslim world, at least in the middle east, to a religious flash point.

The biggest repudiation to the jihadist faction came in the form of the Iraqi election.

The Iraqi election was a total shock to the militant jihadist forces in the Arab-Muslim world," Mr. Stock noted. "They warned Iraqis that 'you vote - you die,' and instead millions of Iraqis said back to them, 'We vote - we decide.' " And the thing they are deciding on is not to be pro-American, not to be pro-Western, but to try to build their own Arab society in a way that will be open to modernism and interpretations of Islam that encourage innovation, adaptation and progress.

The jihadist forces hate this notion. They see the struggle for democracy in Iraq as anathema to everything they stand for: a literalist interpretation of Islam, unsullied by modernity, adaptation, women's rights or political and religious pluralism.

We also see an increased struggle in Saudi Arabia which, for years, was the source of most of the jihadist doctrine spread throughout the world with its support of the Wahabbist sect of Islam. Wahabbism is probably the most extreme and violent of the jihadist sects of Isalm. SA, apparently, has finally realized it has sown the seeds of its own destruction and is trying to kill the crop before it becomes fully mature.

And with the protracted struggle in Iraq faithfully reported by al Jezera and other media in the area, people in the area are finally contemplating the alternatives. Extremism or freedom. That, of course, does not work to the benefit of the extremists:

The jihadists "know that if democracy comes to this part of the world, the Zarqawis and their ilk are done," Mr. Stock said. "Because the majority of people do not buy their methods or most of their message. They don't want to live like the Taliban. If democracy manages to spread in the Arab world, it will not necessarily be pro-American, but it will definitely be pro-living, not pro-suicide. It will not be a cult of death, but a culture of life." A recent cover of a popular Egyptian magazine, Rose el-Youssef, Mr. Stock noted, shows two well-known female Arab pop singers under the headline: "Stronger than Extremism."

All this to say, yes, the forces of "rationalism" in Islam and freedom are winning, but the process ahead remains a slow and long one in which we'll see set-backs and failures. Right now, of course, the best way to aid the rationalists and ensure the eventual demise of the extremists is to plod on in Iraq:

So yes, this is a big, deep struggle in Iraq. Yes, the forces of decency and pluralism are slowly winning. But it is not over - not by a long shot. The U.S. Army and the first freely elected Iraqi government still do not control all the terrain there. Unless we can help the Iraqis create a secure environment in their country, and unless their new government can find a way to integrate the more pragmatic Sunni Baathists, and even dejected jihadists, who want to be part of a better future for Iraq, that nation will not see self-sustaining democracy. The bad guys won't win, but neither will the good guys, and all we will have produced is a bloody stalemate.

Final thought: It does feel good to be back home.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Part Deux: 'I Made You, Jimmy Kimmel"

(Part One.)

Finally, after several Memorable Moments with Mushmouth, they let us into the studio.

The herd of prospective game show contestants, probably about 150 in number, ambled past the darkened, vacant set of the game show. Some paused and basked in the splendor of the scene, kind of a nerd’s version of the emotional arrhythmia a sports fan encounters in the moments after stepping from the shadows of a ballpark’s concourse and into the lighted beauty of the field itself. I’m gonna play there someday!

They led the unsuspecting cattle through a dizzying maze of temporary walls and shadowy backstages, finally stopping in a makeshift conference room where school lunchroom tables sat dotted with stapled pages, each turned upside down, each with two sharpened, Number Two pencils beaming garish, piercing yellow in the gloaming.

Pop quiz!

Twenty minutes to complete the test, they said. No talking, no copying, no cheating of any kind. You are being watched. And please keep distractions to a minimum, if you could.

What grade do we have to make on this? asked a member of the herd.

Whatever puts you in the top thirty, they said. The rest will be dismissed.

With fabulous parting gifts? asked the herd spokesman.

Why don’t we get started, they said.

Twenty minutes flew by as we attacked the 175-question test (and the test launched a couple of counterattacks, including the lobbing of several trigonometry grenades which are certainly a violation of the Geneva Convention). Somewhere around the halfway point, a member of the WBSM team stepped out and said, “Would [Mrs. Wednesday Housefly] please stand up?” My wife, who wasn’t taking the test, stood nervously. “Please follow me,” said the man, and he briskly led her out of the room.

I’m glad we’re keeping those distractions to a minimum, I thought as a cosine exploded sharply and loudly behind me.

Sorry, I said to the people nearby, it must’ve been the chicken.

No talking, they said.


Mrs. Housefly returned when the twenty minutes ended. As it turned out, the man who came to get her was Terrence, the person with whom she had spoken on the phone several times while arranging this soiree. Terrence, though thoroughly not into girls, was smitten by her charm and Southern Belle ™ accent on the phone and just had to meet her. So while I slogged through the test, dodging a series of booby trapezoids, the missus sat in the green room and chugged Dr Pepper with the show’s production team, delighting them with every y’all that passed her lips.

“Isn’t this fun?” she giggled upon rejoining me after the test. I showed her the swamps under my armpits and the tangent shrapnel in my back, but she was quickly distracted by something shiny. I took what little solace there was in knowing that the experience had certainly come to a merciful conclusion, and we could now be about the real reasons for coming to LA in the first place: touring Dodger Stadium and searching for Julia Roberts.

So naturally, mine was the first name they called from the “keeper list.” Though she denies it to this day, I’m convinced the missus pulled some strings there.

We waved goodbye to the hundred-and-whatever failures as they were herded back out to Mushmouth Boulevard, and I remember thinking at the time how doleful they looked as they shuffled out. As it turned out, they were the lucky ones.

My twenty-nine fellow survivors and I learned that we were to be pitted against one another in WBSM-like competition. We would be brought to the front in groups of three, and we would attempt to curry favor with the judges (the production team) by gutting our competition while being “expressive, energetic, excited, and having a lot of fun.”

My turn came soon enough, and I was put up against Gina, a formidable opponent who, I sensed, would do whatever it took to get on television. The other contestant, Lars, had a captivating personality that was equal parts social anxiety disorder and mental retardation. That he survived the testing round gives me ample reason to question the legitimacy of the whole process.

Gina, a tall, intelligent, extremely aggressive blond with a smile so broad and clenched I kept expecting her teeth to shatter, jumped out to an early lead. She was clearly firing on all synapses, while I was sluggish from sensory overload and the growing, gnawing sense that I didn’t really want to be on TV.

“Michael Bolton!” screamed Gina.

“Correct,” said the host. “Are the other two of you planning to play tonight?”

“Ha ha!” I retorted.

“Charcoal,” said Lars. And so it went.

“Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme!” said Gina.

“Correct again,” said the host.

Dang, I thought.

“Lou Gehrig,” chimed Lars, and Gina nodded sympathetically as she poured it on.

“Process color!”



“Franklin Pierce.”



And then it happened. My big break…


Pregnant pause.

“Incorrect,” said the host, and he was as surprised as I.

Lars seized the opportunity first, quickly buzzing in.

“She smells like lavender.”

“Thanks for playing, Lars,” said the host, who turned his gaze on me.

I buzzed in guiltily, glancing up apologetically toward Gina.


“CORRECT!” And the audience, all of whom were beginning to suspect Gina of being either a cyborg or a cannibal, or perhaps both, burst into pathetic applause.

“OK, Wednesday. Make your selection.”

Here it must be pointed out that part of the adolescent charm of WBSM is that every category is titled to provide the maximum amount of titillation via double entendre and insinuation. For instance, the category I chose was:

“I Can See Your Nibbles.”

“Well, thanks,” said the host. “But choose a category.”

The audience guffawed, but I bristled at the host’s attempt to steal my spotlight.

“I’ll be glad to, as soon as you put on a t-shirt.”

The crickets’ chirping told me the sun had set on my game show career. We never saw Julia Roberts, we were only allowed into the gift shop at Dodger Stadium because of construction, we never got to experience an earthquake, a freeway shooting or smog, and worst of all, a member of my WBSM class went on to actually Win Ben Stein’s Money a few months later.

Way to go, Lars.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Month in Review -- April

The baseball season tends to move in months. After a month has passed you don't know too much for sure, but you can start spotting trends, so it's a good time to take stock.

I'll begin with a random observation: I know of two pitchers in the NL who actively switch hit, and the weird thing is their both named Zambrano. Yep, Carlos and Victor each swing from both sides; there could be others, but I'm not aware of them.

AL East

The stories: Brian Roberts and trouble in pinstripes.
Where in the heck did Brian Roberts come from? This is the most unexpected emergence of a player I can remember since, well, maybe another Oriole leadoff hitter, Brady Anderson. As good as he's been, Miguel Tejada has quietly been as good or better. Here's their AL rank in some key categories, Roberts then Tejada: OPS -- 1,3; SLG -- 2,1; RBI -- 2,1; HR 3,1. Roberts is also first in runs and stolen bases. What's more interesting than whether they keep it up is whether the Yankers can get this thing on the track. Their pitching has been injured or ineffective, which has exposed the fact that their farm system is absolutely barren. Also, their lineup looks old, other than A-Rod, whose having a brilliant season. Luckily for them, Boston hasn't run away with the thing, but if their pitching doesn't come together, they may have trouble tracking down the O's or Twins or whoever for the wild card.

AL Central

The stories: Jon Garland and the best team no one saw.
Johann Santana is 4-1. leading the league in strikeouts, and is second in WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched), the stat du jour for pitchers (much like OPS for hitters), and for all that he's the second best pitcher in his division. Jon Garland's out of the gate a perfect 5-0, and is leading the league in wins, WHIP, and ERA. His White Sox are the best team in baseball right now, riding incredible starting pitching and timely hitting to a 20-7 start. Too bad no one in Chicago seems to care, as the White Sox are drawing less than 20,000 to a lot of games. Also unfortunate is the fact that their manager, seems to be a classless hothead who revels in running down anyone he can think of, including his own players. That stuff is described as "fiery" when you're winning, but Guillen may draw some Larry Bowa comparisons if they start to slide.

AL West

The stories: The impaler reigns and the A's have no O.
The Angels have ridden the hot bat of MVP Vladimir Guerrero and surprisingly good pitching to take the lead out west. The A's and Mariners have fallen off the pace due to poor offense. The A's young pitchers have fared well thusfar, particularly Rich Harden and closer Octavio Dotel. However, their on-base focused offense isn't getting on base and their power source, Eric Chavez, has been dreadful, batting .210 with 7 extra-base hits. Seattle's new 3B Adrian Beltre has been nearly as bad, batting .229 with 6 extra base hits, but 16 RBI to Chavez' 9. The Rangers pitching has been predictably poor, and their offense has been solid but not good enough to make up the difference.

Another random observation: until recently the two Texas teams, the Astros and Rangers, both had their starting infield battiing 1-4. Mercifully, the Astros moved shortstop Adam Everett out of the leadoff spot and dropped Morgan Ensberg to 5th, but the Rangers persevere, mostly because their four best hitter happen to play in their infield. I'm not sure how rare this is, but it seemed unusual at the time. I don't think anyone else is doing it now, but I haven't done a complete survey, I confess.

NL East

The stories: AL pitchers make good and hardball in the capital
Tim Hudson and Pedro Martinez have fared extremely well in their transition to the national league. Mark Mulder is also doing well in St. Louis, and you can add Roger Clemens from last year to that list. This makes a fair amount of sense, at least that AL pitchers would get off to a hot start in coming over to the National League. It must be nice to face a pitcher at least twice in a game instead of a DH, and it probably takes hitters a while to learn the new guys. I'm not sure if the opposite is necessarily true; Pavano and Clement are also pitching well; maybe pitchers just get the advantage when hitters haven't seen them before. Meanwhile, the Nationals are selling out games in the nation's capital and playing a competitive brand of ball to boot. Soon kids all around D.C. will be growing mullets in honor of Vinny Castilla.

NL Central

The stories: Nomar goes down and the Cards look to clinch by the All-Star break
Not only did Cubs fans never get to hear Harry Caray try and pronounce Nomar Garciaparra's name (how much fun would it have been to hear him call a Garciaparra to Grudzielanek double play last year?), they can't even watch their star shortstop who's rapidly turning into the middle infield version of Ken Griffey, Jr. Speaking of Griff, he's been healthy but is on pace for 12 home runs and 60 RBI. Can you really afford not to play Wily Mo Pena? The Cardinals are just mean; they're winning easily while getting next to nothing from Scott Rolen. Was that seven run rally against the Reds in the ninth really necessary? Meanwhile, the Astros, who were shutout 3 times all of last year, managed to turn the trick five times in April. Which begs the question, will the Astros be shut out more times than Griff goes yard this year?

NL West

The stories: The Amazing Brandon Lyon and the slugging Dodgers
I appear to have missed more on the D-Backs than on any of my predictions this year. I figured they'd be closer to the Rockies than the top of the division, but they have the most saves in baseball behind Brandon Lyon, the Brian Roberts of the bullpen. The Dodgers are fourth in baseball in home runs, which is as good as first when you play in Dodgers Stadium. Jeff Kent and Milton Bradley have lead the way, making up for J.D. Drew, who's largely been missing in action. The Giants are hanging around without Barry Bonds, which is a testament to Felipe Alou, but with Bonds continuing to have setbacks and Armando Benitez out, you wonder how much longer they can tough it out. The Rockies are dreadful, like a bad AAA team that happens to have Todd Helton and Preston Wilson for some reason.

My All-Star Ballot
C Jason Varitek
1B Dmitri Young
2B Brian Roberts
3B Alex Rodriguez
SS Miguel Tejada
OF Vladimir Guerrero
OF Manny Ramirez
OF Ichiro Suzuki
DH Shea Hillenbrand
P Jon Garland


C Paul LoDuca
1B Derrek Lee
2B Jeff Kent
3B Chipper Jones
SS Clint Barmes
OF Cliff Floyd
OF Miguel Cabrera
OF Pat Burrell
P Dontrelle Willis

When you throw in his fielding, Mike Piazza's been about the worst catcher in baseball so far this year. Ooh, I missed the real story in the NL Central, which is Derrek Lee, who's leading the league in all triple crown categories. Saw him hit a home run at Minute Maid Sunday that took about 1/2 second to get from his plate to the facade in left field. Chipper Jones has missed some time, but is playing at a very high level when he's in there. Tejada has passed the triplets to become the best shortstop in baseball, and probably one of the top 5 players. The shortstop position in the Nl is incredibly weak, as is first base in the AL. Could have easily chosen Johnny Damon over Ichiro; they're having very similar years, but Ichiro has a slight edge in steals and runs scored. Shea Hillenbrand may be the most surprising name, but he's hit for a high average all year, and Ortiz has been a little off so far, average-wise. Lew Ford is also having a nice year at DH; seems to get at least one game-winning RBI a week. Garland and Willis have had the same year essentially; both are 5-0; Garland's ERA is 1.38; Dontrelle's is 1.29; Garland's WHIP is 0.79; Dontrelle's is 0.83; both have 2 shutouts. The story in the NL east is also, of course, the Marlins pitching staff, which has 6 complete games and 3 shutouts. And they haven't even played the Astros yet.

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