Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Iraq: Infinity and Beyond

As I stated in a previous post, the other shoe is dropping long before the doctored September report card on Iraq. US commanders, already fresh on a “surge” that has yet to actually accomplish its own goals (even though its success was claimed to be contingent on obtaining the presaged goals before the end of the summer), are currently planning for an extenuation of the offensive campaign through 2009. If this was just the talk of politically-appointed generals, this could be easily resolved. However, this is also the view of the Administration (hardly a coincidence), and even some of its critics, including Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

And, of course, this continuation of the fight for the joyously liberated is replete with the usual, “We are seeing progress,” “we are crushing the enemy,” and the ever ready, “The terrorists are on the run.” How broken is this record? Here is VP Dick Cheney in 2005, over two years ago.


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The insurgency in Iraq is "in the last throes," Vice President Dick Cheney says, and he predicts that the fighting will end before the Bush administration leaves office.

In a wide-ranging interview Monday on CNN's "Larry King Live," Cheney cited the recent push by Iraqi forces to crack down on insurgent activity in Baghdad and reports that the most-wanted terrorist leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had been wounded.

The vice president said he expected the war would end during President Bush's second term, which ends in 2009.

"I think we may well have some kind of presence there over a period of time," Cheney said. "The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."

Cheney was among the Bush administration's most forceful advocates of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Bush, Cheney and other top officials said war was necessary because Iraq was maintaining illicit stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and concealing a nuclear weapons program from U.N. weapons inspectors and could have provided those weapons to terrorists.

No banned weapons were found after U.S. troops deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's government, though U.S. inspectors said Iraq was concealing some weapons-related research from the United Nations.

Nevertheless, Cheney said he was "absolutely convinced we did the right thing in Iraq." He said the United States was making "major progress" in Iraq, where a transitional government took power in April and was working on drafting a new constitution.

"America will be safer in the long run when Iraq, and Afghanistan as well, are no longer safe havens for terrorists or places where people can gather and plan and organize attacks against the United States," he said.



For those who still think General Petraeus may be on to something, consider this. The US military, in spite of the 20,000-plus increase in troops since the beginning of this offensive campaign, does not even control 40% of Baghdad, none of its borders, especially with Syria and Iran, and whose sole accomplishment thus far is negotiating a truce (with a potential for receiving arms, via the US taxpayer) from some of the Sunni militant groups responsible for killing American soldiers (on the promise [with a cherry on top] that they will not attack US forces again). This is not a joke.

Intellectually, ideologically, and policy-wise, this war has become our Great Leap Forward, and someone forgot to remind the mandarins that the harvest did not come in after all.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Finding Your Gender

The folks at Book Blog have a program called the Gender Genie, which claims to be able to decipher your gender by your writing style. Just submit a piece of your writing, its genre, and it will instantly tell you whether you write like a male of female. I am not sure how accurate this is, however, since it labeled my writing style as that of a female, even though when I last checked I am male. Maybe it could be that I am a woman trapped in a man's body after all.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

International Philosophy

I have always been a huge fan of Monty Python's Flying Circus, as well as the Monty Python movies. It dates me, but when I was a kid growing up I used to stay up on Sundays to watch syndicated episodes of the Flying Circus on PBS. One of my favorite Monty Python skits is The Philosophers' Football Match. For those fans of Schopenhauer, Kant, Hegel, and Socrates, enjoy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Firing of Ward Churchill: Why There is No Such Thing as Free Speech in Our Society

It has come to light recently that controversial U. of Colorado Ethnic Studies Professor Ward Churchill was fired by the University’s Board of Regents. Officially, he was fired for plagiarism and questionable background claims. In reality, he was fired for his essay after 9/11, comparing the victims of the terrorist attacks to Nazis (or “little Eichmanns”). For those that support this firing, it should be considered that Churchill is or was an employee at a state institution, with a tenure job that is supposed to protect one’s position (for the purposes of conducting research and expressing opinions without fear of government persecution), and was primarily fired for his unpopular political speech (with the plagiarism charges [which are questionable] and background claims used as the legal rationale to justify the Board’s decision).

The Intolerance of Tolerance

What I find hypocritical in this incident is that many of the same people calling for Churchill’s firing are the same ones (like David Horowitz) who claim that universities do not do enough to protect free speech on campus for students with unpopular (i.e., conservative) points of view. Horowitz has gone so far as to advocate the use of state power to enforce a university version of the Fairness Doctrine in the classroom (even forcing states to send bureaucrats to potentially keep tallies on whether a professor is expressing a “diverse” perspective in the classroom).

These are the same people, mandarins like Daniel Pipes, who complain mightily about political correctness on college campuses, while exhorting students to rat on professors who hold views critical of American foreign policy (Campus Watch). Like with taxes, speech is one of those commodities (and it is a commodity, not a right in this country) which only retains value for the person that agrees with the speech. It is a harsh reality for anyone to face that lives the illusion of the ideal that is the First Amendment, but try being an editorial Marxist working for The Wall Street Journal.

Campus Intolerance: Left and Right

This is not to say that political correctness is some myth dreamt up by self-victimizing conservatives, vying for employment at the American Enterprise Institute. I have spent most of my adult life in a university setting, and in spite of my own leftish worldview I have seen many professors express intolerant views of conservatives, and I have no doubt that some of these people are petty enough to subjectively grade their students on an ideological scale (although they would swear up and down that they do not). I have seen firsthand at least one professor in my collegiate career who went after a friend and colleague of mine in grad school because he committed the crime of applying for a job at an intelligence agency. And one need only look at past cases, like the “water buffalo” incident at Penn in the early 1990s, as well as the implementation of speech codes on most colleges and universities in the last twenty years, to see that intolerance of speech knows no boundaries. It is a spectacle of both the Left and Right in this country.

The larger issue is what this speaks to in American society when one of the most open institutions in the US (which is supposed to be insulated from commodification, since they are for the most part state institutions) is reduced to recriminatory political speech battles. It demonstrates that if a state employee in a job created with the intent of protecting speech is not protected for making unpopular political speech, then there is absolutely nowhere in this country (outside of the confines of our minds) where making public statements that are unpopular or even wrong are protected. Private power is well within its rights to regulate speech (banning employees from mentioning their salaries, imposing speech codes during work hours, etc.). The same now applies to public institutions. Even if Ward Churchill’s promised lawsuit succeeds, it will not protect him or anyone from future university boards from acting in the same way (in fact, these boards are composed of university admin and scholars, so they should be as sensitive to this issue as anyone).

Epistemology of Free Speech

Why is free speech so problematic? Deep down, people in this society do not like to express their political opinions in public settings (remember the old saying that you should never discuss a person’s politics or religion?), and when they hear others do it, particularly if those views are unpopular, the first instinct is to silence that individual. This is why the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was never incorporated until the 1920s. Until 1925 (in Gitlow v. New York), state and local governments regularly issued injunctions against people considered “dangerous” from holding public rallies or delivering speeches at public gatherings. In fact, it was so common, cities and states went so far as to ban certain books deemed offensive and were confiscated from local Post Offices (that is, on those occasions when the feds were not already doing the same thing through the Comstock Laws). Moreover, none of the framers questioned this power. The only Constitutional requirement local governments had to meet was to give citizens a “republican” (non-monarchical) form of government.

The First Amendment in its first 134 years of existence only protected your speech from the federal government, which is why the first words of the Amendment state, “Congress shall make no law….” And even in those days, the feds were not beneath imprisoning or punishing newspaper editors that insulted the President (Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798), obscenity (Comstock Laws), and libel and slander. This is not to exculpate the firing of Churchill. I am someone that still interprets the First Amendment literally, to the point that I oppose even the use of libel laws in our courts, but Churchill is not the first professor to be fired from his academic position for his political opinions. In the early 1970s, Michael Parenti (a popular political science professor) was fired from his position by the University of Vermont because of his Communist sympathies (the excuse used in that case was Parenti’s previous and contested arrest at a demonstration against the Kent State killings).

This case is an exemplar that even in free societies the desire to regulate speech is always the principal intervening factor in any allowance for the free expression of political speech. The substantive difference between the US and a country like China is the degree to which speech is regulated. The same applies to Europe, especially on speech considered racist or amounting to some form of genocide denial (in France, for example, denying both the Holocaust of Jews in World War Two and the Armenians in World War One is a crime). These regulations on speech are much closer representations of the state and the people to keep the politically unpopular (no matter how wrong) isolated and private (on the threat of losing his/her job or physical freedom). Sadly, it is but one more illustration of why free speech does not exist, which is to say it is at best (in the most open environment) speech with restrictions and conditions.

False Promise of Reform in China: Part I

Oftentimes in the academic community, scholars commit the intellectual crime of “going native.” Basically, it is when a scholar becomes so attached to a culture/country/theory/ideology that he/she is researching they become converts and ideational ambassadors of the culture/country/theory/ideology they have spent years studying. It is sort of the academic form of the Stockholm syndrome, which is why most academics should find multiple interests of research--so to maintain some semblance of reality in hyper-specialized fields. It is also why you will see such a closed-minded attitude from many of these scholars on critical issues concerning their research focus, bordering on that of a medieval theologian.

As for my own focus of study (Chinese political economy), I am not without criticisms of the Chinese government. Unlike some of my friends in the business community, or even a few of my academic colleagues, I believe China may be sowing the seeds of its own future hollowed status as an economic power, in spite of my many visits, research endeavors, and the fact it was the subject of my dissertation, as well as any likely upcoming publications. I felt then and now that it is in essence a market authoritarian regime, much along the same lines as so many countries in Southeast Asia (South Korea before 1987, Taiwan before 1996, LDP-led Japan, etc.). This may not sound remarkable to people from the West, reared as we are on the twin virtues of individualism and democracy, but China’s opening (since 1978), however gradual, is a huge change. Regardless of its conditions, the PRC’s current situation is certainly more livable economically and politically than thirty years ago.

The quandary of studying China, especially from an American (and one from a non-Chinese background) perspective, is that it has become ridden with political and ideological perceptions that are at best distorted. Americans, in particular, have amnesia about China and its history since 1949. This is no longer a party-state (meaning that all political, economic, and social life is controlled and organized by the dominant “guiding” party [obviously, the Communist Party of China]). From its totalitarian roots of the Maoist era, the PRC has become over time an authoritarian regime, one in which the evolution from the party-state has led to a separation of sorts of everyday economic and personal life from the official ideology (i.e., Marxism-Leninism-Maoism). This is a vast alteration in how people live in the People's Republic. I can go to the mainland and freely talk to people in business, even in government, without fear of getting anyone in trouble, and I can hold frank discussions with them, covering political and economic issues that would have been unimaginable a generation ago. We take these things for granted today, and probably even many younger Chinese that grew up after 1989 do, as well, but it is a recent phenomenon.

Incrementalism Chinese-style

The liberalization of China, to be sure, has been an extremely slow process. Deng Xiaoping wanted it that way. He feared both the internal chaos of the last mass movement that swept the country (the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the ‘60s and ‘70s [to which Deng was targeted and arrested several times for holding "capitalist deviationist" views]) and the social explosion and political implosion that occurred in the Soviet Union following Premiere Gorbachev’s glasnost reforms in the late 1980s. What is also missed is the gradualist nature of the CPC, particularly after the death of Mao in 1976. The economic reforms that the editorial boards at The Economist and The Wall Street Journal praise to the stars, as stockholders tend to do when they are making money from a given venture, were implemented in a piecemeal fashion over a period of decades, starting with the marketization of agriculture, before moving towards a liberalization of foreign ownership laws, creation of contracts enforcement, and privatization of mass sectors of the PRC’s economy (excepting some traditional industries).

Political liberalization has been even more gradual than the economic opening. Again, this is usually ignored in much of the Western media, but China already allows local elections in villages and even in some urban areas, at the sub-municipal level (what we would refer to as wards in the US). Not all of these candidates are members of the CPC. The parliament in Hong Kong (yes, it has a Legislative Council with multiple parties), is freely elected, dominated by non-CPC parties, and they are harshly critical of the mainland. The media is free in Hong Kong much in the way that it is in the West (free access to internet sites censored in the mainland, allowance for human rights campaigners, even Falun Gong organizers, etc.).

This opening of the government to non-CPC members should not surprise anyone. In 2003, the CPC opened its membership to economic elites and capitalist entrepreneurs, an act that would have certainly earned the ire of old Chairman Mao. Now, the government is openly appointing non-CPC members in its ranks (most recently, Chen Zu as the government’s new Minister of Health).

Problems Still

This does not exculpate the government’s continuing political problems. This is a state that has no qualms about killing people, even its own elites (most recently a food safety chief). There are a whole slew of offenses that can land you the death penalty in China that would not be considered offenses worthy of capital punishment in most other countries (rape, drug dealing, gangsterism, bank robbery, as well as the garden variety murder). And while you can be critical of the government, if you try to use it as a means of politically organizing against the CPC you may well become acquainted with the coercive ways of certain members of local law enforcement.

It is also a government that has little regard at times for its own people. Like with the recently executed food safety minister, the government typically will act only after a catastrophe, one in which large numbers of people died. It is after such tragedies that the government reacts by arresting some official or executive, accusing them of permitting the incident(s) to take place and either imprison them for long periods or kill them (theoretically, executive command responsibility for causing death in China equates with murder and can be punished periodically with the policeman’s bullet). For example, over 5,000 miners die in Chinese coal mines every year (over 80% of the world’s mining deaths). Most of the mines in which these accidents occur in are not sanctioned and operate in either in legally questionable or outlaw status. The government knows this, but chooses not to act until a mining accident has killed a few dozen workers, the mourning families demonstrate, and officials feel the need to react. Preventive action is still a burgeoning concept in the PRC. Hopefully, as it increases its state capacity, this problem will resolve itself.

There is no guarantee that China can negotiate these problems, however, which is what my subsequent posts will address.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

How to Detect Splinterism

Not just a phenomenon of the Left (although it still is for the most part), the Right in this country has over the last couple of years developed ideological cleavages on timely issues. One of those, predictably, was immigration. Here are some examples:

Corrupt, Irrational Evangelicals Supporting Illegal Immigration

The article "Christian groups torn over illegals" says this:
"Evangelicals have had so much success evangelizing among immigrants that they have a real sympathy with those communities," [John Clifford Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life] said.

Hispanics are one of the fastest-growing segments of evangelical Christianity in America because of high conversion rates in the United States and Latin America and high birthrates among Hispanic evangelicals, said Gaston Espinosa, an assistant professor of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College in California.

"The Latino evangelical community is much more sympathetic to immigration reform ... because a significant percentage of their community is undocumented," said Mr. Espinosa, a specialist on religious trends among Hispanics. "They don't support any sort of proposal that would send them over the border."
Apparently a segment of evangelical leaders support illegal immigration because they want to grow their churches. In other words, they're just as corrupt as businesses that seek to profit from illegal labor. And, the segment of Latino evangelicals support illegal immigration out of racial solidarity.

The Jewish Community Relations Council, the lobbying arm of the Jewish community in the Washington region, holds similar policy positions. The council opposes legislation that prohibits illegal immigrants from obtaining public social services.

"Most of our community in Washington can remember when grandparents or great-grandparents came over from Europe and the hostile reason for which they came over," said Debra Linick, a program director who handles Virginia legislation.
Someone tell me she didn't just not only invoke Godwin's Law but also compared the Mexican government to the Nazis.

If these religious leaders want to support human rights and be good humanitarians and look for converts, let me suggest that they do it in those illegal aliens' home countries. And, let me suggest that when being good humanitarians to illegal aliens in this country they encourage them to go home. Anything else is a bit unsavory and, well, crooked.

Here is another:

How Migrant-Reform Effort Changed Kyl's Image

Dan Nowicki

The Arizona Republic
Jul. 15, 2007 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON - Democrats are praising Sen. Jon Kyl. Republicans are damning him.

This topsy-turvy political scene would have been unbelievable a year ago, when the conservative Arizona Republican was facing his toughest challenge yet in his bid for a third term.

But Kyl's key role in this year's failed immigration compromise has former supporters howling, foes taking a second look and everyone re-evaluating his record and his legacy.

Kyl, 65, campaigned in 2006 in favor of a temporary-worker program and other reforms but against an automatic pathway to legalization for the millions of undocumented workers within U.S. borders. Just six months after his re-election, Kyl collaborated with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and others on a bill that critics say would have provided what Kyl said he was against.

"Who do you trust anymore when your heroes go south on you?" asked state Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, a leading illegal-immigration opponent who described himself as a "brokenhearted" Kyl fan. "You feel violated. It's like all of a sudden you learn that your best buddy has been dating your wife."

Kyl, who as the GOP conference chairman is the Senate's third-ranking Republican leader, insists that he was a conservative voice in the immigration negotiations and that he won dramatic concessions from Kennedy that greatly improved the final legislation.

Kyl says this year's Senate bill was much better, and its citizenship provisions much stricter, than the 2006 version he opposed on the campaign trail. But compromise backers found it difficult to articulate the de- tails.

Immigration is the No. 1 problem bedeviling Arizona, and despite the Senate's rejection of his bipartisan prescription, Kyl says he has no intention of leaving the resolution solely to the majority Democrats.

"Obviously, I wasn't thinking of my political career when I took the leadership role I did in the immigration debate," Kyl said during a recent interview in his Capitol Hill "hideaway" office beneath the Senate. "Sometimes you do what you have to do."

'Benedict' Kyl?

Kyl isn't spending much time worrying about any internal turmoil the immigration bill has caused for the Arizona Republican Party.

"My obligation is to the people I represent and not to the party or to any special-interest group," Kyl said. "I've managed to make a lot of different folks unhappy because I didn't totally agree with everything that they wanted. So, obviously, I didn't do this to be popular."

Along with McCain, Kyl has infuriated many Republican activists and bloggers, some of whom have painted him as a turncoat with insults such as "Judas" and "Benedict."

At the same time, he has earned respect from the other side of the aisle.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat running for president, praised both Kyl and McCain for their work on the immigration bill.

"That's leadership from the Southwest," Richardson said during a recent visit to Phoenix. "I don't want to say too many more nice things about McCain and Kyl because that won't help them, but I commend both of them for their efforts."


To casual observers whose opinions of Kyl were formed largely through last year's ubiquitous Senate campaign commercials, his work on the bipartisan immigration bill was a surprise. To those who have more closely followed his 20-year career in Washington, not so much.

"I am used to being misunderstood in public life," Kyl said.

Since entering the Senate in 1995, Kyl has shared the spotlight with the much more visible McCain, a two-time presidential candidate. McCain and Kyl have drawn historical comparisons to the team of the late Sens. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., and Paul Fannin, R-Ariz. Like McCain, Goldwater was a national figure, while Kyl, like Fannin, has a reputation as a workhorse.

Although admittedly a partisan, Kyl has worked on legislation with Democrats before, most notably Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a friend and colleague from the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is looked upon as a problem solver.

'The Operator'

Kyl's Senate career up to now hasn't been particularly flashy, but it has had some highlights.

In 2000, Dick Cheney interviewed Kyl as a possible vice presidential candidate for George W. Bush. Cheney ultimately took the job himself.

Kyl is past chairman of the Judiciary Committee's anti-terrorism subcommittee and was recognized as a national authority after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He remains the panel's ranking Republican.

Kyl wrote the landmark Arizona Water Settlements Act of 2004, a complicated and unsexy piece of legislation considered crucial to the state's water future.

And last year, Time named him one of "America's 10 Best Senators," a designation that was a huge boon to his re-election. The newsmagazine dubbed Kyl "The Operator" and cited his prowess in legislative "subterfuge."

In 2006, Kyl triumphed in a political atmosphere deadly to many Republicans.

As the Democrats recaptured the House and Senate, Kyl beat back a challenge from independently wealthy retail developer Jim Pederson, winning by nearly 10 percentage points.

His work on immigration reform likely will be part of his legacy as well, though observers disagree on exactly how - or exactly how his legacy will evolve over the years.

"Unfortunately, that will be what he's remembered for," said Rob Haney, the Republican chairman in legislative District 11, where Kyl lives. "I think his legacy is going to be that he is the one who pushed the 'amnesty' bill against 90 percent of the Republican base and 80 percent of the country."

GOP opinion split

Public opinion polls are not so clear-cut, particularly when it comes to the legalization of undocumented immigrants.

A CBS News/New York Times poll released in May suggests that 62 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Republicans and 66 percent of Democrats, support residency for illegal immigrants with jobs who have lived in the United States a minimum two years. Only 33 percent told pollsters that they support deportation.

A Rasmussen Reports poll in May said that 65 percent of voters would back a "very long path to citizenship" as part of a compromise plan.

But in June, a Rasmussen poll indicated that 50 percent of voters opposed the immigration bill and 23 percent supported it.

For his part, Kyl says the noisy anti-immigration advocates probably overstate the grass-roots opposition to comprehensive reform, but he said it is wider than liberals acknowledge and is "a real phenomenon."

"The reality is that people are upset with their government, and I am a symbol of our government," Kyl said. "They've got a right to be upset about a lot of things. And I work for them. So it doesn't bother me. I understand it."

Hugh Hewitt, a conservative national radio talk show host and blogger who also opposed the immigration compromise, defended Kyl from the vitriol coming from many illegal-immigration foes.

"I did not like the bill ... but I thought he was working hard to improve it and to make it the best that could be gotten out of this Congress," Hewitt said. "It's just that most Republicans took a look at that and decided that the best that could be gotten from a Democratic Congress wasn't good enough and preferred to fight another day in the elections of 2008.

"Jon Kyl was trying to fix a bad problem now, and I think that the vast, vast majority of conservatives believe, and continue to believe, that he is a great senator and a very fine man."

To Elias Bermudez, founder and chief executive of the pro-immigration group Immigrants Without Borders, Kyl is "a true statesman and a person of character" and possibly part of the ultimate salvation of the Republican Party.

A registered Republican, Bermudez predicts that Arizona eventually will be a Hispanic majority state and says that Republicans such as Kyl and McCain are crucial to the party's continued vitality. The strident anti-immigrant commentary from other Republican segments turns off many Hispanics, he said.

That wasn't always so. President Ronald Reagan signed the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli legislation that granted amnesty to more than 3 million illegal immigrants. Immigration restrictionists look back at the law in horror, but many Hispanic Americans see it as a breakthrough.

"There are a lot of Hispanics who remember President Reagan as the person who came in and solved at least some of the problems for 3.5 million undocumented immigrants in this country in 1986," Bermudez said. "We consider him to be a hero, and he's the reason why I became a Republican, for instance."

Kudos from critics

For three terms, from 1977 to 1995, former Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., held the seat Kyl now has. He says he understands what Kyl is going through.

In 1976, DeConcini won the election after campaigning against transferring control of the Panama Canal to Panama.

At the time, the Panama Canal question stirred passions similar to today's immigration debate.

But two years later, DeConcini wound up supporting the controversial treaty despite his campaign posture.

"You have to do a lot of explaining," DeConcini said. "In my case, people accepted it, and I think they will in his case because he's pretty loyal to the very conservative wing of the party."

DeConcini actively supported Pederson in 2006 but said he appreciates Kyl as "a thoughtful conservative" who "has got some courage to do some things when he thinks he's right."

Even Pederson, Kyl's 2006 challenger, grudgingly gives Kyl kudos for trying to find an immigration solution.

Pederson even tries to take a little credit. During last year's campaign, Pederson's relentless TV advertising painted Kyl as a lapdog for the Bush administration and an undistinguished public servant.

"If this race really causes him to strike out on an independent road to address not only immigration but the other critical issues that face the state, then, boy, I think maybe we did some good," Pederson said.

And President Bush's response to his "critics":


Bush Defends His Immigration Proposals

By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Writer Thu Jul 19, 4:53 PM ET

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - President Bush sharply challenged critics of his stalled immigration-overhaul efforts on Thursday, suggesting that failure to pass a guest-worker program could trigger a labor shortage in the United States.

At a town-hall style meeting, Bush also rebuffed a question about whether he would consider pardoning two Border Patrol agents in prison for the cover-up of the shooting of a drug trafficker in Texas.

"No, I won't make you that promise," Bush told a woman who asked about a possible pardon. Many Republicans in Congress have said the men should not have been convicted and have criticized the federal U.S. attorney for even prosecuting the agents.

"I know it's an emotional issue but people need to look at the facts. These men were convicted by a jury of their peers after listening to the facts" as presented by U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, said Bush. Bush called Sutton a friend.

The president also toured a bun bakery here, and used the business to illustrate a warning to Congress that he'd veto any government spending bill that he thinks is excessive.

"You can't keep making buns if the Democrats take all your dough," Bush joked in a speech shortly after taking in the aroma of fresh bread at the bakery, which supplies fast-food restaurants.

Bush took questions for more than an hour. Most were friendly, but several on immigration policy were pointed.

The president said he was disappointed about his immigration bill's demise in the Senate and reiterated his support for a guest worker program and a path toward citizenship for many of the 12 million illegal immigrants now in the United States.

Without such a program, and with stricter enforcement of the border, said Bush, "I can make you a prediction ... that pretty shortly people are going to be knocking on people's doors saying `Man we're running out of workers."'

The president defended his embattled Iraq policy and sought yet again to link the current Islamic militants in Iraq with those who planned the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, even though such links are tenuous.

When Bush was asked about whether he would consider pardoning the two border patrol agents, he seemed briefly taken aback.

"I'm not going to make that kind of promise in a forum like this, obviously," he said. "I'm interested in facts. I know the prosecutor very well, Johnny Sutton. He's a dear friend of mine from Texas. He's a fair guy. He is an evenhanded guy and I can't imagine, well, you know. ..."

To the woman, Bush said, "You've got a nice smile but you can't entice me (into) making a public statement" on the controversy.

The issue of presidential pardons has been front and center since Bush last month commuted the 30-month jail sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Bush had called the sentence "excessive."

The border patrol case has figured in the debate over overhauling immigration law. And calls for executive clemency have come from many Republican lawmakers. Former agents Ignacio Ramos and Alonso Compean are serving 11- and 12-year federal prison sentences, respectively, for the 2005 shooting.

The woman who asked the question of Bush told him that the Tennessee General Assembly has passed a resolution asking for such a pardon.

Bush's visit was designed to focus on the economy.

He said the Democratic-led Congress should pass appropriations bills and make sure they keep spending in check, a key concern of his conservative base.

"I've got the right to accept whether or not the amount of money they spend is the right amount," Bush said during the speech about his federal budget priorities at the Gaylord Opryland Resort Hotel and Convention Center.

"If they overspend or if they try to raise your taxes, I'm going to veto their bills," he said.

Seven of the 12 annual spending bills have passed the House but none have passed the Senate, and it's clear that the Oct. 1 deadline to enact the bills will go unmet.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman for the Senate Budget Committee, responded even before Bush left Nashville.

"How ironic that the White House would use a bakery as a backdrop, because when it comes to spending the people's dough, ‘taxpayer money,’ this president baked this cake," Conrad said. He argued that since Bush took office, government spending has increased nearly 50 percent.

In his brief tour of the Nashville Bun Co., the president took in the smell of warm bread that filled the humid air. He hugged workers and posed for photos with them and watched small lumps of dough roll by on a conveyer belt.

The company supplies its top customer, McDonald's Corp., with enough hamburger buns to feed most of the Southeast and the Caribbean.

When the president stepped off Air Force One, he was greeted by Army National Guard Sgt. James Kevin Downs, 21, of Kingston Springs, Tenn., a double-amputee and burn victim who sat in a wheelchair on the tarmac. He was injured in Iraq by an improvised explosive device and rocket-propelled grenade. "He's a good man," Bush said later during his speech.

Associated Press Writer Will York in Nashville contributed to his report.



"Traitor," "Benedict Arnold," and a conservative President (possibly one of the most expressly so since the age of the two parties), attacking conservative "critics" of his immigration legislation, claiming that they are wrecking the American economy. And those are just the comments of fellow Republicans and conservatives.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Moron Report #1

I understand in life we all do things that we will look back on at a wiser age and wonder what we were thinking. We all have those days. Every once in awhile, though, people do something so utterly foolish, beyond the pale of what a normal person would purposely subject him/herself to, that you must take notice. Meet the Lenahan brothers from the city of brotherly love. They decided it would be swell and neat to participate in the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Of course, most people typically do not put themselves in front of running bulls. But brothers Lenahan are made of sturdy stuff. They were treated not just to the run, but the opportunity to experience their first act of public intimacy with a member of the animal kingdom.

For those who enjoy watching such things.

Mark one up for the bulls before their worldly departure.

The Senator Vitter Rap

When I first started teaching many moons ago, I was assigned to teach introductory to American government courses. It was a tough time during my early grad school years. I had left law school to come back and pursue my PhD in political science (already wounded from my experience as a thief in training for two years in law school). Already brooding over the loss of my youthful idealism, my studies of American politics, going back to my undergrad years, had the effect of turning me into a full blown cynic (you know you are in trouble when you re-read Nietzsche and start to comprehend and agree with him). I had to always bite my tongue in class, because I did not want my students to end up like me. If anything, I encouraged them to "get involved" and to live the illusion of participatory democracy (leaving out the word illusion when telling them), all the while knowing I was merely planting the seeds of future discontent (although at least it would be through their own experience, instead of their prof preaching it to them).

I became so disenchanted with the process in the first year of my master's program, I fell back to concentrating my studies in international relations. As a discipline, political science is really divided in two sections--between those of us who concentrate in international/comparative politics and the other peons that enjoy domestic politics. Sure, I suppose at the international level, we can always joke about the Dear Leader's DVD collection and ostrich farm, but if you want to really see where the crime and hypocrisy is at, you need to look no further than the US Congress.

Of course, we all know of the travails of the troubled Senator from Louisiana and the recent revelations of his dalliances with members of the adult entertainment community. What is so amusing about this, other than the fact the Senator has previously criticized then-President Clinton for his extramarital affairs, is that his lovely wife promised several years ago that if her husband ever committed adultery she would sever his manhood like Lorena Bobbitt. To date, it appears as though she has not followed through on the promise.

As it is, some geniuses from YouTube have constructed a nice little David Vitter rap, chronicling the Senator's past affairs, while preaching the virtues of Godliness and the sanctity of heterosexual monogamy to the rest of us. Without further ado:

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

None of the Above for the GOP

The fortunes of the GOP are off to a slow start this Presidential season. Surprisingly, the Democrats are winning the money chase (an accomplishment for a party that historically has difficulties raising money, compared to the Republicans). Worse, for the Republicans, that is, there is little to no enthusiasm amongst the base for the current crop of White House contenders.

So un-enthused, the average GOP voter currently prefers “none of the above” to the top candidates. This is something for the party to worry about, as it means the potential demobilization of the base that helped re-elect George Bush in 2004.

All of this could be a temporary and reversible trend, of course. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine any of the candidates being embraced by the conservative base of the party. Giuliani is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and pro-gun control. Mitt Romney is telegenic enough, but he also suffers from John Kerry disease (a Northeastern ex-liberal with evolving views on hot button issues). John McCain currently has all of $250,000 in his coffers, is a hate figure on the right because of his 2000 campaign and recent support for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007. Fred Thompson is an unannounced candidate, seemingly a hero of the right, but has a track record of being a moderate (on abortion and past support for McCain when he ran for President in 2000). Newt Gingrich, do I need to restate his baggage?

From appearances, Thompson and Romney are probably the most viable candidates at this point, but Romneny’s negatives are high with religious conservatives (who tend to value ideological fidelity more than the average voter). In addition, Romney is a Mormon, which is probably not an issue to most voters, but it may be with many Evangelical Christians, who consider Mormonism a heresy (indeed, it was their forebears after the Second Great Awakening [the real birth of Evangelicalism in America] who were responsible for expelling the first Mormons from the Mid-West and killing Joseph Smith). This is not to say that religious conservatives will refuse to bury the hatchet to make common cause over the issues important to them, but ideologues are usually not as accommodating. If there remains any doubt, just read this column from Evangelical Christian Frank Pastore on voting for any Mormon in public office (it is hard to believe this is the same Frank Pastore who once pitched for my beloved Reds). Say what you will about these voters, but it has to undermine Romney's chances (once the issue of his recently-held positions on abortion and gay rights is considered).

Thompson will also have to answer for his past views on abortion. He is a former political protégé of Senator Lamar Alexander (a former “moderate” [his recent voting record is much more conservative] Republican who replaced Thompson in the Senate in 2002). Like Thompson, Alexander has previously claimed to be both for and against abortion (earning the ire of religious conservatives during Alexander's Presidential campaigns 1996 and 2000). His position? On those occasions when he was forced to express it, he claimed it was morally wrong, but that the federal government should only overturn Roe v. Wade, and thereby return the issue to the states (alas, Ron Paul and many of his friends in the Libertarian Party). Thompson followed suit during his time in the Senate.

Threatening Thompson even more is the recent revelation that he lobbied on the behalf of a pro-choice group during his days as a lobbyist in the early 1990s. This may sound minor to people not motivated by such issues, but it is of supreme importance to anyone running to obtain the Republican nomination for the Presidency. This story may also explain in part Thompson's reluctance to announce his candidacy (and this reluctance to run is a reoccurring theme in Thompson's political career as an office holder or seeker).

So, with that, the potential claimants to the ideological throne of Ronald Reagan are looking less attractive with every passing week and month--explaining the problem Republican candidates are having in fundraising and manufacturing any passion for the current group of candidates. None of the above is never a title to envy, but maybe if it so popular someone should try renaming himself NoA. There is a precedent for this. There have been several campaigns in which desperate candidates legally renamed themselves for electoral purposes (I recall a fellow who once changed his name to Almighty God). And who can forget the career of Byron “Low Tax” Looper?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Pot Growers are Terrorists Too

According to our government, people in the US who grow pot are comparable to Osama bin Laden, as well as, I kid you not, a threat to the environment. If so, this should not be a problem, since we decided to bypass signing the Kyoto Protocol anyway, although the comparison to selling drugs to funding terrorism seems a bit of a stretch. Indeed, terrorist sympathizers in this country have illegally sold and laundered many things (financial account transfers, tax exempt donations to charity groups, even cigarettes) to fund terrorist groups and/or activities abroad. I can not think of a single case where an indigenous pot grower has committed such an offense. By this logic, donating to charities and smoking cigarettes is equal to supporting Hezbullah.

What is even more curious is that the anti-marijuana bust/raid in question, nicknamed "Operation Alesia" (after a Roman battle, in which the Romans won), ended with the growers getting away. Way to stick it to those terrorist Gauls.

But what about pot? I think Bill Hicks said it best:

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Just a Bill

I know I am dating myself and revealing my advanced age (yes, people can and do live past the age of 30), but when I was growing up I always enjoyed watching the Saturday afternoon cartoons. Not for the cartoons, mind you, except Roadrunner (as I always cheered for Wile E. Coyote to capture and consume that annoying bird [and thanks to Time Warner for rehashing it!]). No, back in the day, way back in the wagonwheel era, before TiVo, before DVD and video recording, before even the remote control (at least in my household), I watched tv on Saturdays to see the Schoolhouse Rock PSAs. There were literally dozens of them, typically a few minutes in length (aired between shows), covering just about every issue of the day (spelling, math, politics, history), and they were written with such catchy tunes that they became implanted in your consciousness. My personal favorite was always I'm Just a Bill. Thankfully, I am not the only one who feels this way.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The July Surprise

We are not doing well in Iraq, or for that matter the people who are supposed to be running what constitutes the Iraqi government, according to our Administration’s pre-lem report on the benchmark progress, which is why we will need to be in Iraq even longer, naturally. You have to love this type of logic. It is the kind that produces such absurdities as director of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture exclaiming how bountiful the crops are in 1960, that the great French cavalry will run right over those German machinegunners in Alsace-Lorraine and ride on to Berlin, or that victory in Vietnam is just around the corner.

By now, it should be obvious we are rationalizing failure. The reasoning is purely an issue of ideology and accountability, or the lack thereof, because there is so much politically invested in “winning” Iraq that those who were the lead supporters of the venture cannot own up to being wrong about its outcome. Instead of declaring “victory,” with the capture and death of Saddam Hussein (similar to what Senator George Aiken of Vermont proposed to do on Vietnam in the early ‘70s), we are treated to the illusion of the creation of Iraqi “democracy,” the achievement of which consist of parliamentary elections where approximately two-thirds of the vote went to Islamic, pro-Sharia Law parties (and those are the wonderful “democrats” we are sending our own people do die for).

From most military reports, we do not have enough soldiers on the ground to “win” Iraq in the way the Administration wants us to. Such a victory, which is denoted by establishing a viable state that can enforce its laws and maintain its territorial sovereignty, is going to require a lot more troops than we currently have stationed. I have seen estimates from 300,000 to 500,000 soldiers being necessary, just to take complete control of Baghdad and begin the process of sealing off the borders with Syria and inevitably Iran. With the “surge,” our troop operations are barely a half to a third of what we need.

What is needed to win Iraq in the way the Administration proposes? We currently do not have the manpower or resources to insert a half million soldiers in Iraq. To accomplish this feat, it would require the reinstitution of a military draft. This is not some kept secret. People in the military establishment are well aware of this, and it has almost certainly occurred to members of the Administration.

The problem with the draft is threefold. One, the military leadership is almost unanimously opposed to a draft, remembering the morale problems of our forces during the Vietnam War. It is much easier to control a soldier that volunteered, knowing what he/she was getting into, than someone that was drafted against his/her will. Two, there is no political will on the part of the two parties, Congressman Rangel notwithstanding, to bring back the military draft, especially within the ranks of the Administration. Third, there is no political will on the part of the American population, who has become increasingly critical of this war, for anything resembling conscription. This last factor influences and determines the first two, which is why the necessary option for the imaginary victory is politically unfeasible.

What Is Happening?

If we are not really trying to win Iraq, then what is the purpose of this benchmark report? Basically, it is a political cover, which will justify maintaining the mission in Iraq, at least until after the 2008 elections. By that time, the current Administration will be out of office, and whoever replaces the President given the unenviable task of finally shutting down the operation, knowing full and well what this means politically (i.e., accusations of “not supporting the troops,” anti-American, pro-terrorist, etc.).

Accordingly, the last act of this Administration, already pre-determined by the benchmark progress reports drawn by its own appointees, will be to pass on the responsibility of ending a war to someone else. The last President to do that was Lyndon B. Johnson (to Richard Nixon). As much as we like to think of President Nixon as a failure (largely because of the Watergate scandal), most would probably still remember Johnson as a greater failure because of the Vietnam War.

Legacy of Iraq

Will Iraq be like Vietnam? In terms of outcome, probably not. In Vietnam, we were basically fighting one enemy, Communist Vietcong insurgents in the South, who were receiving aid and support from the Communist government in the North. In Iraq, we are fighting three groups of people. Sunni and Shia insurgents, as well as religiously-motivated foreign fighters, who are also fighting each other in what has obviously transformed into a civil war, as much as a fight against American occupation. To that extent, the outcome of Iraq will be much worse than Vietnam, because any exit of the US will likely create a power vacuum, since the so-called Iraqi government is in reality a subsidiary of the American taxpayer.

Nevertheless, in terms of perception, Iraq is becoming all too much like the Vietnam War, both for the Bush Administration and our soldiers. This is the greatest tragedy of all--not so much for the civilian politicians who thought the US would “roll into Iraq” without any problems, but for the lives of those soldiers being taken or wounded in this conflict. That is the heartbreak of this conflict. I am sitting here, writing this, knowing that we will not leave Iraq before 2009, knowing this will cost the lives of several hundred more of my countrymen because someone else cannot take responsibility for putting us in the situation we are in.

The one positive legacy of Vietnam, however, which we sometimes forget, is that is has served as a demonstration effect for how not to operate a war, and when to disembark once the costs have become greater than the benefits. This was certainly in mind this past week when several members of the President’s own party (including Senators Hagel, Lugar, and Warner) offered legislation restricting the US mission in Iraq. Of course, there is a vested interest involved with Republicans in Congress, since this war and its unpopularity helped turn them into a minority party in the House and Senate. What is noteworthy is that two of those Senators, Lugar and Warner, were previously strong supporters of the military invasion and occupation of Iraq. It is this recognition of reality, that ultimate debunker of ideological myths everywhere, which is most encouraging (even if it is a political ploy to stunt criticism of their prior support for this war), but unfortunately it will not accomplish anything, since we live in an era of Presidential prerogative on matters of foreign policy and military intervention.

When Congress conceded to the President the right to create the benchmark reports, written by members of his Administration, they surrendered any chance of this conflict ending before 2009. It had to be known that those reports were going to exculpate the operations. Ultimately, even with the demonstration effect of Vietnam, the lessons learned were not able to prevent the blunders from reoccurring. The saddest aspect in all of this is that if our government cannot prevent itself from repeating historical mistakes, and assuming the cycle repeats itself, what and where will be the next Iraq?

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Soul of Washington DC

Senator David Vitter, a first term Senator from the great state of Louisiana, has a secret. He is actually dumb enough to use his own phone number when renting the services of members of the adult entertainment community. The poor man probably did not want to end up like Congressman Calvert, who was nabbed after being caught in the act with a working lady in his automobile.

What makes this case all the more galling is that Senator Vitter has previously compared allowing gay marriage to Hurricane Katrina. As long as it is heterosexual prostitution, while married, of course, that is just a sin, all in the past, naturally, for which we must forgive the lapsed one. As ex-Governor Edwin Edwards (also of Louisiana) once said, "The only way I can lose this election is if I'm caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy."

What I am wondering about is just how many more members of Congress are implicated in this prostitution ring? If you recall sometime back, ex-Representative Duke Cunningham (and current resident of a federal penitentiary in Tuscon, Arizona) was busted taking in the entertainment offerings of some prostitutes from contractors. It has also been previously alleged that certain lobbyists use(d) working ladies in DC as a currency of exchange to influence members of Congress.

Say what you will about my government cataloging every one of my phone calls for the last five and half years, but where else could you get people in a position of leadership to tell me that I must live by their claimed values, while they violate them with impunity in their own lives? It is a sad state of affairs, although in my home state of Ohio (where the land is plentiful and factories empty), the state legislature recently acted to ban strip clubs from operating after midnight. Initially, I tallied this up as payback by the same people who believe I will be thrown into the hellfire after the rapture (although as a Catholic, after this last week, I guess I am exempted from all criticism from Evangelical heretics who refuse to accept the authority of the Pope). Now, I am starting to realize this bill may actually have been the Assembly's way of protecting the dancers from our elected leaders in the late night hours. An ingenious bunch, our Ohio General Assembly.

10 Greatest Baseball Movies

When the season is long, and your team terrible, there is not much to do if you want to remain positive, or to keep yourself from the point where you start to feel that you too could play just as badly for league minimum. With that in mind, I constructed my list of the 10 Greatest Baseball Movies. In no particular order of merit, they are as follows:

Bull Durham (1988): Any list of the greatest baseball movies of all-time has to include Bull Durham. It is, to me, probably the most realistic of any of the Hollywood productions on the life of professional baseball players, which is not saying much, because most baseball movies tend to be pretty terrible. Bull Durham was different. It was not overly romantic, save Susan Sarandon’s charismatic spiel, Annie, and it showed a side of professional baseball you do not see in this day and age of the multimillionaire athlete (minor league players struggling to make it). Everyone has their favorite lines and scenes, like Crash Davis’s treatise to Annie on baseball, life, and the JFK assassination before leaving her for the evening to “meat,” as Crash liked to call his understudy and romantic rival for Annie’s attention, Nuke Lalush. For me, I most enjoyed the human rain delay scene, the sight of the players trashing a field, and in the process manufacturing a much-needed day off during a long road trip.

Certainly, there are flaws with this movie. Supposedly, Tim Robbins’s character, Nuke Lalush, is promoted at the end of the movie to the big leagues, even though the Durham Bulls are supposedly an A team in the film. I have periodically seen in my lifetime, particularly when I was younger, a player promoted from AA to the majors, but I have never seen anyone promoted from A. And while Kevin Costner portrays a believable professional baseball player (with an astonishingly smooth swing [and a switch hitter to boot] for someone who never played beyond high school ball), Tim Robbins (a fine actor in every other respects) was not at all convincing as a big league-caliber pitcher. His delivery, a cheap imitation of Fernando Valenzuela’s, was an eyesore. Then again, compared to Anthony Perkins’s rendition of Jimmy Piersall, Robbins looks like a god, which is my greatest complaint against baseball movies. Are there so few actors who can play baseball that I have to endure the exhibition of Brendon Fraser pretending to be able to hit a ball 500 feet and throw it over 120 mph?

Field of Dreams (1989): It was evident by the late ‘80s that Kevin Costner was a huge baseball fan. I should begin by emphasizing that this movie is really two parts. The first part, the slow-developing plot of two ex-hippies, wannabe farmers, having a hard time surviving the financial hardships of their chosen endeavor, all the while defending the writings of their favorite ‘60s writers at PTA meetings, was not as engrossing for me, albeit these subplots were certainly more plausible than what was to follow. The second part, sentimental though it was, brings us on a journey from the cornfields of Iowa, from where Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, builds a baseball field in the middle of his farm, after he hears voices telling him to “build it and ‘he’ will come.” From there, Ray kidnaps an ex-60s radical writer, in which James Earl Jones masterfully plays a reclusive cynic, Terrance Mann (a same-name lift from the famous 20th century writers Thomas and Heinrich Mann), taking him on a cross-country tour to the East Coast--and all to watch a baseball game at Fenway Park, so Costner’s seemingly hallucinogenic character can receive an otherworldly message from his voices and tell him what to do next.

By the end of the movie, after watching several dead baseball greats come back to life to play ball in Ray Kinsella’s field, Costner’s character sees a youthful image of his father (an ex-catcher) and plays catch with him. By this point, we realize whom the voices referred to when they told Ray that ‘he’ would come and would ‘ease’ his pain, as Ray did not make peace with his dad before he passed away. In almost any other movie, I would have been prepared to lay torch to the screen, much like I was after Brad Pitt single-handedly butchered the ending of Se7en with his dramatic ineptitude, but by the end of the Field of Dreams I felt almost ready for anything, even an impromptu appearance by Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb (who wasn’t allowed to play on the field out of common hatred from the dead players). It worked in this film, which retained the rare quality of balancing the sentimental aspects of the love of the game and family with the seemingly strange reality, or portrayal thereof, of a farmer building a baseball field in the middle of his cornfield.

Pastime (1991): One of the most underrated and greatest baseball movies ever made, Pastime is about the story of two minor league pitchers. One, Roy Dean (played by character actor William Russ), a veteran past his prime, who played briefly in the bigs before being sent back down, and who can’t face up the fact his playing days are over, and a black teenager named Tyrone (played by Glenn Plummer, of Saw III and ER fame), a talented young pitcher, but a young man who is unsure of himself, his potential, and shy about being a black player on a professional baseball team in the 1950s.

Roy has been assigned with the task of taking Tyrone in and to be his mentor, teaching him about life and baseball. The notable part of the film, other than the crossing of racial boundaries (at a time when such a thing was not tolerated in most sectors of our society), is the sight of an older pitcher, in the last years (weeks and days) of his career, taking in a younger player and showing him the fine art of his craft, imparting his knowledge, and instilling in him the love of the game. This is all the more amazing not just because of the issue of race, but the fact older players in those days typically did not mentor potential replacements.
Also included are cameos by Harmon Killebrew, Don Newcombe, and Bob Feller.

Eight Men Out (1988): A wonderful movie and one that showed why there was a time in America, hard as this may be to accept with today’s conditions, when a player’s union was actually necessary. The movie obviously portrays the events surrounding the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, in which eight Chicago White Sox players, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, took money to throw a World Series (allowing the Cincinnati Reds to win the championship).

Granted, there were moments in the film when many of the players who were portrayed would never be mistaken for real professional baseball players, but the element of depravation and oppression (again, laughable by the standards of how players are paid and treated today) is what made the movie so compelling. Meaning as no apologia for Charles Cominsky and the hypocrisy of Kennesaw Landis, I felt that the gist of the film was to depict the players in a more sympathetic light than they probably deserved. To be sure, gambling went hand-in-hand with baseball in those days (much as it does with the NCAA tournament today), the players were underpaid and treated like chattel with the reserve clause, but at the end of the day, and the film, one glaring fact continued to recur--they took money to throw a World Series.

The most tragic figure in the film (as in life) was Shoeless Joe Jackson (one of the greatest hitters in baseball history). Shoeless Joe took the money, like his other teammates, but he never held to the pact and played very ably during the 1919 World Series (hitting .375 and helping to keep the White Sox in the Series for as long as possible). Nevertheless, his status as someone who accepted the payoff doomed his future in the Major Leagues, particularly after Commissioner Landis banned all of the players for life.

What is most interesting about this case, and may be telling for future Hall of Fame voters with players from the steroid era (post-1993), is that not one of the players were ever convicted in a court for their crime (even though they admitted to accepting the money from gamblers and throwing the Series).

A League of Their Own (1992): It is World War Two, the men are off to the front, and women for the first time in American history are filling traditional male roles in the factories, workplace and, for a time, on the baseball field. To take advantage of the war-time circumstances, a popular candy manufacturer (a loose adaptation of George Wrigley) starts the first professional women’s baseball league.

Included in the all-star cast of players are Geena Davis (as the team’s star catcher Dottie Hinson), Lori Petty (Dottie’s brooding little sister and pitcher Kit Keller), Madonna (as “all the way” Mae), Rosie O’Donnell (third baseperson/woman Doris Murphy), and Megan Cavanagh as the stereotypical not-so-feminine Marla Hooch. They go on to form the Rockford Peaches, who is managed by Tom Hanks, as the hard-drinking, middle-aged ex-home run king Jimmy Dugan (bearing similarities to Jimmie Foxx).

Of course, like all good baseball films, the game is but a backdrop to the story of the players and characters associated with the team. In a real acting stretch, Madonna’s character Mae is an ex-stripper using baseball to get away from the clubs. Dottie Hinson and her sister are constantly at war with each other in a classic case of sibling rivalry. Jimmy Dugan is trying to keep himself from falling off the wagon and stay awake during the games. And the league’s director is doing everything possible to attract a fan base and prevent the league from collapsing.

Last but not least, it should always be remembered, there is no crying in baseball.

The Natural (1984): Yes, it is a sappy film, one which all the stat geeks hate because it does not portray their version of reality. Yes, the film deviates from the book, which has Roy Hobbs striking out, not hitting a game-winning home run (not alone knocking out the stadium lights and seemingly creating a fire hazard while rounding the bases in his final walk-off home run). And not all of the teammates look like presentable baseball players, either, although it is quite obvious that Robert Redford played the game when he was younger. That said, he also looked his age in the movie, 47 at the time, not like a prospect out of nowhere in his mid 30s. Probably most annoying of all, the Babe Ruth-like ‘Whammer’ that Roy strikes out at a fair when he is a young prospect, the feat which elicited Barbara Hershey’s demented character to shoot Roy and seemingly ruin his chances for baseball stardom, is a right-handed batter! I know it sounds small, even petty, but it is the little things like this that annoy the dickens out of me and makes me hate most baseball movies.

Be that as it may, there was much to like about the film. First, Robert Redford, even in his late 40s, looked like a big league baseball player. His pitching delivery and swing looked, well, natural. As aforementioned, these details may sound trivial, but they are not. It is that one detail that usually makes or breaks a baseball movie, and in spite of everything the main character in this film gave the appearance of a big league player. Second, the story line, while predictable, was accompanied by fine acting performances, and the sight of Buffalo’s old War Memorial Stadium. If it accomplished nothing else, this movie succeeded in depicting the game of baseball in the late 1930s.

Bad News Bears (1976): How can one not like a film with a chain-smoking, borderline alcoholic Little League baseball coach, seeking redemption with a bunch of kids who look like the future cast of a Jerry Springer episode?

Walter Matthau is a drunken ex-professional baseball player that has decided to coach the Bears, a team of misfits who you would never imagine winning a baseball game. How bad are they? After getting crushed in one of their first games, the players storm off the field in disgust, with one of them stripping his uniform and climbing up a tree in embarrassment.  That's pretty bad.  The coach responds by looking for talent, recruiting a young girl (an ex-girlfriend’s 11 year old daughter) that has a mean curve. Also included is the young ruffian and hood wannabe Kelly Leak, who apparently is a great hitter and a winning addition to an otherwise terrible team. Overnight, the Bears become a good team and compete for the league championship with their nemesis the Yankees (yes, the Yankees have always been the most hated team in baseball).

As a satire piece The Bad News Bears was ahead of its time. An indictment of the ueber-competitiveness of youth sports, it showed the manner in which parents, living vicariously through their children, drive them to feats and abuse that many adults would not tolerate. The last game exemplifies this when the opposing manager publicly pushes and slaps his own player and son in front of his team, umpire, and fans.

What also made this film so exceptional for the time was the frank language. The kids cussed, like real kids do (whether or not we like to admit it). The coach was a heavy drinker, even taking the kids for a ride in his convertible while drunk (and without seat belts). Their best hitter, an eleven year old, was a heavy smoker (today, that might be grounds for prosecution). And the team’s motor mouth, Tanner (played by Chris Barnes), used the kind of slurs you would never get away with today without therapy. In short, it was the baseball equivalent of Blazing Saddles, and like the latter it was undeniably funny and entertaining.

Cobb (1994): An unappreciated film about the last days of Ty Cobb, and the sports writer assigned to ghostwrite his autobiography, it is also about the struggle of a man with his own life and soul before death. An unsympathetic person on the field and off (this is a man who was once suspended for going into the stands and pummeling a wheelchair-bound heckler), Tommy Lee Jones did a masterful job of recreating the problematic Cobb from his youth (marred by an incident when his mother shot and killed his father), to his travails in baseball (distinguished by hard living and playing), and a post-playing career as a successful businessman and investor (but without the lasting friendships and companionship we most all desire in life).

The closest thing Cobb has to a friend is a reporter, Al Stump (played by Robert Wuhl [also in Bull Durham]), a real life baseball writer who was volunteered to befriend and help write the maestro’s autobiography. At first horrified and later acclimatized to Cobb’s racism, hatred, and apparent nihilism, Stump begins to absorb Cobb’s character and understand why this objectionable person played the way he did and why he was such a nuisance to all those that crossed his path. It is a difficult task, as Stump is constrained to jettison his original biography, which whitewashed his subject’s character flaws, and instead write a more accurate life story of the Georgia Peach.

This is director and screenwriter Ron Shelton’s second baseball film, next to Bull Durham. Not surprisingly, Shelton is an ex-minor league player. His sensibilities of the game and the people who play it are far more penetrating than the average baseball film. This is what makes Cobb such a success, at least artistically, if not commercially.

Favorite line of the movie. Ty Cobb on Babe Ruth. “He could run OK for a fat man.”

Stealing Home (1988): Like Pastime and Cobb, a greatly underrated flick, and one of Mark Harmon’s best acting performances. It is about a middle-aged ex-minor leaguer trying to make peace with the death of a childhood friend.

This is not an easy film to watch. It is a series of flashbacks by Harmon to his youth, in the 1960s, when he befriended his recently-passed friend. It takes place right after her suicide, when Billy Wyatt returns home from the midst of his fading professional baseball career, as he has been entrusted with Katie’s ashes. Not knowing what to do with the ashes, he wonders back to the time he spent with Katie during his youth, her free spirited ways, and how he must reconcile his life’s disappointments (at not being a more successful baseball player) with what ended up happening to his first love.

Like Field of Dreams and The Natural, Stealing Home is a sappy film. And by sappy, I mean a film about unrequited love, which Harmon’s character (Billy Wyatt) felt for Jodie Foster (Katie Chandler). It is a doomed love, of course, like all good ones should be in film (a secret of success for love stories that used to be the hallmark of great operas and romantic tragedies of the past), which is imbibed with the times, as well as Billy’s friends, who ease his transition into adulthood, even without Katie.

Since this movie received limited play, I will not spoil the ending or what happened to Katie’s remains, but it is peculiar in that for a baseball movie there is probably less than a few minutes worth of actual baseball in the film. Nevertheless, the remainder of the film is so alluring and the characters heartrending and yet enjoyable, it is barely noticeable.

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976): A fictionalized account of the Negro Leagues and traveling baseball during the Great Depression, this gem is the tale of three great barnstorming black baseball players--Bingo Long (Billy Dee Williams), Leon Carter (James Earl Jones), and Charlie Snow (Richard Pryor), who form the troika of stars who go from city to city, playing local teams to make ends meet and eventually compete for professional baseball contracts. A loose portrayal of Satchel Paige (Billy Dee Williams’s Bingo Long), Josh Gibson (James Earl Jones’s Leon Carter), and Jackie Robinson (Stan Shaw’s “Esquire” Joe Callaway), much of what constituted the fiction was actually a reflection of the realities of the time.

In brief, the barnstormers were the baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters, dressed in outrageously loud uniforms (appearing almost like the Houston Astros in the 1970s), and anchored by the brilliant pitching and wily ways of Bingo Long. The team was so good they ended up competing with a real Negro League team to continue gaining the right to travel its cities (as their antics, showmanship, and skill for the game began to divert fans from Negro League games).

By the end, one of the players actually receives an offer to play in the big leagues (as with Jackie Robinson in real life, obviously). The movie does not dodge the impact of this on the game, as the players understand it means the death of the Negro Leagues. The future will be denoted by the desire of players to play in the big leagues, instead of the Negro Leagues, along with traveling teams operating as a dying sidekick, which is exactly what happened. It is a fascinating insight into the game during the 1930s from the perspective of those marginalized from its highest ranks.