Archive for May 13th, 2006

I'm on my porch, shoes off, feeling the smooth planks of pine under my bare soles, listening to the hum of my neighborhood – a radio, hammering, a car down the street, the buzz of a far-off lawnmower – thinking, thinking, thinking. I just had a cup of joe and a vegan chocolate chip cookie at the Good Food Store over David James Duncan's new book, “God Laughs & Plays” and I feel pretty good. (I'll post more on the book in later days.) The kids are off at the local playground, and we're headed for a three-day excursion down to Twin Bridges and then Bozeman, so I won't be posting until Wednesday.

Naturally I want to talk politics. (Many of you may have noticed: I'm a compulsive writer. To be frank, this blog is not my sole writing preoccupation. Mull that over.) I'm nowhere near an Internet connection right now, so you'll have to take my word on a number of references I'm about to make.

First, Bush responded to the recent revelation to the domestic phone call monitoring. My reaction? Yawn. I didn't read his statements. Is there anyone whose statements mean less? Seriously, the guy is a joke. What's more interesting to me is the silence over at “What's Right…” They're either in shock and in denial, or they don't care. The latter is probably true, and that's a shame. Perhaps it's not too late to send them to China where they'd feel more comfortable. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they're concerned about the program. Or maybe they're waiting for the talking points to come in over the fax.

Nonetheless I'm happy ordinary folks are finally getting outraged at something the Bush administration has done. I'm worried it's too late, that this President has inured us to totalitarianism, that the nation is swept up in some kind of “national psychosis,” as David James Duncan wrote in the above mentioned book:

The cofather of psychoanalysis, C.G. Jung, was a great admirer of Jesus. He struggled hard to love his German neighbors back in the early 1930s. But by 1934, Jung had concluded that when psychosis reaches a national scale it has become more powerful than truth, more powerful than reason, and far more powerful than any truth-telling individual.[snip]

To their hearts' credit but their imaginations' disgrace, many who are unaware of these [environmental and political] devastations insist upon remaining unaware. This, I believe, is the kind of mental impasse C.G. Jung was referring to when he said that national psychosis is more powerful than our power to change it.

Elsewhere on the 'Net I saw a recent post that tried to explain why dry-land rural Americans were so affected by 9/11, and why they're overwhelmingly reacting politically out of fear of Islamic terrorism when they're not a target of their violence. (D*mn I wish I had the link. Maybe I'll look for it later.) The answer? Fear of death. Not that Montanans, say, are endangered by terrorists. We're not. But 9/11 made folks here realize how fragile our hereto safe national existence actually is. Let's face it: many folks prefer living in the country because they believe it's safer (it's not), because there's less crime (there's not). So when the planes piloted by swarthy outsiders smashed into a cultural landmark and destroyed it, it freaked people out. So now those people overcompensate and toss any and all civil liberty into the trash bin to regain that sense of national security.

(Cat's out of the bag, people. We live in a world with Islamic terror organizations. People will die. Especially now that we've exacerbated tension by invading Iraq and threatening to nuke Iran. Get used to this idea. It's a fragile existence, and that's all the more reason we should fight to protect our freedom and liberty here at home.)

If we are to endure this Presidency and its legacy, we need a major shift in national consciousness. Yes, it's time to abandon the conservative world-view. It doesn't work.

So what do I mean? In a recent New York Times' Magazine, “The Rehabilitation of a Cold War Liberal,” Peter Beinart argues that

Since the mid-1950's, when William F Buckley's new journal, National Review, created the ideological synthesis that still defines the American right, one overriding fear has haunted conservative foreign policy: the fear that Americans cannot distinguish good from evil.

Basically conservatives have decried “moral relativism” in left-wing circles, that the left's tendency to focus on cause and effect and occasionally implement “collectivist” policies (like the New Deal) “undermin[ed] old certainties, above all the belief in God.” Basically – said the conservatives – liberals were undermining the will of the American people to stand up to their Communist and totalitarian enemies.

The Cold War liberal thinker “rehabilitated” by the article is Reinhold Niebuhr. A dedicated anti-Communist, Niebuhr was “concerned that in pursuing a just cause, Americans would lose sight of their own capacity for injustice.”

Americans, Niebuhr argued, should not emulate the absolute self-confidence of their enemies. They should not pretend that a country that countenanced McCarthyism and segregation was morally pure. Rather, they should cultivate enough self-doubt to ensure that unlike the Communists', their idealism never degenerated into fanaticism. Open-mindedness, he argued, is not "a virtue of people who don't believe anything. It is a virtue of people who know. . .that their beliefs are not absolutely true."

While many conservatives argued that this was a form of moral weakness, post-WWII foreign policy was constructed around Niebuhr's ideas, which “underlay America's remarkable willingness to restrain its power.” The US created international organizations like the UN and NATO, and gave its partners not only a voice in the proceedings, but often demurred when opposed.

…America's great advantage in the cold war was that the Soviet Union constituted an empire, which held its alliances together by force. By contrast…if the United States resisted the imperial temptation and built alliances that respected foreign nationalism, those alliances would endure. In 1947, when the Truman administration announced the Marshall Plan to help rebuild postwar Western Europe, he resisted using the aid to recast European economies in America's image. Indeed, his administration assisted socialist parties, recognizing that while they might not always prove ideologically pliant, they represented home-grown bulwarks against Soviet power. As one Truman State Department official put it, America should seek European allies "strong enough to say no both to the Soviet Union and the United States, if our actions should seem so to require."

Since 9/11, conservatives have dominated all discourse on foreign policy and have pushed aside Niebuhr's ideas. According to neoconservatives, American Democracy is naturally good and anything it does is righteous. Neocons recognized that the US is the only dominant superpower and wanted to use its power to spread its form of governance and economics across the globe.

In 2002, the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer noted that "people are now coming out of the closet on the word 'empire.' " And that discussion had an idealistic cast. For its proponents, "empire" was usually preceded by the adjective "benign" or "liberal." In other words, the United States would rid itself of external impediments but nonetheless act in the global good, uncorrupted by the temptations of unrestrained power.

In other words, conservative ideology would not have us bother with cause and effect. Instead of considering why Islamic terrorism exists and what we can do to stamp it out at its root, conservatives feel it should simply be fought. Any and all who are associated with it or harbor it should be treated as an enemy. Period.

Once the Bush administration embraced and executed this line of reasoning, the US began to ignore, break, and abrogate a number of international treaties.

On global warming, an America liberated from international restraint has acted irresponsibly; in our antiterrorist prisons, we have acted inhumanely. And from the moment the United States invaded Iraq, the Bush administration's complacent certainty of its own benevolence has blinded it to the dangers of colonial rule. While the authors of the Marshall Plan avoided remaking Europe's economy, for fear of sparking nationalist resentment, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, L. Paul Bremer III, unilaterally rescinded Iraq's import tariffs on foreign goods. Bremer may have thought he was acting on Iraq's behalf, even without its people's consent. But that is only because he lacked the self-consciousness and humility to see that he was not. As Larry Diamond, a more reflective C.P.A. official, noted: "American political leaders need to take a cold shower of humility: we do not always know what is best for other people, even when we think it is their interests we have in mind. And as I saw during my time in Iraq, it was frequently our interests that were driving decisions we were trying to impose." Niebuhr couldn't have said it better himself.

The same conservative principles used to justify our actions abroad have also been used here at home. Everything done by the President's office is trustworthy and true, according to these same right-wing thinkers. If the President is wiretapping his people, it's for our security. The “conventional” restraints of the Constitution are likewise unimportant in the light of the President's moral power.

Only this policy has failed us, absolutely. This line of thinking, the dichotomy of good and evil, doesn't work in a post 9/11 world. In order to eliminate terrorism and deal with the problems in a globalized economy and a globalized political entity (where internal Saudi politics could eventually morph into a terrorist attack on New York City). Strong and voluntary international treaties and organizations are needed, international co-operation essential in weeding out violent extremists of any stripe. (US white supremacist groups?)

The unprecedented post-cold-war gap between America's military power and every other nation's does not make international institutions unnecessary, as the right argues; it makes them even more essential. The liberals of the early cold war, who had seen depression and war cross the oceans and imperil the United States, believed America could guarantee neither its prosperity nor its security alone. And globalization makes that even truer today. The world's increased integration has left the United States more vulnerable to pathologies bred in other nations. So more than ever before, American security requires economic, political and even military interventions in the internal affairs of other nations: to stop bird flu from spreading in rural China, corruption from sparking a banking collapse in Thailand or jihadists from plotting in Pakistan.Yet if America pursues those interventions itself they will spark exactly the nationalist backlash that Niebuhr and Kennan feared. As Princeton's G. John Ikenberry has put it, a one-superpower world is like a town where there is only one policeman and the houses have no locks. In such a world, America's challenge isn't proving that it can wield unrestrained power; it is proving that it won't become a predator.

The same is true in domestic politics. Excluding all but a rabid minority of like-minded ideologues and religious fundamentalists from participating in the governing of the country is morally and practically wrong. Assuming that this same cabal of extremists does not need the checks and balances of American government because of its political “righteousness” is morally and practically wrong. And illegal. This political approach has torn apart the country, excised civility from public political discourse, and created policies catered to the minority that governs: the ultra-rich and religious fundamentals. Our imbalanced budget is a disgrace, the administration's tax cuts overwhelmingly favor the wealthy, our schools are in crisis, our economy teeters on the brink of rapid inflation, our emergency agencies crippled, health care costs spin out of control, etc., etc.

Conservative ideology has proved itself incapable of dealing with real problems. Conservative ideology is dead.

If we are to have any hope of restoring the problems the Bush administration has created for us at home and abroad, we must reclaim Niebuhr's ideas, that compromise, understanding, and cooperation are the bedrock to peace and prosperity.

Conservatives may not believe it. A majority of Americans may still react strongly to the “us vs. them” analysis of foreign policy. The specter of this failed ideology may linger with us for another generation, just as the Soviet Union clung tenaciously to Marxist theory long after it was shown to be completely impractical in everyday life, but the bottom line is that this ideology does not work.

See you Wednesday.

Baseball chatter…

Pronk vs. Papi You may remember a little while ago I found a magazine that said Travis Hafner of the Indians is actually a better hitter than my beloved Boston DH, David Ortiz. I got bent out of shape, and then I compared the numbers. But it was early.

It’s not all that early now. How do they compare?

Ortiz: 24 Rs – 12 HRs – 31 RBIs – 22 BBs – .267 BA

Hafner: 35 Rs – 11 HRs – 32 RBIs – 27 BBs – .318 BA

Nice argument to be having, eh? Especially when either guy is on your team. Well…I admit…Pronk’s got the better numbers. Especially that gaudy on-base percentage — .436. Ortiz’ is a “mere” .371. Still, Ortiz is slumping of late. We’ll see one he heats up how the two stack up in mid-July.

Mutter, mutter.

Whither the Cubs?

What’s up with Chicago’s free fall? Yes, the team took a big hit when slugger Derrek Lee went down with a fractured wrist in mid-April. But since then, the team is 6 -15. That’s atrocious and far beyond the impact of a single hitter.

The trendy — and hopeful — pick among pundits this year was Chicago. The stars are aligned, they’re the only team left to shuck off a near century of bad luck after Boston and the Chicago Americans ended their championship droughts. And it was a good pick, too. Lee and Aramis Ramirez are excellent middle-of-the-order hitters, Jaque Jones, Juan Pierre, and Matt Murton a capable outfield. Greg Maddux is having a career year. Carlos Zambrano was a pre-season fave for the Cy Young. The Cubs have a strong bullpen…

But the Cubbies’ recent slide hints at a deeper flaw that Lee’s absence revealed: The Cubs stink. Beyond Ramirez and Lee, they just don’t have many guys who can reach base. Beyond Zambrano and Maddux, they don’t have decent, healthy starting pitching — there’s Glendon Rusch (7.89 ERA), Sean Marshall (4.93 ERA), Angel Guzman (7.00 ERA), Rich Hill (9.00 ERA), and Jerome Williams (7.30 ERA).

There’s also bad luck and poor managing. Valuable contributors aren’t hitting: Pierre’s mired at .238 and Ramirez at .217. Zambrano has been inconsistent despite his 3.87 ERA. And manager Dusty Baker won’t play Todd Walker full time despite his .294 average and .363 on-base percentage.

Luck will swing their way again, and when Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Derrek Lee return, they will win more ballgames. But even as a full squad the Cubs don’t have a very deep or consistent team. This year they’ll be lucky to win 80.

Fantasyland

I read it. It’s a fantastic book. If you play Rotisserie ball or if you’re a fan of the game, it’s a must read. I feel like I should devote an entire post to this book and “Moneyball” and talk about the metaphysical ramifications of the urge to quantify human behavior.

My fantasy squad: the Glass House Gang

For some reason, I had the genius idea to draft three of MLB’s most fragile players: Scott Rolen, JD Drew, and Austin Kearns, who played 93 games last year — combined — and who all have a history of injury.

Why?

Because they were a steal!

I picked up Rolen in the sixth round, the 81st player picked (it’s a 14-team league). Drew went in the tenth, the 126th overall, and Kearns in the 21st and dead last round, the 284th player selected. As a group, the three are performing at a fantastic rate. Rolen: .300 BA, 3 HRs, 13 RBIs, 14 Rs, 2 SBs. Drew: .287, 7 HRs, 25 RBIs, 19 Rs, 2 SBs. Kearns: .324 BA, 7 HRs, 25 RBIs, 25 Rs, 2 SBs. (Admittedly Rolen already missed some playing time, but that was because of bronchitis, not an injury.)

If those guys weren’t enough, I snapped up Nomar Garciaparra (.352 BA, but averaging 47 games a year over the last three years) off the waiver wire — his previous owner dumped him when he hurt his ribs swinging the bat in a preseason game.

Then I turned around and traded Garciaparra for Ken Griffey Jr (3 HRs in 10 games; averaged 69 games played a year since 2002), who promptly smacked a game-winning 3-run moon shot his first game back after a mysterious knee ailment.

Am I nuts? I’ve got four guys who have next to no chance of getting 400 ABs!

But…they all look good! No one’s limping! No one’s complaining! No one’s appeared to have slowed down!

Here’s the deal: I actually like gimpy guys with high production value when they’re healthy. When they’re in, they play great. And when they’re out, it gives me a roster spot with which I can gamble on a rookie, a streak hitter, a phenom pitcher. I’m in a head-to-head league, so if I need a boost in a particular stat — say stolen bases — I’ve got that roster spot to pick up a guy like Dave Roberts (4 SBs last week) whose age and streakiness keep him on our waiver wire. Rolen, Drew, Kearns, Garciaparra, and Griffey don’t cost much either, so it’s not a huge risk.

Except… …if they all land on the DL at the same time. Then I’m screwed. And considering I have four of these guys on my roster…it’s pretty much inevitable.

By the way, my team is in 7th. Not a great place, but there are five or six teams all within a game of each other. Considering Richie Sexson is hitting like &^&*(!, I feel like I’m doing okay. The top six teams make the playoffs; after that, it’s a new season. Who knows what will happen by September? I’ve just got to keep it close.




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