On the 2017 Hall of Fame Ballot – Part 2

Okay, now that we’ve gotten the “one and dones” out of the way, who’s left among the thirty four players on the ballot?

We can pretty much divide the remaining twenty one into three groups:

The Hall of the Really, Really, Really Good:

Jeff Bagwell, Trevor Hoffman, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines, and Gary Sheffield are holdovers from last year. They are joined by Vladimir Guerrero and Ivan Rodriguez. There’s no one here that stands out as an obvious Hall of Famer like Ken Griffey Jr. did last year. You’ve got to dig into the numbers. They are all potentially worthy; it pretty much comes down to personal opinion. I think closers are overrated – so much for Hoffman. Mussina was never the best pitcher in his league, and really wasn’t that great – he was just very good for a long time. Sheffield never really stood out as a superstar, unlike Guerrero and Rodriguez….

Continue reading

On the 2017 Hall of Fame Ballot

It’s that time again – the Hall of Fame ballot has been released. Fans and writers are already debating the worthiness of holdovers Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines, newcomers Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero, and the usual arguments over Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.

But also on the ballot are a squadron of new names; many of which you’ve never heard of and will probably never hear again. But they have met the minimum requirements for nomination, and might get a vote or two from a friend. And when you’ve been in the Major Leagues for ten years (the required minimum for consideration), it’s kind of hard NOT to pick up a little fame along the way.

So let’s pause and tip our hats to these likely “one and done” candidates, because I’m sure we’d all wish we could at least get as close to Fame as they have.

Continue reading

MOVIE REVIEW: Beastmaster II: Through the Portal of Time (1991)

There’s a term in film criticism that comes up in the discussion of “bad” movies – the Idiot Picture. It has a couple of definitions. It could refer to the plot of the movie progressing only because a character is an idiot. I’ve heard it referring to a fantasy / sci-fi movie world where everyone is so idiotic that the movie reviewer feels they could take over that world on a good weekend. Or perhaps it’s the movie makers who are idiots for including utterly inane dialog and leaving vast plot holes. Or maybe it means that only an idiot would think it’s a good movie.

Beastmaster II seems to cover all of them.
Continue reading

Our Long National Nightmare

People are still trying to come to grips with the concept of a Trump presidency. And it’s not a pretty sight. Even if he somehow manages to be sane and rational, surrounds himself with sane and rational advisers, moderates his political agenda, and doesn’t embarrass the nation any further, there are still some things that are going to happen no matter what.

He has already emboldened racists and bigots, and the GOP pretty much has free rein to do what they want in Congress.

It doesn’t look good for us.

But there are things we can do to at least mitigate the damage.
Continue reading

Thank You, Baseball

Thank you for giving us a World Series between two teams so evenly matched that it went the full seven games, and had both teams score the exact same number of runs – 27 – in total.

Thanks to the weather, which was perfect for the games in November (mild temperatures instead of a seasonal chill), and even provided a rain delay at just the right time and of the right length to give everyone a chance to take a deep breath, relax, and regroup.

Thank you, Baseball, for not having a clock that allows a team with a lead to run things out and stall until time runs out. And for not having anything like a “sudden death” playoff or shootout to decide a winner after a certain amount of overtime has elapsed. Even if it takes 33 innings, you play until someone wins.

Thank you for having a century of consistent records and statistics, allowing us to debate which single play was the most dramatic ever, or which performance was the most outstanding – and have the numbers to back it up.

Thank you for a wonderful, amazing, exciting, heartbreaking, insane, joyous, and unforgettable World Series; one that helped us forget for a while the stupid vitriol of a presidential election campaign.

Except for the campaign ads during the broadcasts…..

But we’ll forgive you for that.

Book Review: Iran-Contra

Iran-Contra:
Reagan’s Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power
by Malcolm Byrne
(c) 2014 by The University Press of Kansas

Return with us now, to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when Communism was on its way out as the #1 Global Threat and Radical Islam was quickly climbing up the charts….

On October 5, 1986, a Sandanista soldier fired off his SAM-7 at a Fairchild C-123K cargo plane that had just crossed into Nicaraguan airspace from Costa Rica. He got really lucky – the missile hit, and knocked down the plane. Three of the crew died in the crash – but Eugene Hasenfus survived. He confirmed to his captors what documents found in the crash revealed: the plane was on a covert mission on behalf of the CIA to supply the Contra rebels with arms – in direct contravention of US laws.

A few weeks later, a news magazine in Lebanon published a scoop. Representatives from the Reagan administration had been meeting with Iranian government officials in an effort to purchase the release of a couple of Americans who had been kidnapped by Hezbollah. This was a big deal; the stated position of the American government was “We will never negotiate with terrorists”. And Iran, now that a theocratic Islamic government had kicked out our friend the Shah and then allowed a bunch of radicals to capture the staff of our embassy in Tehran, was considered the number one terrorist-backing government in the world.

This was all Very Bad News for the Reagan administration, especially when it was found that the profits from the arms sales to Iran were being used to pay for supplying the Contras without the knowledge – nevermind the permission – of Congress.
Continue reading

How Can Anyone Still Be Supporting This Guy?

It boggles the minds of some how Donald Trump still has support among the electorate. After all the things that have come out about him, from being beholden to foreign banks to the bragging about committing sexual assault, surely at this point his support should be in the single digits…. But there’s still a significant portion of America that still wants the least suitable major party candidate we’ve ever had to be President.

Why? What are they thinking? What can their reasons possibly be?

Let me try to put myself in their shoes.

I’m not talking about the Deplorables – those who agree with his racist and xenophobic demagoguery. One hopes that their numbers really are an insignificant component of his supporters. There are also the die-hard Republican loyalists. These people would vote for a dead squirrel if it was a GOP candidate. There’s nothing that can be done to convince them to vote otherwise. Nor can anyone really do something about the rabid Clinton haters. They’ve been brainwashed by the “Right Wing Conspiracy Machine” and have totally fallen for the Anti-Clinton line. Nothing you can say to promote Clinton as even just a worthy candidate will change their minds.

But that cannot account for all of Trump’s support. There’s got to be something more going on here.

Continue reading

Book Review: Ballot Battles

BALLOT BATTLES: The History of Disputed Elections in the United States
Edward B. Foley
Oxford University Press
(c) 2016

While all the hubbub over our elections and voting (so far) has to do with access to the ballot box, Foley argues that what happens after the votes have been cast is just as important.

A professor of constitutional and election law at Ohio State, Foley has chronicled all the disputed elections of national importance since the 1790s. Doctored ballots, bogus returns, stuffed ballot boxes, the works. And not just that sort of shenanigans, but cases where the result was so close that there absolutely had to be a recount. When the first count was done in Virginia’s attorney general election in 2013, the margin of victory was a mere 32 votes….

His style, as befits a law professor, is rather dry and tedious at first. It’s not an easy read, but you’ll get used to it after a while. The long slog through history is important to his thesis – disputed elections are not as rare as one would think (or hope), so we had better be prepared for the next one.

Foley notes that we do not have a standard system in place to resolve disputed elections. We’ve had them too often for it to be done on an ad hoc basis. Having a high office go unfilled while the recounting goes on and on deprives people of representation, and can even have the government come to a halt. The Senate election in Minnesota in 2008 wasn’t resolved for seven months – and that, according to Foley, was one of the ones that was handled properly.

Reading Foley’s accounts of recent disputed elections makes it clear (at least to this reader) that absentee or mail-in ballots (which some advocate as a way to increase voter participation) is most definitely NOT the way to go. Not only are those types of ballots the most susceptible to chicanery, they are also the most problematic when it comes to figuring out the voter’s actual intent. They depend on people accurately and completely following instructions. The 2004 gubenatorial election in Washington, which when the dust settled had a margin of victory of just 137 votes, should serve as a case study of everything that can go wrong with mail-in ballots.

Foley does propose a solution. Mandate an automatic recount whenever the margin of victory is below a certain threshold. Have rules and deadlines covering challenges and appeals. Select a tribunal (and he really does mean a panel of only three people) to supervise the entire process. He admits it won’t be perfect, but it’s better than the “playing-it-by-ear” that we have now. Given how partisan our politics have become, there’s no doubt that we will continue to have disputed elections for the foreseeable future.

On the Electoral College – 2

Last time, for those of you not paying attention or somehow reluctant to scroll down and see the last post, I discussed the Electoral College and its historical background, and how it means we don’t elect our president by a direct popular vote.

There are two things to keep in mind when contemplating a reform of the system. First, changing it would require a Constitutional Amendment. You’re just not going to get enough small states (the ones that benefit from the current system) to go along and voluntarily give up influence.

Secondly, though, nowhere in the Constitution does it say how a state must choose its electors. So if one wants to try to reform the Electoral College, the way to do it is in the selection process in the individual states.

There are a two proposals that have been getting serious consideration.
Continue reading

On the Electoral College – I

As Election Day gets closer and closer, we’re starting to see more and more references to “polling numbers”. “This candidate has a six point lead, up from four a week ago.” “A new poll narrows the gap between the candidates.” Things like that. But these polls and their numbers are grossly misleading. In addition to the inherent biases in the polls, they all overlook one simple but important thing.

We do not choose our president by direct popular vote.

We never have.

There’s this thing called the Electoral College. When you vote, you are actually choosing a set of electors who have sworn to vote for the candidate you have chosen. Not that big a deal, except there’s a distinct imbalance in the Electoral College. Smaller states have a disproportionate amount of electors, and therefore slightly more influence than they should based solely on population.

How that came about is a matter of history, and reveals something about the true nature of the United States.
Continue reading