Saturday, October 22, 2005

Politics and Sports - Keep The Goal In Mind

2005 2005 2005

With the Houston Astros in the World Series at last, I have been thinking about sports a bit, and so found my way to to catch the buzz from fans. To my surprise, while I expected a shift away from politics into sports, I discovered that a number of fans cheering against the Astros were not doing so because they were White Sox fans, or because they were disgruntled Cardinals or Braves fans, but because George W. Bush is from Texas. That, and because Enron was headquartered in Houston, and once paid for the naming rights to the new baseball park where the Astros play, now named Minutemaid, or the JuiceBox. And because Houston is known for oil and high-technology companies, which are regularly associated with capitalism and other hated forces. Strange. I tried to discuss batting and pitching statistics with a couple of these guys, but no joy. I brought up how so many of the Astros have played only for that one team their whole careers, a loyalty difficult to find in professional sports, but again they just fixated on the politics. Here we were, on a site devoted to baseball, and these guys were making a sports choice based solely on politics.

I bring that up here, because it reminded me about something we Conservatives are going to have to remember, now that we are growing into a majority. There’s different flavors of Conservative, and there are all kinds of reasons why one person will vote Conservative, and we can’t presume that one reason will be sufficient for everyone. In the 2004 election, National Security was the obvious first choice, but millions of voters made their choice because of the Economy, because of Taxes, because of Social Security reform, and other reasons important to that individual. There was no monolithic control or one-dimensional message, and we should remember that.

Republicans own the majority of Congress, hold the White House, and could move the Supreme Court back into the sanity of Judicial Restraint. To do that, however, the factionist infighting must be set aside, and priorities must be remembered. Once the Liberals began to lose influence and power, they held control by uniting on the most important issues, and so lasted as an effective political threat to the end of the 20th Century, even as the ideals they held proved largely false and illusory. Conservatives must mark which battles matter most, and whenever a smaller issue threatens to undo gains, or even where a major issue threatens to match a key issue with high cost to the movement, we should consider a better approach and resolution. That is, everything can be had with work and perseverence, but always at a cost, and we must be careful not to win battles which cost more than they gain. While it may appear that the support for Conservatism is permanent, in fact any momentum can be lost, and any gains forfeited, if we appear to be no better than the ideal we replace.

I still visit, of course. They have a great site with a lot of baseball information, and there are a lot of great fans who know their sports. I have learned to just ignore the ones who can’t figure out their priorities.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Global Pandemic, or Chicken Little 2005


One of Alfred Hitchcock’s scarier offerings was a film in 1963 titled “The Birds”. One of the things which made the film both scary and comforting, was the knowledge that birds simply do not act in real life as they did in the film. That’s fine for entertainment, but it should not be used as a device to discuss more serious issues. That point seems lost on a number of people ready to jump to hysteria on the possible spread of Avian Flu, or H5N1.

TechCentral has set up a helpful site on the issue, although I still think the tone misses a proper sense of context. I should also note that some of the links posted do not appear to work, specifically the top site.

The World Health Organization is not helping, predicting “a death toll of up to 7.4 million”, on no more empirical evidence than Mayor Nagin used in predicting Katrina deaths. In the same article, not to be outdone in exaggeration, Dr. David Nabarro announced that the “range of deaths could be anything between 5 and 150 million”. Again, on no evidence of any kind; it appears that the speculation comes from computer models, which themselves are driven by parameters based on assumed conditions rather than any demonstrable performance by the virus. Even as the WHO pretends they are avoiding scare tactics, they employ just such false pretenses in trying to grab influence and resources. For good or ill intentions, they are choosing a foul tactic.

Henry Miller, a doctor pressing the case for immediate panic, or at least a flood of tax money thrown at the issue, claims “we'll need a Flu-Pandemic Czar -- someone analogous to Army General Leslie Groves, who headed the Manhattan Project: a plenipotentiary with broad powers and discretion.” Leaving aside the obvious flaws in that analogy, the only clear effect such a move would have, is to add yet another bureaucratic office which will suck money and influence without a single guaranteed return. Dare I wonder whether Dr. Miller sees himself applying for the job?

I found it amusing, how the Tech Central site noted what they called “the Andromeda Strategy”, taking the name from the Michael Crichton bio-scare novel, “The Andromeda Strain”. The writers failed to note that in the book, the mutating virus never killed all the people it was supposed to hurt, and ended up mutating into a harmless organism. And just in case you are thinking about the very scary 1918 Influenza Pandemic, the one which is tagged for killing some 18 million people just at the end of World War 1, do bear in mind that this was in Europe after about a half-decade of all-out war; the general condition in Europe at that time was to be underfed, dirty, and weak, so that resistance to viruses in general were very low. For all the talk now, it needs to be remembered that a virus requires certain conditions to exist, to grow, and to attack people. The very same things which protect you from the flu you already know, protect you against the Avian Flu.

At this time, here is what we know for sure. H5N1 is a virus known to afflict poultry animals, and it has killed 65 people in Asia, 40 in just Vietnam. The virus mutates, which is how a bird flu has come to infect people. The bad news is, in the whole history of Mankind, there has never yet been a cure developed for any virus. Not one. The way you get better from a virus, is that you just plain outlast it. All the medicines in the world do no more than treat the symptoms, which is fine in most cases, but in a serious case of influenza it really comes down to your immune system versus the virus. And even with “common” flus, the CDC considered 2003 an “epidemic” year, because at one point just before the end of the year, more than 10% of the flu victims died from it. These were usually the very young and the very old, which is the regular behavior of flus. So there is a risk, but that has always been the case.

On the other hand, we can take quite a bit of comfort in the known behavior of viruses. Viruses are transmitted easily through liquid and air transmission, but also die quickly in open air, or when outside the required environmental range for growth or sustainability. Also, it is a plain fact that while new viruses are a special threat because humans do not have immunity to them, it is also true that humans invariably develop resistance to diseases, even viruses. If this were not true, we should as a species have long ago died from the multitudes of extant pathogens. At this time, the H5N1 strain would be a virulent and contagious threat, but there is no compelling evidence to show that the virus would necessarily become the pandemic threat so direly predicted. The WHO and other money/influence-hungry groups are playing Chicken Little at the cost of proportion and sound judgment.

Balance is a vital quality in this matter. On the one hand, the threat from a new viral strain is certainly worth watching, and appropriate efforts should be made to address a possible pandemic. But on the other hand, viruses act and grow in known parameters, and exaggerating a scenario in order to grab more resources can often cost other valid efforts vital materials. Laboratories and organizations like the Center for Disease Control, literally hundreds of major university and hospital research facilities are already in place and examining the virus, and for all the noise about insufficient vaccine being available, this comes from the fact that with a mutating virus, a series of vaccines will need to be developed, and they cannot be created until a sufficient sample of the virus is available for the process. In other words, no one is sitting on their hands ignoring the virus, but some people are trying to drum up a panic by hiding relevant facts.

Like all flu seasons, get lots of liquids and rest when you can, and make sure you get the facts. And eat chickens, don’t listen to them.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Few, The Proud, The Officials


I have been watching the Divisional and League Championship Series in Baseball with great interest, as always. And as always, I am half-annoyed, half- amused to see the reaction to game situations and official calls from people with a poor notion at best of what really happened.

This year seems to have had more controversy than most seasons. In Game 2 of the ALCS, A.J. Pierzynski of the White Sox swung through a low pitch on a two-strike count, for strike three. However, Josh Paul did not catch the ball cleanly, and while Plate Umpire Doug Eddings correctly rang up the third strike, he did not call “out”, because he understood the ball remained in play. Pierzynski picked up on that and ran for first, but Paul made the poor assumption that the inning was over and rolled the ball out to the mound, which pitcher Kelvim Escobar also had left, seeing his catcher head for the dugout and so thinking the inning was done. While replays were disputed about whether Paul actually caught the ball before it hit the ground, the stupidity of so many fans forgot the basic fact; that unless and until the Umpire calls the play over, it is still in play.

Then, in Game 4 of the NLCS, Phil Cuzzi called from behind the plate what looked to me to be a large but consistent strike zone, which worked well for both starting pitchers, but which reliever Jason Marquis found difficult to find. LaRussa, who had been moaning about the zone all game long, came out of the dugout to protest a walk issued to Lance Berkman on four straight pitches, which replay ironically showed were nowhere close to being strikes. LaRussa, not always able to accept reality, appeared to me to be trying to get thrown out of the game, as a spark to charge up his team, a tactic desperate managers use from time to time. In the actual event, it only inspired Jim Edmonds to get himself thrown out for the same stunt a half-inning later. All in all, not smart game management by LaRussa.

And then there was Game 6 of the NLCS. In the bottom of the fifth inning, with Houston leading 3-0 but the Cardinals threatening with nobody out, Adam Everett made a sweeping tag of Yadier Molina at second, who was called out. Cardainals fans and the less-than-balanced TV crew claimed the tag was missed, ignoring the fact that the umpire was closer and in position to make the call.. With one out and two on, John Rodriguez hit a sacrifice fly which allowed the Cards to score and close the margin to 3-1 Astros, but that was as close as they got, so the call never factored into the game.

The fans and more than a few chattering hairpieces have been demanding Instant Replay be used in MLB, or new umpires be brought in, or both, for some time now. The umpires and the league office have resisted, and with good reason. In the first place, devotion to video misses the fact that the camera can and does miss perspective. A good example is the way camera shots claim to spot whether or not a pitch is a ball or strike. The problem is that camera shots are only two-dimensional, and when the frame is frozen at any one spot, it misses the motion of the ball, and the fact that the window used by the umpire for the strike zone is actually a three-dimensional box, and where the ball finishes, or where it is any one point in time does not determine whether it is a ball or strike. Thus, even with replay footage of the pitch, almost every commentator fails to understand the nature of the ball/strike call, and so cannot speak with authority on the umpire’s opinion. The same thing happened in the Everett/Molina tag; the two camera angles used to show the play did not, if you pay attention, show a clean miss by Everett, but a close play which may or may not have been a tag. The plain fact missed by the chattering critics of the call, is that the umpire made the call, from a better position and with better preparation than anyone else.

I am hardly claiming that umpires never make mistakes. Yet they are an unalterable fact of the game, like weather and field conditions. If people demand an absolutely consistent, unchanging official standard on every pitch call, on every catch call, on every tag call, they must reasonably demand that every field in baseball be built to exactly the same size and dimensions; no more “Green Monster” or “Tal’s Hill”, no more roofs of any kind, or else everyone gets them. Same crowd capacity, no matter the size of the city, and oh yes, same starting times and weather conditions, or the games don’t count. If this sounds ludicrous, it should. It’s equally ludicrous to remove the human element of the umpires. While umpires work awfully long and hard to get every call perfectly right, they are human, and baseball is a sport which requires many judgment calls, and it’s a tough-skinned individual indeed, who can make so many high-pressure calls with all the attention thrust on them. Athletes, when they are honest about it, often admit that professional officials do a job which they themselves could not do, and meet a very, very high standard. Unfortunately, just as fans far too often take the hard work, preparation, and dedicated effort of an athlete for granted, they also fail to understand what it takes to work a plate or a bag in such conditions.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

NLCS 2005 Game Six


Forty-Five years and two days ago, the Houston Colt Forty-Fives baseball club was awarded a franchise by Major League Baseball. Monday, October 17, 2005 was the 45th anniversary of that franchise award to the Colt 45’s, so the day seemed oh so appropriate for the Houston Astros to finally claim a berth in the World Series.

Then the 9th inning changed all that.

Tonight, the Astros will play Game Six of the 2005 National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the game moved back to St. Louis for the sixth (and if necessary, the seventh) game of the series. The press has been abuzz, with good reason, about the grand story of the Cardinals comeback from being down three games to one and having to come through repeatedly from a 9th inning, down two runs, two out, two strike situation. Pujols is pumped, as is LaRussa, as indeed is the rest of the Cardinals team. They earned the best regular-season record in baseball this year, and they are confident that this will help them return to the World Series, to face the Chicago White Sox. I hope, and believe, that the Cardinals are wrong. While the Cardinals are indeed a fine and formidable opponent, the Houston Astros will find the way to claim that long-denied Series berth.

Granted, winning in St. Louis should be harder than it was in Houston. Then again, if you look at the NLCS results so far, we have seen only one game which was decided by a margin greater than two runs. Game one was won by the Cards by 2 runs, Game 2 by the Astros with a 3-run margin, Games 3, 4, and 5 each by one run. The two clubs play even, and it all comes down to who can play well here and now. The Cards lost three in a row before winning Game 5, but the Astros have not lost two back-to-back games in the playoffs. If the Cards win tonight, the two teams play again to see who moves on to face the White Sox, but if the Astros win they clinch now. And while the Cards fans will remember how much they enjoyed the game after Pujols hit that home run, I recall how dismayed they looked just a little while before he did it. I really do not think the same situation will come around again, and even if it does, the Astros won’t repeat the same mistake.

The Astros, whatever they said and did Monday night after the game, look like they got it out of their system and are ready for tonight. I hope so, because as subjective as I admit it is to say so, these guys are due for a trip to the World Series, and they have certainly paid for their tickets, in sweat, dreams, persistence, hope, and drama.

Go Astros!

Demosthenes Is A Lonely, Bitter Old Man


I knew this guy in college. None of the women in school were good enough for him. They were too lazy, or too arrogant, or too obsessed with looks, or too plain, or else otherwise lacking in some way which made them unacceptable to him as a mate, or even as a girlfriend. Subsequently, this guy had a lot of free time that he was expecting to spend with his perfect woman. The problem he overlooked is, his standard was such that no mortal woman could meet it, and so he was always disappointed. And naturally, he could never agree that the problem was his expectations. No, it was always that this woman was just not honest enough, and that one just didn’t look below a person’s surface.

At the time, I thought this guy was a bit strange, expecting perfection even after seeing the reality of the world. But I see in politics and ideology the same demand for perfection, the utter rejection of even the smallest flaw.

It just doesn’t seem like a good strategy to me. That guy I knew, never did get married, and by what I could see, he was not happy with his choice, not nearly so happy as the “fools” who settled for someone imperfect but human, and whose good qualities were appreciated.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Baseball Umpire Scenario

OK, imagine you're the plate umpire and here is the situation:

[] Runners at 1st and 3rd, 2 out

[] 2 ball, 2 strike count on the batter

[] Pitch comes in the strike zone

[] Batter steps towards the plate while swinging the bat

[] Ball misses the bat, hits the batter in the belly

[] Ball then bounces from the batter's belly to the catcher, who catches the ball cleanly.


Poll Points


Long-time readers at Polipundit may recall that this time last year, I was in the regular practice of dissecting polls discussing the upcoming Presidential Election. They will have noticed, I am sure, that I have not paid particular attention to the more recent offerings.

While some on the Left may believe I am ignoring the polls because of President Bush’s low numbers there at present, it’s really for the same reason I don’t spend much time checking the instrument gauge on my car while I’m not driving; I don’t worry about things when they’re not relevant.

You see, whether or not the numbers from Gallup, AP/Ipsos, Pew, and the rest are good for Dubya or poor in their portrayal of the President, they are not an apples-to-apples comparison with last year’s polls. In the first place, there is a generally smaller respondent pool of respondents, who are queried less often, and who are usually not even asked whether or not they voted in the last election, or intend to vote in the next one, which strikes me as a big mistake. Also, the questions are, to be blunt, often phrased in a manner which a courtroom lawyer might well object to as ‘leading’.

But it’s even more significant to understand how the significance of polls has changed since last summer and fall. Last year, how well people thought of George W. Bush was very important, because Bush needed re-election. At this point in his Administration, however, Bush could really not care less whether his policies are a smash hit or not, so long as he is effective. While it could be argued that since Congress tends to pay attention to polls they would press the President to raise his numbers, it is a well-known fact that Congress generally gets approval ratings separate from the President, and in any case, while I would say that the White House is aware of public opinion, the W team is hardly about to approach the President and tell him that he has to change course, because CNN and CBS don’t agree with him.

Poll analysis is a growing field, and at the moment much more an art than a science. But in general, Bush knows that staying on course has worked for him, and in any case twiddling to wind flutters in a poll doesn’t sit well with his way of thinking. For better or worse, that means that the policies and nominees we get from the President’s office and staff are very unlikely to change. In addition to the President’s known stubborn streak, it is also a plain fact that Bush owes no markers to anyone in Congress; quite the opposite in fact. The GOP knows very well that whatever the present poll numbers, their chance for support in re-election depends on Presidential confidence in them, and more than a tepid photo op. That is, while George W. Bush has no more need of political ambition, he holds considerable political influence, and the Leadership of the GOP knows this. And since W. knows they know this, he knows he holds all the aces.

Yes, personally there are things I would like to see President Bush do and say differently than he has up to now. But it’s vital for folks to understand that he neither needs poll numbers, nor worries about them.

Monday, October 17, 2005

We Want A Pennant!

Go Astros!!!

Who Determines Credentials?


The Harriet Miers Battle between Conservatives rages on, and while the Liberals and MSM chortle at the scene of so many normally sane and respected leaders of the Conservative Movement descending to the depths normally reserved for Michael Moore’s rhetorical minions, and the hordes of the damned who sold their soul to Howard Dean and his lot. Whatever your position on Miers, it’s clear that things are not going as they ought.

The basic pivot turns on two points; whether Dubya is using crystal balls to make his pick, or relying as usual on his brass ones. The other question, and for me this is really the big one, is who decides what credentials are acceptable for a SCOTUS justice.

Put me down for the Constitutional style: The President picks a nominee according to his judgment, and the Senate holds hearings to Advise & Consent. Anything else wouldn’t really be kosher.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Amerigance, Ha!


When I was growing up, my parents were fairly representative of Democrats at the time. They approved of LBJ, in no small part because Walter Cronkite suggested they should approve of Lyndon. They disliked and mistrusted Barry Goldwater, because in addition to being a Conservative and supporting things like the Constitution as originally written, he was from California, which in the 1960s was not unlike being from Texas today. And of course, Walter Cronkite implied you could not trust Goldwater, and so it was ordained. Anyway, among other things my parents despaired of, was Americans ever being fully respected in the other nations, especially the ones which think of themselves as the wpitome of culture, and don’t you forget it. The “Ugly American” legend was in full swing; we were too powerful, but the Soviets were somehow restraining themselves. We were too rich, but somehow nations with higher per-capita wealth were never mentioned. And worst of all, we were cruelly imposing our culture, our morals, and our products on every nation unable to defend itself, never mind that the Communists were doing worse and using violence, and the Socialists were doing worse and using the monolith of oligarcic bureacrcacy (as if anyone remembers why, precisely, the Beatles moved to the United States, or why they wrote “The Tax Man”, but I digress). Nope, Uncle Walter solemnly assured us, that whatever was wrong with the world, it came from America.

Fast forward to 2005. Communism is dead in most of the world, and even worse, is not not fashionable. T-shirts of Che only sell when he is sold as a generic rebel; there just doesn’t seem to be the same cachet for sociopathic Communists anymore. Socialism is largely discredited, except in Europe where a losing plan always gets another look, especially where rich hypocrites make themselves feel better by insulting anyone who has accomplished something of merit. Even the newest model of anti-American strategy and grand politics, Global Terrorism, is failing to catch on. Seems the people most affected by Terrorism would prefer to run their own governments, and worst of all, are speaking with American Marines for the most part, instead of parroting the hate slogans from mullahs of questionable sanity. And the fact that countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon are either holding or demanding free elections shows the trend is only moving against the bombers, the Jihadists and the thugs.

Liberals continue to pretend George W. Bush is a failed President. Because pretense is all they have left in the bag.