Pete Rose is out

The National Baseball Hall of Fame is an independently operated museum of baseball history, meaning it has no direct connection to Major League Baseball. They can do what they want with their museum, irrespective of what M.L.B. says or thinks.

This week, the H.O.F. announced that Pete Rose would never be enshrined there. They affirmed a rule they’ve had which says anyone banned by M.L.B. could not be in the Hall.

As everyone knows, M.L.B. has banned Pete Rose for life for the sin of betting on baseball when employed as a manager for the Cincinnati Reds. Rose can’t work in professional baseball again. This is appropriate. Ever since the Black Sox scandal of 1919, everyone has known that the one thing you could never do was bet on the sport while you were part of it. Rose did it anyway.

The Hall of Fame is a different story. Keeping Rose out is not appropriate. It’s not the Hall of Ethics. It’s not the Hall of Good Guys.

Pete Rose would otherwise be a first ballot Hall-of-Famer, just based on the one fact that he had 4256 hits in his career, more than anyone else who ever played the game. Only the immortal (and immoral) Ty Cobb ever got to 4000 and no one else ever came close. And Rose, known appropriately as Charlie Hustle, had many many other accomplishments that also qualify him, every one of which confirms what anyone who ever saw him play already knows: Pete Rose always tried as hard as he could to do his best to win. Always.

The Hall of Fame is now committed to having a baseball museum in which, among many other omissions,

the all-time hits leader (Rose) is not enshrined,

the all-time Home Run and Walks leader and seven-time M.V.P. (Barry Bonds) is absent,

a guy who won the Cy Young award as the best pitcher in the league seven times (Roger Clemens) is out,

one of only five people to have both 3000 hits and 500 home runs (Rafael Palmeiro) is missing,

another (Alex Rodriguez), who had an even better career than Palmeiro, will have to be kept out by the same logic when he reaches eligibility,

the left-handed hitter with the best lifetime average after Cobb (Joe Jackson) is out.

There are a million ways they could enshrine these guys and others while acknowledging their shortcomings. But they’re too high-minded for that.

It’s just stupid.

 

Zeno’s bridge

Remember Zeno’s Paradox? Achilles gives a tortoise a head-start in a foot race, but can never overtake it. By the time Achilles has run to where the tortoise started, the tortoise has moved ahead a bit, and by the time Achilles covers that bit, the tortoise has moved further. And so on, ad infinitum.

Well, if you ever want to get a big infrastructure contract in Boston, like fixing the decaying Longfellow Bridge, you’d do well to keep Zeno in mind when you prepare your sales pitch.

Check out this super-slick animated presentation about the Longfellow Bridge rehabilitation project now underway in Boston. It’s a really cool look at how the engineers will accomplish it and every detail is covered in their plan, which they created at the time the project went out for bid.

After watching this thing, you will be 100% confident they know what they’re doing and have taken all eventualities into account. There can be no doubt they’ll complete the work on time and maybe even under budget.

Wrong again, suckers!

The project was begun in 2013 and was going to be completed in mid-2016. But guess what? When they started the repairs, they found out there were some problems that they hadn’t figured on. “Like what?”, you may ask, “that animation they did had everything covered”. Well, see, it turned out some elements of the steel supports were rusty!

rust

Now, I’m no engineer and I certainly have no experience making animated sales pitches, so naturally my first thought was, “No shit. That’s why we need to fix the bridge, remember?”

Anyway, when the first deadline of three years passed, the engineers said, yeah, well, we’ll be done in a couple or three more years, maybe in late 2018. When they said that, they may have really believed they could do it (or not), and, anyway, it was so  far into the future that no one would remember when the time came.

Well, we’re six months away from 2018, so they better move fast. When I look at the bridge today, it seems about half done. They’ve got the Red Line tracks moved over to one side and the entire roadway on the other side is removed. I took this picture the other day.

update

In my lay opinion, and given the way things always work around here, there’s no way this project can be completed in 2018. Around September of next year, you can expect them to say, “We’re almost there. Only about 12 months left. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

To which Zeno will reply, “No worries, Achilles, you’ll probably pass that tortoise any day now”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the purpose of hearings?

Have you figured it out yet? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not to get answers to your questions.

Appearing before the Senate Intelligence committee last week, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers repeatedly said they would not discuss their private conversations with Donald Trump.

They said they didn’t feel that the public setting of the hearings was an appropriate venue. Democrats were stunned by this. They went back and forth about it, with the senators pointing out there was no basis on which they can legitimately refuse to answer, that Executive Privilege was not being invoked, demanding what the legal justification for refusing to answer is, etc. etc. etc. yadda yadda yadda.

But the bottom line is that if you’re called to answer questions before a congressional committee, and you don’t feel like answering, well, then don’t. No consequences for you. No charges of “Contempt of Congress”. Nothing.

Same thing yesterday when Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He just didn’t feel like answering, so he didn’t. No, he didn’t claim “Executive Privilege” or any other real reason,  only that,

 “It’s longstanding policy in the Department of Justice not to comment on conversations that the attorney general has had with the president of the United States for confidential reasons that really are founded in the co-equal branch powers of the Constitution of the United States.”

Chuck Schumer, a member of the committee  from  New York said,

“Unfortunately, the Attorney General repeatedly refused to answer pertinent questions from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee without offering a scintilla of a legal justification for doing so.

This is part of a repeated and troubling pattern from Trump administration officials who clam up and refuse to answer questions about the Russia investigation, even though cabinet officials have had no qualms talking about their conversations with the President.” 

That’s it. That’s all they have for you.  Hope it makes you feel better.

So what’s the purpose of such hearings? Well, it’s grandstanding, of course. It’s a chance for an otherwise powerless and locked-in-partisan Senator or Congressman to show the people back home what a gallant, incorruptible standard-bearer he or she really is, hopefully gaining some support at the ballot box in the process.

gowdy

The other day, I said Trey Gowdy, the U. S. Rep. from South Carolina’s fourth district, seemed more like a demented piranha then a lawmaker to me. To see some support for both that observation as well as today’s point about the purpose of hearings, and also to make yourself sick, check out his “questioning” of M.I.T. Professor of Economics, Jonathan Gruber. You’re welcome.

“The evil that men do lives after them.”

Stewie invited me to add my comments today, so here goes.

Thoughts about the Shakespeare in the Park controversy:

Donald Trump’s behavior is disrespectful, vicious and mean spirited. He is delighted to sink to the lowest level, demeaning former presidents, former candidates for president, government officials and helpless private citizens.

He selects his victims randomly for ugly attacks that inflame and infuriate. The bar for civilized behavior no long includes “civilized” and is so low that even reasonable, ethical people jump into the fray and begin mimicking his despicable behavior. He has crossed the line so often that he has taken the rest of us firmly with him.

When he dismembered our government, did he take our common sense and respect for others away too? I think so.

A case in point is Shakespeare in the Park’s production of Julius Caesar. Delta Airlines and Bank of America have withdrawn their sponsorship because the current presentation “depicts the assassination of a Trump-like Roman ruler.”

If this is a metaphor for our times, and I believe it is, portraying Julius Ceasar as Donald Trump is unnecessary. I haven’t seen the production, but perceptions can often be more powerful than reality.   Creation of a violent image of a sitting President of the United States being assassinated is never appropriate. There are arguments on both sides of the question, “Does art inspire behavior?”, but the question I have is whether our society wants to own this image and whether it will be too late to leave all this behind A.T. (After Trump).

shakes

Rubber-necking the Trump-train

Everyone knows that Trump is a “ratings machine”, and he is very proud of that. Whatever show he appears on gets great ratings, and whatever event he attends becomes the center of news coverage, obscuring any other that might be happening at the same time, even a Presidential Primary debate.

It’s always struck me that he is discounting the “rubber-necking” effect. Have you ever been in a traffic jam on an Interstate, wondering what’s going on and speculating that there must an accident up ahead, only to find out that there was indeed an accident, but on the other side of the road that shouldn’t have impacted you at all? Everyone on your side slowed down to gawk. or rubber-neck, as they drove by, creating an annoying delay.

Well, I often tune in to see Trump as well, just to see what kind of accident he’ll cause, or to get my adrenaline going if I’m feeling lethargic. I’m contributing to his great ratings, but not in the way he thinks.  I’m just rubber-necking.

This Quinnipiac Poll, done on May 10, has a lot of interesting information about the man-baby’s approval ratings, for example:

  • 61 – 33 percent that he is not honest, compared to 58 – 37 percent April 19;
  • 56 – 41 percent that he does not have good leadership skills, little change;
  • 59 – 38 percent that he does not care about average Americans, compared to 57 – 42 percent April 19;
  • 66 – 29 percent that he is not level-headed, compared to 63 – 33 percent last month;
  • 62 – 35 percent that he is a strong person, little change;
  • 56 – 41 percent that he is intelligent, compared to 58 – 38 percent;
  • 64 – 32 percent that he does not share their values, compared to 61 – 35 percent.

From the text:

“There is no way to spin or sugarcoat these sagging numbers,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

“The erosion of white men, white voters without college degrees and independent voters, the declaration by voters that President Donald Trump’s first 100 days were mainly a failure and deepening concerns about Trump’s honesty, intelligence and level headedness are red flags that the administration simply can’t brush away,” Malloy added.

approval

But of all the information in the poll, my favorite is the answers to the question, “What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of Donald Trump?”

Before you check the result below, let’s play a quick game of “Family Feud”. Think about how you would respond to this question. How does your guess compare to the most popular ones in the survey?

poll1

What was it about?

In early 1963, most Americans could not find Viet Nam on a map of the world.  I’m pretty certain Donald J. Trump couldn’t do it on his first try even today.

southeast asia

The first time the words “Viet Nam” penetrated the consciousness of the average person here was in May, 1963 when Life Magazine published this picture of a Buddhist Monk named Quang Duc burning himself to death:

monk1

The government of President Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic, had been brutally repressing the country’s Buddhist majority, despite protests and pleas from the U.S. to liberalize their policy.  Quang Duc burned himself to protest the bad treatment, and other monks did the same shortly thereafter. Madame Nhu, the president’s sister-in-law, referred to the burnings as “barbecues” and offered to supply matches.

Diem and his brother were assassinated in a military coup in November, 1963. But these events are really secondary to U.S. involvement in the region.

Viet Nam had been part of  colonial “French Indochina” before World War II, after which increased nationalist feelings and a desire to escape colonialist rule led to the First Indochina War.  seen from the Vietnamese point of view as a war of independence

This ultimately resulted in the partition of the country in 1954, with the North being supported by China, which only five years earlier had its own revolution, which had resulted in communist rule of mainland China. It was the Chinese influence that got the interest of the U.S., which at that moment was beginning to base virtually all foreign policy on the need to resist the communist “aggression” worldwide. This policy led us into supporting every nutty military dictator we could find around the globe, as long as he was “anti-communist”, while ignoring the legitimate aspirations and rights of local populations. We are still feeling the blow-back from that policy today.  That, among other things, is why Iran hates us, for example.

President Kennedy was firmly committed to the Cold War policy of pushing back communists, but at first thought the Vietnamese army had to do it. He said,

“to introduce U.S. forces in large numbers there today, while it might have an initially favorable military impact, would almost certainly lead to adverse political and, in the long run, adverse military consequences.”

But after the failure at the Bay of Pigs, the development and success of the Russian space program, and the construction of the Berlin Wall, he figured the credibility of our military might was at stake.  Into the quagmire we went.

Our involvement is sometimes known as the Second Indochina War, or, to the Vietnamese, the Resistance War Against America. There had been only 900 American advisers in Vietnam when Kennedy took office, none serving in a combat role. But by November 1963, when he was assassinated, there were 16,000.

That’s how it began. From our point of view, we were fighting communism and from their point of view, they were fighting for independence from colonial powers. Lyndon Johnson didn’t know how to extricate us and, through steady escalation recommended by the generals, ultimately deployed 536,100 Americans on the ground in Southeast Asia.

By the time we finally understood the folly, and got out once and for all in 1975, the price we had paid was awful.  The war destroyed one presidency and contributed enormously to the destruction of another, and damaged our prestige worldwide. But that was the least of it. Over 58,000 American kids were killed fighting in Viet Nam, and over 304,000 wounded, many of whom are still being cared for in VHA hospitals today.

There were 1.3 million Viet Namese military and civilian deaths all told.

The “culture war” that took root at home during that period could be viewed as the greatest tragedy of all. The Red-Blue divide that poisons our society today is directly descended from the Viet Nam era divisions.

What was it all for? The “communists” won. We lost. So what? Do they threaten us more now? Did they threaten us at all then? Did our involvement there achieve anything positive? Are we better off for it in any way?

It is completely understandable that many families of those who lost their lives want to believe the cause was “just”, and that their loved ones served honorably and even heroically. You often hear it said, even now, that we “could have won” if we had only bombed the north, or deployed more troops, or whatever. But it should be clear now that there was nothing to “win”.  And the the honor and heroism of those who answered the call and paid with their lives or limbs is not diminished by the fact that the “cause” was illusory.

SS Arandora Star

On this day in 1940, Benito Mussolini declared war on Britain and France. The Brits and French had been trying to get the Italian dictator to join their fight against the Germans, and he almost did. But after Paris was occupied by the Germans, he had second thoughts, mainly that he didn’t want to stand by and watch one country conquer the entire European continent.

About the Italians joining their side, Hitler groused that,  “First they were too cowardly to take part. Now they are in a hurry so that they can share in the spoils.” Mussolini explained that he wanted to join the fight before the complete capitulation of France, because fascism “did not believe in hitting a man when he is down.” Right. They were famous for that, as I recall.

Anyway, Britain responded to this by rounding up Italian residents between the ages of 16-70 who had been in the country less than 20 years and putting them in internment camps. Kinda like what the U.S. did with their citizens of Japanese descent, no? Only without all the recriminations and apologies for years thereafter.

When the war began in 1939, the British set up tribunals across the country, 120 of them in all, to evaluate resident aliens and classify them into three categories based on what kind of threat they seemed to represent: Category A meant internment, Category B was no internment but subject to restrictions, and C was no internment or restrictions. By February, 1940, all 73,000 or so case had been evaluated, with about 66,000 designated as Category C.

In May, the Brits interned another 8000 Germans, and, after Mussolini made his choice, went to work on the Italians. The British internment camps were filled up, so Canada and Australia generously offered to take some of the internees. 7500 of them were shipped oversees, using a fleet of five passenger liners, including the SS Arandora Star.

Arandora Star

On Tuesday, July 2, 1940, the Arandora Star was torpedoed and sunk, while en route to Canada, by a German U-boat, 75 miles west of the Irish coast.

According to this Wiki, the ship carried “734 interned Italian men, 479 interned German men, 86 German prisoners of war and 200 military guards. Her crew numbered 174 officers and men”.  805 people lost their lives before the Canadian destroyer, HMCS St. Laurent, arrived on the scene and rescued 868 survivors, of whom 586 were detainees. About a month later, bodies from the tragedy began washing up on the shores of Ireland and Scotland, and were buried there.

This account of the sinking begins by vilifying the British for their “callous disregard” of people based on their nationality, though it doesn’t mention the callous disregard of the Nazis who torpedoed a ship carrying civilian detainees who were allegedly their sympathizers. It notes that the loss of life, about half that of the Titanic sinking,

…”has no place in our common historical consciousness. It is, however, well known among the British-Italian population, and among the Scottish and Irish communities who tend the graves of the dead to this day.”

“Despite the impoverishment of their communities, over and over again these remote coastal villages paid and organised to bury the victims as if they were their own. In Scotland, these were not only enemy nationals but ones singled out for vilification by the government, but no matter; they were given the same reverence and respect as anyone else.”

This article on the sinking provides interesting background on the British internment policy as well as the sinking.

As the Germans often noted, krieg ist krieg.