Friday, February 17, 2012

Nobody Asked Me, But...

Special Get Carter edition
I figure I have about five more of these I'll have to write to cover my sports heroes.
It's hard to believe he was only four years older than I was. In point of fact, it's hard to believe he was older than I am.
Gary Carter, baseball Hall of Famer, perennial All-Star, and former New York Met, died last evening at age 57.
The one thing I remember most about his play and his attitude was, it transported me back to a time when ballplayers had to dig ditches in the offseason, when the game was fun and not dominated by money, when it was still viewed as a child's game. He got a hit, he smiled. Even when he lost a game, it might take him a while, but he could be counted on for a level-headed interview and a smile. It was as if he had been blessed to remain a kid all his life, and he knew it and appreciated every second of it.
Let me get some of the negativity out now about this: number one, Carter was a devout born again Christian. He was arrogant and self-indulgent and self-promoting. And his death from gliobastoma in his brain suggests the possibility that at some point Carter experimented with steroids, probably late in his career.
All that said, he's a hard man to hate. There are very few people in this world, much less professional sport, who combine cheerful positivity with the smoldering intensity needed to compete and win at the very highest level of achievement that Cary Carter managed. He rarely wore his heart out on his sleeve (especially with respect to his faith) and encouraged everyone by meeting them on their map of the world and making them better players, better people.
You saw this on the playing field when he would handle a young pitcher, like Ron Darling or Dwight Gooden in the mid-1980s. Somehow, he made them believe even more in their ability and themselves.
It showed in his own performances, too, that he could will himself to greatness. Take his first game with the New York Mets in 1985. I will never forget his rextra-inning walk off homerun. I was jogging along 30 Street in Long Island City, a few blocks from home, passing a Greek Orthodox church and I remember glancing over as he stepped up to the plate and throwing a quick prayer skyward.
I don't know if God heard either my prayer or Carter's prayer, or if he even cared. All I know is, with one swing of his bat, Gary Carter created a whole new legend in New York Sports.
It seemed to happen over and over: when the chips were down, when the Mets needed a kick in the ass, Carter provided one. In 1986, in the playoffs against the Houston Astros, he had struggled at the plate, until he squibbed a single over second base, and sparked a rally.
In the World Series that year, he really could have been the MVP of the contest between the Red Sox and the Mets. After the Mets lost two games at home, they stormed into Fenway Park in Boston, winning game three, and making Boston remember that they had won 108 games that year and weren't going to go quietly.
And then Carter took the reins in Game Four and unleashed two titanic homeruns that tied the Series and set up one of the most remarkable games in baseball history, Game Six of the 1986 series.
If you say "Game Six" to any baseball fan, they will immediately know the game you're talking about. Carter set up the most memborable inning in baseball history by tying the game on a sacrifice fly in the eighth. He scored the first run in tenth after singling with two out, and down three runs.
All he could think as he stepped to the plate was, "I will not make the last out of a World Series." That spark, that decision to practically will a ball past the infield and to drop into the outfield safely, inspired the next three hitters-- Kevin Mitchell, Series MVP Ray Knight and of course, Mookie Wilson-- to keep the rally going.
The Mets of Gary Carter, after all, "invented" the rally cap. If it hadn't already been a hackneyed and ancient phrase, "You Gotta Believe!" would have been this team's motto.
This is not to take anything away from the great players on those teams, like Keith Hernandez or Darryl Strawberry or Gooden or Darling or Knight, but Carter really was the impact player that a championship is built around.
I had season tickets for parts of the seasons of 1987 and 1988, and so Carter became something of a must-see player. I remember sitting with a pregnant wife, cheering Carter on in 1988 as he sought his 300th career homerun, and every time he came to the plate at Shea, the thundering cheer "Gah-REE! Gah-REE! Gah-REE!" would rise from the stands like a sudden release of skyrockets. Even the fetus that would later become my daughter got into the action, stomping her feet on the placenta.
There were three pregnant women in that section, Mezzanine section 27, that year. It was funny.
Carter's career effectively ended that year, 1988. He hit 11 home runs, and the Mets, the dazzling team that just kept winning, won a hundred games, and met the LA Dodgers in the playoffs.
A team they went 10-1 against during the regular season. In a cold and rainy playoff series, the Mets lost. The crushing blow actually came early in the series, in game four, when Mike Sciosia hit a two run homer in the ninth off Dwight Gooden who was pitching a one hitter up until then, and who was seriously coked up.
What is it about boyhood heroes that cause us to reflect in their glory as if it was our own?
To some extent, Carter's death is a sudden reminder that life does end, sometimes earlier than we expect, and that each day is precious enough to treasure and cherish as tho it all ends tomorrow. Carter was 57. He was the last of my sports heroes that I thought I'd have to memorialize, as he was the youngest. He was also among a handful of men I admired as an adult, as opposed to an adolescent who was still wet behind the ears and hadn't experienced the heartbreak and ennui of adulthood.
Perhaps Carter brought me back to my childhood, where I could spend entire days in my backyard playing basketball or throwing a tennis ball against a wall thirty feet away, trying to take self-batting practice, and pitching to a chalk outline on the same wall, adjusted in height to compensate for the short distance. His nickname, after all, was "The Kid."
Perhaps it's that I foolishly decided to pick up the scraps of a ballplaying career last year and deluded myself into thinking I still have the chops for this game when I took batting practice and was still able to clear fences. I didn't want to believe in mortality, in aging, in breaking down and atrophying, in eyes that can no longer track a baseball into my waiting glove, in legs that can't break twenty seconds around the bases as I nurse a tearing Achilles tendon and a tennis elbow that screams in terror with each throw and swing, in the pain the days after a game, in the sleepless nights of worrying if I can just get that one last hit to get to .500 again, all things I took for granted in my youth.
To see Carter leave this plane means one less hope for a recaptured youth, I guess. We all have totems in our lives, things that mark us as older, signposts that remind us the arrow of time moves left to right and cannot be reversed. You can't make a U-turn, when your favorite childhood actor dies or gets pregnant or becomes a grandmother. You can't bring a favorite aunt or uncle or parent or sister or brother back from the grave. You can't undo the maturation into adulthood and all the responsibilities and duties of life that are thrust upon you, much like life itself is thrust upon you, much like birth is a traumatic experience. 
The cocoon of childhood, the womb of baseball, dries and shrivels as we get older. I see it now not as a game but as a business, Baseball Incorporated. It's hard to cheer a bunch of millionaires to win a championship that stands to benefit a cartel of billionaires, but moreso when you've played the game and fell in love with its beauty and elegant simplicity.
You throw a ball. You catch a ball. You hit a round ball squarely with a round bat and if you're really good, you hit safely three out of ten times. And yet entire industries have been built around exploiting this play, and others and if you're an astute observer as I pretend to be, you begin to realize it's all a fucking joke, that the ultimate extension of all this is baby's first step becomes a market for collectibles. 
I sit here, crying, wishing for one last opportunity to see that smile, to cheer "Gah-REE! Gah-REE! Gah-REE!" once more as he paws the dirt in the batter's box, digging in for one last home run. And one more milestone passed in my own life.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

, Chameleon



Only this time, it's the denialists who are being phonied up.
That's gonna leave a mark.

Maybe It Was Performance Anxiety

Governor Scott Walker cancelled an appearance with President Obama at a Masterlock factory that employs 100 union workers. Said jobs were taken back from China. He cited a stomach flu.
Gee...can't imagine why standing up in front of a couple hundred unionized workers would trouble Walker...

Virginia Makes A Run For "Stoopidest State In The Union"


Shark Jumped? Check

OK, I was fine with artisanal breads and cheeses, and microbrewed beers, but this is going a bit too far


Mitt Romney's "Crategate" may yet bite him in the ass.
Gimme your best pun in comments.

China Steps In

Interesting development on the world markets today: China has agreed to extend further support to the European Union in an attempt to bailout Greece.
In truth, she really was the only nation who could afford to. Now the question is, what's in it for them?

Scientists Have A Bit Of Fun

Check out the name of the test given to patients in this article.

Part Of The Budget Collapse

NASA is scaling back some fairly interesting planned missions.

Budget For Me, Nothing For Thee

Professor Jeffrey Sachs was on Countdown last night, talking about the budget proposal President Obama submitted to Congress this week. His appearance was in response to an op-ed he submitted to the Financial Times of London in which he states:

President Barack Obama’s budget for 2013 will set off a vitriolic battle. Republicans will rail against the Democrats’ “class warfare” and Democrats will rail against the Republicans’ “coddling of the rich”. Yet it is mostly for show. The rich will win in their fund balances while probably losing at November’s presidential polls, and the poor and working class will probably re-elect Obama but suffer a continuing decline in relative and perhaps absolute incomes.

Consider the bottom line of the Obama budget. The policy is to cut total primary (non-interest) federal spending from about 22.6 to 19.3 per cent of gross domestic product from 2011 to 2020, while revenues would rise from recession lows of about 15.4 per cent of GDP in 2011 to some 19.7 by 2020. Compare that with Republican congressman Paul Ryan’s budget a year ago. Mr Ryan’s budget aimed for about 17 per cent of GDP in primary outlays by 2020, with revenues at about 18 per cent of GDP. The difference is modest, but the important fact is this. Both sides are committed to significant cuts in government programmes relative to GDP. These cuts will be especially swingeing in the discretionary programmes for education; environmental protection; child nutrition; job re-training; transition to low-carbon energy; and infrastructure. The entire civilian discretionary budget will amount to only 2 per cent of GDP, or less, as of 2020, in the budget plans of both Obama and the Republicans.

Sachs is right: The budget battles of the 21st Century have been narrowed down to paring away at the middle class.

Worse, this was a predictable situation. Indeed, it was predicted ahead of the first Clinton administration, that eventually, defense spending, Social Security and Medicare, and debt service on the cumulative budget deficits, the latter two mandatory figures, would choke the life out of any discretionary spending (except defense, which for some odd reason is not considered discretionary *koffkoffPORKkoffkoff*)

And then President Clinton took the then-bold (and now, radical) step of raising taxes on the wealthy while lowering them on the job-creating middle classes.

Yea, "job-creating middle class." That works in two ways, and please allow me this digression: First, 99% of jobs in this country are created by small businesses. 90% of small businesses are owned by people who make less than $50,000 from those businesses. You can't get much more "middle class" than $50K (use Google, the figures are out there.) Second, the middle class is the engine that keeps consumption going. Computers, cars, housing, iPads, food, clothing, shelter, all these sectors thrive on the middle class.

There are many more poor (Sachs and Olbermann both pointed out last night that one in two Americans now live in a low-income household, a staggering figure,) but they can only spend so much after they've paid rent. And let's face facts, it's the middle class that is caught up in keeping up with the Joneses.

But I digress....Clinton raised taxes on the wealthy, created 23 million jobs with his tax cuts on the middle class, and not only balanced the budget, but left a surplus.

Squandered immediately, I should point out, which brings us back to where we are now: the same boat as 20 years ago, deciding who should get hurt least.

In fairness to Obama's budget, he wants to raise taxes on the wealthy while maintaining Bush's middle class tax cuts, such as they were. And it is true that just cutting up the Bush era credit card of tax cuts would provide a neat little surplus in not-too-short order.

Here's the thing, tho: the argument over the budget, centered as it is around discretionary spending, mirrors the battle for re-election that Obama faces this year. There is so little left once you take defense, Social Security, and debt service off the table (in the election, staunch Republicans and Democrats) that the scraps are what will be left.

Similarly, the budget and the election link in this fashion: how those scraps are viewed and disposed of will determine if Obama wins, or whomever the Republicans set up to lose wins.

All Obama really needs to do is to change the dialogue and show that there's more meat than these burnt dry scraps. And that works in both arenas.




Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Santorum Bubbles Up

What does it say about Mitt Romney (or Newt Gingrich, for that matter) that the most improbably credible of Republican candidates is now leading in national polls?



Same-Sex Marriage Is Officially Here To Stay

A Valentine's Day tradition is for couples to get married at the top of the Empire State Building.
Today, the first same-sex couple got hitched up there.

You Kids Get Off My Lawn!


Interesting Story, If True

So Israel has publicly denied they seriously contemplated a strike against Iran and her nuclear facilities given the current intelligence. This claim has been echoed by American sources, like Leon Panetta.

THE head of Israel's foreign intelligence service made a secret trip to Washington this month to gauge the likely US reaction to a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

The content of Mossad chief Tamir Pardo's discussion with his American counterparts has been revealed in a Newsweek article titled ''Obama's Dangerous Game With Iran''.

Unnamed US officials claim that Mr Pardo's line of questioning to David Petraeus, the CIA chief, ran: ''What is our [US] posture on Iran? Are we ready to bomb? Would we [do so later]? What does it mean if [Israel] does it anyway?''

That certainly sounds like the contemplation of an imminent attack to me.

Much of this alarm is centered on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report last fall that suggested strongly that Iran was developing a weapons program. Iran has denied that, claiming any nuclear facility development was for peaceful purposes, like domestic energy requirements.

The IAEA has been strangely reticent in the wake of preliminary talks last week, to characterize Iran's defense, saying only that the talks were "good" and that more talks will take place next week.

A clearer picture, however, is given by the reactions of both French and Chinese diplomats have been urging Iran to better cooperate with the IAEA inspectors, who may already have a report in the pipeline that paints a not-flattering picture of Iran.

Today's events make it likely that Iranian policy will stiffen.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Clouds Darken

The clouds of world war have already gathered, what with the Arab Spring and the tensions between Iran and Israel, and Syria and the rest of the region.
So these headlines are pretty scary, in that context:
Yea. Better start stocking up on supplies now.


The Arab League has offered to send troops in to damp down the civil unrest in Syria while a settlement can be reached.

A Short Prayer

Oh, Lord, please don't let Obama cave on the Bush tax cuts this time...
I would really like to believe that he won't, that this is an election year and he needs to rile up his base and show independents that there's a reasonable course for deficit reduction that requires. Doing. Nothing.
And it's an optimistic hope, too.
But he's disappointed so many times in the past. However, if the rumours of eleven dimensional chess are true, this would be a good place to spring the gambit.

Robert Kagan: So Close, Yet So Far

As I scanned this Wall Street journal article by Robert Kagan ("The Romney advisor read by Democrats"), I started to believe there was hope for the right wing, that somewhere in there was a seed that could germinate and become a 21st century flower in the garden of thought.
HAH! Until I got to this:
Both Beijing and Moscow already protect dictators like Syria's Bashar al-Assad. If they gain greater relative influence in the future, we will see fewer democratic transitions and more autocrats hanging on to power. The balance in a new, multipolar world might be more favorable to democracy if some of the rising democracies—Brazil, India, Turkey, South Africa—picked up the slack from a declining U.S. Yet not all of them have the desire or the capacity to do it.
Kagan misses an obvious point here: it wasn't until American military power and moral authority began to cave that we saw the Arab Spring, because we propped up our own autocrats, like Saddam Hussein, like the Shah of Iran, like Muammar Qaddafy (at least in the Bush years,) like Hosni Mubarak and any number of felons and thugs that we've given comfort to in the name of "American interests."
Bob, you lost all credibility with this. Go back and re-read a history book.

The Definition Of "Behind The Curve"

Meet Richard Florida (pronounced "Flo-rid-DUH," unlike the hip hop artist).

Even with the president’s approval rating showing signs of life and the Republicans busily bashing themselves over the head — “one is a practicing polygamist and he’s not even the Mormon,” retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor recently quipped about her party’s two frontrunners — America continues to track right, according to polling data released by the Gallup Organization last week.

Polling on things like political bent is usually inaccurate, wildly so. It is unspecific, and subject to an awful lot of interpretations, particularly if the questions are designed to be clever.

Indeed, this is likely a lagging poll. As was made clear by the Komen debacle, America is starting to realize that the fruits of the progressive movement are in danger of being taken away, and are starting to fight back.

Indeed, all one has to do is to look at the bounce in support, so easily poo-poohed by Floriduh, that Barack Obama has received after starting to stand firm on his ground. And of course, the positive view most Americans have about the Occupy Wall Street movement and its goal of income equality (I'm sure some idiot will troll me with a Rasmussen poll showing high negatives. That happens when you take a poll at the local bierhallen.)

If anything, Americans are starting to wake up to the fact that for thirty years, they've let their lifestyles be dictated by a monster worse than Big Government: Big Business. Every year, the anti-spending protests on Black Friday grow larger. The local food movements increase volume. Local shopping, a way to make the community stronger, is a far more attractive option for people who see the big box stores, both bricks and mortar and in cyberspace, as a metaphor for isolationism.

This will continue, I think. It's an election year, and already the Occupy Movement has made splashes in DC at the CPAC convention, where Andrew Breitbart has his lunch stolen by protestors, similar to his drunken rant out a restaurant window in Santa Monica a few years back: incoherent and irrelevant.

They've followed the primary season around, making small splashes in states and getting on the local news, something they desperately needed in order to put a human face on the protest movement, which had been limited out of necessity to mostly large urban marches and camp-ins.

The conventions will be prime turf for them to make their very non-violent and polite message heard. Indeed, both sides of the aisle have begun to incorporate the OWS message into their rhetoric. When Newt Gingrich...Gingrich!...can attack Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch billionaire corporatist tool, you know you've had an impact!

So while to say America is a conservative country is not totally inaccurate, to say its becoming more conservative is idiotic. About the only "proof" Floriduh provides is a chart that shows America is getting stupider, and as we all know, stupid = conservative.

We smarten up real quick, though.