Monday, November 30, 2009

There Are Way Too Many

Yes, I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, but I have a Facebook page. I don't go to FB every day, but often. It does allow me to keep up with a broad expanse of people, some of them peripheral, some who it's nice to know about what they're doing, some are related, and some are good friends. At any rate, with all the FB "friends" I have, I get to read a lot of nut cases who write all these other people. I could not restrain myself today. Some guy--it later turns out he's an ex-Marine, which explains a lot--writing to a friend of mine was seriously proposing a taxpayer revolt. Seriously. With guns and stuff. I had to respond, I could not help myself. Here's what I wrote my friend:

Does he wear cami's? Is this guy serious? I'm amazed that smart people don't turn on the real agents of our misfortune: the corporations. The supposedly repressive government whom everyone loves to hate is just their tool. They are the ones who have moved offshore so they don't pay taxes. They are the ones who shape every piece of legislation--including the so-called health care bill and the pending energy law--to their own benefit. They are the ones feeding the Pentagon. And why does the American middle class, the one who are really being gored, not turn on the like one-half of one percent of the population who have shifted the burden of paying for everything onto us and off themselves. It's all insane, my friend. The American people are willing dupes because they've bought into right-wing bullshit ever since that genial idiot Reagan was in the White House.

And Charles, my friend, responded:

Amazing, isn't it? Smart guy too. Well read; no fool, but LOL wacky to the right. Ex Marine. And yes he is serious. Can't figure out all this stand off the government stuff. Earl Long said it for true: "Leander, you can't fight the feds. They have the Bomb!" I poke and prod him but most of the time I figure he does not get the joke and takes it for serious. He loves Reagan but says he hates budget busting expenditures and top heavy federal government, both of which RayGun is guilty of to the max. I never even found him genial; Idiot yes, genial no. Hated him more than I did Nixon. Though not as much as Bush One. I sadly agree with you: we are all controlled by the Great Collective Corporation. So easily manipulated. John's latest rants about not paying taxes and standing off the IRS is way beyond moonshine. Been trying to get him to read Smedly "I was just a hired gun for Wall Street" Butler ( a good marine account that tell why we did foreign policy as we did ) but no go (yet).
 It's really scary. LOL wacky to the right. I'm afraid it ain't funny. There are way too many of these people running around loose.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bon Appetit!

Why isn't anyone else amused that a couple of people pretended it was Mardi Gras, got into their real Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, and ditty-bopped over to the White House for dinner with Barack, Michelle, and the prime minister of India the other night? Oh, the hand-wringing, the agonized wails of "we failed!", the breast-beating, and yes, even an abject apology by the Secret Service for this gross breach of security! The lamentations can be heard all over the land. And this non-story has dominated the news since it happened.

Come on, already. What is the big deal here? It's not like a suicide bomber got into the Blue Room, or somebody with evil on their minds and grenades and weapons on their person. I mean look how swimmingly everything is going there with the president. She looks striking in her scarlet sari, and he's distinguished and tall, don't you think? And Barack, well, he's just pleased as can be to see them. So, I hate to repeat myself, what is everybody so worried about? We have deficits of unimaginable proportions, we're being ruled by the banks, we're fighting two horrible losing wars, and the progressive president has turned out to be basically a middle-of-the-road wimp. And we're worried about a couple of sophisticates with the chutzpah to wrangle a way to the table in the Big House? Gimme a break.

Update I: I just read that this pair of Virginia socialites, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, who crashed the White House dinner aren't talking to anybody and are wanting somewhere around $500,000 to "tell their story." OK. Now I want the Secret Service to press charges.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Definition of a Good Day

Day after a nice Thanksgiving day with the grandkids. Good food, good wine, family yesterday. Even if only part of the family, it's good. My daughter, bless her, brought me the chocolate chip cookies I requested. Nice day. And today? Well, today had three excellent things. My granddaughter, who is seven, came over to help her Mimi decorate the house for Christmas, and she stayed the whole afternoon. Two, all the Christmas decorating got done today. No more to do. All the boxes put up. House looking great. And three, I received in the mail this morning the latest batch of CDs my friend down in Louisiana has burned for me. Fifty of them! This is like getting a $500 gift certificate for iTunes downloads, and buying all those tunes at once. 

This is the fifth batch of CDs I've received from Bill, and by far the largest. I estimate well over 100 CDs from Bill over the past six months. We discovered last summer that we both shared a profound love for music, music of all types. "What kind of music do you like?" they ask. "Everything," I answer truthfully. Everything. Like food or poetry or books, I'm willing to try it if I haven't had it before. I don't know much about jazz, world music, or hip hop, which is not to say I don't appreciate some of it, just that I don't listen to it much. I'm not too crazy about crooners or show music, although there are individual exceptions here, too. But I love the rest of it: reggae, rock, blues, classical, opera, country, some metal, electronic, R&B, and probably know enough about these to be mildly dangerous.

Anyway, this latest batch had just a whole flock of people I'd never heard of. Kings of Leon, for example, over there on the right. And The Mars Volta--well, actually, I have heard of them before, but only because Bill has sent me a previous album--and Fastball, Ozomadi, and Oysterhead and Primus. Plus some familiars: Richard Thompson, Miles Davis, Soundgarden, Kate Bush, Buddy Guy, and Porcupine Tree (another band, one that I really like, that Bill introduced me to a few batches back). The mix of music was wide: rock, blues, metal, a little folk, plus an oddball guy with an irreverent attitude and a potty mouth named Mojo Nixon, whose music is hard to classify. I just called it "Other" on iTunes. Even some holiday music. (By the way, I wish I could have pointed you to the Allmusic site for each of these bands, but it don't work that way. The URL will always default to the generic opening page.)

I'll say one thing for a bunch of new music. It takes your mind off the miserable state of the nation for a while. I fear I soon must address some of these distressing topics soon.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Last Straw

Well, this is the last straw for me. I'm finished, done. This man has betrayed just about every purpose I had in voting for him. Latest: Obama is going to send another 34,000 troops to that hell hole in Afghanistan. For what purpose, you ask? For no purpose other than the man in charge cannot step up to the mark that he himself set, i.e., be a president who stands for peace. Hell, what is the difference between this guy and George Bush when it comes to war? No difference that makes any difference to me, that's for sure. I cannot believe we are going to kick this tar baby with our other leg. We've already got two arms and a leg already caught. Does this guy know anything about Vietnam and LBJ? He got handed an unwinnable war and, against his instincts let it take him over. Isn't this exactly what's happening here? How can this undoubtedly intelligent guy be so stupid? Does he seriously think that this time a foreign army is going to succeed in subduing the people of Afghanistan who have beaten every invader for the last 2,500 years?

You might want to listen to this excellent radio piece (23 min.) on this subject. Interview with reporter Gareth Porter. Highlights:
  • "Obama is LBJ all over again." He was handed a war by the national security state, and his advisers hamstring him into signing on to the ongoing war.
  • There's no rational explanation for this decision. This is just what the national security state does. 
  • "Too much power makes you stupid." -- Applies directly to the U.S. military, the most powerful institution in American society.
  • U.S. Army doctrine: "This is the era of persistent warfare." U.S. will be fighting these kinds of wars for the "foreseeable future." 
I frankly don't care what Obama is going to say on Tuesday night when he's going on TV to explain, doubtless in his most mellifluous tone and shiny rhetoric,  his rationale for escalation of this horrid war that's now in its 9th year. I'm not even going to watch. Let this post mark my official washing of my hands of this administration, which has done nothing but consistently back off  the progressive agenda upon which it was elected. He's trimmed on health care, on the environment, on rollback of the Patriot Act, on prosecution of the torturers, on punishment of the Wall Street criminals. And worst of all in my book, he's given unequivocal proof that he's just going to be another tool of the Pentagon. Eight years and hundreds of billions of dollars, almost 1,000 deaths, and he's going to increase the troops in Afghanistan by another 34,000??? This is absolute fucking madness!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Everyday Miracles . . .

. . . that we have all around us. What you're looking at above is part of page 387 of Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 52, 1876. It's the first page of an article (which ran on for several pages and which I read in its entirety) on a person of great interest to me, Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia--not incidentally the title of my biography of the gentleman. This article yielded up several interesting bits of information about Stephens that I was not aware of. This information would have certainly been helpful 35 years or so ago, when I was doing research for the book.

Research! I love research--how could I not? I am a historian. And the tools that are available for historical research, actually any kind of research, right now are nothing short of miraculous. For somebody who loves research, these Internet tools are just fantastic toys as well. The miracle-working agent here that turned up the Harper's article is Google Books, which is in the process of digitizing millions of books and magazines.* If Google has already gotten to it (apparently they've already digitized 7 million books), any book out of copyright can be accessed, read, then downloaded either in whole or in part. All these books can be searched and read online in their entirety, if that's what somebody wants to do. And if Google hasn't gotten to the book yet, don't worry, they will. If the book is still in copyright and either out of print or still in print, well, Google has recently completed a major agreement with authors and publishers to allow researchers to purchase books (or parts of books) in these categories.

Just think about what a boon it is for somebody interested in research on Alexander H. Stephens to be able to go to Google Books and in .15 seconds get access to 9,033 items (books, articles, and pamphlets) on the subject. In another .22 seconds these are skinnied down to the 4,846 items that can be viewed in full. (The others present only a few pages or just snippets.) I just cruised a few pages of hits and found about 10 items that would have been of great interest to me those many years ago. Of course all were available at that time, but I never found them. In the days before computers, it was impossible to find everything. This was true for even the best, the greatest scholars. I'm not at all discouraged, though, because I've got a number of history projects currently on deck, and both Google Books and Google Scholar, its companion miracle-worker, will supply me with far more material than I will ever be able to use.

And these thoughts are just whetting my appetite to see what these magnificent research tools will turn up on other subjects of interest: baseball--the Waner brothers; chess; all those other things that catch my interest.

*The company's goal is to digitized every book in the world. I'm quite sure Google will eventually succeed. Future humans will be actually dealing with computers like HAL and the one on the Starship Enterprise, computers that really do know everything.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Burden of Okiedom

I'm looking at an ad from this week's Newsweek: a full page ad for Zagatwine, showing  a dozen proud bottles standing tall in all their splendor, flanked by a glass of red on the right and white on the left. "Special Offer--12 Top Wines for the Holidays" "Just $69.99--Save $110" Turns out that if you take them up they'll throw in 4 crystal wine glasses. This is an excellent deal which includes wines from France, California, Chile, Argentina, Italy, and New Zealand--8 reds, 4 whites. The "catch," if you want to call it that, is you have to join the Zagat Wine Club which means a shipment every 90 days of a case of wine at $139.99. You can mix them up or have all of one color, your choice.

Sure it's an ad, and sure it's meant to entice, but I will tell you that for years and years now, I've been a wine drinker, a wine lover. Wine is a gift from God, as I like to say, which is why he allowed humans to discover fermentation so early in their history. The case-every-90-days deal would not be burdensome for me and Susan. We would drink their 12 bottles in a month, being generous with the estimate. I'm not sure what we spend on wine, don't think I want to know, but let's put it this way $140 for a case of good wine isn't burdensome. Throw in $10-12 for shipping and you're still talking a case for less than $13 a bottle. I'm pretty sure what we spend now at the Oklahoma state-certified liquor store amounts to at least that much.

Down in the fine print on the ad, way at the bottom, is the notice that the offer is "void where prohibited by law." Can you guess where this is going? In this enlightened state in which I reside, Oklahoma, Zagat and any other vintner or wine merchant is prohibited by law from shipping so much as two bottles into the state. Thirty-one of our fifty states and the District of Columbia, no problem, with shipping in wine or any other liquor. But here, civilized people have to have their moral lives "protected" by the Southern Baptists, not even a majority, but they call the tune to which the legislature dances.  And they have taken upon themselves the task of dictating their own brand of narrow, judgmental and thoroughly right-wing Christianity not only on liquor, but on a host of other subjects--you name it, guns, war, immigration, civil liberties . . .  Suffice it to say that any hint of progressive thought in the realm of civil rights is absent from the lawmakers of this place. (You don't even want to think about their dope laws.)

I'm going to keep my cool here. I am not going to go on a rant about these troglodytes who decide for the rest of us what's acceptable to God and what's not. I will simply observe that it's common knowledge here that the ranks of the alcoholics, not to mention the consumers of demon rum in this state, are just chock full of the same Baptist hypocrites who sing their hymns on Sunday and spend the rest of the week damning the rest of us. Not to mention fencing off the state from almost all of the wine produced anywhere in the world. Damn them!

Update 1: How about this: the word of the day over there on the left is "troglodyte."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Perfect Mascot

Some salient recent observations by Matt Taibbi about the Sarah Palin phenomenon, a subject I have studiously avoided as one likely to make the veins on my forehead and neck get dangerously swollen and enflamed. If ever there were a perfect mascot for the clueless but furious American, well, let me put it this way . . . you could not make Sarah Palin up. She so perfect in the role, it's like she stepped out of central casting to assume it. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that her ghost-written "memoir"--from what I can understand, an extended whine about the shabby treatment she got from the McCain campaign--went immediately to the top of the best-seller lists. Typical. She's going to make millions on this book, while the sorry-ass tea-party people queue up, thousands upon thousands of them, to spend their perfectly good money on drivel. Palin made no secret about the primary motive she had for writing this book: to make money. True blue American to the core.

Without further ado, Mr. Taibbi:
  • At the end of this decade what we call “politics” has devolved into a kind of ongoing, brainless soap opera about dueling cultural resentments and the really cool thing about it, if you’re a TV news producer or a talk radio host, is that you can build the next day’s news cycle meme around pretty much anything at all, no matter how irrelevant — like who’s wearing a flag lapel pin and who isn’t, who spent $150K worth of campaign funds on clothes and who didn’t . . . 
  • Palin — and there’s just no way to deny this — is a supremely gifted politician. She has staked out, as her own personal political turf, the entire landscape of incoherent white American resentment. In this area she leaves even Rush Limbaugh in the dust . . . 
  • Complaining about the assholes we interact with on a daily basis is the #1 eternal pastime of the human race. We all do it, and we get to do it every day, because the world is full of assholes. . . . Not health care, not financial regulatory reform, not Iraq or Afghanistan, but — assholes. 
  • Sarah Palin is on an endless crusade against assholes. It’s all she thinks about. She doesn’t really have any political ideas, in the classic sense of the word — in fact the only thing resembling real political convictions in Going Rogue revolve around the Trans-Alaska pipeline and how awesome she thinks it is. Most of the rest of the book just catalogs her Gump-esque rise to national stardom (not having enough self-awareness to detect the monstrous narcissistic ambition that in reality was impelling her forward all along, she labors in the book to describe her various career leaps as lucky accidents or mystical acts of Providence) and the seemingly endless parade of meanies bent on tripping her up along the way. [Classic Taibbi, by the way]
Sometimes I wonder why politics holds any interest for me at all. I have a ton of books surrounding me here in my study that beg to be read, but I cannot not read continually about the ongoing farce, complete with clowns in costume, that is American political culture.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


The LSU Tigers lost their football game with Ole Miss today by a score of 25-23. Reason for the loss is squarely on the miserable, totally inept job of coaching by Les Miles. You can read the game account here. Over the past couple of years, Tiger watchers have been given more and more reasons for doubting whether this guy is all there. Play calling and clock management. Team discipline--how many delay of game penalties this time? This writer is kind by spreading the blame. To my mind, it's Miles' fault. Period.

Friday, November 20, 2009

It's Probably Abnormal . . .

. . . but I cherish my little Boston terrier, a birthday present two years ago, (that's her on the right, if you haven't guessed), perhaps beyond the point of reason. I'm sure that dog lovers will empathize. Those benighted souls who don't love dogs will think this is just so much foolishness. Well, they have my sympathies.

But be that as it may, herewith a tale of woe with a completely unexpected twist and happy ending. Last evening my niece, who works in a neighboring state, stayed over after a nice supper, wine, and great conversation. Her job requires her to come over here to Oklahoma every now and again, and it's our pleasure to have her over for supper and visiting and catching up on extended family.

Anyway, if ever you have lost your dog and couldn't find her, you know that terrible feeling. I experienced it again earlier this morning. I helped my niece load her car for the airport, and my wife came out to say her goodbyes. She admitted to seeing Prozac, the Boston terrier who's the subject of this post, scoot out of the house. Now I should interject here that this is not uncommon behavior for the dog, but the human involved in this case, Susan, said spouse, is under strict instructions to always have the dog on a leash because she will run away from her and not come back. Prozac listens to me, but with Susan . . . not so much, especially with the possibility of an outside adventure in the offing.

You can probably guess what's coming. We wave our goodbyes, Christine drives off, and . . . no Prozac. I go down the street calling, I go up the street calling. Susan follows me going up and down the street calling. Now, when this has happened before, Prozac always comes running when she hears us. Not this time. No dog shows up. At this point I'm getting really worried, imagining the worst: dog hit by a car on one of the nearby streets, dog stolen by some heartless person, or any other of a number of equally horrifying scenarios. So now I get in the car and decide to drive all around the neighborhood, but even as I do so, I'm in despair because I realize the odds of this search being successful are slim. I was right. I didn't find the dog on this drive. And I'm very glum, to say the least.

So I come in the house and am greeted with Susan's excited news: "Sweetie, you have to call Christine! She found Prozac in the trunk of her car!" Yes, you are reading that correctly. As she was packing up, Prozac simply leaped in and made herself comfortable for the trip. Christine reports she just wagged her tail when the truck lid opened, figuring no doubt that she had arrived at her destination.

Well, not quite. Prozac's back where she belongs now, and Christine is on her way once again, but the dear brought the dog all the way back to the house from the airport and had to rearrange her schedule to do it. I don't know if a timeless dog story was worth it, but somehow, maybe so . . . who could make this up?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Give Peace a Chance

I watched a movie today about John Lennon: "The U.S. vs. John Lennon," a Dutch-produced documentary about Lennon in his immediate post-Beatle phase, roughly 1969-75. It was a period in his life marked highly visible activism promoting peace, most notably the famous "bed-in's" in Amsterdam and Montreal. I can remember the reaction of people such as my parents and many people like them who if they ever gave John Lennon a thought, it was to lump him in with the incomprehensible collection of nut cases who were, in their minds, destroying the very fabric of the United States. I doubt if many of them could have identified Lennon's song "Give Peace a Chance" as coming from him. What they would say, though, is that it was a subversive song, and that radicals like John Lennon, a damned foreigner anyway, should be thrown out of the country. These were core supporters of the Nixon-instigated proceedings by the Immigration Department to deport Lennon using as a trumped up cause his conviction for marijuana possession back in England.

I cannot help but recall the polarization of the country during the Nixon administration. I was still in the Air Force when Lennon and Ono were staging these protests, and to tell the truth, I don't recall even hearing about them at the time. I was in Turkey, a crucial formative experience for me. It was there, I'm sorry to admit it, that I first realized what "poor" really meant. It was there that I saw with my own eyes how truly ugly Americans could be in the behavior and attitudes of my fellow servicemen. My experience there profoundly changed my outlook about everything: morality, politics, civil and human rights, war. So in some way, even if indirectly, Lennon, too, helped change me from the complacent, somewhat smug, unthinking U.S. occupant I was into the thoroughly engaged, and more often than not outraged, citizen I've become.

Fact is, we, the United States, have not given peace a chance. We don't believe in it; we don't revere it; we don't practice it. Peace is the furthest thing from our minds. Our persistence in the always-fruitless venture of war and destruction is, as I'm sure John Lennon would say, insanity. He wondered then, in the midst of the murderous disaster of the Vietnam war, what it was that the governments of the world actually wanted. It was a good question then, and now in the midst of our murderous disaster in the Middle East, it's a good question now.

These sentiments are of course dangerously radical, as dangerously radical as John Lennon or anyone else who challenges us to imagine a world without war.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More Baseball Numbers

With apologies to my faithful readers with no interest in baseball. Sorry to inflict this subject upon you again for the second time in three days, but I just had to answer a question on Allexperts about the following subject, and getting the answer ate up all my blogging time. Which is the truth, although it certainly has not escaped my notice that wrapping myself in baseball is an excellent way to avoid having to deal with all the oppressive news of the day. I promise to get back on a more familiar beam next time.

Steals of Home

Lifetime Leader: Ty Cobb, 54
Leader List:

In World Series
Brad Fullmer, LA Angels, 2002, 2d game
*Tim McCarver, St Louis Cardinals, 1964, 7th game
Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers, 1955, 1st game
Monte Irvin, NY Giants, 1951,1st game
*Hank Greenberg, Detroit Tigers, 1934, 4th game
*Bob Meusel, NY Yankees, 1928, 3rd game
Bob Meusel, NY Yankees, 1921, 2nd game
*Butch Schmidt, Boston Braves, 1914, 1st game
*Buck Herzog, NY Giants, 1912, 6th game
*George Davis, Chicago White Sox, 1906, 5th game
*Bill Dahlen, NY Giants, 1905, 3rd game
*part of double steal
Source: "STEALING HOME IN SERIES." Chicago Sun-Times. 1988. HighBeam Research. (November 18, 2009).

Bob Meusel of the Yankees is the only player to do this twice. There are some unlikely names on this list. Tim McCarver was a catcher, and catchers are generally not known for speed and daring on the bases. In fact, McCarver had only two stolen bases in the regular season for 1964. And Fullmer, well, he was a big ole lumbering guy, another guy you wouldn't label a demon on the base paths.

Walk-off Steals of Home

Willie Davis, LA Dodgers v. Phillies, 16th inning, 9/19/1964
Vic Power, Cleveland v. Detroit, 10th inning, 8/14/1958
Frank Chance, Chicago Cubs v. Cincinnati, 1906
Jack Chesbro, NY Highlanders v. Detroit, 7/16/1904

There have to be more walk-off steals of home, but these were the only ones I could find tonight.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Moron Culture

Here's a guy who makes me look like a raving optimist. Plus, he disdains sugar coating when it comes to characterizing the mass of the American people. 
      I'm fascinated by the dominion of moron culture in the USA, in everything from the way we inhabit the landscape - the fiasco of suburbia - to the way we feed ourselves - an endless megatonnage of microwaved Velveeta and corn byproducts - along with the popular entertainment offerings of Reality TV, the Nascar ovals, and the gigantic evangelical church shows beloved in the Heartland. To evangelize a bit myself, if such a concept as "an offense in the sight of God" has any meaning, then the way we conduct ourselves in this land is surely the epitome of it - though this is hardly an advertisement for competing religions, who are well-supplied with morons, too.
     Moron culture in the USA really got full traction after the Second World War. Our victory over the other industrial powers in that struggle was so total and stupendous that the laboring orders here were raised up to economic levels unknown by any peasantry in human history. People who had been virtual serfs trailing cotton sacks in the sunstroke belt a generation back were suddenly living better than Renaissance dukes, laved in air-conditioning, banqueting on "TV dinners," motoring on a whim to places that would have taken a three-day mule trek in their grandaddy's day.  Soon, they were buying Buick dealerships and fried chicken franchises and opening banks and building leisure kingdoms of thrill rides and football.  It's hard to overstate the fantastic wealth that a not-very-bright cohort of human beings was able to accumulate in post-war America.
             --James Kuntsler, "The Fate of the Yeast People"
Harsh, you say? Well, yes . . . but is that the right question? Shouldn't we be inquiring how much truth there is here? Think about it. How many people around you read the signs of our times as something really ominous, and how many read those signs as some temporary setback on their own personal odyssey of consumption? How many don't evince the slightest concern about the state of perpetual war their country is in? Indeed, "moron culture" sounds unfair and mean at first, but all you have to do is watch about six hours of network TV, Fox News--don't miss Glenn Beck--or some randomly selected movie at your local 20-screen film emporium. Go ahead . . .

There. See what I mean?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New, Improved Play Index at Baseball Reference

I have to confess that my love for baseball statistics and facts is probably a sickness. I've had guys whom I know to be hard core fans, I mean really hard core, shake their heads over some of the little "studies" that I do just because I can or because somebody has inquired or wondered out loud about some obscure feat. As anyone with more than a passing interest in baseball knows, the mecca for baseball statheads on the web is the amazing Baseball-Reference site. It must be seen to be believed. I was delighted to discover that over the past couple of weeks--I really haven't been there much since the World Series--that substantial improvements have been introduced in the "Play Index" section of the site.

This is the by-subscription area where one can slice and dice the numbers in literally millions of different ways. So just for grins I ran a little query to find games, if there were any, where a team had grounded into six or more double plays in a single game. To my astonishment, I discovered that there has been one game since 1954* in which a team grounded into seven double plays in a 9-inning game in addition to a dozen more in which a team grounded into six double plays. The improvements actually allow me to show you the following table, something that I could not have done just a few months ago.

Teams That Grounded into Six or More Double Plays in a Game

L 1-3

W 6-2
L 6-8
L 7-8
2003-06-17 (1)
W 11-2
W 9-4
W 13-8
W 5-4
L 2-7
L 9-13
W 3-1
L 1-9
1966-05-01 (1)
L 1-6
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/16/2009.

Baseball's such a weird game. Notice that 3 of the 12 times a team has grounded into six double plays in a game, one-quarter of the total, occurred this past season. Also, this particular event is decidedly something more likely to happen in the American League rather than the National. If you click the dates in the first column, you'll get a box score and play-by-play of these games.

OK, OK. I'll stop. But I promise you, I could go on and on about this. I love this stuff!

*If you're interested in an individual player's numbers for a season or a career, these go all the way back to the beginnings of the game in the 19th century. So, you can find out that Babe Ruth, for example, stole 123 bases in his career, that his best year for stolen bases was 1921 & 1923, when he stole 17. Box scores and play-by-play are available for all games played since 1954. This data allows a fantastic array of different kinds of findings, like a breakout of the circumstances of each of the 34 triples the Dodgers had as a team during the 1963 season, for example. If you want to play around with this wondrous tool, you can access the play index at baseball-reference for free until November 20. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Costly Benchmark Almost Here

For regular readers, all few of you, you may be with Powderfinger when the "Cost of the Iraq War" widget to the left turns over to $700,000,000. It surely cannot be missed that this amount was too huge for a lot of legislators, typically Republican, to swallow when it was what was required for the bailout some months ago. But this monumental amount, and more, mind you, is just fine for war, the most destructive and least constructive activity human beings have ever devised. We're hearing the same whining from the same people about the cost of healthcare reform. I'm continually amazed that we can always afford war, even at the absurd way of paying for it that the former vile little pretender in the White House specified--no taxation to pay for it and, indeed, a monstrous tax cut for the rich--and we can never afford programs designed to help vast numbers of needy people in U.S. society. Oh, by the way, in addition to the $700 billion for Iraq, we've also spent $231.5 billion for the war in Afghanistan. That's almost $1 trillion. But we can afford that, no questions asked.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Why Are We So Mean?

I sat for a couple of hours this evening at a panel discussion sponsored by The Conscious Living Institute of Central Oklahoma (a kinda cumbersome name that immediately raises the question in my mind about whether there be such institutes in eastern and western Oklahoma; seriously doubt it, so why "central Oklahoma?<<==you see how my mind jumps everywhere?). It sounded interesting when I read the email announcement. The subject was "Why Are We So Mean?" The panelists were three PhDs--philosophy types--and an engaging Baptist minister--who hastened to assure us he is one of the "ecumenical kind" and went on mention "a two-glass of wine" question; so this guy was OK from the git-go.

Anyway, this discussion, I thought, had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it quickly got bogged down in what I regarded as talk about the symptoms and not the problem. Instead of sticking to a focus on the question, the short presentations and the audience-panel exchange that followed circled around all the manifestations of rudeness, lack of respect, and meanness we constantly encounter in daily life. The question supposedly being addressed got lost in a lot of kinda pertinent palaver. Audience comments in some cases were either inane, unduly verbose, or ridiculous (one person, who taught yoga, felt it necessary to speak about four times, and on one of those times dilated about proper diet, and how our bad eating habits might be ultimately to blame). You get the idea. After about an hour of a two-hour program, it was obvious that we were going to stay in these superfluous veins. The moderator of the program was virtually silent throughout, so nothing kept the discussion from getting out of hand.

At one point I tried to get the focus back on the question, suggesting that perhaps we should look at our character as a people and our history as avenues of explanation, i.e., we are both a violent and an ill-educated people. This went over like the proverbial screen door in a submarine. But it wasn't really all that different from the other promising lines of inquiry that surfaced occasionally. The "flattening of language" brought about by the technological advances in communication, for example. Times of profound transformation according to this thesis produce disintegration of language. Hmmmm. Interesting. But this subject stuck up its head only a couple of times after it was raised.

Bottom line: you put three academics on a panel and give them no script, you are asking for a lot of posturing and pontificating. They immediately deviated off the path in favor of listening to the sound of their own voices. The most interesting person on the panel was the non-academic, and he spoke the least. A shame. This discussion might have been fruitful.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Victims Day

Herewith, with a minimum of editing, an email exchange I had today with my daughter:

She: Am  I an ass for not jumping on the Facebook  “Thanks to all our fabulous vets for serving our country freedom isn’t free we love you God bless the USA”  bandwagon?   Even my liberal buddies are doing it. 

I refuse. I'm an ass, right?

Me: You most certainly are not an ass, my girl. I of course am not jumping on that particular bandwagon either. In fact, I think that along with the huge sidle to the right the country did in electing and then deifying Ronald Reagan, it also went way overboard in elevating the military to some sort of exalted status. This status has only gotten higher since. I wince when the president and just about any other politician from senator to county clerk just gushes himself half to death talking about the troops. Why this overblown praise for an institution that our revolutionary forefathers feared and mistrusted? I really don't know, but I regret that the country's original stance toward the military has been altered. It is correct to fear and distrust the military establishment. Just the other day, I read for the first time an American who speculated that a military coup in this country is not beyond the realm of imagining.

I would venture to say that the vast majority of the "volunteers" in this all-volunteer military are there because they could not find gainful employment in an economy that just grinds down the poor and the people from the wrong side of the tracks. So where else could these people go? Societies from the beginning of time have used their mudsills to do their dying for them. Ours is no different. Rather than praise beyond the skies for these poor wretches and the blizzard of American flags on the countless graves from coast to coast and in God knows how many foreign countries, we should drape in black mourning the headstones of all the victims our country has sent to war to die too young and for trumped up causes. It's valiant and false to say one died for his country; it's infuriating and true to say one died for the interests of the rich and powerful. So what do you think relatives of the victims of war plus those whose interests are served by war will say? What do you think the powerful who send people to die for their advancement and security will say?

The correct stance on Veterans Day should always be pity for victims and anger at the people who sent them to die.

Here in Oklahoma the fever of rabid patriotism is high all the time, but probably out of control today. Every little bit I can do to lower it, I will. So I will definitely help you to do that very thing today.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The American Way

Some thoughts about the massacre of people at Ft Hood. President Obama was there today to eulogize the dead and injured and comfort the grieving. It's a real horror and tragedy, with a host of victims beyond the shot. Thirteen killed, with another 30 wounded by a gunman who was: a field grade officer in the Army, a psychiatrist, a Muslim. Guess what aspect of this guy focuses all the attention. Who knows, maybe the shooter, Maj Nidel Malik Hasan, is connected with terrorists. If that's the case, I'd sure hate to be named Muhamed or Hasan in any of the services, much less in the civilian population. 

But likely he's another product of the war-loving country we've become. Why are we shocked when the institutions to which we devote 57 percent of our national budget produce unreasoning violent people? Why should we be surprised that individuals we've sent repeatedly into war zones come home all bent out of shape? The killer here had not even been to Iraq or Afghanistan. He was slated to go, and apparently that's what sent him off the cliff. Obviously this guy was a nut case. Isn't anybody who guns down a bunch of unarmed strangers a nut case? But if you think about it, isn't blowing strangers away the whole business of the army?* And given that, just how likely is it that you're going to have horrific violence by servicemen returning from combat? Indeed, there's been an upsurge of such violence everywhere, and Fort Hood has not been immune. Ten suicides there so far this year. Domestic abuse, divorce, crime in the surrounding community: all are up. 

So there will be investigations, congressional hearings, several reports, grave pronoucements, and "corrective actions" in the wake of this event, but don't expect anything dramatic to happen to change the root causes of stuff like this. We're a violent people; we've been socialized that way, and our foreign policy ensures that we always have some war somewhere to keep us sufficiently blood-thirsty and xenophobic. It's the American way.

*The fact that enemies in war are also armed and trying to kill you is not the point. The point is there's a large spectrum of activities in which we kill people we don't know: war is on one end with mass murder somewhere in the middle. It's hardly arguable that war and mass murder don't share many characteristics.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Back . . .

Glad to be back to my blogging. I've missed it. And a lot has happened since I've gone sporadic that I might never get around to talking about. I'm going to be around now until February when I have to cut out of town for a few days for a surprise birthday party for my mom. I'm not about to give a travelogue of my recent trips, a specialized form of reporting that I don't think I'm very good at anyway. But I will say, I enjoyed seeing Austin for the first time, and I liked the Texas hill country. It's rugged looking and like just about any countryside, beautiful in a way that's all its own. LBJ library (only one with free parking and admission among presidential libraries, we learned) and ranch are well worth seeing.

I was struck once again by the magnificent skyline of Chicago. Kind and old friends put me up every time I'm there in their magnificent three-story house just minutes from downtown and one L stop from Wrigley Field. The drive down from there to Louisville where I attended the Southern Historical Association convention--well, I was in the same hotel, but I didn't go to a single session--wasn't all that exciting. (Conventions are for gathering with old friends; more on that later.) The countryside south of Chicago and in northern Indiana is fairly non-descript, but the closer you get to the Ohio River, the more green, hilly, and forested the country became. Louisville, a town established in the late 18th century, during the American Revolution, in fact, has inherent interest for a historian like me. Autumn blazed out in magnificent glory all over the city. Same for Chicago. Something this southern boy never saw in his youth was the gorgeous free display all the trees and bushes put on to celebrate the fall. Went to the Louisville Slugger museum while I was there and got myself a bat with a Texas Ranger logo and my name on it. That's the world's largest baseball bat in the picture.

Had a blast seeing everyone, all my good friends from graduate school, all accomplished scholars to a greater or lesser degree. What a blast spending time with all those guys, despite the various health problems of some, something that comes with this current age territory. And having now seen a good deal of life, I've concluded that nothing much matters but family and friends. Come to think of it, that's all I would say does matter. Anything else can be replaced.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

It Depends . . .

. . . on your perspective in judging how Barack Obama has done as president. This is the first anniversary of that glorious night when Barack Obama won the presidency and spoke to an ecstatic crowd in Grant Park, Chicago. I remember watching on television and thinking that this tremendous victory would mean the undoing of all the hateful polices of George W. Bush, a 8-year disaster who had gotten the country involved in two wars, brought the economy to the brink of collapse, and alienated world opinion about the U.S. I remember thinking that at last the country could be begin addressing a host of serious issues that Bush had ignored or screwed up: health care, environment, global warming, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and of course the wars.

So how has Obama done? Not well, in my opinion. Let's face it, the Obama rhetoric is grand, but the delivery of the goods is slow, slow. If you want to be a bean counter, Politifact will tell you that Obama is actually working on keeping a number of promises he made during the campaign. And he's only broken about 7 or 8. But many, many more are just sitting unaddressed at the moment. True, the man inherited a steaming pile of doo doo from Bush, which he had to address immediately. The jury is not yet returned on the efficacy of the stimulus package. But in other matters connected with the economy, Obama disappoints: Goldman Sacs insiders in top administration financial positions, no moves to roll back the tax cuts for the filthy rich, and, most notably, no move to punish either the financial pirates that brought down the country or the torturers who besmirched American ideals beyond recognition.

But the biggest problem I have with Obama is his leadership. He has proven to be an uncommonly placid person. What I wanted and what the times demand is a kick-ass idealist--somebody who lived up to the promise of change that elected him--and what I got was a measured, overly careful "realist" who to this very day still believes that compromise with Republicans who oppose his every move is the right way to go. This piece by Drew Westen pretty much says it all for people like me:
. . . the essence of the President's approach to leadership -- Obamaprise -- [is] the art of compromising when you don't have to. The goal is not to get the best possible bill, to fulfill his campaign pledges to the people who elected him, or to fulfill values to which he is deeply committed, whatever they seem to be when the dust settles on his latest moving speech. The goal is to find someone with whom to compromise, whether it's the pharmaceutical industry, the health insurance industry, or Senate Republicans on health care; the energy industry and the "clean coal" lobby on climate change; or the banks lavishing their latest set of outrageous bonuses on their executives for another Heckuva-Job-Bernanke year.
 It's not too late for the President to stiffen his spine and start really shaking things up. But time is fast running out, from my perspective.

Note to readers: I'm going to be out of town again for a few days. I'll be back Sunday, and then I'll be back to regular postings here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

It's Crazy Out There

Have you noticed it too? I'm struck at the intensity of the political irrationality out there everywhere. Take guys like Glenn Beck, the nutcase on Fox. Or any number of similar crackpots on the right such as Bill O'Reilly, Limbaugh, the majority of the GOP contingent in Congress, the tea partyites, and just about any run-of-the-mill conservative you run into out there. They're all a bit looney, don't you think?

I'm reminded of just how crazy things have gotten by the situation in the 23d congressional district in New York, where a socially moderate Republican has resigned from the race and endorsed the Democrat running against her. Why? Because a third candidate in the race running as a candidate of the Conservative party forced it upon her. And this dude, a businessman named Doug Hoffman, who doesn't even reside in the district has won endorsements from all the above named nut cases of the right. The original Republican candidate, a model of her kind, it turns out, was not sufficiently pure on social issues such as abortion and gay rights. Boom! She had to go. Ideological purity must be a hundred percent pure.

How can we explain this? Maybe it's something in the air or the water. Maybe aliens are bombarding the planet with rays that turn some people's minds to mush. Actually, I think the reason is a lot more terrestrial. Actually, the real reason, or at least what I think is the real reason, is more frightening. It's something innate in the very fiber of some people. It's all-encompassing fear. Fear of changes that won't stop. A black man is president, Chinese money is keeping the U.S. afloat, people are getting divorced all the time. Drugs, gangs, crooked bankers bailed out by the government, homosexuals wanting to get married. Abortion, rap music, babies having babies, priests sexually molesting children. Where does it all stop, they want to know. What next? Whatever the hell it is, it's going to make things worse!

So people seized by such fears seize instinctively on the appropriate symbols of salvation, people who give voice to their outrage. People such as the ones above and--preeminently, a person not mentioned above. Sarah Palin, right now about the spring into the headlines again with the publication of her memoir book Going Rogue: An American Life in a couple of weeks.

Matt Tabai in writing about Palin's resignation as governor of Alaska, says, in that inimitable style of his, that Palin has been grasped by the loonies of the right, even when by any objective standard, she's absolutely clueless about nearly everything. And just why they should seize on her "defied rational analysis by making a primal connection with the subterranean resentments of white middle America, which is apparently so pissed off now at the rest of the planet for not coddling its hurt feelings in the multicultural age that it is willing to embrace any politician who validates its insane sense of fucked-overness."

Palin is, he writes, "a conduit for middle American resentment . . . the perfect leader for the inevitable pushback against the Obama era, when America in a vague and superficial sort of way decided to celebrate the values of culture, tolerance and knowledge. The other America doesn’t read and doesn’t remember anything it didn’t learn in the last five minutes; it’s angry and unhappy but doesn’t want to think about why, and knows only that it wants someone to pay the price for what it feels."

These people may be scared, but they themselves are scarier.